The soul, in many religious, philosophical, and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal essence of a living being. Soul or psyche comprises the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking, etc. Depending on the philosophical system, a soul can either be mortal or immortal.
Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, understood that the soul ψυχή psūchê must have a logical faculty, the exercise of which was the most divine of human actions. At his defense trial, Socrates even summarized his teaching as nothing other than an exhortation for his fellow Athenians to excel in matters of the psyche since all bodily goods are dependent on such excellence Apology 30a–b.
In Judaism and in Christianity, only human beings have immortal souls although immortality is disputed within Judaism and the concept of immortality may have been influenced by Plato. For example, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas attributed "soul" anima to all organisms but argued that only human souls are immortal. Other religions most notably Hinduism and Jainism hold that all living things from the smallest bacterium to the largest of mammals are the souls themselves Atman, jiva and have their physical representative the body in the world. The actual self is the soul, while the body is only a mechanism to experience the karma of that life. Thus if we see a tiger then there is a self-conscious identity residing in it the soul, and a physical representative the whole body of the tiger, which is observable in the world. Some teach that even non-biological entities such as rivers and mountains possess souls. This belief is called animism.
The Modern English word "soul", derived from Old English sawol, sawel, was first attested in the 8th century poem Beowulf v. 2820 and in the Vespasian Psalter 77.50. It is cognate with other German and Baltic terms for the same idea, including Gothic saiwala, Old High German sêula, sêla, Old Saxon sêola, Old Low Franconian sêla, sila, Old Norse sala and Lithuanian siela. Deeper etymology of the Germanic word is unclear.
The original concept behind the Germanic root is thought to mean" coming from or belonging to the sea or lake”, because of the Germanic and pre-Celtic belief in souls emerging from and returning to sacred lakes, Old Saxon sêola soul compared to Old Saxon sêo sea.
The Koine Greek Septuagint uses ψυχή psyche to translate Hebrew נפש nephesh, meaning "life, vital breath", and specifically refers to a mortal, physical life, but in English it is variously translated as "soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion"; an example can be found in Genesis 1:21:Hebrew – וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים; וְאֵת כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת Septuagint – καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ κήτη τὰ μεγάλα καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ζῴων ἑρπετῶν. Vulgate – Creavitque Deus cete grandia, et omnem animam viventem atque motabilem. Authorized King James Version – "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth."
The Koine Greek word ψυχή psychē, "life, spirit, consciousness", is derived from a verb meaning "to cool, to blow", and hence refers to the breath, as opposed to σῶμα soma, meaning "body". Psychē occurs juxtaposed to σῶμα, as seen in Matthew 10:28:Greek – καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποκτεννόντων τὸ σῶμα, τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν μὴ δυναμένων ἀποκτεῖναι φοβεῖσθε δὲ μᾶλλον τὸν δυνάμενον καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἐν γεέννῃ. Vulgate – et nolite timere eos qui occidunt corpus animam autem non possunt occidere sed potius eum timete qui potest et animam et corpus perdere in gehennam. Authorized King James Version KJV – "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Paul the Apostle used ψυχή psychē and πνεῦμα pneuma specifically to distinguish between the Jewish notions of נפש nephesh and רוח ruah spirit also in the Septuagint, e.g. Genesis 1:2 רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים = πνεῦμα θεοῦ = spiritus Dei = "the Spirit of God".
3.1. Religious views Ancient Near East
In the ancient Egyptian religion, an individual was believed to be made up of various elements, some physical and some spiritual. Similar ideas are found in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian religion. Kuttamuwa, an 8th-century BCE royal official from Samal, ordered an inscribed stele erected upon his death. The inscription requested that his mourners commemorate his life and his afterlife with feasts "for my soul that is in this stele". It is one of the earliest references to a soul as a separate entity from the body. The 800-pound 360 kg basalt stele is 3 ft 0.91 m tall and 2 ft 0.61 m wide. It was uncovered in the third season of excavations by the Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
3.2. Religious views Bahai
The Bahai Faith affirms that "the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel". Bahaullah stated that the soul not only continues to live after the physical death of the human body, but is, in fact, immortal. Heaven can be seen partly as the souls state of nearness to God; and hell as a state of remoteness from God. Each state follows as a natural consequence of individual efforts, or the lack thereof, to develop spiritually. Bahaullah taught that individuals have no existence prior to their life here on earth and the souls evolution is always towards God and away from the material world.
