Back in 2004 I had another blog. Much of it is filled with prattle, but, especially in later entries, I composed some ruminations that I think should not be lost to cyberspace. I have decided to scroll through the old blog and to begin reposting worthwhile content periodically, though I will reserve editorial powers over it. I begin with the following from 6 December 2004, addressing the question of whether we will still be essentially the same person in the afterlife, given the fact that our bodies and brains have been destroyed. If memory lies in the brain (and our memories, or the sum of our experiences and interactions, make us who we are), then how can we in any sense be the “same person” after death. Or to put it another way, if brain malfunction can cause memory loss, even though the soul is supposedly still “in there,” then how can we say the soul remembers? And if it does not, then having once been disembodied, we cannot be the same person we were in life.
I want to quote Charles Hodge on a couple things, and I will underline what I want to emphasize. First, he believes animals have souls:
“‘Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?’ Eccles. 3:21. The soul of the brute is the immaterial principle which constitutes its life, and which is endowed with sensibility, and that measure of intelligence which experience shows the lower animals to possess. The soul in man is a created spirit of a higher order, which has not only the attributes of sensibility, memory, and instinct, but also the higher powers which pertain to our intellectual, moral, and religious life.”
It is interesting that all the Hebrew and Greek words for soul and spirit and soul and spirit in English are used indiscriminately in the Bible of men and irrational animals (Hodge). I want to quote a few more related things.
“Man, then, according to Scriptures, is a created being in vital union with a material organized body.”
“It is a fact of consciousness that certain states of the body produce certain corresponding states of the mind” (by which he means the soul). “The mind takes cognizance of, or is conscious of, the impressions made by external objects on the organs of sense belonging to the body. The mind sees, the mind hears, and the mind feels, not directly or immediately (at least in our present and normal state), but through or by means of the appropriate organs of the body. It is also a matter of daily experience that a healthful condition of the body is necessary to a healthful state of the mind; that certain diseases or disorders of the one produce derangement in the operations of the other. Emotions of the mind effect the body; shame suffuses the cheek; joy causes the heart to beat and the eyes to shine. A blow on the head renders the mind unconscious, i.e., it renders the brain unfit to be the organ of its activity; and a disease of the brain may cause irregular action in the mind, as in lunacy.”
Hodge attributes will to the soul. He also attributes joy and shame to the soul. I think this must be the case, because consciousness as well as having sensations are not properties of matter. We do have sensations (a property of the soul), and we have them (we know from experience) through our physical senses and sense organs. So Hodge has satisfactorily demonstrated from experience that the body and soul exist, at least for the time being, in vital union with each other. This suggests the idea that if a disorder of the body causes all recognition of an experience to vanish completely, it is only because the soul is presently dependent on the body for its expression, not because the soul either does not exist, or because the soul cannot retain memory apart from the body. Since the soul/mind is immaterial, it cannot be directly affected by a blow to the head. That is, suffering trauma to the brain may cause apparent memory loss. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the memory is lost completely to that individual, since memory is a function of the soul. The soul remembers. The brain does not, and therefore you do not, only because you cannot in the current state of things: You need the normal operation of the brain. The soul’s expression of your memory is dependent on it.
Think of a client computer in a network: say the client’s network card burns out. The client (i.e., the brain) can no longer access the file on the server (the soul/mind), but this does not mean the file has been deleted; the file still exists on the server. You’re “lost” memories may return when you are freed from the body, then given a perfect one at the eschaton. So therefore, going a step further to the point I really wanted to make, no one can prove from your experience that your soul will not retain the integrity of your personhood after this life. Temporal memory loss and our general experience that memory and the integrity of one’s self (think of Alzheimer’s) is tied to the brain does not necessarily show that these things are tied to the brain ultimately. The possibility remains that such things are functions of an immaterial aspect beyond the brain for which the brain is merely an instrument of expression. Since consciousness and having sensations are not properties of matter, regardless of its configuration, such a possibility seems an inevitable conclusion, leading us to believe that the idea of retaining memory and being “the same person” in a disembodied state after physical death is really not a problem at all.
P.S., I think of Stephen Hawking. His body in his latter years would not have allowed us to see who he is, but for modern technology. What a soul this guy has. What a mind. Thankfully, we’ve been able to allow him to express his mind by aids for his body. We would not have known who he is because of his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, but he still would have have been that person—the soul God created for his body.