A Materialist Case For The Potential Existence of The Soul

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A common idealist interpretation of consciousness

Materialism as a philosophy proclaims that matter and energy are all that exist. Traditionally materialism, especially the materialism of Feuerbach and Marx, correctly leaves no room for the medieval idea of the incorporeal spirit controlling the body, being the force which drives human consciousness. Consciousness is rightfully proclaimed to be the highest known organizational form of matter. This notion therefore, traditionally does away with the idea of an afterlife, of an immortal soul, of a God, etc. As to the specifics of this I have no intention of trying to specifically justify my views about the nature of God, the afterlife, etc. but only to postulate the potentiality of the existence of the soul within a materialist framework. If this is possible, then all else follows.

The materialist viewpoint seems to conform to what we know science tells us about the world. But all of this assumes the traditional model of consciousness, a form of consciousness based on the physics embodied in the theories of classical mechanics. Traditionally the debate between idealism and materialism in regards to consciousness has been as follows: the mind exists either as science understands it, being material and a product of the processes of the brain in materialism, or as part of an incorporeal spirit that is immaterial in idealism. Obviously this medieval notion of a purely incorporeal spirit is nonsense. It follows then, traditionally, that there is no such thing as the soul. But all of this, as previously stated, rests on the traditional model of consciousness.

It can no doubt be said that the traditional model hitherto conforms with known scientific laws, that the exception with which I am to bring up is merely a scientific hypotheses and not a theory. But its possibility throws into question the very atheistic shell of materialist philosophy and should thus be, at the very least, investigated by any self-proclaimed materialist. The hypotheses which I am referring to is known as the quantum mind, or quantum consciousness hypothesis. To explain it in a nutshell I will reluctantly quote Wikipedia:

“The quantum mind or quantum consciousness group of hypotheses propose that classical mechanics cannot explain consciousness. It posits that quantum mechanical phenomena, such as quantum entanglement and superposition, may play an important part in the brain’s function and could form the basis of an explanation of consciousness.” [2]

But what does this have to do with idealism vs. materialism? With atheism and theism? With the existence of the soul? To answer this question we have to go back to another hypothesis that is a part of the quantum mind hypothesis called “Orchestrated objective reduction”. It was first formulated by theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff in the 90’s. It should be said that Hameroff is, by his own admission, an idealist. He believes that consciousness does, to a certain extent, create the material world. But even with this, one can easily take his hypothesis and apply it to a materialist framework. For his hypothesis in and of itself, makes no assertion to the immaterial nature of consciousness, for quantum physics is as material a process as Newtonian physics. The hypothesis says that

“consciousness in the brain originates from processes inside neurons, rather than from connections between neurons (the conventional view). The mechanism is held to be a quantum physics process called objective reduction that is orchestrated by molecular structures called microtubules. Objective reduction is proposed to be influenced by non-computable factors imbedded in spacetime geometry which thus may account for the Hard Problem of Consciousness.” [3]

When we take the traditional model of consciousness into account we can conclude that consciousness dies with the decay of the human brain, that it does not and can not go on after death by any known processes. If we presume consciousness to be quantum in nature, it follows then that consciousness obeys the laws of quantum physics. We know that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, that for it to do so is a violation of the laws of Newtonian physics. But in quantum physics there exists the process of quantum entanglement, which is the

“physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance—instead, a quantum state must be described for the system as a whole… This has been shown to occur even when the measurements are performed more quickly than light could travel between the sites of measurement: there is no lightspeed or slower influence that can pass between the entangled particles.” [4]

It is in this process that the adherents of the Quantum Consciousness hypothesis find a potential mechanism for how consciousness could escape the body in the form of quantum information at a speed faster than the speed of light without violating the known laws of physics. It is precisely in this spirit that Hameroff postulates how his theory might apply to life after death:

“‘Let’s say the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed, it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large,’ Dr. Hameroff told the Science Channel’s ‘Through the Wormhole’ documentary.

If the patient is revived, however, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and that is what we describe as ‘a near death experience‘.

‘If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul,’ Dr. Hameroff said…

‘The energy of your consciousness peels away from the physical vehicle at death, in the same way that a pianist can get up and walk away from the piano,’ Steven Bancarz wrote in an article.” [5]

Some would say that materialism degrades the human condition by asserting that consciousness is merely a result of physical phenomena. But on the contrary, I say it empowers the human spirit by showing the complexity not only of the universe but of the human mind. As for the idea of quantum consciousness, it is all, of course, speculative, as the hypothesis is just that- a hypothesis. But if true its ramifications could be enormous in the field of materialist philosophy and philosophy at large. Is it a bit of a stretch? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not. What do you think?

 

Sources:

Image

2: Quantum Mind

3: Orch OR-Quantum

4: Quantum Entanglement

5: Hameroff Quote

 

One Comment

  1. An interesting idea. From a mere physical standpoint, I cannot deny the possibility – However there would still be problems with that. Let’s say all of this were true (that the microtubules are the “gate” and so on and so on), then this would also apply to lower lifeforms than humans, even microorganisms (something what Hameroff also thought, which at least is confirmed by the german Wikipedia page of microtubules). And then we had to ask – how is the “jump” from single chemical protein to the partly soul-inhabited cell even possible? And from all we know about chemistry and physics, the “gate” to the consciousness cannot be opened from the material side (since the microtubules don’t have any stronger quantum-physical attributes than other bio-chemical structures). So, if the consciousness can “leave” after all, then it also have to “enter” – And once we make that assumption, we can’t get any valid knowledge anymore.

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