May 26, 2017

Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods: A Conversation of Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience – Part 2, Chapter 2: What is the Relationship Between the Mind and the Brain?

Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods: A Conversation of Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience – Part 2, Chapter 2: “What is the Relationship Between the Mind and the Brain?”

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We continue the series on the book, Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience.  Today Part 2, Chapter 2: “What is the Relationship Between the Mind and the Brain?”

The question on the mind of Malcolm’s student is; are all mental experiences reduced to the activity of a brain circuit?  Jeeves quotes Professor John Stein, a leading Oxford neuroscientist from a 2011 article:

“Claims are being made about brain research that just aren’t true, and they are being accepted uncritically by the press, the public, policy makers, and even the courts…” and warning about the increasing dominance of reductionism: “…scientists are picking off the relatively easy tasks of working out how little bits of the brain work molecularly and hoping that knowing about these nuts and bolts will eventually tell us how the complex system works as a whole.”

He then recounts the excitement about developing techniques for imaging the brain.  Researchers are increasingly able to see which areas of the brain were most active when volunteers were doing all sorts of tasks such as looking at art, listening to music, showing maternal love, meditating and praying.  Some scientists suggested that the first decade of this century should be called, “The Decade of the Mind and Brain”.  The American Psychological Society set up a group in 2009 to discuss and write papers on where they saw the science of psychology going in the near future.  Certainly neuroscience has made great strides in new treatments for ADHD in children and Parkinson’s disease.

Ben (the typological student of Malcolm) then raises the question of the meaning of mind in different contexts.  His lecturers regularly use the term but don’t really define it, nor did his course textbook.  Then there are the Bible’s various uses of the term:

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.   

Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous…

He notes that none of his lecturers seem to regard the mind as a separate entity; but rather as a shorthand for mental processes like thinking, remembering, perceiving, and so on.

Malcolm notes that for the Bible there is the issue of various translations and the meaning of the words in the original languages.  Again, he warns his student not to attempt to use the Bible as any sort of textbook of science.  In the modern neuroscience use of the word, he says, that mind is most often used as a shorthand for “the mental aspect of a psychobiological unity” while most scriptural contexts refer to an attitude or shared set of attitudes and beliefs.  I think that is a pretty fair summation.

Ben then asks the money question:

Does the accelerating pace of research in psychology and neuroscience mean that all our talk about mental processes will be reduced to talk about what is happening in the brain?  That seems to be a shared assumption among some of our lecturers, if only we could understand how our mental processes depend upon (and quite a lot of them seem to assume originate in and reduce to) to the specific workings of different parts of our brains.

For example, in my evolutionary psychology lectures we were told a lot about what is called “mind-reading behavior”—how in our social interaction with other people, we tend to try and read what our friends are thinking (“read their minds”).  It seems there is evidence of similar behavior in monkeys.  But we were told that this capacity for mind reading depends upon the functioning of a particular group of cells in the brain.

So my question is, how do think about the relation of the mind and the brain in a way that ultimately does not reduce the mind to the brain and reduce psychology to neuroscience and evolutionary biology?  And how have views about the relation of mind and brain changed over the centuries?

Plato vs. Aristotle

Malcolm then launches into a fascinating review of the history of mind-brain relations.  The philosopher Empedocles in the fifth century BC theorized that the soul, which was the Greek word for the mind, was to be found in the heart and the blood.  After all if you thought exciting thoughts your heart raced and your blood pumped; if you thought peaceful thoughts, your heart rate and blood pressure calmed down.  It was called the “cardiovascular theory”.  Around the same time Alemaenon of Croton claimed the mental functions are located in the brain; the “encephalic theory”, as did Hippocrates.  In the fourth century BC the conflict between the encephalic and cardiovascular theories was exemplified by Plato and Aristotle.  Plato seemed to want it both ways; he located the immortal soul in the brain but the passions in the heart.  Aristotle unambiguously localized the mind in the heart, but since the brain was moist to the touch he concluded it refrigerated the blood.

