Are we just one thing? Is the brain and the mind one thing? Or are we a material brain and an immaterial mind? Thus, two things. What are the arguments for and the implications, if the brain and the mind are two different things?
Our spiritual human nature and our carnal animal nature are two forces constantly fighting each other. Our animal nature is trying to keep us from carrying out what our spiritual human nature is directing. Our spirit nature is always moving us toward being fully human and finding purpose in life in the image of the Creator. Our evolved animal nature is always trying to satisfy its basic carnal needs and desires and, if not managed, will sabotage our spirit nature with disastrous consequences. Adapted and adjusted from ‘Spirit vs. Flesh’ – Kendall Bridges1
The more one overcomes the carnal nature of man, the animal within, the more human and the less animal-like one becomes in behavior and being, finding true purpose and meaning in life.
Most materialists, and atheists, hold that evolution makes the existence of an immaterial soul, or mind, highly unlikely. If Darwinism is true, if God does not exist, it would evidently implicate that the mind and the brain are the same thing. But the question is, can the mind be pure matter and how did it come to be? Did it evolve from matter and is nothing but matter? Or are there persuasive arguments to contradict this notion? The mind-body problem raises the question; are humans one kind of thing with the mind equal to the body, just material? Or two kinds of things, namely body and mind, that is, material and something more? The strict physicalist holds that humans are one kind of thing. Just physical. We are a physical substance, brain only, with physical properties only. Yet, holding this view, the existence of consciousness is a problem. (‘A Concise Essay that Refutes Physicalism.’)
Christianity teaches that the soul and the body are not the same and described in the Old Testament2 as well as in the New Testament3 scriptures. Are these concepts supported by human experience, by human psychology, by neuroscience, by reality? Christianity also teaches that the soul continues after death to exist without the body until the resurrection4
Where does the truth lie? Are we more than just a physical brain? What are the arguments for or against it?
Mind is associated with the brain. The two terms are often used interchangeably. The brain is considered to be a physical thing, the mind is considered to be mental (immaterial). The brain is composed of nerve cells and can be touched, whereas, the mind cannot be touched, e.g., thoughts cannot be touched, nor can it be physically demonstrated. The brain is clearly a biological, physical organ. But it is not clear what ‘mental functioning’, what we call ‘mind’, consists of. Is it some kind of force or substance that exists apart from the physical realm, or is it merely a product of the physical functioning of the brain, and nothing non-physical, nothing immaterial? There is no consensus of what is meant by the word ‘mind’ but for our purpose, we would interchange it with the word soul. Soul then includes all the concepts; ‘the I’ – the essence of ‘me’, my mind, ego, and spirit – thus soul is the immaterial apart from the physical brain and experiences the world in being consciousness.
When the question is asked, ‘Why do you read that book?’, we might with a scan detect brain activity in the person’s brain, but nothing can detect the answer or know the answer by any means other than the individual decides to tell us, and then tell us. The activity of the thought is detectable (material process) but not the thought, the answer itself, with its meaning (mental/immaterial). Meaning, like information, is immaterial and never physical. Like the story (the information/meaning) in a book. The paper and the ink are material/physical but never the story/meaning/information it conveys. The story/meaning/information needs a mind to read and interpret and understand it, coming from another mind. The two minds (immaterial) that use two brains (material) to create, understand and interpret the story/meaning/information (immaterial).
Consider the Structure of The Human Soul
Evolution can explain where the body comes from but not where the mind, (soul/ego/the ‘I’), the immaterial, comes from. Darwinism is a physical theory. Humans have many capacities (potentialities, abilities) that we do not exercise, that are often not functional. And cannot be physical. For example, when we are sleeping, we can have the capacity to speak English but not speaking English. We have the physical/electrochemical pathways of the language laid down in our brains but the potential to use the language is not physical, the potential to form ideas, stories, to convey information using the language, is not physical but immaterial potentials. You can never touch or demonstrate the capacity for immaterial information that is processed by using the language. We also have the capacities to have capacities. I have the capacity to speak English, but not Russian, but I have the capacity to develop that capacity, to speak Russian, too. It is simply not possible, if not absurd, to try to physically demonstrate or empirically prove that an individual has the capacity to develop the capacity, to speak Russian. It is an immaterial concept but nevertheless real. Let me explain further.
