What is Mind? And does it require a "Soul"?


Super Moderator
In a thread under the Time Travel section, a question came up about whether a "mind" requires a "soul." I pointed out that, before such a question could be approached scientifically, we needed to agree to an objective definition of "mind", and with that in hand we would likewise need a similarly objective definition of "soul" before we could explore the larger question.

Let me begin by offering a few links for current dictionary definitions for mind (not saying any are sufficient as is, just a literature substantiation for the start of our discussion):


Mind - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I would like to point out that both definitions, while identifying "mind" as a noun, either invoke the concept of "process" or attempts to describe the noun "mind" by describing the processes it performs (e.g. thinks, reasons, feels, remembers, wills).

In making this point, I would like to suggest that we avoid the trivial "the mind is the brain" definition. In my business of complex systems engineering it is important to make this distinction that the widget that does something is distinct from that which it does. In other words, I know of no requirement that a mind absolutely requires a brain, thus leaving us open for a strong AI argument.

I would further suggest then, that what we tend to call "mind" is indeed a process (a set of functional capabilities) that executes on some physical device. The operative hallmarks of that process are the abilities to think, reason, feel, remember, and/or will. It is at this point that I would like to offer the definition of mind framed by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, MD in his book:

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation: Daniel J. Siegel: 9780553386394: Amazon.com: Books

From pages 50-52, Dr. Siegel suggests:

It quickly emerged, however, that each of the disciplines had its own way of seeing reality, and although we could easily agree that the brain was composed of a set of neurons encased in the skull and interconnected with the rest of the body, there was no shared view of the mind, and no common vocabulary for discussing it. A computer scientist referred to it as 'an operating system.' A neurobiologist said the 'the mind is just activity of the brain.' An anthropologist spoke of 'a shared social process passed across the generations.' A psychologist said the 'mind is our thoughts and feelings.' And so it went, until I beceme worried that the tension from these differing perspectives in the group might lead to its dissolution. I had to create some acceptable working definition of the mind before we could address our fundamental seminar topic.Here is the definition I ultimately offered to the group, a place to begin our explorations together: 'The human mind is a relational and embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information.*' That's it. Amazingly, every person in the group--from all the various fields involved--affirmed that this definition fit with their own field's approach
Emphasis mine. IMHO, I find the most important aspects of Dr. Siegel's definition are:1) Relational (knowledge) - an important aspect of today's expert system database AI techniques.
2) Process - Also known as a function or set of functions that operates on inputs and produces outputs.

3) Regulation - The primary aspect of control.

4) Energy and Information - I have made many posts on this forum that discuss what I believe to be the relationships between these two metrics. I will not go into them right now, but instead leave this initial post where it is to see where the discussion proceeds.


Hi Rainman,

thanks for starting this thread. I don't promise that I will be able to keep up with everything . I like that you started off with some dictionary definitions. It is rather amazing really than in the 21st century we think we know so much but we literally don't even know what our own minds are!

I think it is interesting that right at the end there , in itemising your own most important criteria for a mind, you have not mentioned embodiment, and as such have already removed yourself from Dr Siegel's definition. But then again he was talking about the human mind. So he seems to accept as a working premise that a human mind must be embodied in a human brain (the hardware).

I see no reason to argue with you about AI; I believe that systems are being developed that will replicate what a human mind can do, or in many cases exceed, approximate or just overlap the functions. They wouldn't have to be exactly the same to be considered a mind. After all, human minds differ quite a lot.

Doesn't an AI still have to be embodied though? I mean it needs power and memory storage which has to live somewhere.

You could I guess have a network of smaller processes controlling disparate elements that you could say add up to a big freefloating "mind" that lives everywhere and nowhere (and would be hard to kill totally) like Lawnmower Man but I think that would be cheating a bit.

So to summarize my own point of view: I agree that a mind can exist without a soul.

However, I do tend to be of the intestinal belief that humans do have some sort of seat of consciousness , a soul is as good a word as any. This may be linked to a mind , for whatever purpose I don't know.

I don't have any evidence for this idea of a soul, only that it seems to be a universal human concept.

Sorry Syzygy I don't accept any thing from any holy book as concrete provable evidence.

