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  #1  
Old Mar 11, '12, 11:00 pm
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Default Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

There is pretty good evidence that people's personalities and memories are very much linked with their brain structures. Traumatic brain injury patients can undergo loss of mental function and changes in personality and/or temperament.

This all points to mental function, emotion, and personality being inseparable from brain cells, tissues, and structures in a very physical way. I would dare posit that identity is dependent on our brains.

It seems to me that that takes the notions of personality and identity out of our souls.

Some ideas, any or all of which seem to be right or wrong depending on how I think about them. I'd welcome your thoughts.

1. Minimalist/existentialist soul: nothing about how we think of ourselves resides in the soul. It's simply a record of our existence, as noted by God. The inescapable "surd" of existence described by Soren Kierkegaard, or potentially the self identified by Rene Descartes.
2. The maturing soul: everything that we think about ourselves is contained within our soul, and it acquires "memory" independent of the nervous systems. The soul starts as a blank slate (tabula rasa). An analogy would be that it's the long-term memory and our brains are short-term memory that are constantly dumping into the long-term memory.
3. The screen play (or computer code) of our life: God knows all, "in our mothers' wombs," and our soul is our story at various points in being told.
4. The mirror: a spiritual (e.g., not observable) reflection of everything we do in the material world.

I think given neuroscience's establishment of identity and personality in the brain, the notion that when we die, we're going to see and meet all the people we loved in our lives is not a given. Maybe in the "mirror" soul or "screen play" or "maturing soul" we could remember things of our life, but it seems to me that God is so far beyond anything humans can comprehend or perceive with our physical senses that I'm not sure we'll ever answer what happens when we die.
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  #2  
Old Mar 12, '12, 12:32 am
Trevor Stamm Trevor Stamm is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Done any reading on hylemorphic dualism (Aristotelian - Thomistic dualism)? David Oderberg and Edward Feser have written extensively on this issue and provide more then satisfying answers. A lot of Christian neurologists and psychologists have been flocking to this dualism for good reason.
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Old Mar 12, '12, 1:15 am
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

I was going to write the same thing: you need to learn some Aristotelian realism! And I was going to recommend Oderberg's Real Essentialism as well (it's a textbook). Ed Feser writes on a more popular level and is a better introduction, such as Aquinas.
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  #4  
Old Mar 12, '12, 11:15 am
grannymh grannymh is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trevor Stamm View Post
Done any reading on hylemorphic dualism (Aristotelian - Thomistic dualism)? David Oderberg and Edward Feser have written extensively on this issue and provide more then satisfying answers. A lot of Christian neurologists and psychologists have been flocking to this dualism for good reason.
I have read a bit about hylemorphism as penance for my Cartesian extreme dualism.

Did I miss the functions or abilities of the spiritual soul in post 1?
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  #5  
Old Mar 12, '12, 1:21 pm
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trevor Stamm View Post
Done any reading on hylemorphic dualism (Aristotelian - Thomistic dualism)? David Oderberg and Edward Feser have written extensively on this issue and provide more then satisfying answers. A lot of Christian neurologists and psychologists have been flocking to this dualism for good reason.
Good recommendation. The common understanding of the soul is basically Cartesian, i.e., the body is a machine and the soul is a ghost which operates it and departs at the moment of "death." This is false. The soul is the principle of substantive unity which allows a body to remain one even as the molecules in it change constantly over the course of the life. When the "soul" is talked about, what is usually meant is the intellect and will, which ought to die when the body does but which God, in His great love for us, preserves from extinction.

We should not be alarmed that the operations of the intellect and will exhibit effects on the brain. This is perfectly consistent with the nature of the soul.
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  #6  
Old Mar 12, '12, 4:27 pm
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empther empther is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

While the soul has some limited dependence on the brain for memory, it cannot be wholly dependent or we would have no more ability to act human than animals.

The soul has memory too, which exceeds any organization of matter by a mile,
to say nothing of understanding information,
or having esthetic sense,
or having interests in matters that have nothing to do at all with survival.

The blue whale's brain is four times as large as man's and has evolved for millions of years longer, but it can't begin to match man's intellect.
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  #7  
Old Mar 12, '12, 6:05 pm
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by empther View Post
The soul has memory too, which exceeds any organization of matter by a mile,
to say nothing of understanding information,
or having esthetic sense,
or having interests in matters that have nothing to do at all with survival.
I'd be interested in any descriptions of the function of the soul from mystic or theological publications. I think the notion that all every atom in my body is out of my body within 7 years suggests that the Aristotle / Platonist "form" is one thing to think about... but the genetic code in each cell makes human form self-perpetuating, so I don't think that it's part of how our souls work (even though I think God uses methods seemingly contingent on biophysical or geophysical mechanics to change the world).

