Wait to Open on All Hallows’ Eve

11/11/22

To J. P. Moreland—my favorite metaphysics professor. “Let’s get metaphysical.”

Forgetting to don a surgical mask proves nearly disastrous when the smell of flesh and bone, being chewed-up by a medical-grade bone-saw, makes Sean queasy. He intermittently holds his breath as steady hands hold the handle to a blade that cleaves and carves directly on the perforated line drawn from the top of Gerald’s forehead—all the way around—to the base of his skull.

Six hours earlier. A microphone crackles a loud voice, reverberating off the walls and into people’s guarded ears: “Split-brains: a simple self or two separate selves? One unified brain or two independent brains? Some sort of dualism or mere physicalism?” asks Dr. Wilberforce, looking into a sea of students and faculty.

Today’s speaker is the controversial philosopher of mind, Professor Wilberforce, who arrives just in time for his lecture on “Substance Dualism and Brain Transplants” at the University of California Berkeley. He’s typically described by his peers as the quintessential “absent-minded professor,” frequently forgetting to attend lectures or appointments for being “lost in his own head,” conjuring up thought experiments for his philosophical beliefs. So his prompt attendance at the stroke of 5pm at Moses Hall on Halloween—the day before All Saints’ (Souls’) Day—makes this event especially uncanny, some might even say, with a modicum of mystery.

Truth-be-told, Dr. Wilberforce is not only absent-minded but also neurotic and a bit of a recluse, only leaving his home to teach at the local community college. By merely looking at him, one would think he’s homeless, given his disheveled appearance and tattered clothes. But don’t let his exterior manifestation fool you; he’s the top metaphysical philosopher in the country, and most recently, he’s earned a second doctorate degree, this one in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University’s online program with the integrated stipulation of completing 200-hours of hands-on research, which ends November 1st of this year, just before the stroke of midnight. His focus, nearly the entire time, has been brain research on human cadavers. He’s also converted his spacious house, tucked-away in the country, into a laboratory, where he performs experiments and surgeries on dead animals.

Dr. Wilberforce finishes his lecture with a thought experiment on the validity of substance dualism and opens up the rest of the time to answering questions. Dr. Huxley, a neuro-physicist at Berkeley, makes great haste to be the first person to get to the microphone nearest him.

“Good to see you out of your house and joining us here in the land of the living,” says the embittered-physicist. “You’ve been dodging my calls and requests to publicly debate me for years. But now I’ve got you!” he punctuates, forgetting the presence of a live audience except for the two former-college roommates. “I have an unsolvable, scientific problem for you—a brain-split phenomenon that proves physicalism.”

He unbuttons his brown Herringbone, tweed sport-coat and speaks with academic authority, “To help mitigate epileptic seizures, neuroscientists have surgically split the affected person’s brain in half, a surgical procedure known as commissurotomy, severing the corpus callosum—the neural fibers, connecting both hemispheres of the brain, resulting in either partial or complete interruption of interhemispheric communication. The effects on perception via eyesight is well documented as clinical research in peer-reviewed medical journals.”

Dr. Huxley turns to finally acknowledge the crowd and then refocuses his attention on his opponent. “After the surgery when the patient is awake, a partition is put in the middle of the patient’s face between his eyes so the left eye cannot see what the right eye is seeing and the right eye cannot see what the left eye is seeing. The patient, looking at a screen, manifests behavior that implies there are two different people, reacting in two different ways, contradicting the theists’ view—your view—that the soul is unified and simple, and thus—.”

He’s interrupted by the guest speaker, who quickly stands up: “Neuroscience has nothing to say about the soul. Nothing!” Dr. Wilberforce tucks a tuft of his gray hair behind his right ear and sits down.

