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