The Ice Cream Argument for the Existence of Souls

The other night Lindsey and I had our new friends Dietrich and Rebekah over for dinner. Lindsey made something kind of cool and really tasty, but I don’t remember what it was! They introduced us to a game called “Nerts” and we partook in some chocolate ice cream. Lindsey goaded me for eating mine too fast.

I explained, "But that’s how I like to eat my ice cream!". And it was all down hill from there.

Lindsey, all with her 4 college degrees and years of experience and obsessive research in human psychology, mounted this rigorous case for why it is actually more pleasurable (DCIT) to enjoy ice cream slowly. And then Dietrich got an idea.

He said "There is a way we can settle this", though probably not in those words. (Why put them in quotes (DCTT) then?). He went on to describe the way we could go about settling the issue scientifically. We could setup a double-blind study with huge random samples, controlling for gender, race, blood type, ethnic background, every indicator of physical and psychological health, and even things like SES and other issues that just might affect an individual’s senses. Then we could monitor every biochemical indicator of pleasure (dopamine and serotonin, sure, but the more subtle indicators, too—oxytocin, and even certain higher-order relations between various nervous system functions—not just the neuromodulators) while some groups eat ice cream slowly, and some eat it quickly. We could even have control groups for different flavors just in case peppermint makes the American boys go crazy or peach just doesn’t do it for the Jamaican gals.

Aside from funding issues, I raised questions about how we would tally up the pleasure score to see who’s right between Lindsey and me. Surely the group eating ice cream faster would enjoy a spike in biochemical indicators of pleasure, and surely the group eating it slowly would enjoy longer lasting pleasure, right? So which group enjoys it “more”?

One way to answer that question, Lindsey suggested, is to measure the net. When you add up the amount of pleasure enjoyed by those whose indicators spike, is it more or less in total than those whose indicators linger a long time? Or perhaps our research would drive us to control for timing as well—perhaps there is a pace at which one could enjoy ice cream that would maximize pleasure, and maybe this optimum pace would be different depending on your biological and cultural makeup.

And then it dawned on me. What if I simply prefer the spike in pleasure more than I enjoy the longer lasting pleasure consistent with taking my dessert slowly, even if the net gain in biochemical pleasure indicators is greater at the slower pace?

Think about that. No matter what physical, measurable indicator of pleasure you could possibly track says, it is impossible to empirically determine what my ultimate preferences are with any certainty. I might just prefer to gobble down my Chocolate Malted Crunch, plain and simple.

Regardless of what my dopamine levels supposedly tell you.

So what does that say about me? It says that even after you’ve finished describing everything physical about me, you are not finished describing me. There are some things about me that you can only learn from my self-disclosure, no matter how sophisticated your instruments or how much funding you have.

Which means part of me is not physical. Let’s call that part my “soul”.


Filed under Mind

14 Responses to The Ice Cream Argument for the Existence of Souls

  1. This blog compels me to say “In yo face” to people.

  2. The question I am fundamentally interested in resolving is a completely objective and absolute answer to the question posed “Who enjoys this ice-cream more?” Regardless of how you think you feel about the experience, who is statistically gaining the most pleasure from ice cream. What is the comparison of enjoyment for someone who virtually gulps down their ice cream versus someone who “savors the flavors”. In the end, the ultimate result will tell us whether Lindsey or Louis enjoy their ice cream more. This will give the upper-hand to the victor in all marital disputes. Truth.

  3. My point is that you cannot answer that question by any empirical test.

    Dopamine levels and other biochemical indicators of pleasure can be measured in corpses, and therefore do not necessarily indicate any real metaphysical sensation of pleasure. Furthermore, measuring such indicators leaves open the question of what I prefer at the end of the day. Like I said, perhaps I simply prefer the spike in pleasure correlated with a more intense ice cream reverie and any associated biochemical indicators of pleasure, regardless of whether those same indicators would seem to suggest that I would derive more pleasure from a more patient creamy consumptive episode.

  4. DC3

    This post at the Art of Manliness indicates that you may bo(l)th enjoy it most if you talk about having ice cream for a while before having it.

  5. @DC3 – Actually, I’d pose just the opposite. As the result of our over-analyzing ice cream… I will feel like it is no longer a simple pleasure… and instead will turn to grilled cheese sandwiches as my comfort food!

    Louis- my possible response argument to your point would be that what you “prefer” as interpreted by “the thought reaction which is partially created by the experience of the ice-cream and the other part by the sum of your experiences” is an unreliable and somewhat inaccurate method of determining fact. There may be some room in the analysis for a “margin of interpretation” but it might only affect the test results by 5%…

  6. “what you ‘prefer’… is an unreliable and some what inaccurate method of determining fact”

    Not when the fact in question is what I prefer. I am simply pointing out that my preference cannot be measured empirically because it’s not sufficiently determined by the physical facts of the matter. I might derive more pleasure from a dopamine* spike than from a protracted dopamine arc, even if the dopamine arc provides quantitatively more dopamine.

    *or whatever other biochemical or other physical indicator, or combination of indicators, of pleasure you could possibly measure

  7. So this might need to be resolved first in part by psychology and then transfered to science when we have our acceptable results.
    Perhaps there is a way to analyse how our experiences related to and affect us- starting with conception and ending at our current point in time. Couple that with a personality and typology test and some sort of brain scan. Then use that data to create that aspect of the formula. I would be inclined to believe that preferences are predictable and can be measured however complex the formula is (I’m fitting a personality type right now by saying this). We may be pre-disposed to them.

  8. Gayla

    Louis! I really, really like this post. I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion. You nailed it.

  9. Nice post. Isn’t it great to be an embodied soul? Although it can occasionally lead to arguments during ice cream time. You guys are fun.

  10. “Isn’t it great to be an embodied soul?” Hahahaha, awesome. Yes, yes it is great to be a soul, Amanda. Thank you. And how do you enjoy being a soul—particularly an embodied one?

  11. Chris


    That post hit the nail on the head, as far as I am concerned. I am certiain (and many of my friends can attest to this), that I enjoy everything I do, more, because I tend to talk about it beforehand, as I publically anticipate the event.

    Oh yeah, I like the other comments too.

  12. It’s so good. I feel bad for rocks and stuff.

  13. Yeah rocks have it pretty bad. And thermostats and other machines…

  14. Pingback: A note on gravity. | Weblogia Swingovia

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