THE SOUL

The self, awareness and intent cannot exist in a void. It makes sense that they are the properties of a relatively discrete (non-material) energy field. Despite its baggage, the traditional name for this part of a living organism, the soul, still seems to be the most convenient. To ease possible discomfort from certain associations that the usage of this word may evoke, a brief historical perspective will be presented first.

The notion of soul (interpreted in various ways) appears in practically every culture: the Egyptian term was ba, the Hindu atman, the Jewish neshamah, the medieval Christian anima divina. Popper writes:

There is an abundance of important evidence that supports the hypothesis that dualistic and interactionist beliefs concerning body and mind are very old - prehistoric and of course historic. Apart from folklore and fairy tales, it is supported by all we know about primitive religion, myth, and magical beliefs. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.157)

Greek philosophers identified the soul with the life principle itself and also the source of inner movement. Plato considered the self (soul) distinct from the body and capable of living without it. Aristotle also acknowledged a non-material aspect of a human being (although he interpreted it in a different way from Plato). A Roman biographer Plutarch speaks about nous, uncorrupted soul that survives death. Cicero too was a dualist. Soul, as a breath of life, appears in Egyptian Gnostic Myths, the book of Genesis and the Arabian Creation Myth. Not all religions however, support this notion. Mainstream Buddhism rejects the idea of the eternal non-material soul that is taught in Hinduism (anatta doctrine), which is consistent with its creed of impermanency and makes its essentially idealistic position closer to materialist views. However, this creates a number of other inconsistencies (in relation to the concepts of the self, reincarnation and Nirvana). The Old Testament seems ambiguous about whether humans are purely physical beings or not. In the earlier period, the emphasis is very much on this world (as, for example, in the Book of Job). Later, though, the soul becomes more independent from the body. In Christianity, it is considered an eternal, divine, perfect and beautiful aspect of the human, which nevertheless resembles the physical body and can suffer an equivalent of physical pains and pleasures. Some modern theologicians (such as Teilhard de Chardin) rejected these naïve notions of the soul and developed much more sophisticated interpretations. So the idea of the soul has a long tradition, and should not be identified with any particular religious framework.