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In a world which to a visitor coming from our own world would appear to be identical to our own, the mental processes (thoughts, emotions, memory) do not occur in the brain. That is, memory isn't stored in the brain and it is not the brain that is "doing the thinking". Instead the brain is a receiver for information passed to it from the incorporeal soul, in the same way that a radio receiver receives a radio signal.

I already said the world is identical to ours in all respects (except that thoughts don't happen in the brain), but I want to emphasize the following:

  1. To the scientists of that world, when they use current medical imaging methods like MRI, PET, EEG, and whatnot, the brains of people from that world look identical to brain activity images of people from our own world.

  2. The people of that world hold the same beliefs as we do. That is, some do believe in a "soul", but there is no proof for it, and most scientists believe that the soul and telepathy are superstitions. Scientists of that other world, like scientists of our own, believe that memories are stored in the brain and that thoughts originate in the brain, and they interpret images of brain activity according to those beliefs.

  3. There is no measurable electromagnetic or other "transmission" from or to the brain beyond the well-known electric activity of the brain itself.

In that other world, the soul and the brain exchange information in a way that current technology (in both worlds) cannot detect.

What observation would prove to a scientist that the brain is receiving thougts and memories from outside instead of thinking thoughts and storing memories within itself?

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    $\begingroup$ You describe the brain as being almost purely a processing station in your idea. Some memories are stored as processes in the brain, so these would be altered in things like EEG's. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Dec 29 '20 at 11:29

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It would be visible during brain recovery.

The brain stores information in various ways, including as feedback loops that remain active for years if not your entire life. Should sections of the brain be damaged and repair themselves the soul's transmissions would restore those, which suggests that these processes are stored somewhere. After enough functions of the brain can be charted simultaneously with accuracy you can determine the information comes from essentially nothing.

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    $\begingroup$ Do we really have enough information to accurately determine what memory comes from where? I've read some amazing medical incidents where people have lost parts of their brains or suffered some truly strange brain injuries and have come out of it with memories intact. To my knowledge many of these cases cast doubt on what we really know about memories in the brain, as the recovery much less lack of damage couldn't be explained. Mostly because we really don't know that much to begin with. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 29 '20 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ not for full memories no, but I thought that things like taste memory and reinforcement of behaviours uses a type of feedbackloop memory, "storing" these not-exactly-memories in your neural pathways. If you remove these pathways the desire/distaste disappears. That said, the brain is immensely strange. My SO worked with a client who was pretty normal in most ways but needed some help. Upon his death they discovered that half his brain was just gone in a literal sense, and no one ever noticed anything that could indicate that loss. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Dec 29 '20 at 15:12
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Unknown processes

Currently we simply don't know how and where memories are created. We have very prevalent theories, but in the end we don't know.

Now imagine we have scoured the brain, separating the noise of the neurons and the true working processes. Categorising and organising the signals to a comprehensive map, so if we see a certain combination of signals in a certain combination of neurons we know exactly what has happened. If we have done that for the full brain and not found the memories and thinking, the conclusion can be that it is extracerebral.

The problem here is that the conclusion might be that we simply don't understand the way memories are stored, or that this activity is the memory. If you have no proof of outgoing signals, there is no reason to assume them, so you look internally for the cause of memories. As the activity and growth is the only sign, it must be the memories in some way we just don't understand. The sum might be larger than the whole.

Imagine having a computer that has wifi, but you can never detect it. The wifi antenna doesn't exist in this case. The computer is the antenna itself, just because it is an computer.

Now you can run some processes, but you can also access the internet. You know the internet exists, but how would you ever know where it comes from? You can scan every bit of the hardware, know what process it does, but as you don't know it can receive wifi signals you can't say with certainty it is coming from outside the computer.

It will not stop hypothesis, research and more, but being certain if you can't find such signal is impossible.

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    $\begingroup$ To wit, AFAIK we haven't definitively proven that "the brain is a receiver for information passed to it from the incorporeal soul" isn't already true for us. Enderverse, for example, explicitly works this way. Yes, there are clearly measurable, physical aspects to the brain, but, to use a computer analogy, we might be seeing the motherboard/peripherals and not the CPU. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 29 '20 at 14:02
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I think Occam's razor would rule out the possibility that you describe.

