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What makes a Person?  Clues from Neuropsychology and Evolutionary Psychology and What about the Soul?  Edinburgh - November 16 th 2013. A Very Timely Event Science Vol. 342 1 November 2013 Editorial Seize the Neuroscience Moment

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What makes a Person?

 Clues from Neuropsychology and Evolutionary Psychology


What about the Soul?

 Edinburgh - November 16th 2013

A Very Timely Event

Science Vol. 342 1 November 2013 Editorial

Seize the Neuroscience Moment

‘…the European Commission launched a Human Brain Project , and the U.S. government announced its Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies ( BRAIN) project.’

‘..neuroscience research has progressed at an explosive rate over the past three decades. Never before has the often quoted adage of having learned more about the brain in the past decade than in all of recorded history been more apt.’

Nature 503 - 7 November 2013 Editorial

Head Start

Europe’s mega-project to simulate the human brain has much to offer neuroscience research-whether or not it delivers on its central promise .

Robert Boyle

“Viewed his theological interests and his work in natural philosophy as forming a seamless whole and constantly used results from the one to enlighten matters in the other”

Macintosh J.T.and Anstey P., 2007

“..fundamental changes in our view of the human brain cannot but have profound effects on our view of ourselves and the world” David Hubel ,Scientific American, 1979.
  • "The idea that man has a disembodied soul is as unnecessary as the old idea that there was a Life Force. This is in head-on contradiction to the religious beliefs of billions of human beings alive today. How will such a radical change be received? "Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994
  • “…what is arguably the major cultural question of our times: can the humanistic and even religious view of human nature be reconciled with science?”John Horgan , 2003.
  • " In the fullness of time educated people will believe there is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death."Francis Crick .The New York Times, April 13th 2004. "After the Double Helix: Unravelling the Mysteries of the State of Being"


Hippocrates 5th century BC - brain and intellect

heart and senses

Empedocles 5th century BC - heart and mental processes

2000 years of debate between “the brain hypothesis”

and “the cardiac hypothesis”

Galen 2nd century AD - supported “the brain hypothesis”


(entertains all the current options)

Portia in The Merchant of Venice ( Act 3 Scene 2)

Tell me where is fancy bred,

Or in the heart or in the head

Holofernes in Love’s Labour Lost (Act 4, scene 2)

This is a gift that I have,simple,simple,a foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms , figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, emotions, revolutions.

These are begotten in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of the pia mater,and delivered from the mellowing of the occasion. But the gift is good in those in whom it is acute, and I am thankful for it.

Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV , part 2 ( Act 4, Scene 2)


This apoplexy is , as I take it, a kind of lethargy , an’t please your lordship, a kind of sleeping in the blood,a whoreson tripling

Chief Justice

What tell me of it? Be it as it is


It hath it original from much grief , from studyandperturbation of the brain. I have read the causes of its effects in Galen: it is a kind of deafness

Bottom –Up Approaches

Accidental Brain damage

Animal models

Single cell recording

O’Craven and Kanwisher

Next slide shows activity when faces or houses are seen or


% signal change in Fusiform Face Area

% signal change in Parahippocampal Place Area

“Change the mind and you change the brain” :

effects of cognitive –behaviour therapy on the neural correlates of spider phobia

Vincent Paquette et al.,NeuroImage,18

(2003) 401-409

evidence for plasticity and use it or lose it
2009 Study


Taxi Drivers

Evidence for Plasticity


Use it or Lose it

use it or loose it


% distance error



full-time drivers retired drivers

Use it or loose it!
  • Full-time taxi drivers (nZ10) had greater grey matter volume in the posterior hippocampus than retired taxi drivers (nZ9; voxel of peak difference shown in yellow), while the retired taxi drivers had greater grey matter volume in this region than the retired control participants (nZ10; voxel of peak difference shown in red). Data are shown at a threshold of p!0.05 corrected for the volume of the hippocampus. Review. Navigation expertise K. Woollett et al. 1413 Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2009)
  • How shall we think about mind-brain relations?
  • What about the ‘spiritual’ dimension to life?
"The distinction between diseases of "brain"and "mind", between "neurological" problems and "psychological” or "psychiatric" ones, is an unfortunate cultural inheritance that permeates society and medicine. It reflects a basic ignorance of the relation between brain and mind.”
  • Antonio Damasio , Descartes Error,1994.
  • We should talk of psychiatric illness or disorders rather than of mental illnesses, and if we do continue to refer to ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ illnesses, we should preface both with ‘so-called’, to remind ourselves and our audience that these are archaic and deeply misleading terms.
  • R. Kendell, B.J.Psychiatry. June 2001
Theories which depict experience and its neural basis as

inseparable aspects of a single process may hold out

the greatest promise. But we do not have any clear

understanding of how a single process could have two

such different aspects.

Making sense of their relationship may require us to

rethink the nature of matter, mind, or both.

Adam Zeman , Consciousness, a user's guide, Yale

University Press 2002 p.341.

We may regard mental activity and correlated brain activity as inner and outer aspects of one complex set of events that together constitute conscious human agency.
  • Interdependence characterised by an irreducible intrinsic duality without dualism of substance.
“ ..I believe …an understanding of how the brain gives rise to the mind …will require a change at least as radical as relativity theory , the introduction of electromagnetic fields into physics-or the original scientific revolution itself..”

Science and the Mind – Body Problem

Thomas Nagel 2006

A New trend -


The Elusive God-Spot

The temporal lobe is considered "the God

module”, the part of the brain that connects with the transcendent.

Willoughby Britton, 2004

Hypereligiosity may stem from increased

activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the

brain... my theory is that the medial prefrontal

cortex plays the role of the conductor of an

orchestra in religiosity"

Osamu Muramoto, 2004

“ The theologians of the early church began to use

ideas from Greek philosophy, and the conception

of immaterial and immortal soul found its way

into Christian thinking and has tended to stay

there ever since.”

Leslie Stevenson , Ten Theories of Human

Nature, 4th Edition ,2004

“the question of how the transcendental soul acted upon the physical body became replaced by the question of how the immaterial mind could arise out of fleshly matter. It still remains a central question for the science of mind”.

Kenan Malik, Man, Beast and Zombie, 2000

The Soul and its faculties

It would be foolish to seek a definition of “soul” from the philosophers, of them hardly one, except Plato, has rightly affirmed its immortal substance…….

Indeed from Scripture we have already taught that the soul is an incorporeal substance….”

John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion. Book 1 chapter XV section 6

"The idea that man has a disembodied soul is as unnecessary as the old idea that there was a Life Force. This is in head-on contradiction to the religious beliefs of billions of human beings alive today. How will such a radical change be received? "Francis Crick, The AstonishingHypothesis, 1994
"from a neuroscientific perspective, it is now unnecessary to postulate a second, metaphysical entity, such as a soul or spirit, to account for human capacities and distinctives. Joel Green, 2004
  • "if the immortality of the soul and, hence, dualism are essential to Christian thought, then the church should be bracing for an encounter with science far overshadowing debates about creation and evolution." Lawson Stone, 2004
N.T.Wright (2000)

Should we continue, then, to speak of 'souls' at all? I see no problem with the word in principle (as Lewis Carroll suggested, you can use words however you like as long as you pay them extra on Thursdays);

you can say 'soul', as long as you are committed to meaning by

that ‘a whole human being living in the presence of God’ Soul-language, within a Christian context, is a shorthand for telling

a story of that sort, a story about the way in which human beings

as wholes are irreducibly open to God. It is not, within Christian theology, a shorthand for a story in which a partitioned human being has a soul in one compartment, a body in another, and quite possibly all sorts of other bits and pieces equally divided up. We can then continue to use the word ‘soul’ with fully Christian meaning; but we should be careful, because the language has had a chequered history, and may betray us.

Evolutionary psychology refers to the study of the evolution of behaviour and of the mind using principles of natural selection.

The presumption is that natural selection has favoured genes that designed both behavioural tendencies and information processing systems that solved problems faced by our ancestors, thus contributing to their survival and the spread of their genes.

"From the beginning philosophers have agonised over the
  • question of what makes a human, is there a difference in kind
  • or merely a difference in degree between ourselves and other
  • animals? Direct comparisons between people and animals
  • are often seen as demeaning, even offensive”
  • Frans de Waal,1996

"It is dangerous to show a man too clearly how much he

resembles the beast, without at the same time showing him

his greatness, it is also dangerous to allow him too clear

vision of his greatness without his baseness. It is even more

dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both.”

Blaise Pascal, 17th century

Even if animals other than ourselves act in ways tantamount to moral behaviour, their behaviour does not necessarily rest on deliberations of the kind we engage in. It is hard to believe that animals weigh their own interests against the rights of others, that they develop a vision of the greater good of society, or that they feel lifelong guilt about something they should not have done'

(de Waal,1996)

Evolutionary Psychology and Human Uniqueness

The trap of unthinking reductionism

1. Because two behaviors are similar, the mechanisms underlying them are necessarily similar or identical.

2. “Even if animals other than ourselves act in ways tantamount to moral behavior, their behavior does not necessarily rest on deliberations of the kind we engage in. (de Waal)

3. “To communicate intentions and feelings is one thing; to clarify what is right, and why, and what is wrong, and why, is quite something else. Animals are no moral philosophers.” (de Waal)

4. “The fact that the human moral sense goes so far back in evolutionary history that other species show signs of it, plants morality firmly near the center of our much-maligned nature.”(de Waal)

5. The repeated take-home message :

There is nothing remotely scientific about oversimplifying complex scientific issues in the interests of an ideological agenda. Unthinking reductionism can at times be a lazy response to avoid facing up to challenging scientific problems.