One thing that caught my eye in your links was this:


: a conscious substratum or factor in the universe

That does excite me as something that would, for my story purposes, be able to be be duplicated; the mind as a quantum idea in the universe, existing in different times and places at once. So thanks for that!

Here's a thought: we have autistic spectrum people who's brains are just wired a bit different. They frequently have an affinity with computers . Are AI minds autistic?


Different things speak to different people.

All institutions are of limited reliability

in direct relationship to their corruptibility.

That is why I only put so much stock

in a single source.

Let every man learn to think for himself.

Truth strikes a chord within men.

And I recognize the wisdom of various sources.


Vodkafan,Different things speak to different people.All institutions are of limited reliability
in direct relationship to their corruptibility.

That is why I only put so much stock

in a single source.

Let every man learn to think for himself.

Truth strikes a chord within men.

And I recognize the wisdom of various sources.

I read all those things you wrote but I am not understanding the relevance of any of them to the discussion. Maybe I'm just too tired. Going to hit the pillow. Gnight.
To whom it may concern,

this discussion ebbed from => here.


I cannot conceive of a mind without a mind set.



noun \ˈmīn(d)-ˌset\

: a particular way of thinking

It is said that it takes a village to properly raise a child.

What is lacking in minds today would leave souls

in the hands of, possibly, a single mad scientist--

one whom would cloud the definition of human

by artificially altering the brains and, thus, minds

of men. You know my opinion of brain implants.

I hope to be 'wowed' by all of the supposed good

to come from artificial intelligence (AI),

notwithstanding that I previewed something beyond

"[...] how a M240 machine gun can be affixed to a fuel-

powered machine that can transverse rough terrain on the

battlefield and then hone in on enemy targets, shooting

to kill from hundreds of feet away"--

Armed ground drones to take over battlefields in 5 years.

I cannot find the military demonstration on audio-

video (a-v) that I viewed just a day or two ago...

Cause for concern is similarly evidenced below:


Uploaded on May 9, 2011:


In regard to the a-v above, bold added to details:

Dispute rages over ethics of killer machines[.]

It is estimated that the work of one in fifty US soldiers is now being done by a robot.

As the use of technology in war grows, this report goes in search of the truth about

the military's newest recruits.

The iRobot Development Laboratory in Boston, Massachusetts, may look like a scene

from a science fiction film but this "hall of cool stuff" serves a very real purpose. The US

army are increasingly using robots to disarm roadside bombs and fly unmanned aircraft in

the Middle East. Now they are even creating armed robotic soldiers that can withstand

repeated attacks. But whilst the young generation of US soldiers "know it will save

their lives", these developments raise some serious ethical questions about the ability

of technology to make human judgements in delicate situations. Are the lines between

fantasy and reality becoming dangerously blurred?

A Film By SBS

Distributed By Journeyman Pictures

May 2011

One more in regard to robotic warfare, published this year,

Robots Army in the Future - Special Documentary


Hi Syzygy,

if I may say, you seem to be preoccupied with whether an artificial mind is good or bad. That is not the topic.

The questions are:

What is a mind? (your opinion is good here. It doesn't have to be science, but give some reasons)

Does an AI count as a mind?

Can a mind exist without a soul?

What is a soul?

Should a mind exist without a soul?

Why not?

For instance, on the first question of What is a mind, do you agree with the 4 aspects that Rainman puts forward? Or disagree?

Or do you like any of the dictionary definitions?

There are several, IMO different, lines of thought developing in this thread. Does a mind require a

soul? Vs. Does a soul require a mind? Followed by; Can a mind be artificial?

I'll start with the latter as it is the easier to dispense with.

I think the concept of "the mind" depends on exactly which definition of the mind you are entertaining with each reference to the mind.

Can an AI be considered to "have a mind"?

A. Mind: the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels, and remembers.

In this case, No. This definition quantifies a "person" and a human characteristic, "feels"

B. Mind: intellect or understanding, as distinguished from the faculties of feeling and willing; intelligence.

In this case, Yes, it specifically excludes "feeling and willing"...human Characteristics.

A bigger question might be, Can an AI have a mind of it's own?

I would have to think...No. Any AI requires programming. Even one that has the ability to "learn"

from "experience" still has to have "that" initial ability programmed in.

