Problems & Answers

Anesthesia and the Soul

©G.M. Woerlee, 2005–2023

Anesthesiology provides a unique set of instruments with which to probe a philosophical or theological question raised by peoples of all races and civilizations since time immemorial — “Do humans have an immaterial and immortal soul?” Indeed, when applied to the definition of the human soul as proposed by great world religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, everyday observations from anesthesiology provide clearcut answers to questions such as:

This use of anesthesiology to study such questions reveals answers more certain than those provided by philosophical or theological speculation. Such an anesthesiologically oriented approach might be termed “Anestheology”.

Most people believe in the reality of a human soul

People who state they do not believe in a human soul are a minority. More than 70% of people in modern Western countries believe deep in their hearts, that each person possesses an invisible, immaterial, immortal soul, which is the vehicle of individual personality and mind, and in some way survives their deaths. As proofs, believers in the reality of the human soul offer the visions of saints, religious texts and experiences, paranormal experiences and sensations, out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences.

Memory is a key property of the soul

Indeed, when viewed from the viewpoint of believers in the reality of the human soul—OOBEs and NDEs are due to a temporary separation of the soul from the body, which means that the soul is the indelible repository of new and old memories. The reasons for this belief are evident in the descriptions of these experiences.

Memory—the soul and the body

So according to proponents of the reality of a human soul, (ortherwise known as the mind-model of dualism), all memories are formed and stored within the soul. Even so the soul must interact with the body in some way if these memories are to be related by the physical body to others. And we know this must happen because:

This is how the mind-model of dualism proposes how memory functions. But is this reality or illusion?

The soul forms and retains no memories!

Memory is an absolutely essential property of the human soul—yet even though the soul is supposedly the vehicle of the conscious mind and memory, is unaffected by things affecting the physical body, and is continually conscious—the soul cannot remember actions, deeds and speech performed while the physical body was physically conscious under the influence of some drugs. The above putative memory function of the soul is rendered nonsensical by a simple daily observation by all practicing anesthesiologists.

proof we have no soulsAnesthesiologists and other physicians regularly inject small doses of a drug called midazolam to reduce anxiety, and to sedate patients. Patients sedated and rendered free from anxiety, are cooperative, perform actions they are instructed, converse, and respond with conscious directed actions and deeds. Yet they nearly all forget everything occurring during the period they were sedated with midazolam. This has profound implications for the location of memory. So how does the mind-model of dualism explain the amnesic effects of midazolam? The explanation is somewhat more complex, so I will put it into the form of a list (see paragraphs 7.75-7.86 in Chapter 7 of Illusory Souls).

  • The mind-model of dualism states that the physically conscious body of a person is a sort of mindless robot under the control of the soul.
  • Midazolam administered at doses sufficient to cause amnesia does not induce loss of consciousness. After such doses of midazolam, most people are somewhat sedated, yet perceive and react appropriately to their surroundings. They are cooperative, talk normally, answer questions appropriately, and otherwise react appropriately with speech and movements.
  • According to the logic of dualism, the physical body transmits perceptions of speech, sight, touch, and surroundings in some way to the soul, which then controls the body to speak, move, and act appropriately in response to others and the situation.
  • Believers in the mind-model of dualism claim that the soul is the indelible repository of all memories.
  • The mind-model of dualism states that the soul is unaffected by drugs affecting the physical brain.
  • Therefore, according to the mind-model of dualism, memories of thoughts, speech, actions, deeds, and perceptions made while sedated with midazolam, but physically conscious and cooperative, are all indelibly stored within the soul.
  • All physical brain functions return to normal after the body eliminates all the administered midazolam.
  • Memories of the perceptions, speech, sounds, and events occurring around the conscious physical body while under the influence of sedative doses of midazolam, are public memories. They are memories much like hearing and remembering a conversation, hearing a sound, or remembering a snippet of news from a newspaper. They are public memories—not memories of anything secret, intended only for the use of immaterial beings or souls.
  • Therefore there is no conceivable reason why people cannot recall conscious actions and speech during procedures performed under midazolam sedation.
  • So if the soul is the indelible repository of all memories, then all people should be able to remember all that occurred while sedated, but physically conscious and cooperative.
  • But most people remember nothing of what they thought, said, did, or perceived during the period their physical brains were affected by midazolam.

Memory is an absolutely essential property of the human soul, yet even though the soul is supposedly the vehicle of the conscious mind, is unaffected by things affecting the physical body, and is continually conscious, and controls the physical body to act and to speak. Yet this amnesia is observed daily, all over the world wherever midazolam is employed for both its conscious sedation and amnesic effects. It is the daily reality of myself, and all other physicians administering midazolam to the patients we treat. The only explanation for all these repeatedly observed facts is that the soul is not the repository of memories, but that the physical brain forms and retains all memories.

We have no souls

The book Illusory Souls provides many different proofs clearly demonstrating the objective lack of any sort of memory function in the soul. Interested readers can read Illusory Souls for detailed descriptions of how clinical observations in everyday anesthesiology practice, and other aspects of modern medicine reveal many more proofs of the illusory nature of the soul. These things all demonstrate the contibution of anesthesiology to answering millennia-old philosophical and theological questions regarding the reality of the human soul—a true fusion of clinical anesthesiology and theology—“anestheology”.