In his article “Neuroscientific Mirages: Are We No More Than Our Brains?” Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Herman van Praag, M.D., Ph.D. introduces the following issue: “It appears that in psychiatry, soul and mind have to retreat in favor of the brain and that brain sciences will soon occupy center stage, if that is not already the case.” Overall, van Praag believes this issue is inadequately based, and delves into the philosophical, religious, and scientific reasons why.
To begin, van Praag seeks to further dissect the meaning of the issue at hand by offering definitions for the words “soul” and “mind.” “Soul,” he states, is another word for psyche—stands for the psychic functions that enable an individual to be aware of the world around them and the world within them.1 The soul enables an individual to make contact with other humans, and to interpret information intellectually and emotionally.1 The word “mind,” says van Praag, stands for the defining features of an individual, including cognitive style, ability to analyze and conceptualize, and the depth and variety of one’s emotions.1 Furthermore, “mind” includes one’s hopes and aspirations, disappointments, and scope of self-consciousness. It pushes the individual to seek purpose, meaning.1 In short, van Praag says of the relationship between the two: “The soul provides the basic tools with which the unique edifice of the mind is constructed.”1
A differentiation must be made between the body and the mind, as French philosopher René Descartes had once suggested. In fact, Descartes believed that the body had “spatial extensiveness” while the mind did not; therefore, both were said to function independently of each other, aside from a small connection Descartes would hypothetically place within the pineal gland.1 As a result, Descartes has often been mistaken as a dualist; however, he believed feelings and such to be body-dependent.1 According to van Praag, dualism, or the separation of the body and the mind, is not popular within neurobiology. He quotes Swaab: “We are our brains. The mind I see as a product of our brain cells. Mind is simply material, or better, brain and mind are one thing.” Instead, neuronal determinism is the popular viewpoint today.1 For instance, neuroscientists believe that by way of brain research, the mind and one’s selfhood may be deciphered.1 However, van Praag disagrees. As scan technology has shed light upon brain defects for a number of psychiatric disorders, it has been discovered that such disturbances in fact are the underlying cause of behavioral deviations, not the result of such deviations.1 In fact, van Praag states that neuronal determinism should be replaced with neodualism: “I allude to the notion that body-brain and mind, although interdependent, can each boast a considerable amount of internal autonomy.”1
“We Are Our Brains”: van Praag quotes Swaab’s book title, stating that the wording misses the mark. The phrase alludes to the fact that without the brain, man wouldn’t exist; however, van Praag argues that a man’s spiritual entity is unattended to.1 Lost in the phrase are man’s “immaterial components,” states van Praag.1 While the mind’s existence depends on that of a brain’s, the mind also functions separately from the brain. In order to study the mind, machines cannot be used—it is psychiatry, in which both are studied. According to van Praag, the psychiatrist understands the fact that oftentimes mental disturbances are headed by disturbances of the mind.1 Studying the mind, states van Praag, is essential to diagnosing and treating mental disorders.1
According to neuropsychologist Wolters, free will ultimately will be replaced with neural determinism. He states that everything we think, do, and experience is determined by the state of our brain.4 Only half so, according to van Praag. While the fact that we think, do, and experience is in fact determined by our brain, but what it is we think, do, and experience is not our selfhood.1 Our selfhood is shaped by our upbringing and our life experiences—it creates itself.1 As van Praag says, “it is both product and producer.”1 For scientists, it is untouchable. Quoting the book of Genesis, van Praag explains that the mystery of man’s selfhood is not a “novel idea”: “God formed man of the dust of the ground. He breathed in man’s nostrils the breath of life that man became a person.” Man is not a machine, but a mystery of nonliving matter being turned into living matter long ago.1
The Greek philosopher Protagoras stated that “man is the measure of all things.”1 While advocates of the “brain-only” belief fully support the statement, van Praag proposes three objections. First, van Praag believes that the thesis may be taken for more than it originally intended.1 He believes that Protagoras may have intended that all human judgments, including abstract ones like beauty and virtue, are subjective. Protagoras did say, “As things occur to me, so they are for me; on the other hand, as things occur to you, so they are for you.”1 Therefore, man judges everything for himself—is the measure of all things. However, advocates of the “brain-only” belief twist Protagoras’ thesis, as they believe the brain, not so much the man, is the measure of all things.1 Not true.
Second, van Praag questions the vague diction of the thesis.1 Man, what man? Measure, how is it measured? All things, what are all these things? With so many questions and no answers, van Praag believes Protagoras’ thesis can not be completely understood by anyone.1
Third, van Praag believes that it is unfortunate that an undefined man is the measure of all things, for the bar should be set higher than that.1 Again, van Praag refers to the Bible, in which standards are set high, sometimes unattainably high. However, such will coax a society to better themselves, to reach for goals of perfection.1 This, according to van Praag, gives life meaning and purpose. He states: “Man too often remains below par, to serve as a measure of all things.”1
“It appears that in psychiatry, soul and mind have to retreat in favor of the brain and that brain sciences will soon occupy center stage, if that is not already the case.”1 The issue is a misleading statement, that van Praag deems detrimental to patient care and scientific progress.1 As he has stated, the brain and the mind are partners, equals, who communicate with one another. While much can be achieved with technology regarding the brain, the mind cannot be understood the same way. Not just a machine, but equipped with much more, such as spirit, willpower, and determination, human nature is a world wonder that may never be fully understood.1 As van Praag ends, “It is not surprising that it is imagined (and believed by some) to be created in the image of God.”1
 van Praag, H.M. (2012, February 28). Neuroscientific Mirages: Are We No More Than Our Brains? Psychiatric Times 29(3). Retrieved from http://www.psychatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/2039352
 Swaab DF. Evolutionair gezien zijn we weinig meer dan wegwerpartikelen [evolutionarily seen, we are no more than throw away commodities]. In: Visser H, ed. Leven zonder God. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij LJ van Veen; 2003.
 Swaab DF. Wij Zijn Ons Brein [We Are Our Brains]. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Contact; 2010.
 Wolters G. Gedragscontrole. Vrije wil of neuronale processen [Behavioral regulation: free will or neuronal processes]. De Psycholog. 2005;24:23-29.
 Genesis 2:7.