Reasonable Doubt About The Soul

This article expresses doubt about the existence of the soul on the grounds that since the brain is so obviously a biological platform for computing, and since it can be incrementally "disabled" in ways that decrease the performance of body and mind, and if there is a correlation between mind and soul, then this degradation of performance should be experienced by the soul. Since this idea is obviously unacceptable, I do not think it likely that the soul exists. This article also introduces three series of recurring follow on articles tracking Brain Physiology as it relates to the concept of the soul, Biological Bases for Behavior and Animal Cognition.

It is a fact that smaller components can make something more complex. Among other disciplines, Engineering, Science, Information Technology and even the phenomena of Language take advantage of this fact. This fact is a key element in the Principle of Evolution, and it also describes how the brain works. This article attempts to be brief but informative on what the brain is how it works and how there is no noticeable mechanism to support a soul.

Above all the Brain is an organ. It is the control center of the central nervous system and it is made up of more that one hundred billion neurons. It is where our behavior originates from. It is made of up of interdependent systems and these systems can found in in other species in various stages of development working in much the same way. In some cases these systems actually compete with each other. One result of this competition can be seen in the disciplines of Economics and Behavior. In these disciplines, some of the problems that they try to solve are why people consistently make irrational decisions. FMRI scans show that when these types of decisions are being deliberated in the brain, the emotional and rational or executive areas of the brain are extremely active. The theory that seems to describe the outcomes is that the two areas are in competition for control.

The brain is similar to the heart in one respect. It is like the heart in the fact that some consider it to be the place where the soul resides. I presume that since the soul is supposed to be our essence, survives after our death and is what will get rewarded or punished by God that it correlates to our consciousness, behavior, decision making and our desires. What does it mean to say that a person is going to hell if we are not talking about their consciousness? They should be aware that they are in hell to make it meaningful. Then there must be a correlation between consciousness and the soul.

Consciousness is a topic that has been debated since before recorded history so I am not going to discuss it too much as a philosophical topic (aka "The Mind-Body Problem") but will discuss the correlative mechanisms and its known constraints. In fact, I think I can state that the study of consciousness as a result of physical mechanisms has gone so far as to cast serious doubt on "Dualism" however, the last vestige of dualism that I can see that survives is the phenomena of "meaning". We can get machines, using artificial intelligence to act like biological organisms, but the problem of getting them to understand what they are doing and at what point they become self aware still remains. Many people think that self-awareness and consciousness is what make human beings unique, it is what it means to be made in Gods Image. How much to consciousness and the soul correlate?

What does consciousness mean? How do you measure it? There are various forms of artificial intelligence programs being developed that can handle various problems of intelligence, and they are getting better every year. There is a test called the Turing test which is the standard for machine intelligence that has not been passed yet. Every year there is a competition and the "second place" prize is awarded, but none have been able to pass it. If one does, then I suppose we will be seeing a revival of discussions on machine consciousness. However, if you look at the definition of "conscious", you can see that it could be applied to sophisticated computers, however, I don't think anyone would say that a machine is conscious yet. The definition of "conscious" is a sliding scale. I think a machine can be made to be as conscious as a person in a vegetative state, and we all know that not everyone agrees on when a person in a vegetative state is conscious. What is going on with the soul in a person in a vegetative state?

Where does consciousness come from, what are its mechanisms? One way to understand how something works is to compare a version that is broken to a version that works. It is called reverse engineering. There are many ways that a brain can be broken, in fact in my view, there is no perfectly working brain, there is only an average of similar functionality between brains that is labeled "normal". In my view, everyone is "broken" in one aspect or another. Brains get broken by things such as Trauma, degradation, contamination and in some cases they are born broken. Some of the smallest components that result in a Brain and of organisms in general are genes. There are genes that have been identified as "markers" for higher risk of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and autism and for behavioral traits such as aggression and temperament. If the fundamental components that make up a brain are defective, the brain will likely wind up defective. These diseases adversely affect consciousness, our desires, our decisions, our behavior and how well our autonomous systems function such as heart beat and motor functions and breathing. In fact the autoimmune system is responsible for a few neurological diseases. The body attacks itself because its algorithm is flawed. The brain is made up of 100 billion neurons with each one connecting to between 1000 - 10,000 other neurons which make up a matrix. Each of these neurons are made up of smaller pieces. The omission or interruption of any of these pieces results in poor performance. Seizures and anxiety attacks are examples of how the body and mind react when these little pieces malfunction and send out unregulated signals that result in "electrical storms". The state of our brain at any give time determines our personality, attitude, feelings, emotions, decision making capability and thoughts. Quantity of stress, sleep, oxygen, blood, quality of physical infrastructure, presence or absence of foreign bodies, glucose, dopamine, serotonin, perceptual stimulus, sound, Electromagnetic fields, alcohol and drugs etc. all have an affect our our cognitive abilities.

Some examples of biological bases for behavior.

* Dopamine
* Dopamine and Addiction
* Seratonin
* Brain Systems Become Less Coordinated With Age, Even In The Absence Of Disease
* Eleven million Americans will have strokes this year. But they won't know it.
* Genes and Aggression
* Temperament and Character Profiles and the Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene in ADHD


When discussing consciousness, the fact that consciousness originates in the brain, is much more appealing than the fact that so does the desire to go to the bathroom. When people have to go to the bathroom, they will say "I have to go to the bathroom" rather than "My bladder needs to be emptied". They concentrate on the "I" and the "My". People want to concentrate on the interesting things such as "why am I here", "How did I get here?", "Why do I dream?", rather than wondering, "What controls my arm?","why do I like chocolate?", "How do I know when my bladder is full?", "Why do I get sad when this or that happens?", "Why does my finger or eyelid sometimes tremble?". It all originates from the same place. The seat of consciousness is also the seat of body control. Similarly when you have a malfunction in one aspect of your neurological makeup that affects your motor functions, you can have malfunction that affects your cognitive abilities. So, there are brain and neurological diseases that affect how the body works and how the mind works. The common denominator is the brain.

