It is in the future world described in Sebastian Faulks’ A Possible Life that the idea is explored of our personality, our sense of self, our “soul,” not being something extraneous to our physical bodies, but having a physical locus within our brains. A neuro-psychologist ponders the implication of a discovery called the Rossi-Duranti Loop and its function in creating a sense of selfhood.
It did not need a ‘soul’ to make the motor neurones in the brain instruct the hand to scratch the head. The entire transaction was between pieces of matter. Why were connections between brain cells any different? Merely to ask the question was the mark of a seventeenth century dualist turn of mind. The idea of the ‘soul’ was dead, killed by the Loop; likewise the idea of self. Educated humans knew that they were merely matter that coheres for a millisecond, falls apart, and is infinitely reused.
The Rossi-Duranti Loop remains a piece of fictional speculation, perhaps neuroscience will come to identify am area of our brain to which a neurologist will be able to point and say, “look, there, that is you.”
Perhaps the rationalism and materialism of humanism will prove to be well-founded, perhaps the contention that we are no more than flesh and blood will be proven. Perhaps humanist thinkers will be counted as those educated humans who realised that we “were merely matter that coheres for a millisecond.”
Reading TES magazine feature on the importance of emotions in education, there was a feeling of being on the path toward the existence speculated on by Faulks. Psychologists suggest that there are six, (or possibly eight) “pure” emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise (joy and anticipation). Someone inclined towards the idea of there being eight might group them as pairs: joy-sadness, anger-fear, trust-distrust, surprise-anticipation. It is suggested that every other emotion is a product of an interaction of these pure emotions; that these are like the primary colours of the emotional spectrum.
It seems a bleak idea, that the infinite range of human feeling can be reduced to combinations of basic, primeval thoughts. Is that all we are? Flesh and blood with some neurological programming determined by our evolutionary development? Our emotions simply programmed reactions?
It seems more affirming to think that the idea of the “soul” will continue to remain elusive, confounding all attempts to either define it or to locate it. Perhaps the dualism of the seventeenth century, the idea of soul and body being separate entities, will continue to find currency. Perhaps we will remain more than matter that coheres, matter that is shaped by eight emotions.