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Why do people still insist on the soul?

  1. Nov 13, 2006 #1
    Beyond faith and religion, why do some people still insist that there exists a soul? Why can't we be comprised of only matter, but matter so intricately woven that we are still too technologically infantile to understand the pattern in its weaving? I mean, if DNA, the human retina, the cerebral cortex, Dr. Penfield's experiments, the nervous system, a cell's physiology and an MRI's or ECGs outputs can be affected by thought alone, what room is there for some mystical non-material soul? Why do some people require it in their world view at all? Is it simply a concept spewed out by the ego to allow a human to personify himself as something more than matter, as something more than the mundane 9-to-5er that most of us are?

    To me, the more I learn about the Universe, the more wonderous everyday life becomes... I think the words 'soul' and 'spirit' are tags that we stick onto physical systems of such grandiose complexity that we seek to cover them up with simple all encompassing words to either mask our own ignorance, or to brush aside the fact that we can erode our ignorance through study and determination in seeking the truth.

    I think the 'soul' is the easy answer. The true answer may never be found and that scares us into applying the 'soul' bandage on firmly to cover our wounds. But this cut runs deep and it does not heal when covered. I know its painful, but we need to bleed out all of our questions about the 'soul' before we can start to properly heal one of our deepest of cuts.

    Who wants easy? I want truth. Let us bleed and begin the slow painful healing together.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2006 #2
    The main reason for a non-material soul seems to be to support an afterlife. Most the world's population believe in such a thing, but I doubt if many people who don't believe in an afterlife actually do believe in an non-material soul. I'd be interested which belief groups specifically fall into this category.

    Of course, if materialism is true we still have a "soul" in the wider sense, it is just purely the result of physics.

    I imagine that most people who believe in a non-material soul, believe that what goes on in the soul impacts the physical world anyway, so they wouldn't be suprised if any of these things you mentioned are affected by thought alone. This "ghostly" mechanism however, doesn't have to exist anywhere outside the brain - and inside the brain it isn't really very ghostly anymore. We expect thoughts to affect things inside the brain don't we? We also expect our brains to affect the rest of our bodies. There seems to be the same amount of room for a mystical non-material soul as there always used to be. I'm not convinced the room is getting any smaller to be honest, just that if a soul does exist it must be tied into our brains somehow.

    We can erode it but never hope to be rid of it all together. That is why there will always be room for belief.
  4. Dec 19, 2006 #3
    without soul, music would become very boring...
  5. Dec 19, 2006 #4
    Same reason people still insist on believing in free will, objective morality, God or any number of things. They believe because it's something they "experience" (at least as a number of Christians have assured me). Certainly it's not something they could verify with science or prove with logic. Heck, the best they can do is provide some obscure philosophical arguments hoping to provide some small shred of evidence for these things.

    Still, I don't insist ideas like free will or objective morality are wrong, simply because I can't prove they're true. There's a lot to be said for how intuition is used to understand the world. Then again, maybe I just recognize that I'm still somewhat committed to these things myself.

    Of course, that's not what's being asked by the OP. He's asking why some people can't just say "we don't know." It's cause in a way, they feel that they do.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2006
  6. Dec 19, 2006 #5
    Sure, but how does matter interact with itself ?

    There is something more than matter and that something is immaterial. Here we have the particle/wave duality that presents itself on another form.

    Everything in the building blocks of matter can be represented as (at least) these two components and by extending it to the macroscopic realm, the Soul could be the wavelike part of our material bodies…

  7. Dec 25, 2006 #6
    Also, there's a chance that the soul could be scientifically proven in the future. Imagine the past...we didn't know how bats could travel at night. People probably assumed that bats have extraordinary sight abilities. In turned out that bats aren't as keen-eyed as we are. Technology allowed humans to delve deeper and find out that there exists something unseen, yet helpful to bats. The same goes to the soul. We have not enough technology to see it, but maybe we will.
  8. Dec 25, 2006 #7


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    It does so, observably, at every level of the universe at all times.
    One example is you, interacting with me by pushing a few buttons on your computer
  9. Dec 25, 2006 #8
    Indeed, arildno , it does so at every level, at all times…

    I asked the question to point out that those ever-happening interactions are conveyed by something that is other than matter itself, something more in the form of energy.

