Resurrection: A Philosophical Analysis and Commentary

This extremely lengthy post is going to involve heavy amounts of personal philosophy on the topic of the soul. If you find such discussions to be offensive or disagreeable then do not read on. I make no attempt to claim that any of it is the truth or a matter of fact. All of the following is simply my own opinion/speculation on the matter. Also, when I say extremely lengthy, I mean it. This is quality tl;dr material, so grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and relax.

That said, let’s move on to the main course. I just finished watching Mirai Nikki (I had also read the manga a while ago), so I thought this would be an appropriate time to comment on something that was brought up near the conclusion. Can the dead truly be brought back? Mirai Nikki argues that yes, the physical body can be recreated. This much, I can agree on to a certain extent. The body is merely a manifestation of the DNA; in other words, an aggregation of gene expression. However, DNA alone does not make the body unique. Rather, the external factors have a huge role in the development of the body. Even if a clone were made of me at this very moment, the copy would not have the same scars that I have. I guess a better way to put it is, the life itself makes the body. If you are willing to ignore these “small” differences though, then we can agree that recreating someone physically is quite possible.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. As great of an accomplishment recreating the physical body is, Mirai Nikki goes on to say that a person cannot truly be resurrected because the soul cannot be brought back. To address this issue, then, we must first consider the question “Just what is the soul?” Religious beliefs aside, I don’t like the idea of the soul being described as something as vague as the “essence” of a person. What does that even tell us? Not much. Being a person of scientific background, I will endeavor to dissect the issue in hopes of finding an answer. In a variety of religions, you will invariably find the soul described as the thing that “breathes” life into a body. It can be said, then, that the soul is the “uniqueness” of a being; the thing that lets you say “I”.

So what can we gather from this kind of interpretation? What do you consider “yourself”? Is it what you see when you look in the mirror? No; that is just the body. So if that isn’t the soul, then what is? Well, if we look farther back to the root of everything, the thing that makes you a distinct living being is the mind. In other words, I believe the soul to be the consciousness. Alright, you say. But aren’t there some issues with such an interpretation? What if you’re unconscious? What if you’re in a coma? People in such a state clearly don’t have a consciousness, so does this mean they don’t have a soul? Ah, but that’s where things get interesting. What are you referring to when you say “people in such a state”? If you’re talking about a comatose friend, for example, then you’re essentially referring to his/her soul. In effect, the question is redundant. If you can even speak of something as a distinct being, then you already know that it has a soul. Whether that soul is currently “connected” to a physical body is another matter.

So where does this put us in terms of Mirai Nikki’s interpretation? Before we can answer that question, we must first elaborate upon the soul yet again. So we take the soul to be the consciouness; in other words, the mind. That’s still kind of vague. Just what are we talking about exactly? Well, the mind is merely a collection of electrical impulses; a pattern of flowing electrons, if you will. Can this be recreated? To be honest, this starts getting quite complicated and less concrete, but theoretically yes. If you can create brain scans, you can in theory determine a pattern from the behavior of the neurons. This, in turn, is theoretically the mind. Of course, our neuroscience isn’t nearly as advanced as our biology in general, so the exactness of this matter isn’t very clear.

With that out of the way, we can now answer the second part of the question at hand. Can the soul be recreated? Given the framework that I’ve set up, yes. So what does this mean? Well, in terms of what I’ve claimed, a person can in fact be resurrected, both physically and “metaphysically”. But it can’t be that simple can it? Let’s put things in more perspective then. Believe it or not, this sort of thought experiment is also conducted with respect to the concept of teleportation. Magic aside, a more scientific interpretation would be the analyzation, deconstruction, and reconstruction (at a different location) of an object. Sound familiar? Yup, it’s what we’ve been analyzing thusfar.

So what is the inherent “issue” with the concept of teleportation? As I’ve just outlined, it should theoretically be possible to almost completely reconstruct a person exactly as he/she was. The question often brought up, then, is whether the reconstructed person really is the same as the person that was deconstructed. How is this different from what we’ve just been discussing? Well, the issue of time is now introduced. The copy may essentially be a flash clone of the subject at the exact moment, but what defines a person is the life, not just one single moment. Can this “copy” still be considered the same as the “original”? This is where I turn the philosophy knob up to eleven.

