12 June 2012

On the Brain and Soul

The below prompt was provided:

“The astonishing hypotheses is that you, your joys, your sorrows, your memories, and your ambitions, your sense of personal free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Francis Crick, co-founder of the DNA molecule)

"I do not believe in an immortal soul independent of the human body, because I do not believe in God or any form of supernaturalism. Nor do I argue, as some psychologists and philosophers do, that there is a mind or consciousness independent of the intractable materials mass of gray matter that is the human brain. To contend that consciousness (like spirituality) is a phenomenon separate from or greater than the brain itself strikes me as just another refusal to acknowledge that Homo sapiens, with the most sophisticated brain of all species on earth, nevertheless belongs to the animal kingdom. What others call the mind or the spirit is the literally marvelous result of what the brain, a physical organ, has made of its encounters with stimuli over a lifetime."  (From: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age, by Susan Jacoby, c2011)

My response:
Note: It isn't an academic response, nor was it meant to be.  CPE rules and all.

            While the sentiments expressed by Jacoby neatly compartmentalize the human person, reducing him or her to an algebraic equation, my own existential reality – and, for that matter, the realities of those around me – appear too complicated to be explained simply by neuroscience.  How can humanity – the humanity of the person sitting across from me, the humanity of the person I met yesterday and my own humanity, the entire world really – simply be summed up as a series of cold biological realities?  How could life be summarized through a series of behavioral formulas?  Is human life, in its most basic account, merely animals acting inevitably as the sum total of their neurons?  Of course, such an existential crisis is exactly what Jacoby would dismiss again as my foolish need to claim the mind as something independent of the human whole.  In other words, my initial reaction might be thought to prove her very point.  Thus, a small kernel of doubt arises: just what am I? Is my entire inclination toward spirituality and the argument that human beings are more than bios just a means of escaping reality?
            The difficulty in answering such challenges is because they themselves are settled within a sort of circular logic.  Humans must be something more than simply biology, because to suggest otherwise reduces the importance of human life.  Yet, at the same time, such a claim stands and falls on its own: there is no evidence that can be produced to suggest that humans have something so great and eternal as a soul, or even a mind which acts independently (and in some cases even against) the natural inclinations of the body.  Upon further reflection, I realize that the entire question of how the mind/body/spirit relationship cannot be proven one way or another: using a strictly scientific view, the non-existence of a transcendent spirit is a given; a person like myself, however, supposes the existence of something beyond biology but can offer no satisfactory proof for his or her supposition to those who doubt.  In the final account, however, what I do know is this: I have felt in the very marrow of my bones that there is something within the human person that transcends basic biological limits. 
            I do not place my belief in something which exists through and beyond human life as being something that can be proven.  Instead, I can point to situations where I and others around me have acted in ways that suggest that humanity is not always controlled by rational self-interest.  Moreover, I cannot consent to a configuration of human life that does not allow for some greater meaning than continued existence.  This again is based in a sort of circular logic: life must mean something for me because I claim that it does.  Yet, this is the jumping off point for my religious belief.  Through my experiences, I’ve subjectively come to recognize objective truths – and have thus decided to bind myself with those who share belief in these Truths. 
            Perhaps the most difficult part of responding to the shared quotes is taking into account the alternative position.  If there is nothing unique about humans – there is no superior state of consciousness – and thus, we are nothing much another type of animals, the consequences are far-ranging.  If Humanity is simply another animal, without soul or a mind separate from the brain, then our actions cannot be noted as moral or immoral; values do not exist and at its base, altruism is a genetic weakness.  This, however, has not been my experience of human life.  Quite plainly, I cannot accept a soul-less humanity because I find existential evidence to the contrary.  

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