Owen Flanagan on Soul Machine : The Invention of the Modern Mind

Owen Flanagan in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Soul-Machine-243x366When I was a wee Catholic lad growing up in the New York City suburbs of the late 1950s and early 1960s, I learned that good people go to heaven after they die. This was consoling. But it made me wonder precisely which part of me would go to heaven: my body, my mind, or my soul. Thanks to dead hamsters and such, I understood that bodies die, decay, and disperse. There was talk in school and at church of the resurrection of the body on Judgment Day, but that event, I reckoned, might not happen for several million years, and surely I’d be well ensconced in heaven by then. My mother tentatively explained that the part of me that loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate ice cream sodas would most likely not go to heaven, or, if it did, would not need or want peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate ice cream sodas anymore — possibly, I speculated, because, in the heavenly state, I’d be able mentally to conjure those great pleasures without there being actual physical manifestations of me or them. I surmised that those perfectly good human desires would either be gone (because my body would be gone), or somehow be eternally satisfied.

So, which was it, my mind or my soul that would go to heaven? Or both? And how did they differ? I didn’t want to go to heaven without my personality and memories. I wanted to be in heaven with my brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, if not bodily then at least mentally. But personality and memories were, in my little boy ontology, associated with mind, and there was talk that the part of me that would go to heaven was something more ethereal than my mind. It was my eternal soul. But my soul, unlike my mind, seemed a bit too vague and general to be “me.” I wanted to be in heaven with me as me myself. Such were the vicissitudes of boyhood. I was troubled by three-ism. I was not, and am not, alone.

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