Some of my previous articles contained experimental thoughts about
the nature and relationship of human spirit and body. Namely:
They were good for
nothing more than to question our traditional conceptions, to catalyse
thinking in new directions. These thoughts have developed somewhat
further now so that I’m able to present a consistent hypothesis here.
This will hopefully the last post about this topic: I think I’m
satisfied to know one possibility how to harmonize the
neuropsychological and the biblical image of humanity. I don’t need to
know if this possibility is correct … and I cannot, lacking the
resources for the necessary experiments. So, after this article I’ll
turn to some more practical topics.
My motivation for thinking about the body/spirit relationship was
that it really bothered me to know no explanation for the seeming
contradiction between modern neuroscience and the biblical concept of a
human “spirit” … I am not willing to believe biblical content at the
expense of scientific integrity, and I am not willing to mistrust
biblical content based on preliminary scientific results. So I am happy
to offer my harmonizing hypothesis here, and I am curious whether or
not it will
prove valid while science develops further in the next years.
Spirit: a phenomenological definition
How to define “human spirit”? A first shot would be: spirit is
“intention”, either body-less or abstractable from the body. Or: spirit
is an intention generation system (a “mind”), either body-less or
abstractable from the body. But it’s not that easy, there is much
confusion what abilities are attributed to the spirit and what not.
Also, the “spirit” concept is mainly used in areas with low overall
affinity to scientific thinking, e.g. in Christianity. Here, some
people might say spirit is “the ability to communicate with God” or
only “the knowledge that there is a God” which animals have not. Other
Christians might attribute typically human abilities (like semantic
language, rational thinking etc.) to the spirit. Again, others think
the spirit is mainly a “higher quality, immaterial cybernetic system”,
opposed to soul (with emotions) and body (with biochemistry etc.), and
argue that man has to seek “living out of his (renewed) spirit” to be
To get out of this confusion, this article takes a simple
phenomenological perspective: all or some differences between higher
animals and humans are attributed to the spirit. Because people (esp.
Christians) agree at least in this point that animals do not have a
spirit. This definition is enough for the purpose of this article.
Hypothesis presentation: brain-powered human spirit
The intuitive Christian conception of “spirit” is probably: it is an
entity, it is the center of a person, it is made of non-material
substance, it does not die, and it is able to communicate with my body
or at least my brain. This conception comes probably from the idea that
Genesis 2:7 implies that God imparted something divine (i.e.
non-material substance) to man at his creation, and that this is being
made in “God’s image” (Genesis 1:26 WEB), contrary to animals:
“Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and
his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Now, neuroscience seems to indicate that all of human’s mental
capabilities are brain capabilities (see the justification below),
among them rational thinking, semantic language and all other
differences to animals. So, no non-material spirit is needed to explain
the differences between animals and humans. Wherefore, then, do we need
the concept of a “spirit” at all?
The hypothesis introduced here is this:
“Human spirit” designates the brain capabilities that
humans from all animals. So, human spirit is materially implemented in
the brain, but there is also something like “immaterial spirit”,
sharing comparable attributes but a non-material implementation.
and immaterial spirit are functionally compatible to some degree, e.g.
they can communicate with each other.
To prevent misunderstandings: in this hypothesis, “spirit” is not a
later introduced abstraction
to verbalize the perceived differences between humans and animals, but
an intentionally created “thing”: created by God, who created the
differences between humans and
animals to resemble the differences between God and creatures.
What is new in this hypothesis is to view “spirit” as
implementation-independent: it might be implemented in material
substance (as with humans) or in non-material substance (as with angels
e.g.). This central idea is justifiable from the purpose the creator
God intended for this world (see below), and it allows to harmonize
neuroscience and the biblical concept of “spirit” and a “spiritual
world”: it is in harmony with the (probable) result of neuroscience
that man is made from matter and nothing else, and with the biblical
message that man has a spirit and that there is a non-material,
spiritual world out there.
