The Human Soul – Can it Survive in an Age of Neuroscience?
November 19 at the Harvard Faculty Club The Cambridge Roundtable on Science & Religion features Brown Professor of Biology Kenneth R. Miller and Harvard Medical School Cognitive Rhythms Collaborative Faculty Stanley M. Goldin for a faculty-seminar dinner-discussion addressing The Human Soul – Can it Survive in an Age of Neuroscience?
All our behaviors are a result of neurophysiological activity in the brain. There is no reason to believe there is any magic going on. With its 100 billion neurons, the brain is highly complex and unpredictable; so what might look like free will from the outside and what might feel like free will from the inside is not some mysterious violation of the laws of physics. ~ Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard
There has always, seemingly, been a split between science and life, between the apparent poverty of scientific formulation and the manifest richness of phenomenal experience…The magnitude of this discrepancy, as well as our almost irresistible desire to see ourselves as being somehow above nature, above the body, has generated doctrines of dualism from Plato on… ~ Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology, NYU School of Medicine
Should neuroscience declare the human soul concept dead on arrival? I think not. Consider an analogy: just as advanced telescopes equipped astrophysicists to declare “dark energy” a working hypothesis for the expansion of the universe – neuroscience has redefined the mind-body relationship, suggesting that technological advances might take inquiry deeper into the hard problem of the soul. Rather than dismissing the concept, open-minded patience and imagination bounded by scientific rigor seems more appropriate. Quoting former MIT philosophy professor Huston Smith, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. ~ Stan Goldin, Cognitive Rhythms Collaborative, Harvard Medical School
It seems to me that a more fruitful approach to the question of the soul will be to fully embrace the advances of neuroscience, and to look forward to an even greater material understanding of the workings of the brain. The soul should no longer be thought of as a spirit that animates the body, but rather as the spiritual reflection of human individuality and immortality. Seen in this light, essential human capabilities would emerge from the material of our existence as living things, fully-dependent upon the physics and chemistry of matter itself and the cell biology of neural connections within the brain, while still preserving a sense of the deep and continuing spiritual reality of the soul. ~ Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown
Is there truly a reality of the soul?
Kenneth R. Miller did his undergraduate work at Brown, and earned his PhD. at the University of Colorado. His research work on cell membrane structure and function has produced more than 60 scientific papers and reviews in leading journals, including CELL, Nature, and Scientific American. Miller is coauthor, with Joseph S. Levine, of four different high school and college biology textbooks which are used by millions of students nationwide. He has received 6 major teaching awards at Brown, the Presidential Citation of the American Institute for Biological Science (2005), and the Public Service Award of the American Society for Cell Biology (2006). In 2009 he was honored by AAAS for Advancing the Public Understanding of Science, and also received the Gregor Mendel Medal from Villanova University. In 2011 he was presented with the Stephen Jay Gould Prize by the Society for the Study of Evolution, and in 2014 he received the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University. He is the author of Finding Darwin’s God (A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution).
Stanley M. Goldin received his PhD. in Biology from Harvard and his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering at MIT. The Cognitive Rhythms Collaborative is a multi-institutional team devoted to elucidating higher brain function mechanisms and developing novel therapies for brain disorders. In his former role as Associate Professor and Director of Harvard Medical School’s Pharmacological Sciences Training Program, Dr. Goldin’s laboratory originated award-winning research techniques and devices that have been fruitfully employed to elucidate molecular mechanisms underlying brain waves and brain oscillation circuitry–processes now known to play an important role in long term brain changes (neuroplasticity) and memory formation. Honors include Searle Scholars and McKnight Scholars Awards for neuroscience, a Junior Fellowship in Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and MIT’s Robert Hanslam Cup for engineering.
The Roundtable is by invitation only. If you have questions or comments, please reach Roundtable Coordinator Dave Thom at his MIT office at 617-258-7333 in W11-004 and at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cambridge Roundtable on Science & Religion is co-chaired by:
- Owen Gingerich, Astronomy and History of Science (Emeritus), Harvard University
- Robert Randolph, Chaplain to the Institute and Dean, MIT
- Roundtable Coordinator: David Thom, Associate Chaplain, MIT