You have a sample brain which behaves in all the observable ways like a human brain, with no observable differences. Therefore the simplest explanation is that the sample brain is a human brain.

Adding the additional feature of it being an antenna for receiving a stream coming from somewhere else conflicts with the entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem on which the razor is based.

Occam's razor, Ockham's razor, Ocham's razor (Latin: novacula Occami), or law of parsimony (Latin: lex parsimoniae) is the problem-solving principle that "entities should not be multiplied without necessity", or more simply, the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

From a scientific point of view there is no need to add the antenna concept to explain the working of the brain. However, if you want to use non scientific approaches there is nothing preventing you from postulating the existence of this antenna, which should be accepted as a matter of faith, not out of reasoning.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with this. If an "antenna brain" and "processor brain" work in all the same observable ways, there doesn't seem to be a way to detect a difference. Not unless we can detect the "brain waves" that the external consciousness sends. Without knowledge or even any suggestion this is the case, we wouldn't have a way to detect it. To even begin suspecting something like an external consciousness exists, we need some sort of inconsistency to begin exploring. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 29 '20 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ And the "antenna brain" must have all the processing inside it, because otherwise that would be a detectable difference $\endgroup$ – user253751 Dec 29 '20 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a way through serendipity somehow. For example, if two brains received the same signal at the same time and the signal was ridiculously improbable and it contained some kind of key to prove it wasn't faked in advance. $\endgroup$ – Tobe Dec 29 '20 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ This isn’t a valid answer to the question. The question says to assume the soul transmission idea is true then asks what experimental evidence would lead scientists to that hypothesis. $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 30 '20 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM, Occam's razor applies to experimental evidences to explain them. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Dec 30 '20 at 5:27
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My first thought was that it would be impossible to discover that the brain was only a receiver due to:

There is no measurable electromagnetic or other "transmission" from or to the brain beyond the well-known electric activity of the brain itself.

However, just because we can't detect the signal directly does not mean we cannot infer there must be a signal or connection to something else (the soul). The main factor what would control whether we could discover this connection is the location of the soul.

If the soul is spatially located in the brain, we may be out of luck. However, if the soul is free-floating and occasionally becomes somewhat distant from the body, we have an opportunity for detection.

The Discovery

Bob was having a great time preparing for the costume party. Since the theme was Space, he knew there would be a number of astronaut costumes, but he also knew that nobody would have a helmet coated with iridescent unobtainium, as his lab had only announced the discovery yesterday. What it hit it was going to be!

What Bob had not counted on was the strange effect when he first put on the helmet: complete darkness, silence, and a sense of dizziness! He had no way to know that at that (un)fortunate moment, his soul had drifted far enough behind him that the helmet passed between it and his head... and, crucially, that iridescent unobtainium happened to block the soul-signal, which cut off all physical senses!

Luckily, he was seated at his workbench when the signal stopped. His head tipped forward exposing a direct line between his soul and the lower part of his brain. With the connection reestablished, Bob's senses returned and he straitened up... only to "black out" again.

When he realized what was happening, all thought of attending the costume party left his mind. There was amazing new research to be done!


That is how I think the discovery could be made. The only additional requirements, besides those stated in the question, are:

  1. The soul must, at least occasionally, be spatially separate from the brain
  2. There must exist some material that can block at least the soul-signal, and possibly the soul itself, from reaching the brain.
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You could have a situation where an external event coincides with numerous people, in distantly-removed lcoations, all simultaneously having the same strange thought. For instance, some sort of astronomical or supercollider lab event could broadcast "thought noise" that results in entire crowds of people in Tanzania, Wyoming, and Iceland all simultaneously thinking for a moment, in their own native languages, that if they replaced their right hands with cubes, there would be three moons in the sky next week. Then someone could notice that the places these occurred lined up in a way that indicated the source.

Obviously this is an observation based on accident, not experimentation, but you didn't specify, and is a way you could set up the narrative for the discovery and "proof".

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The transmission itself must be observable and reproducible.

Imagine an experiment left running somewhere remote like Antarctica. It doesn’t find what it set out to, but researchers notice clear signals when a human is present. Controlled research develops along these lines until there is a clear correlation between a human forming a memory and the production of a specific signal.