But what about factors that affect consciousness that are not pathological? Sleep is one factor. We need sleep. If things are working normally, we go to sleep automatically. All we can really do is prepare ourselves for it and be ready when it happens. We can take steps that make it happen when we prefer it, such as "bed time" but sometimes it won't happen no matter how much we want it to. It is something that we cannot will to happen, but can prepare for. It is a state that the brain reaches on its own, and "I" can't control it, "I" can only postpone it. A neuroscientist said there is a place in the brain where it gets "switched on", as if there is a toggle in there somewhere. However "I" can force it to "switch on" with Drugs and anesthesia. The Study of Consciousness and Pain is central to the field of anesthesiology. So what is going on with the soul when we go to sleep? How is the soul affected under anesthesia?

In Brain Surgery, in many cases the patient needs to be awake. There are no pain receptors in the brain, so the surgeon is free to apply some local anesthetic and get to work. According to the The Mayo Clinics Web Site"Without this option, patients with brain tumors or epileptic seizures in the functional brain tissue would be unable to have surgery or would face a significant risk of losing function as a result of surgery." It is used when removing tumors or brain tissue that causes seizures. That loss of function doesn't just extend to speech, it extends to personality as well. In some cases, loved ones of patients with brain diseases, trauma, stroke, surgery state that the patients personality has changed and that they are not the same person. Is there a correlation between the soul and personality? If a persons personality changes as a result of brain surgery, trauma or stroke, how does that affect the soul?

In the lab, researchers do experiments on animals attempting to 'reverse engineer' the brain. I don't know anyone that thinks animals have souls so it may not be relevant to the discussion, however animals do have some of the same brain functionality that humans do. The type of Brain Mapping done on animals can only be done on humans in the context of treating a disease, and "reverse engineering" is out of the question. But by extrapolation, we can surmise that it would be possible to 'reverse engineer' the brain. It would be possible to 'disable' a small area of the brain and see how it is affected, to see how it affects motor skills, perception and those soul related properties behavior and personality. How would that affect the soul? Since our perceptions and motor skills originate in the brain, are they part of the soul as well? If a stroke affects personality and motor skills, has it affected the soul? How much similarity between the brains of Animals and Humans does it take to correlate to a soul?

Some examples of Animal Cognition

* Animal Cognition from Wikipedia
* Animal Communication from Wikipedia
* Emotion in Animals
* Fish Logic
* Monkey Math
* Bird Grammar
* Dogs Can Classify Complex Photos In Categories Like Humans Do.
* Like Humans, Monkey See, Monkey Plan and Monkey Do.
* Young Chimps Top Adult Humans In Numerical Memory.


Michael Shermer, in an article for Scientific American in which he reviewed several books on consciousness sums it up as follows.
Koch and his colleagues, for example, discovered a single neuron that fires only when the subject sees an image of President Bill Clinton. If this neuron died, would Clinton be impeached from the brain? No, because the visual representation of Clinton is distributed throughout several areas of the brain, in a hierarchical fashion, eventually branching down to this single neuron. The visual coding of any face involves several groups of neurons--one to identify the face, another to read its expression, a third to track its motion, and so on. This hierarchy of data processing allows the brain to economize neural activity through the use of combinatorics: "Assume that two face neurons responded either not at all or by firing vigorously. Between them, they could represent four faces (one face is encoded by both cells not firing, the second one by firing activity in one and silence in the other, and so on). Ten neurons could encode 210, or about a thousand faces.... It has been calculated that less than one hundred neurons are sufficient to distinguish one out of thousands of faces in a robust manner. Considering that there are around 100,000 cells below a square millimeter of cortex, the potential representational capacity of any one cortical region is enormous." Given that the brain has about 100 billion neurons, consciousness is most likely an emergent property of these hierarchical and combinatoric neuronal connections.


The brain is an organic machine, it can be reverse engineered, it shares features with other species and it can be mimicked by solid state machines. While we refer to computing machines as hardware, we should refer to our brains as "wetware". So what is it the demarcation point between humans and other species or Artificial Intelligence? The soul? Cognitive Ability? Our definition of intelligence and consciousness is not objective. We define it around our parameters. If we had a more objective way to define it or measure it, we might find that we are acting immorally to animals. In the past two centuries, western culture has expanded its application of morality and ethics and it has come to accept "outsiders" as belonging to the human race. The abolition of slavery was a result of applying our definition of consciousness and self-awareness to slaves. As we learn more about the brain and how it works in other types of outsiders, western culture may find itself once again expanding its application of morality and ethics to other "outsiders" such as other species or machines. If and/or when that happens, the question of whether or not they have souls will arise. Can humans decide? I say no. And I say that this idea, as well as many others, never occurred to the writers of scripture. And if one of the writers of scripture was omniscient, it is is a pretty grave oversight.

Listed below are some links to reference material on the topic of the brain and for the rest of my time at DC, I will post links supporting a Reasonable Doubt About The Soul.
* The Soul, A Rational Belief?
* Artificial Intelligence utilizing neural networks, (metastability)
* Metastability in the Brain
* Wikipedia Mind and Brain Portal
* Wikipedia Neuroscience Portal
* Wikipedia article on Human Brain
* Wikipedia Cognitive Neuroscience approaches to Consciousness

34 comments:

Daldianus said...

This is a fascinating subject!

And it's also treated in the first 5 or 6 lessons of this free course from Yale University about Death: http://open.yale.edu/courses/philosophy/death/home.html

The professor also believes there isn't (enough) evidence for a soul.

Daldianus said...

Hm, I'll try again:

Yale course about Death

Lee Randolph said...

hi Daldianus,
thanks for the contribution!

goprairie said...

