(urth) just in case anyone was wondering

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Sat Dec 4 12:15:52 PST 2004

Crush said:
>Maybe. But I would be very surprised to learn that the argument that Silk
>gives for not disarming Viron does not map to Wolfe's own opinions 

Quite possibly so. But the issue of gun control is also not so much a deep 
philosophical problem, and Silk's concerns are quite practical - you can map 
them to sets of applicable circumstances, I don't think they're meant as a 
universal law. I do see your point, though - I'll argue below that Wolfe did 
have a point with these stories, but that his point wasn't so much whether 
or not chems have souls, or whether we can know they have souls.

>It seems to me that Rose is not jus talking about her
>feelings. She seems to have been considering the matter and believes she is
>a person based logic.

Well, Descartes tried this as well. This entire class of arguments has 
logical problems that probably make them a dead end. But they do articulate 
one of our most basic intuitions on the subject.

My take on this is that it is to show that "Rose" at least appears to be 
reflective about her existence, in a simple way, which will be important for 
other reasons.

>That's what I'm trying to say. Wolfe's general story-telling from Fifth
>Head, Latro, and the Sun cycle could legitimately lead one to think that
>Wolfe sees the soul as pure information. But a few key statements in LS and
>SS and now The Wizard Knight lead me to believe that Wolfe probably
>*actually* considers the soul to be *somehow* transcendent* of matter.

I'm going to diverge for a second to frame the dispute you've mentioned, 
because it's a real philosophical point of contention. I've seen it most 
clearly articulated in Parfit, but he seems to have been partially inspired 
by Proust (as was 5HoC, which you mentioned). Parfit says our intuitions 
waffle between two views on identity, and that these views of identity have 
different moral consequences, which tend to make our judgments somewhat 
inconsistent. He calls them the simple and the complex view - I don't think 
these names are apt, but I'll use them anyway.

The complex view is like what you mentioned about pure information. Our 
identity is the set of inclinations, aptitudes, goals, loves, and most 
importantly *memories* we have. The intuition here is that if we lost all of 
the above, we could say quite seriously that the person we were is dead, 
just as Proust talks about a succession of selves; further, when we 
contemplate the future person we will become, who may care about 
significantly different things and may have forgotten some of our most 
cherished memories, etc, for us to wish to become that person seems a sort 
of suicidal impulse. So, with the complex view our identity is in a state of 
constant flux, usually a little at a time.

The simple view is probably more intuitive, at least to me, and that is that 
identity is really something outside all that, some essential connection 
which is continuous and makes you yourself even if you get some form of 
radical amnesia and start over from a blank slate. It is, as you say, 
"somehow transcendent of matter".

Like our intuitions, I think Wolfe presents us with some cases where the 
simple view seems more right somehow, and some where the complex seems 
correct. As a matter of fact you could probably take these cases and present 
them as a series of thought problems on the subject. I think, from other 
statements you've made, that you more or less agree on this point.

>Wolfe seems to me to have rejected Turing's standard for a "self-conscious"
>machine and accepted Searle's Chinese Room argument.

I think on this one, though, you may have meant the opposite of what you 
said. I could be wrong, but I think if Wolfe accepted Searle's argument then 
he would say that no chems have souls, period. Searle argues (in variously 
stronger or weaker forms) against the very possibility of AI. Turing, on the 
other hand, to use Turin's terms, seems to give up on the "ontological" 
problem (whether AI's are "really" conscious or "really" have souls) and 
goes for the "epistemological", saying - if I interpret the quote correctly 
- that if it LOOKS conscious then I'm going to say it IS conscious, and 
since that's as close to the reality as we can get, let's say that we "know" 
it's conscious. This seems to go along somewhat with what you are saying 
about Wolfe's opinion.

I'm arguing that Wolfe doesn't seem to take a hard position on either of 
those; his opinion is moral, rather than ontological or epistemological. 
This ties in neatly with another thread of the conversation - Turin 
differentiated between having a soul and being a person at some point, I 
believe. I'm willing to expand on this at this point - "having a soul" is a 
possible property in reality, a statement about the real world. To know that 
something has a soul is to know something about what *is*. In the sense I'm 
talking about here (not the sense used in Rose's quote), personhood is a 
*moral status* - a statement about how someone/something *ought* to be 
treated. You can grant something personhood without granting it a soul, and 
(this is arguable, but not an argument we want to get into here) you can 
grant a soul without granting personhood.

Silk *treats* Rose-in-Marble as he would treat Rose, but this doesn't mean 
he somehow knows Rose is in there. He can't know. In fact he seems troubled 
by some doubts if I recall correctly. But regardless, he grants her 
personhood and treats her accordingly. This may seem just a sentimental 
streak in Wolfe, or non-controversial, but in a way it's a substantial 
position because it would grant moral rights to AI.

>You see, you've anticipated my response. I don't think chem reproduction is
>a problem. An interesting question? Very. But not directly relevant. New
>chem personalities are an amalgum of their parents'.

Well, hold on. To say that chem "personalities" are from their parents says 
nothing about the "soul", unless you're taking the "complex view" I 
mentioned above. Actually I tend to agree with what you've said about 
Wolfe's views on the soul, which accord more with the "simple" view (it's 
just that I don't think he's really pushing that view through the book). So, 
if we're saying that the original chems got their "souls" (as distinct from 
mere personality) from people, then the question of where the children get 
their souls is sticky. If it's just the characteristics of personality that 
got transferred to the original chems, then you have to either say that 
"souls" weren't really implanted into the chems, or else accept the complex 
view (personality = soul).

This might make the segment below worth re-examining:

>Turin asks
>When you say [made to be ensouled] does that mean a downloaded personality
>prompts God to endow the organism supporting the persona a soul or that it
>shares a soul with the organism with the original personality, Kypris or
>Pas.  In other words, is Hammerstone Pas?  Does the soul constitute the
>identity even if the personae are identical?
>Yes. I believe that Hamerstone is Typhon (Pas is a similar but different
>matter) without his memories. You see? Memories don't equal the soul, or
>else what of the soul of the sleepers in the Whorl? Are they different
>persons after that? Frankly, I don't think it is coincidental that the
>female chems looked like Mamelta. And IMO this is the explanation of Silk
>realizing that he and Sand are "brothers".
>But a soul is related to memory. Hammerstone becomes (it seems) a very
>different person from the fellow Severian met in the mountain.

I would very tentatively guess that a better expression would have been "a 
persona is related to memory". To say that a soul is related to memory 
implies that with different memories you have a different soul - thus you're 
back to the complex view.

>Civit asks
> >An interesting side thread to that entire issue is the theme which recurs
> >repeatedly about imitation. Someone asks Silk what would happen if a 
> >tried to impersonate a god. A parallel question would then be, what if an
> >tries to impersonate a soul? Does Silk's answer to that question hold up
> >either case?

Here I think my own confusion with the word "soul" bit me, when I look at it 
now. An AI could imitate a human persona, but to impersonate a "soul" would 
imply that we have some way of actually perceiving souls in humans, and the 
only "soul" we really subjectively experience is our own. We just infer the 
presence of souls based on the personas we're presented with in other 
people. In any event, looking at it now it doesn't really make sense. Mea 

>know about chems, but it sort of worked for Quetzal. And Horn mimicked Silk
>and eventually in a way became him.

Come to think of it the simple/complex view problem does seem to bear on 
Silkhorn, with some interesting potential consequences depending on which 
view you believe. I'm going to have to think about this, because it does 
seem to suggest a way out of some problems that have always confused me with 
that subject...

More information about the Urth mailing list