Aristotle’s views were adopted by many of the church fathers, Tertullian for example.  The encephalic view survived through Galen, one of Rome’s outstanding physicians.  By the time Galileo was bringing forth his new ideas, Vesalius was using the results of his careful dissection of the human body, including the brain (which had previously been forbidden on theological grounds) to bring empirical evidence to the table that raised questions about mind-body theories.  Vesalius dissected not just humans but apes, dogs, horses, sheep, and other animals and found they all had ventricles in the brain, not just humans.  That caused a major shake-up in the theory of the uniqueness of where the human soul or mind were located.  By Shakespeare’s time you have 3 competing theories that he refers to in his various plays.

The point of this historical digression, Malcolm says, is to remind us of the dangers of reading into the data beliefs that we bring from some other sphere of knowledge, such as Christian belief.  The temptation to read into the text of Scripture is always with us.

To get to the point of answering the money question, he notes that modern imaging and computer aided tomography has enabled researchers to map, in much greater detail, changes in mental processes to verified changes in the structure and activity of different parts of the brain.

He then brings up the now iconic understanding of the left-right cerebral cortex hemispheres; left brain specialized for language, logical thinking, mathematical and analytic processing; right brain specialized for emotional expression, intuitive thinking, facial and musical recognition, parallel processing and visual-spatial encoding.  In short the left is verbal, logical, rule bound; the right intuitive and creative. However, to complicate matters, he notes, recent research has also discovered a top-bottom division to cortical brain functions as well.  The bottom line is, contrary to popular mythologizing of the left-right brain divide, the brain is a very complex organized system that is well integrated in all its functions, and the two sides of the brain are intricately co-dependent.  Jeeves says:

I prefer to think about mind and brain as two aspects of one complex system.  In this sense, in complementary fashion, mental activity and behavior depend on the physically determinate operations of the brain, itself a physiochemical system.  When that system goes wrong or is disordered, there are changes in its capabilities for running the system that we describe as the mind or mental activity.  (In that sense the psychotherapist will also be alert to any possible identifiable brain changes that she ought to aware of).  Likewise, if the mind or the mental activity results in behavior of particular kinds, this in turn may result in temporary or chronic changes in the physiochemical makeup and activity of the brain, its physical substrate.  Thus this ever-tightening link does not minimize the importance of the mind or brain in this unitary complex system.

Malcolm then notes that the temptation to slip into unthinking reductionism is not only resisted by Christian thinkers but cites the atheist humanist neuroscientist Raymond Tallis who has highlighted the dangers of what he calls “biologism” in his book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity .  He calls those reductionists who believe our greatest human conceptual abilities can be reduced to neural firings in our brains- “neuromaniacs”.  He is equally critical of those who seek to minimize human differences from other animals by, on the one hand, anthropomorphizing animals, or, on the other hand, “animalizing” humans, in entirely unjustified ways.  This Tallis calls “Darwinitis”.   

Malcolm cites the study by Eleanor Maguire that London taxi drivers, by virtue of their disciplined training to understand the complex road system, over the course of their training altered the hippocampus in both size and shape from the matched controls.  In her more recent experiments, she asked volunteers to view three short films while they were lying inside an fMRI scanner.  A computer program then studied the patterns in the volunteer’s brains, and the researchers were asked to identify, if they could, which film the volunteer was recalling purely by looking at the pattern of their brain activity.  The remarkable thing was that it was possible to tell which film they were thinking of.  In effect, by modifying thinking and behavior, brain processes were also modified in a top-down effect.  Jeeves concludes:

Various people have tried to formalize all this in succinct statements.  You may come across some of them.  It seems to me that certain things stand out.  As I said earlier, we are a psychobiological unity.  The evidence currently available demonstrates a remarkable interdependence between what is happening the physical substrates in the brain and body, and what is happening in terms of mental processes.  This interdependence seems to be evident every time studies take place.—in other words, for me, they seem to be a part of the way the world is, so I tend to think of this interdependence as what I call intrinsic interdependence, or naturally inherent.  It also seems to me that we cannot reduce the mental to the physical any more than we can reduce the physical to the mental.  In this sense there is an important duality that we need to recognize between the mental and the physical, and I don’t believe this duality requires us to believe in two kinds of substances or a dualism of substance, and that makes me a “dual-aspect” monist.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Dare I lift us from earth to Heaven in regards to today’s posting.
    Excellent choice of topic CM.
    Amazing discoveries are happening re the brain.

