What the Neocortex Does

James Teo james.teo at chch.ox.ac.uk
Tue Aug 15 06:45:57 EST 2000

On Mon, 14 Aug 2000 20:06:45 -0400, "Ray Scanlon" <rscanlon at wsg.net>
>I think few religious people would say their thoughts revolve about a
>spiritual thingey.

The only reason I used 'thingey' was because various religions
idnetified it differently. Most christians identify it as the
spiritual gift of God to us, that which sets us apart from animals,
and that which goes to the next life. Buddhists identify it as our
logbook of karma and fate and our essence. Muslims identify it
similarly to Christians, but also add that various hallowed artifacts
and spririts speak to our souls not our bodies. Each religion has its
own definition, so I don't pretend to define the word soul; suffice to
say that most religions do have a discrete definition of soul which is
distinct from mind.

>In any event, this split between soul and mind occurred in the first half of
>the nineteenth century when some atheists took to using "mind" when they
>spoke of soul. (A new usage, not a new word.) They wished to speak of that
>which thinks but they could not use the word soul because they were
>freethinkers. This is all laid out in the O.E.D. People have deluded
>themselves by continually using the words as not being synonymous. I think
>the usage "soul (mind)" helps to remind us of that which we speak.

Hardly true. The split may have only occured in the major Protestant
faiths, but it has been present in Buddhist religious theory since
Gautama, and in Muslim faith as early as the 8th century when the
Quran identifies the separation of body, mind and soul. In Catholic
theology (I think it was St Simon Magus or St Thomas Aquinas)
identifies the the three-fold aspect of the human being as well
(animal, thought, soul) and Descarte does mention this pre-existing
concept in his works.

The OED is hardly a foundation text for theology and merely represents
popular usage where it is often interchangeable, but then we are not
talking about popular usage are we? We're talking about usage by
people who study the fields of cognitive science and theology.

>They are only words. But there is a small movement in certain circles to
>point out that they are synonymous. One hopes that it grows.

"they are only words" is an empty argument. It doesn't say anything
aside from the fact that *you* don't think there is a distinction, but
the distinction is very real. In fact, it is the reverse of your above
claim, I think most average people associated soul with mind, and the
minority (ie. the theologians, the religious leaders, scientists, etc)
are the ones who separate it.

>Modern dictionaries, reflecting modern usage, tend to say that the mind
>feels, perceives, thinks,and wills. To the soul they apportion the spiritual
>principle, emotion, sentiment, and morality. The O.E.D. has the two words as
>Who knows? I just say soul (mind).

That is where I want to correct you. Use 'mind' as it is more specific
and prevents confusion, and also more true, since cognitive scientists
study the mind and not the soul (with all the associated religious
connotations), and religious leaders do the opposite. Their work may
overlap but that does not mean they are the same thing.

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