“The more we learn about how we evolved, and how our brains work, the more certain we are becoming that there is no such extra ingredient [of the soul]. We are each made of mindless robots and nothing else, no non-physical, non-robotic ingredients at all.” Pg 3For some, this idea can be incredibly disconcerting. Not only does it rule out an afterlife, but it also brings up the question of morality: how can someone be moral without having to account for their actions in an afterlife? Steven Pinker, in the Time article, argues that the materialistic view of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the supernatural view of an afterlife, as it forces us to recognise the interests of other beings. He writes:
“As every student in Philosophy 101 learns, nothing can force me to believe that anyone except me is conscious. This power to deny that other people have feelings is not just an academic exercise but an all-too-common vice, as we see in the long history of human cruelty. Yet once we realize that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other people have brains like ours, a denial of other people’s sentience becomes ludicrous. ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ asked Shylock. Today the question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew – or an Arab, or an African, or a baby, or a dog – a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to deny our common capacity to suffer.
“And when you think about it, the doctrine of a life-to-come is not such an uplifting idea after all because it necessarily devalues life on earth. Just remember the most famous people in recent memory who acted in expectation of a reward in the hereafter: the conspirators who hijacked the airliners on 9/11.
“Think too, about why we sometimes remind ourselves that ‘life is too short’. It is an impetus to extend a gesture of affection to a loved one, to bury the hatchet in a pointless dispute, to use time productively rather than squander it. I would argue that nothing gives life more purpose than the realisation that every moment of consciousness is a precious and fragile gift.”