Faculties or abilities of the soul are families of resembling capacities Examples are;
1. Capacities of seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing. My eyes don’t see. I see. But my eyes have to function. My mind, soul, the ‘I’, needs the faculty of sight. An eye cannot see. An eye reacts to light impulses. The light stimulates a chemical reaction within the eye (protein changes caused by the light on the retina), these protein changes stimulate the nerves in the eye and an electric impulse is generated and carried to the brain where more neuro-chemical reactions take place with the result that I see, that the ‘I’, the mind, being consciousness, can see. My eye or my brain cannot see but I can. This cannot be demonstrated physically, though the effects of this ability can. You react to what you see having received what you see through your eyes and brain.
- The mind is my set of capacities to reason, think and believe. My mind is a faculty of my soul – all my capacities together.
- Emotions are a set of capacities. Again, the effects of the emotions experienced by the ‘I’, by consciousness, can be seen but the emotions itself cannot be seen or physically demonstrated.
- The will is a set of powers to choose – the faculty of volitional will. Not physically demonstrable.
- The spirit, a faculty of the human soul. It is a power to be aware of God and be related to Him.
None of these 1 – 5 can be physically demonstrated or proven (the effects of it, yes, but not the capacity)
The ‘I’, experienced by consciousness, am essentially my soul. I, my soul, am attached to my body but I am not my body. I have a body but am not identical to it.
What is the essence of humans? The definition of essence; the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features. In metaphysics, Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E.) specifies the classic definition: the essence of a thing is that which it is said to be per se. It is that which is most irreducible, unchanging, and therefore constitutive of a thing. A thing’s essence is that property without which the thing would cease to exist as itself.
The essence is the ‘I’, experienced by consciousness, is the immaterial ‘thing’ that is you, who, and what you are. When I am a child, it is ‘I’ who is that child, though through an immature brain I experience the world in an immature way. In the same way, I experience the world differently through a mature brain when grown up – the brain has changed, not the ‘I’, the who I am did not change. I am still the same person. The person with a brain damaged in a car accident and unconscious, is still a person, still the same person, still the same ‘I’, but cannot experience the world through his brain. He might be unconscious but still have the potential to be conscious if his brain would allow him. He would still be the same person. Like an individual trapped in a car wreck. He is still a person (the same ‘I’) but cannot get out of the wreck at that moment to experience the world outside of him. If a person is brain-damaged, he might act differently, his family might even say that he is not the person they used to know but in essence, he is still the same person and not a different person that has not excised before. He just acts differently. When you sleep you are not conscious, but with the potential to be conscious. You are still a person, the same person.
Thus, the happy/depressed, introverted/extroverted, cooperative/non-cooperative, peaceful/violent person, is how one, the I, experience and react to the impulses that come to one, to the ‘I’, through the brain. And that shapes one’s personality that can change but the ‘I’, the essence of who I am, cannot change. One can say that someone’s personality has changed, over years or with frontal lobe brain damage, but he, the ‘I’, cannot change, the essence of who he is, stays the same. Similar to the ‘I’ that experiences the world as a child and later an adult – the ’I’ does not change, the essence of who I am stays the same.
You are the ‘I’, the mind, the soul, the spirit. But you are not the material brain. The ‘I’ and the brain are intimately intertwined with constant ‘traffic flow’ between the two. The ‘I’, the mind, acts through the brain with the physical world, and the stimulations from the physical world reaching the brain, influence the ‘I’, the mind, continuously – how you feel and experience the world, but these stimuli cannot change the ‘I’. The ‘I’ can also decide out of free will, volition, how to respond to these stimuli from the brain.
The mind is not the brain, not the physical body. Though in a materialistic view it is the same thing. But a person would not say ‘My brain speaks to your brain’ No the person, who has a brain, speaks to the other who has a brain. I (mind, spirit, soul) am me. I am not a brain but have one. We often hear people say, ‘Use your brains!’ Deep down we know we are not our brains but something we can and should use. I have a foot and I have a brain, but I am not a foot nor a brain. The mind is an immaterial entity or substance that uses a brain, uses the foot.
