What the Neocortex Does

James Teo james.teo at chch.ox.ac.uk
Mon Aug 14 06:52:32 EST 2000


On Sat, 12 Aug 2000 21:18:34 -0400, "Ray Scanlon" <rscanlon at wsg.net>
wrote:
>Can you speak of the brain without speaking of neurons? I say a scientist
>may not.  But a religionist may because his real interest lies in the soul
>(mind). A religionist contemplates his soul (mind) and all sorts of wondrous
>things are found. He speaks of memories of sunsets and the ecstasy of love.
>The scientist looks at a cat's brain and finds only neurons. The religionist
>says that is because the cat cannot think, does not have language, does not
>have a soul. The scientist says he is not interested in the soul during the
>workweek, he looks at the brain.

Depends on the religion, but as far as I know most religions have
separated the concept of mind and soul. Mind is that self-conscious
bit of yourself, while soul is that special spiritual thingey with no
material basis. According to Christian doctrine, animals may have
minds but not souls; in Buddhist doctrine, animals have souls but not
always minds; etc. 
I suppose this pre-empts any sudden discovery that dolphins, whales,
grey parrots have minds, so don't expect any such discovery to wreck
much religious metaphysics.

BTW, there is a growing group of scientists who do study the mind.
They call themselves cognitive scientists, and are made up of a
hodge-podge of disciplines from computer scientists to
neuroscientists, from neurologists to linguists, from anthropologists
to mathematicians. There are even secular philosophers in the group,
but as far as I know, few religious intellectuals have taken much
notice of them yet. Cognitive scientists certainly do study the mind
(and not the soul) and the hard problem of how neuronal firing becomes
mind.






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