The Transition of the Soul

With so many faculties of human cognition and emotion now being identified with the brain, how can these faculties carry over into the afterlife when our brain dies? Are brain functions copied onto the soul, or the soul shaped by the functions of the brain, or some other way? I know our bodies will eventually be resurrected, but at the time of death our soul detaches from our bodies and transitions to the afterlife. How can bodily functions of the brain also carry over? I am not doubting - I am a believing Catholic. I am simply trying to understand. Thank you and God bless. :slight_smile:

It is a mistake to think that cognition and emotion have been** identified** with the brain. They are related to our thoughts and feelings but they do not explain them. There is interaction between our spiritual and physical powers that ceases at death because our senses cease to function but we aren’t left without means of knowledge, decision-making or communication. Although we shall not see, hear, taste, smell or touch natural objects we shall have supernatural knowledge, joy and love for God and His children.

Biological functions of the brain do not carry over; but mind-impressions originally formed in the brain, are carried by the human soul to it’s pneumatikon soma (spiritual body).

ICXC NIKA

The soul is spiritual. The anatomy is material. Human nature, in itself, unites both the spiritual world and the material world. Spirit and matter, in a human person, are not two fundamentally separated natures united; rather their union forms a single
nature. This is why brain functions are not copied onto the soul.

Practically speaking, the soul is not shaped by the functions of the physical brain. In a sense it is the reverse. It is because of the spiritual soul created immediately by God that the matter or material of the anatomy becomes a living human body.

You are correct by referring to the bodily functions of the brain. The human brain is amazing. It responds to incoming information, incoming stimulation, and incoming emotions in a physical way. However, it is the intellective faculty of the spiritual soul which initiates the activity in the physical brain when tools of reason along with free decisions are employed. We are a rational being designed to make independent choices.

Blessings,
granny

The human person is worthy of profound respect.

This is such a good philosophical question because it highlights fundamental issues.

For example, if you are a 100 percent dualist, then your personal consciousness can naturally exist apart from your body. Note that what survives death is not simple intellection (as in a transpersonal agent intellect), but the individual person himself or herself (with memories intact, and still able to “perceive” in some way the “living” here on earth).

Aristotle’s notion of soul as the form of the body precludes dualism. Because the Aristotelian form, apart from the body, is not individualized; as such, it is “common” to many instantiations. Additionally, Aristotle had no understanding of “persons” as singularities not defined by species/genus.

All of this is to say that, according to Aristotle, we (as unique historical persons) are extinguished at death.

But it is still not clear that human persons can naturally survive death, i.e., exist without being embodied. “Exist” here connotes our personal consciousness and the ability to “perceive” and communicate with the “living”. Because, speaking naturally or philosophically, we (in our singularity) are our bodies. We are not ghosts in a machine.

Now I believe that we (as persons) survive death. However, for this to happen, there may have to be a supernatural intervention by God.

The supernatural intervention by God is called spiritual soul. At death, our soul is either with God or not with God. Eventually, our body will rise from death, like Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Then Body and Soul will be reunitied.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, apart of our soul is specifically attached to our body, but another part is detached from it and, at death, detaches entirely. This is the part that moves on, and the rest of our soul will express itself again once we receive a resurrected body. According to the Catechism, our soul is the form of our body; they form one, single nature, just as Christ’s God nature, human soul and physical body all form one Person.

However, I do find it interesting that, as far as I can tell, the only supernatural or heavenly beings to have ever appeared to people on Earth are God, angels and the Blessed Virgin - all of whom have physical, if spiritualized, bodies. I am unaware of the appearance of any other saints throughout history, since none of them have physical bodies to appear in. Rather, they reside in Heaven with one another, in communion between themselves, the angels, Mary and God. They experience the “spiritual thoughts and feelings” of being in the presence of God in Heaven, such as joy/bliss, peace, purity, and love, as tonyrey elucidated. Also according to the Catechism (I think; it may be in another Church official document), the saints would have no power without God specifically giving it to them. They do not “attain” the power to perform miracles through their intercessory prayer, or to appear - this even applies to the Blessed Virgin. But the primary work of heavenly saints is said prayer, which, being a completely spiritual task, they are able to do.

My remaining question is: what precisely constitutes the behaviors or faculties of our soul and spirit, as distinct in character from our brain?

Rational intellect and free will.

The limitations of the brain - which is essentially no more than an immensely complex machine - imply that electrical impulses must be supplemented by spiritual energy to account for even the simplest forms of life. There is no evidence that wattage can produce consciousness or purposiveness! The mechanistic hypothesis is a hopelessly inadequate explanation of one living cell, let alone persons…

Theologically, angels have no body, although they can take on the form of one to interact with human beings; they are not physically alive.

God as Trinity is spirit, although as our LORD, He is embodied.

Saint Joseph has appeared at Knock in Ireland (1879). Moses appeared to our LORD. In both cases, the person appearing had died physically. This is not a problem, because the pneumatikon soma of our eternal life is outside of time.

ICXC NIKA

So could it be said that the structure of our body is determined by the nature of our pneumatikon soma?

This was a hot topic from Aristotle on … it revolved around the notion of an agent intellect, i.e., an active principle (like light) that illuminated the forms impressed upon the possible intellect … the issue was whether the agent intellect was external or internal to the human being … the neo-platonists, arab and some medieval philosophers argued that it was totally separate from the human being … Thomas, on the contrary, argued that it was intrinsic to each human being (and this became the basis for his philosophical argument for the natural immortality of the individual soul … because the agent intellect was an immaterial principle).