When a human is conceived, information that is immaterial is carried by the DNA in the sperm and ovum, from the two parents, to form the first cells, the embryo, the new individual. And a new ‘I’ come into existence. The original physical DNA from the parents is soon replaced by newly formed molecules/proteins/DNA and there is nothing physical of the mom and dad left in the newly formed cells, the newly formed individual, soon after the first replication of the DNA – just the original information. Immaterial information from mum and dad fused and brought a new ‘I’ into existence. We are immaterial in essence from the moment we come into being. The essence of a person is information and that is immaterial. Like the story in a book or a recipe in a recipe book – it is not the paper or the letters but the immaterial story, the information, that is of the essence. When you think of a 7-year-old child that is growing, every single molecule in his/her body has been replaced many times since conception and will be replaced numerous times. An adult has nothing physical in him/her that was present when he/she was 7 years old, or at conception for that matter. Everything single molecule has been replaced. Just the information is the same, absolutely identical to the original. The immaterial information never changes. But the person will still say that that 7-year child was him/her, ‘I can remember things from that time, it was not somebody else, it was me.’ So physically it is not the same person but the properties of the person, the essence, the I, the mind, is the same. The body continually changes with its need and desires from year to year over a lifetime but the immaterial reality of the ‘I’ continues unchanged within that person. So, the mind is the immaterial unchanging essence of a person. But the ever-changing evolved body, with its basic inbuilt needs, continues to interact with the mind, with the ‘I’.
In this sense, it is the same with animals, but the status and properties of the mind of the animal limit it to being an animal and nothing more. Animals are not created in the image of God with its profound implications. Animals do not bear the image of the Creator, have no moral awareness, and therefore no moral accountability. Animals cannot think about their thoughts or ponder their actions, neither can they weigh up their options of what they ought to do. Not what they can or cannot do, but what they ought to do. They have limited free will as they cannot ponder their actions, no free thinking, no concept of beauty (an immaterial concept existing only in the mind of humans and of God), or any concept of narratives. They act on their immediate impulses, their immediate needs, ‘survival of the fittest’ needs; to be in a power position, to fight and protect themselves to survive, to protect their young, protect their territory, need for food, to reproduce, etc. All with a consciousness immaterial mind. And man’s carnal drives, the ‘animal’ within, is often the cause of the great fall in lives, closely linked to the same drives: 1. power – over other humans, 2. money – expanding and protecting his/her territory, and 3. sex.
What does the word carnal mean? Cambridge dictionary: ‘carnal; relating to the physical feelings and wants of the body. Carnal desires: thirst, food, sexual’. Animals have a simple mind in comparison with a human mind. For example, dogs can have thoughts and engaged in means of reasoning – if there are two choices e.g., to chase the cat and get rebuked by the owner or not chase the cat and be told ‘good boy’, the dog can decide which he would like better. But humans can have thoughts about thoughts and ponder them. Animals can have desires, but we can change ours. Animals have beliefs, he can believe his owner will shout at him if he does not do what he was taught not to do, but we have beliefs about our beliefs. Animals cannot engage in moral deliberation and form moral judgments. An animal cannot experience conflict between desires and duty, but they can have a conflict between two desires. In the animal, it is not possible to appeal to duty to explain their behavior.
If a being cannot think about his/her thoughts, the being cannot be held responsible for moral/immoral thoughts and actions. Animals cannot be moral or immoral. If a cat kills a mouse, it was not an immoral act.
In the strict materialistic view, we have no free will, we are highly evolved animals reacting to neurochemical pathways in our brains that interact with the environment that causes further reactions in the brain that we have no control over.
The experience and reaction of the mind, our thoughts and emotions, are not physical/material. It transcends the material. The conscious mind, the ‘I’, as we have argued, is immaterial. No surprise then that no one knows or can explain what consciousness is. It is not physical, but like mathematics, that is immaterial, we can study it. If the materialist is committed to the view that consciousness is material and thoughts are things, then, as Galen Strawson5 says ‘Unless, of course, the materialist chooses to make the case that consciousness does not really exist’
We do have empirical evidence that the immaterial events, e.g., thoughts and feelings, occur, (not what they are but that they exist) and we have empirical evidence that things (such as brains) exist. Why, then, does the mind necessarily have to be anything other than part of the natural world?’ Because if the ‘I’, the mind, is identical to the brain, in the sense of being material, i.e., chemical processes, it follows that there cannot be a free will, there cannot be spontaneous thoughts, responsibility, moral decisions, moral accountability, as these would all be the result of chemical processes over which you, the ‘I’, the mind, has no control. Sam Harris, new age atheist, ‘Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it.’ – that is the necessary and only conclusion if all is physical, material, chemical processes. Only a mind apart from the natural world, from the physical brain, can have free thoughts not bound by chemical processes but can react to these processes freely. So, this would really ‘force you’ to move from “materialism” to the “transcended” and opens the question of whether or not God exists.
