Souls. For some reason the majority of people, mostly religious, believe in their existence. The existence of some intangible thing that directs and controls every action we make and persists beyond our bodies when we die. Not only do they persist, but they retain our very personality and can in many cultures be judged and rewarded or condemned based on our lives and how we lived them in accordance with some certain set of rules. However, why is this belief persistent throughout so many different cultures? Why is it taken as the “norm” when discussing religious belief or for some people, what makes us happy? In our American culture it is generally understood that people have souls, even if they are not themselves religious-it’s just something that exists.
Well I’m going to challenge that idea.
When we look at the idea of souls we have to begin describing how our bodies interact with them. If people have souls and our body are things that our souls “inhabit” then how exactly does the soul interact with the body? Let me pose an example to maybe better illustrate this.
Let’s say we can measure your brain and we can see where the different parts become stimulated. Specifically let us look for the idea of pain in your brain. When we poke you with a needle on your finger, we see a certain part of your brain become agitated and register the pain. Now, let us poke you on your foot, and see a different part of the brain light up. That is strange isn’t it? You feel the pain in your foot and finger, yet all of the activity is in your brain. Now, let us send those same signals to that same part of the brain and leave your fingers and foot alone. Odd, you feel pain in the same places. Why is that? It is because your brain and nothing else registers the pain that is occurring in your body. It isn’t so much that your finger “hurts” but that your brain is responding to the nerve endings on your finger and sending that pain signal to your finger. If we cut out those nerves you would feel no pain! Just ask anyone that has experienced a nasty burn on their hand, often they feel nothing yet their hand is burned to the bone.
So if we feel pain in our brain and not in our flesh, then doesn’t that make a case for the brain alone being the sole (heh get it?) respondent for our being? Another example if you remain unconvinced.
Often the soul is said to be the essence of a person. “She is such a wonderful soul, she’d never hurt a fly!” Without a soul, we are nothing. They contain our personality, our likes, our wants, our desires, and so on. But let us take that person and through some circumstance deprive them of their frontal lobe. No longer is that emotional responsiveness part of their brain present. Or worse yet, let us look at someone that has suffered a massive stroke or head injury. It is all too clear that a person can be reduced in their emotional and general responsiveness by reducing the functionality of the brain. In no way shape or form does a soul enter into the explanation here. If a soul is otherworldly and responsible for our actions and is our actual essence of being, why does harming the brain harm psyche? Is it because the soul is “in” the brain, or is it because the brain “is” our being?
For many this is not a comforting thought to believe that we are the products of our brain, however, research and self reflection shows this to be the case. How can one believe in a soul when we can physically alter the way you react or behave by physically altering your brain state? How do we build a case for life beyond death when we can see the effects of life right here in the real world? If many more people, both religious and non, examined this idea they would come to the same conclusion: there is no evidence for the existence of souls, there is plenty of evidence against this existence, and even if there were souls, we have no way to explain exactly how they interact with our brain states and our personal being.
So the next time someone gushes about souls or their supernatural being, ask them if they feel any pain when you stamp on their foot or pinch their shoulder. Ask them if their soul hurts or if it’s something else. Be sure to let me know if you hurt someone’s soul.