3.3. Religious views Christianity
According to a common Christian eschatology, when people die, their souls will be judged by God and determined to go to Heaven or to Hell. Other Christians understand the soul as the life, and believe that the dead are sleeping Christian conditionalism. This belief is traditionally accompanied by the belief that the unrighteous soul will cease to exist instead of suffering eternally annihilationism. Believers will inherit eternal life either in Heaven, or in a Kingdom of God on earth, and enjoy eternal fellowship with God.
Although all major branches of Christianity – Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Evangelical, and mainline Protestants – teach that Jesus Christ plays a decisive role in the Christian salvation process, the specifics of that role and the part played by individual persons or by ecclesiastical rituals and relationships, is a matter of wide diversity in official church teaching, theological speculation and popular practice. Some Christians believe that if one has not repented of ones sins and has not trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, one will go to Hell and suffer eternal damnation or eternal separation from God. Some hold a belief that babies including the unborn and those with cognitive or mental impairments who have died will be received into Heaven on the basis of Gods grace through the sacrifice of Jesus.
There are also beliefs in universal salvation.
3.4. Religious views Origin of the soul
The "origin of the soul" has provided a vexing question in Christianity. The major theories put forward include soul creationism, traducianism, and pre-existence. According to soul creationism, God creates each individual soul created directly, either at the moment of conception or some later time. According to traducianism, the soul comes from the parents by natural generation. According to the preexistence theory, the soul exists before the moment of conception. There have been differing thoughts regarding whether human embryos have souls from conception, or whether there is a point between conception and birth where the fetus acquires a soul, consciousness, and/or personhood. Stances in this question might play a role in judgements on the morality of abortion.
3.5. Religious views Trichotomy of the soul
Augustine 354-430, one of western Christianitys most influential early Christian thinkers, described the soul as "a special substance, endowed with reason, adapted to rule the body". Some Christians espouse a trichotomic view of humans, which characterizes humans as consisting of a body soma, soul psyche, and spirit pneuma. However, the majority of modern Bible scholars point out how the concepts of "spirit" and of "soul" are used interchangeably in many biblical passages, and so hold to dichotomy: the view that each human comprises a body and a soul. Paul said that the "body wars against" the soul, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit" Heb 4:12 NASB, and that "I buffet my body", to keep it under control.
3.6. Religious views Views of various denominations
The present Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the soul as "the innermost aspect of humans, that which is of greatest value in them, that by which they are in Gods image described as soul signifies the spiritual principle in man". All souls living and dead will be judged by Jesus Christ when he comes back to earth. The Catholic Church teaches that the existence of each individual soul is dependent wholly upon God: "The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God."
Protestants generally believe in the souls existence, but fall into two major camps about what this means in terms of an afterlife. Some, following Calvin, believe in the immortality of the soul and conscious existence after death, while others, following Luther, believe in the mortality of the soul and unconscious "sleep" until the resurrection of the dead. Various new religious movements deriving from Adventism - including Christadelphians, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovahs Witnesses - similarly believe that the dead do not possess a soul separate from the body and are unconscious until the resurrection.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the spirit and body together constitute the Soul of Man Mankind. "The spirit and the body are the soul of man." Latter-day Saints believe that the soul is the union of a pre-existing, God-made spirit and a temporal body, which is formed by physical conception on earth. After death, the spirit continues to live and progress in the Spirit world until the resurrection, when it is reunited with the body that once housed it. This reuniting of body and spirit results in a perfect soul that is immortal and eternal and capable of receiving a fulness of joy. Latter-day Saint cosmology also describes "intelligences" as the essence of consciousness or agency. These are co-eternal with God, and animate the spirits. The union of a newly-created spirit body with an eternally-existing intelligence constitutes a "spirit birth" and justifies Gods title "Father of our spirits".
3.7. Religious views Confucianism
Some Confucian traditions contrast a spiritual soul with a corporeal soul.
3.8. Religious views Hinduism
Ātman is a Sanskrit word that means inner self or soul. In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism, Ātman is the first principle, the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. In order to attain liberation moksha, a human being must acquire self-knowledge atma jnana, which is to realize that ones true self Ātman is identical with the transcendent self Brahman.
