Why does the soul need the brain?

Why does the soul need the brain seems like a logical question especially in the context of the belief held by the leading ID proponent of the Discovery Institute Michael Egnor. He has written extensively on the theme of the immaterial soul that, in his view, is an independent entity, separate of the human body. What Dr. Egnor consistently fails to acknowledge is the obvious connection or interdependence between a functioning brain and self-awareness or consciousness. I wrote about it here.

If certain parts of human brain are damaged or disabled, just like in case of general anesthesia, the human brain loses the sense of consciousness or self-awareness either permanently or temporarily. The immaterial soul fails to make up for the damaged or disabled brain…

Dr. Egnor’s personal experiences (and he has many) as a neurosurgeon convinced him that many people, including many of his patients, with the great majority of their brains missing have developed and function normally. Egnor is convinced that an immaterial soul makes up for the loss of brain mass that is responsible for normal brain function in people with normal brain size or no damage to any of the brain parts.

It appears Dr. Egnor believes that unlike a computer software that can’t function without the computer hardware, human brain has an ability to make up for the loss of the hardware with the computer software – the immaterial soul.

Is Dr. Egnor’s view consistent with the readily available facts?
I personally see Dr. Egnor building and supporting a strawman by his selective choice of facts…Hey! That’s my opinion and that’s why we have this blog full of experts to disagree with me or Dr. Egnor…(I kinda like the guy though).

Let’s see…First off, not all cases of patients with missing parts of their brains experience the supposed miraculous saving powers of the immaterial soul. It appears that the amount of the missing part of the brain mass doesn’t seem to matter… What seems to matter more is which part (s) of the brain is missing and not how much of the brain mass is actually missing. Some parts of the brain seem essential for consciousness and self-awareness and others do not.

However, the main point of this OP is:

<strong> Why does the soul need the brain? Or why would human body need a brain at all, if the immaterial soul has an ability to compensate for the brain losses?

If the software (the soul) can operate without the hardware (the brain) why do we even need the brain in the first place?</strong>

It seems like a faulty or at least a wasteful design to me…

1,372 thoughts on “Why does the soul need the brain?

  1. Erik,

    You know KN’s track record and credentials. You cannot say to him that membership of a profession does not guarantee competence.

    Sure I can, because it doesn’t. This is trivial and obvious, Erik.

    Plumbers — members of the plumbing profession — can nevertheless be underinformed and make mistakes. Ditto for dentists and philosophers.

    Membership in a profession does not guarantee that one is competent, sufficiently informed, or incapable of making mistakes.

    Your statement is in abstract, whereas the actual track record of the concrete person we are talking about actually guarantees more than sufficient competence and knowledge.

    Then what you are saying is not that KN’s membership in the profession guarantees competence and sufficient knowledge, but that his track record does. That’s a different argument altogether, and like KN’s argument from authority, it too is incorrect.

    The very fact that KN is making his fallacious argument from authority is evidence that he is not sufficiently informed. He’s committing a freshman logic fallacy. His track record right here in this thread shows you that.

    Just to be absolutely clear: I think KN is a bright guy, and I think he brings value to the discussions here at TSZ. However, he also makes quite a few mistakes, some of them egregious, and this is one of those.

    What you can still call him out on are his disingenuous turns like when he says he does not know this or that simple thing in philosophy even though his expertise overabundantly ensures that he knows it very well. He is no fool. He is just playing the fool, hoping to dupe you.

    But remember, I’m not buying his excuse for why he can’t answer walto’s question:

    A guy who proudly announces his rejection of physicalism, comparing it dismissively to theology, is in no position to come back later saying “Why won’t someone tell me what ‘physical’ means? It’s all I’m asking!”

    If he doesn’t understand what physicalism is, then he has no business dismissively rejecting it. And if he does understand it, then he has no business dodging walto’s question.

    He’s clearly being dishonest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t simultaneously be underinformed or mistaken. You seem to see those things as mutually exclusive. They’re not.

    KN isn’t simply playing the fool, as you put it. He’s genuinely confused about some important things, as I’ve explained in this and earlier comments.

  2. KN,

    In any event, I was only trying to get a philosophical discussion going.

    No, you were trying to shut one down in order to hide your mistakes. That’s why you won’t address my very clear comments regarding those errors. Better to just pretend that you’re being treated unfairly and then to run like hell when someone challenges you to back up your accusation.

