Friday, April 21

In search of self and it's soul

This paper examines the article on the soul as per the link below as a good reference point to underpin discussions.

Everyday use of the word soul and excitable neurons.   

The soul is routinely used to describe our reaction to a musical song or a piece of art or any creation by saying it speaks to my soul.

To be more explicit we may also add it gives me shivers down my spine – our central nervous reaction of highly excited neurons. 

Then there's rare moments to feel the emotional impact taking in breathtaking scenes on walks or to observe beautiful gardens. 

Around the campfire at night when gazing into the flickering sparks or embers under a starry cosmos we may experience dreamlike comfort.

So that this is state of soulful human wonderment which draws us into thinking about non- material things. But that doesn’t translate of course into ideas of an immortal soul. 


Firstly let me summarize the author’s response, as I see it, which is to define the soul in terms of the various religious doctrines and to acknowledge the persuasive psychological needs those views offer.  

His conclusion is we are stuck with the idea of a soul while questioning the validity to hold such views.

Modern day use of the word “soul” has waned.

But given modern day advances in science the use of the word “soul” has been largely replaced by “’Consciousness” or the “mind”. Indeed 

the ancient texts use so many different terms for it such as breath or heart that its challenging to make any conclusions as to the extent it was talked about then. One must accept there will be many incorrect  translations.  

Rather it is preferable to use consciousness/ mind which has undergone a minor renaissance in modern day terms which in turn has invoked renewed interest in the ancient platonic ideas. 

The author rather obviously follows a bottom up materialist’s view, amongst a plethora of current views. In a nutshell the brain and its output is all there is.

But unanswered questions arise as to why and how such consciousness arises – that’s the hard problem about consciousness talked about by Mind Philosopher David Chalmers. He argues that consciousness is a fundamental property ontologically autonomous of any known (or even possible) physical properties.

Chalmers is a dualist but remains agnostic to the idea of a soul ……….. So, as a scientist, I just can’t go there yet

Then we have the quantum level of consciousness which in a nutshell means the universe is consciousness.

Other theories are the soul/mind advocates who suggest that all things have a degree of consciousness; birds, plants, even molecules.

Finally one might conclude it’s more a matter of mysticism that involves a leap of faith to become a believer.   

From my perspective, belief in a soul comes back to how we feel about our experiences? – are they in the context of a psyche/spiritual experience or does one firmly stay in the materialist camp?    

Faith and rational thinking underpinning the belief in the immortal soul

In that respect it might be interesting to talk about what specific ideas were held by the philosophers. My aim goes beyond the author's ideas to provide additional information that underpin such beliefs.     

In ancient Greece it was believed the realization of the good life – a virtuous one, was for the soul as a substance to gain ascendancy over the body. The idea that permeated society was it was imperative to teach the virtuous way of life to the youth. Hence knowledge inherent in the soul needed to be strengthened.  

That memory of virtuous knowledge was believed to have been mostly forgotten during the trauma of birth. However, we know, merely understanding ethics or the virtues doesn’t mean folk will actually follow that example in life.


The birth of Consciousness as a moral persuader  

Socrates, responding to charges of impiety and corruption if Athenian youth, held that his conscience provided the ethical guiding light.   

Hence we have the idea for most people that it remains a clear guide in relation to how we feel about our ideas of justice or whether or not decisions made were based on a fair and ethical basis. But having a conscious does no translate into an immortal soul. 

However. Socrates was convinced that, in addition to our physical bodies, each person possesses an immortal soul that survives beyond the death of the body. But he was also concerned that the so-called “logos” lives on in terms of his wisdom after our death. Logos is the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, giving it form and meaning.

But such ideas were of interest to St Paul who merged Greek rationalism with Hebrew mysticism which is less emphatic as to the nature of the soul.  

Experiences and feelings underpin ideas of the soul   

There is a wealth of information in the Biblical stories which leaps of faith, occasioned by miraculous occurrences. They are of course just stories that introduce the idea of irony and aim to make sense of the word then. 

But in the end the Jewish religion boils down to a belief we are more than our bodies and that a dimension of consciousness, soul, survives death eternally. The fact that it is more clearly defined in Christian versus Jewish doctrines is an interesting fact that doesn’t detract from the overall consensus by either that the soul survives death.   

That sums it up for the Abrahamic religions of the world- Judaism, Islam and Christianity who share many of the OT stories which try to make sense of the world when they were closer to everyday existential challenges than we are today. Abraham for instance started out believing in many GODs before settling on just the one which became the catalyst for the three religions today, no doubt influenced by the events of that time and the feelings that arose as a consequence.  

