I once had a workmate who went to see the Robin Williams movie “The Bicentennial Man”. She came back to work the next day, full of scorn: “So he’s a robot who gets more and more parts replaced by organic bits, until he becomes an actual person. Bloody bullshit.”
As a post-grad philosophy student working in the mind-body sort of area, I was kind of intrigued by this. Science magazine articles often say stuff like “Consciousness is the software that runs on the hardware of the brain.” It’s quite a widely-held view in science circles; the Bicentennial Man scenario is generally thought to be a bit far-fetched, but not impossible or deeply conceptually incorrect.
Generally-speaking though, people don’t really believe it. We sort of think of ourselves as computer programs. But we also think of ourselves as free spirits, somehow beyond the constraints of the molecular drudgery of brain activity, able to make things happen by “force of will”.
Exactly how this is supposed to work is not something we talk about much. It doesn’t come up in the pub very often. “Do you think we have souls, Dave?” Just doesn’t happen.
So this isn’t so much a blog as a survey, a collection of short reports. I’ll be looking at movies, books and whatever else I feel like ranting about, and classify them according to how they portray our minds and consciousness. Do they imply that there’s such a thing as a “mind” or “soul” beyond mere brain activity? Or does consciousness just seem to arise from having the right programming? Or do they portray some other conception of consciousness altogether? What do we find more-or-less credible and what do we think is just “bloody bullshit”?
Obviously we suspend our disbelief to some extent. Just because we liked “Finding Nemo” doesn’t mean we believe that fish can talk. But nonetheless there are various popular movies and stuff which give us some indication of blah blah blah, you get the idea.
Okay, so that’s the general idea. Hope you enjoy it, please do leave comments if you feel so inclined. For a summary of the results, see “The scorecard so far …”. For a summary of my own views on consciousness and the mind-body problem, please see “The Consciousness Verdicts explained“.
See you in the comments box.