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>
>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

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