Conservative Colloquium

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Posts Tagged ‘soul’

Brain Neuroscience and Philosophy Suggest Existence of Soul

Posted by Tony Listi on August 2, 2012

(This borrows arguments and facts from Dinesh D’Souza’s book Life After Death.)

Neuroscientists study the physical brain, but they also want to understand the non-physical mind. Yet thoughts cannot be collected, weighed, measured, sniffed, or even observed, at least not directly and clearly. They try to reduce the mind to merely physical cause-and-effect relationships. But is it even possible to do so?

Neuroscience has shown that brain states and mental experiences are correlated and that in many cases that certain mental states are dependent on certain brain states, but it HAS NOT shown that brain states cause mental states.

The famous American philosopher William James correctly thought of the brain not as a causal device but as a gateway, receiver, or transmission vehicle for the mind.

As an analogy, consider a radio and music. If the radio breaks and one can’t hear the music anymore, does that prove that the radio causes the music? Of course not. The music/radio waves are actually distinct from and have an independent existence from the physical radio itself. The radio merely channels and manifests the music/radio waves that already exist all around us.

Similarly, music CDs require CD players, but the players don’t cause the music. Software requires hardware, but the hardware doesn’t cause the software’s programs. A fine paintbrush is needed to paint a fine painting, but the paintbrush doesn’t cause the painting but the artist using the paintbrush.

The question materialist atheists have to answer is this: “How do material objects, such as neurons with their associated apparatus of axons and dendrites, cause immaterial outcomes such as sensations, emotions, and ideas?… How can we be confident that the brain is a manufacturing plant for the mind and not merely a gateway or transmission belt?”

If minds are shadows/epiphenomenons that don’t do anything, why do we have minds? It is unlikely evolution would provide mental functions if they were irrelevant.

And if the mind is just an illusion with no existence, then the very thought, idea, and truth of “the mind is just an illusion with no existence” doesn’t exist either. It’s self-contradictory.

The notion that the mind is the brain (Daniel Dennett) doesn’t work either. Mental states are private, known only to the person; brains are not private and can be known by an outside observer. Mental states cannot be spatially located; brain states can. Mental states are about something and intentionally refer to something external to themselves; this is not the case with brain states. A person is infallible concerning their mental state, about their own thoughts; a person cannot be infallible concerning their brain state. A person cannot be mistaken about what they themselves experience mentally; a person can be mistaken about their own brain state, which a neuroscientist may know more about through technology and observation. Moreover, if two different people have the same mental state, that does NOT mean they have the same brain state. Human brains are wired differently from individual to individual.

The mind is not what it makes a person do either. One can remove actions or cease to act and the mental experience still be there. Mental experiences can exist apart from any behavior and perhaps from any physical manifestation.

Philosophers like Thomas Nagel (click here for more info) and Frank Jackson have soundly argued that even a full understanding of brain physiology will never reveal mental states, that mental states can never be reduced to purely physical terms.

The mind is not the output of a computer either. We cannot build computers that do what the mind does and experiences. Of course, the notion of the mind as a computer doesn’t preclude the notion of life after death since one might download and upload the mind. Moreover, a computer merely manipulates symbols; it isn’t really conscious of what it is doing like the human mind. Computers can do syntax but not semantics; they can follow rules but can’t discern meaning. No computer, however complex, will ever be able to think and be conscious.

Neuroscience has only shown its own inherent limitations and blindspots. Science is limited to the study of material things that are objective and publicly observable. The “scientific” argument against the soul (mind/consciousness) collapses because the soul is not material or objective. Neuroscience thus makes life after death a plausible notion, though perhaps not persuasive and credible on its own.

Neuroscience has also shown that mental activity actually reconstitutes and reprograms the neurons in our brain. The mind, the person, the human will, shapes and forms the physical brain.

Physician Jeffrey Schwartz treats OCD patients and developed what he calls “cognitive therapy.” This therapy involves patients learning to refocus their minds away from their compulsions and toward other thoughts and actions. Not only has the therapy been successful in many cases, but it has shown that a person can willfully rewire and bring order to their own previously disordered brains. The mind is controlling the matter, not the other way around!

The placebo and nocebo effects also demonstrate how the mind changes the body, including the brain.

The concept of neuroplasticity is a relatively new term to describe how the mind can change the physical arrangements in the brain. Psychiatrist Norman Doige has employed this concept and a therapy similar to Dr. Schwartz’s to successfully treat a variety of mental disabilities.

If the mind is independent enough to create changes in the body, especially the brain, it seems reasonable to suppose the mind can survive the dissolution of the body, including specifically the brain.

Dr. Schwartz and physicist Henry Stapp are using discoveries in quantum physics to explain these mysterious/miraculous phenomena/treatments. They believe that consciousness operates at the quantum level to create a physical force. They believe the patients can, through trained volition/consciousness, fix and rearrange the position of subatomic particles and thus transform the physical reality within the brain.