    Perhaps Bruce will be braver.

    Bruce, if you think I’m treating KN unfairly, then let’s discuss that. Are you willing to do what KN will not, and respond directly to my actual comments?

    This comment is a good place to start:

    KN,

    The key difference being that walto asked me to clarify a position I don’t hold using terminology I don’t use,

    False. He asked you about a position you do hold, and the question he asked was (and is) relevant to that position. You’ve been trying to evade it ever since, in a remarkable display of intellectual cowardice and dishonesty.

    You’ve told us that you reject physicalism, which in your confusion you take to be equivalent to reductive physicalism. (They’re not equivalent, of course, because if they were, it would mean that nonreductive physicalism isn’t physicalism at all — a nonsensical implication.)

    Yet you embrace the idea that everything is “physical-1”, a category that by your definition includes all “spatio-temporal concrete particulars”. At the same time, you deny that everything “physical-1” is also physical. (That’s because admitting as much would undermine your earlier rejection of physicalism.)

    So where does all your weird terminology and CYAing lead? It follows from your statements that there must exist non-physical spatio-temporal concrete particulars. Walto recognized this and asked you the obvious question:

    What are the sorts of things that could be claimed to count as non-physical, spatio-temporal, concrete particulars?

    Monads? Ideas? Minds? Bits? Ghosts? Gods? Pains? Desires? Goals? Puzzlements?

    So yes, he asked you about a position you do hold, and his question is highly relevant. Stop dodging it.

  3. And another:

    A guy who proudly announces his rejection of physicalism, comparing it dismissively to theology, is in no position to come back later saying “Why won’t someone tell me what ‘physical’ means? It’s all I’m asking!”

    If he doesn’t understand what physicalism is, then he has no business dismissively rejecting it. And if he does understand it, then he has no business dodging walto’s question.

  4. BruceS: Hi KN: Unsolicited advice: Get off wifi and back on vacation so that people can erect KN strawmen in peace!

    Duly noted.

    One of the books I brought with me on my “retreat” is Neander’s The Mark of the Mental. Do you know it? It seems like your kind of project. I have one friend who left philosophy for neuroscience* and thinks very highly of Neander’s project.

    * He decided that all of the philosophical problems in philosophy of mind were solved by Sellars and by Merleau-Ponty, so we only needed better neuroscience to flesh out the details. I think he’s mostly right about that, which is why my project consists of showing how to integrate Sellars and Merleau-Ponty into a coherent conceptual framework and why that framework is philosophically superior to alternatives.

  5. keiths,

    At this point it’s just amusing to me that you’ve ignored everything I’ve said about philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, metaphysics, and epistemology in order to prosecute this one little point that exists only in your own fantasizing. You’re like the Inspector Javert of your own little world.

    As for insisting that I answer “walto’s question” when walto himself doesn’t think he asked me one . . . well, I have no words.

  6. I can barely tolerate KN when he is here. It is much worse when he is not here.

  7. Kantian Naturalist: Duly noted.

    One of the books I brought with me on my “retreat” is Neander’s The Mark of the Mental. Do you know it?
    * He decided that all of the philosophical problems in philosophy of mind were solved by Sellars and by Merleau-Ponty, so we only needed better neuroscience to flesh out the details.

    Yes, I have heard of Neander’s book (it got cited by Piccinini) and was waiting to see the library copy before deciding whether to buy my own. So I’d be interested in how you think it adds to those articles we have discussed. I also heard her interviewed on New Books in Philosophy.

    I wonder if everyone who thinks some current problem in philosophy was already solved by some past philosopher X agrees on how X solved that problem. I suspect the answer is no they do not.

  8. keiths:

    Perhaps Bruce will be braver.

    Nope, I’m definitely not as brave as others in that respect. If that is the right word for it.

  9. Bruce:

    Nope, I’m definitely not as brave as others in that respect. If that is the right word for it.

    Yes, ‘brave’ is the right word, and no, you definitely aren’t.

    You’re willing to make an accusation, but not willing to back it up.

  10. BruceS: I wonder if everyone who thinks some current problem in philosophy was already solved by some past philosopher X agrees on how X solved that problem. I suspect the answer is no they do not.

    Ha! If they did, there would so much less “scholarship”!

    I think it’s also a question of time or historical distance — there’s a wider range of views about Kant than about Sellars because there’s been more time to take his work in more different directions.

