Is the Soul in the Brain?
Inspired by Michael Trimble’s book “The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language” and many other theorists, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell took a great task in publishing, “Humanity’s Long Search for the Soul in the Brain in the “Jacked In” series. This is a good read that piled in the history of ideas, inspirations and controversies about both medical science and spiritualism. Without further remarks, lets dive in to it.
The greatest endeavor of humanity, the number one question, “Where does our consciousness lie?” Thus, the location of the soul within ourselves. About this Western neuroscience Thirlwell noted, “[This] may seem a dry topic to an outsider, a litany of impenetrable Latinisms and anatomical diagrams.” But the insight of these studies always had attracted many scholar various sorts. To him Sylvia McLain, Biochemistry Lecturer at the University of Oxford said, “There is no hypothesis in that question, nothing that you can test—it is much too broad and not ‘scientific’ as such.”
McLain also added, “Asking broad philosophical questions like ‘what is a soul?’ can eventually lead to scientific investigation. Many of the early naturalists studied plants, animals, and the Earth to understand ‘God’s plan’ or ‘God’s creation.’” But that was when the body was considered “a sort of psychic refinery, pumping alchemized fluids through the body at the behest of the soul”, rather than “a biological computer matrix, made up of hundreds of billions of ‘electrically excitable’ neuron cells”.
Thirlwell talks about, when diagrams of spirits were published, it was paralleled with the church-sanctioned idea of a monarch. In 1567, Greek physician Galen of Pergamon scoured up such knowledge into medical practice from the theories of a French scientist Jean Fernel. Fernel declared, the body was suffused with three Spirits: ‘Natural Spirits’ that arose from the liver and delivered to ‘Vital Spirits’ at heart, or the furnace to be transformed, and then distilled into ‘Animal Spirits’ by the brain.
But in a letter from 1640, French philosopher René Descartes scratches his mind to find a singular point, “I cannot find any part of the brain, except this [Pineal Gland], which is not double. Since we see only one thing with two eyes, and hear only one voice with two ears, and in short have never more than one thought at a time, it must necessarily be the case that the impressions which enter by the two eyes or by the two ears, and so on, unite with each other in some part of the body before being considered by the soul.” Again, controversies rose saying, something that is present in the brains of any other animals, could not be the vessel of the immortal human soul.
Again 1713, the Italian anatomist Giovanni Maria Lancisi poetized the Corpus Callosum in this book ‘Dissertatio Physiognomica’. But it could be sectioned like many other parts of the brain, including the Cerebral Cortex, without causing the patient to lose consciousness. Ultimately, Marco Catani and Stefano Sandrone’s book ‘Brain Renaissance’ made the 18th century scientists abandon the notion of a ‘specific site’. Till now, mind is considered to be a product of distributed networking. Though, still some neuroscientists believe particular brain hub unifies the mechanisms that give rise to conscious thought.
Neuroscientist Joseph Bogen one of such enthusiasts worked on finding it till death, in 2005. Only thing he could mention about his study on the Intralaminar Nuclei of the Thalamus, “Trying to look at consciousness may be like looking at the wind. We see only the effects of the wind.” Again, Mohamad Koubeissi at the George Washington University in Washington DC published his study centering the Claustrum, in 2014.
Seems like everyone failed to find a ground-zero despite of their centering subject of the brain. Most modern advanced imaging technology and the researchers Stanford University School of Medicine concluded in their latest studies, “[Brain’s] trillions of synaptic connections vastly outnumber the stars in our galaxy.” After all, the brain still remains the mostly-misunderstood organ of daunting complexity.
Thirlwell lastly wrote, “Unravelling the origins of conscious thought may seem a fool’s errand, but this is unlikely to deter future generations of scholars.”