Where You Resides
The idea of the soul is one of those things I found it hard to let go of along with religion. It's was hard to accept the idea that I'm really just sentient meat. It was hard to accept that things like emotion. which I was raised to believe made us special, are really just chemical reactions in my brain. I was raised to believe that these things, like my ability to think on a deeper level and my ability to feel emotionally, were a gift from an almighty and benevolent god.
That idea that we're special is the ontological fallacy that the preacher man serves up. He tells you that you're special and that this wonderful god gave you a soul. He tells you that this soul is the real you and that only god can destroy it. But I often wonder what words he can offer to the victim of a serious brain injury?
If I'm Going, I'm Taking You With Me
All that you think of as you rests between your ears. Every memory and experience and emotion is right up there in your gray matter. This isn't just some out of hand statement. It is a fact backed by a mountain of scientific evidence.
Many religious believers like to claim that evolutionary theory is the basis for many people's atheism, but honestly I think neurology has done far more to kill the notion of a god than evolution ever will. The more scientists study the brain, the more we see that consciousness is just a mental condition. We see that without all the processes of the brain working correctly we can lose what we think of as us.
It can happen in an instant. Anything from a fall off of a step to a car wreck can cause it. The brain is fragile and when it is injured it can affect everything from motor skills to personality. You can be the most religiously devout man on the planet and in the snap of your fingers you can lose your faith instantly. You can be a fine upstanding and morally righteous person and with just a bump to the head lose all sense of empathy and morality. You can go from socialite to sociopath in just a breath. All of this is because your brain is where the real you resides and if part of it goes it takes part of you with it.
A Stranger in Our Midst
There are many types of brain damage that cause many different effects. One common effect of brain damage is amnesia. This is when a person forgets their past. It can be intermittent, with some memories being present and some missing. It can be short term and eventually their memory will return. It can also be permanent.
In cases of permanent amnesia the victim never recovers. The person that existed before the brain trauma is gone. They'll never be that person again because they'll never have those same experiences and memories again. It can be so bad that they must learn to speak and walk and even talk all over again. But these are all a big part of what we think of as ourselves. I mean who would you be if you lost all your memories? It sort of gives new meaning to the phrase born again.
You Are Here
So where is the soul? If it's the real you then what happens to the soul of a brain trauma victim? Does their soul get reset or do they get a new one?
When we understand that losing our memories is tantamount to losing ourselves completely, we should understand that a soul is a very unlikely thing indeed. If we need all of our brain functioning just so to be us, then we can't really say there's anything more than the brain to us. It's the same as a PC. If you wipe the hard drive and format the RAM, it's back to square one. It's like a brand new PC again. Your brain is just like that only you have no control over the formatting options.
More than just the issue of the soul however, this idea begs another question; How can a fair and just god possibly judge someone who doesn't have a conscience due to a brain injury?