- Is the Brain the Soul?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Reader: I
know that we must believe in the World to Come - that after death we
will be ressurected in a future state of THIS world.
This is disputed: Nachmanides holds the next world is here on Earth.
Maimonides holds it is not a physical state of being, but a
non-physical state of being.
Yet is the concept of the "soul" as a independent mind a
fundamental principle of the Torah? Is this included in Maimonides' 13
principles, the literature of the Rishonim or any of our primary
This concept is not one of the thirteen principles per se. But we have
two areas of proof: 1) Scripture, 2) Reason.
- Scripture states, Gen. 1:27, "...in
the form of God he created them (man)..." God is not
physical, as all matter requires creation, and God cannot be created.
He cannot be controlled by His very laws of creation. Before anything
existed, and matter had yet to be created, there was Something - God -
which performed all of creation. By definition, everything must have
been created by That which Itself was not - is not - physical matter.
God not being physical, and God then saying here that man was created
in God's form, means that man shares some non-physical element. This
is not the fleshy brain, but the metaphysical soul.
- Reason also leads us to the conclusion that
man must have a non-physical element: Can a rock, a plant, an animal
compute 2+2=4? No, they cannot because they all lack a faculty of
intelligence. Intelligence emanates from the same
"substance" as that which it perceives, I mean, it is
metaphysical, as is all knowledge. You cannot point to an idea, as it
takes up no space, it weighs nothing, and it cannot be seen. An idea
is not physical. Laws are equally non-physical. All we see are the
effects of natural laws, not the laws themselves: One cannot see the
ruling law of gravity, but only the effects of gravity. Gravity as an
example, is a law. Where are these laws and these ideas? Nowhere.
Really. They exist, but not in a physical or geographical plane. They
have no place, no color, no physical attributes whatsoever. Just
as math, science and all laws are not physical in substance, but are
non-physical, anything which apprehends these laws must be of the same
nature. This is why plants, animals and raw elements cannot
"perceive". Man alone perceives. Man alone apprehends the
Creator. Man alone has a substance on par with the Creator: the soul.
- Other beings with brains bereft of
intelligence proves that brain does not equal soul. Some may argue,
"look how smart that dolphin is, or how clever that monkey
is". You must understand that these are all projections. We
assume if they copy us, they partake of some level of intelligence.
But they do not. They are simply functioning out of a programmed set
of emotions, just like a computer. Yes, they have emotions, but
emotions too, do not equal intelligence. Some animals are designed to
mimic, this is for some purpose of the continuation of their species,
as is the reason for all elements in their natures. But do not let the
parrots and the monkeys - who copy our speech and our actions - lead
you to believe they understand. They merely do this out of a
conditioning of their emotions, just like Pavlov's dog. Once they
emotionally associate food with ringing a bell, or mimicking us, it
only seems they "know" how to accomplish. But they are
merely reacting to an emotion which is purely animal.
Some philosophers and scientists believe that our minds are identical
with our brains, ie. brain-identity theory etc. Can one accept this
within the confines of Judaism, and reject the notion of a heavenly
abode where we exist as some sort of disembodied consciousness?
Thanks, and have a good Shavuot.
You mix two issues; 1) Whether belief that the brain is the soul is
within the confines of Jewish principle, 2) Man's existence in a
metaphysical state subsequent to death. I have addressed the former.
Regarding the latter, see my every first response above, and research
both authorities quoted. You will see this is a fundamental principle,
it is true, and it forms a part of Maimonides' 13 Principles, and it
is brought down in Talmud Sanhedrin, the beginning of chapter eleven.