[FoRK] Re: A bit of religion - how many bits in a soul?

Dave Long dave.long
Fri Jan 6 08:19:45 PST 2006

> (a) If the concept of a "soul," or some other sort of supernatural 
> essence
> attached to us is an incorrect one, and
> (b) We are defined entirely by genetics and mutations and such at 
> birth,
> and
> (c) The universe works the way it does in a logically consistent 
> fashion
> (even if we don't remotely understand the processes by which it does
> this), then:
> (d) Free will does not exist -- between a "predictable" environment and
> genetic makeup, how one will react to any event is entirely ordained 
> based
> on genetics and environment.

Daedelus once suggested that one should be able to spot the moment when 
the soul left the body at death by very precise observation: given 
unique souls, one would need at least 40 bits/soul, and the 
instantaneous loss of that information could, in theory, be detected by 
a blip in some measurable (mass? temperature?).

As a countersuggestion to (a), even given a soul, one would want a much 
larger entropy pool than 40 bits to make the case for substantial 
amounts of free will in a deterministic universe.  Could we put an 
upper bound on the size of a soul by looking at how smoothly the 
physical parameters of a body change "at death"?
How would that number compare to the information content of a genome?

Finally, how many bits/second does one's environment provide?  Over 
what timescale is that comparable to the information in a genome, or in 
a soul?

There is very little reason to be depressed in practice: Von Neumann 
once thought it should be possible to either predict the weather (if it 
was suitably dependent upon external conditions), or (if it was 
suitably independent of external conditions) control the weather, 
neglecting to complete the trichotomy by considering those common 
cases, such as the weather seems to us now, where both our influence 
and our predictive power die away exponentially with time.


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