What separates the soul from the brain?

This question has been bothering me for a while. What exactly separates the brain from the soul. Things I thought would be part of the soul (i.e. personality, memories, etc.) seem to merely be processes by the brain. The biggest case of this is traumatic brain injuries. Take the case of Phineas Gage for instance. Gage suffered an injury to his frontal lobe and people claimed he was a completely different person after the injury. How can there be a soul and afterlife if all of what makes the self seems to be dependent on the brain?

  • Try researching Near-Death Experiences. How does a person come out of a life-threatening situation, or come out from an anesthesia-induced “nearly complete” bodily shutdown, with a vivid memory of looking down at their body or meeting long-dead people that they may have known or heard about or never even heard about before they went to “Never-Never Land”?

Well I think that soul is a living person and a corpse is a dead person, or rather being. They are brought to life by the animating breath/spirit/wind of God.

Outside of that I don’t think the Bible paints a very clear picture. I’m not sure that they even thought. Inspiration does not equal perfect knowledge and language.

Then I don’t think science is equipped to answer it. Who we are is made up of what is in our brains. When it messes up, or changes, so do we. From chemical imbalances, damage, diseases and even lack of sleep can change how we act and think.

So in short… what’s the supernatural ghostly aspect of who we are when we are dead? I believe in soul sleep and so it’s not really an issue to me as much as how does soul sleep, this present life and the symbolism of the afterlife and restoration all work together.

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It is something I am wonder about. As a physician, I cared for many who suffered strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and dementia over the years, and it makes you wonder “what makes you, you.” And after death and in whatever lies beyond, which “you” will you be?
I don’t think we can really know, and therein we rely on faith and trust in God. It also makes it a good argument that we are part of the new creation here and now.

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Nice first question here!

I’ve wondered the same thing, but in connection with medications. Friends commented that when I went on lithium my personality changed, and later when I went off it I changed again. In fact the same happened when I started taking fish oil capsules!

So if personality can change due to chemicals the body takes in, what does that say about the actual person?

What separates the soul from the brain?

Existence. The brain exists and the soul does not.

I mean… I believe in a spiritual aspect to existence. I believe in the spirit body taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. But I do not believe in the rational soul of the Greeks, Gnostics, and other religions. I do not believe in anything (let alone non-physical) which can be added to inanimate matter to make it alive or to turn physical bodies into human beings. And there is no non-physical puppet master driving the human body. There is no evidence of any such thing and only evidence to the contrary.

I believe in the human mind which is a physical non-biological living organism which is not the brain even though it requires the brain to exist. It is a self-organizing entity in the medium of human language with its own needs and inheritance passed to the next generation. It can dominate to the degree by which people will sacrifice their lives for the sake of ideals and loved ones. But it is physical and it dies with the body.


Whether we call it a soul or not there is something that makes us unique, and that something is what we would expect to continue after the physical body dies. There is so much we do not know about where thoughts are derived from and how the conscious mind formulates ideas and puts them into practice.
There would also appear to be some sort of communal consciousness that can be tapped in or out of.
Then there is the presence of those who have passed on. The Bible has examples of actual converse with the dead and warns against divination and the occult. I am convinced that Ouiji is dangerous and that there are spirits both good and evil that can be accessed and influenced by. The usual advice is to steer clear and not get tempted.
I think that the scientific mind would tend to be uncomfortable with the spiritual realm and any notion of spirit or soul. People who go ghost hunting are usually looked on as freaks or fanatics and their instruments as whimsical or just fallacious.

As a believer (and possessor) of the Holy Spirit I have no problem accepting the probabilities of evil or other spirits.


Ok… easier said than done

Is there anything else in the world that acts like this?

I’d be sort of ok with physical non-biological self-determining agent, and would prefer to shorten it to self-determining agent or uncaused cause (with respect to acting) contingent being

The mind is not an uncaused cause. The mind and its contents have many causes.

I think quantum physics establishes that there are events which have no causes within the physical worldview. And I think some of these might be described as uncaused causes. But i would not describe human free will (let alone the human mind) as an uncaused cause. We must be the cause of our choice for them to be a matter of will, but they must not be determined by preceding events in order to be free. I think you can get this with causality which is not time-ordered – to say that we become the cause of the choices we have made. We make a choice for reasons, but we choose those reasons. And by those choices we decide what kind of person we are, and thus we become the person who makes such choices.

What makes us unique are the different choices we make. And I do believe that our spiritual body is a product of the choices we make.

