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Blueroses's avatar

What influence does brain chemistry have on the soul?

Asked by Blueroses (18234points) May 28th, 2011

Many thanks to fundevogel for inspiring this question which began in discussing why new incarnations of The Doctor (Doctor Who) behave so differently with regeneration into a new body.

fundevogel suggested that while memories are retained, the organic chemistry of the new body’s brain causes a change in the personality of the new Doctor.

This thought led me to ponder the nature of the “soul”. Assume for the purpose of this question, that the existence of a soul is real and that it is perpetual; existing after the death of the body. (If you are compelled to say “I don’t believe in the idea of souls, I can’t stop you but I wish you wouldn’t.) If the personality that defines who you are is effected by brain chemistry, how would your soul change after the death of the brain?

Would others recognize you? Would you recognize yourself?

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14 Answers

lloydbird's avatar

This GQ requires some pondering. I hope to get back to you later on this.

ragingloli's avatar

People alter their consciousness all the time with assorted drugs.
There was a case of a violent thug who suffered a stroke and turned into a peaceful kitten because of that.
Brain chemistry is the soul.

Blueroses's avatar

Ok, @ragingloli I agree. I had a particular head trauma once and was able to do complicated mathematical analyses without effort for a few days before I “healed”. I’m not mathematically inclined at all, normally. That is related to what we access or do not access in our brains as organic creatures.

I’m fascinated by that but here, I’m curious about the loss of the organic influence and how it effects what is ephemeral if you were assuming there is a core of “self”.

gondwanalon's avatar

In my humble opinion the soul is derived from total brain function. Call it brain chemistry if you like. But the soul is totally dependent on the proper functioning of the brain. Therefore without the brain there can be no soul. There are no souls out there floating around by themselves without a functioning brain attached (or at least one close by).

Jeruba's avatar

My belief is that what we think of when we say “the soul” is brain chemistry in combination with the synthesized products of memory. So it would be essential.

marinelife's avatar

I do not think the soul would be vastly changed by brain chemistry per se, but I do think the corporal body with all of its assorted enzymes and hormones would have an impact on it.

Blueroses's avatar

I happen to agree with you @gondwanalon @Jeruba @marinelife in my own sense of self. I’m trying to see a little beyond that, and maybe it isn’t possible but hypothetically; how would your sense of self change without the chemistry?

For example, I am diagnosed bipolar/dissociative. It is theorized that my condition could be related to brain chemistry or lack of it. If my essence existed free of the chemistry, I wonder what my essence is?

krrazypassions's avatar

@Blueroses I and a lot of my friends “suffer from a particular kind of head trauma and are able to do complicated mathematical analyses and other such stuff without effort for a few days before we get healed again.” These periods are called as university exams and the impending challenge of studying an entire semester’s syllabus within a few weeks effortlessly launches us into this kind of “supermode”. All our personalities change as if instantaneously: we stop being happy-go-lucky college kids and turn into serious agents engaged with the task of saving the world. Thus, the change in our brain’s working into a kind of supermode saves our souls :P

wundayatta's avatar

If you think of a person as a bunch of memories loaded into a certain brain architecture, then of course the person would change in a new brain architecture. The architecture is as much a part of us as anything else we thing goes into making a soul.

In my opinion, most people use the term as a place holder for what is a person distilled down to their essence. But a person is a person only with their brain architecture and their body. Without the hardware, the person doesn’t exist. We think in our bodies. Not just our brains. We can not actually separate brain from body. Our whole selves depend on the physical apparatus.

So what happens to the soul after death? There is no physical soul, so all the physical stuff degenerates quickly after a person dies.

Then what is the soul. Soul is the essence of a person. Normally it is held in two places: the person’s concept of themselves, and other people’s concepts of them. When the body is gone, the soul only exists in other people’s minds. It lingers there, slowly getting less and less as the people who knew you die. Eventually your soul has disappeared entirely because there is no one left to remember you.

For a few, the soul lingers on a bit longer in the information that has been recorded about them. This happens in all media—books in the past and now in recordings of images and video and audio. Those memories are recorded there and any time someone takes in some of the material, the soul of that person increases in vitality. For some people, like Moses, or Mohammed or Buddha, so many people remember them and the memory is continuously being renewed, that their souls are great and nearly permanent.

Brain chemistry is essential for the creation of a person and that person’s soul. Without brain chemistry the person is dead and there is no soul. In fact, though, brain chemistry isn’t special. Every part of a person’s body is essential for that person’s existence, and they must exist in order to have a soul. If they lose a part of their body, or if their brain chemistry changes, the soul changes in lock step. Brain chemistry isn’t special in this way.

I suspect you are asking a different question, though. I’m not sure, but it seems like you may be interested in knowing the effect of a change in brain chemistry on personality and sense of self.

