Could the brain in fact be the soul?
Who had determined from an early age to disprove the existence of God and the Soul, made a passionate call for neuroscience to begin employing its growing scientific arsenal to demonstrate the material basis of consciousness?
Philosophers have been arguing about over the past few centuries. Ever since René Descartes gave birth to dualism by asserting the separation of Mind and Body, the big issue in the philosophy of mind has been figuring out how these two different substances—the mental and the physical—could interact with one another. On one hand, how could an objective, physical brain give rise to subjective, mental events? And on the other hand, how could those subjective, mental events—presumably not governed by physical laws—impact the objec- tive, physical world?
Through the use of brain imaging techniques, it allows them to compare snap- shots of the brain when a given perception is conscious and when it is not conscious. This, they hope, will ultimately give them some clues to understanding how neuronal activity correlates with consciousness. No matter how clear a snapshot we can get of what type of neuronal activity correlates with which sorts of conscious perceptions, we will still be no closer to understanding how the brain could possibly produce something like conscious experience itself.
Different Theories: –
The first thinker on record to suggest a link between mind and brain was the Pythagorean Alcmaeon of Croton, writing in the fifth century BC. Prior to that, across cultures, it was widely held that the Mind, or Soul, was located in the heart. The priests of ancient Egypt, for example, when preparing the body of the deceased for the afterlife, would pull out the brain, piece by piece through the nose, but would leave the heart intact, believing it to be the center of a person’s Being and Intelligence. In most ancient cultures, the idea of dissecting a cadaver was taboo, so with no knowledge of the nervous system, it was only natural to conclude that the accelerated heartbeat that accompanied an excited mind was a clear indication of the bodily location of mental life. Even such great thinkers as Aristotle subscribed to this view. But, rigorous biologist that he was, Greece’s greatest polymath was certain that the brain must serve some function. Noticing that it was cool to the touch, he concluded that it refrigerated the blood—a conclusion that also allowed him to account for the inordinately large brains of humans. Because of our unusual intelligence, he argued, our hearts produced more heat and, thus, required a larger cooling system.
Alcmaeon’s brain-centered theory, however, did manage to persuade the likes of Hippocrates and Plato to abandon the prevailing “cardiovascular theory,” and despite Aristotle’s resistance to the idea, it was picked up by physicians during the early Roman period who broke the taboo against dissecting cadavers and discovered the nervous system branching out from the skull and spine. Although this view gradually took hold, and has remained dominant ever since, it was still being disputed as late as the seventeenth century, when philosopher Henry More wrote, “This lax pith or marrow in man’s head shows no more capacity for thought than a cake of suet or a bowl of curds.” It is also worth noting that the model of the brain that prevailed through most of the second millennium was very different from the model we subscribe to today.
Whereas we now see a vast, complex electrochemical network of some hundred billion neurons, these early anatomists were convinced that the Mind, or Soul, was a kind of etheric presence that lived in large “ventricles” or chambers in the brain, communicating its commands to the rest of the body through “vital spirits” that flowed through the nervous system’s minute pathways.
Indeed, it has been this move away from a spirit-based view of the brain’s workings toward a purely biological one that has led to the idea, so unpopular with the religiously inclined, that the mind, or soul, is ultimately reducible to brain activity.