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Paul Mathew

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Do we human have souls like religious texts prophesy? This is a question for religious people and atheists alike.

For long, it has been a question amongst us human beings whether a soul exists for human beings or not. This has mostly been highlighted in religious texts from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism to name a few.

When people say that they have been spiritually possessed or guided, it is assumed to be through one's soul? Atheists may not agree to this thought, to which I would like to ask where does the energy embodied in a human being go when he/she dies? This can be referred to the fact that the energy in the universe is a constant?

I would like a rounded view on this subject as to get a better idea as to what we should or should not believe.

Topics: ghosts soul
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Closing Statement from Paul Mathew

All in all. It was a great conversation. Thanks to everyone for their respective views and theories.

I have concluded that, there is a soul indeed for every human being and it has been described in various forms. Regardless of different views, we humans live and die by it and all our emotions and the way we live is governed by it.

Let it continue to be so.

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    Jul 23 2013: I don't believe in the soul, I believe in thoughts and emotions.

    Do we really know that energy is a constant in the universe? Maybe the universe will eventually die.
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        Jul 23 2013: Well, other people had said that but I never felt it so much until now. So thanks for that, John. But how has science established that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it seems counter-intuitive.
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    Aug 21 2013: Paul Mathew,
    I suggest that the energy which fuels the body goes back into the universal energy "grid" and is recycled, because, as we think we know, energy cannot be destroyed....as you say....the energy in the universe is a constant.....correct?

    Which came first? The energy that fuels the body? Or the religious texts?

    I suggest that the religious texts, and those humans who wrote the religious texts, which were written long after there were humans with energy flowing through the body/mind, attempted to label, or define this energy, so terms like soul, spirit, etc. were created.

    I do not perceive believing something like this as a matter of "should" or "should not", but rather a preference, based on the information we have and choose to embrace at any given time.
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    Jul 24 2013: You don't have to look at it in a religious or non-religious sense. You say, "this has mostly been highlighted in religious texts" but it has been hotly debated by philosopher's for a couple millenniums. Plato wrote about in 'The Pheado' an 'The Republic.' Some entries on the subject that might be helpful can be found at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ancient-soul/#3 One can be either an religious, agnostic, or atheist philosopher and still have similar theories on the soul.

    The energy in a human body exists due to the electrical charges in the atoms that compose it. So the energy is there, but not for long. When the immune system went offline, decomposers, like bacteria immediately set the decomposition process going. The energy stored in the dead human is consumed by these decomposers. They used it to power themselves, the pass some out as waste, and they put some into reproduction of other decomposers. At the beginning and the end of the process there still the same energy. And the same atoms.
  • Jul 24 2013: When people talk about the soul, they are talking about the non physical aspect of our being. This is conciousness (thoughts, emotions etc). I do not see any reason to refer to conciousness as the soul.
    Where conciousness goes after death is anyones guess. We don't even know where conciousness resides in a living being. Can a non physical thing reside anywhere?
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      Jul 24 2013: They are talking about the POSSIBILITY of a non-physical aspect of our being. Consciousness comes from the brain as a result of chemicals interacting with electrical charges. A mirage down the road isn't a sea that keeps receding before you. It's an illusion, like consciousness.
      • Jul 24 2013: You believe that consciousness is an illusion. In other words, the mind is created by matter (materialism). My understanding of materialism is:

        1. Free will is an illusion.
        2. Mind is an emanation from the body, and the body a product of material forces.
        3. There is no purpose or plan in the universe.
        4. There is no creator.
        5. The law of cause and effect which operates in the world of matter is ultimate, and applies also to life.

        Do you believe in free will?
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          Jul 24 2013: No, I don't. That's where I am in my thinking. Although for some reason I tend to try (uh-uh-sounds like freedom) and focus on cause and leave effect 'to the great laws of the universe' as has been said.

          Do you know something strange. The reply I made to you elsewhere in this conversation is a direct answer to this comment of yours, only I hadn't read this yet, because the other comment of yours showed up as a TED notification in my e-mail box earlier. The implication being that I copped to a deterministic universe without knowing you had already posed the question of free will.