Lessons here for us all.

1. Avoid make sweeping statements about similarities between animals and humans that are not

only misleading but simply untrue. There are important issues here concerning the benefits for medical advances using animal subjects . Both similarities and differences are important in properly interpreting research findings.

For example , a 2006 report of a working group of the Academy of Medical Sciences in Britain, “On the Use of Nonhuman Primates in Research.” Notes that:

“Primates, both human and non-human, embody a major evolutionary step-change in vertebrate brain architecture with the massive expansion of the neocortex. . . . Only the non-human primate brain has a cellular composition of divisions that is in any way directly analogous to that found in humans.”

“A recent review of the evolution of intelligence places more emphasis on the continuity of humans with other primates: ‘The outstanding intelligence of humans appears to result from a combination and enhancement of properties found in non-human primates, such as theory of mind, imitation and language, rather than from “unique” properties.’”

2. As evolutionary psychologists we must be prepared to be agnostic or silent on metaphysical issues, and as Christians we should try to rid ourselves of the fear of naturalistic explanations of treasured aspects of our behavior. Both perspectives—the evolutionary psychological and that of Christian ethics—should keep their focus on the common ground between them without slipping into the error of inappropriately mixing their languages.
3. Searching for ‘unique ‘ properties to underpin a belief in human distinctiveness thought to be necessary to help define ‘the Imago dei’ is to misunderstand what it means to be made in the image of God.


The Imago Dei

The imago Dei as the capacity for moral behaviour and
  • moral agency.
  • ... herein does very much consist that image of God wherein
  • he made man ...viz. in those faculties and principles of nature,
  • whereby he is capable of moral agency.
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • "Aiding others at the cost or risk to oneself is widespread in
  • the animal kingdom"
  • Frans de Waal
  • The fact that the human moral sense goes so far back in
  • evolutionary history that other species show signs of it,
  • plants morality firmly near the centre of our much maligned
  • nature.’
  • (de Waal,1996)
The imago Dei as the capacity to reason

111. The Knowledge of God according to the Church

36. “God…can be known…by the natural light of reason”.

“Man has this capacity because he is created ‘in the image

of God’”.

From a Catechism of the Catholic Church

For Descartes" the human mind, by virtue of its rationality,

provides evidence both ofa kind ofimage of Godand at the

same time a criterion of radical discontinuity from the rest of

creation. The animals are merely machines, and it is said that

some of the enlightened believe that their cries of pain were no

more than the squeaks of unlubricated machinery.”

(Colin Gunton,The Promise of Trinitarian Theology.

2nd.ed. 1997) page 101



Anthony C. Thiselton

1. Humankind was originally called to represent God to the world.

2. This explains how in the New Testament Christ is said to be the true image and likeness of God, whereas humankind failed in this vocation. Hebrews 2:6-9 makes this explicit.

3. Many identify the image and likeness of God with specific qualities or dispositions which they see in humankind and also in God. The favourite candidates down the centuries have been rationality (or wisdom); kingship or dominion over the earth; freedom, or ability to make decisions in self-determination; ability to communicate, to address, or to use language: and a capacity to enjoy relationships with others, or relationality.

4.The Biblical narrative gives no precise account of the nature of the image

 ( Anthony Thiselton Chapter in The Emergence of Personhood:A Quantum Leap? Ed . Malcolm Jeeves , Eerdmans 2014)

The image is not located in any of these but in our human vocation , given and enabled by God, to relate to God as God's partner in covenant. To join in companionship with the human family and in relation to the whole cosmos in ways that reflect the covenant love of God. This is realised and modelled supremely in Jesus Christ.
  • Joel Green, 2004
slide53 be in the image of God is at once to be

created as a particular kind of being - a

person - and to be called to realise a certain


Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian

Theology, 2nd edition, T.and T. Clark, 1997


1.Recognising the rapidly accumulating evidence of the tightness of links between brain and mind, how can we best think about and model the complexity and diversity of personhood without embracing substance dualisms or substance pluralisms?

2.How can we integrate the profound insights of theologians and philosophers about spirituality with the neuropsychological evidence that spirituality is firmly embedded and embodied in our physical make-up?

3.Which aspects of our complex personhood are key to a proper understanding of the imago dei?