I am not uncomfortable with the notion of spirits and souls. I watch movies and tv shows about them all the time. great fun. like star trek. and if any of that sort of thing actually happened I would delighted. But I honestly don’t think any of that is real. But then I don’t think reality is entirely objective (i.e. the same for everyone), so just because such things are not real to me doesn’t mean they are not real to everyone.

This is why I am careful to acknowledge that human minds are contingent in being or existence.

If you are able to will an action, then you are the cause of that action. If you alone caused the action, then you are an uncaused cause with respect to the act. In other words, a singularity that can affect change without being changed.

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This quite honesty opens the door to the possibility of p-zombies. @T_aquaticus brought up an experiment that seemed to indicate some individuals are more capable of conscious decision making than others.

In the Bible both humans and animals are referred to
As souls. In the Bible both animals and humans are said to have received the breath ( spirit ) of God. You can find all of this info just in the first 9 chapters of Genesis. Now I’m using human vs animal to showcase that point. The reality is that humans are animals. If you followed your family tree back far enough your ancestors , your great-x-something grandmother and grandfather would be a rodent looking mammal, a bony fish and so on.

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Trouble is that most people look at animals as soulless, running purely on instinct.
This has always been a stumbling block for evolutionary Christians.


There’s no harm in being real about what we observe in the behavior of animals. What’s bad is when they act more human than some of those within our ranks.

Yes because the word translated in some Bibles as soul has nothing to do with the belief of the Greeks, Gnostics, and other religions in a non-physical entity moving from body to body and animating them. It simply means life, and animating principle which we now understand to come from chemical processes.

No. It does not. Yes it speaks of animals as having a breath of life in their nostrils but no it does not speak of God breathing into them the breath of life. Yes animals breathe air and do so as long as they are alive, but life is not something put into them by some non-physical source to make them alive. But the divine breath also means inspiration and this is something God gave to human beings by speaking to them, and that indeed can bring the human mind to life.

Animals lack neither life nor spirit. What animals lack is language and the mind which is a product of language. Many have a means of communication but language is more than that – with the representational capabilities to equal and surpass that of DNA and thus capable of being a medium of a life process. It would be cool if there were animals with such capabilities (and thus our equals), but so far the evidence does not support this (capable of amazing things yes, but not that). And perhaps it is not such a huge gap that we cannot bridge it someday… because it is not some divine magic that makes the difference but something we can measure and seek understanding about.

Are you sure it is not the other way around?

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Yes it does. The breath of God is the same thing as the breath of life. The breath is the same word as spirit and wind.

Yes. Language is far more a product of evolution and brain development. But of course that is somewhat like the egg-chicken question. We do indeed use the mind to invent ideas and concepts to expand our language capabilities. Which in turn expands the capabilities of the human mind. It is the very nature of life to do things like this.

But the point is that this is the distinction between the mind and the brain. The brain is biological and a product of biological evolution though naturally as language developed it had some influence on the evolution of the brain. The mind however is a construction of ideas and concepts which exist because of language.

The same word is frequently used for very different things. We use breath in speaking language so they are connected in that way. But no the Bible never speaks of God breathing life into the animals, and this is nonsense because animals are not alive because of something breathed into them. They are alive because of their physical chemical composition and processes. But inspiration does give life to the human mind, so in that case where the Bible actually DOES speak of God breathing life into man, it does make sense.

To be sure I read the Bible with science as part of the perceptual process by which I understand all things in the universe. And see absolutely no point in the lame attempt to pretend to some kind of objectivity in reading the Bible. Objectivity would frankly defeat its purpose. And I find the pretense of understanding the Bible as some choose to speculate the people of ancient times understood it as even more laughable. It is just another tactic of rhetoric by which some people seek to force their understanding of things on other people.

Obviously I am not going to conform my understanding of the universe to what people had millennia ago. What would be the point of that? My question has always been whether the Bible has any meaning in the context of how we understand the universe today? I came to the conclusion that it did and employing subjectivity in making this fit seems entirely appropriate to me.

I don’t see how. Quite the opposite, it is those who believe in non-physical components like souls who open the door for the possibility of p-zombies. The difference with the spirit body taught by Paul is that the physical body comes first, and the spiritual grows from the physical like a plant from a seed. The spirit body does not animate the physical like this notion of a soul, but only plays a role when the physical body dies.

If they are physically identical then they are the same person until they make different choices which happens because of free will. So no p-zombies.

Sounds a bit like when Jesus said, “let the dead bury their own dead” indicating that some people are like the walking dead and I see truth in this precisely because some individuals look more capable of conscious decision making than others. There are many factors that play a role in this but I think the self-destructive habits of sin play a big part. Sometimes we are so habitual and reactive that it is like we walk around covered with buttons waiting for people to push them, and then we say they made us do it.