Hence I think the evolutionary effect in biology points to particular feelings one has more so than an actual fear of death.

Fear of death arose as a consequence of materialism more as a modern day phenomena presented as an underlying quest for immortality. But that’s not to say there was fear of GODS and various forms of sacrifice (including human )offered in early periods. Add to that religion used for political purposes to gain power and brainwash youth to become terrorist suicide bombers.  

The duality concept – body and soul


The idea of this duality of a separate soul to the body was talked about in the meditations of St Augustine (354 - 430) and further complemented much later on by Thomas Aquinas, but with a twist. He is regarded as the father of religious philosophy by the Catholic Church. 

Aquinas invigorated the philosophy of Aristotle which had been abandoned during the so-called dark ages but taken up by a more enlightened Islam before retreating to fundamentalism. 

Aquinas believed the question relating to the immortal soul within the body to be an insoluble nonsensical philosophical question. He turned the question around by arguing it was the body that was the nature of the soul and not the soul for the body. Therein that part of the body as represented by its intellectual soul is an incorruptible form.

Further philosophical views.


The idea of substance talked about by Spinoza was to captivate Einstein who saw the energized source and immortal soul as a natural corollary as to how energy passes front one state to another in accord with the laws of the universe. 

Descartes also thought the body and soul are interacting entities with different attributes. 

Immanuel Kant, as a scientist, took a different route maintaining the categorical imperatives, which gave us our ethical views must come from GOD otherwise where else could they rationally arise.  According to Kant there is a moral necessity to believe in an immortal soul as it underpins enriching cognitive experiences that give impetus to obtaining the greater good and to guard against scepticism.

Kierkegaard on the other hand, regarded as the father of the existential movement, begins his synthesis in support of the immortal soul with a series of rhetorical questions. The crux of his existential philosophy begins with the inescapable idea of a self which is spiritual in nature and which invites a leap of faith to ensure meaning to existence. His synthesis is of body and soul suggesting eternal things connected to the soul combined with everyday necessities must be lived in a balanced manner. 

First Nations Views

Turning to the Australian Aboriginal society in search of their ideas on a soul we find the idea of the land and existence as all form one circular cosmic soul which is introduced continually via the dreaming. 

The land and all there is as a result of the creator spirits who seeded authority to humans once sufficient knowledge was acquired to tend and nourish Mother Earth. 

This is achieved by predestined laws dependent on what side of the Moëty one is born to be either hunter/gatherers or conservationists charged with ecological responsibility.

The responsibilities are defined by totems that vary between nations with one chosen by the elders who demonstrates a charisma in respect to one of the totems. The totems designate what animals and landmarks can only be hunted in different areas are the responsibilities within nations.  


As the author notes, the idea of an immortal soul as part of the human psyche is going to stay with us. But the idea of a soul as integral to our psycho /spiritual existence has undergone a minor renaissance in academia in more recent times. For we are more than just flesh and bones.  


·        Are such matters best left alone as mysteries? 

·        What do we think about the initial article on souls?

·        Is it preferable to talk about mind and consciousness and what do we think about the possibilities that make up the human psyche?  

·        What do we think of the idea.., if death can be the end of me as a finite individual mind, it does not mean it will be the end of me altogether. It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter ……,it seems to me quite probable that (my mind) will lose its limitations and be merged with an infinite mind ………?

·        Does the article provide any food for thought or quantifiable existential challenges to a belief in the soul /afterlife?

·        Do you agree with the idea of being stuck with a soul or do you have an alternative view as per below:  

·        Could personal patterns of thoughts as in souls live on just as the works of those before us in their writings live on afresh in each generation and transfer in intergenerational memory?

·        What do we think about the idea that death is the ripened fruit into a new form as proposed by Heidegger?

·        Can consciousness be ultimately from a primordial source that remains a mystery?

·        Having rid ourselves of the illusion of time, can that free us from the fear of death as Einstein nonchalantly dismisses its relevance as his letter to his friend?

·        How would you describe a human being in relation to their soul   assuming you believe in the existence of an immortal soul? E.g. are we spiritual beings with a soul residing in a physical body?

·        What message do you think the author aims to convey? 


Saturday, April 8

Keeping in Time with Heidegger’s Dasein


Heidegger grew up in a conservative, religious rural town and in 1909 spent some time in the Jesuit order before leaving University of Freiburg.

In 1911 he switched subjects to philosophy and began teaching there in 1915.

Heidegger's philosophical interest was initially kindled when he read Brentano and Aristotle. He concluded that the wisdom of Aristotle's demands to consider the different modes of being has been lost in subsequent western philosophy.

