I have recounted this to people many times verbally, but never bothered to write it down. Well, here it is:
Easy dismissal of all religion
What do most people consider the soul? Many say that it is your essence -- this consciousness that sits behind these eyes, that feels emotions, understands the world, and is the final decision-maker, the pilot.
If that is what it is then the soul dies with your body, because it is fairly easy to show that those things are a function of that wonderfully complex organ, the brain. Alter the brain and you alter your consciousness.
Here are a few examples:
Clearly your consciousness is really an action that your brain performs. It can no more survive your death than a bird's flight can continue after the bird dies. If consciousness is what the soul is then the soul dies with your brain and your body.
- When you take various drugs your brain's function is altered and so is your consciousness.
- There is the case of the French businessman who woke up one morning to find that he could no longer read -- he could still write, and although he could remember what he had just written, he was unable to make sense of what was on the page. During the night a blood clot had jammed in a blood vessel feeding the part of his brain that understood writing, and starved of oxygen and food, it had died.
- The construction worker who was a pleasant guy, happily married, and liked by all others. One day, at the worksite, he was standing over a crowbar in a hole packed with explosive. The explosive went off and fired the crowbar through his head, under one cheekbone and out the top of his head. Amazingly, he survived, but it radically altered his personality. He was not the congenial person of before and was now given to fits of rage.
- Split-brain surgery, done many years ago in an attempt to control awful attacks of epilepsy, worked by cutting the corpus callosum which lets the two halves of the brain communicate with each other. It resulted in two separate individuals inside the one skull.
- Every time you go to sleep at night your brain goes through cycles roughly every 20 minutes or so where consciousness actually disappears, then enters the weird, internally stimulated state of dreaming.
- A bad blow to the head stuns the nerves which make up the brain, causing consciousness to stop till they recover. (I wish movies wouldn't show this as a common way to put someone out of action -- in actual fact a blow that causes such a blackout has almost certainly caused brain damage and is extremely dangerous.)
- Anaesthetic chemicals administered during surgery alter a patient's brain function causing their consciousness to cease for a while.
Wait, you say. The soul doesn't have to be consciousness. It could be something less tangible; something not related to our feelings or brain actions; something far more ethereal.
Yes, but that now becomes a waste of time. If I told you that I could keep one of your fingers alive after you died, you would wonder what was the point. Of what use is a finger without the consciousness to operate it? It is our mind that is important -- it is what we are. Such an unconscious soul, even if it did continue beyond our death is irrelevant.
Without a soul, all gods and all religions become unnecessary. Their very reason for existing evaporates.
|NOTE: I was recently alerted to a very interesting article on the impossibility of souls at:|
(Darn, his site appears to be offline. Use the InternetArchive for the moment.) In that article the author, Dave Clarke, approaches from a slightly different direction with a more detailed explanation.