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Dualism Revisited: Body vs. Mind vs. Soul

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A large, diverse sample of adults was interviewed about their conception of the ontological and functional properties of the mind as compared to the soul. The existence of the mind was generally tied to the human lifecycle of conception, birth, growth and death, and was primarily associated with cognitive as opposed to spiritual functions. In contrast, the existence of the soul was less systematically tied to the lifecycle and frequently associated with spiritual as opposed to cognitive functions. Participants were also asked about three ethical issues: stem cell research, life support for patients in a persistent vegetative state and cloning. As expected, participants' beliefs about the ontology and function of the soul were linked to their judgments about these ethical issues whereas their beliefs about the mind were unrelated. Overall, the findings show that many adults do not espouse a simple body-mind dualism, and any tendency toward such dualism is unlikely to explain their beliefs in an afterlife. Instead, afterlife beliefs appear to be associated with the idea of an immaterial essence, potentially dissociable from the biology of life and death.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of California, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521, USA; 2: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA


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