You can look at the similarities of apes and chimpanzees for some clues here. Why do we say the humans might have souls and animals not? If you study these of our closest living relatives, you discover similarities that are fascinating. They form emotional bonds, love, loyalty, friendships, and they have dislikes and fights, even wars. They have morals and ethics in that they will not kill each other and rarely steal from each other anc care for each others' children and so on. If they have no souls, why would we? How, in evolution, would a soul evolve into being? Once you recognize the continuum, it makes far more sense to say that humans do not, rather than that animals do. Intelligence leads on to that conclusion, tho emotion makes us want to beleive that Spot will be there in heaven with us.

zilch said...

To me, the concept of a "soul" is analogous to the concept of "aether". Aether, a transparent medium filling all of space, seemed to be necessary to Huygens and Newton in order for light waves to be transmitted. How can you have a wave without a medium to wave in? But the famous Michelson-Morley experiment came up with a null result, spelling the beginning of the end for the aether theory.

As everyone now knows, electromagnetic radiation can propagate through a vacuum- no aether necessary. I believe that the case of the "soul" is similar.

It may seem just "obvious" that consciousness must have a seat that is non-material- consciousness is so magical! But there is no evidence that this is the case, as Lee points out: systems that are so complex as to be well-nigh incomprehensible can arise out of the interactions amongst much simpler systems.

The invention of a "soul" as an innermost self that transcends death has a lot to do, imho, with our knowledge and fear of our impending death, and the exploitation of that fear by religions, that use promises of Heaven and Hell as destinations for souls to reward compliance and punish disobedience.

This is not to say that science has all the answers about how our minds work. But so far, this is how it seems to me: just as light needs no medium to propagate through, the material that makes up our brains needs no immaterial soul to propagate a mind.

Scott said...

Video Interview with a professor of neural biology from Duke University. Mapping the functions of the brain for advanced prosthetics

This interviewed occurred today in Davos, Switzerland.

B H said...

Enjoying the article and the links in the comments. Hurray for open university initiatives!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Scott,
thanks for the contribution,
and for your super human effort debating Jason in the "Resolved!..." article.

Shygetz said...

Well done, Lee. I enjoyed that thoroughly.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Check this out:

http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/10/30/cognitive-fitness-10-debunked-myths/

Aside from physiological and anatomical makeup I do believe there exists the ability to sense
the presence (or absence) of love at even the most base level of human existance.

Lee wrote:"It would be possible to 'disable' a small area of the brain and see how it is affected, to see how it affects motor skills, perception and those soul related properties behavior and personality. How would that affect the soul"

This entire post, but especially this portion, has a creepy, scrutinizing and dehumanizing feel to it, ala Josef Mengele. Yecch!

akakiwibear said...

Lee, a good article, you obviously put a lot of thought into it. Please forgive me if I try to highlight the thrust of your argument in a few your own words:

“We can get machines, using artificial intelligence to act like biological organisms, but the problem of getting them to understand what they are doing and at what point they become self aware still remains. Many people think that self-awareness and consciousness is what make human beings unique, it is what it means to be made in Gods Image. How much to consciousness and the soul correlate? ”

“if there is a correlation between mind and soul, then this degradation of performance should be experienced by the soul.”

“there must be a correlation between consciousness and the soul”

The argument hangs on one essential thread, the correlation between soul and brain – not soul and consciousness as you imply. While much of your article is factual there is a leap of faith at this point. You assume a correlation or common identity between brain and soul. There is no reason why the soul should not have consciousness of itself – it does not need the brain for that.

On that basis, any degradation of the platform (brain) does not imply a degradation of the soul, only of its ability to exercise its consciousness via the vehicle at its disposal = brain + body.

You are quite correct in you assertion that the brain is a machine and nothing more – even if we don’t fully understand the machine.

Let me present an analogy that works quite well. Consider the system of a person in a car, viewed as a single entity – a self-contained system.
Observed from outside we see certain behaviours exhibited by the car/person system. There are some actions it takes autonomously (regulating its engine temperature – or in newer (more highly evolved) models its braking as a skid develops).

More importantly there are some actions for which we could ascribe to the car/person system a consciousness. Note how the car/person reacts to others, takes decisions for its self preservation, does acts of kindness or cruelty, establishes its identity etc. Indeed the system exhibits a consciousness, but we know the car has none.

Now if we degrade the functioning of the car, the behaviour of the car/person and its response to certain situations changes – you could say its personality has changed.
Disable a few cylinders and it stops drag racing at the lights for example.

To the extent that the system responds differently to its environment you could argue that it exhibits a diminished consciousness – remove the horn and paint the glass black for instance.

By your argument this would be evidence that the person in the car has intrinsically changed – the flaw is clear.

Sala kahle - peace

Lee Randolph said...

Hi akakiwibear,
thanks for the kind words about the article. I'm glad you appreciated it. This has been bubbling in my head for some months now.

two things.
1. If you degrade the performance of the car, then the capabilities of the driver diminish. Can't drag race, can't turn left, etc. this impacts on the consciousness of the driver, Driver gets distracted, gets angry, drives into ditch etc

2. You have ASSUMED that the soul and brain are different. You need to show a mechanism for sustainment of the soul in humans, you need to show were the correlation is to consciousness. Why propose that it is a separate entity when we can show the correlation between soul and consciousness, and correlation between consciousness and brain. At this point you're going to get out your logic book and accuse me of a fallacy, (distributed?), but the fact remains that the simpler solution is that the soul would/should follow the correlation to consciousness in any head trauma, and that would make the soul nothing more than a romanticisation (is that a word?) of consciousness into something supernatural.

So lets recap the Assumptions it takes to be a christian.