  11. Mung:
    I can barely tolerate KN when he is here. It is much worse when he is not here.

    A nice example of intentional existence (KN’s presence) combined with a propositional attitude (toleration). I was wondering if you were playing the fool on intentionality and Brentano’s problem; maybe so, it appears.

  12. BruceS: Hi KN:Unsolicited advice: Get off wifi and back on vacation so that people can erect KN strawmen in peace!

    Excellent advice. The asylum will muddle on somehow for a couple weeks.

  13. Kantian Naturalist: At this point it’s just amusing to me that you’ve ignored everything I’ve said about philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, metaphysics, and epistemology in order to prosecute this one little point that exists only in your own fantasizing. You’re like the Inspector Javert of your own little world.

    He’s definitely NOT nuts though!! X>{ People who disagree with him are just all humiliated liars!

    I mean, it’s true!! There’s evidence!

  14. Heh. DNA_Jock is now guanoing comments without notice and without linking to them. Just to show he can.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

    Link, Link

  15. keiths: DNA_Jock is now guanoing comments without notice and without linking to them. Just to show he can.

    Complaints about moderation should be made in the Moderation Issues thread.

    Pretty sure he guanoed them because they were rule-breaking.

    Besides, why should DNA_Jock bother if you are just going to do it for him. 🙂

  16. walto,

    KN is telling us that you weren’t asking a question here:

    What are the sorts of things that could be claimed to count as non-physical, spatio-temporal, concrete particulars?

    Monads? Ideas? Minds? Bits? Ghosts? Gods? Pains? Desires? Goals? Puzzlements?

    The eleven question marks apparently didn’t register with him.

    For laughs, can you bring yourself to admit that KN got it wrong, and that you did indeed ask the question?

  17. Came across this today:

    The Objects of Thought addresses the ancient question of how it is possible to think about what does not exist. Tim Crane argues that the representation of the non-existent is a pervasive feature of our thought about the world, and that we will not adequately understand thought’s representational power (‘intentionality’) unless we have understood the representation of the non-existent. Intentionality is conceived by Crane in terms of the direction of the mind upon an object of thought, or an intentional object. Intentional objects are what we think about. Some intentional objects exist and some do not. Non-existence poses a problem because there seem to be truths about non-existent intentional objects, but truths are answerable to reality, and reality contains only what exists. The proposed solution is to accept that there are some genuine truths about non-existent intentional objects, but to hold that they must be reductively explained in terms of truths about what does exist. The Objects of Thought offers both an original account of the nature of intentionality and a solution to the problem of thought about the non-existent.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0198748043

  18. Mung,

    Here’s the key sentence from that blurb:

    The proposed solution is to accept that there are some genuine truths about non-existent intentional objects, but to hold that they must be reductively explained in terms of truths about what does exist.

    So, to use the worn-out Superman example, the truths about the non-existent Superman — that he’s the alter ego of the non-existent Clark Kent, for instance — are grounded in the representations of Superman, which are physical and real.

    ETA: Or to put it differently, to say that Superman is the alter ego of Clark Kent is to say that if Superman existed in reality, as specified by his representation(s), then it would be true that he was the alter ego of Clark Kent.

  19. Mung: Complaints about moderation should be made in the Moderation Issues thread.

    And complaints about complaints about moderation?

  20. Mung: The proposed solution is to accept that there are some genuine truths about non-existent intentional objects, but to hold that they must be reductively explained in terms of truths about what does exist.

    I would be interested in exploring the connection between “what does exist” and God’s “intentional thoughts”.

    I speculate that perhaps there is a one to one correspondence.

    peace

  21. Neil, to Mung:

    From what you have quoted, I can already see that Crane is confused.

    Rather than just stating your opinion, why not defend it? Yes, I know that’s scary for you, but push yourself a little.

  22. Neil:

    There’s nothing to defend. I’m the expert on how things look to me.

    You said:

    From what you have quoted, I can already see that Crane is confused.

    Can you defend your claim about Crane’s supposed confusion, or will you retreat to the fetal position, as usual?

  23. I don’t expect that you will see Crane as confused. Or, if you do, it will be for a different reason than I see him as confused.

    The way that I look at human cognition is very different from the way that almost everybody else looks at it. Most other folk look at it in ways that are deeply tied to dualistic thinking, though they may deny that.

