Thursday, July 23, 2015

Anesthesiology and the soul

I was asked to comment on two posts by a secular anesthesiologist "disproving" the soul:

He's also written books on the subject. 

His post on OBEs fails because it disregards literature on veridical OBEs. 

Concerning the second post:

Memory is an absolutely essential property of the human soul, yet even though the soul is supposedly the vehicle of the conscious mind, is unaffected by things affecting the physical body, and is continually conscious, and controls the physical body to act and to speak. Yet this amnesia is observed daily, all over the world wherever midazolam is employed for both its conscious sedation and amnesic effects. It is the daily reality of myself, and all other physicians administering midazolam to the patients we treat. The only explanation for all these repeatedly observed facts is that the soul is not the repository of memories, but that the physical brain forms and retains all memories.

i) This is a problem with experts in one field who don't think they need to inform themselves about another field on which they presume to opine. He hasn't bothered to acquaint himself with the position he's attacking. That's an inaccurate description of interactionist dualism. 

If the soul is coupled with the brain, then the awareness of the soul is conditioned by the state of the brain.  So long is the soul is coupled with the brain, it is not independent of the brain with respect to consciousness. 

The soul is independent of the brain in the sense that it can exist and function apart from the brain. But so long as we're dealing with embodied agents, the brain is the conduit. 

ii) Physicalism and dualism are empirically equivalent in that regard. The evidence is consistent with either insofar as the anesthetized state is concerned. At best, a physicalist could argue that physicalism is the simpler explanation.

If, however, there's additional evidence that better fits with dualism than physicalism, then dualism has more explanatory power. This includes the hard problem of consciousness, psi, apparitional evidence, veridical NDEs, veridical OBEs, terminal lucidity, and John Lorber's hydrocephalic patients. 

iii) Another flaw in his reasoning is the inference that unless we can explain why a phenomenon isn't more prevalent, then the fact that it doesn't happen at one time or place cancels out the evidence that it happened at another time or place.

Of course, that's irrational. For instance, due to plate tectonics, we now know why earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are more frequent and severe in some parts of the world than other parts. But before we knew why that was the case, would it be reasonable to deny that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur along the Ring of Fire? If they don't occur with the same frequency and intensity elsewhere, and we can't say why, should we therefore say they don't occur anywhere? They don't occur at all? Even if their nonoccurrence at one place is puzzling, that hardly cancels out the evidence of their occurrence elsewhere.

iv) I don't see that anesthesiology adds anything distinctive to our experience. How's that essentially different from periods of dreamless sleep? 

I think he trots out anesthesiology because that's scientific, so it makes it sound as if his objection to the soul is scientific. 

v) His claim that anesthetized patients have no recollection is odd considering reported cases of anesthesia awareness. 

vi) I think Scripture teaches dualism (e.g. the intermediate state), but Scripture likewise acknowledges that inebriation can impair judgment. That's interactionist dualism. By the same token, Bible writers were aware of dreamless sleep. 

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