    May I take the words from Katie Barclay Wilkinson (1859-1928)

    She wrote

    May the mind of Christ my Saviour
    live in me from day to day,
    by His love and power controlling
    all I do and say.

    She ends with

    May I run the race before me
    strong and brave to face the foe
    looking only unto Jesus
    as I onward go,

    Our minds do crazy things. The topic today is excellent.
    Our focus mentally as Christians, in this earthly plain, should be on keeping Jesus to the front our minds in our deeds, words and actions.
    A tough mental attitude required I believe.

    However, just in case you thought I had vanished, No luck!

    My mantra?

    Yup

    Christ is Risen.

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      May I thank Mike the Geologist for expanding the topic.

      • Good morning, Susan. You said: “Our focus mentally as Christians, in this earthly plain, should be on keeping Jesus to the front our minds in our deeds, words and actions.” And the implication of what Malcolm Jeeves is saying is that such mental activity can acutally help “heal” the physical brain.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Nice to see that some scientists can recognize this long-known True Thing 🙂

          Phil 4.8

          Christ is risen!
          Dana

  2. Robert F says:

    It seems to me that our whole “dual-aspect” being, physical and mental, opens out into transcendence on one end, and nothingness on the other. This is why we can we can use thinking and behavior to modify our own brain processes, as noted in the post: we have a foot in “heaven”. I think that when we consider this topic, we often underestimate the mysteriousness of physicality, thinking spirit is more potentially transcendent and enigmatic; as Christians, our belief in resurrection should caution us against this mistake.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > we often underestimate the mysteriousness of physicality

      Agree, 100%. I cannot explain how a table leg exists, or what it ultimately is. We’ve spent centuries and trillions of dollars probing that question – gotten many answers – and some new, ever stranger, questions.

      > It seems to me that our whole “dual-aspect” being, physical and mental, opens
      > out into transcendence on one end, and nothingness on the other.

      It seems to me like a highway paved with mist. The moment I step onto it I will go straight through – and be standing in plain old fashioned mud.

  3. Lorraine says:
  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    I don’t understand what the conclusion is meant to be.

    > we are a psychobiological unity

    Does he do more in the book to demonstrate that this statements means anything?

    > interdependence between what is happening the physical substrates
    > in the brain and body, and what is happening in terms of mental
    > processes

    …. yes… but this type of effect is visible in any number of complex systems. There is certainly more to the avionics system on a commercial jet liner than a fiberglass motherboard, some copper traces, and a handful of chips. It is a crude comparison; but is phenomenal results from just-stuff still a concept that bothers people?

    > we cannot reduce the mental to the physical any more than we can
    > reduce the physical to the mental

    This feels much like a distinction without a difference.

    > I don’t believe this duality requires us to believe in two
    > kinds of substances or a dualism of substance,

    Excellent! I agree.

    > and that makes me a “dual-aspect” monist.

    What? (speaking as a, at least functional, monist). The ‘other’ aspect feels like a complicated way to reference what is manifest from a complex system – that which we distinguish FROM that complex system primarily as a cognitive short-cut; like how we can think about driving using “automobile” as a short-cut around everything involved in what is happening [much of which any given person on the street cannot technically explain].

    — back tracking a bit —

    > He is equally critical of those who seek to minimize human differences
    > from other animals by, on the one hand, anthropomorphizing animals, or,
    > on the other hand, “animalizing” humans, in entirely unjustified ways.

    There is a long history of people using the very real cognitive chasm that exists between Humans and other species to demonstrate something… and they often end up with egg on their face. Admittedly I would almost certainly qualify as a Darwinitis to him – as I recognize that much of Human behavior is deeply habitual, built on cognitive cheats, and peppered with biases rooted in primal survivalist. Humans are astonishing; but it often does not require much stress to turn that brilliant light into smokey guttering flame. The width and depth of said chasm is unstable; I would prefer the foundation of my world-view not rest in its every varying geometry.

