What is a soul, and does it exist?
Constructed with lasers, mirrors, and prisms, this sophisticated system, all properly placed and calibrated, could be found sitting on the workbench in Rodrick’s home laboratory, allowing him to carry out his plan with the machine he had constructed to carry it. He reasoned that it ought to be feasible to produce an autonomous pattern of light that would reinforce itself forever, The ability to communicate with God without barriers of time and space and striking God with a lethal bolt of energy.
He drew this conclusion based on the following:
The two men made the necessary adjustments to their eyewear before Rodrick turned on the machine. They could make out the light pattern in front of them even though the lenses were dark because the light beams followed their geometric routes. The light became more intense with time, and the brilliance began to spread outward, eventually enveloping every surface, including the mirrors, the workbench, and the space itself. After a split second, there was no longer any light. “That’s it,” Rodrick said with a deadpan expression. “There is no god.”
Harry looked around, and nothing was out of the ordinary. He scoffed at her and yelled, “Nonsense!” After that, Rodrick removed his specs to have a better look around, and that’s when Harry got the answers he needed. He saw nothing but emptiness in his friend’s eyes… Rodrick had succeeded in killing God, and in doing so, he also destroyed the souls of all other living things. Life went on, and the enormous clockwork of the cosmos continued to tick according to the laws of mechanics, but all you had to do to know that individuals were dead on the inside was look into their eyes. There was no inner life, beauty, or significance to be found. Harry realized this was what God provided while he was alive and meditated on it. No longer was there anything left to do.
This is a synopsis of “The God Gun,” a short tale created by science fiction author Barrington Bayley in the early 1970s. The work was published under the same name. Despite the significant gains that have been made in technology, most people in today’s world would consider Rodrick’s mission pointless, hopelessly naive, and immoral, to say nothing of its evil character. The majority of us share Bayley’s intuition that people are more than sums of their biological and physical components, which is why his story continues to impact us. It stands to reason that in addition to the atoms and cells that compose our bodies, something else must exist: an essence, a spirit, or something priceless and lovely.
To summarize, it’s a soul. This intuitive understanding is firmly ingrained in the human mind and has been held by people from a wide variety of civilizations at all points in time, from ancient times to the present. According to what is said in Mark Baker and Stewart Goetz’s book “The Soul Hypothesis,” “the majority of people, in most periods, in most locations, and across most eras have thought that human beings possess some type of soul.”
This intuitive knowing is also considered to be an essential component in the majority of religious teachings. In a message that he gave to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October 1996, Pope John Paul II famously articulated the idea. In the letter, The Holy Father stated that while the human body may have evolved from other life forms, the human soul is God’s original creation. This message is credited with popularizing the concept.
According to the pope, an explanation of the mind as the result of evolutionary processes was incompatible with the truth about man. According to the findings of several polls, faith in the immortality of the soul is still very much present in contemporary North American culture. In my interviews with college students enrolled in advanced undergraduate psychology classes similar to those I often teach at Rutgers University, I discovered that most students believe they possess a soul. A plethora of books, television shows, movies, and pronouncements made by authors and gurus of all stripes who claim to have uncovered unmistakable proof of the existence of the soul continually reaffirm these intuitions.
What’s more, these intuitions are constantly reinforced by a wealth of evidence. An article entitled “Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience of the Afterlife” appeared on the cover of the issue of Newsweek published on October 15, 2012, with the subheading God Exists: The Christian View of Eternity. The article focused on the idea of the immortality of the soul.
The present scientific consensus, in stark contrast to the widespread belief, discredits the idea that each individual possesses a soul or spirit distinct from their brain’s activity. This idea was given the name “The Astonishing Hypothesis” by Francis Crick, who was also responsible for discovering the structure of DNA. In the words of Scientist Francis Crick, You, your happiness and sadness, what you’ve been through and what you’re planning for the future, your uniqueness, and your agency are nothing more than the activity of a vast assembly of nerve cells and the molecules that are connected with them.”
Owen Flanagan, a philosopher, noted that to “demythologize humans by digging out some false concepts from the perennial philosophy,” we “need to demythologize persons by reflecting on what I call the scientific image of persons.” The bare minimum required is to let go of the idea that humans have souls. Decoupling is the most crucial step in creating a scientific image. The weight of the scientific consensus is distributed throughout a wide range of disciplines, one of which is, as one might anticipate, the sciences of the mind. These include psychology, neurology, and cognitive science. Joshua Greene, a psychologist at Harvard, provides the following synopsis of the situation:
Most people are dualists. Intuitively, we do not think of ourselves as material devices; instead, we consider ourselves immaterial minds or souls housed in physical bodies. At least, according to their formal statements, the majority of experimental psychologists and neuroscientists disagree. The contemporary scientific study of the mind operates under the presumption that reason consists of nothing more than the activities carried out by the brain. However, this topic only comes up sometimes in our conversations. As scientists, we tend to take the physical basis of the mind for granted. It’s a sensitive issue for most people in the general population.
Therefore, to Greene, science has eradicated the soul much like Rodrick’s God gun, yet, scientists are hesitant to acknowledge this fact publicly. Even if the existence of the soul is an elaborate delusion, it is at least a delusion that serves a purpose and provides solace. If we open the box of Pandora, we may find ourselves in the same position as Harry, i.e., staring into other people’s eyes and realizing that nothing is as beautiful or meaningful as it once was.
Once upon a time, the author Jared Diamond, who has won numerous awards for his work, observed that science is to blame for the enormous shifts in our arrogant self-image. Astronomy has shown us that Earth is not the focal point of the universe as some people once believed. We discovered through the study of biology that we did not originate from God but evolved over millions of years with other creatures. Another tectonic shift in our sense of identity is the topic of this book. Most individuals think that our souls are angels while our bodies are beasts. The findings of science suggest otherwise.
In the following pages, I will take you on a tour of history, philosophy, and science to show you that the soul, like egocentrism and creationism, is a figment of our creative thinking, and I’ll do my best to shed light on the source of the delusion. In addition, I will show you that the soul, like egocentrism and creationism, is a figment of our imagination. The world’s end did not come about directly from the discovery of modern astronomy or the theory of evolution. They are unmistakable indicators that progress is being made. In the same vein, I will demonstrate that, despite the numerous assertions made to the contrary, we do not suffer any negative consequences when we let go of the beliefs deeply ingrained in our souls; what’s more, we stand to benefit from this change. As you near the end of this book, I want to make sure that the last thing I say to you is this encouraging and uplifting conclusion.
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