If we are indeed a material brain and an immaterial mind, as I have tried to demonstrate, where does it lead us to? If one would hang on to atheism, we are merely highly evolved animals with no free will and no moral accountability with all the consequences of this view. Nobody can live like this. But from a theistic point of view reality seems to make much more sense if we are more than a physical brain.
‘God created our bodies from the dust, (i.e., from the elements of this earth.) And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being, an individual complete in body (carnal) and spirit.’6 Our spirit/mind has been created in the image of God7 and this sets us profoundly apart from the animal kingdom and implicates that all humans are equal before God. ‘And underscored in the New Testament. ‘There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.’8 ‘In His own image’, God created us and this has profound implications, it gives humans immense value and makes us all equal; men, women, people of all ages and all the races of this world – the basis for objective human rights – the materialist has no basis for equal rights but merely his opinion. If we are truly no more than highly evolved animals, then nothing more than ‘survival of the fittest’ would apply. As we so often see in the business world and many other aspects of life – the ‘animal within’ walking over, pushing aside, devouring his fellowman. And atheist Peter Singer’s9 views on non-voluntary euthanasia of handicapped babies is no surprise. And in His image, we were given free will, the will to choose to love, to hate, to choose between right and wrong, and we have a deep sense to distinguish between right and wrong. Free thinking is only possible if our minds are more than just a brain. The materialist has no basis to believe that he has free thinking, that he can trust his own thoughts if we are the product of evolution with physical properties only, and therefore nothing but moist robots with our thoughts the result of neurochemical reactions in the brain determined by our genes, brain development and reacting to the environment.
But if we do have an immaterial mind, a soul, the ‘I’, in a body with a brain, then we can understand the constant internal conflict between my physical body, the evolved animal within, with its carnal nature, or ‘flesh’, versus my mind, my spirit, soul, the ‘I’.
We have been given this carnal (‘animal’) body with its primitive desires that we have to reign over to be fully human. It is a lifelong conflict but also a challenge not dissimilar to a marathon athlete running the race, which is hard, yet very satisfying when the race is successfully completed. And during this race, the more we overcome, the more human and the less animal-like we become
The study of animal behavior to understand human behavior explains much about humans but only insofar the elementary behavior patterns are concerned. There are obviously important basic animal behaviors within us that are good and essential e.g., care for the young, satisfying hunger. But the study of animal behavior cannot shed any light on the spiritual behavior of man e.g., morality, ethical behavior, and more. These you have to compare to the character of God, the ultimate good.
Man received of the Spirit of God at creation, and we can control, and as spiritual beings, reign over our carnal fleshly ‘evolved animal’ body with its animal nature and desires. We have a moral awareness and therefore are morally accountable. We have the ability to think about our thoughts, ponder our actions and make rational decisions. We have free will and free thoughts. Though we are subject to and intimately interwoven with our ‘animal body’ with its extremely strong deeply embedded impulses and desres that are impossible to conquer in full to make one fully human. And we need help.
