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Happel, Stephen “The Soul and Neuroscience: Possibilities for Divine Action."

In “The Soul and Neuroscience: Possibilities for Divine Action,” Stephen Happel puts three notions into conversation with one another: Edmund Husserl’s philosophical interpretation of inner time-consciousness; Thomas Aquinas’s theological language of the soul; and contemporary neuroscientific analyses of human agency, memory, and bodily knowing.

Happel argues that medieval soul-language is not simply a devotional leftover from a discredited dualist substance philosophy. The concept of soul was a medieval attempt to explain the living experience of the cognitive, embodied subject. In his analysis of the role of the soul in human knowledge, Aquinas makes a variety of philosophical claims that are relevant to current research and discussion: First, human knowing is an active as well as a receptive process, dependent on the empirical world, yet critical in relationship to the world and to its own operations. Second, this knowing only takes place with the intimate cooperation of the individual’s body. Third, intelligence is open-ended; it wonders and inquires about everything within its horizon. Fourth, this intelligence can reflect upon itself. Fifth, open-ended human intelligence can go beyond the senses, intending and estimating, even understanding the reality of God. Sixth, human intelligence rightly apprehends reality through its senses and makes correct judgments on the basis of the evidence provided.

Time-consciousness is central to Husserl’s phenomenological description of human subjectivity. The agency of human consciousness is found in the retention, present awareness, and expectation that allow humans to be aware of temporally-extended objects of consciousness. There is a flow of interactions among memories, present consciousness, and future expectations that gives consciousness its unity. Happel shows that Husserl’s notion of subjective time consciousness coheres with Aquinas’s metaphysical vocabulary regarding intellectual powers: the world of interiority that Husserl examines turns from the consciousness of the subject to a self- reflexive knowledge of that subject; the unified body and soul, for Aquinas, becomes a self- conscious subject, examining itself introspectively.

Contemporary neuroscience examines time-memory, embodiment, and human initiative in the empirical subject, the knower who examines both self and the world through models and experiments. Reflecting on current theories of long-term and working memory, schema theory, somatic markers, and the hermeneutics of sense perception, Happel raises questions about human agency. He sees Husserl’s analysis of time-consciousness as a possible hypothesis for experiment and verification in the neurosciences, and he challenges the neurosciences to think about mind and consciousness not only as initiators but as radically open to their constitution as a social reality.

The examination of human consciousness in three major disciplines - philosophy, theology, and neuroscience - has as its goal the criticism of modern individualistic (solipsistic, autonomous) concepts of the human subject. Happel reasons that if the subject can be conceived as open to finite transcendence (that is, to the reality of the other in and to the subject) this should shed light on how God operates through the interaction of finite subjects in our world to bring about divine ends.

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