Berserker's avatar

I’m pretty sure souls or spirits are what we came up with when faced with actual scientific stuff we couldn’t/don’t understand, or at least, great emotional confusion we try to deal with.
But as you wish we wouldn’t say that, let me try again…well, as we generally define the soul, it is our essence. It’s the big cheese, the big boos, and can’t be affected by its physical envelope. If anything, IT affects everything else. But everything else had little to say when we came up with souls and spirits. So in essence, your soul would be whatever it was in life, from A to Z, or at least, exist through what most remember of you when they talk about souls and you happen to be included in the convo as a dead person. Brain chemistry would not be considered much at all, whether or not the latter truly defines a big part of you.
In a lot of cultures though, past and present, a soul is like a carrier pigeon, responsible for the transition from this life to the next. So it isn’t affected by anything, as its only job is to see you through one plane of existence to another. But in a lot of other beliefs, it’s also judged for its actions in life. So, if whatever judges the soul knows its shit, it should know that brain chemistry shouldn’t be held accountable for what someone did, rather than what they are, unless brain chemistry is stronger than the soul, which is usually not the case when you consider a lot of beliefs about souls.
Also, you ask awesome questions.
I hope I won’t be sent to Tartarus for not believing in souls lol. XD

obvek's avatar

I don’t know that I believe in individual souls so much as a universal consciousness or collective life force, but I suppose that’s immaterial to my supposition that brain chemistry doesn’t affect or alter a soul. Rather, I would expect that it can dictate a soul’s manifestation. Along these lines, I would suggest that we are perhaps like complex tuning forks for a soul’s resonance and changes in brain chemistry affect the corporeal resonance of the soul through the mind and body. “Positive” brain chemistry shines light through people’s eyes, gives people blissful experiences, and allows souls to leap for joy, while “negative” brain chemistry blunts a soul’s expression and manifestation. Like a television bad brain chemistry tunes people in to infinite gradations of negative realities (or imagined ones). It’s glossed over in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life,” but—

Okay, perhaps putting my first statement and The Meaning of Life quote together, maybe the collective life force is sort of the raw clay and the soul is a sculpture brought about through self-observation. I don’t think this is true, because children are arguably endowed with souls that are mostly uncorrupted by learning or observation, but I digress…

Anyway, it’s something of a marvel to me lately that life persists in people despite their wishes to the contrary and despite seemingly incomprehensible abuses to their bodies (I’m thinking of people who ingest crazy amounts of drugs and keep on living.) I would think that this life force is what is keeping them going, but again its expression is muted or perverted in cases of self-abuse.

People with positive brain chemistry create waves for their souls to ride on—they get flow experiences and give their souls a sweet taste of the goodness available in physical existence.

rOs's avatar

@wundayatta mentioned that Mohammad, Buddha, Moses “live on eternally”. He is right, except eternity doesn’t apply exclusively to them. When they died, their flesh followed the same fashion as everything else- nothing is gained or lost. There are parts of them in all of us. We simply remember them better because there is written and oral history about them.

We all have the same universal truth these great people found. It is stored in our very souls, and that information is connected to and communicates with other souls. (Thanks to quantum entanglement theory, its much easier to understand this.) Our brain chemistry is a little more complicated than just chemicals. We are self-aware because our body wants to believe in its existence. In fact, our spirit is just a fragment of the Oversoul. (read up on R.W. Emerson’s veiw on this)

We all have information and experience that we “imprint” onto the people and things close to us. When we die our organic matter ceases to be our shell, and the information that makes us up lives on. Maybe it dissipates into the universe, is redistributed to the living, or maybe it goes to a higher plane. Personally, I believe our soul wants to be part of the universal consciousness, like @obvek mentioned. Oneness is our ultimate goal; the unification of the masculine and feminine. We’re all part of the great cycles of the cosmos.

Blueroses's avatar

Thank you all for your great answers.

Like some of you, I have the hope that I am a fractal of the oversoul – or perhaps the reflection of a fractal – there’s a problem inherent with discussing brain and soul matters that it goes off in all directions. Not a problem so much, it’s fascinating, but a difficulty focusing on only one aspect.

I could go off on side roads for the rest of my physical life (and hopefully beyond) but I’m going to try to narrow down the field of my original pondering.

There’s something in your essence, some unique signature that makes you recognize yourself… for example, if you read something you wrote 10 years ago and don’t remember writing it, you still recognize the invisible markings that it was your creation.

So, I wonder, since we are all unique fractals, if all of your thoughts and memories could be transferred into a different physical brain… how would the unique chemistry of the new brain influence your essence? Or would it?

It’s kind of a Frankenstein/Abby Normal question.

This question seems so clear in my head but I’m having trouble making it clear in text.

FutureMemory's avatar

why new incarnations of The Doctor (Doctor Who) behave so differently with regeneration into a new body.

Maybe because it’s a different actor playing The Doctor each time.

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