Friday, March 08, 2019

The world of the soul

The relationship between body and soul is of great personal and practical importance in Christian theology. I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to approach it from a different angle. 

In part, that's related to the perennial nature/nurture debate. Humans have some hardwired psychological traits. Likewise, there are hardwired masculine and feminine traits. Finally, even as young children, individual humans have distinctive character traits. That' the nature side.

On the nurture side, social conditioning has great impact on our psychological formation. And while that's acquired, it becomes deeply engrained. Second nature. As embodied agents, our physical experience creates formative memories that we retain after we leave the body behind. 

There is, though, something about the relationship between psychology and physical experience that doesn't seem to be reducible to a physical explanation. Take the effect of a beautiful woman on a male viewer. Or consider the mood-altering power of music.

If you think about it, that's rather mysterious, because it's so indirect. It's not like drinking alcohol or popping psychedelic drugs, where you infuse your brain with foreign chemicals which alter brain chemistry. So how does merely hearing or seeing something have a similar effect? 

When a boy hits adolescence, he views women differently–especially pretty girls. Is that just due to hormones? Perhaps. When I die and leave my body behind, will images of women lose their appeal for me? 

What about music? As a young boy I enjoyed boy choirs. When I hit adolescence, I discovered a newfound appreciation for opera divas. Although androgens had a role, does this mean that when I die, I will cease to find the voice of opera divas like Caballé, Sutherland, Crespin, Milanov, Ponselle, Verrett, and Leontyne Price alluring?  Even if that has a physical point of origin, does the experience change the soul? 

But suppose this is backwards. Are hormones and brain chemistry productive or receptive? Is it like opening a window?

To take a comparison, different species have different sensory aptitudes. Some species can sense things other species can't detect. Yet their senses don't create the stimuli. 

Does the maturing brain generate these feelings? Or does it, like sensory enhancement, create new openings that enable the soul to become self-aware of mental states native to the soul, but impeded by physical barriers?

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