“I see you’re still holding on to that dinosaur view of yours… Let me give you the scientific data,” he says, widening his power stance. “One example that represents the same conclusion to all the case studies I’ve done goes like this. On the left side of a screen, the word ‘Charles’ is written, and on the right side of the screen, the word ‘Darwin’ is written. With the partition in place, the patient, whose left eye corresponds to the right side of brain, is aware of ‘Charles’ but not ‘Darwin’, whereas the right side is aware of ‘Darwin’ but not ‘Charles’. What else can we conclude—except that physicalism is true,” he pauses to dramatize his point, “which is to say we are our brain, because the self is cut in two? Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it!” He jeers at his intellectual rival.

Dr. Wilberforce shakes his head and bites down on his bottom lip. “This is why I don’t go to our college reunions and participate in your pontificating debates. I can’t stand that condescending, crooked smile on your face. But more, annoyingly, you’re incapable of reasonably acknowledging the limitations of science.” The lecture-suddenly-turned-hostile-debate leaves the audience speechless.

“Then why don’t you enlighten us—a room full of scientists about what science cannot do?” he says less as a genuine question and more as a patronizing remark. “I dare you…”

The goading works. “I will… But before I do, I’d like to give an answer as to the more feasible explanation for the results of the aforementioned experiment, if I can,” he says, turning to the moderator, who approves his request. “It’s far-fetched to think that removing the partition between a patient’s eyes creates a new, unified self. A better explanation is that the patient has always been a unified self but the experimental conditions in some way disturbed him from functioning the way he was designed.”

“There you go again, sneaking your intelligent design agenda into the conversation by saying, ‘he was designed’.

“Fine … ‘with the appearance of design’. Is that better?”

Professor Huxley shrugs. “It’ll do…”

“Now let’s talk about the limits of science,” says professor Wilberforce, wringing his hands. By the way, I discuss this in the Foreword to my latest book, The Beauty and Blunders of Science, but I’ll repeat myself again, for your sake,” he shares, staring fearlessly at the heartless professor before taking a sip of water. His burnt-mangled hand wipes his mouth and then strokes his scraggly beard before continuing. “Science is silent when it comes to choosing a theory from empirically equivalent theories that entail exactly the same observational data. What that means is that no empirical observation can count in favor of one theory relative to other theories because they all imply exactly the same set of observations. Let me explain with an example. As you’re already aware, there’s a group of neurons in the brain called ‘mirror neurons’. If damaged, the ability to empathize with one another is lost. But how can we explain that? Well, there are three empirically equivalent theories.”

He takes another sip of water and then places the cup back on the podium. “Number one is strict physicalism, which says that consciousness is physical states in the brain and the possessor of consciousness is the brain, itself. This is a reductionist theory: consciousness or the feeling of empathy is reduced to the brain or the firing of mirror neurons, identifying consciousness and the brain as being the same thing. Number two is property dualism, which holds that the state of consciousness is immaterial. But the possessor of consciousness is the brain. On this view, the brain has different kinds of properties: it has the properties of matter or, in this case, the firing of mirror neurons, but it also has the properties of consciousness or, say, the feeling of empathy, which are immaterial. And lastly, number three is substance dualism, which says not only is the immaterial or the feeling of empathy different from the physical or the firing of mirror neurons, the possessors of the feeling of empathy and the firing of mirror neurons are different: states of consciousness like a feeling of empathy belong to the soul, and the firing of mirror neurons belong to the brain. So clearly there are different states or properties in different possessors. Again, keep in mind, all three theories are empirically equivalent. Therefore, science, or in this case neuroscience, is limited in that it cannot adjudicate which theory is true. All science can do is—.”

The tenured Berkeley professor interrupts him: “How dare you come into my house and tell me what science can and cannot do!”

“If this offends you, well, I’m sorry but that’s on you, not on me,” responds the prodigious pseudo-vagabond.

