Hardware/Software as mind/body dualism metaphor

This was retweeted to me by good ol' @DrNancyMalik*  this evening.

Dualism Fail

Of course you, my dear readers, being smart, well educated and (may I say) extremely attractive people, can see right through this bollocks, right?

Still, for the hard of thinking, let's expand a little.

This is a very badly written paraphrase of an argument I've run into repeatedly - that is, the invocation of dualism and some kind of refutation of the atheist, materialist position. That I've had it pushedmy way by a homeopath is a mildly unusual platform, but it's the same old tired claim nonetheless.

I have a simple answer for it, which I'll expand on shortly: I'll show you a mind when you can show me a piece of software.

Now, the unthinking theist may at that point show me a CDROM, or a line of code on a screen, or a hard-drive. Perhaps they'd show me a whole computer. Unfortunately, that's hardware. If you wave a CD at me, all I see is a piece of polycarbonate plastic. It's not the software - it's merely the hardware substrate upon which the software may (or may not) reside.

The same with a hard-drive. It's a medium on which software may or may not be stored. Show me the actual computer running software, and that's all you're showing me, the hardware. The memory state may be 'x' or 'y', or whatever. It's still not the software.

Software, like the "mind", is an abstract and ephemeral concept, with no real physical existence independently of its medium. It can be stored and processed on hardware. In the case of short programs, it can be contained within a brain with relatively high fidelity - I have a great number of bits and pieces of program code stored away in the meat computer inside my skull. It can be transmitted in various ways - wires, optical fibres, sound waves (in the case of accoustic couplers), paper, whatever. You could conceivably even transmit if by semaphore, if you had a lot of time on your hands.

But it can't exist without some kind of physical substrate.

Not unlike the "mind" or "soul".

Similar cases can be made for, for example, stories. If you show me a book, you're just showing me a physical substrate, made from pulped vegetable matter and perhaps bound with treated animal skins. You're not showing me the story, and the story cannot in any real sense be said to exist without some kind of physical substrate. Even in the case of oral tradition, brains are needed to maintain and transmit the story, and once the brains die off, the story no longer exists, unless of course it's passed on or recorded. When you die, your ideas die with you.

Software is an *idea*. It does not somehow exist independently, a disembodied ghost program somewhere in the ether. Without hardware, it is nothing.

And that, to me, sums up dualism's failure. It's claimed that "souls" or "minds" can exist independently of the medium on which they "run". But without the medium, there is nothing. It's not even a zero. It's null.

Software, stories and minds are just information over time, stored and transmitted via physical means.

Show me the software.

*Dr Nancy Malik is not a doctor. Do not rely on her for medical advice. In fact, don't rely on her for information of any kind.

posted @ Tuesday, April 13, 2010 8:58 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Hardware/Software as mind/body dualism metaphor

Left by Dave The Happy Singer at 4/14/2010 11:28 AM
Quite right.

Couple more esoteric examples of software transmission:

ITV's Data Base programme in the early 80's transmitted software as audio over the end credits, to be recorded on to cassette and loaded on home micros.

And of course, with sufficient patience, software could be distributed by IPoAC:

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