How does our soul bring us to life

body and soul : How the mind arises

Bats begin their flutter flight at dusk. And you are there. You are a bat. They soar into the sky and circle over the houses to locate their prey. No, you are not Batman. You are a real bat. They have bat awareness and a bio-echo sounder that you can use to locate your prey, flies and other insects drifting through the evening air. You will spend the night in your hiding place, hanging upside down from the wall.

Of course we humans will never really be able to put ourselves in the shoes of a bat. But it is still a delightful thought experiment. It comes from the American philosopher Thomas Nagel. In 1974 he published the essay "What is it like to be a bat?" The essay was supposed to provoke the emerging guild of brain researchers. But she was preparing to clear up mental processes with the means of natural science. In doing so, they even set out to wrest the secret from consciousness itself.

A presumptuous undertaking, as Nagel said. His central idea: Every subjective phenomenon, such as the awareness of a bat, is linked to a unique perspective. It would be inevitable that an objective physical theory would reveal this important property of consciousness. This would mean that the essential would be lost. Science cannot understand consciousness in this sense, argued Nagel. Neither can we humans empathize with bats.

"For each of us, consciousness is life itself"

More than four decades later, Nagel's criticism continues to carry weight. Brain researchers are still debating with philosophers whether and how objective methods can reflect and explain subjective experiences. And despite some advances, neuroscience and psychology have still not solved the puzzle of consciousness. For some it is the greatest of all questions. The problem of consciousness embodies, together with the question of the origin of the universe, "the extreme limit of the human pursuit of knowledge", writes the Mainz philosopher Thomas Metzinger. For many it is therefore “the last big puzzle ever”. It touches the very core of human existence. "For each of us, consciousness is life itself," writes psychologist Steven Pinker. It is the reason why life is worth living. Its essence.

The problems start with the question of what exactly is meant by “consciousness”. Because the phenomenon is complex, the term defies a simple definition. The spirit explorers' community was all the more delighted when the philosopher David Chalmers created some conceptual clarity 20 years ago. For Chalmers, for example, “simple problems” revolve around how conscious and unconscious brain processes differ. The “difficult problem”, on the other hand, is a really tough nut to crack: How do processes in the brain develop into subjective perception? It's not just about seeing the color "green" (a "simple problem"), but about its quality, the experience of the "green", as the psychologist Pinker illustrates the "difficult problem".

A fundamental question is: Is consciousness linked to material processes in the brain? Or is there a soul that acts independently of nerve cells? The most famous proponent of this assumption was the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). He proclaimed a strict separation of mind and body, the dualism. Descartes' position has few friends, at least in the natural sciences. “Dualism is completely out of the question in brain research,” says John-Dylan Haynes, director of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin.

There is agreement about the "seat" of consciousness

So consciousness is a product of the brain, it arises and disappears with it. What is a widely accepted fact and almost a truism to neuroscientists will scare some. “I'm sorry, but your soul has just died,” is the sarcastic title of an essay by the writer Tom Wolfe on the advances in neurobiology.

Where does consciousness “sit”? There is also broad consensus among researchers on this. It is suspected to be in certain areas of the cerebral cortex. In this “covering layer” of the brain, which is only a few millimeters thick and historically young, scientifically known as the cortex, around 15 billion nerve cells are concentrated.

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