|The Place of Soul/Nafs in Biological Psychology|
|Published by Abdul Razak Ricardo|
|Wednesday, 25 January 2012 14:18|
How can we study an unobservable phenomenon such as soul in a discipline as ’scientific’ as biological psychology? The truth is: In most ’scientific’ disciplines, there will always be unobservable and mystery elements (e.g. chance vs. divine creation, random vs. divine intervention). In physic, we study unobservable phenomena such as air, atom, energy, momentum, and electricity. In chemistry, we study molecules, gas, and ion. In biology, we study solar energy and neural impulse. And even in psychology, who pride itself of being a ’science’, now study ‘unobservable’ phenomenon called mental/cognitive processes.
So, what is soul actually? The soul (nafs), spirit (ruh), heart (qalb), and mind (`aql) have been used either interchangeably or for different but interrelated concepts (Al-Attas, 1990). This posting will only focus on the mind (since its close relation with the brain) and the heart (since early Muslim scholars had emphasised its connection with the brain (e.g. Ibn al-Qayyim).
The Qur’an and Hadith have indicated the role played by the (spiritual) heart in relation to behaviour and cognition. Some Qur’anic verses mentioned that the heart is involved in conceptualisation or understanding (7: 179, 63: 3). In addition, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his famous hadith said that: “Inside the body, there is a ‘mudghah’(piece of flesh). If it is in a good condition, then the rest of the body will be in a good condition. If it is in a bad condition, then the rest the body will be in a bad condition. Indeed, it is the ‘qalb’” (narrated by Bukhari & Muslim). This raises the question whether the heart, from the perspective of biological psychology, has a role in producing behaviour and mental processes.
Another term used in the Qur’an and Hadith that indicate the role of mind (as in spiritual mind, not as in mental processes) which obviously relates to the function of the brain and cognitive activities. Can modern biological psychology provide evidence on the existence and the role of the mind in producing behaviour and mental processes? Eccles (as cited in Badri, 2000), a Nobel-prize winner had detailed out a study that he has conducted related to this. When a subject is electrically stimulated in the motor area of the cerebral cortex, his arm jerked. When the subject was told not to move his arm, and the stimulation was repeated, he tried to stop the movement of that arm with his other arm. The question is “what governed the other arm?” Eccles concluded that the brain moved one arm, but the “mind” moved the other arm to stop the first arm from moving.