Soul

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The soul is the name given to the supposed immaterial part of an individual, which some believe can exist separately from the body in the afterlife. Though the term itself largely comes from Christian traditions, most religions have some concept of a "part" of the person that is separate and distinct from the body. It's considered by those who believe in it to be a self-evident and intrinsic part of humanity (hence why things like philosophical zombies can exist in some peoples' minds). It is an important aspect of much religious belief—particularly when concerning the afterlife.

The term is often invoked in a metaphorical sense (such as a poetic statement "my soul was moved by his words") without implying the actual existence of a separate "magical" part of a person that exists after the person dies.

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[edit] Scientific view

The concept of the soul is not recognised by science because it is a supernatural explanation of the phenomenon of human consciousness, and as such non-falsifiable. The soul is postulated by believers to be completely immaterial. Scientists who attempt, and without exception fail, to find evidence of the soul will usually be told that they can't measure or characterise it anyway. Like most other spiritual beliefs, this makes the idea of the soul somewhat immune to scrutiny. Those who logically and scientifically argue against a "soul" would state that if something can't be measured or tested -directly or indirectly- in any way, then it can't affect the material world and therefore is, in all practicality and in all actuality, non-existent.

The soul is usually described as an immaterial "thing" in a way that implies that it "contains" someone's consciousness, emotions, personality, and memories. In reality, the only possibility of a soul existing would be through a function of awareness; that is, awareness from a body at a moment in time. We know from physics that time is merely space, so the fact that humans experience from one point in time rather than simultaneously experiencing the entirety of our lifespan creates an argument for the idea of the soul occupying a body, and traveling through space connected with it. The movement would be what we perceive as time.

Neuroscience suggests that these various aspects of the mind are almost exclusively dependent on the brain. Changes to the brain from injury or illness directly affect memories, emotions and in fact their overall character.[1][2][3][4] If those changes in actual personality can be identified within the working brain, how can the "soul" which is generally described as these aspects in collective, exist? An immaterial entity would not be expected to be affected by a giant rod ploughing right through its owner's skull.

If the soul does not interact with the physical body at all, then it should not bear any responsibility for the actions of its "host", like "sin". (The soul would just be an "observer", but even just "observing" something physically affects that thing.) If a body sins, it cannot be the soul's fault.

If the soul interacts with the physical body in some way, then that makes the soul a physical phenomenon.

[edit] Weighing

In an effort to put the soul onto a more scientific footing, Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts tried, in 1901, to weigh the soul (he disagreed with the common view of the soul, believing it was material, thus having mass). He took a dying man and weighed him until the "moment" of death, at which point he apparently noticed a reduction in weight of three-fourths of an ounce. This experiment was dramatized, with a great deal of artistic license, in the Sunn Classic Pictures pesudoscience documentary Beyond and Back. MacDougall subsequently repeated the experiment with fifteen unfortunate dogs and found no such reduction. Over time he repeated the experiment with five other dying humans - and got a variety of differing results which rather invalidated his premise.[5] The human weight loss he arrived at, about 21 grams, lived on in the urban legend stating we all lose this upon death, referenced in the title (and briefly in the plot) of a movie with the same name starring Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts.

Harry La Verne Twining also attempted to weigh the soul of animals in a set of experiments and obtained some interesting differences in weight loss. However scientists including Twining himself later on in his life claimed that the experiments turned out to be the result of the natural cause of moisture loss.[6]

[edit] Other

The physicist R. A. Watters in the 1930's carried out some experiments with a Wilson cloud chamber and claimed to have observed the soul of insects and animals leaving their bodies at death. His results have not been replicated by other scientists and skeptics believe his photographs depict dust.

Some parapsychologists have also reported cases of "soul mist" being seen after people have died however these reports are based on personal stories or testimonials and are not considered evidence for the soul by the scientific community.[7]

[edit] History of the Judeo-Christian concept

Before the influence of the Greek concept of the psyche on Hebrew thought, the Bible's authors only spoke of a man having breath (spirit), and any living creature was called a "soul". In fact, the belief in consciousness after death was explicitly denied in the Old Testament:

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, KJV

It is only the New Testament which begins to speak of a promised resurrection for the dead at the end of time, and parallel destinations of either hell or heaven/paradise (Luke 23:43, Matthew 25:31-46, Mark 9:43, Revelation 14:11, etc.) Some have argued in favor of annihilationism rather than an eternal hell, although that has never been the most widely held or traditional view (the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, for instance, supports the latter). It's not entirely clear how heaven or paradise and the resurrection fit together, however Revelation indicates this is not "in the sky", rather on a future Earth. The idea of the soul being immaterial may also be wrong, with every dead person rather being resurrected, judged and then either sent to eternal torment/annihilated (depending on the specific interpretation) or given eternal life in heaven/paradise inhabiting an immortal body.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Brain tumour causes uncontrollable paedophilia"
  2. David Eagleman, Philosophy Bites Podcast, "David Eagleman on Morality and the Brain"
  3. Kennedy, DP; Gläscher, J; Tyszka, JM; Adolphs, R. "Personal space regulation by the human amygdala." (2009). Nat Neuroscince. 12 pmid=19718035
  4. Bucher, K.; Myersn, R.; Southwick, C. "Anterior temporal cortex and maternal behaviour in monkey." (1970). Neurology. 20 pmid = 4998075
  5. snopes: Soul Man
  6. Len Fisher Weighing The Soul: Scientific Discovery From the Brilliant to the Bizarre 2004, p. 14-15
  7. More Witnesses to “Soul Mist” by Michael Tymn
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