Friday, October 11, 2013

Thoughts On The Soul

I've been thinking about the existence of the soul lately and substance dualism - the belief that humans are composed of the physical body and an immaterial soul. One analogy given by dualists to illustrate the correlation between the soul and the body, is to imagine that the physical body is like a machine, like say a piano or a car, and the soul or mind is like the person operating it. So, they say, physical damage to the piano or car would render its operator unable to control the machine properly, but the soul would remain intact despite damage to the physical body.

I wonder then, how can the soul be held eternally accountable for what it does, if the body it has to work with is damaged? For example, imagine you're driving a car and the brakes fail. You crash and kill someone. After an inspection of the car, you are not deemed criminally responsible because it was caused by a mechanical error and not any kind of negligence on your part. But with our souls, I'm being asked to believe that god holds them eternally responsible, even if they have a physically damaged body that they cannot control properly. It would be like holding the driver of the car criminally responsible for the car's brakes failing, even though they could do nothing about it.

And what about genetic predispositions for violent and/or aggressive behavior? What about schizophrenia? Psychopathy? Sociopathy? Brain tumors? Mind controlling parasites like Toxoplasma gondii? Or conditions that attack impulse control and cognitive rationality? These are all physical problems that affect the way we behave and think and our ability to make moral judgements. It's hard for me to imagine that the mind is causally disconnected to these factors and is somehow floating above the brain in perfect condition, while the body it has to work with is suffering some kind of debilitating disease or condition. 

And how does that mind or soul deal with these disorders if the soul remains perfectly functional? Is it like brakes failing in the car from the driver's point of view? Is it like the soul wants to turn right but the car instead turns left? That must be very frustrating from the soul's perspective. How does this all work and how could the soul be held eternally accountable given it has a broken machine to work with that it cannot properly control? 

Everyone agrees that there are mysteries about consciousness. We can't yet fully explain it, but substance dualism is not something that appeals to me despite our ignorance. There are what are called property dualists, who believe that the mind is another property that emerges from the physical brain, but who do not accept that a soul is needed to explain consciousness. Property dualism is something I can embrace. The mind in this case would be an emergent property contingent on the physical brain. 

It seems that consciousness may just be the process of us becoming aware of physically determined phenomenon occurring in our brains that we have the illusion were our own decisions. I remain officially an agnostic on determinism, but I lean towards the world probably being fully deterministic (in which case if true, I'd be a compatiblist).

But the belief in the soul does what just about every other theistic belief does: It tries to solve a mystery by postulating another mystery, in which case there are too many unanswered questions regarding the nature of the soul and its relationship with the physical body that make it highly implausible to me. 

1 comment:

  1. It tries to solve a mystery by postulating another mystery
    It tries to solve a possibly explainable/reducible mystery by making the mysterious thing foundational.
    Consiousness is a mystery, therefore consiousness is just what the soul does, no further explanation is even possible - the soul is "thought stuff".

    As you observe, it's the same thing done with any god of the gaps (or in this case, soul of the gaps) argument.



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