    On the flip side – it may not be Calculus or Poetry but the animal kingdom provides some very impressive cognitive achievements inaccessible to us. The tracking ability of a dog, the navigational abilities of migratory birds and fish, a cat navigating in total darkness using minute variations in air pressure – those ARE cognitive abilities – something very impressive is being done with the data provided by senses + learned experience.

    • “> we are a psychobiological unity
      Does he do more in the book to demonstrate that this statements means anything?”

      Yes, he will expand on this in later chapters. I try not to tip his hand too much in my summaries.

      “What? (speaking as a, at least functional, monist). The ‘other’ aspect feels like a complicated way to reference what is manifest from a complex system..” Yes, it is, but he is building a case slowly to a student.

      “Admittedly I would almost certainly qualify as a Darwinitis to him…” Remember, Jeeves is quoting the atheist humanist neuroscientist Raymond Tallis here to make the point that not only Christians recognize the mistake of reductionism.

      I’ve got to boil down his arguments to fit a post. I hope I’m not too “reductionist” in this endeavor– LOL.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Thanks for the reply – that is helpful.

        Looking forward to the next episode.

  5. It is not entirely ridiculous for some people to realize that they are not their body, but that the body is just a particular vehicle given for us to use during this lifetime. It is much more rare for people to realize that they are not their mind either, but that the mind/body vehicle, or ego, is our temporary dwelling and tool box to be used in the quest for Truth and Transcendence. The ego fiercely resists this basic knowledge because it senses that recognizing its own temporary and illusory nature brings about its removal from the Throne of the Universe. We often are like children playing with blocks in front of the television which is looping the whole seven seasons of the Punch and Judy show.

    If I want to go to Los Angeles for some reason and I have a car, and that car has a feature that parallel parks itself, I don’t need to know how that works in order to use it, and I don’t even need to know how to activate it to get to LA. But if it has an anti-theft feature that has to be turned off before I can start the car, I need to know how to do that. I do need to know how to read the gas gauge and how to put more gas in the tank. If I was interested, I could study up on the computer programming in the car and the wiring diagrams, which is sort of like this book we are studying, but that in itself is not going to get me to LA any faster. However much I choose to understand or not, the main thing I need to understand is that I am not my car or its computer. That’s like Step One.

    I am most interested in the passing reference to the upper/lower brain division. Is this going to be expanded on later? If not, does it have a technical name I could use to search out more information online?

    • Charles, he is referencing: Gregoire Boist, William L. Thompson and Stephen M. Kosslyn, “Understanding the Dorsal and Ventral Systems of the Human Cerebral Cortex: Beyond Dichotomies” The American Psychologist 66 (October 2011) 624. His main point is that the left-right brain model, although useful, tends to be overstated in popular media.

  6. Stephen says:

    There is obviously a great deal we do not know about brain function. But the answer to a question for which we don’t currently have an answer is not [insert favorite comforting explanation] but WE DON”T KNOW. What we don’t have is any evidence so far that consciousness is other than a function of the physical brain. If you don’t believe that consciousness is biochemical then just drink a six pack of beer. This is why these charges of “Darwinitis” and “biologism” and that great buzz word “reductionism” are fundamentally silly. Everything is made out of something.

    • “What we don’t have is any evidence so far that consciousness is other than a function of the physical brain.”

      And he is not saying it is, just that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

      • Stephen says:

        Yes but you could say the same thing about spider webs or the Taj Mahal. I am impatient with the charge of “reductionism”.

        “…scientists are picking off the relatively easy tasks of working out how little bits of the brain work molecularly and hoping that knowing about these nuts and bolts will eventually tell us how the complex system works as a whole.”

        Ok so how else would one suggest they go about it?

        Neuroscience is in its infancy. And we keep telling ourselves that the Bible is not a science book but do we really believe it? The Bible (and the other ancient sources of wisdom for that matter) simply have nothing to contribute to this conversation.

        • Robert F says:

          Apart from the status of the Bible in these matters, are you implying that philosophical materialism is the only perspective compatible with the theory and practice of neuroscience, or science for that matter? If you are not, then surely answers to questions about the nature of the mind/body cannot be exhausted by scientific answers, right?