Describing the ‘animal within’ refers to the ‘animal nature’ within, not our wonderfully created body. The human body is wonderfully made, the most beautiful and complex in all of creation, in all of this vast universe. ‘For You formed my innermost parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well… I was being formed … intricately and skillfully…’ 10
Man with his own free will and thoughts can be successful, to some degree, to overcome the ‘animal’ nature with its urges and desires yet often need the law to keep him in reign. Society, with or without the law, needs to keep many accountable, to restrain him/her not to act like an animal; take what is not yours, lie for your own survival/benefit’s sake, act sexually inappropriately. We all have the spirit of moral knowledge within us, morality is deeply embedded in our souls – unlike animal nature with no morality. Morality is not an evolved human characteristic. It is imparted to us from the Creator who created us in His image and sets us apart from all animals. Morality is, therefore, objective – transcendent – and not subjective – based preferences based on personal or group opinion. See my Blog: Morality. Because of God, or Not? and Moral Relativism
How do we live then, not with the nature of higher evolved animals, but as humans with fully well-developed spiritual characteristics and morality that would set us further and further apart from our animal nature, reigning over the ‘animal within’? Not only created but living in the image of God, our Creator? ‘For the mind that is set on the flesh, (our animal nature), is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot’.11
We need to learn that our animal nature can be overcome and that we are free to grow in Christ to become fully human as we have been created to be. That one can reign over the ‘animal within’.
Many people do not desire to live this ‘fully human’ life but would prefer to hang onto the ‘animal within’ with its basic desires’ to survive as he sees fittest, even if one needs to walk over fellow humans, act as your desires direct you. What is even more sad is that animals die and so do their minds, and so do we who would hold on to the ‘animal’ within. ‘For those who live according to the flesh (carnal nature) set their minds on the things of the flesh (basic desires), but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit’12 ‘For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’13
‘Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, …14 ‘Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.’15 If we do not realize that we have died with Christ, or we fail to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit, our carnal nature will gain the upper hand, causing us to remain in submission to our animal nature.
This is the sad condition of so many people is that the most remain carnal, constantly falling victim to the animal nature. Such Christians and others have little insight into spiritual truth, enjoy meager daily fellowship with God, if at all, and fail to lay hold of His promises.
We should earnestly ask God to help us distinguish between the carnal and the spiritual, and to enable us to yield ourselves completely to the guidance of His Spirit. We can ask the Lord God, reveal to me, by the working of His Spirit, where I still live and speak as a carnal person.
‘Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry (anything more important than God in our lives e.g., money, power), sorcery (e.g., astronomy), enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.’16 These all refer back to power, money, and sex as I have elucidated to earlier.
‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.’17 ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.’18 ‘But put on the Lord Jesus Christ (accept Him and let Him reign in our lives), and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’19 ‘And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’20 ‘Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.’21 Do not allow the ‘animal within’ reign in your life and prevent you from being fully human as you have been created to be. ‘Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.’22
‘The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.’23
Are we just one thing? I have demonstrated that it makes no sense to see the mind and the brain as one thing. It is not a logical conclusion. We are a material brain and an immaterial mind. Thus, two things, intertwined but in their nature, they are in constant conflict with each other.
We are body and spirit. We, our spirits, are to reign over the carnal bodies, ‘the animal within’, to be fully human, to understand and enjoy life to the full. To live in peace with God, with ourselves, with our fellow human beings. And not to destroy life around us, not to cause pain to ourselves and to our fellow beings but to be what we have been created to be. It is but a long road of growth, a marathon, and we need our Creator in Christ to overcome the ‘animal within’ and life will strangely grow into an unexpected and surprising beauty, not only for us but also for our fellow human beings, into the likeliness of Christ and in a personal relationship with God.
1 Your Spirit nature and your flesh nature are two forces constantly fighting each other. Your flesh nature is trying to keep you from carrying out what your Spirit nature is directing. Your Spirit nature is always moving you toward God’s plans and purposes for your life. Your flesh nature is always trying to sabotage your Spirit nature. Spirit vs. Flesh – Kendall Bridges
2 Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.
3 Matthew 10:28 “… There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in His hands.
4 Philippians 3:20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like His own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which He is putting everything as it should be, under and around Him.
5 Galen John Strawson (born 1952) is a British analytic philosopher and literary critic who works primarily on philosophy of mind, metaphysics (including free will, panpsychism, the mind-body problem, and the self).
6 Genesis 2:7 AMP
7 Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them.
8 Galatians 3:28
9 Peter Singer is an Australian moral philosopher, currently Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.
10 Psalm 139:13-15
11 Romans 8:7
12 Romans 8:5
13 Romans 8:13
14 Galatians 5:19
15 Romans 6:12
16 Galatians 5:19-21
17 Romans 8:1-39
18 Romans 8:14
19 Romans 13:14
20 Galatians 5:24-25
21 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
22 Colossians 3:5
23 1 Corinthians 2:14Follow us >>