If we are our soul, why are we affected by damage to the brain?

I received a question recently about the mind and soul.  The person wanted to know how one’s personality can change following brain damage if we really are our mind rather than our brain.

My response is below:

You ask a great question, and at the core of it is the nature of the relationship between our spirit and our body/brain.  I would encourage you to consider Substance Dualism.  Dr. Craig and Dr. Moreland describe this view in their book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview on page 232.  They write, “Substance Dualism, on the other hand, holds that the brain is a physical object that has physical properties and the mind or soul is a mental substance that has mental properties.  When one is in pain, the brain has certain physical (e.g., electrical, chemical) properties, and the soul or self has certain mental properties (the conscious awareness of the pain).  The soul is the possessor of its experiences.  It stands behind, over and above them and remains the same throughout one’s life.  The soul and the brain can interact with each other, but they are different things with different properties.”

They explain further on page 243, “In the case of mind and body, we are constantly aware of causation between them.  Episodes in the body or brain (being stuck with a pin, having a head injury) can cause things in the soul (a feeling of pain, loss of memory), and the soul can cause things to happen in the body (worry can cause ulcers, one can freely and intentionally raise his arm).  We have such overwhelming evidence that causal interaction takes place, that there is no sufficient reason to doubt it.”

In other words, we are not our soul inhabiting a body.  Rather we are a body-soul composite.  What happens to one affects the other.  In the case of brain damage, our mind’s ability to interact with the world and/or process incoming information may be hampered.  This often has inescapable influences on our temperament.  In this way the impact that our body has on our spirit should not cause us to doubt the existence of the spirit.  Rather we should expect such connections on the biblical view of the human being.


Matt Bilyeu

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