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The soul and the brain


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#1 Ryan

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 01:36 PM

What is the relationship between the soul and the brain? What about memory? What role does the soul have when someone suffers brain damage and subsequent memory loss, or even a change in personality?

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 11:44 PM

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) writes about this rather extensively in his book "Orthodox Psychotherapy".

#3 Ryan

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 11:13 PM

Since I don't have the book... would you be able to summarize his views on the subject (or your own)? This has been occupying my thoughts for a while.

#4 Irene

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Posted 01 October 2006 - 08:03 AM

Dear Ryan, My daughter has the book but hasn't finished reading it yet and I have barely seen it, I do have a link to portions of the book online. You can have a glance at that until Herman or someone else makes a comment. Though the online version may not have what you are looking for .... the book is not a small one.

Orthodox Psychotherapy link

In Christ
irene

#5 Ryan

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Posted 02 October 2006 - 01:53 AM

Thanks Irene!

#6 Irene

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Posted 03 October 2006 - 12:43 AM

Hi Ryan, I've been trying to read Orthodox Psychotherapy but I haven't got very far into the book. I have also looked for online articles on this subject.

I have always been very fascinated by the brain and what happens to a person who has brain injuries, how their personality can change significantly. How they can sometimes function fairly normally even when something very serious has happened to their brain - like the two halfs are no longer connected. What I think, what I couldn't stop thinking about, is that the temptation to do good or evil is in all of us, therefore, if a person was able to stay basically good until an accident where their brain was injured, and the personality change was because of the injury, then that would be something taken into account on the day of judgement.

There are many stories floating around in my mind that have been told to me in a Christian Orthodox sense......

Take a set of twins and they are separated at birth one given to a good, loving, pious Christian family and one given to cruel parents who don't know Christ and so this child never learns about Christian love. They wouldn't be judged at the same level. So if a person's brain is damaged and they weren't in control of the actions they took then that would be taken into account.

Then again that's another reason why it is good to pray, to be protected from something like this.

If you come up with any interesting comments on this subject I would like to read them.

In Christ
irene

#7 Bratislav

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Posted 04 October 2006 - 02:41 PM

What is the relationship between the soul and the brain? What about memory? What role does the soul have when someone suffers brain damage and subsequent memory loss, or even a change in personality?


Though any full answer to these questions would most likely fill a few books, I believe there are a couple of key issues to keep in mind that form the foundation for thinking about the body/soul or brain/soul topic.

The first thing to keep in mind is the distinction(though not division) between the soul's essence and energies. St Nikodemos the Hagiorite remarks in his Handbook of Spiritual Councils that while the essence and center of the soul lies in the heart of man, it oft energizes in, with, or through the brain.

The second foundational thought to keep in mind is the integral unity and co-operation of the soul and body in the human person. This idea combined with the idea of the distinction between essence and energies allows us to have a good idea of what might occur to a person who suffers damage to the physical brain. It seems that in such cases the fundamental unity of soul and body remains unharmed in that the essence of the soul still remains deep in the heart of a man, but that there occurs a sort of minor rift in the person in that the soul no longer has the proper physical "tool" to energize in a particular manner.

Such people who are brain damaged or, for instance, have Down's syndrome, may be unable to think about complex problems (or sometimes even simple problems) but their soul, their heart, remains full and is able to have some degree of moral and spiritual knowledge and is able to unite with God. I, in fact, having worked in a "nursing home" for some time in the past, was often put to shame by the goodness of those around me who couldn't hold a candle to me when it came to intellectual ability. All the worse for me on that Day.

There is of course much more that could be said, but hopefully this is a good start.

In Christ,
Bratislav

#8 Irene

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Posted 05 October 2006 - 11:54 AM

Such people who are brain damaged or, for instance, have Down's syndrome, may be unable to think about complex problems (or sometimes even simple problems) but their soul, their heart, remains full and is able to have some degree of moral and spiritual knowledge and is able to unite with God. I, in fact, having worked in a "nursing home" for some time in the past, was often put to shame by the goodness of those around me who couldn't hold a candle to me when it came to intellectual ability. All the worse for me on that Day.

