Saturday, January 11, 2014

Souls and Mind-Body Dualism

I see no evidence to support the idea that there is some kind of metaphysical "me" that controls my body, that defines who I am regardless of what happens to my body, or that will exist after my body has died. I understand the appeal, but it strikes me as nothing more than wishful thinking.

What I do see is evidence that we are meat. We are our bodies. We are our brains. If changes are made to our brains, we necessarily change. From what I understand, that is the conclusion of neuroscience. Moreover, it is also something I've witnessed.

In December, my mom died from frontotemporal dementia. Over the years as the parts of her brain that housed certain functions and abilities were attacked and atrophied, her personality, her behavior, and her ability to think were radically and repeatedly altered. Changes wrought on her brain by dementia robbed her of all those traits that defined her, sometimes even replacing them. She was not at all the same person in 2001 as she became by 2011, nor did any hint remain of the woman she once was by the end, nor any clue that "she" was still in there somewhere.

Whatever remnants of mind-body dualism I still retained in my thinking from my childhood were expunged in these last few years. As appealing as the notion might be -- and it is appealing to think that Mom somehow understood all I did for her or that I'll be with her again someday -- I can't sustain such beliefs, given what I've seen and come to understand about the brain.

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