Being the image of God demands for a brain-powered spirit
Let’s question the intuitive conception of “being created in the
image of God”, which is something like: because God is an immaterial
being, man must have an immaterial component, too, that is, the human
spirit. However, how about this view:
man is God’s image not in the abolute sense (i.e. compared to God) but
in the relative sense (compared to this world’s nature). To be God
implies to be strongest of all, yet the bible says that angels are
stronger than men – therefore, man cannot be the image of God relative
to the spiritual world. Yet man is the image of God relative to this
world, which he was told to subdue and have domion over (Genesis 1:28).
Probably it is in this sense that the bible calls us “Gods” (Psalms
If this conception of being the “image of God” is correct, it does
no longer necessarily imply that the human spirit is made of the same
immaterial substance as God’s. The human spirit is the image
of God’s spirit: it is a spirit relative to the material world
around him, but the image of a spirit relative to God. As with other
images, there is likeness but also reduction implied: a photography
reduces a four-dimensional world to only two. Relative to the material
world, some higher brain
capabilities qualify as “spirit” (as they
enable language, ratio, …) and give the attributes of a “God of this
world” to man, as it enables men to have dominion.
It seems that God intended this disconnectedness between the
material and the immaterial world, creating the material world as an
independent, four-dimensional image to view at it and be glad. To grasp
it in concepts of physics, the material and the immaterial world might
be said to be parallel universa, (nearly) completely disconnected from
each other. Only if man is in such a “universe of its own” that exists
independent from God’s concrete intervention, he qualifies as the god
of this area, i.e. the image of his creator God. This kind of demands
that man is completely made from material substance, to uphold this
disconnectedness from the immaterial universe.
The difficulties of spirit/brain interaction demand for a
If one assumes that the spirit is a separate entity from the body,
has to assume an “interface”: something that creates the undissolvable
link between an individual spirit and an individual body. As a
atom-by-atom copy would be connected to a different spirit, this
connection cannot have a material implementation, i.e. one assumes that
a supernatural element is implied in the body of every human being.
That’d be an inconsistency in God’s creation, a nasty flaw, from an
engineering perspective. So it should be assumed that nothing of a
person would exist if the body would not exist.
And another indication that the human spirit is brain-powered: the
alternative would be a brain-spirit interface. Brain injuries which
affect typically human (“spiritual”) capabilities like language show
that these capabilities are distributed all over the brain. Which
implies that a non-material spirit would have to
interact with the brain as a whole. This however is really improbable,
as one would have to assume then that spirit can interface with all
kind of matter (as the brain is no special matter).
And another reason: brain injuries that affect small areas of the
brain can result in losing spiritual capabilities like language. Which
means that a brain-powered spirit would probably consist of a
relatively small area of the brain; the
description of this small structure might well fit into the believed 3%
divergence between humans and modern apes. Remember that the spirit is
not detectable from a specific outward form of the body or one of it’s
organs, it just enables beings to use their limbs and organs in more
complex ways. The spirit is better software (in the sense of: control
ability) for an otherwise identic body. Even better, it is
self-learning software and probably loaden with emergence, that is,
it might be a really compact piece of
DNA that describes it.
Hypothesis application: implications on various phenomena
- Sleep. If the spirit would be a non-material entity, one
would have to assume that awareness of self continues while the body is
asleep. This is not the case, which indicates that the spirit is
brain-powered, and sleep means that the brain area for creating
of self” is put into another mode of function.
- Coma. If the spirit would be a non-material entity,
awareness of self and spiritual activities like thinking sould continue
even if the body is in coma or vegetative state. But he have no
indications to think so.
- Metal handicaps. This could be explained as a defect of
the material part of the brain-spirit interface (assuming the spirit is
a non-material entity) or as a defect of the brain itself (if the
spirit is assumed to be brain-powered). Occam’s razor
advises to use
the most economic explanation, and this is to postulate that all mental
human capabilities are implemented in his brain, not in a immaterial
- Heart vs. head. If human spirit is
brain-powered, there cannot be
a qualitative difference between “heart” (in the imaginary sense of:
the center of will and direction) and “rational thinking”, as
both are brain capabilities; at least there cannot be a qualitative
difference out of metaphysical reasons. However, currently many
Christians assume rational thinking to be of lower quality.