There is of course much more that could be said, but hopefully this is a good start.

In Christ,
Bratislav


You are so right about those who are simpler than most, they are so beautiful and so honest, they don't seem to have the ability to be devious and without the burden of too much intellect they also seem lighter and happier.

In Christ
irene

#9 Lourens

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 07:52 AM

Ryan asked:

What is the relationship between the soul and the brain?



Dear Ryan,

It seems to me that the relationship between the brain and the soul is best indicated, in a simple manner, by the language we use when speaking about it.

We speak about brain functions. It works. We say it is "damaged" when its functions are impaired, when it does not perform properly.

So, we can ask, "Who does the brain work for?"

Its boss is the living soul. It is an organ by which the heart and mind finds expression through the body and its operations. There exists a master-servant relationship between the soul and the brain.

If it is realized what a magnificent, amazing instrument the brain is, how much more magnificent and amazing must not the soul be to whom has been entrusted such delicate instrumentation to navigate its course during its term of incarnation. "O Lord, what is man that thou art mindful of him?"

Thou madest him a little less than angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour;
and thou hast set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet...(Psa 8:5-6)


For this we need brains. Smile.

Respectfully,

Learner

#10 Bratislav

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 02:34 PM

Its boss is the living soul. It is an organ by which the heart and mind finds expression through the body and its operations. There exists a master-servant relationship between the soul and the brain.


Respectfully,

Learner


Lourens,

Though I agree with the master/slave analogy in general when it comes to the soul(mind)/body topic, I think we need to proceed with caution when it comes to the relationship of the soul to the brain. Yes, the brain is a tool and a slave, but it is a tool or slave that the master in many ways cannot do without.
It takes both a soul and body to make a man, and relegating the brain to "just a tool" of the soul might fail to recognize the mutual dependency that exists between the two.

But like I said, I mostly agree with the analogy.

In Christ,
Bratislav

#11 Jack R.

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 11:50 PM

What happens to the soul when it has no brain?

Are the souls of the departed in paradise less than human beings because they have no bodies?

Can a human soul enjoy the afterlife between physical death and the resurrection wihtout a brain?

The theif on the cross went to Paradise to be with our Lord Jesus. Is he happy, functioning, feeling, communicating, seeing and hearing without a brain?

I ask because I have come accross many posts which state that the soul does not function without the body/brain. If so, does that imply that souls are not functional because they are outside the body?

When St. Paul stated that he desired to depart and be with Christ, which is far better, was he being platonic or was it really better to leave the mortal body and live as a disincarnate soul with Christ awaiting the resurrection.

#12 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:04 AM

The soul is more fully alive in the next life than in this. When a Christian has been formed in the faith in this life, he is thus born into that perfect world which does not grow old and his soul lives. We have the testimony of Holy Scripture and of the Holy Fathers.

The Psalmist says, ‘I shall not die but live’ (Ps 118:17(LXX)). This psalm is read at the funeral service.

Christ promises, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10,10), meaning eternally.

It is written in the Macarian Homilies, "Christians are optimistic and are glad to leave the body because they have that house not made by hands, which house is the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. Therefore, even if the house of the body is destroyed, they do not fear, for they have the heavenly house of the Spirit and the incorruptible glory, which glory in the day of the resurrection will build up and glorify the house of the body, as the Apostle says: ‘He that raised Christ from the dead shall raise up also your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Rom 8:11).’"

"The pains of birth are upon me" writes Saint Ignatius in his letter to the Romans, the day of death being the day of birth into the true life, and so the Psalmist has God say, ‘this day have I begotten thee'. (Ps 2:7).

Thus, the life of the soul after death is ‘the fulfilment of our hopes’ says Saint Theognostos (The Philokalia, Vol.2, p 374).

