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November 19, 2014

The Human Soul – Can it Survive in an Age of Neuroscience?

Ken Miller Brown University, Biology                                                                                                                                                       Stan Goldin Harvard Medical School, 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



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? What is neuroscience telling us about spiritual experience?