One might counter; If "the mind" is the seat of a persons intelligence, reasoning, remembering, isn't that programmed by others, i.e. parents, educators, etc?

Yes, but, a human mind will develop regardless of whether or not anyone programmed it or

even, who. An AI's cannot. I've built my own computers for many years now. Until I install an

operating system they can do nothing except POST and even that is programmed in the BIOS.

This, then, allows me to segue to the soul.

What is the soul? If I could "flat out " answer that I would be famous. Since I have no desire for

fame, I will just discuss it as I understand it.

In a religious context (with variation of course) there are 3, or 4 depending on who's counting,

separate parts of a person.

Body, Soul and/or Mind (some equate these as one, I separate them, as we are in this thread's

discussion.), and Spirit. The Body, Soul, and Mind are intercorrelated. The Spirit exists of and on

it's own. In many religions, it is "The Gift from God" that allows God and man to commune.

The Body; is obviously the organic vessel that contains the Mind and Soul so first we need to

decide whether the body can exist without a mind or a soul. I think the quick answer should be yes.

A "brain dead" body can be sustained on medical life support for a very long time. This has been

shown many times over. (There are even some walking around that might be considered brain dead)

The Soul; I feel, is the "Who" you are, vs. "Whom". It develops along with...

The Mind; which again, I feel, is the "Whom" you are, vs. "Who".

Nearly all consider the brain to be the container of the mind and many consider it to be the container of the soul or at least where the soul influences the mind. This is where they can be differentiated.

The mind is the sum of one's knowledge and experience. It is where the memories are stored from

which one can deduce the reality they experience. It can affect the soul (the beginning of sin was the acquiring of knowledge, in a way that was forbidden by God) negatively and positively. It defines the Whom that one is. By this, I mean, The person one is in reality. Are you a Doctor or a Lawyer, a Scientist or a Factory Worker, a Brick Mason or an Artist. These are the result of one's education, knowledge, and ambition...the Mind.

The Who you are is the Moral You...the Soul. Are you a compassionate Doctor that truly cares for

your patients or only interested in the fee you can charge for your services and engage in

unnecessary procedures? A good Lawyer that seeks justice for all concerned parties or willing to get

the most egregious perpetrators off the hook, if the fee is large enough? The others listed can be

considered the same way. I believe you can understand where I'm coming from. The mind can

affect the soul and the soul can affect the mind. It simply depends on which one is dominant...some believe this is an influence of the Spirit. In what are considered "normal" circumstances the mind and the soul, though unique, exist simultaneously and work together to establish the "whole".

In special circumstances, Autism was mentioned as one such circumstance, I would venture to say they still exist. It's just that one might seem less apparent.

In summation: What is a mind and does it require a soul?

The mind is what you know, the soul is how you use it. Both exist and while neither requires the

other, both benefit from the other.

Thanks Gpa, that was quite clear.

Interestingly, I have also before thought about the 3 interrelated elements of Mind, Body and Spirit and came to similar conclusion , but not quite the same. I believe (with only my own feelings as evidence) that spirit is the life force . It is intimately related with body and mind. If your spirit is at a low ebb it can drag down your health. A basically healthy person can in some cases just lose the will to live and die. Sometimes, when you face difficulties, mind has to take the lead, body does what it's told and spirit gets stronger. Other times spirit is all you got to keep you going.

Animals have spirits. Because we are animals too.

So we differ big time in that ; I think if we have a soul, that is the add-on that makes us different from other animals. Just looking objectively, we are different to other organisms on the planet; we have been so successful as to overrun it in numbers to our own detriment.

Do we have a soul because of our brain size though? Is it just a matter of degree?

I threw out the autism reference just to show another example of a different human mind.

Here are my quick answers so far:

What is a mind? I agree with Rainmans 4 attributes but go with Dr Siegel in that it has to be embodied

Does an AI count as a mind? Yes, if it is self aware and can learn

Can a mind exist without a soul? Yes, as above

What is a soul? a unique human personality

Should a mind exist without a soul? See no reason why not. Posession of a soul doesn't make someone good

As for souls, I believe that we all go to the same "place" when we die, irrespective of being very good or bad; I don't believe in heaven or hell. The "place" we go to is like a big meeting of souls or something; it exists wherever our souls are right now. I got no evidence for this of course. I have an open mind on it, like whether souls can be recycled or not into different bodies.