The saints intercede for us - how could they do this if their souls had not life and ‘more abundantly’ than we have?

#13 Paul Cowan

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 05:11 AM

What happens to the soul when it has no brain?

Are the souls of the departed in paradise less than human beings because they have no bodies?

Can a human soul enjoy the afterlife between physical death and the resurrection wihtout a brain?

The theif on the cross went to Paradise to be with our Lord Jesus. Is he happy, functioning, feeling, communicating, seeing and hearing without a brain?

I ask because I have come accross many posts which state that the soul does not function without the body/brain. If so, does that imply that souls are not functional because they are outside the body?

When St. Paul stated that he desired to depart and be with Christ, which is far better, was he being platonic or was it really better to leave the mortal body and live as a disincarnate soul with Christ awaiting the resurrection.


Does it matter? That's a rhetorical question. Whether it is or not, is irrelevant once we are dead. There is nothing we can or could do to change it even if we wanted to. So back to the question, does it matter? My intellectual brain (poor as it is) is no closer to salvation one way or the other knowing the answer.

Paul

#14 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 05:53 PM

I ask because I have come accross many posts which state that the soul does not function without the body/brain. If so, does that imply that souls are not functional because they are outside the body?


The soul is the life of the body, not the body the life of the soul. The body ceases to become functional when the soul leaves, the soul does not cease to become functional when it departs the body.

The person is able to sense and know, not because they have a body, but because these things are intrinsic actions/functions in the soul. The body when connected to the soul thus is able to sense, act and know and looses this ability when disconnected from the soul.

Modern science would tell us differently, scientific materialism centers our whole being and life energy in the body because it denies the existence of the sou. No doubt there are many Christians who have never questioned what they were taught in school or asked questions about what the Fathers teach. They know there is a soul, and so although they do not deny the existence of the soul, nevertheless they still combine the Christian belief in the soul with modern science never quite understanding that the so called science isn't science but actually a materialistic philosophy that has its roots in the denial of anything other then material reality. So maybe this is the source of what you are seeing.

#15 Jack R.

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 08:03 PM

The soul is the life of the body, not the body the life of the soul. The body ceases to become functional when the soul leaves, the soul does not cease to become functional when it departs the body.

The person is able to sense and know, not because they have a body, but because these things are intrinsic actions/functions in the soul. The body when connected to the soul thus is able to sense, act and know and looses this ability when disconnected from the soul.

Modern science would tell us differently, scientific materialism centers our whole being and life energy in the body because it denies the existence of the sou. No doubt there are many Christians who have never questioned what they were taught in school or asked questions about what the Fathers teach. They know there is a soul, and so although they do not deny the existence of the soul, nevertheless they still combine the Christian belief in the soul with modern science never quite understanding that the so called science isn't science but actually a materialistic philosophy that has its roots in the denial of anything other then material reality. So maybe this is the source of what you are seeing.


What about quotes from the Church Fathers such as those cited in the following post:

The body can not live without the soul, nor can the soul "function" without the body. The body does not die until the soul departs from it. As long as the body functions, even in the most minute of ways, with or without artificial means, the soul is there as well.

Body and soul together constitute a human being. If one lacks the other, then it ceases to function. I'll quote only three of a dozen or more Fathers on this subject:

"Behold how both the soul and the body attest to one another: even as the body must have the soul as to live, so must the soul have the body to see and hear." St. Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn Eight on Paradise

"Accordingly, when the soul is separated from the entire body, it no longer is able to operate, because it operates through the members of the body." St. Athanasios of Sinai, Answer 89

"For as in the case of a yoke of oxen, if one or other is loosed from the yoke, neither of them can effect anything, if they be unyoked from their communion...For what is man but the rational animal composed of body and soul? Is the soul by itself man? No; but [only] the soul of a man. Would the body be call man? No; but is called the body of a man...neither of these is by itself man, but that which is made up of the two together is call man." St. Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection

The soul is not a prisoner of the body, as Plato and the Gnostics suggest. Nor does the soul wander alone under its own power without the body, as this too is gnostic and against the teaching of the Fathers.