“It’s you that offends me! You and your Clarence Darrow exterior while possessing none of his savvy and respect for science” he jabs and jeers. “No, really… You’re quite the sight! What is that one your torn T-shirt? Is that feathers and bird droppings? Disgusting!” He circles back around to the argument at hand, fuming and fumbling his words, feeling furious and a tad frantic about defending his beliefs in front of his peers and students. “Where … what do you … I mean, if all theories are equal, how do you justify believing in substance dualism over physicalism and property dualism?”

“Thought experiments aside—although there’s one I’m really optimistic about coming to life—I’d start with near-death experiences, which are irrefutable and undeniable. I quote example after example in my book, The Beauty and Blunders of Science, ‘Chapter 12: Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)’. Mind you, these are not examples of a dying brain phenomenon or oxygen deprivation to the brain. These are people who were clinically dead with no brain activity, which lasted long enough so the brain could not be recovered, especially without damage to the brain. During this time, people experienced heaven and/or hell and/or divine beings, including God, himself, and mind you, they—without access to body or brain—gained knowledge of things that happened in other places that were later verified by eyewitnesses, including doctors and/or medical staff.” He pauses, “This is highly technical scientific research that’s lasted over 20 years with roughly 300,000,000 NDEs recorded worldwide.” Just as Dr. Wilberforce speaks his last word, the moderator chimes in to say the Q & A session has expired.

Amid the mass exodus of people, Dr. Huxley pushes his way through the crowd, his inertia moving in the opposite direction, to reach to the front. By the time he gets there, Dr. Wilberforce has disappeared. Not feeling satisfied with their intellectual exchange, Dr. Huxley rushes to his car to fetch his “missing interlocutor” and resume the debate.

He floors the gas pedal to his vintaged, cherry-red 1957 Chevy Corvette and white-knuckles the beige-colored steering wheel the entire way up the windy, foggy mountain. As he arrives at Dr. Wilberforce’s residence, a cloud of smoke from the white-walled tires, skidding in the dirt driveway, covers the purring vehicle.

The irate professor bangs on the door, using the oversized, gargoyle knocker. Impatiently, he knocks again a few seconds later, harder and louder than before. This time the force of the knock opens the large, creaky, wooden door. Dr. Huxley walks in not thinking twice about being charged with breaking-and-entering. Suddenly, the door slams shut behind him.

The foyer is a riddled-mess of medical equipment, spilling over into what’s supposed to be the living room. Plastic drums of Formaldehyde pile up against black-painted walls, plastered with mathematical equations and scientific formulas, written in white chalk.

A loud metallic sound followed by a high-pitched animal sound is heard, coming from the next room. Dr. Huxley slowly walks into the kitchen. As he peeks his head inside, a cacophonous clatter of animal sounds erupts. The terror of what he witnesses, shakes him to the core.

In cages, animals have been surgically modified with different animal parts and then re-animated. He sees a grotesque golem—part pig, part parrot, squealing and whistling; and another—part dog, part cat, barking and meowing; and the most disturbing yet fascinating creature, roaming restlessly in the largest cage, is part lion, part lamb, both roaring and bleating. The shock of observing these chimeras outside of a fictional-horror film makes him cringe and second guess his decision to break-in.

“He’s gone mad!” he says to himself, looking at the large pot and liquid-spill on the floor, which he rightly assumes must be the sound he heard moments earlier. But then he remembers he heard a high-pitched sound immediately following. He looks around and notices one of the cages is opened. “What the hell’s roaming ’round here?”

Suddenly, a small creature—part squirrel, part parrot—flies onto his shoulder. He screams, startling the surgically-modified animals, and slips on the wet floor, falling backward. In what feels like slow-motion, his lanky body clumsily descends to earth, striking the edge of the marbled kitchen counter with the back of his head. Strangely enough, the animals seem to understand the gravity of what’s happened. The lamb baas and the lion growls, saying something important to the others. Dr. Huxley’s dead body continues to slump down until it falls completely over, bleeding profusely, from the base of his skull. Nearly two hours pass before Dr. Wilberforce returns to his disorderly home from frequenting the local bar at the bottom of the mountain where he was able to unwind from the stress of the evening, throwing darts and throwing back shots of Jägermeister.