    I see Crane as confused, relative to my way of looking at cognition. I do not expect to be able to explain it to you.

  24. Neil,

    TSZ is a place that encourages the discussion of opposing ideas. Be brave and make your case. I’ll make mine in return.

    I know that frightens you. You’ve claimed that Crane is confused, but it is far more likely that it is you, not Crane, who is confused. You would prefer to suppress the discussion so that this likely truth will not come to light.

    But why not be brave? The worst that can happen is that you’ll turn out to be wrong. It ain’t life or death.

  25. Neil,

    You have no interest in attempting to understand my position.

    Sure I do. That’s my I’m asking you to elaborate on it and defend it!

    You have demonstrated that repeatedly.

    The fact that I often disagree with you hardly means that I don’t want to understand you. Ask any freshman philosophy student; they can tell you that it is quite possible to understand someone and nevertheless disagree with them. Isn’t that obvious?

    In fact, disagreement depends on understanding something sufficiently well to support the disagreement. That’s why it was so silly for KN to dismiss physicalism, likening it to theology, only to come back later asking “Why won’t someone tell me what ‘physical’ means?”

    I do want to understand your position, but even if I didn’t, why wouldn’t you state it anyway? There are many readers here, not just me. Do it for their sakes. Encourage discussion instead of suppressing it.

    Clearly, you’re a fish out of water at The Skeptical Zone. It’s a scary place for you. That’s okay, but why not make an effort to overcome that fear and defend your position anyway? You’ll feel better about yourself, even if you turn out to be wrong. If that happens, don’t obsess over it. Just accept your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

  26. Whether or not Neil can summon the courage to participate, there’s no reason for the rest of us not to discuss this.

    I made the point above that truths about Superman, a nonexistent intentional object, are actually grounded in the representations of Superman, which do exist and are physical.

    Note that it isn’t necessary for there to be a single set of true beliefs about the nonexistent entity Superman. There can be different versions of Superman, grounded in different representations in the physical world, with different characteristics. This sort of thing happens all the time with mythical entities.

    The granddaddy of all nonexistent intentional objects is God himself. I did an OP on this a while back:

    God and Identity

    A key passage from that OP:

    This leads to a counterintuitive realization: the entity we refer to as “the YEC God” is not necessarily the same as the entity that YECs refer to as “God”!

    How can we resolve this apparent paradox? I think the key is to recognize that within our minds, “the YEC God” doesn’t really refer to a single possible entity. It refers to an entire set of possible entities, any of which would qualify as “the YEC God”. Likewise with “God”.

    The set of possible entities encompassed by the word “God”, when spoken by a YEC, is larger than the set encompassed by the phrase “the YEC God” as used in the other thread. The latter is a subset of the former. Since they are not coextensive, they don’t mean the same thing.

    And since they don’t mean the same thing, things that are true of one aren’t necessarily true of the other. It all goes back to the representations, and the representations are different.

  27. fifth:

    I would be interested in exploring the connection between “what does exist” and God’s “intentional thoughts”.

    I speculate that perhaps there is a one to one correspondence.

    In the context of this discussion, the word “intentionality” is a technical philosophical term roughly synonymous with “aboutness”. It’s not about intention in the sense of what someone intends to do, as in “Trump intends to shut the government down”.

    If a capable God exists, it should be just as possible for him to think about nonexistent intentional objects — say, Russell’s Teapot — as it is for us. That is, intentionality in God’s mind does not guarantee the existence of the corresponding intentional object(s).

  28. fifthmonarchyman: I would be interested in exploring the connection between “what does exist” and God’s “intentional thoughts”.

    Was that why you mentioned the quad earlier in a reply to me? Or I am thinking of an exchange with J-Mac?

    Since my linking skills leaving something to be desired, I will be explicit about the allusion I think you might be making. It is to this limerick (on idealism or its modern QM/consciousness versions).

    God in the Quad

    There was a young man who said “God
    Must find it exceedingly odd
    To think that the tree
    Should continue to be
    When there’s no one about in the quad.”

    Reply:
    “Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;
    I am always about in the quad.
    And that’s why the tree
    Will continue to be
    Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.”

  29. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,
    Bruce

    If that was intended to be a link, it’s broken.

    Yes, they seem to be giving me trouble, even though I check them in the preview. I won’t try again. The link was to the Slate Podcast the Gist, the episode from last week where the opening is about the banning of plastic straws. You can google it if you are interested, but I will admit that, in terms of my attempts at humor in yesterdays set of posts, that was the worst of a bad lot.