  10. Dec 26, 2006 #9
    thats were the point of proving has been lost.
    When the interest in acceptance has been lost then where is there room for proofs.
    even i could just close my eyes and say that all this theory of relativity and all is nothing but cock and bull story
    but i dont
    millions dont
    why ?
    because certain methods have been used to prove such things.
    certain methods and mind you when i say methods i mean real hardcore scientific non crap philosofical methods have been used to prove such things.
    you just have to have an open mind and the right scientific temper to accept them and when you reach a state where your ready to listen you reach a state when you understand
    not only this but also science
    everything is ultimately science
    its how you percieve it and how much you accept that decides what is the reality you live in
  11. Dec 28, 2006 #10
    I seems like the concept of the soul and spirit are being used interchangeably here, but I'm not certain that the two are the same. The concept of the "spirit" is ancient, and has generally been thought of as something akin to "wind" or "breath". That is, something that was invisible, yet effected the visible or physical world. It was thought that a person's spirit, which animated the individual, passed to the afterlife. Thus, the spirit was essentially the "ghost" of a person.

    The idea of the "soul" was somewhat different. The soul was thought to be comprised of the mind, the will, and the emotions. In the ancient Greek language, the would "soul" was "psuche", which is the same root word as our modern word "psyche". It seems that the concept of the soul as the "ghost" is a more recent, and less accurate, construction.

    The two ideas are related, but cannot really be interchanged. One illustration that may help is to think of a car and it's driver. The car (like the soul) has the same physical apparatus as every other (or nearly every other) car on the road. But the direction and speed that the car travels, or whether the car is operated in a controlled or reckless manner, is the domain of the driver (spirit).

    In response to the original post that began this discussion, I can think of (use my mind to identify) quite a number of reasons for modern man to accept (conclude or deduce to his/her satisfaction) that humans have a soul (mind, will, and emotions), and to desire (exercise their will) to investigate this aspect of the human being, yet which have nothing to do with religion.
  12. Jan 1, 2007 #11
    Yeah, 'soul' seems to be an appeal to something that transcends the self. I think that this 'soul' takes on an eternal sort of characteristic but I don't think 'soul' necessary implies an afterlife in the sense that we moderns think of an afterlife.
  13. Jan 1, 2007 #12
    I think that if one thinks that there is a single soul for each person, one must confront the idea that a monkey has a soul, a fish has a soul, an ant has a soul and an amoeba has a soul, heck even a virus has a soul. IF you think the soul is greater than the domain of the mind, what stops a virus from having a soul? Would one then say that the soul is the biological expression of the DNA encoding resident in all life?

    If not, one can then say that the soul is present in inanimate objects like rocks, rivers and the very air we breathe.

    It is my view that the soul is the implicate order in all objects of the Universe. If one subscribes to the BigBang theory (as I do) then the soul may be the first inhomogenity present in the primordial soup. This inhomogenity has expanded ever since to create such complexity that it manifests today as lifeforms.

    If there were no original inhomogenity, the Universe would be perfectly symetrical and you and I would not exist. Who knows what process (perhaps God) created the first inhomogenity, that is as open a question as can be.

    My only point here is that if one admits the concept of a soul to be true. I think one must necessarily say that there is one collective soul and to say that each individual has a discrete soul is misleading and false. Of course this is must my opinion, but I think its quite a logical one.

    What do you think?
  14. Jan 2, 2007 #13
    Chaos' lil bro Order has certainly raised some interesting issues. Here are a couple of thoughts that come to mind.

    I am one of those that believes each individual has a soul; by which I mean that every human has, at some level and in some capacity, a mind, a will, and emotions. However, when I think of people with severe brain damage; that is, damaged to to point where the brain can barely sustain the heart beat and certain involuntary muscle responses, I wonder just what portion of the mind, will, and emotion remains? I could be persuaded that in the most severe cases, the persons "soul" no longer remains (i.e., the person can no longer think, feel, or desire anything).

    This suggests two things. One is that what I call the soul (mind, will, emotions) seems to have a direct connection to the biological/physical person, and is almost certainly centered in the brain. The other is that in "cases" such as severly brain damaged people, certain "critters" like ants, bacteria, virusesusss... viri... aw heck, you know what I mean, or inanimate objects like rocks and such... then no 'mind', 'will', and 'emotions' means no soul.