Between the time Dr. Huxley’s brain expired and his body was found, his person—his soul—traveled to three distinct locations, gaining first-hand knowledge of events that would’ve escaped him if he were to have stayed with his body and his brain.

The proud, militant physicalist never believed in the supernatural before, especially not God. But now he finds himself traveling through a tunnel with a warm, white Light at the end of it, calling his name. The calmness and peace he’s currently feeling is unlike anything he’s ever experienced. He perceives ethereal embodiment but not pure consciousness. “I don’t believe in you, God, but I’m sure enjoying this.”

A compassionate Voice talks back. “I know… But before you see me again, and remain with me, you’ll have to endure your greatest nightmares.”

Instantly, he’s transported to another place, a place that can only be described as empty black space. He hears wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth. His ethereal eyes strain in the darkness to gain knowledge of ugly, disfigured faces, that quietly stare up at him from the ground without blinking, all before they cry out, “Drip a drop of water on our tongues and stop our torment.” Their inconsumable bodies remain hidden for they’ve been buried in perfect, sulfuric suffering underground in an eternal lake of fire. Among the rows of the ungodly and grotesque, planted like endless rows of cabbage, he sees his father, whose eyes are closed. The man, if he can still be called a “man,” cannot bear to look at his son for the weight of shame he feels for brainwashing him with complete contempt toward anything supernatural, including God. Like an animal in pain, Dr. Huxley bleats out: “God, this is too much. I can’t bear it anymore. Please, take me out of here!”

Instantly, he astral travels back to the “scene of the crime.” He looks down from the outside of the house as professor Wilberforce arrives.

“Hmm. Gerald’s here,” says Sean, thinking to himself. “I’m sure he’s still angry about the debate.” He walks inside his house, through the opened door, and finds Gerald’s body lying in a pool of blood, cold and lifeless. “How could this have happened?” he wonders aloud, bending down, reaching behind Gerald’s head to feel for the point of trauma. He discovers the open wound and spots blood on the counter. “He must’ve fell and hit his head.”

Not one detail escapes Gerald’s scope of perception as he immaterially passes through the roof and ceiling to hover above his own body as he assesses the situation.

He hears Sean say, “This is divine! I can’t believe that all these circumstances that’ve lined-up perfectly are just coincidences… I must start surgery, immediately!” He whistles to have his squirrel-parrot or parrot-squirrel join him on his shoulder.

Gerald panics. “I don’t wanna be part of this freak show. Please, God, I’ve learned my lesson. You are Lord and Savior. I believe! Don’t let Dr. Frankenstein turn me into a monster.”

He hears a familiar Voice: “I told you you’d have to suffer first. But don’t be afraid for I’m with you. Nothing in all creation, neither light nor darkness, neither angels nor demons, neither things natural nor things unnatural can separate you from my love.”

“ ‘Unnatural’? What does that mean?” he asks the Almighty. The heavens shut. A deafening silence fills the atmosphere.

Gerald notes everything that he can’t help but perceive, given the extraordinary events. Sean drags Gerald’s body backwards, interlocking hands to secure the corpse. Down the stairs into the basement, they go. Seeking to gain perspective, Gerald takes inventory of the room: a makeshift hospital bed in the center, surgical tools behind the head of the bed, a large plastic tarp underneath them, and two human cadavers encased in transparent vats of Formaldehyde next to the wash basin.

The patient’s body is secured on the bed. Sean shaves his scalp, sterilizes the bone-saw and then commences chiseling. Gerald cringes as he watches his own head being sawed in half. Sean works throughout the night, into All Souls’ Day, to surgically remove Gerald’s brain, being careful not to cause superfluous trauma.

His rodent-bird tweets out, “Success!”

