Coded gray.

Wednesday 6 September 2000


Pic of the day: Light from above.

Body, soul & spirit

I witnessed something funny on a discussion group once. For some obscure reason, they had started discussing teleporters like those used in Star Trek, and someone wondered if the soul was really teleported along with the body. One debatant wrote that he did not even have a soul. And the other replied: "I am not in the habit of discussing with a slab of meat." Nor did he post any more messages to that person.

It is likely that the two of them had different ideas about the word "soul". And small wonder, for it is a rather abstract concept in our culture.


If you ask me if I have a soul, I will say yes. But I will not truly mean it. What I truly believe is that I am a soul, but I have a body. On the other end of the scale, I once heard a woman say: "I don't have a body. I am a body." I remember that I found this shocking, an ignorance as profound as if she had claimed that she was not born, her mother got her at the hospital.

The soul, as I define it, is the software of the human. Just like Windows or Linux cannot float around disembodied but need a PC to run, so the soul needs a human brain to run. But in the same way, the PC cannot really do anything of its usual stuff without the software. It is just a box, unless there is software to run on it. In the same way, the body is just meat without a soul. The soul is the real me.

In a way, I guess I use the word like "psyche" in psychology. Our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, memories ... all of it is part of the psyche, working together (or sometimes in conflict) to create the person we are. Not just the person we believe ourselves to be, but a whole lot more. That's the kind of soul I'm talking about, something much more than the narrow "I". All our complexes, our desires and our conscience - it's all part of the soul.


But some people talk about an immortal soul. Some believe that the soul will leave the body at the time of death and go on in some kind of ethereal form or some such. There are those who envision an eternal afterlife in this form. Others claim that the soul eventually comes back, is re-incarnated in a new body, and goes on living that way.

But these souls are supposed to be invisible, weightless, immaterial. In short, they can neither be proved nor disproved by scientific means. They belong, as I like to say it, to the theosphere. The world of theology. The spirit world. In short, these are not souls but spirits. To me, the two are different.

To me, body and soul both belong to the cosmosphere, while the spirit belongs to the theosphere. The spirit is a matter of belief. It certainly seems real enough for those who can sense spiritual things, but it cannot be needled and probed. The soul can be observed more closely, though still indirectly. Psychologists do this all the time, finding hidden knots in the soul. Like we do with software, they can test it by giving input and studying output. The psychologists can study our belief in the spiritual, but not the thing itself. An open minded psychologist will admit this. Just because we believe something does not mean it does exist, but neither does it mean that it doesn't exist.

The side of the soul that faces towards the world can be thoroughly probed, by controlled input. But the far side of the soul, the one that faces the spiritual world, is murky at best when seen from the material side. Often enough, it is unclear even when seen from the soul itself. This, I think, is why some people think the spirit and the soul is the same thing, even though one can be proved and another not.


I am not a psychologists by career or education, nor a philosopher, nor a theologian. I've just been looking around. And it seems to me a strange sight: Often as not, a man's happiness and peace is not in his income or in his house or in his car; but rather in his soul and in his faith. And yet, the science and the business of the outer world is precise and well lighted, but regarding the deeper issues there rules murkiness and hearsay.

A strange thing, is it not? In recent years, I have repeatedly read that one's faith is likely to influence the projected health and life expectancy more than most other factors. And sometimes it seems it can heal anything less than death. Other times, people are full of faith and then they die. Is there any real science in this area? I know of none. It seems we are today in regard to faith where our grandparents were with sex. Everybody knew it was there and it was important and a part of most people's life, but it was all darkness and secret and hearsay.

Will there ever be a spiritual science? Or will science explain away every mystery, leaving the soul dissected as just vibrations of cold dead matter? So far this has not happened. On the contrary, science itself has reached such dimensions that it inspires religious feelings in many scientists. Not conventional churchgoing religion, but a feeling of overwhelming awe, and a vision of everything interconnected, from the vibration of the subatomic particles to the overall structure of the cosmos. Funny enough, that's what mystics have felt all the time.

I think I shall never prove the existence of the human spirit or any spiritual world, not even to myself. I may experience it, but even so the doubt is still there. I am a very scientific minded guy, and it really nags me not to have hard proof. And yet, I know that I'm not just a slab of meat. I hope you agree on that!

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