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Neuroscience and a Mormon Understanding of the Soul

21 September 2007 (updated 10 April 2012)

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

While I agree with James that there is little utility in appeals to supernatural explanations of human thought (or anything else), 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, both of which 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. It is 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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