1. Assume god exists to get him into position to help write the bible.

2. Assume he is the first cause when there is no precedent for any 'first cause' or "spontaneous existence"

3. And that the soul correlates to consciousness but does not use the brain and is not affected by any consciousness altering brain trauma. At that point why infer any correlation to consciousness at all? In fact I would go so far as to claim that your inference that there is a correlation between the soul and consciousness is irrational since there doesn't seem to be any link.

thats a lot to assume. Got any data, examples, trends, case studies to go with that?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi mmm,
thanks for the contribution.

but I'm surprised you played the hitler card so quickly.

I notice this happens when there really is no rejoinder but an emotional rhetorical appeal. Its great marketing to artificially create a crisis to sell the solution.

In my opinion, this is christianity in a nutshell.

akakiwibear said...

Lee, excellent topic, but I feel your reply was not up to your post and I have to disagree with:
“1. If you degrade the performance of the car, then the capabilities of the driver diminish.” . Not so, you have degraded the performance of the system, the driver retains full capability to do what the driver does (think, push and pull controls etc) but us thwarted by the failure of the car to respond properly. True the driver may have less fun and the options available to the driver are reduced, but the driver is not changed.

“2. You have ASSUMED that the soul and brain are different. You need to show a mechanism for sustainment of the soul in humans, you need to show were the correlation is to consciousness. Why propose that it is a separate entity when we can show the correlation between soul and consciousness, and correlation between consciousness and brain.” perhaps we are both guilty of assumptions, because you have assumed that it is the same. You have not proven that there is no soul which is implicit in your assumption that it is one with the brain.

Why do I need to show a sustainment mechanism? I don’t have a problem with the soul being “supernatural” or sprit in nature – perhaps it draws its energy from sources other than Big Macs?. The work on DMT may point to the interface between soul and brain, but that is hardly convincing at this stage.

I also have an issue with your “Assumptions it takes to be a christian.”
“1. Assume god exists to get him into position to help write the bible.” Don’t see this as a given – I am a Christian and do not believe the God HELPED to write the bible. God may have inspired some people to record events and teachings but helped? – did he hold the paper in the wind or correct the spelling of big words?

“2. Assume he is the first cause when there is no precedent for any 'first cause' or "spontaneous existence" “ This is an interesting assumption, which leads me question the origins of energy and/or matter in the big bang as there is again no precedent.

By the way what on earth does the above have to do with your point about brain and soul? – did cut and paste get the better of you?

“3. And that the soul correlates to consciousness but does not use the brain and is not affected by any consciousness altering brain trauma” your assumption not mine. I have clearly stated that the soul uses the brain in much the same way as a driver uses a car and that the consciousness of the soul is derived from itself not its associated machine.

Your theory seems unable to deal with a soul that is able to itself exist – you need it to be physical – which limits thinking and options, but leads conveniently to your conclusions

Sala kahle - peace

Beautiful Feet said...

Lee wrote, "I'm surprised you played the Hitler card so quickly"

I thank God for what you call emotional rhetorical appeal!! I hope that peoples' consciences can be sensititive to the seeds of human experimentation! I wouldn't be so quick to minimize historical record either - Hitler's appeal seemed justified at the time and "good" to many. As far as tinkering with areas of the brain, it's already been done with lobotomies.

The study of neuroplasticity pretty much debunks the fatalistic perspectives of DNA and cerebral physiology as being the sole "lord" over our lives.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi akakiwibear,
Not so, you have degraded the performance of the system, the driver retains full capability to do what the driver does (think, push and pull controls etc) but us thwarted by the failure of the car to respond properly. True the driver may have less fun and the options available to the driver are reduced, but the driver is not changed.
you are ignoring the fact that though the POTENTIAL of the driver is the same, at the moment, she is at reduced capability physically and emotionally because she is suddenly having to compensate for the poor performance of the car.

But in any case, this analogy doesn't fit, though it is fun. The analogy separates the driver from the car and we know through neuroscience that is not the case with the brain. With two or three pints in you, you must admit, your consciousness is impaired, and the likelihood that you'd do something you wouldn't ordinarily is increased. And the same is true if you have a tumor pressing on your amygdala, or frontal cortex. In all cases your inhibitions are impaired and you are more likely to do something "harmful to your soul". If there is a correlation between the soul and the conscious, then we are not equipped to handle freewill and be punished or rewarded for it.

perhaps we are both guilty of assumptions, because you have assumed that it is the same. You have not proven that there is no soul which is implicit in your assumption that it is one with the brain.
no, I don't assume anything which is the strength of my argument. The characteristics of consciousness and its correlation to the physical brain are nothing like what the soul is supposed to be. The soul is not consciousness. But if we say that, then there are no grounds to reward or punish us eternally.

Why do I need to show a sustainment mechanism? I don’t have a problem with the soul being “supernatural” or sprit in nature – perhaps it draws its energy from sources other than Big Macs?. The work on DMT may point to the interface between soul and brain, but that is hardly convincing at this stage.
there are no grounds to presume a soul. The only grounds are on the premises of the assumption that god exists. There is every reason to disqualify it based on cognitive science. I can show you grounds to presume that aggression is linked to testosterone and the amygdala, can you do the same for the soul?

“1. Assume god exists to get him into position to help write the bible.” Don’t see this as a given – I am a Christian and do not believe the God HELPED to write the bible. God may have inspired some people to record events and teachings but helped? – did he hold the paper in the wind or correct the spelling of big words?
well, then on what grounds do you hold the bible to be the truth and not just another iliad or odyssey or collection of folklore? If there was no 'quality assurance' in the form of an omniscient and omnipotent being, then why should you trust it any more that any other mythology of the time in the Near East?

