The perception of the soul (epistemological issues)

The soul is not material, so it cannot be detected indirectly through the physical senses or mechanical instruments[1]. It can be, however, directly felt, experienced. Most people are vaguely aware of these experiences (although they are often ascribed to the body or mind). For example, it is common to describe individuals in terms of energy properties, such as ‘warm or cold', ‘open or closed', ‘deep or shallow', ‘cracking', ‘being on the same wave length', etc. They may be the descriptions of some processes at the non-physical level, rather than just metaphors. Yet, the understanding of the soul has remained rudimentary even for those who believe in it, for several reasons:

  • Such experiences are unstable, fleeting, vague, unstructured and difficult to classify, so they are usually consciously ignored as a background noise.
  • Perception of the soul is easily overrun by more intense and concrete physical and mind processes, such as inputs from the environment and more tangible mental states (e.g. imagination or thinking).
  • They are not based on sensory perception, so it is extremely difficult to conceptualise and objectify these experiences within a socially shared framework.

A fuller comprehension of the soul requires the combining of several methods: transpersonal perception, phenomenological reduction and deductive inferences.

  • Transpersonal experiences are of course essential, but they involve shifting the focus of awareness. Considering that the soul is non-material, using a visual apparatus, of course, is not necessary. However, maintaining the attention (e.g. on a person) and stabilising fleeting impressions are.
  • An accurate perception (that may or may not produce a mental image) requires separating that which comes from the observed soul and that which belongs to the observer. So, phenomenological reduction, concentrating on the experience of phenomena related to the soul without social and personal interpretations, is essential. In other words, the accuracy depends on the extent to which a person is capable of bracketing and going ‘below' the constructs through which reality is normally perceived and other projections.
  • Deductive conclusions (following the criteria of reasoning) can also contribute to a better understanding by bridging the existing gaps.
  • [1]. Whatever instruments can find could only be properties of the matter, because they are based on such properties. This limitation of instruments should not be a reason to dismiss other phenomena out-of-hand.