Neuroscience, correlations, and an independent soul.

by metacognizant

For purposes of this blog, some form of dualism (property, substance, thomistic, etc.) will be assumed. This entry isn’t an argument for dualism; rather, it’s a call to those who champion dualism to embrace the fact that the soul is not beyond the control of the brain. I’ve often heard those who espouse dualism to claim that neuroscience hasn’t refuted the idea of an independent soul–that neuroscience has only proffered correlations between brain states and mind states, which does not refute the idea that the brain is only the acausal material “record” of what’s occurring in the mind. This, however, is a blatant misrepresentation of neuroscience.

A dualism that does not allow for the brain to causally influence the soul does not square with much contemporary neuroscientific data. For instance, this article describes the long-term effects of the anticonvulsants gabapentin (commonly marketed as Neurontin) and carbamazepine (commonly marketed as Tegretol) on the subjective cognitive reports as well as the EEGs (Electroencephalograms; an objective measurement of the electrical activity occurring in the brain) of healthy individuals. What this study found was that a prolonged administration (12-week) of these anticonvulsants to healthy individuals resulted in EEG slowing; moreover, this prolonged administration resulted in subjective reports of cognitive impairment.

For someone who is claiming that this study shows precisely what they’ve been claiming–nothing more is shown than a slower EEG is correlated with subjective cognitive impairment–that person needs to take one step further back. It was the administration of these anticonvulsants and their activity at the cellular level (thought to be mitigation of calcium channels or stabilization of sodium channels, respectively) that resulted in a neurological change (EEG slowing) that correlated with subjective cognitive impairment. This shows that the administration of these anticonvulsants had a material effect which ultimately produced a subjective effect (and a change in qualia). One could posit that these drugs had an ethereal, spiritual effect on the soul, and that the stabilization of sodium channels or mitigation of calcium channels was the first material “record” of this effect, but this hardly seems plausible and is unimaginably ad hoc.

This shows–at the very least–that mind and brain are interdependent. It doesn’t necessarily show anything beyond that, as identity theorists might like. However, those who embrace dualism need to acknowledge the crucial role that the brain plays in our subjective experience.

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