Can Psychology Prove Humans Have Souls?
How do you define the soul--theologically, psychologically, astrologically, psychically, philosophically, or biologically? Most epistemological paradigms over the last 3,000 years have tried to define the soul in a way that serves the questions they're asking. Therefore, for our purposes I will use theology and early philosophy for a majority of the definition, as well as a bit of Jungian psychology. This will stay true to the "essence" of the question.
At its most basic definition the soul is the immaterial part of the human person--the part that exists without dependence on the physicality of the person. Going deeper, we find that the soul is "that which gives life to the body". So, while the soul is not subsistant on the body, the body is dependent on the soul for life. Thus, while the body dies the soul is usually thought to be immortal. The soul is also the seat of intellect and reason. Finally, at its most complicated, the soul is defined as the "essence" of the human person--it is that which makes us human (especially when combined with each individual body).
Modern academic psychologists, especially those who are more materialistic, hardly acknowledge the existence of a soul. Most who do regard it merely as the manifestation of our feelings and desires. The neo-freudian and Humanist Carl Jung is perhaps the most "soul oriented" psychologist of our time, believing that the soul is the seat of the "I" or the ego and that some part of our intellect and being does survive after death, even if just in an archetypical "mass union of souls" type of way. For most psychologists the study of the soul is best left to philosophers and theologians.
However, I do believe there are some current psychological principles that can give evidence of an immaterial human soul for those that care to look.
Collective Unconscious and Archetypes
Collective Unconscious can be defined as "a part of the unconscious mind, shared by a society, humanity and all life forms, that is the product of ancestral experience and contains such concepts as science, religion, and morality". In other words, as a species that has lived thousands of years, we have acquired sets of experiences and interpretations that have formed in the unconscious mind of the entire species. This is also true in a more narrow sense for individual societies, and in a broader sense by all life forms. Archetypes are a perfect example of this theory. The ancient flood, light vs. dark, the superhero, and the afterlife are all archetypes (symbols of a human experience or truth) that are housed in the human collectiveunconscious.
This shows us that there is something beyond the individual and material human. Ideas, especially archetypes, exist not as physical realities but as extra-mental, immaterial, manifestations of the human soul and metaphysics. Light vs dark, love, "the hero", courage--all of these are languages of the soul, and the fact that all of humanity participates in their promulgation is evidence that there is existence beyond our bodies.
The Need for Self-Actualization
This is from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Self-Actualization is, perhaps, the goal of life for which all human persons strive. It can be summed up by "What a man can be, he must be". It is the desire to master what one truly is and become the ideal self. It is the desire to "be all you can be". This may manifest itself in each person--perhaps you wish the become the ideal writer, teacher, parent, or garbage man... whatever you were made to do, if wall your other needs met, you will desire to seek out to be the best possible person.
This tells us that man is spiritual (has a soul) by showing us that man feels a calling beyond himself, to be greater than himself. He feels a call not just of satisfying his atoms and keeping his cells de-oxidized, but to transcend his current situation. Love is not a physical phenomenon, nor is knowledge, and our desire to be fulfilled is never granted by mere physical means.
As Lewis stated, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world".
Man is Social
Man is a social being. It is apparent that we need to love and be loved, and that we desire recognition and approval from other people. Ironically, without others we cannot truly be who we are. It is this intimacy with others, this desire for love, that motivates us to become what we truly desire to be--fulfilled. Mirror nueron's show us that we gather emotion from other people. People who FEEL alone will often commit suicide or at the very least not live healthy and productive lives. We are made not only for ourselves, but for others as well.
If we were merely physical bodies, beings without an immaterial soul, we need only to satisfy our physical desires--food, drink, shelter, sex. But those are not our only needs, to be fully human and fully healthy we also need love, joy, peace, validation, fun, etc. All things immaterial. Various psychology theories would attest to the necessities of these elements. It is because these things do not serve to fulfill our bodies that is further proof of an immaterial human soul.
Is this evidence enough for a material soul? Probably not conclusively. Again, perhaps this is a question better left to philosophers and theologians. I do believe that Psychology deals with not only the mind and body of a person, but also the soul, whether the psychologist realizes it or not. Ultimately, when searching for the soul, or any immaterial and metaphysical reality, perhaps what it all comes down to is faith.
© 2011 R D Langr