          • Stephen says:

            Philosophical materialism, no. Methodological naturalism, yes.

            The jury is till out on the question of whether or not matter is all there is. But scientific inquiry depends on the assumption that nature is observable and understandable. We don’t know if questions about the nature of the mind/body can or cannot be exhausted by science. Let’s find out!

            • Robert F says:

              As a Christian, I affirm and believe that the mind is not merely the illusory epiphenomenon of mindless material processes. It’s impossible for me to imagine any kind of evidence that could convince me of the meaninglessness of my reflective consciousness. But go ahead and try, if you like.

              • Wussypillow says:

                It’s not really our job to provide you with evidence of the non existence of magic. That isn’t how this works.

                • Robert F says:

                  For someone who doesn’t believe it’s his job, you sure do try awfully hard.

  7. Rick Ro. says:

    I’d recommend this lecture series to anyone. Offers some great science behind what goes on in the brain, and Dr. Sapolsky has a dry wit that pops up periodically, too.

    http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/biology-and-human-behavior-the-neurological-origins-of-individuality-2nd-edition.html

  8. One of the reasons I am a giant proponent of Jung is that he sees our ultimate self with a capital S as bigger than our ego consciousness (small self) or anything that goes on inside our brain. He recognizes it as part of the eternal dimension and as such something that can only be known in part but not in totality. In other words he is saying that we are much bigger than we think we are and that our life journey is a process of unifying those parts as much as possible. That is what he calls individuation. Two excerpts:

    “The goal of psychological, as of biological, development is self-realization or individuation. But since [we] know [our self] only as an ego, and the self, as a totality, is indescribable and indistinguishable from a God-image, self-realization . . . amounts to God’s incarnation. . . . And because individuation is an heroic and often tragic task, the most difficult of all, it involves suffering, a passion of the ego: the ordinary empirical [person] we once were is burdened with the fate of losing one’s self in a greater dimension and being robbed of [our] fancied freedom of will. [We] suffer, so to speak, by the violence done to [us] by the self. . . . The human and the divine suffering set up a relationship of complementarity with compensating effects. Through the Christ-symbol, , [we] can get to know the real meaning of [our] suffering, [and we are then] on [our] way toward realizing [our] wholeness. As the result of the integration of conscious and unconscious, [one’s] ego enters the “divine” realm, where it participates in “God’s suffering.” The cause of the suffering is in both cases the same, namely “incarnation,” which on the human level appears as “individuation.” The divine hero born of [wo]man is already threatened with murder; he has nowhere to lay his head, and his death is a gruesome tragedy. The self is no mere concept or logical postulate; it is a psychic reality, only part of it conscious, while, for the rest, it embraces the life of the unconscious and is therefore inconceivable except in the form of symbols. The drama of the archetypal life of Christ describes in symbolic images the events in the conscious life – of a man who has been transformed by his higher destiny (from “A Psychological Approach to the Trinity” in CW 11, par. 233).

    “The words, “I will be united” must be understood . . . as meaning that subjective consciousness is united with an objective center, thus producing the unity of God and [hu]man represented by Christ. The self is brought into actuality through the concentration of the many upon the center, and the self wants this concentration. It is the subject and the object of the process. Therefore it is a “lamp” to those who “perceive” it. Its light is invisible if it is not perceived; it might just as well not exist. It is as dependent on being perceived as the act of perception is on light. . . . And just as a “door” opens to one who “knocks” on it, or a “way” opens out to the wayfarer who seeks it, so when you relate to your own (transcendental) center, you initiate a process of conscious development that leads to oneness and wholeness. You no longer see yourself as an isolated point on the periphery, but as the One in the center. Only subjective consciousness is isolated; when it relates to its center it is integrated into wholeness. Whoever joins in the dance sees him[her]self in the reflecting center, and his [or her] suffering is the suffering which the One who stands in the center “wills to suffer” (from “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass” in CW 11, par. 427).

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      My opinion of CG Jung is a lot like my opinion of President Donald Trump – I have some deep misgivings about him, but at the same time, when I consider the people who malign him, I can’t help but believe he’s doing something right.

