Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Soul: Some Practical Problems

All this has led me to do some of my own thinking. It seems to me that there are some practical problems for the soul. In order for the human soul to function in practice, several complications need to be addressed.

First there is the question of the means by which the soul would initiate, prompt, instigate or influence action in the body. To my knowledge no one has identified a means for the soul to do this. One could speculate. For example, one’s soul might have a means to stimulate certain nerves in the brain that it knows would trigger certain intellectual responses or perhaps it could cause certain glands to secrete chemicals to evoke a desired emotion. This of course could happen but I don’t know that any one has ever demonstrated that it has happened or does happen.

Even if one could conceive of how the soul could affect the body, how would the soul know what to affect when? The soul must have a means by which it determines the condition of the body. So that the souls actions on the body would be relevant to the body. That is, it must know whether the body is energetic, tired, sleeping, in peril, remembering something happy or sad, etc. Otherwise your body might be at a funeral and if the soul can’t tell what’s going on it might try to influence you to be happy and laugh. This would appear to be rude at best and insane at worse. In order for the soul to know what the body is up to it might follow around the body and constantly monitor what the body sees and hears, what it thinks, and its various emotional states, and what information it processes at a given time. Certainly it would have to if it were to act with any relevance with the body. Is this probable? Verifiable? No.

In addition the soul would need a means to share the memory of the body. I can think of two ways this might happen. The soul could constantly poll neurons and regions of the brain responsible for memory. So, it would know all the past relevant experiences of the person and if need be prompt the body as indicated above. Or the soul could develop and maintain its own parallel memory. That is, every time an event occurs affecting the body the soul could “bank it” and the means of recalling it in the physical memory and then perhaps, as discussed above, anytime it perceived something happening with the body which something in the memory bared upon the soul could perhaps prompt the body to recall the same memory stored in the brain.

The previous difficulties involved how the soul affects the body in this soul body relationship. Now we turn to our attention to how the body affects or acts on the soul. I can’t think of a method or mechanism or apparatus by which the body could affect the immaterial soul. That is, I can’t think of how the body would engage the soul. Perhaps a body could think or feel soul thoughts or feelings. Perhaps the body/brain could sort of say “I’m not sure how to handle this issue of love…” (or morals or some other soul issue) “…I’m going to pass this off to the soul.” Some of the artistically oriented readers might be thinking that that is exactly how it happens. They might point to times when a good idea or feeling just came to them out of the blue or after they slept or while they were in an attitude of openness to their soul. However, the serendipity that happens to us occasionally when we take a break and just reflect on something can just as easily be explained by brain/body function. Even if it couldn’t be, how could you be sure it was your soul that caused the serendipity? How do you know it’s not some other force?

This leads us to the alternative of the body being merely passive in this relationship. If the body is a purely passive entity in it’s relation to its soul then it would seem that the soul would be nothing more than another of the myriad of external forces acting on the physical organism. It would stimulate various functions of the body not unlike the external physical world around us acting on our various senses and bodily functions. And taking this a step further, since the body has no way to actively engage the soul, unlike the physical world, then the actions this mysterious soul would take on the body would appear random to the body. (Although there may be certain trends or themes which might appear.)

Another option exists where the soul functions as a passive recorder of the body’s experiences. So, that it can carry that background and history into the afterlife. That is, so it could be us, after we die. This is possible but I’m not sure it is probable. And as far as the here and now is concerned, it concedes the point that the body functions essentially independently and does not need the soul.

As you can see, explaining how the soul would work is very challenging and complicated. In my estimation more complicated than explaining human behavior based completely on the physiology of the body. This leads us to call on an old tool for clear thinking called Occum’s Razor. Occum’s Razor is a principle that states that if there are multiple ways of explaining something, the simplest explanation is probably the best. I think that while you can’t prove we don’t have a soul tagging along with us it is simpler to explain life and human behavior without a soul.


MJ said...

Does Occum have shaving cream? maybe a nail clipper?..I'm sorry. I am being very tongue and cheeky. It's a good post. I have just developped a kind of aversion to trying to figure out how it all works. It comes from years of being bound by my own questions.

John said...

Actually he had a little Swiss Army Knife and he used the scissors to trim his beard and fingernails. He was a little scraggly looking.
I know what you mean about getting bound by your questions. I have had the same experience. Some times you just need stop thinking too much and just live. As far as the soul goes I’m not sure we can KNOW for sure whether we have one or don’t. For me it makes sense that I don’t have one but I might be wrong. Regardless I think we need to try to live a noble and purpose filled life and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

MJ said...

