Re: [humanism-174] About the human "soul"

From: Gordon
Sent on: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 4:11 PM
Hi Maude,
First off, I wish to say that I am truly sorry for this change in your friend's behavior. I can only imagine how hard this type of situation would be to go through for you, as well as her family and other friends...
I have often thought about this very same subject; the brain/soul thing that is. I came across a book at Borders last spring about Phineas Gage. I'm sure everyone who had a college psychology class recalls this name. While working on the railroad in the 1840's, Phineas had a metal rod (I think it was called a tamping rod) shoot through his frontal lobe. He survived, but he was never the same.  After his accident he had many of the traits you describe your friend as having. One of his doctors said something to the effect of, "He is not the same man."
Anyway, I have heard of other injuries to the brain that have had similar effects. How do Christian fundamentalists deal with the soul/brain injury issue? I have no idea. But, I'm sure they would come up with some kind of odd answer that would leave me with my mouth hanging open. I think I did actually ask some friends who are more mainstream Christians about this and from what I remember, they really didn't know what to say.  

Maude <[address removed]> wrote:
I was thinking of putting this on the blog but I would have to get my references together first. So I'm putting out there to see what you guys think.
WARNING: This is very long on a thesis I read positing that there is no inherent human "soul" because brain injuries alter the qualities generally associated with a person's "soul," and the rest is my personal experience with a person this happened to. So to get to the gist, scroll down to the last 4 paragraphs which includes my questions as to how a right-wing xtian would think of such a biological situation that alters the so-called "soul."
Once upon a time (yup, it's one of "those" stories), I had a very best friend. We were fairly good friends in the same social circle from age 6 to age 15, then I went off to a different high school and college and we didn't hook together again until age 25. At which time, we became very best friends and stayed that way for 12 years. She wasn't a regular friend, she was a soul mate of a friend. I admired her greatly. She was kind, compassionate, caring, empathetic, always considerate, very generous with her time and assets (although these weren't especially in overabundance), the great peace-keeper and bringer-togetherer of the social circle and her own family. A gentle and wise mediator. She was accepting and quick to forgive and always able to understand another's point of view. While not overly smart or overly educated, she was inherently a master of human nature.
She was the kind of person who I, and many others, would call to report something good happening or something bad happening and in either case, you would hang up the phone feeling fulfilled. If you wanted to vent or describe, she knew to just listen. If you had a problem, she would sit and brainstorm with you for possible solutions. If you needed advice, she would offer several alternatives. It didn't matter if you were among her closest friends, as I was, or only saw her twice a year, she treated everyone like they were the most important person in the world when she saw them. She never spoke badly about anyone. If she had offended or made a mistake, she would consider the complaint and always readily apologize (when it was truly her doing) and strive not to do it again. She was the first to offer help-you never had to ask for it. She was concerned about always improving herself as far as her interactions and relationships.
She was the kind of person who, when your cat died, she would show up on your doorstep with a "loss of pet sympathy card," flowers or chocolate, and conversation about how you must have been a fantastic pet owner because the darling thing lived to such an age and NOW, when you were ready she will take you to the shelter to pick out a new cat and it should be sooner rather than later.
When she got married, nothing changed. She did not allow distance between herself and her still single friends like so many women end up doing. Her relationship with her elderly widowed mother didn't suffer nor did her close relationships with other family members. Nothing changed when her daughter was born. She included all her friends and family just as always and furthermore, she didn't allow her preoccupation with the baby to change her relationship with her husband.
Then, one day, 10 years ago. It all changed, literally overnight. I won't get into the details but she had surgery to remove a hematoma that had been pressing on her brain for several months and by the time they detected it, it was the size of a cantaloupe. They removed it. Basically, I just discovered within the last 6 months from someone who doesn't even know my friend but had a similar thing in her family, that the hematoma was the cause of the change I am about to describe and I started researching the permanent effects of such brain injuries thoroughly. I didn't get it at the time-I had spent the last 10 years wondering what the hell happened or what I had done-but that's my own sturggle with it. My rather recent realization of the cause is a further struggle because now I know there is no hope that my friend will be back so it is suddenly a huge loss, even though I can still see her and hear her etc. She is not the same.
All I knew was that in the years after her brain injury, this person became vile and nasty to her loved ones, vindictive, self-righteous, and the most self-absorbed person I have ever attempted to maintain an association with. She had time for no one. She shut everyone out. Her loving attitude toward her elderly mother became a constant complaint of what a pain in the ass it was that she had to care for her mother. She was hypercritical and hyper negative about everyone and everything. She thought nothing of trashing her friends behind their backs. She shrieked at her husband constantly and in front of people, and also at her daughter. She imagined other's intentions as being bad when they weren't. She held grudges, and they never have ended. If someone calls her for advice, they are likely to hear, "you need to SOLVE YOUR OWN problems."