      That is to say, they both have “the right enemies”.

      • Stephen says:

        Sorry my friend but this is very poor logic. I detest the Clintons but I put aside my scruples and voted for her to keep something worse from happening. Alas the American people preferred the “something worse”. Trump is a con man. And not a very good con man. But then he didn’t have to be a good one did he?

        I apologize to the community for going off subject but I couldn’t let your statement pass unchallenged.

        • Wussypillow says:

          Alas the American people preferred the “something worse”.

          Actually a plurality of us preferred something better.

      • I appreciate your comparison but I would be more invlined to contrast in this case. Jung had extraordinary intellect and profound spirit while our president has the intellect of a 14-year-old and the spirit of a boar. Not to be judgemental or anything. 🙂

      • I’ll stand by you, Mulo. This will all come out in the warsh, if warsh day ever gets here, which is still an open question.

      • Wussypillow says:

        That’s really stupid.

    • Robert F says:

      ChrisS, There’s very little in the long excerpt that you quote that is in the least scientific. It’s hard to see how Jung can mediate between science and religion in the matter of what the relationship of “mind and brain” is when what he did and wrote has so little science in it. His psychological system is built entirely on the experiences he had in therapeutic settings with his patients, and his own religio-psychological musings about them. Little to no scientific method or experimentation was utilized; he placed trust in his own highly subjective observations and conclusions to stand in stead of the rigorous methodology of science. He thought of himself as a man of science, as did Freud and many other psychiatrists and psychologists of the time, but he in fact was not a scientist, nor were many of them; instead, he and they used scientific language and trappings to write themselves a blank check of scientific authority, without doing the painstaking footwork that scientific method requires. They posed as scientists. But your quote illustrates that Jung’s psychological model was actually a highly speculative religious-philosophical system, rendered in psychological terms; anywhere you look in Jung’s writings you will find the same thing. His “collective unconscious” begs as many of the questions of science as the traditional ideas of God or soul do; for this reason he does not actually offer any bridge between a scientific understanding and approach to the world, or the “mind and brain”, and a religious one.

      • I’m not necessarily looking for a scientific bridge. Depth psychology crosses the spiritual boundary where no proofs, per se, may be given. The proof is in the pudding and it rings a bell, strikes a chord and just plain makes sense to me. I suppose I was just espousing Jung since we are talking psyche. I’ll pipe down.

  9. Dana Ames says:

    “…mind is most often used as a shorthand for “the mental aspect of a psychobiological unity” while most scriptural contexts refer to an attitude or shared set of attitudes and beliefs.”

    Well, rendering “nous” into English is difficult. Shared attitudes and beliefs is only one aspect, and if this is understood as the whole deal, that understanding might be the outcome of translator/commentator bias. Actually, the Greek Fathers understood nous to be much more like the “modern neuroscience use” of it, except that it’s not strictly mental activity; it also includes much more of the psychological and emotional aspects of our being. In Orthodox understanding, one of the big problems in cutting ourselves off from God is that our nous has become darkened and confused, like a mirror long unused. Union with Christ in prayer, the sacraments and askesis enable the the nous to gradually be “cleaned off”. There is meant to be a much tighter interweaving of both aspects of the psychobiological, to the degree that “nous” can almost be used interchangeably with “kardia” (heart) – which is not the “emotional center” of a person but rather like the “control room”, meant to bring the mental activity, emotions and volition all into balance as a person’s nous becomes pure.

    It’s difficult to express these ideas in English; if we all spoke Greek, we’d have a more common understanding. Anyhow, this kind of thought is what developed in the Eastern Church, and particularly in eastern monasticism. Rather than delving into alchemy or the finer points of Aristotelian philosophy or other areas that developed in Western thought, the Eastern folks spent a lot of time thinking about this psychobiological stuff 🙂

    Mike the Geologist, if you’re interested in the psychobiological understanding in Orthodox spirituality, you might explore the writings of Fr Sophrony Sakharov, a Russian monk who eventually founded a monastery in Essex, England. He died in 1993 and is widely regarded as a saint. He had a very interesting life – he was a trained artist, was attracted by oriental spirituality, and lived through all the tumult of European history of the 20th century. After he came back to the Orthodoxy of his childhood, he became a monk on Mt Athos and was very close to Saint Silouan and wrote his biography. (You can look them up on orthodoxwiki dot org.) He only wrote a few books. His spiritual autobiography is set forth in “We Shall See Him As He Is”. Fr Stephen’s writings owe a lot to Fr Sophrony’s thought.

