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Discussion 2 to Meditation 537
Consciousness and the Soul

by: George Rush

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Thanks for your questions:

Pastor Linck: "Why can't "consciousness" simply be the result of all of the different parts of our brain working together?"

That's my first alternative, the one mentioned by M. van den Dreist: "consciousness is a process". About 40 years ago, I was quite certain of it. However, we never got any closer to explaining the central fact of consciousness: experience itself. The more science nails down the symptoms, attributing them (as you say) to specific areas of the brain, the clearer it is that none of them has anything to do with it. For an excellent presentation of this view, see David Chalmers, "The Conscious Mind", where he calls it "the Hard Problem". Many well-respected physicists, like David Bohm, Roger Penrose, Henry Stapp, and Jack Sarfatti, have published papers along these lines - although it must be noted that the idea, "it may just be a fixed property of matter", is only a minority opinion among them. De Broglie mentioned it in 1924; today, Piero Scaruffi (UCLA) is one well-known cognitive scientist in this camp (he noticed the possibility about a decade after I did).

To be sure, many scientists agree with you instead (e.g. Richard Feynman, Daniel Dennett). Still, none would dispute the main point of my post: it's an open question. Therefore the correct stance for a layman on this issue is agnosticism. It's bound to be settled pretty soon - another 30 years should do it - until then keep an open mind.

Pastor Linck: "I have trouble relating consciousness with the concept of a soul."

I don't blame you. Actually, the link is clear: consciousness - at least, some sort of basic awareness - is a traditional attribute of the soul. But you have trouble because there are other traditional attributes, like immortality, which are unrelated, irrelevant, and unprovable. The best scientific term, coined by the great physicist John Bell, is "beable", which can be used to mean simply "the hypothetical repository of consciousness". I used the word "soul" here to 1) generate controversy, and 2) give you a taste of the future! Before too long, this issue is going to be noticed by the public. It will utterly eclipse "Guided Evolution" and similar fads, posing a real threat to the teaching of materialist science. You can bet the media won't call it a "beable"; the headlines will read "Famous scientist says the soul may exist!" And, this time, there will be real scientific meat behind the controversy.