    ETA: However, if the politics of slate.com seem reasonable to you, then you will enjoy the podcasts.

  30. Mung:
    Came across this today:

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0198748043

    Not sure why you posted that. If it was to demonstrate your Googling skills, I’d say that you have a ways to go to catch Keith.

    Crane does base his philosophical analysis of both belief and perception on his explanation of intentionality.

  31. keiths: In fact, disagreement depends on understanding something sufficiently well to support the disagreement.

    False.

    Thoughtful criticism depends on at least attempting to understand. Ridicule does not. In my experience, you go straight to ridicule.

  32. Neil Rickert: In my experience, you go straight to ridicule.

    Hey! That’s my job, no? I’m the class clown!!

    keiths goes straight to insult. He’s more in the dickhead tradition, I believe.

  33. Neil,

    Thoughtful criticism depends on at least attempting to understand.

    I am attempting to understand, which is why I keep asking you to elaborate on your claim and defend it. You say that Crane is confused. Why, exactly?

    And again:

    I do want to understand your position, but even if I didn’t, why wouldn’t you state it anyway? There are many readers here, not just me. Do it for their sakes. Encourage discussion instead of suppressing it.

    Clearly, you’re a fish out of water at The Skeptical Zone. It’s a scary place for you. That’s okay, but why not make an effort to overcome that fear and defend your position anyway? You’ll feel better about yourself, even if you turn out to be wrong. If that happens, don’t obsess over it. Just accept your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

  34. fifth:

    I would be interested in exploring the connection between “what does exist” and God’s “intentional thoughts”.

    Bruce:

    Since my linking skills leaving something to be desired, I will be explicit about the allusion I think you might be making. It is to this limerick (on idealism or its modern QM/consciousness versions).

    <snip “Quad” limerick>

    Yes, I think that’s what fifth is getting at. But as noted earlier, I think he is misunderstanding what we mean by “intentional” in the context of this discussion.

  35. keiths: Clearly, you’re a fish out of water at The Skeptical Zone.

    There’s a piranha that’s quite comfortable here, however.

  36. keiths: That is, intentionality in God’s mind does not guarantee the existence of the corresponding intentional object(s).

    There you go again, treating objects that don’t exist as if they do.

  37. Neil Rickert: The way that I look at human cognition is very different from the way that almost everybody else looks at it. Most other folk look at it in ways that are deeply tied to dualistic thinking, though they may deny that.

    I agree.

  38. Mung:

    There you go again, treating objects that don’t exist as if they do.

    Mung, we’ve been having this conversation literally for years. I don’t think you’re ever going to get it.

    keiths, 2016:

    Suppose I think about a diamond-encrusted quiche lorraine with a bullfrog sitting in the middle of it. Does that really commit me, in Mung’s view, to the physical reality of a diamond-encrusted quiche lorraine, complete with frog?

    Mung:

    Yes.

  39. There’s nothing “there” to correspond to, keiths.

    Like I said, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get this. It’s above your pay grade, just like the diamond-encrusted and bullfrogged quiche lorraine.

  40. BruceS: God in the Quad

    There was a young man who said “God
    Must find it exceedingly odd
    To think that the tree
    Should continue to be
    When there’s no one about in the quad.”

    Reply:
    “Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;
    I am always about in the quad.
    And that’s why the tree
    Will continue to be
    Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.”

    I do like that old poem by Ronald Knox. I used to use it when I taught Berkeley, but now I need to explain to my students what “quad” means and that takes some of the fun out of it.

  41. keiths: Like I said, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get this. It’s above your pay grade, just like the diamond-encrusted and bullfrogged quiche lorraine.

    If it doesn’t exist there can be no correspondence with it. The “representation” in your brain just is what it is. It cannot be more or less like the thing [which does not exist], for that is simply absurd. It can only be more or less like another representation in a different brain.

    Will the real Superman please stand up.

  42. BruceS: Was that why you mentioned the quad earlier in a reply to me?

    It’s not the specific reason I mentioned the quad but I’m sure the idea was in the back of my mind at the time.

    I really just assume that anyone who frequents here would be familiar with that limerick and the position that under-girds it.

    In this case we couldn’t call it an “intentional thought” on my part.

    peace

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