So, at least emotions and memories are not being broadcast to our brains from somewhere else, they are things that the brain itself stores and produces respectively. Memories are generated by experience. Your perceptions, interpreted and then archived as patterns of neuronal connections of varying strength.
These experiences make you who you are, defining your personality. The stored information which makes you behave the way that you do, aka your personality, is also therefore a local phenomenon: When you experience new situations, how your reaction will differ from someone elses reaction (aka, your personality) will depend on those past experiences.
So emotion, memory and personality are physical things. Memory = neuronal connections, emotion = neurochemical reactions, perception->interpretation->reaction (aka thought) = electrical activity between neurons and how your reaction differs to someone elses due to prior experience = personality.
So, what does a soul do? If it does all of the above, in spite of everything neurology has discovered to the contrary, then what do we need a brain for? Surely, brains are what we think, feel and remember with, not some separate supernatural entity which lives within it or controls us from afar like a radio controlled drone.
You’ll notice, drones differ from robots in that drones have little or no onboard computing, only equipment to receive the control signal. That’s because it doesn’t need to process any information itself, a human or computer somewhere else does that for the drone.
By contrast, actual robots (as opposed to remote control drones) have onboard computing as sophisticated as we’re capable of making, with local storage for the AI program and recorded sights/sounds it can draw on to modify how it approaches the same thing in the future based on past results.
Are we more like the drone, or the robot? When the robot is utterly destroyed, if its AI is one of a kind, what happens to it? Does it “go” somewhere? If it is wirelessly transferred, can it continue to execute in the air during transmission, or is it stopped until that data can be received, recorded and executed in another physically existing robot?
The other major problem for the perspective that immaterial souls exists is the problem of interaction. If I ask “why can’t scientists detect the soul?” the dualist answers “because it is immaterial, and the scientists are trying to detect it using their material senses and instruments”. This sounds like a good answer until you think about it in greater depth.
If the material instruments cannot detect immaterial souls because material and immaterial phenomenon are non-interactive (aka Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria”) then how does the immaterial soul interact with the material brain in such a way as to control it? That requires an immaterial phenomenon to interact causally with a material object in a way which is conceivably testable.
It’s the same problem that arises when people claim to have seen ghosts. In order to see a spirit, photons would need to bounce off it and into your eyes. That requires the spirit to be physical. Likewise to hear it, the spirit would need some means of vibrating air molecules to convey sounds.
I have nothing but empathy for those who wish to believe that life continues after death. But while those who come down on the “we are brains” side of the debate seem motivated to believe what they do by a sober interpretation of all the availabile evidence.
Meanwhile the “we are spirits” side seems to arrive at their conclusion based on what they badly desire to be true, because of the primally unnerving fear of death and rejection of the idea that their dead loved ones are irretrievably lost, never to be seen again.
That is an emotionally compelling motive, and why for example I might tell someone on their deathbed that they’re going to a better place or something. But belief based on what we’d prefer to be true has a very, very poor track record, having never produced conclusions which turned out to be true when tested.
I also think it will inevitably become another media circus and battle in the larger ‘culture war’, with the “Souls are quantum because quantum mechanics is the latest new and poorly understood frontier of science within which to hide metaphysical concepts where laymen cannot easily falsify them”, as with “electric vitality belts” and “electric spirit phones” from the turn of the century when electricity was new, poorly understood, and imagined to be capable of anything.
We’re already hearing the same arguments from complexity and from ignorance, like”consciousness is too complex and remarkable to have developed from something simpler”, despite the countless examples of less advanced animal consciousness.
Then they say “There are still lots of holes in neurology, you can’t say souls don’t exist until it is a 100% complete field” despite all data we do have firmly supporting the ‘we are our brains’ model, etc.
All the same arguments that we have heard for decades from creationists, and in a less overt form from intelligent design proponents. That’s a bad sign that substance dualism vs. neurology is going to become a similarly contentious cultural issue.
I think the only reason neurology hasn’t already been accepted by half of Christians or so like evolution is because it has not yet been rationalized, in the same way that the Biblical creation story was cleverly made a disposable rather than an integral element of Christian belief.
Christians who recognized the truth of evolution and were too embarrassed to deny it as an expression of piety came up with a plausible sounding, pre-packaged rationalization which made Genesis unnecessary to the credibility of the larger religion itself.
That method doesn’t work for neurology. For the dominant religion in this country or any religion with an afterlife to hold together, there need to be literal souls. So their reason, again, for finding rationales to reject neurology have nothing to do with the amount or quality of evidence supporting their conclusions, but rather they reject it because it is more completely incompatible with their faith in a way evolution wasn’t.
Accepting it would require removing or de-literalizing the parts of their religion that are most important to them, without which it loses all or most of its appeal. A decision based not on what appears most likely to be true from the available evidence, but what we strongly desire to be true…which has never been a reliable method for arriving at factual conclusions in any subject.
Don’t place all your bets on “this time being different” from the last time religious belief contested scientific findings. The historical pattern is pretty clear. See the writing on the wall and either begin constructing a rationale which permits naturalistic brains to fit harmoniously into your religion, or prepare to be in twenty years where creationists are today.
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