Sunday, April 15, 2007

Degrees of souledness

~From I Am a Strange Loopby Douglas Hofstadter, page 17:

Some of us (again, I count myself in this group) believe that neither a just-fertilized egg nor a five-month old fetus possesses a full human soul, and that, in some sense, a potential mother's life counts more than the life of that small creature, alive though it indisputably is.

~From I Am a Strange Loopby Douglas Hofstadter, page 22-23:

Even though I sincerely believe there is much more of a soul in the twenty-year-old than in the two-year-old (a view that will no doubt dismay many readers), I nonetheless have enormous respect for the potential of the two-year-old to develop a much larger soul over the course of a dozen or so years.

The word "soul" here is not being used in the religious sense of the word, in which there are no levels. Here Hofstadter is using it as more of a level-of-consciousness thing, which is, as far as I know, somewhat similar to the way Ayn Rand used it. (Being an atheist, she did not believe a religious soul exists.)

I can thus certainly agree that a fetus and a two-year-old have less soul than, say, me, thus I am not a dismayed reader in that sense. However, Hofstadter says he has enormous respect for the potential for large soul, but also states that a potential mother's life counts more. It's hard to tell how enormous his respect for a fetus really is.

I like what he also points out:

~From I Am a Strange Loopby Douglas Hofstadter, page 23:

In addition, I have been built, by the mechanisms of billions of years of evolution, to perceive in the two-year-old what, for lack of a better word, I will call "cuteness", and the perceived presence of that quality grants the two-year-old an amazingly strong shell of protectedness against attacks not just by me, but by humans of all ages, sexes, and persuasions.

Hmmmm... ain't it the truth. However, this can sometimes have a negative impact. For example, a child could be ugly. Will that change how much he is loved? Hopefully not by his parents, but perhaps. And what about the activists who donate more money to help the poor little puppy dogs and stray kittens than to another country to help feed a family? Surely proximity also has something to do with it, but a puppy's cuteness is a great survival tool. How nice of evolution to evolve us to perceive furry little animals as being cute too...



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