Centuries ago, when Descartes and La Mettrie were forming their views about the relations between life and the mind, it was not the hard to problem [of consciousness] that was at issue, but the existence – – or non-existence – – of the “Soul“. And – – perhaps surprisingly – – there are echoes of the soul to be found in the beast machine story too. This soul is not an immaterial quiddity, nor a spiritual distillation of rationality. The beast machine view of selfhood, with its intimate ties to the body, to the persistent rhythms of the living, returns us to a place liberated from concepts of a computational mind, before Cartesian divisions of mind and matter, reason and non-reason. What we might call the “soul“ in this view is the perceptual expression of a deep continuity between mind and life. It is the experience we have when we encounter the deepest levels of embodied self-worth – – these inchoate feelings of “just being“ – – as really existing. It seems right to call this an echo of the soul because it revives even more ancient conceptions of this eternal notion, conceptions – – such as the Ātman in Hinduism – – which contemplated our innermost essence more as breath than as thought.
We are not cognitive computers, we are feeling machines.