I've not read the article yet.

Thoughts are considered energy in physics. The law of conservation of energy states,

"Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can change forms." Thence,

I maintain: where one directs his thoughts, there goes he.

I meant what I said. I cannot conceive of a mind without considering mind set.

Moreover, I am partial to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s definition of mind,

primarily in regard to person(s), most broadly relates to organism(s). It lends less

to the ongoing process that is literally dehumanizing in that, by demeaning humans,

its end is to replace and, then, destroy them.


The spirit whereof you speak I regard the Holy Spirit.

I follow what your saying, though your misuse of the subjective

and objective pronouns who and whom, respectively, would give

a grammarian fits.


“Yes, but, a human mind will develop regardless of whether or

not anyone programmed it or even, who.”

People are much slower than other animals to achieve independence.

Babies die without human contact/love. Children are dependent.

Adolescents suffer for lack of guidance/guardianship and young

adults’ need to establish themselves is dire with no emergency

assistance available to them. By and by, much care goes into the

formation of an adult mind.

Our being born into original sin implies conflict. Battling evil takes resolve.

The decision to either resist or succumb to temptation isn’t inconsequential.

So, how one uses what he knows does, in deed, involve his soul. Whether or

not one wants the responsibility, I too believe we will all be held accountable.

0 : - ) MGby'all.

I sort of had the feeling this thread would go this way.

Syzygy, I love you to death, gal. But I am afraid I have to agree with vodkafan on this one. Your posts are very much filled with your judgments of good or bad related to AI and definitely we get your opinions about things ABOUT mind, they shine through. I get it. And by all means I do not wish to tell you that you cannot express your opinions here. Of course you can. However, I placed this thread under Real Science because, well, I wanted to start a more formal, scientific discussion on this matter. So while you are free to express your opinions based on your own moral leanings, I am afraid I shan't be engaging you in most of those. Here is one example why:

Moreover, I am partial to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s definition of mind,primarily in regard to person(s), most broadly relates to organism(s). It lends lessto the ongoing process that is literally dehumanizing in that, by demeaning humans,
its end is to replace and, then, destroy them.
I could not disagree more stridently. As I mentioned before, it is a fundamental aspect of complex systems engineering for us to strongly separate the PHYSICAL aspects of a device from the FUNCTIONS that device performs. I realize that you think it is "dehumanizing" to separate mind from body (disembodiment) but that is a moral judgment, and certainly not a scientifically supported fact. By simply saying we should not try to "dehumanize" the mind, you are essentially saying we should not try to quantify what we really mean by mind, and that we should not even try to duplicate the mind (as a means to extend the human condition and potentially better it). Moreover, understanding how mind words independent of moral implications allows us to better understand the human condition, and develop treatments for those afflicted with diseases and afflictions of the mind.Now here the factual science of "disembodying the mind." I am strongly connected to the work of Alan Turing. In fact, we both share the same birthday (not the same year....I am not THAT old! LOL). But still, as of this day, the strongest "test" we have for identifying what constitutes intelligence is called the Turing Test, as it was devised by Alan Turing. This test involves a single evaluator, who is communicating with two "entities" via the limited aspect of a computer screen. This removes ALL human types of "embodiment" (e.g. voices, voice inflection, facial expressions) from the evaluation. The evaluator can converse and interact with the two subjects via computer messaging for as long as they want, and can ask them and engage them in any topics they wish. Of course, the test is such that one subject the evaluator is a real human and the other is a non-human AI program. The AI would be deemed to be "intelligent" if the evaluator ends the session without being able to identify which was human and which was the AI, or ends the session not willing to even guess which is which.
This is a clearly scientific, objective test for what constitutes "intelligence", and that might go even further than the definitions I cited above for what people believe constitutes a scientific definition of mind. As an engineer who develops complex systems, with intricate software, and even sometimes use various AI techniques in my systems, I am dedicated to understanding mind, separate from body, because that is the way of science.

