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Soul?

June 7, 2007

(I’m trying to compile facts and thoughts on the existence of soul. My knowledge on this topic is limited to what follows below, and if you have something to add, then please don’t hesitate to do so.)

All important questions about life, the universe and everything depend on another one: Do we have a soul? Most, maybe even all religions depend on its existence, and a negative answer would have a devastating effect on them. The possibilities are:

  1. There is no such thing.

    This would mean that life is just a biochemical process, mind is a function of the nervous system. When the metabolism breaks down, the life ends ultimately. The rational, materialistic view.

  2. We have a soul that cannot survive death.

    Here the existence of a distinct immaterial complement to the physical body is assumed, but it cannot survive on its own. Similar to the first possibility in regard to what happens at the moment of death. But if the soul is the carrier of consciousness, this possibility would enable astral projections and out-of-body experiences.

  3. We have a soul that survives death.

    This would open the door to reincarnation and all sorts of afterlives. Religions are obviously based on this version. Possible afterlife scenarios are:

    • After death, all souls move on to “heaven” or “hell”, depending on some selection criteria. There is no way back into the world of the living.
    • Depending on how you lived you life, your soul either returns to a “source” and then gets another chance, or it has reached a “higher level” and moves on to the next reality.

Rationally, i have to assume that souls aren’t real, so no further arguments against the existence of souls are needed, but one solid proof would suffice to remove the doubt that they exist. Nevertheless i put together some arguments both pro and contra, although only those pro-soul really matter, because if one of them can be convincingly demonstrated, then the answer is clear.

Contra
  • Having a soul helps to cope with the grief and the inevitability of death. This is probably the origin of the idea: When somebody dies, their body remains, but the life, that what animates the body, is gone. But there is still the hope that the personality of the deceased lives on in a different form in a different place. So the person is not lost forever, but will wait for those remaining in a better place. A nice, soothing thought, but there are no facts to support it. Sorry.

  • An afterlife is needed to justify some ethical systems. If everybody dies the same, then how they lived their lives makes no difference. The righteous ones would die just the same as the evil ones. The evil ones tend to have more wealth and work less to earn their living, which is obviously a reason to be evil. But to provide a stimulus to hold on to the righteous ways, the idea of divine justice is introduced, where after death everyone is judged by an almighty god and the evil ones finally get their punishment. The catch is that morals are not absolute, what is evil depends on the cultural background, whose side you are on, and god’s existence is at least debatable. So probably, not true either.

Pro
  • Astral projection or an out-of-body experience would at least prove that the physical body is not all there is. I’ve read about special setups in operation rooms, numbers placed where they can only be seen from above to rule out the possibility that the brain creates the illusion of floating by synthesizing pictures from what the patient has seen before the operation. But if they would be able to recall the hidden number, that would make it clear that they’ve really left their body. I haven’t heard of any results so far though.

    The more thrilling alternative would be to make such an experience myself and see it with my own eyes, but it didn’t happen to me yet. That book on astral projection i’ve read once was very inspiring, but i had no success so far. Any advice not involving damage to health and risk of life would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

  • Reincarnation bears the possibility to remember previous lives. There are these stories about children reporting details from their previous lives, which they could impossibly have found out in any other way other than experiencing them in the previous life and somehow keeping the memory after going through reincarnation. A credible case of this would be a good argument in favor of reincarnation and souls, but i don’t know if such a case has already been reported.

  • Another way to test reincarnation would be by hypnotic regression, where the subject’s memories of the previous life are reactivated under hypnosis. Chances are that among these memories are some that can be backed up by independent sources. This is potentially promising, but recovering memories that can be positively verified as historical facts and not just known facts that the brain has assembled to fit the assumed period when the previous life took place, knowledge picked up from book and media, might be not that simple. The best way to find out would be to try such a regression myself, but i fear, i’m not a good subject for hypnosis. The one time i tried it didn’t work at all.

There are also dubious ways to “photograph” the aura or measure some kinds of electromagnetic fields around the body, but they are no proofs for the soul. The body is full of ions, charged moving particles that unavoidably create a magnetic field. The question is, what happens with this field at the moment of death? If it simply disappears, then it’s a normal by-product of the bloodstream and bio-electricity. I can’t imagine that this field takes off into the sky or some other place, that doesn’t fit into the modern knowledge about the universe and that the sky is nothing more than the atmosphere and the view of the space beyond it.

If you can think of another reason why we must have a soul, or even a way to verify or measure it, please feel encouraged to share. Maybe we can figure it out before the inevitable end and use this knowledge to guide our decisions to the better as long as our lives last.

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From → Life, Philosophy

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