    If, as Chaos' lil bro Order suggested, the soul is, in fact, the implicit order in all objects in the Universe, then all that stuff I've just said is moot. Still, I'm unwilling to abandon my own definition because it seems to define and describe the soul so effectively, whereas the other definition seems vague and nebulous. More "thought based" and less "reality based" if you know what I mean. I hope that doesn't sound insulting or rude because my intent is not to offend.

    I DO support the idea that there IS an implicit order in and between all the objects in the Universe. However, I do not think the word "soul" best describes it.

    So you see, while I readily admit that the concept of the soul is true, the concept which I have in mind does NOT lead me to conclude that "there is one collective soul", or to believe the notion that each individual has a discrete soul to be misleading or false.
  15. Jan 2, 2007 #14
    I'd like to call for a "Do Over". My last paragraph was not really clear. It should have read...

    ...So you see, while I readily admit the concept of the individual soul to be true, the concept which I have in mind does NOT lead me to conclude that "there is one collective soul", or to believe that the notion of the individual's discrete soul is misleading or false.
  16. Jan 2, 2007 #15
    Perhaps the soul remains but is being suppressed by the brain damage to the extent that the soul doesn't operate anymore? This may seem like a fudge but it is really just an extension of the observation that the soul's ability to operate is dependent on the condition of the physical brain. eg. Hit someone over the head hard and they loose the ability to make decisions as they pass out. They may still have a few emotions and some type of thoughts as they lie unconscious but they will be heavily affected by the hit to the head. In any case, they can't exercise free will until they wake up. None of this demonstrates that any soul we have relies on the physical brain after death has occurred, but it clearly demonstrates that such a soul relies on the physical brain while we are alive.

    When the body/brain is too heavily damaged to support a soul, the soul is supposed to leave and enter the afterlife, of course.
  17. Jan 4, 2007 #16
    Well, discerning the fact that most pre-modern philosophers used "soul" and "mind" as the the same, it makes sense that many advocate both the former and the latter. I think "soul" or "spirit" is an imaginary body that is used to portray a desired or 'perfect' version of ourselves. Essentially, soul or spirit could be an alter-ego to the human mind in its struggle to strive for perfection and understanding.
  18. Jan 6, 2007 #17

    I think your point it valid. If I am correct you are essentially saying that the soul is the mind, will and emotions. Do you attribute these three factors to be biproducts of the brain? Would this then suggest that any lifeform with a brain has a soul, or do you have another definition? In this matter I am a materialist, I believe the brain is the mind and the will and emotions are neurochemical manifestations in the brain. Since it can be physically shown that various agonist and antagonist neurochemicals can alter a person's emotions (and arguably even their will) I think this is a fair statement.
    With this in mind, do you have an organism that teeters on the line of just having a brain, versus an organism that just does not have a brain? I'm not a biologist so I'm at a loss for words at just how small this organism would be.

    Btw, I'm not adverse to your theory, in fact I take to it just as equally as I've taken to my theory. I think they are both valid and am curious to hear which organism you think teeters on the threshold of having a soul.

  19. Jan 6, 2007 #18
    I understand what you are saying, but I'm not sure that I'd agree with your definition of the soul as a desired or perfect version of oneself. I've always thought of an individual soul as having a characteristic degree of goodness or badness in it. As in Saddam Hussein having a bad soul and Mother Theresa a good soul, and all the varying degrees inbetween. Maybe we just disagree on the definition, do you have a link to a definition of the soul that supports your notion?
  20. Jan 7, 2007 #19
    U seem to answer ur own question:

  21. Jan 7, 2007 #20
    To me suggesting that soul has a direct connection to biological/physical status of a person is really good, but your last sentences suggesting that an ameba say for example, has no soul doesn't really seems logical to me... I'm not a biologist but why shouldnt an amiba have a soul?
    The meaning of the word soul is defined as conciousness or awareness in M.S office dictionary, & as far as I know an ameba is concious of its sorrundings.
    and the other thing which i didn't really get was why should something having a soul have emotions?
    I'd be thankfull to know your reasons since the topic is extreamly intresting to me.
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