The existence of a soul

Katinka Hesselink, 2006

Many scientists, especially neurologists, assume as a matter of course that there is no such thing as a soul. They feel that neurology can explain so much, that it will eventually explain even our sense of 'I am'. This article is no refutation of neurology as a science. It is obviously capable of explaining the mechanics of a lot of psychological phenomena. I do however question its ability to provide an explanation for some very basic human experiences. 

It is a fact of neurology and psychology that people influence their own brain. By training we our memory improves, our habits change and even our tempers become calmer. Philosophically speaking to explain this without the existence of something like a soul is to hypothesize some kind of psychological perpetuum mobile. Without a soul the brain itself is thought to cause the brain to change. If we had computers that could do that, we could truly call them alive, but we don't. Computers (often used as a way to explain our brains) need someone to program them. Who programs humans? To some extent humans program each other. But the psychological fact is that negative circumstances in youth leave some people psychological wrecks for the rest of their lives, while others somehow find ways of overcoming them. Human beings are simply not computers and it is precisely the exceptional amongst us which show that fact most clearly. 

Creativity

Creativity is another area where neurology does have something to say, but not enough to explain it. Creativity is linked to an openness to sensory stimuli. That means that those of us who are really creative see more of reality than the rest of us do. Most of us filter out those aspects of reality that we don't have use for, or haven't been conditioned to see. The really creative do this to a far less extent. They hear more, see more and their brains react to that extra information in a way that makes it possible for them to create extraordinary things. Is that enough of an explanation? I don't think so. Yes, creative people have brains more close to sensory overload. They have, when trying to create something, more material to work with. Their brain stores more of what the senses bring in. But that does not explain how it is that people are creative to begin with. Computers can be programmed to create all kinds of things, but as before: it takes a human being to program them. On a very basic level what a computer is good at is repeating the same action over and over again, even if that action is a calculation of some sort. This makes computers excellent chess-players. It also makes them produce graphic images that humans find beautiful. But it does not make them create the game of chess. 

Choice and free will

The question of free will has vexed philosophers and psychologists for centuries. The basic fact seems to be that although we have some free will, we don't have as much of it as we think. For my subject this is quite enough, since computers have no free will at all. In the previous paragraph I went into the amazing capacities of computers to create all kinds of things. But a computer is not capable of deciding which mathematical puzzle to solve. One could program a computer to randomly pick a puzzle to solve, but that's not the same. Humans have all kinds of reasons for choosing things. We choose based on the projected outcome: 'it looks like I could solve this puzzle'. We choose based on interest. We make our best choices when we give our brain time to work things out for itself. If you have an important decision to make, look at all the relevant information seriously and then go make a puzzle or something or sleep on it (literally). While the conscious mind is making the puzzle, the brain will figure out how the various pieces of information go together. Then when the puzzle is done, or you've slept a good nights sleep, you will know what to do (or not to do). What does this mean? It means that somehow our conscious mind is capable of interfering with the processes in the brain. Neurologists undoubtedly point to one region of the brain as the 'conscious' part, and another as the part working out what decision to make. But which part of the brain chooses to let the unconscious brain do its thing? 

Consciousness

Neurologists can explain a lot, but the very puzzle that is closest to home, our consciousness itself cannot be explained yet. As long as that's the case theories of mind that include a soul (or more than one, as in theosophy) cannot be discounted yet. Debate this!