As a brain scientist, what is your working definition of a 'soul'?

Hello, Sharonnnnn! (@Sharon_Dirckx) So wonderful to have you with us for a couple of days! I wanted to follow @CarsonWeitnauer’s simple question with another simple one. :wink:

I am curious what your working definition of ‘soul’ is? There are many philosophical and theological conceptualisations of it, and there is even a strand of evangelical thought that would be soul-denying…though I’m not really sure what aspect they’re denying. I was just wondering if there is a certain way you conceptualise the soul as you research and write about brain, mind and consciousness? :slight_smile:


Continuing the discussion from Ask Sharon Dirckx (December 17-19, 2018):

Hi Kathleen
Great to hear from you! Thank you for asking another straight forward question :slight_smile: Sorry for the shameless book plug, but Chapter 2 of ‘Am I just my brain?’ addresses the subject of the soul - ‘Is belief in the soul out of date?’. A working definition of ‘soul’ is simply ‘life’. If i can refer to my reply to Carson above, there are times in scripture when ‘soul’ refers to the whole person eg. praise the lord o my soul - which would resemble the non-reductive physicalist view. But there are other times in scripture when ‘soul’ refers to a part of the person that is distinct from body and mind (and Spirit - which is another layer altogether) eg. 2 Thess 5:23, which would resemble the substance dualist approach. Its important to say that Christian ideas of soul can often centre around an immaterial part of a person that floats off to heaven to be with God when the body dies. We want to say this more resembles a Greek Platonic view of soul than a Hebrew view in which the person is more than material but is fully embodied both in this life and in the life to come. Some philosophers and theologians might describe mind and soul as synonymous. Others describe soul as the ‘umbrella’ under which mind and consciousness fit. Obviously, skeptics would argue either that there is no soul or that it is entirely physical. As a starting point i would recommend, ‘In search of the soul: Four views on the mind-body problem’ by Joel Green and Stuart Palmer. Thanks for the question! Sharon