Thursday, April 28, 2011

Am I Just a Bunch of Synapses?



by MAB (bio)

I think I'm just a bunch of interconnected neurons. The essence of who I am, seems to me, to be nothing more than that.

I don't know what to make of the commonly held belief that we are made of body and spirit that together form a soul. It doesn't make sense to me for a few reasons. Take sleep for instance. If I have a spirit that forms the essence of who I am, makes decisions and so forth, then what happens to it when my body sleeps? Personally, I think my brain goes through the various sleep cycles, I dream, etc. But rarely do I remember what happens while I sleep because of course I am unaware or semiconscious. It would seem that if I had a spirit it would not need to sleep and would continue to be aware even though my body slept. I know there are a lot of very smart people researching how our brains manage all the sensory data, make decisions and so forth to create an overall stream of conscious. That research, like a lot of brain research seems to be in its infancy so maybe things will make more sense as new information becomes available.

Another reason I am baffled by the body + spirit = soul concept is because the essence of who we are seems to be tenuous. I think our personalities can change in drastic, permanent and nearly instantaneous ways that shouldn't, to my way of thinking, apply to immaterial spirits. Obviously, we mature as we age so that's one form of change. As we mature we probably make wiser decisions. Drugs can also change a personality. Steroids are an easy target here with their common side effects such as aggression. Do steroids make a spirit more aggressive? If so how do drugs (material) impact the spirit (immaterial)? Could it be that our spirits are filtered through imperfect bodies and come out distorted? That seems less likely to me for some reason. I think psychoactive drugs change body chemistry and the way a brain works. To my way of logic that's the reason someone behaves differently. A brain is behaving differently, not a spirit. Drastic and nearly instantaneous changes in a personality can happen after injury to certain portions of the brain. Another sad example is Alzheimer's disease, where victims exhibit personality change as the disease takes hold of their brains.

To me the idea of a soul is perhaps incorrect, incomplete, or maybe just oversimplified. But there is a good chance I don't understand the idea of a soul very well. I certainly don't understand precisely how a brain works.

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