As for morality and ethics, my opinion on this is clear and I have stated this more than once on this forum: Technology itself is NEITHER GOOD NOR BAD. Rather, only the INTENTION of a human being for how and for what reason they wish to employ a technology to a certain end can be deemed as good or bad. A baseball bat is an amoral technology element. The fact it can be used for MANY things does not make it bad. Rather, it is the human and their intention to use a baseball bat to crush another human's head without provocation....that act and that intention is what is bad, not the technology they choose to utilize.

That is all for now.


Aw..Dang it. I guess missed the initial crux of the question. Can I have a do-over? o_O

In my earlier post I was entertaining the idea of mind "and" soul. As such, it needed to be from a religious or philosophical view point. I indicated as much. To discuss a mind without the involvement of moral influences, purely as an AI, might be even easier.

The mind that most people think of when that word is used is the biological construct of the Neuro electrical processes inside the brain. Can we "mimic" these in an AI? Not yet. Not as apples and apples anyway.

The "mind" needs to be further broken down into it's conjunctive parts. It is not just one simple thing. It is many processes working together. Then we can address each part as a stand alone factor. They are:








I'm sure this list can be added to or items in the list further broken down or combined. This is a fair starting point.

Perhaps the ability of an AI to be considered to have a mind will come down to only a few of the items on my list...the first 2 and 'maybe' the 4th. The remaining attributes I can easily concede.

The only constraint I can place on any of these is... it requires a human mind to enable an AI mind.


Does an AI count as a mind? Yes' date=' if it is self aware and can learn[/quote']Your qualifier disqualifies your answer. There are only, as yet, 9 animals considered to be self-aware and no machines or AI's.Unfortunately, many people get their sense of reality from the movies and such that they watch. (I'm not insinuating that you do) As a result they give attributes to animate and inanimate objects that they simply do not have. Walt Disney was, IMHO, the worst perpetrator of that.
Rainman Time, I couldn't agree more with your statement:

As for morality and ethics' date=' my opinion on this is clear and I have stated this more than once on this forum: Technology itself is NEITHER GOOD NOR BAD. Rather, only the INTENTION of a human being for how and for what reason they wish to employ a technology to a certain end can be deemed as good or bad.[/quote']This can be extended to include not only technology but all aspects of existence. Nothing that exists is inherently bad.And, I'll try to remember to say Happy Birthday...just a couple days before my own. :)
GPA, that's interesting. What are the 9 self aware animals? Yep I am aware that AI is not self aware yet. Thanks, I don't mind you pointing that out. But I think it will get there, and when it does tick off everything on your list then we will have several important questions to answer. But that is nothing to be afraid of, it will help us identify what our souls are or if we have them at all.

Back to spirits for a minute. Even if , for instance, a simple creature like a lizard is not self aware, I still believe it has a spirit, because that is the animating life force. It holds all its atoms together as a system and a series of many processes. Life is pretty amazing. You can soon tell the absence of any spirit in an organism. It goes all floppy.

I don't equate that with a soul though.

The "mind" needs to be further broken down into it's conjunctive parts. It is not just one simple thing. It is many processes working together.
Bingo! (IMHO) I think it is clear that the mind is functionally based (i.e. it performs functions by operating on inputs to yield outputs). But it is also clear the mind is not just one big function. It is several functions working together. Sometimes even competing with one another. Such a parallel functional architecture as this suggests is directly related (no pun intended) to the first item on my list of four that I extracted from Dr. Siegel's quote: RELATIONAL KNOWLEDGE. I believe mind is an emergent phenomenon (another term we use a lot in systems engineering) that results from the relational interactions of the subordinate functional components.

Then we can address each part as a stand alone factor. They are:ConsciousnessAwareness




Nice list. I think I could accept them all as being component functions of the mind. I am not sure if they are all functions at the same level. Some may be subfunctions of others. This gets into the aspect of complex systems we call the functional architecture. It seeks to answer the questions: What are the primary, highest level, "parent" functions of a system? What are the coherent subfunctions that decompose these parent functions (child functions)? How do the sibling functions under a parent function relate to each other? (i.e. what outputs from one child function are used as inputs from other sibling functions?)But before I leave the important concept of relational knowledge, I wish to illustrate how important it is by pointing out one of the most important aspects of our sentient lives that illustrates how important relational knowledge is. When you think about language, I ask you: How do we define the meanings of words? Answer: We use other words to define the meaning of some word. In other words, language is an ordered, self-referential, relational set. The set of words in a language are built upon a set of lexical rules (another relationship...between the elements of language, words, and the rules that govern their composition in sentences). For example, we are taught that a proper sentence has a subject (noun) and an object (noun). And they are related to each other by an action verb.
With that brief detour out of the way, let us return to functions and how they relate (interact) with one another. As many here know, I always tend to use aircraft analogies. Not just because it is my profession, but as an Aspie (I have Asperger's Syndrome), we tend to have very narrow interests which become burning passions...and aircraft is my most important narrow interest. In aircraft system functional modeling we typically have a primary parent function entitled "Fly Aircraft" which decomposes into several sibling functions. What does it take to Fly Aircraft? Well, three child functions that are necessary are:

1) Control Aircraft (flight control surfaces and throttles) - This function is concerned with setting the appropriate pitch, roll, and yaw attitudes along with a proper throttle setting to achieve some pre-defined goal (command). All this function "thinks about" is converting pitch, roll, yaw, and thrust commands into elevator, aileron, rudder, and throttle commands.

2) Guide Aircraft (flight path and thrust level) - This function relates to Control Aircraft in that its job is to actually generate the pitch, roll, yaw, and thrust commands that are used by Control Aircraft. Hence, this becomes a very important relationship between these functions. We call "Control Aircraft" the innermost algorithmic closed-loop. We call "Guide Aircraft" the next outermost algorithmic closed-loop. Guide Aircraft computes the pitch, roll, yaw, and thrust commands that it outputs to Control Aircraft in response to commands of its own. Those commands represent the desired trajectory and speed in 3-D space that I desire the airplane to follow.

3) Navigate Aircraft (flight path and speed) - As you may have guessed, this function's job is to compute the trajectory commands (lateral flight path and vertical flight path) along with the airspeed command that is used by Guide Aircraft. The Navigate Aircraft function accepts a complete flight plan for where you wish the airplane to fly, in terms of Latitude, Longitude, and Altitude waypoints in succession that define the 3-D path, along with airspeeds that you desire the airplane to fly while following this 3-D path. The Navigate function simply sequences through these individual waypoints and decomposes them into successive straight line segments in 3-D space. It uses spherical geometry to compute the trajectory commands for each segment (called a flight leg) that are then sent to the Guide Aircraft function at the proper time (i.e. when a certain waypoint is arrived at, Navigate moves on to compute the geometry between the waypoint it just arrived at and the next waypoint in the flight plan sequence).

I share these details in order to illustrate that these three functions (Navigate, Guide, and Control), working together in a relational manner, actually represent the very primitive mind of an aircraft. In manned aircraft, the pilot usually performs the Navigate function, sometimes there is autopilot to perform the Guide function, and always it is the aircraft itself that performs the Control function (typically on what we call fly-by-wire flight control systems). In an unmanned aircraft such as our Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, and the X-47B UCAS demonstrator that recently landed on aircraft carrier decks, all three of these functions are performed by the aircraft software. All the human does is create the flight path and speeds that we desire the aircraft to follow, which are the inputs to the Navigate function.

I very much believe that the human mind works in very much the same way: Inter-relating functions. The sum total of those functions acting together is what leads to the emergent properties of mind. I believe a lot of the work in AI over the coming years will be to try to identify what are those parent level functions of a human mind, and how do they relate to one another. I tend to believe one of the parent functions is what you call Awareness, Gpa. But I would make it even more specific: The ability to distinguish self from not-self. Perhaps we could call that Discriminate? All I know is that it would seem this is a fundamental high level function whose outputs are fed to other functions (such as memory, judgment, intuition) which allows those functions to generate their outputs based on the knowledge of what is happening to self and not-self entities in the immediate area.

I think that is just about enough babbling for one night! :)

Rainman Time, I couldn't agree more with your statement:This can be extended to include not only technology but all aspects of existence. Nothing that exists is inherently bad.And, I'll try to remember to say Happy Birthday...just a couple days before my own. :)
Ahhh, another summer solstice baby(close enough)...thank you brother Cancer! Good evening!RMT