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1. What is a Mind?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Friedrich Nietzsche asked a question that has affronted while fascinating generations of readers. How, he wondered, would we behave if God didn’t exist? Obviously, attendance at houses of worship would end, but the physical changes wouldn’t matter too much when compared to how it would add to our knowledge. Would we learn much? Nietzsche thought we’d become superhumans.

Without God, we would know far more about our own psychology because Christianity accidently set the social sciences up for failure. As far as we know, all of the founding, European scientists were faithful Christians, which allowed the Church to demand that science only probe the physical world, thereby leaving the spiritual dimension for theology. That didn’t slow the hard sciences down because physical facts are unrelated to theology; physicists, chemists, and biologists have been triumphant. On the other hand, the same limits on psychology frustrated comparable progress toward a general mind theory. Clearly, belief in God and demands of the Church made a difference, and we will review the consequences here.

 

Some fifteen hundred years before modern science, Roman theologian, Plotinus, (200 – 270 CE) (Enneads) had already chosen to arrange our minds in the spiritual rather than the physical dimension in order to solve the mind/body problem in a way that allowed us thinking souls in the afterlife. For those unfamiliar with the mind/body problem, it consists in deciding whether our minds are biological like our bodies or spiritual like our souls. The division between mind and body was established long before Plotinus. Two-thousand, seven-hundred years ago, Anaxagoras had a concept of nous (consciousness, rationality, thought - mind) based in the mistaken but convincing illusion that we see things where they exist. This illusion will be discussed later. He taught Socrates, Socrates taught Plato, and Plato believed that the nous existed in a perfect dimension above this reality. Somewhere around seven-hundred and fifty years later, Plotinus added himself to this progression upon becoming a Platonist, and so knew all about minds existing in ideal dimensions. The detailed philosophical argument could not serve any purpose here. Everyone agrees that our bodies are physical, and our souls, if they exist at all, could only be spiritual. The conflict arises in answer to, “Which dimension houses our minds?” Deciding in favor of spiritual pigeonholes psychology as an art; deciding for physical classifies it as a hard science. It sounds like an easy choice but, there’s a catch here, we have never been neutral about which way this argument ends. Scientific beliefs keep us comfortably alive but entail the observations and proofs that logically end in a predetermined fate and nonexistence. We ignore those repellent consequences, tempted by the freewill and afterlife promised by Christian doctrine. We want to believe that we can have the advances of science with comfort of religion.

Whether Plotinus knew it or not, the Church had a problem with a physical mind. Christian doctrine holds that resurrection of the body and reunification with the soul would only take place at the final judgement. At the end of each life, only the person’s soul goes promptly to the afterlife; the body is buried or burnt. Logically, a physical mind joined to its body would have to abide in the grave until the end of days to reunite with their soul. According to that troubling scenario, an unconscious soul would aimlessly stumble around heaven or hell for the time between bodily death and the end of days. That’s two thousand years and counting for early Christians. We don’t know if that was Plotinus’s reason because the best of both worlds conflict described above also offers a compelling motive for dividing spiritual from physical and claiming that they operate by different laws. He avoided both the mindless soul and allowed the best of both worlds by assigning the mind to the soul. At bodily death, the mind as part of the soul would go directly to the afterlife. That way the soul can have a conscious afterlife and freewill, and the body can have the benefit of medical and other sciences in life without logical contradiction. Designating the mind as spiritual and placing it within the soul was the perfect solution. Mind, soul, and body were then a kind of turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck and then stuffed into a turkey). The spiritual mind was a part of the soul, like a horn is a part of a unicorn, and the soul occupied and controlled the body, like you’d drive a car.