Thanks, everyone for the references on Aristotle-type dualism... I think these should be useful. Looking at one I printed today, I'm starting with a skeptical position on the notion that our minds -- which are emergent from matter -- are irreducible suggests that the soul will live forever outside of material constrains.

I can't imagine that any one knows what the afterlife is like, and so much of human consciousness is contingent on our perceiving three spatial and one temporal dimension. But is the soul in a "space," which cosmology suggests is contingent on the Big Bang, or in another type of non-spatial state? Does the soul perceive time?

Any writings on these anyone can suggest are very much appreciated.
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  #8  
Old Mar 12, '12, 7:27 pm
grannymh grannymh is offline
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Post Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by fnr View Post
I'd be interested in any descriptions of the function of the soul from mystic or theological publications. I think the notion that all every atom in my body is out of my body within 7 years suggests that the Aristotle / Platonist "form" is one thing to think about... but the genetic code in each cell makes human form self-perpetuating, so I don't think that it's part of how our souls work (even though I think God uses methods seemingly contingent on biophysical or geophysical mechanics to change the world).

Thanks, everyone for the references on Aristotle-type dualism... I think these should be useful. Looking at one I printed today, I'm starting with a skeptical position on the notion that our minds -- which are emergent from matter -- are irreducible suggests that the soul will live forever outside of material constrains.

I can't imagine that any one knows what the afterlife is like, and so much of human consciousness is contingent on our perceiving three spatial and one temporal dimension. But is the soul in a "space," which cosmology suggests is contingent on the Big Bang, or in another type of non-spatial state? Does the soul perceive time?

Any writings on these anyone can suggest are very much appreciated.
This Catechism is not a page-turner. However, if one persists, there are a number of information gems regarding human nature which uniquely unites both the spiritual and material worlds.
One can enter the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition at this link.
http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/355.htm

By the way, the intellective [mind] is a function of the spiritual soul which does not emerge from matter. God directly creates the individual spiritual soul. It is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body. Spirit and matter are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature, yours and mine.
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  #9  
Old Mar 13, '12, 2:22 am
greylorn greylorn is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by fnr View Post
There is pretty good evidence that people's personalities and memories are very much linked with their brain structures. Traumatic brain injury patients can undergo loss of mental function and changes in personality and/or temperament.

This all points to mental function, emotion, and personality being inseparable from brain cells, tissues, and structures in a very physical way. I would dare posit that identity is dependent on our brains.

It seems to me that that takes the notions of personality and identity out of our souls.

Some ideas, any or all of which seem to be right or wrong depending on how I think about them. I'd welcome your thoughts.

1. Minimalist/existentialist soul: nothing about how we think of ourselves resides in the soul. It's simply a record of our existence, as noted by God. The inescapable "surd" of existence described by Soren Kierkegaard, or potentially the self identified by Rene Descartes.
2. The maturing soul: everything that we think about ourselves is contained within our soul, and it acquires "memory" independent of the nervous systems. The soul starts as a blank slate (tabula rasa). An analogy would be that it's the long-term memory and our brains are short-term memory that are constantly dumping into the long-term memory.
3. The screen play (or computer code) of our life: God knows all, "in our mothers' wombs," and our soul is our story at various points in being told.
4. The mirror: a spiritual (e.g., not observable) reflection of everything we do in the material world.

I think given neuroscience's establishment of identity and personality in the brain, the notion that when we die, we're going to see and meet all the people we loved in our lives is not a given. Maybe in the "mirror" soul or "screen play" or "maturing soul" we could remember things of our life, but it seems to me that God is so far beyond anything humans can comprehend or perceive with our physical senses that I'm not sure we'll ever answer what happens when we die.
You make many excellent points, and have omitted many others that could be made in support of your considerations. Nonetheless, neuroscience is not the solid, well-established hard science that its practitioners would have you believe.

I'm not an expert in the field but have written a few computer programs in support of neuroscience research which gave the scientist who paid me for them an undeserved reputation. I've studied the field well enough to write a book which included a neurosurgery section that impressed several surgeons. And I've had conversations with one serious neurological researcher whose previous publications support my theories about the brain/soul interface.

Neuroscience is a field that is in as much flux as astronomy. Today's textbooks will be obsolete in three years. Let's see where the changes take us before concluding that they have excluded "soul" from their theories. After all, these folks have yet to explain Wilder Penfield's consciousness experiments from 1947. Consciousness itself remains a mystery.