This is an interesting assumption, which leads me question the origins of energy and/or matter in the big bang as there is again no precedent.
there is no specific precedent, but there are plenty of examples of similar things that helped reason back to the 'big bang'. It is theorized to work like many other things in the universe and it is fruitful in the way that predictions made using it have been borne out.

your assumption not mine. I have clearly stated that the soul uses the brain in much the same way as a driver uses a car and that the consciousness of the soul is derived from itself not its associated machine.
Your theory seems unable to deal with a soul that is able to itself exist – you need it to be physical – which limits thinking and options, but leads conveniently to your conclusions

I don't have an assumption. I don't see any reason to suspect a soul exists, and every reason to suspect consciousness is a result of the tens of billions of connections in the matrix of a 100 billion neurons, all executing simple instructions to create a complex system. There are plenty of precedents that function this way and none that function in the way you suggest.

Unless you can show a mechanism for the soul, I'm afraid its wishful thinking.

Epilepsy used to be viewed alternately as demon possession in one culture and Godliness in another. It was "supernaturalized", thought about in the only terms at their disopsal. Today we understand it better as a malfunction and know how to treat it to relieve it. Humans are getting ready to show that there is no logical correlation between the soul and consciousness. The soul is a supernaturalization of the consciousness.

Lee Randolph said...

and another thing. Whether or not consciousness correlates to the soul the organic nature of consciousness and the way it gets influenced by organic biological factors make punishment by the creator of the that system unjust.

I am exploring this in my next article that I'll be publishing sometime in the coming days.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi MMM,
The study of neuroplasticity pretty much debunks the fatalistic perspectives of DNA and cerebral physiology as being the sole "lord" over our lives.
What do you mean?
How does neuroplasticity do that?

akakiwibear said...

Lee, your question “well, then on what grounds do you hold the bible to be the truth and not just another iliad or odyssey or collection of folklore?” was answered in my comment above – well I admit you had to work it out
Lee said “1. Assume god exists to get him into position to help write the bible.” I responded Don’t see this as a given – I am a Christian and do not believe the God HELPED to write the bible. God may have inspired some people to record events and teachings but helped? – did he hold the paper in the wind or correct the spelling of big words?”

You missed, or chose to ignore, that the bible is a record of events and teachings – yes some distorted by the original oral tradition then rendered to written and then translated and edited. Now I know that the historical context of the bible is a problem to those, like you, who base their beliefs on an inerrant, literal bible – tough. It does however remain the best multi-generational record we have of God’s revelation to the people of the middle east, on which Christianity is based.

Since you seem to regard the bible and the Iliad as of equal status perhaps you would explain why there is no ongoing body of religious of study around the Iliad, nor a large and developing religion – other scholars may have missed something you saw.

Sala kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Lee, when you say “I don't see any reason to suspect a soul exists, and every reason to suspect consciousness is a result of the tens of billions of connections in the matrix of a 100 billion neurons, all executing simple instructions to create a complex system” you get to the heart of the flaw in the argument you present.

You say you make no assumptions, yet you argue that effectively the soul is the brain – the physical entity. This is the premise on which you build the rest of your case – and it hangs together because of that premise.
Your line is that when brain function is diminished the soul must be diminished because it is the same thing. This is not really an argument it is a line of thinking developed from an unsubstantiated starting point. I believe it is referred to as a strawman, a creation of convenience that you can knock down at will.

You have not attempted to establish a basis for your starting point. In reality it ignores most of the characteristics ascribed to the soul by those who believe in it. If you wish to refute the existence of the soul then work on the immortal soul rather than your strawman soul.

Principally, your argument leads to the conclusion that on death the soul the totally incapacitated, i.e. it is itself dead. This is contrary to the belief that the soul lives on. Your argument does not address this – its flawed premise that brain=soul arbitrarily precludes it. I am sorry to be so blunt, but yours is not reasoned argument but opinion!

You say “Unless you can show a mechanism for the soul, I'm afraid its wishful thinking.” but surely you have heard of religious experiences? Do you ignore them or not appreciate the significance.

Now before you rush to confuse them drug induced ‘trips’ the work of people such as:
Nils Holm, Ralph Hood, L.E. Thomas and John R. Tisdale (full reference available if you want them – books or peer reviewed publications) have worked this through and define a recognisable and distinguishable phenomenon of mystical or religious experience.

Now recognising the common core of these experiences (H Maslow) and that they accord with culturally diverse religious teaching and that they have the ability to be life changing experiences (conversion experiences like that of Paul on road to Damascus). You may choose to not to associate these with a soul that you do not acknowledge, but they certainly point you in the right direction.

Subsequent work, by the likes of Strassman on DMT, MAY PROVIDE the foundations for one of the neuro-chemical interface between the brain machine and soul.

I confess to be disappointed in you resorting to the epilepsy red herring, I had hoped you held discussion with me in higher regard.

Sala kahle - peace

Lee Randolph said...

hi akakiwibear,
I confess to be disappointed in you resorting to the epilepsy red herring, I had hoped you held discussion with me in higher regard.
whats that all about? How does me bringing up epilepsy and how it has been viewed historically by religion say anything about you?

I think you are one of the most challenging and respectful commenters we have. In my opinion you are among the best representatives of christianity that frequent this blog. I have a love/hate relationship with you cause you make me work.
;-)
anyway, I am going to have to agree to disagree with you for the moment because I have one more article that I have almost finished, relating to this topic, then I have to concentrate on personal things for a month. I invite you to continue this dialog with me on that article once its published. I promise there will be plenty to sink your teeth into.

Thanks for the references, I haven't run across any mention of them in my psychology, brain and behavior, philosophy of mind or understanding the brain courses. I 'll look them up.

Lee Randolph said...

or I should say, the names of your references don't ring a bell, maybe I wasn't paying attention.

Scott said...

You say you make no assumptions, yet you argue that effectively the soul is the brain – the physical entity. This is the premise on which you build the rest of your case – and it hangs together because of that premise.

But, as Lee has already mentioned, we have no reason to think we need a "soul" to sustain consciousness or thought. We do not exhibit any observable behavior that requires a soul to explain it.

Your line is that when brain function is diminished the soul must be diminished because it is the same thing. This is not really an argument it is a line of thinking developed from an unsubstantiated starting point. I believe it is referred to as a strawman, a creation of convenience that you can knock down at will.

