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?