What is human nature? What is life? What is love? These are questions that lie outside the orbit of scientific testtubes to answer. Am I merely a loose fitting bag of skin housing organs and gray matter, transmitting nerve impulses and secreting chemicals that give me the illusion of possessing a conscious soul that experiences love, feels sad and admires the rich beauty of a setting sun in the cool of evening?
After all I never see any deer, rabbits or mice pausing in early evening to sit on a grassy knoll and admire the colorful display of a sunset spread across the canvas of the sky. If were all animals, mere accidents of random mutations traced back to a single-celled organism floating in primordial soup, whence comes my appreciation of such wonders and beauty in this creation?
The strict, dogmatic materialist replies, “It’s because you’re a higher evolved sentient being.” But that does nothing to answer the heart of the query. “Higher sentience” would simply mean more complex neurons transmitting more impulses and discharging more chemicals and hormones into my brain and bloodstream. Now we’re back where we started.
Sure I know they have done experiments involving human test subjects being injected with chemicals and hormones, like oxytocin, resulting in such subjects exhibiting stronger desires towards generosity, trust and intimacy. But these same experiments will also show that when someone is the recipient of another’s freely given trust, generosity and intimacy these same chemicals are seen to spike within them as a result. In other words the interaction between chemicals and hormones with emotions and behavior is not a strict causal relationship as much as it is a correlation.
While consciousness and matter may be interrelated in some sense, it’s absurd to say my brain molecules feel sad or that my grey matter feels empathy or that my prefrontal cortex is self-aware or that a particular arrangement of atoms is love.
Moreover since our ordinary, common day life is not defined by laboratory controlled hormones, like oxytocin, being unilaterally injected into us, it is only reasonable to conclude that the main drivers of human emotions are the conscious human agents themselves interacting with the world around them–whether for good or ill.
This tells me human emotion and the joy of love given, as well as the heartbreak of love lost is no more the sole result and product of neurons firing, molecules moving and atoms colliding than a car moving down the highway is the sole result of engine mechanics in motion–such as gasoline combusting in a piston. There is also a driver choosing a certain speed and pushing on a pedal. While independent of the car’s mechanics, the driver is nonetheless in correlation with the mechanics present to propel the vehicle forward.
Indeed we are more than bags of skin carting around the mechanics and machinery of biology to generate profound human experiences like love, joy, hatred, grief, creativity, self-sacrifice, self-awareness, intentionality, appreciation and wonder. We are also souls. We are drivers.