- Coming to Mind: The Soul and Its Body by Lenn E. Goodman, D. Gregory Caramenico
Coming to Mind is a monograph that seeks to establish the human soul as a viable topic in contemporary philosophical discourse. The two authors, Lenn E. Goodman and D. Gregory Caramenico, draw on a wide range of fields in the humanities and the sciences to achieve a deeply humanistic work. The range of materials brought into the discussion is one of the book’s strongest contributions.
The authors build up the soul’s reality through the examination of five essential aspects of, or arguments for, the person: perception, consciousness, memory, agency, and creativity. Each of the five arguments is given its own chapter, and in addition there is an introduction and a final chapter titled “Afterword / God and the Soul.” Seeking to rescue the soul from “obsolete metaphysics,” the authors emphasize modern and contemporary research in the social and hard sciences throughout. Relegating theology to an “afterword” was a deliberate choice in order to begin with “what we know,” that is, the human person, and not that which transcends us. But as the book goes on, the soul emerges as a transcendent subject nonetheless, overseeing all the irreducible factors of our humanity. The central argument is that our humanity, viewed through perception, consciousness, memory, agency and creativity, constitutes a system of such vast complexity that only what since ancient times has been called a soul (or self) makes the whole operable.
The introductory chapter establishes the authors’ perspective and approach: to regard the soul as something dynamic, emerging, earned. It sets the integrative tone of the work, which seeks no less than to establish how “souls make us persons” through the integration of ancient and modern sciences. On their side, they claim, stand “psychologists, neurophysiologists, cognitive and brain scientists, philosophers, mystics and theologians of many eras and cultures,” all of whom the authors make skilled use in this ambitious endeavor. They achieve a truly integrative study. What is lacking with each chapter, however, is the sustained connection of each of these arguments to the soul. This seems not to be an oversight, however, but a deliberate choice of style on the part of the authors.
Chapter 2, “Perception,” establishes the book’s integrative, cross-disciplinary approach, going back to ancient Greece and ending up with the Gestalt psychologists, and journeying on through the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching [End Page 962] in addition to the trippy perceptions, such as synesthesia (the musical perception of colors, for example). As stated before, the extended discussion of perception and its complexity does not directly address the question of the soul until a final swoop at the end of the chapter: “Souls emerge where our integrated apprehension of the world joins and helps form a sense of self.”
Chapter 3, “Consciousness,” shows off the breadth of the authors’ erudition, describing the varieties of consciousness in East and West, with help from the Greeks, their Islamic heirs, Eastern gurus, and neuroscientists. Few authors can draw on a fourteenth-century Kentish “work of popular morals” and the Arabic term for the devil’s under-the-breath persuasions (waswās) in one paragraph successfully, but this is evidence of Goodman and Caramenico’s fruitful co-authorship. The concise modern history of neuroscience and its struggle to pin down consciousness—from William James to Sigmund Freud to Wilder Penfield—is the most focused and compelling section of the chapter. Moving from the most recent research in neuroscience, then to Indian philosophy in its post-Buddhist defense of the self, and then to the latest findings from the animal kingdom, the juxtaposition of evidence and examples will be enjoyed by some readers, but exasperating to others.
Chapter 4, “Memory,” is also very strong when bridging between the philosophical discussion of memory and brain science. The classic case studies on lost memories, altered states of consciousness, and modern scientific research on memory are the...