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:
- Do we have souls?
- Is there an afterlife with retention of individual personality after death?
- Is there a hell where sinners are punished, and is there a heaven where the righteous are rewarded after death?
- Is reincarnation a fantasy or reality?
- Do near-death experiences, and out-of-body experiences reveal anything about the true nature of the soul?
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.
- People report remembering, and recognizing the appearances of automobiles, buildings, trees, and multitudinous other objects during NDEs and OOBEs. If memories of these things, objects, animals and people were not retained within the soul, the soul would not recognize these things when disembodied.
- People who meet deceased relatives, recognize their relatives while undergoing these experiences. This appears to indicate that their dissociated souls retain older long term memories of these persons and their appearances.
- People who hear subsequently verified conversations and speech while undergoing these experiences, recognize the words and understand what is being said. This apparently means that the soul is also the repository of long-term memories of language, otherwise the dissociated soul would be incapable of understanding speech.
- People sometimes report seeing things and hearing things while undergoing these experiences during states of apparent death or unconsciousness. This apparently means the soul is something independent from the physical body, is capable of hearing speech and seeing with light, as well as being capable of remembering these things while disembodied. If the soul was incapable of forming new memories while disembodied, no-one would be capable of remembering an OOBE or NDE.
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:
- The disembodied soul remembers persons, language, the names and sorts of objects in the physical world, book learning, and all manner of things learned through the senses of the physical body when the soul is embodied. This means that perceptions and learning made with the senses of the physical body are somehow transferred from the physical body to the immaterial soul which then remembers them.
- Things observed and perceived by the disembodied immaterial soul during OOBEs and NDEs are remembered by the soul.
- When a conscious person is requested to recall something, or a person spontaneously recalls something such as an OOBE or an NDE, the embodied immaterial soul retrieves these memories, and somehow controls the material body to recount these memories through the mechanisms of the body.
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.
Anesthesiologists 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”.