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Is the Human Mind Like Computer Software?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The question of the origin of human rationality plagues the atheistic naturalist worldview – the worldview that says that all that exists ultimately is matter governed by the laws of physics.  If every event that has ever occurred and ever will occur is determined by physical laws, then how are humans able to make decisions that are free from that determinism?

Rationality is mere illusion under naturalism, as everything we say and think is the result of antecedent physical conditions and physical laws.  We can’t help what we say and think, because all our thoughts and words are the result of physical processes that we have no control over.  Judging a person’s beliefs would be like blaming a leaf for falling to the ground.

On a recent Unbelievable? podcast, atheist Norman Bacrac posited the following solution to the problem.  He claimed that the human brain represents the hardware that obeys the physical laws of nature.  But running on this hardware is the software of the rational mind, software which evolved out of the hardware of human anatomy.  According to Bacrac, even though the hardware is determined by natural laws, the software is not.  Software represents the thoughts and arguments made by humans when they are reasoning.

Does this software proposal really help?  I don’t think so.  Consider what hardware and software mean in the computer world.  Hardware consists in physical electronic circuits.  Software performs the function of the program it implements by directly providing instructions to the computer hardware.  Software is non-physical information.  It can be instantiated into a physical medium, but the medium is not the software – it merely contains the software.

If we are using the analogy of computer hardware and software to explain the difference between the human brain and human rationality, then we need to explain where the non-physical software came from.  Bacrac claimed that the hardware of the brain evolved through standard Darwinian processes, but what about the software?  Ultimately, for the naturalist, the software must come from physical matter.  So, we have physical hardware producing non-physical software, but this is certainly not the case in the world of computers.  Microprocessors don’t produce spreadsheet applications; human minds produce spreadsheet applications.

In order for Bacrac’s analogy to work, he needs to explain the incredible leap from the determined, physical hardware of the brain to the undetermined, non-physical software of human rationality.  On naturalism, I fail to see how this leap can occur, and thus the solution that Bacrac posits does not seem to work.


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Comments

  • Anthony Ramsey

    As a computer tech/IT Network Administrator, I appreciate this post. lol. =)

  • http://geopolicy.wordpress.com Tony

    Ditto :)

  • Grant H

    Also the software running a computer still follows a predetermined , rational , logical path. Software cannot be like the human brain and make concious decisions based on feelings , taste , love etc for example which are all non physical. Humans make many decisions that are simply not based on logic. So the Bacrac conclusion in my view totally false.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Could you give examples of human decisions not based on logic? That is distinct from decisions that you simply believe are illogical – that can just be a case of ‘bad programming’, which is quite explainable in the atheist world view (see the book ‘Kluge’, for example).

  • Grant H

    “that can just be a case of ‘bad programming” Or it could be an example of free will and bad decisions. In any case even if it was bad programming , as you put it , it would still be illogical. If I get a ticket for speeding in my car – is the court going to let me off with ” it was in my genes , or my parents taught me that”?

  • Andrew Ryan

    Illogical has more than one meaning. Please clarify.

  • Andrew Ryan

    No, the court doesn’t let you off, but then I don’t ‘let off’ a malfunctioning computer either. You can easily see a court punishment as reprogramming, if you want to continue the analogy. There’s nothing illogical about discouraging people from speeding by threatening punishment.

  • Grant H

    Wiktionary

    1.Contrary to logic; lacking sense or sound reasoning.

    Dictionary.com

    1. characterized by lack of logic; senseless or unreasonable
    2. disregarding logical principles

    What are your other meanings for it?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I can say a computer programme lacks logic – meaning it plain and simple doesn’t work.
    I can say a person’s behaviour is illogical, meaning he was very rude to the shop manager he wanted a discount from – his behaviour didn’t match the outcome he desired.
    Or I can say a logical deduction someone makes is based on false principles.

    So when you are comparing a person’s behaviour to a computer, and then using the word ‘illogical’, then you need to be specific to avoid equivocation.

  • Andrew Ryan

    By the way, I asked you which meaning you meant, and your only reply was to give me two dictionary definitions. Don’t you think the fact you supplied more than one meaning kind of proved my point? And you still didn’t explain which of the two you meant!

    You didn’t respond to my point about legal punishments. Does that mean you accept my reply?

  • Grant H

    Well if you actually read the definitions they are basically the same – aren’t they? You have not given any other definitions of”illogical” have you. Remember you were the one who said it had many meanings and I did ask you for some. Taking your rudeness to a shop manager while expecting a discount scenario then the dictionary definitions are fine. There are few other definitions unless you just deliberately wish to split hairs is there? Just common sense. And if I can’t take them from a dictionary then where can I get them from?

  • Grant H

    So if someone kills someone your loved one , under your rules you have no right to feel anger , sadness or any emotions. They were only doing what they were programmed to do. Through genes and conditioning. They will go to prison and be reprogrammed. Cool – all is good then. If you feel any different you will also need to be reprogrammed. Because you are not being logical. So yes I do refute your reply about legal punishments.

  • Andrew Ryan

    This box is too narrow to read – I’ll post my reply above.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Well if you actually read the definitions they are basically the same – aren’t they?”

    No, they’re not. Two different meanings, hence them being separate entries. If you don’t understand the difference then it explains your error.

    You said: “Humans make many decisions that are simply not based on logic”

    You are here using a different meaning of logic to the one used when describing the workings of computers. In computer terms, ‘bad decisions’ are completely logical, they’re just based on ‘bad programming’, in the same way that one can construct a completely logical argument that gives an utterly false conclusion, if the premises are incorrect.

    Further: “concious decisions based on feelings , taste , love etc for example which are all non physical”

    All of these feelings have physical manifestations in the brain. If you have proof that any of these are non-physical, or even just have a non-physical component, then a Nobel Prize awaits you.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “no right to feel anger , sadness or any emotions”

    Nonsense – I am just as ‘programmed’ to feel those emotions, so have every right to feel them. Why would I not feel sad because my loved one is dead? I think this says more about your own worldview than it does mine. Perhaps you have never had a loved one, if so I am sorry for you.

    So again, what is illogical about our penal system, from an atheist worldview?

  • Anjhograahm? CHRIS

    I JUST WANT TO ASK ONE THING,
    DOES GOD KNOWS WHAT I DID ,STILL DOING, AND WILL DO???
    PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE……
    IF YES, HOW CAN I CHANGE MY FUTURE DOINGS
    IF I CAN’T, THEN I’M A ROBOT, PRE DESTINE
    WHERE’S THE FREE WILL?????
    OR IS IT SAFE TO SAY THAT, GOD DOESN’T KNOW WHAT WILL I DO, UNTIL I DO IT , THEN THAT WILL BRING US TO…
    GOD DOESN’T KNOW EVERYTHING ……???????

  • Paradox

    The experts differ on this, but it is agreed that the error in the question’s reasoning is that it confuses Temporal Moments with Logical Moments. It is the fact that you will carry out a certain action at a certain time that allows God to know that you will carry it out. If you would choose otherwise, God would know that instead.
    But I think that Middle Knowledge would be worth your time studying.

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