Mind and Matter
This spring's edition of God & Nature magazine was anticipated to be about questions of the material versus immaterial aspects of the human "mind" and its relationship to what we call our souls. And it is, still, very much about that interesting and compelling nexus—several essays within probe questions of who we are via what our brains are made of: how they work, when and (to what extent we can infer it) how they got to be the way they are today.
Since our personalities seem to be shaped by how our brains process information, and since the experiences and habits we have throughout our lives, in turn, give shape to our brains—the question of what relationship our souls have to our minds is a good one, evergreen and ripe for questioning.
But what surprised me in collecting submissions for this edition of God & Nature is that this line of questioning was only one of the shared interests of writers exploring such connections. A second category seemed to emerge among the essays submitted: these articles shared attention on how we as Christians care for our special brains and what responsibilities we have toward vulnerable others in the care of their brains. Neuroscience is a field that helps inform and is informed by the mental health sciences such as psychotherapy and psychiatry—their object of study is the same—but neuroscience and mental health are quite distinct in method and aim. One seeks to know for knowing's sake, for science—the other is first and foremost a healing profession.
A number of articles under the umbrella "Brain Science and the Soul" thus came across my desk that seemed to have much more to do with this latter category of concern (mental health) than the former (neuroscience and the human mind/soul). These good and insightful pieces seemed to demand a subtle shift in focus for the whole edition. I thus changed the name of this spring's collection of writings to: "Brain Science and the Care of Souls" to signal included issues of clinical pastoral care, depression and anxiety in the church, and the physical effects of trauma in the body of Christ. I hope readers will appreciate these articles as a complement to those that deal more with the so-called "harder" neuroscientific questions. Perhaps some readers will even find within these pages a voice or two that can help them more clearly and openly articulate concerns of their own, about how to give and receive help to people of psychological difference in our midst.
Emily Ruppel is a PhD student in communication at the University of Pittsburgh, with focus areas in rhetoric of science, bioethics, STS, feminist theory, and oral history.
Prior to her doctoral work, Emily studied poetry at Bellarmine University in Louisville (B.A. '08) and science writing at MIT (M.S. '11). She has spent several years working as a professional writer and editor for academic and popular outlets; among them, God & Nature magazine is a favorite project.