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Author Topic: The Brain And The Soul  (Read 1306 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: December 13, 2008, 12:23:14 PM »

When I was an atheist, I had a very materialistic view of the body, such that there was no need for a soul to come into the equation. Obviously now that I'm a Christian again, I believe in the soul and spirit in man. However, a few questions remain regarding this soul. One such question has to do with people who suffer brain damage. In some such people, their whole personality changes after they suffer brain damage, to the point where they become completely different people. But if there is a soul, shouldn't the person remain more or less the same regardless of what happens to the physical brain? Why can such drastic changes occur merely because of a physical change, if "who we are" resides primarily in the soul?
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« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2008, 01:56:26 PM »

When I was an atheist, I had a very materialistic view of the body, such that there was no need for a soul to come into the equation. Obviously now that I'm a Christian again, I believe in the soul and spirit in man. However, a few questions remain regarding this soul. One such question has to do with people who suffer brain damage. In some such people, their whole personality changes after they suffer brain damage, to the point where they become completely different people. But if there is a soul, shouldn't the person remain more or less the same regardless of what happens to the physical brain? Why can such drastic changes occur merely because of a physical change, if "who we are" resides primarily in the soul?

I think the basic premise you are missing in your equation is that the soul and the body are separate things.  A good analogy is Christ.  Just because his body was suffering, doesn't mean that his soul was directly suffering.  (it didn't have a nail put into it, etc.) But it also doesn't mean that his soul didn't know what was going on.  The divinity was connected to the humanity, but was not directly affected as the humanity was.  (I believe that's how it goes...i gota look that up...)

maybe another way to look at it is this:  you can hurt your body, but you can also hurt your soul by not nourishing it, but being away from God (sinning), you can tarnish your soul, just as much as you can hurt your body. 

They are connected, but also unique to themselves (body and soul). 
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« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2008, 05:38:29 PM »

the question that comes to my mind is if people with brain damage or personality disorders will be judged differently by God since there are physical/mental problems which can make them prone towards misconduct or evil deeds.

Do any of the saints or theologians of the church address these issues?
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« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2008, 05:47:34 PM »

Why can such drastic changes occur merely because of a physical change, if "who we are" resides primarily in the soul?

I think you need to take the question back one step and ask "who are we really?". Is my soul simply the collection of memories which make up the "story" of "who I am"? Or is it something else?
Two things make me believe it's "something else". The first is the fact that the Church Baptises and Communes pre-verbal infants. I can't remember my Baptism and first Communion, yet the Church received me as a full member even when my cognition and self-awareness hadn't even developed. I didn't even know that my hands and toes "belonged to me" when I became a member of the Church, so clearly, self-awareness is not considered an essential element of the Soul by the Church.
The second thing which makes me believe that the soul is something other than the cognitive function of the brain is my own experiences. For example, as I get older, I am experiencing Peak Experiences and Ecstatic States with increasing frequency. When I experience these states, the "normal" cognitive function of my brain doesn't seem to be involved at all. I seem to be experiencing very real things through direct, non-verbal experience- "inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2Corinthians 12:4). In such states, knowledge and prayer becomes non-verbal, non-emotive and history becomes irrelevant, or rather secondary to the Ultimate Reality which binds all things together.
As a psychologist with a particular interest in neuroscience and who works in the field of abnormal psychology- dealing with psychosis, mood disorders etc., these Peak Experiences and Ecstasies are something I've studied and thought about. They are not experiences of depersonalisation, derealisation or dissociation, and I know this because I have experienced the former two through experimenting with cannabis use in my youth and the latter I have experienced as a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in my twenties. The Peak Experiences I'm experiencing are vastly different to these, and the only language I have been able to find (with the help of my Spiritual Father) which comes close to describing them is the notion of the "nous" as "the eye of the soul" directly apprehending the logoi of created things, and the Eternal Logos Who contains them all as described in the Philokalia.
So now, when I look at Gwen, whose dementia has now progressed to the point where she has to be fed and she no longer recognises her own family, I don't despair that "she is no longer there" as some of her family do. She is there, and I know this because in one of my Peak Experiences, we met in that other, more real Reality. And interestingly, I am now the only person she recognises when I visit her in her dementia.
My conclusion: The soul is real, it is who we really are, and for the most part, our everyday notions of "who we are" are just illusions.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2008, 05:55:25 PM by ozgeorge » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2008, 06:49:02 PM »

When I was an atheist, I had a very materialistic view of the body, such that there was no need for a soul to come into the equation. Obviously now that I'm a Christian again, I believe in the soul and spirit in man. However, a few questions remain regarding this soul. One such question has to do with people who suffer brain damage. In some such people, their whole personality changes after they suffer brain damage, to the point where they become completely different people. But if there is a soul, shouldn't the person remain more or less the same regardless of what happens to the physical brain? Why can such drastic changes occur merely because of a physical change, if "who we are" resides primarily in the soul?

What is this soul you keep referring to? (See ozgeorge for clarification. Wink)
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« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2008, 09:39:35 PM »

the question that comes to my mind is if people with brain damage or personality disorders will be judged differently by God since there are physical/mental problems which can make them prone towards misconduct or evil deeds.


This is a good question and perhaps another dimension to the OP question.  I think the answer is no and yes.  'No' because God will judge all with a love and mercy that we humans cannot understand, it stands to reason that He will see our hearts' levels of purity regardless of our physical/mental condition.  On the other hand, it doesn't seem fair that those not operating at full mental capacity will be judged with the same criteria as those who are so the answer might also be 'yes'. 

Another aspect to this question is what about a person who later on in life develops a severe mental problem and they didn't repent of their sins beforehand?  Suppose a person lived a life of crime and had no intention of repenting and then got in an accident to where they suffered severe brain damage?  What would their eternal outcome be then?  I don't recall reading anything from the lives of the saints that addressed these issues, but because I know that God is Love and will judge us accordingly (which we will never be able to comprehend or understand), I don't worry or involve myself with these sorts of speculations (forgive me if I sounded dismissive of your thoughts, dear Bono Vox Undecided )

Regarding the OP though, it occurred to me that maybe our souls still maintain more of the pre-Fall condition than our physical/mental bodies do.  I believe that our personalities were severely affected by the Fall and as a result, are corrupt and held captive by our pride/ego's.   
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« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2008, 03:47:05 AM »

Some good points. And fwiw, I'm not aware of any place in the Fathers where they deal with this issue directly.
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« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2009, 12:41:59 AM »

My priest tells me that whenever he visits Alzheimer patients, regardless of how much damage has been done, when it comes time for communion, they stand, cross themselves and open their mouths to receive.

No matter how deeply lost mentally, their soul knows they are receiving the risen Lord.



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