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The True Center of Thought and Memory

Before you quickly dismiss this question with a “duh, everyone knows that happens in the brain” please read a bit further. You might be surprised at what you discover.

The prevailing opinion among most, including believers, is that all thought and memory takes place in the brain. The reason for this evaluation comes from medical research and observation. 

1) The brain is the central control center of all necessary functions of the body. It controls our heart beat, respiration, blood circulation, growth rate, causes us to react to danger, knows when we need to eat and drink, and so much more. Without the brain none of these things would be possible and the body would die.

2) The brain is the center of unnecessary functions of the body. By this I mean it is the central control system of all activity that we choose to do. Since I am typing this page on a key board, each stroke of my fingers is the product of my mind sending the right signals to each finger. If I choose to speak to someone about this article, it is the brain which enables me to form words and to communicate my ideas in a manner that can be readily understood.

3) The brain when injured or struck by disease has an immediate impact on the way we think, act, and process information. For example, someone suffering a stroke finds that one side of his body is no longer able to function. No matter how much he may will for it to work it will not because that part of the brain has suffered an injury. An injury to the brain can also influence our ability to remember things. People who have brain trauma due to an accident often find they no longer are able to recall certain events of their lives. 

Therefore we must conclude that the brain is the center of all thought and memory. That would be a true statement purely from a medical point of view but medical science is limited in its ability to study the whole of what makes up humanity. The Bible is able to go beyond the limits of medical science and in the process give a different picture of where thought and memory lies.

From a biblical standpoint, memory and thought reside not in the brain but in the spirit or soul of man. This can be supported from several passages of Scripture.

1) Luke 16:19-31: In this account given by Jesus both the rich man and Lazarus are observed to not only be thinking, but talking and remembering. Many have argued that this is not a valid passage because it is a parable and not a real account. However, keep in mind that if this is just a parable, it is the only one in which Jesus attaches a name giving it credibility. Also in light of the context (16:14), Jesus is addressing this parable at some Pharisees who were lovers of money. The fact Jesus uses the name of Lazarus indicates He was making the story very personal. They knew specifically who Jesus was talking about when He mentioned the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. Even if this is not a literal account, all of the stories, parables, and illustrations used by Jesus were based in literal occurrences and facts.

In the account, both the rich man and Lazarus die. The rich man is able to observe Lazarus talking with Abraham and seeks to have Lazarus bring him a little water to sooth his torment. He not only is aware of who he is and where he is at, but he is fully able to communicate his ideas. Likewise the same can be said for Abraham (v. 24-26). These activities are what we always associate with brain activity and yet at this point, the brain is dead along with the rest of their bodies. It should also be noted that the rich man still has memory as well. In verses 27-28) the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s home to warn his brothers so that they do not end up in this terrible place. Once again a function usually associated with the brain yet the brain is no longer functioning. 

2) John 4:24: Jesus declares here that God is spirit. In other words God does not have a physical dimension. He exists as pure spirit and though He does not have a physical body and a physical brain, yet we know that God is capable of thought, communication, action, and memory. Since man is created in that image (Gen. 1:26), as a spirit being it is only reasonable to assume that men are capable of thought apart from their physical body. 

3) 1 Pet. 3:18-20: Peter makes reference to what our Lord did while His body lay in the tomb for 3 days (see also Eph. 4:9-10). He descended into Hades or Hell where he preached to the souls or spirits of those who lived in Noah’s day before the global flood killed them. Not only is the Lord carrying out the processes of thought, memory, and communication but so are these souls who are listening. All of this activity normally associated with the brain is still going on even though their brains died at the same time as their bodies.

4) Phil. 1:21-24; 2 Cor. 5:8: Paul indicates that to die is gain for it means we will be present with the Lord. We know at death the body, including the brain, remains in this earth to return to its basic elements. However, if the soul is present with the Lord and it is gain, this would require that the soul must be able to think, reason, remember, communicate and do all the other processes associated with the brain.

5) Rev. 6:9-11: John speaks of the souls of those martyred in the Tribulation crying out in heaven for the time when God would avenge those who were guilty of their blood. Once again, no physical body but all the processes commonly given to the activity of the brain.

I believe we therefore can conclude that the location of thought and memory is not the brain but rather is the soul of man. If this be the case there are some questions that need to be answered.

1) What is the function of the brain? The brain’s purpose would seem to be at least two fold. 

First it controls those aspects of the body that are necessary for physical life. It keeps the heart beating, the food digesting, the blood flowing, the chemistry in balance and all the other functions so important to physical life.

Secondly, the brain seems to serve as the instrument through which the soul is able to interact with the physical body and the physical world. It converts the will, thoughts, and memories of the soul into a form that the body can use to carry forth its activity. It also serves as a channel to communicate to the soul the physical surroundings its body is associated with. 

2) If the soul is the source of thought and memories, why then does the condition of the brain limit a person’s thoughts and memories? The answer to this question is simple. Anyone who has ever had a tool knows that the tool can only be expected to perform at its best when it is kept in tip top condition. Take a knife for example. If it allowed to grow rusty or dull or if it damaged, its ability to carry out the work it is assigned will be limited at best. So it is with the brain. If it is in good condition, it is able to do a good job converting thought and memory into a form usable in this physical world. However, if it is born defective or becomes defective due to injury or disease, it will no longer be as effective as it was originally designed.

One last conclusion can be made. Though people are born with different levels of IQ and brain capacity, yet the soul in which thought and memory are carried out is the same in every man and woman. It is our soul that is created in the image of God. This is what truly gives us equality in the sight of God.