It is really impossible to discuss soul in the context of neuroscience, because soul is defined to be a spirit, an entity which cannot have any interaction with the physical.

One of my projects is to provide a more precise definition of soul (and a new name, beon, to go with it), which is consistent with all aspects of physics (and concomitantly at odds with religious beliefs).

This revised understanding of soul, the "beon" concept, is entirely consistent with the real evidence of neuroscience. It is similarly in alignment with evidence from psychology.

By way of simple examples, it makes sense of two phenomena which conventional science explains poorly:

1. Handedness (specific hand preference) in human beings.

2. The Sperry-Gazzoniga split-brain experiments.

There are others.

IMO you are wise to be thinking of these ideas. I don't recommend discarding your beliefs on account of neuroscience theories just yet. Reading, thinking, and questioning seems a fair course of action. .
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  #10  
Old Mar 13, '12, 4:32 am
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by grannymh View Post
This Catechism is not a page-turner. However, if one persists, there are a number of information gems regarding human nature which uniquely unites both the spiritual and material worlds.
One can enter the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition at this link.
http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/355.htm

By the way, the intellective [mind] is a function of the spiritual soul which does not emerge from matter. God directly creates the individual spiritual soul. It is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body. Spirit and matter are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature, yours and mine.
The Catechism is a pretty interesting read on this, so thanks for the reference. According to it,
  • Soul refers to human life or the whole human person
  • Soul is a substance in itself, capable of independent existence (e.g, not an accident contingent on something else)
  • "The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body"

I looked in another apologetics text I have ("Catholic Evidence Training Outlines" by Frank Sheed & Maisie Ward, p. 304) which also brought in the concept that the soul is "dormant" though its "spirit" function is active. Because of the unity of the body and soul, without a body a soul isn't a living (or perhaps thinking) thing. It simply "exists."

One thing that surprised me is that bodily resurrection comes into force in interpreting the soul. Because bodily resurrection is such a part and parcel of Catholic belief (which I never really understood as necessary, perhaps until now), it suggests that the soul isn't a full copy of a person (in other words) if separated from the body. Christ's resurrection is a sign and signifier of the sanctification of the human body, and like the church song goes "and I will raise you up on the last day." The concept that resurrection doesn't take place until the last day suggests that upon death, the soul is dormant. It seems very likely that the soul isn't conscious of the time passing until "the last day" if it doesn't have a brain to think it with. It would seem to me that only on "the last day" when we receive our resurrected bodies does the soul again become conscious, in union with our resurrected bodies. So it could be that when we die, the first thing we're aware of is resurrection.

This gets a little complicated, since I'm not sure that "the last day" is a day on the earthly calendar. One computer science concept that might be useful to the interpretation of the soul is that of emulation... a full version of a piece of software that runs another machine. Computer code on its own doesn't mean anything... it needs a computer to run on. Like an Atari game system running on Mac or Windows, could the resurrection be "us" running on heaven -- with our souls as the code?
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  #11  
Old Mar 13, '12, 6:49 am
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

I should correct my last post. In the other apologetics text I reference, the soul is described as dormant AFTER death and before resurrection.

Incidentally, last night I listened to a podcast ("A Body of Truth" on Catholic Radio International) and the host, an Eastern Catholic priest, described death as a temporary separation of our soul from our body.
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  #12  
Old Mar 13, '12, 8:35 pm
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Moontown_Rabbit Moontown_Rabbit is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by fnr View Post
I looked in another apologetics text I have ("Catholic Evidence Training Outlines" by Frank Sheed & Maisie Ward, p. 304) which also brought in the concept that the soul is "dormant" though its "spirit" function is active. Because of the unity of the body and soul, without a body a soul isn't a living (or perhaps thinking) thing. It simply "exists."
You should keep in mind the line from the ancient Apostles' Creed that reads "I believe in...the communion of saints." This declaration has produced plenty of controversy over the centuries. If one refers to the Summa Theologica you find the following comments (note that "separated soul" refers to a soul without a body):

Quote:
Nevertheless, according to the disposition of Divine providence separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men, as Augustine, in the book quoted above, relates of the martyr Felix who appeared visibly to the people of Nola when they were besieged by the barbarians. It is also credible that this may occur sometimes to the damned, and that for man's instruction and intimidation they be permitted to appear to the living; or again in order to seek our suffrages, as to those who are detained in purgatory, as evidenced by many instances related in the fourth book of the Dialogues.
Aquinas identified three types of souls, the vegetative soul (the ability to obtain nutrition) the sensitive soul (the ability to sense things) and the rational soul (the ability to reason). Plants have the first kind, animals have the first two, and humans have all three. Again from the Summa:

