The 'Soul' as Shorthand

None of these things – morality, consciousness, humour – is made up of a different kind of substance. Rather, they are the kinds of thing that emerge from ordinary material stuff when it reaches a certain level of complexity. Talk of them, just like talk of souls, is a near inevitability when you are dealing with creatures as complicated as humans, beasts that are incontestably material but whose material complexity gives rise to emergent qualities. Like talk of ‘conscience’ or ‘morality’, ‘the soul’ may simply be a necessary shorthand when dealing with creatures that use language, live in groups, engage in ritual, perceive the future, are cognisant of their changing nature and impending demise, agonise over moral truth, search for meaning, strive for a sense of purpose and are haunted by moments of transcendence. Homo sapiens currently occupies this particular niche on earth but there is in principle no reason why other organisms – carbon or silicon based – won’t do so at some other point. Whether or not that is likely, those disciplines that have a long tradition of discussing such ‘emergent’ qualities as ‘the soul’ might just have something to contribute to the debates about how we should classify and relate to AI.
— Magisteria: The Entangled Histories of Science & Religion. Nicholas Spencer, 2023

Magisteria has been a good read, offering some interesting PILL project threads to pull on.

I’ve been pondering the notion of ‘strange protocols’. AI-mediated protocols that defy human understanding yet yield surprising results. Strange protocols bear some resemblance to the emergent qualities mentioned in the quote.

Another perspective I’m considering is: All models are false; all frameworks and protocols are provisional

This aligns with the quote’s acknowledgment that terms like ‘soul’ may be shorthand attempts at grasping the emergent complexity of human-like entities. Our models, frameworks and protocols serve as tools to navigate complexity, much like our language of souls, conscience, and morality arise from our struggles predicting the future, confronting moral dilemmas, and searching for meaning and purpose. In other words, our understanding of consciousness, the soul and AI is a work in progress and subject to revision.