Detractors to all of this recreation talk argue that no, the copy is not the same as the original. The things that the copy will do are not necessarily what the original would have done. That is an understandable view, but I maintain that it is irrelevant. Pertaining to resurrection and teleportation, the original is no longer in existence. How does that change things? You no longer know what the original would have done. You can’t compare the “differences” between the two; you don’t even have a basis for such a comparison. Who’s to say what the “proper” action should have been? If the “original” is gone, then you might as well accept the actions of the “copy”. After all, you literally don’t know any better.

As feasible as I make all this sound, though, there are still some problems. I’ve only been talking about actions on a small scale and not considering behavior as a whole. Isn’t it possible that the personality of the copy will differ from that of the original? Unfortunately, yes. Just because we are able to simulate the brain patterns of the original up to this point and input them into the copy doesn’t mean we can ensure that these patterns will continue to be the same. And then comes the most obvious question. What happens if both the original and the copy are in existence? Doesn’t this mean that the copy has no soul? Well, the problem that I just brought up may actually address this.

Since there’s no way to ensure that a copied mind will be able to extrapolate and maintain behavior similar to that of the past, you could consider that the copy has a soul of its own. So wouldn’t this essentially nullify the claim that you can recreate the soul? Not exactly. The original question was whether a dead person can be brought back. In terms of pure recreation, the answer is still yes. All you need is the DNA and the brain patterns. While the question of whether the recreated person will change may be the most pertinent, it is also irrelevant. What we need to consider is the fact that people change normally all the time. Without an original to base our comparisons off of, it’s literally impossible to say if the path that the copy takes will diverge from the one that the original would have taken.

So what exactly can we gather from all this? To sum it up, I guess what I’m trying to say is I disagree with what Mirai Nikki claims. You can in theory resurrect a person, soul and all, and that’s all that really matters. The questions of what would have been and how that could affect the result, while making for interesting philosophical debates, are in the end irrelevant to the fact that a final product is theoretically possible.

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22 Responses to Resurrection: A Philosophical Analysis and Commentary

  1. Tafacory says:

    Very creative and exciting post. Only this year actually, have I begun to question the nature of the soul and whether or not it even exists. Thanks for your insights!

  2. marthaurion says:

    I’m inclined to agree with your analysis. As you mentioned, we can’t necessarily create the same exact body with just DNA, but if we were to replicate the body as it was physiologically at the time of death, then theoretically, we could recreate the same person. If we were able to copy the exact same layout of the neural network, we could theoretically make the new person think in exactly the same way with the exact same thoughts.

    As for the original and copy argument, I would say that that’s a purely philosophical question. We have cells being created and dying every day. I think the soul was purely intended to a source of stability in our bodies, something that could ignore science and remain constant throughout our lives.

    • Smiley says:

      Hmm. If we go off my belief that the soul is the mind, then the soul is not as constant as you may think. Just look at yourself; each interaction you have, each experience you go through, changes how you think in some way. Just the act of reading my post (and this reply, for that matter) could have changed how you think. Heck, even learning in school does that.

      Perhaps the next time someone attempts to lecture you, you can tell him/her off for trying to twist your soul. =D

      • marthaurion says:

        Well, I think that the soul isn’t meant to be a way of thinking or anything like that. I think the soul is designed to be an entity that serves as an identity not restricted by science. Just conjecture, of course…I don’t actually buy into the idea of a soul.

  3. hiroy_raind says:

    I might actually think that there is no such thing as soul. Almost everything that we do, move, think, and act are determined by our very physical being (as even emotions are affected by hormones). The only other thing outside the physical that makes us unique invidiual is not soul, but memory (how we were raised, how we acted to things previously, what events that are prominent in our minds, etc).