          Your five criteria all sound convincing and have a higher probability of being representative of actual reality than any of the alternatives to them. But I'm literally at a point, or a line, really, where I haven't convinced myself there isn't free-will, I just don't see it. Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.
  • Aug 22 2013: i should also add that the word soul seems likely to have originated with the root word sal - salt. salt was in ancient times that which preserved food and was essential to life. it was also what remained of bodies after dessication. as i understand the word, it is a synonym of essence, not to be confused with the word spirit which literally means breath and is the energy which animates us.
  • Aug 22 2013: i have come to believe that the word 'soul' refers to the information contained in our dna. it is my belief that this information is altered throughout our lives by the process of our living, a neo-lamarkian concept of evolution. the information itself is information and it may or may not be that there are other ways to store this information as well.
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    Aug 21 2013: No. Thats not what I meant.

    If we do good deeds we will get the good outcome and if not, the opposite, is what I meant and that's whether I am a Xian, Muslim, Hindu or follower of any other religion or none.

    To note:

    GOOD is a very subjective and relative word differing from person to person.
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    Aug 21 2013: The closest answer to what I think is correct.
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      Aug 21 2013: Yeah I believe our soul is our energy. But nothing to prove it.
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    Aug 21 2013: Just so we understand the question, Paul: What's a soul, exactly?
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      Aug 21 2013: Paul,

      First of all since there being a lot of defenitions as to what a soul is I am not able to exactly define what a Soul is. However, I shall try to give an outline as to what I believe is a soul from all these years of hearing and feeling about what could be a SOUL.

      In my opinion a SOUL is the energy that makes us live. As in with our organs we are just a body, but its the soul that makes us think, live, make decisions etc. Essentially the brain makes these decisions in our head but the ultimate decision between mind and brain is made by the mind which is essentially the soul.

      This is my understanding and may not be right? Coz I have been intrigued by this question of mine, in itself.
  • Aug 1 2013: I'll refer to Pascal's Wager: If there, in fact, is a God and we choose to believe in him with a contrite heart, many religious texts say that you'll be rewarded for your faith and deeds (especially in the afterlife). The alternative is trying to (presumably) be a good person with no possibility of reward from a God gracious for your belief in him. If there is no afterlife then the faithful still had a pretty good doctrine for moral living. On the flip side, if the atheist dies and faces divine maker he did not believe in, well that's going to be a pretty raw deal considering they worked their whole life to be a decent person. (This, of course, is from a Christian perspective where humble and honest belief in Christ trumps any deeds a fallen and innately sinful people will be prone to.) If the Bible is true and the God I believe in is real, it seems more wise to carefully believe than not to... given the alternative of eternal nothingness.
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      Aug 21 2013: Hey Mr. Burns,

      I am a Syrian Orthodox Christian by baptism as my parents were born into the same religion too. I love being so.

      This belief of mine doesn't make me to blindly believe that if I be a christian and lead my life according to the bible I will be saved from treachery in my "afterlife". I see so many humans in my faith be good and bad characters, the same with people of other faiths or without faith too. (What is good and bad is another topic to discuss")

      So, assuming that GOOD (is not a questionable relative item) I believe that each religion or faith is only a way to attain NIRVANA or one to not harm other human beings / mother earth itself. So a person who is a Christian / Buddhist / Hindu for eg. does not get any extra advantage going into afterlife over any other religious or religionless person.

      We strive to making our soul pure and that will eventually make us lead a good life.
      • Aug 21 2013: Ok... So, since we are both Christians, you're saying that if we head to the afterlife to meet Allah that he'll be cool with us being infidels and let us in anyway because he is just a nice guy?

        Also, I'm not saying I believe that grace is received through our deeds but our belief:
        "...a good person with no possibility of reward from a God gracious for your belief in him."