    Dana

    • Well that’s interesting, Dana. I’ve been thinking of Fr. S. Freeman’s use of “nous” as I read this book. Is Fr Sophrony the same as Elder Sophrony that Fr. Stephen refers to? I’m assuming yes. I’ll check into it. I get a lot out of Fr. Stephens blog, it’s a regular stop for me.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Yes, they are the same. “Elder” is a title given to monks (“eldress” for nuns) who are known for their closeness to Christ, great spiritual insight, and ability to communicate that to people.

        Glad you’re reading Fr Stephen. He’s not a monk, but he is certainly an Elder to me. He’s the (living) Orthodox person most responsible for my swim of the Bosporus.

        Fr Sophrony’s “spiritual son”, Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou at the Essex monastery, has written some books along the same lines, explaining and expanding on St Silouan’s and Elder Sophrony’s teachings. There are also some videos of him on YouTube. It is Fr Zacharias with whom Fr Stephen spoke while at the monastery in Essex a few years ago, who helped him so much with coming to terms with and exploring the aspect of shame that has come to the forefront in Fr Stephen’s writings. Fr Sophrony has influenced many of the current generation of Orthodox academics and monastics, including Fr John Behr (who spent time at the Essex monastery with Fr Sophrony when he was a teenager) and Fr Seraphim Aldea, who, though he never met Fr Sophrony, is fulfilling the Elder’s hope of establishing a monastery in the Hebrides, the area of England that was first evangelized by the Irish missionaries – the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in 1000 years. May God grant that I am able to make a pilgrimage there one day.

        Christ is risen!
        Dana

        • >> . . . establishing a monastery in the Hebrides, the area of England that was first evangelized by the Irish missionaries . . .

          That’s really interesting, Dana. Seems like a great wheel turning and completing some kind of cycle which is probably a spiral. I’ll bet a pilgrimage there would be like a trip in a time machine. Those folks go back a very long way. ~Charley

  10. Robert F says:

    RIP, Chris Cornell.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Amen.

      D.

      • Robert F says:

        Dana, I don’t know if you’re aware, but Cornell converted to the Greek Orthodox Church some years ago; his wife is of Greek heritage. The news of his death this morning was so saddening to me; and then to later learn that he took his own life…. Is there a Saint who would be especially appropriate to petition for their intercession on his behalf?

        His voice was so powerful, so full of life and strength. May light perpetual shine upon him.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Sad day. I hate to think about the dark place he must’ve been at.

      • Black Hole (without the) Sun. So many artists pay a big price for their art.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “The Dark Place” is also the name of a setting in the computer horror game Alan Wake. From the description “The Dark Place” (lair of something called “The Dark Power”) fits the “crushing void” archetype of Hell.

  11. Not sure I understand much of what this discussion is about. However, I am intrigued by what happens to some people after a stroke in particular and perhaps other forms of brain injury when their personality undergoes a complete change. Why should a physical injury effect who a person is? Same for dementia sufferers. I therefore tend to think we are one unified person down to our very cells and mind and brain can’t be separated as much as perhaps we would think. As one commenter has mentioned neuroscience is a new way of looking at things and is still in its exploratory stage who know what researchers might discover. It is a very interesting discussion to have though.

  12. Wussypillow says:

    I’m pretty sure the mind is I just the brain. The only reason you’d dispute that is if you’re a priori invested in the idea of there’s being a ghost that rides around inside us.

  13. I think these theories that want both their are immaterial parts of the body, but only for humans seem pretty obviously to be special pleading. It seems if biological systems have immeaterial parts it’s going to be all systems not just one very small sub-set.

    • Robert F says:

      I agree. It’s possible that material existence itself is not a closed system, but is one end of a continuum that has as its other end immaterial existence.