Now these quotes are confusing. Can the soul continue to function and be conscious and see and here outside the body or not? The two quotes seem to go against each other.

#16 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 08:47 PM

Jack,

I don't have access to Athanasios of Sinai, but I was just browsing through Hymns 8 and 9 of St Ephraim. From what I can tell Hymn eight is specifically a meditation on the state of the soul outside paradise. The state of the soul of the person who has not gone through a spiritual rebirth, such as what I was talking about in the other thread. Here is a telling quote from the hymn, that helps us place this in context.

"If the soul while in the body, resembles an embryo and is unable to know either itself or its companion, how much more feeble will it then be once it has left the body, no longer possessing on its own the senses which are able to serve as tools for its use. "

St Gregory of Nyssa says

"Just as the nature of the child newly-born does not continue in the tenderness of age, but when it is nourished by food according to the law of nature it takes its measure in proportion to what is given it, so it is fitting for the recently-born soul whose participation in the Spirit restores to its nature its former beauty, after it has destroyed the sickness which comes over it through disobedience, not to remain always like a child, inactive, leisurely, sleeping unmoved in the state of its birth, but to nourish itself by its own food, and, in proportion to what its nature demands, to rear itself by means of every virtue and labor so that it fortifies itself through the power of the Spirit by its own virtue against the unseen robber attacking it with many devices."


Notice the parallel in thought.

In Hymn 9 St Ephraim says:

Far more glorious then the body is the soul, and more glorious still than the soul is the spirit, but more hidden the the spirit is the Godhead. At the end the body will put on the beauty of the soul, the soul will put on that of the spirit, while the spirit shall put on the likeness of God's majesty.

For bodies shall be raised to the level of souls and the soul to that of the spirit, while the spirit will be raised to the height of God's majesty; clinging to both awe and love..."


Here he is talking about our deification, our transformation in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Elder Paisios mentions that even the bodies of those who are spiritually reborn become a little bit spiritual, and it is pretty obvious from the testimony of the ascetics that the soul also inherits the freedom of the spirit as part of this transformation.

These hymns are extremely allegorical and such a short survey does not allow me to really grasp the saint's thought. There is the possiblity that in the end the saint did teach something that is now recognized as being outside the patrum consensus of the Church. However, when I attempt to compensate for some differences in how the basic anthropology is understood compared to the Cappedocian Fathers, and allow for the poetic nature of these writings, and take this hymn in the context of what else is being said, I do not think that we can definitely use this hymn as a "proof text" that St Ephraim believed in soul sleep in the way that you have in mind just from reading this quote on it's own.

However, it would take someone much more familiar with the Syriac spiritual tradition to say for sure.

#17 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 02:57 PM

I think that many of the Fathers believed the heart to be the seat of cognition, not the brain. I would say that the brain is no more intimately connected to the soul than any other organ.

#18 IoanC

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 12:04 PM

I'd like to note that as opposed to angels, humans have a brain (and an entire physical side). Angels do not have a brain, (nor anything physical) making them intuitive beings, thus having higher abilities than us.

#19 Bill Schwan

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:18 AM

The brain is an interface unit that allows the spiritual side of our existence to interact with a physical universe. And we exist as an integrated whole, soul and body together. And because of some neurosurgical experiences from my past, I'm not entirely convinced of the brain's absolute necessity to this integrated whole to which I refer.

#20 Father David Moser

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:40 AM

The brain is an interface unit that allows the spiritual side of our existence to interact with a physical universe.


Actually this is incorrect according to the Fathers. The brain is the seat of the intellect, the reasoning power of the soul, but it is not where the spiritual nature of the soul resides. If anything we would have to locate the soul in the heart along with the incensive aspect of the soul - but I'm not sure that any physical organ can be identified as the "seat" of the spirit.

Fr David Moser




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