The Theater of the Brain

The play of consciousness.

The illusion of the Soul

The illusion of a soul is a natural confusion of consciousness.
David P. Barash, Ph.D.
This post is a response to Buddhist “Reincarnation” and the Silliness about Souls by David P. Barash, Ph.D.

I am not a Buddhist, but have sympathy for many aspects of its wisdom.  In fact, the illusion of a soul is a natural confusion of consciousness. The evolution of each of our characters is formed as our nature fields our nature. I am at one with the quest that embodies new knowledge and old wisdom. It sounds very resonant with what you are presenting, although I do not try to reconcile differing beliefs. It is important,(and even courageous) as you are doing, to disavow the illusion of a non biological entity, the soul.

I would suggest a new paradigm for consciousness. It is developed and organized as a "play" with a cast of characters, feeling relationships, plots, set designs and landscape. It is a unified field theory of human consciousness, which includes psychiatry, neuroscience, dreams, myths, religion, and art— all elements of the same thing. It derives from and is consonant with our child rearing and culture. The “play” encompasses the ineffable human mysteries— birth, death, and the disparity between our ordinary sense of self and our intimation of a deeper authenticity. (In the earliest form of consciousness we coalesce as a non-representational being, who is the feeling of a being. This underlies our later sense of self and is usually given false representational form as a soul.) It includes as well the dark side of our nature. And finally, it holds the key to the nature of beliefs in general. Human consciousness and human nature are one and the same. The creation of our inner play by the brain is the consummation of our Darwinian human evolution.

Robert A Berezin, MD is the author of "Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain" 

I am adding my response to a comment onto the main post

 Our sense of ourselves derives from the organization of human consciousness in the brain. Our sense of self originates early in infancy. Due to the brain’s early state of development, the original ‘self’ takes form as a feeling of our being, without any representational form. The brain then matures to create the representational image of our self, by age three. At that point we have the three dimensional image of our self, that we know to be us. This is all a product of the extensive mappings in the brain which gets established all throughout the architecture of the cortex, but centrally located in the limbic system, our feeling center. We have at that point a coherent sense of self which remains the same and endures throughout our life. This is what people believe to be their soul. It is natural for people to believe this living feeling representational 'self' is a real entity and not a construction of consciousness. But it is a production of consciousness in the brain. It is an illusion. The human organism is one whole. Our consciousness is the creation of our brain (which is body). And it maintains our sense of self on an ongoing basis. When the brain ceases to operate, its creation of a 'self' disappears. In fact, the tragedy of Alzheimer’s does exactly this, and the self one has always known disintegrates and is no more.


Robert Berezin, M.D., is the author of Psychotherapy of Character. He taught psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Medical School for thirty years.


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