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Neurosurg Focus. 2007;23(1):E2.

Soul searching: a brief history of the mind/body debate in the neurosciences.

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  • 1University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.


Anatomical and physiological understandings of the structure and function of the brain have worked to establish it as the "seat of the soul." As an organ of reflection, meditation, and memory, the brain becomes synonymous with what defines the "self" through the existence of consciousness--of mind. Thus, the brain has been associated with a range of transcendent concepts--the soul, spirit, mind, and consciousness--that all relate in fundamental ways to each other both in terms of their perceived location within the brain and because of the way each works ultimately to define the person to whom the brain belongs. In this article, the author provides a brief exploration of how interrelated these categories have been when seen in the context of ancient, Renaissance, early modern, and modern philosophical and medical concerns; how the brain has variously been perceived as home to these intimate states of being; and how practitioners from the neurosciences have reflected on these questions. The author provides novel insights into the interrelationships of philosophy, theology, and medicine by examining these issues through the lens of the history of neuroscience.

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