The six orthodox schools of Hinduism believe that there is Ātman self, essence in every being.
In Hinduism and Jainism, a jiva is a living being, or any entity imbued with a life force.
In Jainism, jiva is the immortal essence or soul of a living organism which survives physical death. The concept of Ajiva in Jainism means "not soul", and represents matter including body, time, space, non-motion and motion. In Jainism, a Jiva is either samsari mundane, caught in cycle of rebirths or mukta liberated.
The concept of jiva in Jainism is similar to atman in Hinduism. However, some Hindu traditions differentiate between the two concepts, with jiva considered as individual self, while atman as that which is universal unchanging self that is present in all living beings and everything else as the metaphysical Brahman. The latter is sometimes referred to as jiva-atman a soul in a living body. According to Brahma Kumaris, the soul is an eternal point of light.
3.9. Religious views Islam
The Quran, the holy book of Islam, distinguishes between the immortal Rūh and the mortal Nafs. The immortal Rūh "drives" the mortal Nafs, which comprises temporal desires and perceptions necessary for living. One of the passages in the Quran that mention Rûh occur in chapter 17 "The Night Journey",and in Chapter 39 "The Troops":
And they ask you, he sole purpose of creation is for the soul to enjoy the infinite state of the Oversoul consciously."
Eckankar, founded by Paul Twitchell in 1965, defines Soul as the true self; the inner, most sacred part of each person.
4. Philosophical views
The ancient Greeks used the word "ensouled" to represent the concept of being "alive", indicating that the earliest surviving western philosophical view believed that the soul was that which gave the body life. The soul was considered the incorporeal or spiritual "breath" that animates the living organism.
Francis M. Cornford quotes Pindar by saying that the soul sleeps while the limbs are active, but when one is sleeping, the soul is active and reveals "an award of joy or sorrow drawing near" in dreams.
Erwin Rohde writes that an early pre-Pythagorean belief presented the soul as lifeless when it departed the body, and that it retired into Hades with no hope of returning to a body.
4.1. Philosophical views Socrates and Plato
Drawing on the words of his teacher Socrates, Plato considered the psyche to be the essence of a person, being that which decides how we behave. He considered this essence to be an incorporeal, eternal occupant of our being. Plato said that even after death, the soul exists and is able to think. He believed that as bodies die, the soul is continually reborn metempsychosis in subsequent bodies. However, Aristotle believed that only one part of the soul was immortal namely the intellect logos. The Platonic soul consists of three parts:
- the logos, or logistikon
- the eros, or epithumetikon
- the thymos, or thumetikon
The parts are located in different regions of the body:
- eros is located in the stomach and is related to ones desires.
- thymos is located near the chest region and is related to anger.
- logos is located in the head, is related to reason and regulates the other part.
Plato also compares the three parts of the soul or psyche to a societal caste system. According to Platos theory, the three-part soul is essentially the same thing as a states class system because, to function well, each part must contribute so that the whole functions well. Logos keeps the other functions of the soul regulated.
4.2. Philosophical views Aristotle
Aristotle 384–322 BCE defined the soul, or Psūchê ψυχή, as the "first actuality" of a naturally organized body, and argued against its separate existence from the physical body. In Aristotles view, the primary activity, or full actualization, of a living thing constitutes its soul. For example, the full actualization of an eye, as an independent organism, is to see its purpose or final cause. Another example is that the full actualization of a human being would be living a fully functional human life in accordance with reason which he considered to be a faculty unique to humanity. For Aristotle, the soul is the organization of the form and matter of a natural being which allows it to strive for its full actualization. This organization between form and matter is necessary for any activity, or functionality, to be possible in a natural being. Using an artifact non-natural being as an example, a house is a building for human habituation, but for a house to be actualized requires the material necessary for its actuality i.e. being a fully functional house. However, this does not imply that a house has a soul. In regards to artifacts, the source of motion that is required for their full actualization is outside of themselves for example, a builder builds a house. In natural beings, this source of motion is contained within the being itself. Aristotle elaborates on this point when he addresses the faculties of the soul.
The various faculties of the soul, such as nutrition, movement peculiar to animals, reason peculiar to humans, sensation and so forth, when exercised, constitute the "second" actuality, or fulfillment, of the capacity to be alive. For example, someone who falls asleep, as opposed to someone who falls dead, can wake up and live their life, while the latter can no longer do so.