Quote:
Now it is evident that certain operations, whereof the soul's powers are the principles, do not belong to the soul properly speaking but to the soul as united to the body, because they are not performed except through the medium of the body--such as to see, to hear, and so forth. Hence it follows that such like powers belong to the united soul and body as their subject, but to the soul as their quickening principle, just as the form is the principle of the properties of a composite being. Some operations, however, are performed by the soul without a bodily organ--for instance to understand, to consider, to will: wherefore, since these actions are proper to the soul, the powers that are the principles thereof belong to the soul not only as their principle but also as their subject. Therefore, since so long as the proper subject remains its proper passions must also remain, and when it is corrupted they also must be corrupted, it follows that these powers which use no bodily organ for their actions must needs remain in the separated body, while those which use a bodily organ must needs be corrupted when the body is corrupted: and such are all the powers belonging to the sensitive and the vegetative soul.
I spent many hours hashing this out with a friend of mine who believes that separated souls sleep until the general resurrection. It seems to me that "communion of the saints" refers to something much more dynamic than sleeping.
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  #13  
Old Mar 14, '12, 3:22 am
grannymh grannymh is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

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Originally Posted by Moontown_Rabbit View Post
I spent many hours hashing this out with a friend of mine who believes that separated souls sleep until the general resurrection. It seems to me that "communion of the saints" refers to something much more dynamic than sleeping.
I learned about the "communion of saints" very early in grade school. As a granny, I find it one of the most comforting and logical of truths.
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Old Mar 14, '12, 3:37 am
King Lazy King Lazy is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

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Originally Posted by fnr View Post
I reference, the soul is described as dormant AFTER death and before resurrection.
Actually, that's interesting. For us Christians, the state of separation of body and soul is only temporary and at the end of the world, the twain shall be reunited. God has always intended us to be the fusion of material and spiritual that we are now, and the period of separation will be infinitely insignificant compared to eternity.
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Old Mar 15, '12, 11:00 am
Fr of Jazz Fr of Jazz is offline
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Default Re: Cognitive neuroscience and the soul

Quote:
Originally Posted by fnr View Post
There is pretty good evidence that people's personalities and memories are very much linked with their brain structures. Traumatic brain injury patients can undergo loss of mental function and changes in personality and/or temperament.

This all points to mental function, emotion, and personality being inseparable from brain cells, tissues, and structures in a very physical way. I would dare posit that identity is dependent on our brains.

It seems to me that that takes the notions of personality and identity out of our souls.

Some ideas, any or all of which seem to be right or wrong depending on how I think about them. I'd welcome your thoughts.

1. Minimalist/existentialist soul: nothing about how we think of ourselves resides in the soul. It's simply a record of our existence, as noted by God. The inescapable "surd" of existence described by Soren Kierkegaard, or potentially the self identified by Rene Descartes.
2. The maturing soul: everything that we think about ourselves is contained within our soul, and it acquires "memory" independent of the nervous systems. The soul starts as a blank slate (tabula rasa). An analogy would be that it's the long-term memory and our brains are short-term memory that are constantly dumping into the long-term memory.
3. The screen play (or computer code) of our life: God knows all, "in our mothers' wombs," and our soul is our story at various points in being told.
4. The mirror: a spiritual (e.g., not observable) reflection of everything we do in the material world.

I think given neuroscience's establishment of identity and personality in the brain, the notion that when we die, we're going to see and meet all the people we loved in our lives is not a given. Maybe in the "mirror" soul or "screen play" or "maturing soul" we could remember things of our life, but it seems to me that God is so far beyond anything humans can comprehend or perceive with our physical senses that I'm not sure we'll ever answer what happens when we die.
I have provided some data in this thread starting with my post Feb 24, '12, 3:00 pm (last 3 paragraphs in particular) and especially mine on Feb 24, '12, 3:02 pm.

The bottom line is:
(1) As Catholics we are part of the tradition of theistic humanism going back before Socrates. The philosophical conviction that there is an immaterial component to the human person, the soul, is a part of that tradition.

(2) Neuroscience has not demonstrated that the mind/soul can be reduced to brain or neuronal activity (or as you say the “establishment of identity and personality in the brain”). It has only shown us neurological correlates of mental processes. Science has in fact shown us that the causality involved in the relationship between brain and mind is bidirectional. See studies in neuroplasticity in Feb 24, '12, 3:02 pm.

(3) Philosophy has not demonstrated why one would be rationally compelled to limit oneself to the scientific method to test and derive all true propositions about reality nor why one would be rationally compelled to adopt philosophical materialism/physicalism.
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