Heidegger spent a period teaching at University of Marburg (1923–1928), but then returned to Freiburg to take up the chair vacated by Husserl on his retirement.

He dedicated to Husserl, “in friendship and admiration” Being and Time. 

He is regarded as a leading light of the 20th-century existential movement.

He sets himself in Being and Time to respond to the question ‘What is being’?

My impressions 

His style of writing is labored and introduces many new words to the reader so it’s hardly surprising there are many detractors or that some abandon any effort to comprehend his philosophy. 

But there can be little doubt his work underpinned subsequent existentialism and much of modern day thinking. 

It’s hard to argue any of his premises about being in the world and his work demonstrates a radical departure from previous philosophy to introduce the significance of our everyday existence and the futility of pretending you can view it independently as an outsider. He provides an insightful narrative into the limitations of analytical philosophy and epistemology. 

Heidegger’s status was severely tested on revelations it was found he was a member of the Nazi Party which sullied his image. 

A great deal has been written about this including rebuttals of any anti-Semitic feelings by Heidegger in his responses. All I would want to comment upon is to say I agree with those scholars who suggest it was a mistake on his part, but I note one can find no endorsement of anti-semanticist within “Being and Time”. 

Being in the World 

Heidegger introduce us to “being in the world” which defines  a new way of thinking that invites the reader to desist the propensity to idolize facts- because this is not what it is to philosophize according to Heidegger. He argues against analytical philosophies who are totally reliant on logic and facts as analogous to our reliance today on technology which is divorced from ‘being in the world’ except to the extent its interaction becomes the tools that complement existence.

Therein lies fuzziness in thinking wherein our technological dependence has estranged us from the reality of everyday living. 

It is not as if everyday objects come flying towards us but are in essence are only present or ready to hand as  we have to deal with such occurrences as is our choice in the multiplicity of everyday existence. 

The crux of his philosophy contained in his major work “Being and Time” talks about the reality that we are immersed in the world so it’s impossible to logically pretend you can view as if one is peering in from the outside. 

Science can only look at subjects and objects and their phenomena to form theories and advance empirical studies, but cannot participate in ‘being in the world as he defies it. 

There are various modes of being such as our interactions of things that are present or as envisaged as in ready to hand as he puts it, the only exception is in being until death.

Hammering home our interactions with the world. 

Heidegger initially introduces the concept of Dasein which means “Being There “. 

Heidegger’s philosophy begins with the premise we are out of context with the reality of living and thereafter his narrative talks about Dasein's (meaning us) interactions as in being in the world. That has its origins relate back to our primordial essence. Being in the world is ancient concept and Heidegger goes to great lengths to demonstrate the reality of our existence has been obscured by our minds reliance on technological developments that overlooks the reality of Dasein’s ‘Being in the World’ 

Heidegger introduces the reader to many practical examples and none more so than of the tradesman’s use of his “Hammer”

What Heidegger explains is the propensity to just look at a hammer as an object which he describes as “present to hand” as in being in the world rather than be associated with its related uses involving nails into wood, construction, homes and so forth. The term he uses for this mode of being is “ready to hand”. 

The same principles apply in our interactions with others that are hammered home so to speak by prior conceptions.  

Shining a light on his philosophy 

The aim then of Heidegger’s philosophy is then to encourage a realization of authentic being in the world that is supportive of introspection and meditation in keeping with the essence of our primordial beginnings 

The very act of thinking deeply in itself according to Heidegger is to take a step in the right direction towards an authentic way of being and existence, 

His philosophy invites questions in relation to the idea of being in the world and the nature of creation itself as he posits our essence relates back to a primordial beginning. 


A useful analogy was provided in the Philosophy Now Issue 125 By Andrew Royle 2018. He is a drama therapist, working with the bereaved, in private practice in London


Let us remain with our workman in his workshop, and now imagine that the workman reaches out for a hammer and finds instead an empty space. In now looking for his hammer, the workman starts to notice his workshop, which has been there, surrounding him, all the time. He casts an eye over the shelves, seeing dust; he spies a cracked window; becomes aware of a spider moving across the ceiling; he notices the detritus of uncompleted tasks and worries about deadlines. Heidegger says, in this ‘looking around’, the referential context of Being is ‘lit up’ (p.74). By virtue of the space of the missing hammer it’s as if a light switches on and Dasein sees the world that has been there all along.

