Monday, 1 July 2013

The soul: DOES it exist?

The existence of the soul has been subjected to much speculation, with some scientists attempting to prove its ‘non-existence.’ Many religious doctrines (if not all) acknowledge the existence of an immaterial substance within humans, something intangible and invisible, yet present with much importance.
The soul is usually regarded as immortal. If you have read my first blog (‘What is the meaning of life’) you will have been acquainted with my thoughts on immortality. For those of you who have not yet read this, I will oblige you by reiterating my ideas dealing with immortality. A vicious vice in my opinion, every human has an innate yearning to remain immortal- it is ingrained in our psychological constitution and our inclinations as (intelligent and sentient) animals. It is therefore possible that the existence of the soul was fabricated by our very, very early ancestors to comfort themselves deceivingly with their supposed immortality. Personally, I do not believe this is so. Our earliest ancestors were much more religious than our modernised and secularised selves, and as mentioned before, the existence of the soul does seem to stem from religion. Our ancestors believed in god(s) and therefore, by proxy, in the existence of the soul. Many of us nowadays cast aspersions on the concept of religion, thinking that it must have been invented a very long time ago. But, as Descartes said, the very idea of a god is so complex, it is impossible that a human invented it. The idea must have therefore been put into man’s brain by God.

Mechanistic brain science proceeds on the working assumption that every bodily event has a physical cause in the prior state of the central nervous system (CNS). On the other hand, traditional moral thought and religious thought has always presupposed that at least some of our behaviour is determined by our thinking and deciding. This conflict has born suggestions that unless some parts of our CNS are found to be open to non-physical influences, brain science will effectively discredit all talk of man as a spiritual being, and oblige us to accept a purely materialistic view of our nature. Even Descartes, whose philosophy depended on the existence of an Omnipotent Figure (i.e. God) held that the soul would be powerless to influence bodily action unless some part of the brain acted as a transmitter-receiver for its controlling signals. ‘In man’ he says:

...the brain is also acted on by the soul which has some power to change cerebral impressions just as those impressions in their turn have the power to arouse thoughts which do not depend on the will...Only [figures of excitation] traced in spirits on the surface of [the pineal] gland, where the seat of imagination and common sense [the coming together of the sense] is...should be taken to be...the forms or images that the rational soul will consider directly when, being united to this machine, it will imagine or will sense any object

Here we have science and religion working together. Descartes’ hypothesis is indeed feasible. Now, putting science and religion aside, how do you feel personally about the existence of the soul? Do you believe that you are merely a body and organs devoid of spirituality? I believe that every living animal has a soul, and it is the soul’s presence that differentiates us from robots. Indeed, without our souls we would be mere robots, albeit extremely intelligent ones (in fact, not unlike the robots from the movie ‘I, Robot’). It is the soul working harmoniously with our physical selves and the CNS that defines us. It is the soul that is responsible for our individuality and personality, working with the amygdala.

Naturally, discussion of the soul leads one to discuss the nature death. If regarded as a materialistic thing, at death, the body simply decomposes over time, and eventually, all that is left of you is dust. However, religious thought and some philosophical thought suggests that at death, the soul remains intact. It departs the physical body and continues living in The Afterlife.

In this age of advanced science, visible proof is needed to acknowledge the validity of a proposed hypothesis. But this is only because we have convinced ourselves through ‘learning’ that a thing can only exist if it can be logically explained with visual evidence. We find the idea of unseen forces unfathomable. That’s just it. We cannot fathom the possibility of supernatural phenomena so we declare that there is no such thing. We are so convinced with our own intelligence, that we do not try to think outside the box in the most literal sense. Let us take the topic of God. The argument against the existence of a deity is usually the fact that the three main religions agree that God was not created. He is the Creator. Nothing came before him. As mere humans, the thought of something not having a beginning is incomprehensible. Our brains are not wired to accept the existence of anything without a beginning, but that does not necessarily mean it is impossible.

I will stop here and allow you to digest what you have just read. I will not write anymore on this topic, but hopefully, what I have said has triggered something in your minds. I hope I have a planted the seed of doubt within your brains and that this thought of “everything having a beginning” consumes you (he says as he wears an evil smile).

Anyway, I must succumb to the seductions of this hot chocolate on my desk. Mmhm! It’s quite simply a symphony of flavours.