        Just felt the need to point that particular caveat out. But even if one does believe that deeds will get you salvation (which in the context of Christian scripture is highly questionable if not outright false) then the varying religions would have a quite subjective idea of what "good" means. Your contention seems a bit utopian for my taste, but I like the optimism!
  • Jul 25 2013: I don't think that there's souls.
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    Jul 24 2013: Well, I don't think people have souls, personally. But you're question is very intriguing. I want to answer once I've had more time to think it over. It's a really, really good question, at least in the sense that I know its going to make me think. And its original.
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    Jul 24 2013: I don't think so. We have a consciousness certainly—which is a very interesting aspect of nature— but I don't believe that my consciousness did exist before or will exist after my life.
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      Jul 25 2013: Ok, say ur consciousness arose from the body u are living in. How does it make your body make you feel? Consciousness cant make you cry, laugh, sulk etc. It can lead you to these things but it is not what makes you feel.
  • Jul 24 2013: Scientifically speaking, there is no evidence, nor reason to believe a soul exists. As Occam's razor dictates we must not make unnecessary assumptions, there is no scientific reason to say otherwise.

    Granted, that's hardly proof a soul does not exist, but good luck proving the non-existence of anything. Aside for the realm of pure mathematics, its practically speaking, impossible.

    As for energy endowed in the human body, it acts as all energy does, whether its in a living thing or an inanimate object. That's like asking whether water behaves differently in a plastic bag than it does in a bucket--no fundamental difference, except for the the vessel its currently in.
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      Jul 25 2013: Hello Nadav, I think the comparison of life and water is not exactly correct.

      Life is something you can see as a particle like water to the naked eye. So we cant see that transformation when it is trrasnferred from one vessel to another like water.

      Also, life is not directly proportional to water's characteristics. Yes, water may be a provider of life but that's through the body's various molecules that water is processed into life, so it cannot be directly proportional to life. So we cant have that argument either.
    • Aug 23 2013: as for scientific evidence that the soul exists, first you would need to define what you're looking for. i am reminded of a famous experiment done by some english medical students in the 19th century. they cut up a cadaver looking for the soul and of course not finding it. it is worth mentioning that they found no dna either, though it did exist, just not within their capacity to understand or observe.
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    Jul 24 2013: I offer this comment as constructive criticism meant to correct an untruth that is commonly overlooked and is being perpetuated by the wording of your question. You make a clear distinction between QUOTE: "religious people and atheists". That is a non-existent separation. Not all religious people are Atheists but all Atheists are religious people. Atheism is a religion. Atheism is a philosophy, or belief system, focused on the question of the (non) existence and (absence of) substance of God, or gods. The U.S. military is currently considering a request from Atheists for the creation of an official position to be called "Atheist Chaplain". The only people who are not religious are those who have no philosophy, beliefs, or interest in the idea of the existence/ substance of God, or gods. Thank you.
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      Jul 25 2013: That's an interesting viewpoint Edward. Thanks. Yes, I may have misinterpreted Atheism as such all this while like many others. However, my question has got nothing to do with neither atheism nor religion.

      Thanks again.
    • Jul 25 2013: I don't mean to be rude either, but atheism is neither a religion nor a philosophy. It is merely the rejection of beliefs in gods. That's it. Having a philosophy is not the same as being religious either. I, for example, do not believe that there's any gods. Of course, since I don't believe in any gods, my philosophy cannot contain gods as foundations or answers to anything. But that does not make atheism into my religion or my philosophy. As per atheist "chaplains," I think that idea is beyond silly, but if some want to make an atheist religion, they can keep it. My rejection of the silly idea that there's gods will still not mean that I am like them.
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        Jul 25 2013: It is sure not a black and white issue Entropy. If we do not agree on the meaning of a word then we are wasting our time arguing about it. If a form asks for your religion you can select NONE, but that is the merely another name for your religion. . . NONE. If, by the word "religion", we mean view or belief about God or gods then EVERYONE who has a view or belief about God or gods has a religion! Only those who have no view or belief about God or gods can say, "I have no religion." You have a view or belief about God, so you have a religion. Of course you can rob me of a victory in this debate by simply denying that the word "religion" means what I say it means. You can assign your own definition and off we go into the netherworld of subjectivism, relativism, and communication chaos.
    • Jul 25 2013: Edward,

      Of course this can become a question of definitions. Instead of starting one such war, why don't we ask ourselves what is the common usage for the word religion? In everyday terms I understand religion to have a much richer meaning than just a view or belief about gods. Religions are a much richer cultural phenomena than that. For example, I do not hold to atheism out of some kind of loyalty to the lack of gods in reality. I do not make ceremonies in the name of the lack of gods, nor do I produce art and temples to worship the lack of gods. So, that there's no gods is but a fact of reality, just like gravitation, and nobody, I hope, would say that accepting that gravitation is real makes me a member of the "gravitationist" religion.