The problem with Thomas’ argument is that may introduced dualism of a sort that divides the human person into real parts (i.e., that can exist apart from each other) … I don’t know whether this is philosophically defensible … after death, would the now separately existing agent intellect still be identical to the “person” …

Again, I am only arguing against the natural immortality of the human person … with a supernatural intervention, all is possible …

Certainly, the resurrection of the body requires a supernatural intervention …

First. Thomas Aquinas did not adapt Aristotle hook, line and sinker.

Second. It is Descartes who is known for his extreme dualism which became the idea that there are real separate parts in human nature.

Third. Catholicism recognizes the difference between the spiritual and material worlds. However, human nature is not two fundamentally separated worlds united. Catholicism teaches that “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365)

For the complete and extremely interesting explanation of human nature, please read paragraphs 355 - 421 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition.

I promise to go read the paragraphs …

But, for what

I think Thomas was wrong if he meant that individual human persons naturally survive death with memories intact, with the ability to communicate, with awareness of what’s happening down here on earth, etc

And I think St. Paul would agree with me. The ancient Jews put a tremendous emphasis on the body. The separation of soul and body was inconceivable for them. If we were to survive death, we had to have our bodies. That’s why the Gospel was really good news. And that’s why St. Paul talks about “spiritualised” bodies, i.e., real bodies but not subject to concupiscence.

We can see this Jewish emphasis on the body even today. Woody Allen: “I don’t want to live on in the memories of other people, I would prefer to stay in my own apartment” - not an exact quote but pretty close.

The structure of the “human body” we know is determined primarily by the genes and their expression. It is a natural body; and as such, subjected to the law of entropy, can hold only natural life, not everlasting life. It is made for us to live life in time, which ends when entropy causes the body to fail to hold life.

But it is accompanied by the pneumatikon soma (“spiritual body”) which holds our eternal life. As Saint Paul said, the natural comes first, and then the spiritual.

ICXC NIKA!

Be careful … don’t multiply bodies … Jesus’ resurrected body still has its wounds … so too our resurrected body will be the same as our current body … because we will be the same person … granted, our resurrected body will not be subject to certain limitations (this is what Paul meant by pneumatikon soma) … but we will still be ourselves … with the same face, the same personality, the same memories, the same history, etc. …

Human fetuses and the severely mentally handicapped are said to have souls, but don’t seem to have rational intellects or free will.

Neanderthals, who were still kicking around as few as 30K years ago, would likely be regarded by many as not having spiritual souls, but from what we know of them, it could be argued that they did seem to have had rational intellects and free will.

Remember that the rational intellect and free will are expressed through the brain and body. What happens in the case of severely mentally handicapped is that the faculties of intellect and will are there, but they are prevented from being used completely.

In the very early days of teaching the handicapped, my mother would drive two affected sisters to the only school in the area. One afternoon, my mother, being directionally challenged, drove by the girls’ street and thus lost her way. So she would turn around and drive back, but because she was approaching the street from a different angle she missed their street again. As she repeated this, the girls started to laugh, By the time their laughter was near uncontrollable, my mother realized that the laughter coincided with one particular missed street. She then decided to turn on this street and there was the girls’ home. In other words, their limited intellect knew what was happening with my mother, but their physical brain could not form the words.

Neanderthals, who were still kicking around as few as 30K years ago, would likely be regarded by many as not having spiritual souls, but from what we know of them, it could be argued that they did seem to have had rational intellects and free will.

While I have not read all the research evidence about Neanderthals, from what I have read, it appears that they had a highly developed sentience. Humans also have a highly developed sentience. The difference is that the spiritual soul brings humans to a level far beyond that of the Neanderthals. One needs to be careful about assuming that the actions of the Neanderthals have the same actual purpose and fulfillment of intentions that humans have. We often impose our reasoning on Neanderthals without real merit.

I was referring to severely mentally handicapped individuals with IQs below 20, as in those in a persistent vegetative state, for instance. More to the point though, if intellect and free will can’t be detected or demonstrated, how are you justified in claiming that those attributes are still present?

A one-minute old human zygote does not have any physical component that could even be remotely described as a body or brain. Yet, it seems that you would claim that by virtue of it being ensouled (at conception, one-minute earlier) it would have intellect and free will (again, without being detectable). Perhaps one could argue that the soul develops (and deteriorates) along with the body and brain, but I don’t think Catholic doctrine permits that.

While I have not read all the research evidence about Neanderthals, from what I have read, it appears that they had a highly developed sentience. Humans also have a highly developed sentience. The difference is that the spiritual soul brings humans to a level far beyond that of the Neanderthals. One needs to be careful about assuming that the actions of the Neanderthals have the same actual purpose and fulfillment of intentions that humans have. We often impose our reasoning on Neanderthals without real merit.

Obviously Neanderthals of 30K years ago were not nearly as intelligent as modern humans, but the question is how much different from other archaic human species were they? IMO, not much. If you want to argue that none of these archaic human species had souls, then I’d be curious to know when you think fully-human humans did acquire them and how one could tell the difference. (BTW, several years ago, after scientists had extracted and isolated some Neanderthal DNA, some were speculating whether or not Neanderthals could be cloned. Someone at the Vatican objected on the grounds that “humans” should not be cloned. :eek: )

Bottom line: I agree that intellect and will are human attributes, but are not byproducts of ensoulment.

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