, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 483-501
Date: 16 Aug 2012

The Spirituality of Human Consciousness: A Catholic Evaluation of Some Current Neuro-Scientific Interpretations

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Abstract

Catholic theology’s traditional understanding of the spiritual nature of the human person begins with the idea of a rational soul and human mind that is made manifest in free will—the spiritual experience of the act of consciousness and cause of all human arts. The rationale for this religion-based idea of personhood is key to understanding ethical dilemmas posed by modern research that applies a more empirical methodology in its interpretations about the cause of human consciousness. Applications of these beliefs about the body/soul composite to the theory of evolution and to discoveries in neuroscience, paleoanthropology, as well as to recent animal intelligence studies, can be interpreted from this religious and philosophical perspective, which argues for the human soul as the unifying cause of the person’s unique abilities. Free will and consciousness are at the nexus of the mutual influence of body and soul upon one another in the traditional Catholic view, that argues for a spiritual dimension to personality that is on a par with the physical metabolic processes at play. Therapies that affect consciousness are ethically problematic, because of their implications for free will and human dignity. Studies of resilience, as an example, argue for the greater, albeit limited, role of the soul’s conscious choices in healing as opposed to metabolic or physical changes to the brain alone.