The important point is that this light is not switched on ‘out there’ in the world; rather, Dasein switches on a light for him/herself, in the doing, in his/her interaction with the world. Generally, the world is categorized and created for the workman in the context of his particular concerns: he ‘sees’ a missed deadline in a half-finished barrel, or he ‘hears’ his boss’s rebuke through the space of the missing hammer. The empty space becomes a disclosing ground for Dasein to conjure and create the world. In doing this, Heidegger describes Dasein as a ‘ Lumen Naturale’ (a natural light), which lights up its Being-in-the-world “in such a way as to be its [own] there” (p.129).


In a similar way to Dasein’s entangled relationship with the world, so too is Dasein entangled with other people. For Heidegger, we do not exist as isolated individuals; just as we are committed to Being-in-the-world, so too are we committed to Being-with-others. For Heidegger, it is impossible for an “isolated I without other to be given” (p.115). This is because, whatever I am – a son, father, husband, or bereaved, etc – necessarily refers to and infers the existence of others – a parent, child, wife, or a deceased loved one. So at the same time that I claim my existence, my ‘mineness’, I also necessarily declare the incontrovertible existence of others.

Let us not underestimate the profound significance of Heidegger’s move here, which is a direct refutation of René Descartes’ solitary introspection some three hundred years earlier, reversing Descartes’ sceptical starting point for philosophy. Descartes asks, How can I be sure that the world and other people actually exist? He replies to himself that whilst I may doubt the world and others, whilst doubting, I am at least thinking – I cannot doubt that. “I think therefore I am” writes Descartes famously. Yet from a Heideggerian perspective, it is a contradiction-in-terms to say “I doubt the existence of others”, since the very positing of ‘I’ necessarily refers to (in Heideggerian terms, has relevance to) a ‘you’ or an ‘other’. Just as Heidegger’s workman claims his existence as a workman in relevance with the world of his workshop, so too does each Dasein claim its I-hood from the world of others that it is necessarily with and which is relevant to it: the I necessarily posits the not-I, because Dasein comes to understand itself from the world of things and of other people. In this way, ‘other’ is intimately predicated by and entangled with Dasein. Heidegger therefore states that “Dasein is essentially a Being-with” (p.170).

Summarizing Heidegger’s metaphysics   

The idea of metaphysics which suggests certain things lie outside of physics began in ancient Greece with the first formal works produced by Aristotle. But prior to his work the pre Socratic Greeks had talked about being in the world involving different modes of being which became the inspiration for Heidegger's “Being and Time”. 

Heidegger’s challenge in thinking is to re-examine ‘being’.  To reiterate, he introduces the term Dasein as in being in the world  that entails reference back to ourselves in respect to our primordial structure that he suggests underpin “being in the world” which then forms the basis  for authentic existence. 

Heidegger is not a critique of science, but rather alerts us to the dangers of total reliance on a scientific way of thinking that does not entail any references to 'being in the world'. 

Existential References  

Anxiety, nothingness and authentic being, 

In a reference back to Kierkegaard idea of dread Heidegger relates the feeling of dread or anxiety to a state where all such entities sink away into a “nothing and nowhere, “ 

Existence then to Heidegger’s thinking is a state hovering between nowhere and home where everydayness disappears and so one can face the potential of authentic being. 

Returning to the influence of Kierkegaard it is the initial process generated by anxiety that provides the tipping point that enables progress to be made due to the process began as a. consequence of anxiety (dread, angst), as the non-trivial precursor to the potential to realizing authentic being.

Expression of being and Conclusion

Heidegger attaches positive states of being as in ascribing it as analogous to “light” and associated with “the joyful”, entailing one coming home so to speak to something much greater than humanity- e.g. a transcendent being relating back to our  primordial beginnings.    

The nature of human 'Being' in terms of its presence or our existence references 'Dasein' to signify ‘being there’ so to speak. This is the crux of his narrative in 'Being and Time'.


Heidegger’s concerns about technology are:  (1) technology is just a way of understanding the world; (2) It is not a human activity nor does it employ human thinking except that of the developers specific instruction and (3) is apt to risk us seeing the world only through technological thinking.

How do you feel about the veracity or otherwise of such claims?  

Are there enhanced possibilities of living a more authentic existence that can be gained from an understanding of his philosophy?  

Or is it too vague and lacking in practicality? To be authentic in terms of good conscience, care and to be truthful?    

Do we see increasing inability to focus with young people becoming over reliant on technology?   

Do you think, properly managed, it can only enhance our understanding of ourselves?

Are there any parallels in his philosophy in respect to other eastern religions as in relating to “being in the world” linked to a primordial beginning?  

Both Heidegger and Nietzsche were on similar missions but from different perspectives given their concern that the world was heading into a period of nihilism.

Do you think there is any risk we are heading in that direction presently?