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Neuroscience and a Mormon Understanding of the Soul

Lincoln Cannon

21 September 2007 (updated 29 September 2021)

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Neuroscience and a Mormon Understanding of the Soul

James Hughes posted to the TransSpirit board a message on “Non-materialist neuroscience as a crypto-theist conspiracy.”

In the message, James explains that neuroscience is quickly approaching materialistic explanations of human thought that are both necessary and sufficient. He goes on to mention that once we attain such explanations, we should toss out any reference to a soul or other supernatural explanation for human thought.

I agree with James that there is little utility in appeals to supernatural explanations of human thought (or anything else). But I disagree with his implied understanding of the soul.

From a Mormon perspective, the soul is not immaterial or supernatural. Rather, the soul is the combination of spirit and body. And both are considered material – yes, even the spirit.

The difference between spirit and body, as described by Joseph Smith, is one of magnitude, and not of kind. Spirit is refined matter, which we might understand as energy or information. So it’s not difficult to syncretize Joseph’s perspective on spirit with modern non-dualistic understandings of the body, particularly as an emergent manifestation of a pre- (and post-) existing pattern.

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