You like music right? Now music through the lens of science is variated compressions of air. When you look at it through that lens that is what it is. Is that all it is? It has this power to move our emotions. Something instrumental, we can hear and percieve the emotions of another human being and be taken there emotionally ourselves...without words, just the vibrations of sound. Are they only compressions of air? Is the whole merely the sum of it's parts? I am a painter. I can look at all of my paintings and say...well this is acrylic and canvas, and i am just the arranger of these componants. I can then go further down into the chemical compositions and use science to determine what my painting is "chemically". Does my painting have meaning or is it just the chemicals and their arrangement? I really do understand questioning, I did it for so very long. I choose to have faith that we do have a soul and stop fearing that we are duping ourselves and looking for the wizard behind the curtain. It came down, for me, to Paul, who wrote "I do what I do not want to do and what I want to do, I do not do" Why is it that everyone has something like that in their lives? No matter how hard you try and you know it isn't right, you just can't get yourself to stop completely. Maybe you can control it, but not entirely. Why is that?

"Regardless I think we need to try to live a noble and purpose filled life and treat everyone with dignity and respect. "

You see here, I would love to be able to do this, but there are many times I simply can't be respectful and treat people with dignity, no matter how much I want to. We say to err is human...why is it human? My theory is that it is because our souls are in conflict with out minds and this conflict gives me evidence for it's existance. But, I don't think proof is really relevant in this realm. This is just my personal opinion based on my experience..but, I think God orchestrated a realm where proof and observation with the senses is just weak because we, as humans need to be reminded of our desire for control and mastery and how we can't have it everywhere. But that is just my opinon frought with all its querky biases.

John said...

Yes, I like music. I’m listening to Stevie Wonder right now. I don’t think music is just compressions of air. Rather, I think it is compressions of air organized to evoke an emotional experience in humans. I suppose that the whole could be the sum of its parts if you consider as one of the parts how all the parts are organized. Hope that made sense.
It’s cool you are a painter. I think paintings have meaning beyond the arrangement of the chemical. They have meaning outside of the chemicals that relate to the emotions and ideas that you intended to invoke when you painted them.
I think it is fine you believe in a soul. But I don’t think that not believing is an indication that a person is trying to make sure they don’t dup themselves. I assume you mean dup yourself into believing that your life has more meaning than it would if you did not have a soul. I think an individual human life has great meaning regardless of whether or not you have a soul.
I believe the fact that we do what we don’t want to do and visa versa is driven by a brain that is able to manage multiple options and actions and is able to weigh those options against each other and various external and internal forces of the body with all of its desires, needs and impulses learned and innate. It’s not the soul battling with the flesh. It is the body with its big brain and its multifaceted physiological needs that battles with itself.
I fall way below the 100% mark when it comes to treating people with dignity and respect. I don’t know why “to err is human.” Maybe by nature to conserve brain power we were designed to generalize and draw quick conclusions. Some times these generalizations work to preserve the individual and promote moral behavior. Sometimes it involves bad behavior. This falls way short of a good explanation. We may have to work through this idea further sometime in the future.
I agree this is not an area where you can prove anything one way or the other. It is a matter of probabilities. I also agree with you there is a realm or realms that are beyond our complete grasp. God himself would fit into this category. Even fully understanding nature is beyond any individuals grasp. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it is as you imply to keep us humble.
Soul or no soul: Life is beautiful, tragic, fraught with failure, joyous and wonderful.

MJ said...

I think an individual human life has great meaning regardless of whether or not you have a soul.

Why does and individual human life have meaning?

John said...

Hi MJ. I believe the individual person’s life has meaning because the species as a whole and therefore each individual was created in the image of God. God created all the species and then logically if not chronologically said, “If I was going to be one of the species I created what would I be like?” and in response to that question he made us. The crown jewel of his creation. We are all living, breathing, walking around little images of God.

I think some people feel that for the individual to have meaning they must last longer than the 3 score and 10 we roughly get. I don’t buy that. What makes infinite existence more valuable than temporal? If I love for five minutes and then cease to exist will that five minutes of love be any less meaningful 10 trillion years from now. I think not. It still stands as a burning ember of beautiful human love and has as much meaning 10 trillion years from now as it does right now. Regardless of whether I’m around later to reminisce or brag about it.

God gave us all the gifts that come with being human and being made in his image for what ever span we are blessed with. That ought to be enough meaning for anyone.