Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mind/Body and the Resurrection II

The more I think about it and meditate on the responses to my last post, the mind/body problem and the issue of soul-sleep versus disembodied spirits are not perfectly parallel. I guess I'm attempting to remain orthodox while entertaining the idea that there is no soul, but that soul and body are inexorably intertwined. I had a Christian professor of psychology who have espoused a unitary hypothesis for the nature of human beings. The first time I heard him talk about it I thought something like, "How is he still a professor at Grove City? He must be a liberal or some sort..."I think the resurrection is a real linchpin for that argument, lest you do turn into a naturalist. God is spirit, this I will affirm and not deny in any way. He needs not have brain to have spirit/mind. But perhaps he created us to be body/mind unity.

CPA asks: I've heard that in those "jab you brain and produce movement, emotions, etc." sorts of experiences, the person being experimented on can always tell that this is externally induced and not "me" doing it. Is that the case? And does it have significance for the body-soul debate?

My reply: Reports of people in psychosurgery are very interesting. Sometimes there is a sense that a body part moved without the person's volition (like a spasm that is uncontrollable) such as when you stimulate the motor cortex. Other times, the person will "create" a reason for the movement that was actually caused by the stimulation. An example: stimulate a particular place in the brain and the person moves. Ask the person why they moved and they will tell you something like, "I had an itch and I needed to move my hand to relieve it." Thus people intuit reasons for their own externally caused behavior. Dreaming is similar. The brain actively tries to formulate a story line that makes sense (in some way) out of the randomly stimulated areas of the brain (a part of the hindbrain known as the Pons is thought to send random activation through the Cerebral Cortex, where all the higher-order thinking goes on). Another thing happens with people with certain brain problems such as hemineglect - they will actually forget that anything to the left exists. Thus they will draw a picture of half of a clock (shaped like a half moon) when shown a round clock and think it normal. Things presented to the patient on the side that is neglected will not enter into conscious awareness, but can still be "remembered." If you were to show someone a picture of a rabbit on that neglected side and then ask them to spell "hair" they would very likely spell it "hare" but without knowing why they chose that spelling over the more usual spelling. In fact, if you asked, they might say something like, "Well I was watching the discovery channel about a month ago..." which would be true, but have no bearing on why they chose to spell it that way right now.

So, short answer: not always does the person whose brain is being manipulated feel that the behavior (or movement) is out of his or her control. Rather, they may believe that they wanted to move and had some reason for doing so, despite the manipulation. Much of our behavior that we assume to be willed is actually automatic. There is a whole line of research on this phenomenon, dubbed automaticity. I heard a great sermon from John Piper (Desiring God ministries) that made the case that this is why we ought to steep ourselves in scripture. He didn't use the psychological vocabulary, but his point was that we behave largely without conscious intent (decision) from experiences we have absorbed, so it behooves us to absorb whatever is good, noble, etc.


Blogger CPA said...

Wow! Thanks for that fascinating answer.

9:21 AM  

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