The Soul

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Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

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 apposite. To ease possible discomfort from certain associations that the usage of this word may evoke, we will start with a brief historical perspective.

The notion of the 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)

For most Greek philosophers too, the soul was a matter of fact. They 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). 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 as taught in Hinduism (anatta doctrine), which is consistent with its creed of impermanence and makes its essentially idealistic position closer to materialist views. However, this creates a number of other inconsistencies (regarding 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,

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