Aristotle identified three hierarchical levels of natural beings: plants, animals, and people, having three different degrees of soul: Bios life, Zoe animate life, and Psuche self-conscious life. For these groups, he identified three corresponding levels of soul, or biological activity: the nutritive activity of growth, sustenance and reproduction which all life shares Bios; the self-willed motive activity and sensory faculties, which only animals and people have in common Zoe; and finally "reason", of which people alone are capable Pseuche.
Aristotles discussion of the soul is in his work, De Anima On the Soul. Although mostly seen as opposing Plato in regard to the immortality of the soul, a controversy can be found in relation to the fifth chapter of the third book: In this text both interpretations can be argued for, soul as a whole can be deemed mortal, and a part called "active intellect" or "active mind" is immortal and eternal. Advocates exist for both sides of the controversy, but it has been understood that there will be permanent disagreement about its final conclusions, as no other Aristotelian text contains this specific point, and this part of De Anima is obscure. Further, Aristotle states that the soul helps humans find the truth and understanding the true purpose or role of the soul is extremely difficult.
4.3. Philosophical views Avicenna and Ibn al-Nafis
Following Aristotle, Avicenna Ibn Sina and Ibn al-Nafis, an Arab physician, further elaborated upon the Aristotelian understanding of the soul and developed their own theories on the soul. They both made a distinction between the soul and the spirit, and the Avicennian doctrine on the nature of the soul was influential among the Scholastics. Some of Avicennas views on the soul include the idea that the immortality of the soul is a consequence of its nature, and not a purpose for it to fulfill. In his theory of "The Ten Intellects", he viewed the human soul as the tenth and final intellect.
While he was imprisoned, Avicenna wrote his famous "Floating Man" thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantial nature of the soul. He told his readers to imagine themselves suspended in the air, isolated from all sensations, which includes no sensory contact with even their own bodies. He argues that in this scenario one would still have self-consciousness. He thus concludes that the idea of the self is not logically dependent on any physical thing, and that the soul should not be seen in relative terms, but as a primary given, a substance. This argument was later refined and simplified by Rene Descartes in epistemic terms, when he stated: "I can abstract from the supposition of all external things, but not from the supposition of my own consciousness."
Avicenna generally supported Aristotles idea of the soul originating from the heart, whereas Ibn al-Nafis rejected this idea and instead argued that the soul "is related to the entirety and not to one or a few organs". He further criticized Aristotles idea whereby every unique soul requires the existence of a unique source, in this case the heart. al-Nafis concluded that "the soul is related primarily neither to the spirit nor to any organ, but rather to the entire matter whose temperament is prepared to receive that soul," and he defined the soul as nothing other than "what a human indicates by saying "I".
4.4. Philosophical views Thomas Aquinas
Following Aristotle whom he referred to as "the Philosopher" and Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas 1225–74 understood the soul to be the first actuality of the living body. Consequent to this, he distinguished three orders of life: plants, which feed and grow; animals, which add sensation to the operations of plants; and humans, which add intellect to the operations of animals.
Concerning the human soul, his epistemological theory required that, since the knower becomes what he knows, the soul is definitely not corporeal - if it is corporeal when it knows what some corporeal thing is, that thing would come to be within it. Therefore, the soul has an operation which does not rely on a body organ, and therefore the soul can exist without a body. Furthermore, since the rational soul of human beings is a subsistent form and not something made of matter and form, it cannot be destroyed in any natural process. The full argument for the immortality of the soul and Aquinas elaboration of Aristotelian theory is found in Question 75 of the First Part of the Summa Theologica.
4.5. Philosophical views Immanuel Kant
In his discussions of rational psychology, Immanuel Kant 1724–1804 identified the soul as the "I" in the strictest sense, and argued that the existence of inner experience can neither be proved nor disproved.
We cannot prove a priori the immateriality of the soul, but rather only so much: that all properties and actions of the soul cannot be recognized from materiality.
It is from the "I", or soul, that Kant proposes transcendental rationalization, but cautions that such rationalization can only determine the limits of knowledge if it is to remain practical.
4.6. Philosophical views Philosophy of mind
Gilbert Ryles ghost in the machine argument, which is a rejection of Descartes mind–body dualism, can provide a contemporary understanding of the soul/mind, and the problem concerning its connection to the brain/body.