There was no compassion, no empathy, no kindness-everything seemed to need to be all about her needs, her time, her difficulties, her errands, her, her, her. She launched accusations at me and others that were truly bizarre, considering she had once known me so well.
Also, it became clear to me over time that nothing was her doing-she admitted no role or no responsibility in the creation of or contribution to ANY PORTION of any issue, problem dilemma, or situation. Her friends hadn't dropped away because she would never call them back or include them in anything or attend any of their invites-no, there was something wrong with all of THEM. She became obsessed with money and her lifestyle (or er, um, obsessed with how her husband who is a capt. in the CFD and works his ass off on the side doing roofing and siding every spare minute doesn't make "enough"). She has never worked. Most recently,.she has stated things that even if you thought them, you probably wouldn't tell anyone like, "I would never make my mother leave her house but she is going to have to get out because I don't want to take care of her house anymore-I don't have time. Besides, I will need the money from selling her house for (daughter's) college tuition because if we have to pay all that money for college then that cuts into our retirement lifestyle." Um, these people, I happen to know, have crossed over the "millionaire" threshold in cash, not even counting the three houses and rental income from one of them, the boat, the three cars. To worry that the sale of her mother's puny little $160K house will defray cutting into her retirement lifestyle is rather absurd to me. It's not even logical.
All of this left me in a constant state of hanging up the phone with her and thinking, "who the hell is this person?" It took a while to detect the whole enchilada of the problem. If one only talked to her on a superficial level about day to day tasks and so forth, no one would notice-with a hematoma, unlike a stroke, the general intelligence is not affected much, the speech is not impacted, etc.  
So, to the point, (finally, they all sigh) in all of my research I find that she has the most common personality changes associated with that kind of brain injury-egocentricity, inability to employ deductive reasoning, lack of problem solving, inability to see a link between one's actions and the outcome, inappropriate social behavior, constant negativity, quick to anger, an inability to empathize, an inability to understand another's point of view, and on and on.  
One thing I found, was a graduate psychology student's Master's thesis on brain injury and the "hypothesis of the existence of a human soul." This student outlined several famous historical cases of brain injuries where the person, as my friend did, literally changed over night. In her thesis statement, she quoted friends and family of these historical patients as saying, "It's as if his/her soul dropped out of their body."
When I read that my instant reaction was, "That's it EXACTLY!!!!" Her "soul" is gone-the essence of the person that was my friend, is gone. So anyway, this quite good thesis took the argument that if the qualities and behaviors and emotions that drive those behaviors that are so often used to define a person's "soul" or "goodness" etc, can be instantly removed by a brain injury, that implies that the "soul" is not inherent as it would be assumed to be if endowed by "God" but instead, what is perceived to be one's "soul" is simply a function of the mechanics and biology of the brain. If the brain's balance or workings are sufficiently damaged, one's personality and empathetic traits or maybe conversely, evil traits, are altered. Therefore, there is no separate entity as the "soul." There is no "soul" dependent on "divine grace" or any such thing. If the soul were dependent on divine grace, she argues, then it would not be so easily reversed in nature by a mere injury to a bodily organ.
I would like to posit the following questions:
1. Would the right-wing xtian of today look at such cases of brain injury changing someone's personality as a case of "satan" taking over or of some kind of demon overtaking the person's "soul" rather than acknowledging the science of the workings of the brain?
2. According to the right-wing xtian thinking, would a person who becomes vile and self-serving and mean, etc, be doomed in the hereafter regardless of the cause of the change in a person who was previously, seemingly inherently good? (I do know that mainstream Catholics and Protestants would not think such a thought-they would automatically attribute the vileness to the brain injury and figure god must have had a reason but they would never consider it the person's "fault.")
3. If "god" gave all of us free will, how is it that free will is so easily altered by damage to one part of the body? God must be quite inept and not very thorough in his thinking out of free will, no?
4. While knowledge of the complexities of the firing of the brain have come a long way in the past few decades, it is such a complex organ that there is a long way to go to identify which particular neurons and neurotransmitters control which thought process or emotional quality etc. But, if the "soul" is inherent, and a brain injury proves the soul can be easily changed, even if god designed the brain to house the "soul" WHY did such an all powerful being choose to house this essence of life in such an easily injured and susceptible organ? How do right-wing xtians answer to that?
Just want to know what you all think.

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