Consciousness is perhaps the most perplexing and mysterious subject in science, and yet it is the most obvious and self-evident thing to the ordinary person. Human consciousness has no physical explanation yet we can see its physical consequences in medicine. Consciousness has no good evolutionary explanation either.

Consciousness must exist. If consciousness doesn’t really exist, than we can’t be conscious of the fact that consciousness doesn’t exist. To deny consciousness is self-contradictory.

Philosopher David Chalmers argues we should accept consciousness as an irreducible element of reality, just like matter and energy in physics.

Quantum uncertainty creates rational/scientific room for free will.

“Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” -C.S. Lewis, Miracles

If we presume morality, we must presume free will too. And free will is inherently spiritual and supernatural by definition (i.e. not a result of physical cause and effect). Free will and atheistic materialism are incompatible. Thus morality and atheistic materialism are incompatible.

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Posted in Religion and Theology, Science and Religion, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments »

Sex Education: Educate for the Soul, Not Just the Body

Posted by Tony Listi on December 1, 2010

Chastity education and formation (i.e. abstinence until marriage) is the only effective and moral way for children to learn about sex because it is based in truth. To teach children anything else (e.g. the misnamed “safe sex”) would be misleading (if not deceitful), harmful, and immoral.

But before I defend chastity education, I’d like to make two broader big-picture points that will surely get lost in this debate unless someone brings them to the forefront.

First, we wouldn’t be having this debate over sex education to begin with if leftists would actually support school choice and parental control. Under such a system, parents would have the choice of whether they want to send their children to a school that effectively teaches and promotes chastity or one that teaches libertinism and perversion. This controversy over sex ed would then vanish. Conservatives and libertarians find common ground here against the left.

But rather than empower parents and give them freedom of choice, leftists would rather have a public school monopoly where they can more easily indoctrinate kids with their sexual perversity against the wishes of most parents. They would rather impose a financial burden on parents who want to escape the “public option.” They have the arrogance to claim they know better than and should have more control over kids than their own parents! For instance, President Obama’s misnamed “safe school czar,” Kevin Jennings, founded the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which promotes homosexuality, fisting, pederasty, prostitution, public masturbation, child porn, and many other abhorrent practices to school children.

Second, formal sex ed in school is not the sole or even the major determinant of whether a kid will have sex or not before marriage. Education, in the broadest sense of the concept, starts in the home and continues within a community. Do the parents value and teach chastity? What about the kid’s peers and their parents? What kinds of websites, TV, movies, video games, and books is the kid exposed to? What does his church teach?

For example, I went to parochial Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school, which taught chastity. Did every single one or even a majority of my classmates abstain from sex? While I can’t be certain, I find that notion very doubtful. Education at school is only one small piece of the puzzle. It is worthless without family and community support and reinforcement of that education.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about chastity, a word which has been purposely obscured and removed from American culture and substituted with “abstinence” in these modern times.

But before I do, a caveat: if you don’t believe that human beings have souls and are more than mere animals, then just stop reading now. I won’t get through to you. Love and morality have no meaning among mere animals.

Chastity should be taught because it undeniably works 100% of the time. No sex = no pregnancy + no STDs. That simple. It never fails. People fail. They fail to exercise discipline and self-control, which is why sex ed should take into account more than just physical well-being.

I think most people can agree that only people who love each other should have sex, which is itself a unique and intimate form of love. But what exactly do we mean by “love”? I think most people can agree that love cannot be divorced from all notions of morality. There is a moral dimension to love for another human being.

Love is a freely chosen commitment to the good of another person for its own sake. Thus sex, as a form of love, is good and should only occur within the context of commitment. It should not be engaged in casually for the sake of one’s own pleasure and ego. STDs and pregnancy aside, the sexual act and its emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences are permanent and cannot be taken back. Thus permanent consequences demand not just any “committed relationship” but a prior permanent commitment, namely marriage, for the sake of both the man and woman.

Whether one intends it or not, sex is itself a profound promise of fidelity, of commitment, that one soul makes to another. And to make a promise and then break it is wrong; it’s a sin. It causes spiritual trauma and harm. And a serious act like sex is a serious sin outside the context of love, i.e. of marriage. The marriage promise sanctifies the sexual promise.

Women, the more relational sex, seem to understand this truth better than men. They should trust this instinctual need for commitment and demand their boyfriends say “I do” before having sex. Only then, ladies, will you truly know whether he loves you or is just using you to gratify himself, playing you for a fool, and disposing of you when you no longer satisfy him. Take it from someone who knows exactly how men of all kinds think and act when you’re not around. While chastity is crucially important for both sexes, women will benefit the most from a more chaste society. Women have been harmed the most by widespread sexual perversion and yet a lot of the power for virtuous change rests in their hands, as girlfriends, mothers, and teachers. Men are not born lovers.

These are the simple truths about sex that children should be taught at home, in school, and within their local community. Parents have a responsibility to make sure that happens. Government has a responsibility get out of the way, not to hinder parents in any way from informing and forming their children in the virtue of chastity.

Posted in American Culture, Culture War, Government and Politics, Marriage, Moral Philosophy, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »