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Belief in soul jeopardizes mental health

By Gabriel del Carmen

Section: Opinions

September 11, 2015

Perhaps one of the greatest detriments to mental health reform—both legislative and social—is the soul. That is to say, not with the soul itself (as I believe it does not exist), but rather with the notion that we have a soul separate and unrelated to the realm of the physical.

Such a belief is no longer acceptable and cannot be perceived as anything other than an archaic remnant of our scientifically illiterate ancestors. But with the exponential advancements in the cognitive sciences paired with the numerous links being made between consciousness and the brain, the soul no longer has any breathing room.

Ask yourself: What is the difference between the mind and the soul? Try to be as honest with yourself as possible. Is the soul the collection of our experiences? Is that not what the brain does? Is it our moral center? Is the soul the location where we make decisions? What about the various parts of the brain—the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, the amygdala—that have been implicated in these processes? Where do we have room for the soul? It is a clearly unnecessary concept and one that is, as I will show, detrimental to scientific and medical progression.

Surely some will posit that the mind and the soul can coexist. But is the soul necessary? If we can ascribe all of the soul’s qualities to the mind, are we not talking about the same thing? Using Occam’s sharpened and ever-useful razor, we can quickly slice off the unnecessary bit, or the soul, and be left with the mind: the malleable, treatable and complex mind that is a link between the physical and the metaphysical.

If mind and soul are separate, or if the soul exists but the mind does not, then treating disorders of the mind is no longer a concern. We regress back to the superstitious period of our existence, accepting demonic possession as a disease and exorcism as proper treatment. Without being founded in empiricism, we are free to contend anything we so desire, no matter how inconsistent it may be with reality. By itself, this is harmful; coupled with beliefs about mental health, it is disastrous. Some still take the position of dualism and refuse to accept that the mind bears any link with the world of the physical, seeing all mental disorders as being under the will of the individual. The depressed are told to simply “cheer up.” The anxious are told to make greater attempts at “relaxing.” These misguided suggestions do nothing but further perpetuate the suffering of the mentally ill and result at least partly by this soul-founded dualism. To further progress and achieve adequate mental health reform, we must reject this bit of metaphysical baggage. The price to pay is too great.

Unfortunately, the idea of an immortal soul is interwoven with religiosity, so rejecting such a premise requires rejecting one of the fundamental tenets of most religious and spiritual beliefs. Religion is not going anywhere either, or at least not in the near future, but the mentally unwell cannot wait any longer. The time of mental health neglect must end soon, or it will not end at all. Our ancestors have an excuse. What is ours?

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