This is because we DO see diminished behavior when physically influenced by pathological or chemical factors. The method of influence, regions of impact and end results are consistent and verifiable. We can't get from this position to a soul without adding theological elements that have no basis in our actual behavior.

You have not attempted to establish a basis for your starting point. In reality it ignores most of the characteristics ascribed to the soul by those who believe in it. If you wish to refute the existence of the soul then work on the immortal soul rather than your strawman soul.

These attributes are either intangible, unfalsifiable or can be explained by other means.

We have neuro-biologists that are using computers to scan our brains in search of specific thoughts and impulses to control advanced prostetics. The reason this task is so difficult is that each person doesn't perceive ideas and words in the exact same way. For example, the word "small" in English translates into the word "petite" in French. A computer could confuse a thought about the opposite of big with a particular size of woman's clothing. Even among people speaking the same language, the patterns for particular words can be significantly different based cultural, emotional or informational contexts they might associate with that word. When thinking about a Piano, the resulting pattern could be radical different between a non-musician, a concert pianist, a piano tuner and a drum player. Even with these challenges, significant progress is being made.

Principally, your argument leads to the conclusion that on death the soul the totally incapacitated, i.e. it is itself dead. This is contrary to the belief that the soul lives on. Your argument does not address this – its flawed premise that brain=soul arbitrarily precludes it. I am sorry to be so blunt, but yours is not reasoned argument but opinion!

His argument did address this. The idea of a soul isn't based on anything we can observe or deduce from our behavior. Instead, it's theistic vehicle that allows for eternal reward and punishment and an attempt to explain what we did not understand by invoking the supernatural.

Now recognising the common core of these experiences (H Maslow) and that they accord with culturally diverse religious teaching and that they have the ability to be life changing experiences (conversion experiences like that of Paul on road to Damascus). You may choose to not to associate these with a soul that you do not acknowledge, but they certainly point you in the right direction.

You haven't provided any reason why a soul is required for any of these experiences. Nor have you shown that other explanations are insufficient to account for them. Therefore it is a premise built on Biblical claims, not observable reality.

For example, Zen Buddhism is essentially a philosophy in which helps you understand how the mind functions and teaches how see though the chatter that keeps us from be present in the here and now. This can cause a profound change in a person's outlook and their forward development. Most Buddhists do not believe in a God or Gods and Zen's effectiveness is not diminished when separated from a belief in reincarnation or karma. It's goal is to simply build a practical, functional and healthy relationship with our thoughts and minds. An immortal soul is not required.

akakiwibear said...

Scot, you seem to be caught in the same circular argument as Lee - "we have no reason to think we need a "soul" to sustain consciousness or thought." so therefore it does not exist so your the premise for the argument is if there is a soul, brain=soul hence the strawman. You have not added to the argument, merely restated Lee's point.

You go on to say "This is because we DO see diminished behavior when physically influenced by pathological or chemical factors." - again this is within the context of your strawman - you see a diminished function in the body/soul system because the body (in this case the brain) is deminished - car/driver analogy - BUT HOW DO YOU MAKE THE LEAP TO IMPLY THE IMORTAL SOUL IS DIMINISHED?

Scoot, your logic astounds me "
You haven't provided any reason why a soul is required for any of these experiences. Nor have you shown that other explanations are insufficient to account for them."
I thought the fact that they were explained by the soul was self evident - and is it not your role to offer and promote alternative explanations? Read the references and then come back for more.

Back next week.

Sala kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Lee, thank you for your kind words - look forward to further exchanges.

It would be good though to see that through our exchanges your thinking developed away from your strawman.

Peace

ZAROVE said...

I did not read the enture line of comments, so forgive me if this has been brought up. II also skimmed a good deal of the original article.

THis argument is old, and I have run into it numerous times. THe last time was on "Infidels".

It is also a piculiar argument, because it makes too many assumptions.

It assumes the Soul cannot exist, because conciousness is afected by Brain Damage.


But, this is not true.

FIrts we must define what the SOul is. The idea that it is a Supernatural Intety external totp the Body is, itsself, a Presumotion on the Part of Leee. Just as another posters Presumption is that we consider the possibility of a soul in Humans, but not in Animals.

In poitn fo fact, Animals are thought of as possessing souls by most Religions, and htis includes Christianity, although some forms would deny this. (Notably the Evangelicals that are assumed to be all of Christendom on this Blog by Habbit.)

But that aside, we must first look at what the SOul is , before we can say it does not exist.

The Soul is understood as th Life force, the Animative principle which enables life.

THus, if somethign is alive, that somethign has a Soul. Without a Soul, life woudl not be.

All living things are, in fact, Souls, and the SOul is the life of the Organism.


This said, what Lee is arguign agaisntthen is not the existance of the SOul, but the idea that the SOul is a Seperate, invisible, Supernatural intety that Animates the Body.

But eventhis fails.

I shall present why, in points.

1: Not all Theologies even postulate that there is an Afterlife. Many assume the Soul dies with the Body.

Many forms f HJudaism and Christianity embrace this modle. THe Seventh Day Adventists are among them, as a notbale example, as was William Tyndale, and many Reformaiton-Wra Theologians, and many of those who followed their works. Martin Luthe subscibed to Soul Sleep, for instance.

Many forms of Judaism do too.

They see the SOul as nothign but the life within our odies, that expires when we do.

Under this premise, then, Brain Damage, which imapres mental function, woudl not really be seen as contradictory to their expectations.

If they think we are Physical beings, then it is a small step to see that Brian Damage woudl be a hinderance to our thinking wihtout relaly disaserous results to anythign theybeeliv ein.

This does not mean the SOul does not exis, it means it is undertsood as connected irrevocably with our preasent, Earthly life.

And, as part of our brain died, so too part of our SOul.