      We do indeed have very different philosophies. To you, a god is central for everything. Maybe you think that therefore, if we think there's no gods then that's central for everything for an atheist. But no. What happened to me (I can't speak for every atheist), is that the god I believed went with the other gods and became one more imaginary thing among many. As such, it cannot be as rich to me culturally, as your god and accompanied religion is to you. So, if you want to say that I hold to some religion, well, atheism could not be it.

      Thanks for answering though.

      P.S. When somebody gave me a card with choices for a meal in the theatre it said "meat", "chicken", "vegetarian", "vegan" or "none". If I choose "none" it means that they will give me no meal. Right? (I hope, because I really did not want to eat anything there.)
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        Jul 25 2013: I think we are both presenting good arguments for the definition we choose, unfortunately the definitions are apples and oranges. Be well friend!
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    Jul 24 2013: Mr. Deepak, thanks for the explanation for my question taking soul as a basis for presence of life

    I shall go through literature to understand the same if you would kindly suggest any.
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    Jul 24 2013: Science will never be able to prove that soul exists.

    Religion will never accept it that it does no exist.

    So

    I follow science to believe ghosts and spirits donot exit.

    I follow religion to be a good soul and believe there is continuity and life after death.
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      Jul 25 2013: I dont think we can rule out science not to. Give it time it will sometime. In the BC era who would have thought that we could fly?
    • Aug 23 2013: it may be possible that science and religion will find a meeting point. which eye sees the real world? in fact both do from different perspectives and by using both together we gain depth perception, a new dimension.
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    Jul 24 2013: Dear All,

    I like the different concepts mentioned herein about soul and energy. Their links to each other and what they maybe denoting. However it needs to be further expanded upon to understand whether these two have any link at all?
  • Jul 24 2013: A discussion about the possibility of a non physical aspect of our being is pointless. We know it exists, it is called the mind. Descriptions of the soul and the mind are almost identical.
    The soul (if you feel the need to call it that) is as you said "a result of chemicals interacting with electrical charges".
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      Jul 24 2013: I don't understand you. So is the mind; it's chemicals and electricity. There is no non-physical aspect of our being. They think they are talking about a non-physical aspect of our being. What they are actually talking about is the possibility of non-physical aspect of our being. It isn't an actual possibility, but that is how they are talking about.

      It's pointless, because it doesn't exist. Are we on the same page or not, I'm confused. A mirage is real, your mind is real. Both are really electro-chemical reactions in the environment. They are very much physical.

      You can have the last word, lastname. it's two o'clock and I'm too tired.
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        Jul 24 2013: I believe that we are confused about the soul being the life in us itself. If we separate these two, then is life an energy which is directly said as energy consumed by the bacteria when we die? Does the bacteria sink into the body as soon as we die?
      • Jul 24 2013: I apologise if you feel i'm being antagonist. It is not my intention.

        I will try and clear things up a bit as there seems to have been a misunderstanding. I do not believe in the soul. I am an athiest. I just find it hard to accept the philosophical implications of a materialistic view of the universe (particularly the lack of free will).
        I think you have been looking at this issue from a modern science perspective, while i've been looking at it from a philosophical perspective, and this has caused the misunderstanding between us.
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          Jul 24 2013: I was worried you found me antagonistic. I despise confrontations. It's all good. I was taking a modern science perspective. About a year and a half ago I took the open (free) online course at Yale, Philosophy 176: Death, by Professor Shelly Kagan (http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/phil-176) and like him I wasn't convinced by Plato's argument for the existence of the soul and the immortality of the soul. Again, sorry for any misunderstanding.