    With that, the question is, if a person died (let’s call it “person A”), and a perfect clone was made (“person B”) and was given the full memory of “person A” before he died, will it be appropriate to say that “person A” has been revived? Technically yes, as “person B” have the exact same property and attributes of “person A” down to every single detail. But we can also argue that “person A”‘s life have ended where he died, and did not resumed life as “person B” when it was created (as in, if I was “person A”, if I die, I will stay dead, even if somebody made a perfect clone of me and put/copied my memory to the clone).

    This is actually a paradox that I’ve been interested with when I planned it for a story I’m going to write in the future. It’s called Ship of Theseus or Theseus’ paradox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus).

    • Smiley says:

      Haha, gotta love those paradoxes. The Ship of Theseus certainly is an intriguing thought experiment. I remember first learning about it when I was watching Ghost in the Shell, which I would highly recommend if you haven’t seen it already. I might just make a post on this topic at some later time.

      Regardless, I can see why you might want to differentiate the mind and the soul. The only reason why I even linked them together is because I believe strongly in the social construction of reality. Have you considered that the two may simply be different ways of referring to the same thing? After all, many historical religious concepts were merely attempts at explaining some scientific phenomenon without using science as we know it today. Couldn’t “soul” merely be the word for “mind” in a “religious language”?

      • hiroy_raind says:

        I did watch Ghost in the Shell, at least the first movie, though at the time I was quite lacking in comprehending a lot of it hahaha. Maybe another watch is due soon for me.

        Perhaps, as my theory is simply what I think is the closest to being logical in my current thoughts. But now that I think about it, I think there might be something that can be identified as a soul. Currently I kinda pictures a soul as like an unique name tag/ID tag for each living being that perished/moved upon death of said beings. This somewhat relates to another questions that I often ask myself, like “Why am I born into this body and controlling it instead of a different body?” and “I remember being born, but what am I before that?”, as these questions seems to be pointing a lot to what people refers as “soul”.

        • Smiley says:

          You should definitely check out the TV series.

          Ghost in the Shell, of course, exemplifies the Ship of Theseus paradox through the use of cybernetics. The question that is posed is, if the entire body of a human is replaced with cybernetic parts, is the final result still a human? If not, at what point did he/she stop becoming a human? GitS sort of circumvents the issue by conceptualizing the existence of the titular “ghost”, which is essentially their own word for “soul”.

          The TV series has a collection of very interesting robots known as Tachikoma. It is established that they are equipped with AI, but is that enough to be considered a soul? Initially the Tachikoma collectively act like silly children who are eager to learn but still follow orders unanimously, but throughout the series we start to see them making their own individual decisions based on their “emotions”. In effect, each Tachikoma starts to gain what GitS calls a “ghost”. All of this is very well executed, and you should most definitely check it out.

          • hiroy_raind says:

            Oh, you’re talking about the TV series.
            I’ve missed a lot of episodes of that and only watched some parts of it.

            I’ll definitely check it out, thanks :).

  4. Carillus says:

    I can see why Valen brought you on board – you’re definitely cut from the same cloth. This is a wonderful post.

    This reminds me of ‘The Prestige’, a movie directed by Christopher Nolan that has one scene in particular that deals with cloning. It doesn’t go much further from there, but I digress.

    In my opinion, the concept of a soul can be represented fully in scientific terms by the full neural framework within our brains, so if this neural network can be recreated, then our actual selves can then be reproduced. So if you neglect the idea of a ‘soul’ and merely use the idea of a ‘consciousness’, we can indeed be fully duplicated, not as a ‘copy’ but as a ‘perfect replica’. This idea was also dealt with in Kara no Kyoukai, where Touko Aozaki had created a perfect replica of herself that was set to awaken when the original died, so it would be fundamentally impossible to tell apart from the original.

    However, I still maintain this belief: If a ‘copy’ was never informed that it was one, and lived its life believing itself to be the ‘original’, and the others around the copy were also never informed that it was a duplicate, this ‘copy’ would therefore completely occupy the position of the ‘original’. In this case, I would refer to the relationship between the person in question with his own body and everyone around him/her as the ‘soul’, as it is the perception of the person and the people around him that makes him who he is. If he is fundamentally indistinguishable from the original and does not even know that he himself is a duplicate, would he not therefore exist as the same person completely? Therefore, since the relationships did not change, does he not possess the same ‘soul’?

