Wednesday, March 26, 2008

He Heard Them Say (About Himself), "He's Dead."

A man who was pronounced "brain dead" lived to tell of it and is now recovering. This speaks to the fact that it is difficult to determine from third person accounts of the brain--a fantastically complex organ--what a person's first person experience actually is. This young man heard the doctors pronounce him dead! The benefit of the doubt must always go to the living human being, no matter how damaged or compromised his or her body may be. The burden of proof must always be on those who would let the person die. "Thou Shalt Not Murder."

Moreover, consciousness is not exhausted by brain states; there is a mind or soul that is distinct from, but related to, the material states of the brain. This is supported by Scripture, science, and philosophy. For a paper on this topic, see my "Brains, Minds, and Persons." For more details, see J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae, Body and Soul (InterVarsity, 2000).


Anonymous said...

This is a difficult subject but I think this video helped to explain some things.

Jeremy said...


Thanks for sharing this video; it's quite interesting. Nevertheless, it is a bit of a non sequitur. I'm not sure how one can move from a brain malfunction to the conclusion that some sort of physicalist non-dualism is true. I could just as easily claim that Buddhism is a result of Siddhartha having a stroke (not one of enlightenment) under the pipal tree.

What this video does clarify is the dependence of the mind on the brain; it does not show that the mind and brain are identical. But I know of know substance dualists who claim that the mind is not dependent on the brain for our engaging the world around us.

The most interesting part of the whole video was her claim that, despite drifting off to "la-la land," and despite being unable to distinguish her own body from the world around her, there was still a center of unified consciousness. Of course, things were radically different due to the shifts in brain function, but she was conscious of an "I" throughout (even without that part of her brain that supposedly tells her that she is an "I").

Merely from a unified consciousness one cannot conclude that there are two distinct substances, but one clearly cannot conclude that there are *only* brain states.

Lastly, I'm not sure what kind of work this does for people trying to debunk Christianity. I guess they're trying to show that mystical experience is merely brain malfunction, but this does nothing to Christianity necessarily. Christianity makes falsifiable claims about revelation in history. That's good old-fashioned left-brain epistemology.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

The "all in the brain" attack on religion cuts both ways. One can just as easily claim that atheism is all in the brain. Finding a place or process in the brain for beliefs is no refutation of the beliefs! Nor is it a refutation of dualism.

Good chops, Jeremy.