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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
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 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
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 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
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 15:12
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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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  • $\begingroup$ "Blocking the signal" is the crucial point here - I'm not sure that being spatially separate is necessary, though. Consider, for example, that the soul is always "located" at the center of the brain, and brain-soul communication is achieved by polarized handwavium radiation (currently unknown to science and unmeasurable) - Bob's laboratory could still discover a strange side effect temporarily "shutting off" human consciousness in the vicinity of their latest invention - that'll have no effect on any other type of animal. $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 17:33
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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
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ And the "antenna brain" must have all the processing inside it, because otherwise that would be a detectable difference $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 29, 2020 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
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 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
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM, Occam's razor applies to experimental evidences to explain them. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 5:27
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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
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 14:02
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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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  • $\begingroup$ I love this answer, lobotomy and brain injuries were the first things that came to mind after reading this question. However, OP does say that brains appear to work the same as in our world, so all of these should be explainable with the brain/soul approach. Maybe the brain is a distributed transmitter/receiver, so that different parts facilitate different things - Lobotomy severs connection to "higher" functions, alien hand syndrome is the result of conflicting/partial messages due to a severed connection, brain injuries to the visual cortex disrupt transmission of visual signals etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Bottom line: this answer is great as a challenge to the paradigm, but doesn't work as an answer to the question as asked (still +1ing it for suggesting how a brain/soul world would differ) $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 19:12
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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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By hypothesis, you can not detect the transmission.

The only avenue left for discovery is that the transmission can somehow be impaired or intercepted; or, more precisely, some phenomenon happens that can be most readily be interpreted as a thought-transmission being jammed or intercepted.

If people can measurably often and predictably retrieve some one else's 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, soundproof "room" in the middle of a capsule hotel is performing some tasks; and we first notice, then can measurably and reproducibly demonstrate that their results are different (indicating a lower IQ or reduced memory recall efficiency) when the hotel is packed full of people (a fact which our user could never ordinarily know). This would mean that those other people's brain matter has a shielding or jamming effect.

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

We are starting from a world identical to our own - brains appear to work as "processors", not "antennas". In our world, the scientific community does not acknowledge the existence of the soul1. So, we are looking for a phenomenon / event that has never occurred in our world, that would prove2 that in that world, brains are conduits for souls rather than thinking meat or flesh drives.

An eye-opening global phenomenon

  • Maybe there's a limited amount of souls, and once the entire human population exceeds that number - no more babies are born3 or, if souls are "recycled" (reincarnated or just reallocated without any knowledge of their previous lives), than the human population reaches a hard limit - where only when someone dies a new viable baby can be born.

  • Or maybe some kind of pathogen messes up with the soul/brain connection - this could be something banal and morbid as unexplained deaths from damage to a minor and little understood part of the brain, but would be much more interesting if we get creative - for example, a virus/bacteria/parasite which copies some of the memories of one host to anyone catching it from them, or a disease jumping from one species to another causes people to behave like animals and vice versa, or even something that causes a complete "soul transfer" - where one person suddenly gains the consciousness, skills and memories of another (instead of or in addition to their own).

  • Finally, maybe it's something that affects everyone in an area in a way best explained by memories/thoughts being received rather than produced locally - such as all the people in a mall suddenly becoming fluent in Cantonese, everyone in England vividly remembering the exact last words spoken by a terminal patient from New Zealand, or all the people in a village suddenly knowing the combination for the mayor's safe.

Any such events will be impossible to reproduce in a lab, but if they happen repeatedly and consistently enough, that could encourage the scientific community to seriously consider the brain/soul theory.

A new discovery sheds light on the nature of the soul

  • A new recreational drug causes users in close proximity to become completely synchronized for a while. This effect can be reproduced consistently even if test subjects are separated to different rooms immediately after taking the drug.

  • A new technology has a consistent but unexpected side effect which "broadcast" one person's brain/soul signal to everybody in range4.

  • If the souls are "tethered" to Earth, then attempts to fly humans into deep space, would uncover a mysterious "lag" between body and mind - as very large distances will affect the soul/brain communication speed.

  • Just as X-ray imaging opened up a new way to examine the body, some new discovery could somehow detect/record the soul/brain communication - even if each soul has a different "protocol" so you can't transplant memories or thoughts, those could be "replayed" to the origin person (making him reexperience recorded brain transmissions, or causing his body to repeat recorded soul transmissions)5.

  • An artificial receiver is unintentionally invented - an experimental medical procedure for neurological issues, a new type of computer hardware (quantum computers?) or a new type of remote controlled machines uncover a surprising ability for brains to control equipment - investigation into the underlying principles make it clear that somehow the instructions are broadcasted from somewhere, leading to the discovery that similar principles explain the way the brain works - better than the existing theory that leaves the soul out of the model.


1: Of course, individual scientists may hold any sort of personal belief - but that's miles away from scientific consensus.

2: More accurately, a phenomenon / event which could convince the scientific community to start taking the idea of a soul seriously and research it further. I can't imagine any single observation which will prove anything beyond doubt, definitely nothing at the scale this question asks.

3: Or more horrifying results, depending on how that world soul-brain coupling works - I won't get into details since I find them unsettling, use your imagination.

4: There are four variants for this, depending on who is the broadcaster and which direction is broadcasted, and some or all of them could happen simultaneously - say that Alice touches the "handwavioum apparatus" and that affects Bob and Charlie either:

  1. (A's brain to B&C souls) Bob and Charlie see through Alice's eyes (instead of or in addition to their own), they feel pain if she's hurt, hear what she's hearing etc. Later, they'll be able to accurately recall whatever Alice experienced - possibly having difficulties to differentiate those memories from their own. It's possible that during that time, Alice soul isn't receiving anything - she has no idea what's happening to body, and later she will remember "blacking out" while still being conscious (similar to "locked inside" syndrome).
  2. (A's soul to B&C brains) When Alice tries to walk or raise a hand, Bob and Charlie do that (in addition to her or instead of her), they may feel like they are fighting their own bodies as even simple actions such as turning a doorknob become a struggle. Later, they will remember what happened to them. In this scenario, Alice's soul is not receiving anything from Bob and Charlie, so she's unaware that anything's amiss.
  3. (B&C brains to A's soul) Like in (1.) above, Alice is receiving multiple sensory information - and it's conflicting even if the broadcast is suppressing her own brain's signals.
  4. (B&C souls to A's brain) An inverted version of (2.) above, but worse - here Alice's body is getting conflicting signals from both Bob and Charlie, so even if her soul is blocked there's a control struggle - and her soul is still receiving so she is aware of it all. Bob and Charlie have no idea anything is wrong. All of these could be as comical or stressful as suits you, and will take completely different tones if Alice, Bob and Charlie were in the same room and in contact with each other when this effect starts.

5: After research advances enough, this could be useful in certain fields - e.g. forensics ("soul" fingerprints), law enforcement, athletics and performance.

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