    I think my brain is starting to spin in circles so I’ll stop here.

    • hiroy_raind says:

      The relationships might not change, but that is viewing the person from somebody else’ viewpoints. I think that the ‘original’ stayed dead, and the ‘copy’ is continuing his life (/his story, if I may). The ‘original’ doesn’t actually controls the “copy”‘s body, therefore the soul is different.

      On a side note, doesn’t Touko’s consciousness transfer over into her “new body”? As she still remembers her death when she confronts her killer (or at least the one that delivered the finishing blow).

    • Smiley says:

      The way I see it, providing a replica with everything about the original up to the present does not necessitate that it continues to act the same way. If the original is no longer in existence, then yes, we will never know if there was a distinction. On the other hand, if both existed simultaneously, I think we can agree that there is no “splitting” of the soul going on. The copy merely has its own soul, which may or may not be similar to that of the original.

      In the former, I guess you could consider them “kindred spirits”, but just because everything about the copy has been taken from the original does not guarantee that this will be the case. How can this even be possible? I think one possible outcome from imprinting a mind to another body is the copy would have the experience of watching the original’s entire life like a movie. But a movie is just a movie, and he/she doesn’t have to act according to it. Of course, the argument against this is that the entire life experience of a person is much more than just a simple movie, so this could just be a very crude analogy.

      If you ask me, Touko’s situation would be a perfect example of the case where the two souls are in fact similar but distinct. How she was able to give the doll her consciousness can be brushed off as one of the wonders of magic, but if I recall correctly, she was skilled in hypnotic suggestion in addition to puppet making.

  5. Valence says:

    Good to see more philosophy fans on AOIA! I look forward to more philosophical posts!

    Yes, the common ‘Teleporter’ paradox. What’s to say we’re the same after we step through it? Yet there exists another paradox, which Heraclitus talked about “You cannot step twice in the same stream.” Every minute, every second, cells die and are born. Dead skin is shed. As such, we’re never the same person. We thereotically change every second – something in our body is different every time we examine ourselves. It is indeed the way we live – our minds- that define who we are, rather than merely our physical composition.

    As such, Mirai Nikki advocates a common theme in Shintoism: the importance of the soul. The soul, in this case, would what they feel makes us who we are. We can have a million clones, but if each one had different personalities, will they be the same person? Even if they were all of the same mind and body, are they all the same person? Or are they an army of clones?

    Yet this brings up many questions. If my mind is transplanted into a new body because my old body has stopped malfunctioning, am I still the same person? I think soul in this case would be the vague sense of someone being who he or she is. Like one’s essence. One’s lifeforce. A rather literature student styled opinion but it is indeed, my opinion.

    • Smiley says:

      I guess an important question to ask is, how exactly was the mind transplanted? If the entire brain was carried over, I’m inclined to believe that you are still “you”. If, instead, some sort of brain pattern was analyzed and replicated in the new body, I would be more likely to believe that a distinct soul was brought into existence.

      • Valence says:

        The puzzle has many variations but the key idea is that your thoughts have been transplanted. Although I must admit: your solution to the paradox is brilliant.

  6. The soul is your consciousness which is just a form of energy.

    If Yuno really wanted to create a copy, the best she could do is analyse Yuki and create something similar to a robotic personality. It won’t be Yuki, but he’ll be programmed to love her. Only problem is Yuki won’t have fully expressed himself meaning Yuno can’t actually programme him for every situation.

  7. The soul manages to be another concept that is very difficult to define personally. Though it is probably more difficult to universally define as a group. I tend to believe in the idea that a soul is another way of defining a consciousness. The idea that the soul or consciousness of a person is in any way static is hilarious and utterly impossible. A person is defined by a constant cycle of learning, forgetting, relearning and remembering. In conclusion, a replicated person wouldn’t be the same metaphysically as the original in the same way any person isn’t the same metaphysically as younger version of themselves.

    Very interesting post.

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  10. C says:

    Maybe look at the Gantz manga. Spoiler: In later chapters (past book 21) one of the characters makes a copy of another character and realizes the copy isn’t the same.

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