Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Soul: The Early Years and a Book.

I was not unlike most of the rest of Americans today of which, according to a recent Harris poll, about every 85 out of a hundred seem to believe there is some kind of soul that lives on after death. Now that’s not exactly the same as saying we have an immaterial soul but I think you will agree it certainly implies it. Anyway I went on believing this throughout my youth and early adult life until I hit seminary school. (I like that term. “seminary school.” Jim Morrison used it.) I was pretty okay with the idea until I got to thinking about one of the main teachings at this school regarding the nature of man which was that man (that is human beings or Homo Sapiens) was in essence intellect, emotion, and will. This got me to thinking about what distinguished man from animals because in my youth we had a few farm animals about the place and having worked with them some they seemed to have these three things also. That is farm animals had intellect (it wasn’t a particularly powerful one), emotion (the ewes seemed to suffer what in humans would pass as sorrow when separated from their lambs), and will (especially when we were trying to get them into a truck or pen or other confinement that did not appeal to them). When that little problem came up the only thing that was offered as an alternative was our soul, our immortal, immaterial soul. The animals don’t have one. We do.

I got out of school and went about my business believing, albeit conscious of some misgivings, I had an immaterial soul until I discovered a book called The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick. It’s been a while since I read it but he was basically arguing that all behavior traditionally attributed to the soul can be attributed to the brain. He was very convincing although he was kind of arrogant in his presentation which was off putting. Anyway, he more or less convinced me. Actually not really. He just made me think about it a lot more. And thinking about it a lot more I drew the conclusion that it didn’t really matter that much if we had a soul or not. Even if we didn’t have a soul people would still probably fall in love and try to do good things and believe in right and wrong and so forth. So what difference did it make? Besides I had kids to raise and a career to attend to soul or no soul. So, I kind of left off the question for a while pondering it only occasionally while waiting for kids to get out of soccer practice or dance class.

Recently things took a slight turn and my ponderings on the soul took on a more proactive nature. My wife and I were at a party and we were talking to a gentleman who had recently graduated with some kind of a Zoology degree. I asked him if he felt that there was something about humans that made them qualitatively different from other animals or if they were just another species essentially the same as other animals only with more complicated brains and other differing characteristics. (How about that for mixing.) He said he didn’t think there was any difference and that kicked off a little discussion with the group of people we were around. Some folks mention language, appreciation of beauty, etc. as things that distinguished us as humans. (Curiously no one mentioned the soul.) However, the group quickly reached consensus when my wife suggested that orgasms are what set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and we moved on to the next subject.

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