At this point, serious scientists may suspect the brain may be transmitting memories rather than storing them, but the predominant view will likely be that the transmission is merely a leak occurring when the brain stores memories in itself. To really prove that a soul is storing the memories will require a little more world building. For example, do animals have souls? Are human memory transmissions universal in their encoding so that they are ultimately as understandable as video compression algorithms or is every individual’s transmission pattern unique? Does the soul or its receiving antenna have a location in space?

To prove memory is not stored in the brain, it must be possible to give someone a memory artificially while certain that the brain is not involved.

Here’s a scenario that might work without taking your world too far into Twilight Zone territory. Let’s say that memory transmissions are far too personal and complex to decode, but they don’t start that way. Data shows remarkable consistency in the faint signals of newborns. They figure out how to boost the signal and find materials which block it. Now scientists can send a memory of birth at the amplitude of adult memory signals. Point it directly at the brain with the torso blocked and no memory is formed, but block the brain and point the signal at the torso and subjects consistently gain a memory of being squeezed through a dark place that makes them behave awkwardly around their mothers.

Ultimately, nothing will prove the existence of a soul per se, but proving that memories are stored outside of the brain is achievable.

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Lobotomy has no effect on personality or intellect, because those come from the soul, not the brain.

Corpus callosotomy never causes alien hand syndrome, because the two halves of the mind are still fully connected in the soul.

Surgeons would notice that brain injuries often have no effect, and report that large areas of the brain seem to be about as useful to the mind as the appendix is to the digestive tract. This would later be contradicted by fMRI studies showing complex responses to thought, memory and external stimulus in these "useless" brain areas, leading to long and heated arguments in the scientific community about the purpose of the frontal and temporal lobes.

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By hypothesis, you can neither detect the transmission nor its receival.

The only thing that remains is the possibility of detecting the information itself. If people can measurably often and predictably retrieve thoughts and memories for which any other explanation can be excluded, at the very least you can prove the existence of telepathy.

Another possibility is that, just like one device can detect those transmissions, and that device is the human brain, the same device can interfere with those transmissions. For example, someone in an insulated "room" in the middle of a capsule hotel is performing some tasks; and we can measurably demonstrate that their results are different (indicating a lower IQ or reduced memory recall efficiency) when the hotel is packed full of people, and we can tell whether those other people are awake or asleep or afraid. This would mean that the brain matter has a shielding effect.

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Artificial Intelligence projects based on the brain would fail.

Even if the brain is somehow too complicated for us to understand, as long as we can take a perfect atomic-level 3D image of the brain, we could reproduce it digitally. If the brain is a receiver, the digital brain will fail as presumably it has no "soul" and nothing would transmit to it. However, if the brain is a thinking machine, then our digital brain should work.

This is beyond our current level of technology, so it would have to be at least a bit more futuristic world than ours. Of course, if we could prove/disprove the soul with our current technology we would have already have done so.

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Is it?

People have already mentioned incredibly clever ideas such as interference and the effects of brain damage, however I don't think those are enough to really prove interaction with the soul.

If interference was possible, there would be a problem with people standing too close to each other and their information getting swapped or corrupted. This isn't necessarily a problem, depending on the scale of how much/how easily interference happens, but definitely something that would hypothetically be visible on brain scans - violating the first bullet point.

For brain damage, it depends on how you interpret the radio receiver analogy: if you cut a chunk of a radio off, you'll get results ranging from perfectly fine to no longer functioning (but most likely not functioning great anymore), just like with what we see in real life with the processor-y brains. Obviously this depends on how much work the brain is doing. Does it have to decode the message like a radio receiver? Is it just redirecting data?

With current stipulations, it's really hard to get a reasonable experiment that goes with your premises, and it more or less reduces to a game of interpretation/guessing at loopholes - neither of which is the point, as far as I understood it.


Why is the soul the thing doing the processing? Why not the brain? What effect does this have on your story/world?

Answering these questions is the key to understanding how people will discover that the brain is simply a receiver for the soul. Maybe later in the story the villain puts one of the side characters into a "coma" by disconnecting their soul using some sort of information blocker. Maybe souls can interact with other brains, meaning telepathy or mind control. These concepts/abilities would probably be found earlier in the story by accident, or experimentation.

Do these violate some of your principles? As I understood it, yes! I haven't come up with great examples at all. But you need to find some example of what your concept does for your world, and that will help you understand how it is found.

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