- The social gets important. If the human spirit is
brain-powered, the social area is related to the spirit in the sense of
Therefore, it could no longer be justified to view society with all its
complicatedness as “unimportant for spiritual / Christian matters”. As,
society would belong to humanity just as the brain does. Things like
social atmosphere, room atmosphere, optical impression etc. could no
longer be completely low-valued out of a priori reasons.
- Humans have no supernatural abilities. With a
brain-powered spirit, it would be sure that humans cannot have
abilities that transcend the laws of nature. This would, for example,
change the view of prayer: prayer is no “direct spirit-to-spirit
communication” with God, but normal, materially implemented talking (as
we do with humans) or thinking. It would reach God only because God, as
an omniscient being, perceives all that happens onn earth.
- What is original sin? If the human spirit is implemented
as a brain capability, then original sin might be nothing that is
passed on by inheritance, but by learning from other sinners.
- The homogenous conception of man. Often, it is argued
that the Bible does not teach that human’s are made from separate
components (like the trichotomy of body, soul and spirit) but that all
these are only aspects of an integrated whole. If however man would be
made up of an immaterial spirit and a material body, this exegesis is
difficult to apply. With an brain-powered spirit it is easy, however:
humans are made of matter and matter only, and the body is indeed an
integrated whole where each part affects each other.
- What is being filles with the Spirit? Being filled with
the Holy Spirit changes people’s behavior, as reported on many
occasions in Acts. From the perspective of a brain-powered spirit, this
would be supernaturally caused, (temporary) changes in the programming
of the brain, or functional equivalent to that.
- The body is not the shell. If the spirit is implemented
as a brain capability, the body is much more important than it is to
those who think their body is just the “shell” they will leave back
when they die. Dismissing these thoughts will lead to a new awareness
and appreciation for one’s body: “I am what my body is, not something
that dwells in my body.”
- Creating new people. If the spirit is brain-powered,
then the procreation of a human being happens completely in the
material realm. Because there is no necessity for an act of God, like
“creating the non-material spirit”. This is a really cool implication,
as it says: God created man as an being that independent that man is
able to re-reate himself without the help of God. Which would mean, God
gave man the true ability to create, making him a true image of God
also in this sense. One can sense the parents marvelling at the ability
to create in tehir likeness just and God created them in his likeness,
when the first man and the first woman created a son:
“In the day that God created man, he made him in God’s
likeness. He created them male and female, and blessed them, and called
their name “Adam,” in the day when they were created. Adam lived one
hundred thirty years, and became the father of a son in his own
likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” (Genesis 5:1-3)
But this implies also a great and awesome
responsibility: humans, not God, are the reasons why new humans come
into existence. And it demystifies our conception about our own origin:
we are not as we are “because God created us as we are”, with all
attributes and abilities, but because of natural and random effects
occuring during the recombination of chromosomes. Else one had to
assume that God creates animals the same way, i.e. by directing the
only apparantly random recombination of chromosomes.
- Who is Jesus? According to the biblical records, Jesus
proclaimed to be the Son of God, i.e. God himself. Which implies that
he cannot be just an ordinary man, as he had a preexistence as an
immaterial, spiritual being (as “God is spirit”, John 4:24). Therefore,
the process of incarnation is something supernatural, but compatible
with the ranges of above mentioned hypothesis: it would be an
implementation change, from a non-materially implemented spirit to a
brain-powered spirit, transfering some or all mental attributes.
- Heaven and earth als parallel universa. One can
understand the biblical concept “earth” as the material universe
(including our material world and us humans with our brain-powered
spirits), and one can understand the biblical concept “heaven” as the
non-material universe where God and the angels dwell. Because they are
disconnected with respect to the natural laws, it is impossible to
assign a relative location to them. God promised to create once a new
heaven and a new earth, and that resurrected believers in Christ will
then be in “heaven”. Which is quite interesting, as it says that they
will be spiritual beings “like God’s angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
This is compatible with the hypothesis that the human spirit is
brain-powered: it is implemented in material substance now but might
get re-implemented in non-material substance later, thereby retaining
all experiences and memories.
