Alzheimer's, the soul, and consciousness


Hello, I was wondering what you all might have to say about this idea: The soul is comprised of the memory, the intellect, and the will. Yet when Alzheimer’s affects the brain, the memory and intellect are attacked and damaged. Why does not the soul preserve during life the memory, intellect, and the will? Does not the loss of these faculties point to the brain as being he seat of these things? Was wondering what the Church might teach on this. Thanks, Lisieux


The soul is separate, distinct from the brain that expresses it physically. Even if the body cannot express the memories, it is reasonable to assume that a healthy soul retains them.


It is no different than the state of the soul when you’re in REM sleep. It just lasts longer.
I would expect the fog of sin will turn out to have been the biggest barrier to truly retrieving our memories that we have, but in the end we will be made aware of all we need to be aware of. If Providence so wills it, we will be aware as if we were present for the events we know to have happened.


Great- I can understand what you are saying. Thanks!


I appreciate your response. Thank you!


this may interest you


I think you have a Cartesian understanding of the mind, which is not necessarily what the Church teaches. For Cartesian dualists, it’s the mind that’s conscious, not the body. The body is just a vehicle and a machine.

Now, we don’t need to accept the Cartesian model. For Thomists, we believe that a human person has immaterial operations involved in abstract thinking, language, etc… that allows us to grasp not just particulars but to abstract from these particulars to understanding how they belong to universals. This operation is seen as a power of the soul (that is, it follows as an emergent property from what we are: rational animals), but it’s not the totality of our consciousness, which is certainly seated in the brain, is reliant on numerous brain processes, etc…

Anyway, the answer is that the manifestation of memory and such in us is dependent on physical processes in the brain, so it’s not contradictory to our understanding of the mind at all that deterioration or injury of the brain can lead to these issues or even to suggest that animals are conscious.

You don’t have to be a Thomist, I guess. But neither do you need to adopt a Cartesian understanding of the mind.


Alzheimer’s is what happens when the soul wills the abandonment of memories because it wishes to exit this world. It is perceived and experienced as a disease by modern man because modern man is obsessed with extending his life in this world, and is extremely attached to this recollections. This unhealthy attachment however, is seated not in the soul, but in the (abused) intellect. In other words, Alzheimer’s is a situation where the soul’s will (which is man’s true will) is at odds with the intellect’s will (which is a false pseudo-will, a.k.a. intent). The physical deterioration of the brain is simply the expression on the physical plane of this process. It does not prove that the soul is seated in the brain.


And this is really the key, and it can’t be stressed enough.

The whole “mind/body” problem does not exist — at least not in the same heightened way — for the Thomist. We need to refresh ourselves with Aquinas’ understanding of the soul, and not the Platonist or Cartesian view.

I believe Aquinas, perhaps surprising to some, has the more biblical view. The Bible is not dualistic when it comes to the human person. Sure, the scriptures speak of the soul and spirit. We have a spiritual aspect. But that doesn’t necessitate the Platonist idea of a ghost in the machine.

Many on CAF seem conflate the two.



Alzheimer’s is what happens when the soul wills the abandonment of memories because it wishes to exit this world.

Where do you get this idea from?


I was thinking the same thing.


You seem surprised? I’m afraid I can’t disclose the one who taught me this, but I can guarantee you he’s an authority of some calibre, and in excellent standing with the Church. I hope that helps.


I know a few people who have early onset Alzheimer’s and they definitely don’t wish to leave this world or to abandon their memories.


@liseux I know some too, and you are right. The person’s wishes are different from the soul’s will, and this is what creates conflict, distress, fear, etc. The soul’s will is perfectly aligned with God’s will, but the person’s wishes are not. As persons, we typically wish to extend wordly life regardless of our soul’s wish to return. We are afraid of leaving. This can create terrible agony as the person struggles with these opposing forces inside himself or herself. And it is worse when these opposing forces are not understood (as is usually the case), because then a great deal of confusion arises as well.


You seem surprised?

Yes, because you shifted Alzheimer’s as a biological reality to some contrived notion of “a situation where the soul’s will (which is man’s true will) is at odds with the intellect’s will.” Seems odd to me!


@catholic1seeks I’m not denying it’s a biological reality; why would I? But as you agreed earlier in the thread, man’s soul and his body are not dichotomous as Plato would have it. Rather, the body is an “expression” of the soul, and it’s biological reality corresponds to the soul’s state. In the case of Alzheimer’s, the underlying "movement’ in the soul is its Will to depart. As I replied to @liseux, this does not lessen or disparage the patient’s suffering, because his/her conscious wishes are usually to remain in the world a little longer. This distinction between the soul’s Will and the person’s wishes is not contrived. It is the cause of much of man’s struggles with his mortality.


So where can I find this information on the soul’s will being at odds with the person’s desires causing Alzheimer’s disease in Catholic teaching?


Just to clarify for other readers, this isn’t anything specifically taught by the Church’s ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium, and it’s not what @catholic1seeks or I were referring to.


@liseux As Wesrock wrote, it isn’t specifically taught by the RCC magisterium. Nevertheless, it is not in conflict with RCC teaching either, nor with NT scripture. I’m offering it because it comes from a source of excellent standing, and because it is experientially verifiable, metaphysically sound, and – most importantly – of exceptional therapeutic value for those suffering Alzheimer’s.


What a bizarre and convoluted theory.

It’s a disease plain and simple.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit