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#348 The Soul’s Consciousness of its own Decision-Making

December 15, 2013
Q

Dear Dr. Craig,

My question concerns your response to those who use the famous Libit experiments as evidence against dualism. Your response is to point out that, given the limited speed of neuronal communication, it would make sense that your awareness/consciousness of the formerly dictated brain pattern (dictated by the soul) would subsequently follow after some finite period of time later.

If this is true, then I may have been thinking about consciousness in the wrong way for my whole life, as I have always thought of consciousness as the soul's perspective on reality, rather than the brain or earthly body's perspective. But If your explanation of Libit's data is correct, then my soul's consciousness is disconnected (in some way) from my earthly bound consciousness. That is to say, my soul makes conscious decisions before I am even conscious of them (seemingly without my knowledge). I'm fine with reorganizing the way I think of the soul, but I'm uncomfortable with the implications I've inferred. Any clarification would be appreciated.

Aaron

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

Those who are not familiar with the background of Aaron’s question should first read my answer to Question of the Week #314. It is unclear how to interpret the significance of Libet’s fascinating experiments, but my point was merely that his results were exactly what a dualist-interactionist would expect. Given the soul’s use of the brain as an instrument of thought, the soul will become conscious of its own decisions somewhat later than those decisions due to the finite velocity of neural signals.

In your first paragraph, Aaron, you somewhat misstate the point by saying that the soul later becomes aware of “the formerly dictated brain pattern.” That’s not right. I am typically completely ignorant of my own brain patterns; I never become aware of them. Rather what the soul becomes conscious of is its own decision, which it made a few hundred milliseconds earlier. So the soul makes a decision and shortly thereafter has the awareness of making that decision. As I emphasized in my earlier answer, it is incorrect to say that the soul makes unconscious decisions; the decision is conscious, but the consciousness of the decision is imperceptibly separated from the decision itself by a tiny interval of time.

In your second paragraph, your thinking seems to wander into confusion. You say, “I have always thought of consciousness as the soul's perspective on reality, rather than the brain or earthly body's perspective.” That seems to be a more Cartesian view of the soul (after the French philosopher René Descartes). In contrast to dualism-interactionism, it seems to think of the soul as having conscious states quite independently of the body and its brain states. On dualism-interactionism, by contrast, the soul is using the brain to think, and so, while it is embodied, it has no independent consciousness. During the intermediate state of the soul between the body’s death and eventual resurrection, there will be no instrumental use of the brain for thought, and so no delay in awareness of its own states, since it is no longer dependent on finite velocity neural signals. During our embodied condition, the soul’s perspective and the brain’s perspective are unified.

But then you proceed to say, “If your explanation of Libit's data is correct, then my soul's consciousness is disconnected (in some way) from my earthly bound consciousness. That is to say, my soul makes conscious decisions before I am even conscious of them (seemingly without my knowledge).” But just the opposite is true. On dualism-interactionism, the soul’s consciousness is one with my earthly bound consciousness. So the soul most certainly does not make conscious decisions before you are conscious of them. Indeed, since you are not distinct from your soul, that would be to assert the self-contradiction that you make conscious decisions before you are conscious of them! Rather what is correct to say is that on dualism-interactionism, you make decisions before you are aware of them. As explained in my earlier Question of the Week, this is unproblematic, since all you need in order to make free, rational decisions is an awareness of all of the relevant facts before you make the decision. Your (or the soul’s) awareness of making the decision then comes slightly after making the decision.

- William Lane Craig