- Intended closuredness of the material universe.
Traditionally, it is assumed in the Christian faith that the creation
of angels and the creation of the material world has some connection to
each other. This is easy to justify if humans are spiritual, angel-like
beings, but placed in a body. But if they are totally material beings
however, as argued here, there is not necessarily an intended
connection between the two universa. That is, it could have been
totally against God’s will that non-material spirits like Lucifer
interfer with the material world, as they did. It was possible however,
as the non-material universe seems to be a “superset” or in another
sense the mightier one.
- Recognizing God within people. A brain-powered spirit is
the “programming” of a person, inclucing character, intentions,
attitude etc.. God, also having a spirit, also has character,
intentions, attitude etc.. Which makes it possible that these (holy)
attributes of God are, by God’s power, presented in the life of humans,
to hint people towards God. And these hints would be justifiable: they
mean something, but perhaps they are not obvious in some situations.
Whereever people change in character, intentions, attitude etc., it is
a change in spirit – effected by education or perhaps through the Holy
- What is possession by spirits? The Holy Spirit does not
make people possessed, but offers an undirected, positive force that
people can use to want and do good. Demons however want to possess
people, that is, completely control them. This implies a supernatural
genesis: a non-material spirit controls the body of a human. The
results however would be completely in the material realm, that is, a
change in the programming of the brain. The possibility of possession
(when affirmed) shows at least that spirits are compatible with each
other with respect to interaction, and the respective implementation
would not matter.
- Immortal experiences. Humans learn things in this world.
This would have no value for eternal life, however, if all our
experiences would get lost upon death. They would, if only a
non-material spirit would survive while all our experiences and
memories are stored in brain. But they do not, if humans have a
brain-powered spirit, implying that all experiences belong to their
spirit and are resurrected with the spirit. Just as software can be
copied to a new computer. The value of generating our “software” in the
tedious process of learning in this world rather than by creatio ex
nihilo (also possible)
is this: in the latter case, the result would be identical, but the
facts would be different, as no history is implied which would
attribute a worth to the “software”.
Discussion: advantages, differences, difficulties
Of course, this hypothesis is just a first draft and nothing one
should follow as a “new belief system” (beware, readers!). It’s just
meant as a set of experimental thoughts to foster reconciliation
between the scientific and the Christian image of humanity. As a draft,
it contains several difficulties and open questions. The following come
to my mind, and you may add your own below:
- Jesus said that his words “are spirit” (John 6:63). This cannot
just mean that these words are “information”, as this wouldn’s make
them different from human words. Perhaps he uses “spirit” (in the sense
of: from the Holy Spirit) do designate the quality of his words, as
opposed to human “fleshly” quality?
- How to explain inner impressions from supernatural sources
(images, dreams, visions) in this theory? This implies to find
authentic and trustable accounts of such impressions.
- How to place the biblical concept of “flesh” into this
hypothesis? According to the Bible, spirit and flesh are opposed to
each other (Galatians 5:17): does that mean the Holy Spirit as a
person, or the human spirit? In both cases, what is “flesh”, as it must
have functions in the same are area as spirit, or else it couldn’t be
opposed to spirit.
- Postulating that there is a non-material spiritual world out
there demands to search for verifications, e.g. finding trustable
accounts of miracles etc..
- How do education (of the human spirit) and spiritual influence
(from the Holy Spirit) relate to each other? One proposal would be:
education is a law-like force, using pressure and expectation, and is
therefore unable to create “wanting the good” in somebody. While the
Holy Spirit (functionally equivalent to a changed programming of the
brain) gives just this: an undirected force to want what is good.
- There is no indication that angels are made of the same
“spiritual” substance that God, is it? They might just as well be a
created universe of their own, not God’s “natural” living place since
eternity, but the place he chose to dwell. However, this article assume
yet that angels and God are related by substance.
Start date: 2007-11-04
Post date: 2007-11-15
Version date: 2007-11-16 (for last meaningful change)