Psychology 20 Questionnaire

Question from :
I’m currently taking Psychology 20 in school and would like to ask you a few questions about atheism for a project on spirituality if you have the time. The questions are:

1. How does your faith or understanding of the world shape your worldview?
2. How do you justify your actions (good and bad) for your belief system?
3.What gives you meaning and purpose?
4.What are ways you express yourself and why?
5. How do you view the idea of the soul and/or the afterlife?

Hoping for a quick response and thank you for taking the time to answer.

Answer by SmartLX:
Not my quickest response ever, but not bad. Here we go.

1. My view of the world is that it’s shaped and influenced by natural forces, which are powerful but undirected and certainly not worth pleading with. I’m acutely aware that many do not feel this way, so I see what appears to be a great deal of effort wasted because it’s spent trying to please gods that I don’t think are there.

2. I care for myself, and as a social animal I care for the people around me. My awareness of the world beyond my immediate surroundings extends that expression of care to all the people of the world, generally speaking. I justify my actions in terms of the benefit and harm they do to myself and other people, not necessarily in that order, with a view to maximising benefit and minimising harm. The exact meanings of those two quantities I often re-evaluate based on the situation, so that I’m not thinking in a way that doesn’t apply to the circumstances at hand.

3. I choose what my purposes are. From personal achievements to the welfare of selected others (that is, not all purposes are selfish), I devote myself to realising those things I want to bring to fruition. This gives my life meaning to me, and to many others, though not to everyone. This is enough, because whether my life matters to all strangers is not something I worry about.

4. I speak, I write, I sing, I draw, I work, I dance, I play, I struggle, I love. I do these things because I can.

5. The soul does not appear to exist, because identity and consciousness are products of the brain and are damaged or destroyed when the brain is. After the death of the brain there is nothing left of a person to experience any kind of afterlife.

Memories: Brain vs Soul

Question from Marie-Denise:
If memories and thoughts completely come from one’s brain and not from a person’s soul, then why do we keep our memories even though we know every cell in one’s brain is regenerated every few years? Thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
Quite simply, they’re passed on.

Memories are stored in the brain as electrical patterns, which don’t reside in individual cells but travel around certain areas of the brain as needed, for instance when you’re figuring out where you left your keys. If a brain cell dies while hosting part of a memory, that part can often be recreated by the rest of the brain, or else there’s another copy in there somewhere, so the impact on your overall memory is minimal. (Daniel Dennett is fond of saying, “Every time you read it or say it, you make another copy in your brain.” He then repeats this twice.)

Actually, brain cells aren’t replaced like the other cells in the body. Glial cells are, but the all-important neurons hardly regenerate at all. Therefore maintenance of memory is not really a matter of tagteaming from old cells to new cells, but rather a process of shuffling between existing cells. The brain is only too happy to do this, because it’s by transferring memories and other thoughts from cell to cell that we “think” about them.

The idea that the soul is the source of certain thoughts carries its own conundrums, chiefly the fact that every known mental process can be permanently impaired or completely disabled by sufficient brain damage. If an ethereal soul is solely responsible for any observable function, that function should be impervious to physical injury, and this has never been observed. If instead the brain functions as a conduit for every “action” of the soul, there is no evidence for the existence of an independent soul. Don’t feel put-upon though – believers in an incorporeal “mind” independent of the brain have the same kinds of problems when justifying their view, so this is not purely a matter of theology.