2: Then there are htose who think that the Body, though occupied by a Soul that shall not be damaged by the ravages that effec the body, nevertheless is confined to the Body and subject to its limitations.

If we postulate that the Brain is the medium from which the Soul, as a Seperate intety form the Physical form , but needful for the body to live, then we can see how the damage tot he Brain may effect the Souls interface with the body.

Under this modle, the Soul, though undamaged, and completley aware, is neverhteles sunable to express fully its own thoughts now, because the Body the SOul occupies is damaged in the relay point.

THe Brain simply des not transmitt as it once did the demands of he Soul.

This modle can be undertsood if we see the Brain as a Computer, connected to a Robot, contorled remotely by a man wearign a Virtual Reality Helmet.

THe VR helmet will transmitt the thoguths of the wearer into the RObot, and enable the wearer to "Feel" like h is h Robot.

But shoudl soemthing damage the central comouter that relays the mans thoughts to the RObot, such as the RObit gets a serius blow tot he head by another Robot in combat, thn the human Operator, form a Remote vantage, though undamaged, woudl not be able to send he signlals he woudl want, and it woudl effect how he is able to cooerdenate the Robots movements.

So, no.

THis Argument doesn't disprove he Soul exists ( SOmethignthat cnanot happen sicne life exists) it doens't even dismiss the thoughts about the SOul held by those whom Lee woudl argue.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi zarove,
But that aside, we must first look at what the SOul is , before we can say it does not exist.
The Soul is understood as th Life force, the Animative principle which enables life.

who says?

All living things are, in fact, Souls, and the SOul is the life of the Organism.
so by this reasoning, then a biologically engineered bladder has a soul? a tree has a soul? An arm, in ice being rushed to the hospital to be reattached has a soul?

in the case of twins do they share a soul or does one get delegated at the point the cell divides? And where does the soul for the other twin come from? And if one twin is not viable and is still born, what happened to the soul it was given, and what was the point of giving it one anyway?

So how about persons that are brain dead kept alive artificially? or those in a vegetative state? or those being kept alive for organ harvesting after an accident? Do the souls of the victim and patient get mixed? The organs don't die, they are transplanted.

or how about all the bacteria and organisms that live on your body that you are not aware of? Thats a whole lot of soul.

So after reading your post, how do you know the soul exists? how do you measure it? how do you detect it? and if you can't, how does anyone get to be an expert on it, or even qualified to discuss it?

If you want to say the soul is life, then just say you are relabeling life as the soul. But are you prepared to deal with the various stages of life as it develops or drains away or is transplanted?

ZAROVE said...

Hi zarove,

Hello, Lee.


But that aside, we must first look at what the SOul is , before we can say it does not exist.
The Soul is understood as th Life force, the Animative principle which enables life.



who says?




WELL, mostly this si the standard definition of the Soul. It is also needful to understnd the word prior to trying to say it doesn't exist.



All living things are, in fact, Souls, and the SOul is the life of the Organism.


so by this reasoning, then a biologically engineered bladder has a soul? a tree has a soul? An arm, in ice being rushed to the hospital to be reattached has a soul?



ALL living things have a soul. The arm that needs otbe reattatched has the same soul as the originatign organism, though.



in the case of twins do they share a soul or does one get delegated at the point the cell divides?


Eahc is a seperate living organism. Thus, eahc woudl be seperate.



And where does the soul for the other twin come from?

Doesn't that depend upon what you think , in the end, the Soul is?



My basic definition allows even for a Naturalistic explanaiton, as I said. Not that I expect you to lay down your baises long enough o even condsider hat I said. The word SOul to yo means "Supernatural ghost thingie" and thats what you think everyone means by it.

I'm sorry to use such a Childish term, but your interjections here are not really impressive nough to warrent much else, and I do want you to realise how you sound at htis point.



So how about persons that are brain dead kept alive artificially?

What about them?



or those in a vegetative state? or those being kept alive for organ harvesting after an accident? Do the souls of the victim and patient get mixed? The organs don't die, they are transplanted.



Perhaps we shoudl firts ask, do you even understand the definition of the soul I presented?





or how about all the bacteria and organisms that live on your body that you are not aware of? Thats a whole lot of soul.




I wasn't aware that numbers where somehow effective in refuting what I said.



So after reading your post, how do you know the soul exists?


I sort of proved it by lookign at the definition.



The SOul is the animative principle in a living organism.



Thus, if somethign is alive, that somethign has a Soul.



I did not, hwoever, give a spacific beleif in regards to the soul in relation to the definition I presented.



If you want to say the soul is life, then just say you are relabeling life as the soul.

But, I didn't. I said it is "THe ANimative Principle". This means hat the Soul is that which enables life, and forms the core o the being.



This may be a purley natruistic proccess, such as what you advocae. But it shoudl not be confused sley wiht life itself.It is the vital aspect that engenders life.





But are you prepared to deal with the various stages of life as it develops or drains away or is transplanted?



I'll first wait ansd see if you even try to understand what I'm actually saying. Otherwise, engaging in such a dicussion woul be fruitless.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Zarove,
thanks for telling us about the dyslexia. I commend you for your efforts and your education. I have seen how difficult it is.

I am intrigued by your assertion that a disembodied arm has part of the original soul. That means that souls can be divided?

I have to admit, that I don't understand your viewpoint on the soul.

Unfortunately i have to close my participation in this thread and concentrate on one last unfinished article but i invite you to stick around to dialog with the other contributors.

ZAROVE said...

My view of the soul is simple, but nto the original issue.

The basic definition of the Soul is mroe improtant, for itis by that that we can discuss it intellegently, and see rather or not an assertion that it doesn't exist holds true.

That is where I tried to start.

The Definition is, the Animative principle within an organism.

This means that, whatever engenders life, making it possible and maintianign it in an organism, is that organisms soul.