“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves… We still have to pack his brain on ice and then de-brain the other two skulls.”

“What’s next?” chirps his atom-sized apprentice.

“The whole point of this is to put half of Gerald’s brain in one of the corpses’ skulls and the other half inside the other skull. Then I’ll sew up them up, individually. After that, I’ll inject them both with a life-serum I’ve been perfecting for the last twenty-two years. And lastly, I’ll defibrillate their hearts to bring them back to life.”

“Whole brain?! Whole brain?! Don’t you need a whole brain,” it speaks with a crisp crackle in his ear, “for this to work?”

“No, that’s the beauty of it. Brain research has clinically proven that a person can live with just one half of his brain.”

Gerald’s mind races with fear. “So he’s going to put me in two different bodies? Then … I’ll be two different people? Wait, that can’t be right.” He has to practice intentional breathing to prevent a panic attack. “What are the possibilities?” He pauses to think. “One, I will be in either corpse one or corpse two; two, I will be in both corpse one and corpse two; and three, I will be in neither… Solution one is feasible. Solution two is logically impossible, because how can the same person, or same thing for that matter, occupy different temporal-space? And solution three means I didn’t survive my brain. But if I’m still here when my brain is split and each hemisphere is transplanted into different skulls, then it proves solution one, which proves substance dualism. But inside which brain and body will I be?”

Sean happens to be thinking the same thing. “If I were to revive his brain, will he end up in the first body or the second body?” A sudden pang of doubt deflates his hope of winning the Nobel Prize for the first successful brain-transplant. “What if his brain doesn’t make it? Then the two people, who’ve put their trust in me and donated their bodies in the name of ‘brain research’ when they died, died in vain. No, I can’t believe that! I know what I believe: logical possibilities ground metaphysical possibilities. Option one is logical and thus ontologically possible.” He swallows a gulp of air. “I have to keep working.”

As he saws the other skulls, his mind muses as to which body Gerald will end up in: “I put the left hemisphere of his brain in the first body, and the left brain is the logical side, which the mind needs to thrive. So, he’ll end up in body number one.” But then he starts thinking of the possibility of what could happen to the right brain: “I put the right hemisphere of his brain in the second body, and the right brain is the creative side, which, some might say, is the ‘spiritual’ side.” So, he’ll end up in body number two. He continues to banter back-and-forth, playfully arguing with himself about which body Gerald will occupy.

Without taking a break to rest, eat, or go to the water-closet, Dr. Wilberforce works, indefatigably, into the late evening of All Souls’ Day. As he sews up the bodies, injects them with his super-unleaded, secret formula, and electrocutes them, a delicious thought satiates him: “God willing, today, on All Souls’ Day, I’ll be irrefutably proving to the world that we are not our brains, but our souls! This is serendipitous!” He shouts. As the last words leave his mouth, Dr. Huxley’s eyes open, or, to be more precise, one eye attached to its optic nerve attached to the opposite hemisphere of a new brain drinks in the light of life for the first time.

For this short story, I’ve borrowed from a YouTube Apologetics Channel called Deflate, particularly the video “Neuroscience Does Not Disprove the Soul: Interview with J. P. Moreland.” The characters in this story are fictional and in no way meant to depict real persons.  

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Sari
Sari
14 days ago

This story is so compelling! I love the interplay between science and imagination. And the accompanying picture is perfect.

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11/11/22

Sean happens to be thinking the same thing. “If I were to revive his brain, will he end up in the first body or the second body?” A sudden pang of doubt deflates his hope of winning the Nobel Prize for the first successful brain-transplant. “What if his brain doesn’t make it? Then the two people, who’ve put their trust in me and donated their bodies in the name of ‘brain research’ when they died, died in vain. No, I can’t believe that! I know what I believe: logical possibilities ground metaphysical possibilities. Option one is logical and thus ontologically possible.” He swallows a gulp of air. “I have to keep working.”

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