4.7. Philosophical views James Hillman
Psychologist James Hillmans archetypal psychology is an attempt to restore the concept of the soul, which Hillman viewed as the "self-sustaining and imagining substrate" upon which consciousness rests. Hillman described the soul as that "which makes meaning possible, events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern", as well as "a special relation with death". Departing from the Cartesian dualism "between outer tangible reality and inner states of mind", Hillman takes the Neoplatonic stance that there is a "third, middle position" in which soul resides. Archetypal psychology acknowledges this third position by attuning to, and often accepting, the archetypes, dreams, myths, and even psychopathologies through which, in Hillmans view, soul expresses itself.
The current scientific consensus across all fields is that there is no evidence for the existence of any kind of soul in the traditional sense. Many modern scientists, such as Julien Musolino, hold that the mind is merely a complex machine that operates on the same physical laws as all other objects in the universe. According to Musolino, there is currently no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the existence of the soul; he claims there is also considerable evidence that seems to indicate that souls do not exist.
The search for the soul, however, is seen to have been instrumental in driving the understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the human body, particularly in the fields of cardiovascular and neurology. In the two dominant conflicting concepts of the soul – one seeing it to be spiritual and immortal, and the other seeing it to be material and mortal, both have described the soul as being located in a particular organ or as pervading the whole body.
5.1. Science Neuroscience
Neuroscience as an interdisciplinary field, and its branch of cognitive neuroscience particularly, operates under the ontological assumption of physicalism. In other words, it assumes - in order to perform its science - that only the fundamental phenomena studied by physics exist. Thus, neuroscience seeks to understand mental phenomena within the framework according to which human thought and behavior are caused solely by physical processes taking place inside the brain, and it operates by the way of reductionism by seeking an explanation for the mind in terms of brain activity.
To study the mind in terms of the brain several methods of functional neuroimaging are used to study the neuroanatomical correlates of various cognitive processes that constitute the mind. The evidence from brain imaging indicates that all processes of the mind have physical correlates in brain function. However, such correlational studies cannot determine whether neural activity plays a causal role in the occurrence of these cognitive processes correlation does not imply causation and they cannot determine if the neural activity is either necessary or sufficient for such processes to occur. Identification of causation, and of necessary and sufficient conditions requires explicit experimental manipulation of that activity. If manipulation of brain activity changes consciousness, then a causal role for that brain activity can be inferred. Two of the most common types of manipulation experiments are loss-of-function and gain-of-function experiments. In a loss-of-function also called "necessity" experiment, a part of the nervous system is diminished or removed in an attempt to determine if it is necessary for a certain process to occur, and in a gain-of-function also called "sufficiency" experiment, an aspect of the nervous system is increased relative to normal. Manipulations of brain activity can be performed with direct electrical brain stimulation, magnetic brain stimulation using transcranial magnetic stimulation, psychopharmacological manipulation, optogenetic manipulation, and by studying the symptoms of brain damage case studies and lesions. In addition, neuroscientists are also investigating how the mind develops with the development of the brain.
5.2. Science Physics
Physicist Sean M. Carroll has written that the idea of a soul is incompatible with quantum field theory QFT. He writes that for a soul to exist: "Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there cant be a new collection of spirit particles and spirit forces that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments."
Some theorists have invoked quantum indeterminism as an explanatory mechanism for possible soul/brain interaction, but neuroscientist Peter Clarke found errors with this viewpoint, noting there is no evidence that such processes play a role in brain function; Clarke concluded that a Cartesian soul has no basis from quantum physics.
Some parapsychologists have attempted to establish, by scientific experiment, whether a soul separate from the brain exists, as is more commonly defined in religion rather than as a synonym of psyche or mind. Milbourne Christopher 1979 and Mary Roach 2010 have argued that none of the attempts by parapsychologists have yet succeeded.
Weight of the soul
In 1901 Duncan MacDougall conducted an experiment in which he made weight measurements of patients as they died. He claimed that there was weight loss of varying amounts at the time of death; he concluded the soul weighed 21 grams, based on measurements of a single patient and discarding conflicting results. The physicist Robert L. Park has written that MacDougalls experiments "are not regarded today as having any scientific merit" and the psychologist Bruce Hood wrote that "because the weight loss was not reliable or replicable, his findings were unscientific."
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