From there, we woudl then discuss the matter, but I htink its cler that sicne life exists, somethign has to engender it inth organism.

But, I will note that you have a lack of time.

Scott said...

This means that, whatever engenders life, making it possible and maintianign it in an organism, is that organisms soul.

So, if a soul is what "breathes life" into something, then where was the soul before that something was alive? What happens to the soul when that something dies? If a soul can survive this process, then does it not, by this definition, require the ability to exist separate from that which is animates?

Scott said...

Scott, you seem to be caught in the same circular argument as Lee - "we have no reason to think we need a "soul" to sustain consciousness or thought." so therefore it does not exist so your the premise for the argument is if there is a soul, brain=soul hence the strawman. You have not added to the argument, merely restated Lee's point.

I'm saying that what we observe does not require a supernatural element to explain it. Unless there is specific behavior that violates our laws of physics, thus requiring a supernatural explanation, is is simply part of our physical existence that is labeled as the "soul" by theists. The motivation for doing so is to provide a vehicle for eternal reward and punishment and an explanation for things we did not understand at the time.

Things that happen in our universes occur because of a specific process that can be explained and observed.

An example of this is aging. If God created human beings, he did not simply decide that they should age, he designed a biological system that functions in a predictable and specific way that causes our cells to age. We have found this system and can study how it works.

For example, some children age very rapidly. Sure enough, when we study these people, we find that this very system has gone "haywire" and shows abnormal behavior. If we knew exactly how this system worked in relation to all of the complex processes that regulate our bodies, we could alter it to allow these children to age at a normal rate. We might even be able to slow down the aging process or stop it completely.

As with aging, we've begun to identify natural processes that explain how our minds work. As such, we have no natural reason to believe consciousness, our ability to think and "transcendent" experiences really transcend anything. It appears to be a conclusion we arrived at since we did not understand how our minds work.

You go on to say "This is because we DO see diminished behavior when physically influenced by pathological or chemical factors." - again this is within the context of your strawman - you see a diminished function in the body/soul system because the body (in this case the brain) is deminished - car/driver analogy - BUT HOW DO YOU MAKE THE LEAP TO IMPLY THE IMORTAL SOUL IS DIMINISHED?

How you you make the leap that what you've labeled the "soul" is non-material and thus immortal? How do you make the leap that our experiences and behavior can only be explained by such a "soul"

We have to get to this point before we can begin to ask this question. What do you think the soul is? Is my soul communicating with you at this moment by writing this sentence? Does it know how to spell words? Does it remember things, such as who my family is so I can enjoy seeing them again if we meet in heaven after we die?

Again, when someone's brain is physically damaged in a particular areas, we see specific and predictable changes in that person's abilities. The choices they make may be strongly influenced and their personality might even change drastically. They may loose their memory. How can one's soul loose it's memory? Does it magically reappear after someone dies?

Scott, your logic astounds me "
You haven't provided any reason why a soul is required for any of these experiences. Nor have you shown that other explanations are insufficient to account for them." I thought the fact that they were explained by the soul was self evident - and is it not your role to offer and promote alternative explanations? Read the references and then come back for more.


Based on the references I've read, these people are suggesting that a supernatural "soul" could explain specific experiences. They are not showing that *only* a supernatural cause could explain them. To do so would require observing behavior that defied our laws of physics.

And I did provide an alternative explanation. Zen Buddhism makes no claims about God or Gods and mindfulness / reflection / meditation can provide the type of positive results as prayer, fasting, etc. And it's predictable. No supernatural dimension required.

Listening to music, observing nature and specific kinds of events can cause incredible experiences that are quite amazing and very meaningful. I'm not denying that these experience occur. Nor am I trying to say that they do not have value. I'm saying is that we don't have any natural evidence that says God is required to experience them.

In fact, I think they are more valuable because God isn't simply pressing our "religious experience" button that he would have created us with to make us feel this way on demand.

ZAROVE said...

I'm glad you asked, Scott.

But, before I address your concerns, may I state that the reason I presented the definition of what the SOul was, s undertsood by all, throughout time, until our recent years, was ot show that we need to approach the topic differently than we had.

Peopel shoudl understand what terms mean, and, givne that contemorary Athiesm uses words poorly often, and many of those they debae agaisnt equelly accet the faulty definitions, I only hope to open the discussion up to a mroe raitonal tone, by explainign what others mean.

After all, if we apprich the soul as "A supernaturla intety, unaffecte dby Bodyly damage, that is responcible for conciosuness and that surives death" then we'd never be able to mak any sence of the Theology of WIlliam Tyndale, or of many of the Talmudic Rabbis, who argued instead that the Soul isn't seperate from the Body, and perishes at the death fo the Body.

When askign such queastiosn as "Where is the Soul before this?" you assume the Soul has to be soemwhere. It doesn't.


EVen though I persoanlly beleive in an Afterlife, I am not so nieve as to assume that this view is the only oen open, nor is the Idea bandied abtuthat the SOul doens't exist at all the ony alternative. In fact, its a Nonexistant alternative since, as I noted before, the Soul, as it was udnertsood by all but the most modern of Human minds, must exist for we see Living beings.

But not evryone beleives the SOul is seperate from the Body or Bodily functions, and many have proposed striclty natrusitic proccesses as the SOul. This view isn't alein to Christian and Jewish beleif. ( Only Islam is uncharecteristic in that it is absolutely asured of an Afterlife in all Quarters, of the Abrahamic faiths.)

Thus, to get the topic onto a common ground, I simply want ot tell others that the SOul is undertsood as that which engenders life. It need nto exist before life, or be seperate from life, or a seperate thign apart from the Living Organism. The Soul can be, actually, struclty a set of natural principles that keep the body alive, and expires at Death. THis woudln't indicate that no soul exists, it woudl simply indicate that the Biological proccesses which Animate us are our soul.

Anonymous said...

Atheists don't have any common sense.