          I've never before out loud (or in typing) confessed that I can imagine no instance of anything other than a deterministic universe. Experience is constantly re-programming my neural network, but how I react to those things is pre-programmed as well. Chance and variety play an enormous role in my view of the universe, and the illusory duality of subject and objective, caused by the seemingly innocuous sensation of there being a me and that implying a not me, is what creates the confusing possibility of free will.
      • Jul 25 2013: No worries. I'm glad all is good. I also hate confrontations.
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      Jul 24 2013: It is true that the replies you get from asking that question are subjective in nature. It is also true that independent of what people do or don't believe there is an objective reality in which the soul either does or doesn't exist.
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          Jul 24 2013: In answer to both parts of your second question, I think no. Personally.

          It doesn't beg the question, what is the objective reality? It doesn't even beg, what is objective reality, since the use of the word 'the' in the question suggests we are asking 'which' is the objective reality, when it's more of a question of 'what' is the objective reality.

          But I digress. It begs no question. It is just to recognize there has to be an objective reality, composed of four, or eleven, or however many dimensions. To recognize it is to be aware of an objectivity we can never achieve, and then it is to see that this sheer objectivity is what compels our subjective minds into frenzied theories and questions and such. Our own base subjective nature, despite our scientific idealization of objectivity, is simply being worked upon by it, like the universe is by gravity.
  • Jul 24 2013: To me the soul is the essence of the individual which is made of the emotions, thoughts, experiences, our abilities, etc. The soul changes over time. If someone has amnesia then a new soul is created.

    By abilities, I mean that we are given certain traits (intelligence, height, etc.) I call it the plot of land and the traits tell us how big and how rich the land is but how we use the land tells us how much we produce from the land.
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      Jul 24 2013: Amnesia doesn't affect all parts of the person, just their memory. They would still have similarities in personality, in preferences for such things as food, etc. therefore not a new soul, according to your version of how souls work.
      • Jul 24 2013: Ok, lets push the hypothesis, a complete wipe and the individual must relearn everything, talking, reading, writing, walking, etc. completely different set of backgrounds and memories to base emotions. The base abilities (i.e. good at math, music, art, science, etc) will be there but if the environment does not support and develop those skills, what will be the skills? Maybe something new or a different major skill.

        Does that person still have the same soul? I am not sure.
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      Jul 24 2013: Yes, it will return to whatever source of energy it came from. Bacteria and other decomposers will set about decomposing the energy store that is the body when it is dead and all the energy will pass through this process into other decomposers, into waste products, or emitted as heat by the metabolic processes of digesting a human corpse.
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          Jul 24 2013: Of course. But in the context of your last line, I think the line of whether something was animate or inanimate is arbitrary. Energy is energy, there's nothing special about it being in a star or in space or in me. There is nothing special about where it was or wasn't before the big bang and there isn't anything special about where it will be or won't be, or even what it will or won't be, after the big bang.
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          Jul 24 2013: I see what you're saying now. In the second paragraph I get what you're saying. I've tried the philosophical approach which is science with all of the reasoning and none of the experimenting.

          All the law of conservation allows for, however, is for individuals with subjective perceptions about what energy is special to use a scientific truth in a unscientific belief system to argue a non-scientific possibility.

          I'm doing a thought-experiment. There is a God and God says there are no souls and after you die and the universe ends you won't come live with me, because I won't exist, there will be nothing. Supposing that, I STILL wouldn't use the law of conservation to prove the subjective truth of that.
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          Jul 24 2013: You can think that I thumbs-upped your comment because you did mine, but your last line was a very salient point. It should have been made much earlier while we were sailing along in this conversation. Have you ever heard the phrase: 'Between Scylla and Charybdis'? That's what a thought of, I imagined the whirlpool of science on one side and whirlpool of religion on the other and faith the force that is threatening to draw passing ships into one or the other.

          The filtering process you've set up with science and religion is interesting.
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    Jul 23 2013: Like all the great questions, it can't be proven nor disproven. One either believes it or doesn't.