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Do We Have an Immortal Soul, one Based on Science and Nature?

Updated on January 11, 2015
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Why Me?

(Please refer to the glossary at the end of the article for help with bold, italicized terms.)

People have been asking questions as to the nature of consciousness and individuality since the dawn of time. We have all inquired, “Why am I me and not someone else?” or “Why does my consciousness reside in my body instead of yours?” It is one of the biggest mysteries in science and biology. Scientists may map and reproduce the entire structure of the brain yet never figure out the mind or how consciousness really works.

This article tackles these mysteries using a combination of scientific, philosophical, and logical-thought experiments to answer them. While a lot of it is purely hypothetical, some of the ideas may become verifiable in the lab.

The following model for the origin of consciousness allows for both religious and scientific interpretations. The mind, or soul as it is sometimes referred, might exist as a natural phenomenon explained by quantum mechanics. Science may come full circle and discover there is something valid to certain spiritual and paranormal interpretations of the quantum Universe after all.

Religion, Spirituality, or Atheism

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Individuality

The Self is a quantity that is supraordinate to the conscious ego. It embraces not only the conscious, but also the unconscious Psyche, and is therefore, so to speak, a personality which we also are.—Carl Jung[i]

Two main factors that prevent a particular consciousness from being born within a different body are geography, or location within the space-time continuum, and biology. One’s physical consciousness just happens to exist within her body as opposed to within his primarily because of where she was born and to whom. Her perspective is different from his because of her geographic location, environment, and genes. These factors combine to form basic individual displacement. ID requires no metaphysical explanation, spiritual soul, or afterlife to differentiate between individual existences.

Is the idea of an immortal soul an accurate model to interpret the displacement factor of individuality or nothing more than an easier explanation invented by religion? Scientists refer to this displacement as one’s unique mind; memories, experience, physical brain structure, and more; though are unable to differentiate its electrical processes from that of the physical brain. Perhaps there is no requirement for differentiation of these processes if the electrical impulses of consciousness driving the mind remain a physical part of the brain instead of a metaphysical one. A person does not have to understand the fundamental electrical processes of the mind to know they are a physical part of what encompasses individual consciousness. The concept of the mind appears ethereal the minute a biological brain attempts to pinpoint it. The next section presents a hypothetical interpretation for a natural version of what religious adherents call the soul, but not as something spiritual or ethereal.

The brain forms in the womb and gradually changes throughout one’s lifetime, unique and unlike any other. The brain you were born with is different from the one you have now. Brain cells change, die, and regenerate throughout one’s life, though its DNA structure remains the same.

Unique consciousness is relative to individual perspective and displacement. It is just as frivolous to grasp why Jane Smith’s consciousness appears within herself instead of someone else as it is for another to ponder the same, unless a scientific explanation exists for the soul as the reason for individual displacement.

Is it any less mysterious to reason why one animal, say a dog and its unique, individual perspective, was not born in another of the same species? Do we explain that difference by arguing the dog has a soul? An advanced civilization that views us as primitive beings might ponder the same. Perhaps individuality is not exclusive to human beings and animals too harbor a unique, individual, conscious mind. Using that logic, one could argue all living things, including fish, trees, even bacteria, harbor some kind of soul.

[i] Jung, Carl. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology: Collected Works Vol. 7. Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1967, p. 274.

Soul or No Soul

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The Soul

The human body is the best picture of the human soul—Ludwig Wittgenstein[i]

Interpretations of the soul originate from ancient pagan beliefs predating Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Ancient Egyptians believed people possessed a spiritual aspect that extended beyond physical life. Evidence of this is found in the mummified remains of their bodies and recurrent mention of reincarnation throughout their hieroglyphic depictions. They also believed animals harbored a soul. The historian, Herodotus, explains, “The Egyptians were the first that asserted that the soul of man is immortal…This opinion, some among the Greeks, have at different periods of time adopted as their own.”[ii] The ancient Greeks adopted the idea of an immortal soul from the Egyptians, and monotheistic religions, in turn, adopted it from the Greeks.

Athenian philosopher Plato (428-348 BCE) popularized the concept of the immortal soul throughout the Greek world as evidenced in his book, Phaedo. He writes, “The soul whose inseparable attitude is life will never admit of life’s opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, indestructible…Do we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body? And being dead is the attainment of this separation, when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. That is death…Death is merely the separation of the soul and body.”[iii] In “Book X” of Plato’s The Republic, he insists, “The soul of man is immortal and imperishable.”[iv]

The idea of an immortal soul was necessary, in addition to proselytizing the torments of the Hades Underworld, to frighten the Greek masses into being good citizens. The Roman Catholic Church is another example of a religious organization later adopting the same tactic.

Jewish scholars readily admit Greek philosophical ideas deeply influenced Jewish communities of antiquity. In The Jewish Encyclopedia, article, “Immortality of the Soul,” it states, “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is…nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture…The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent, who was led through it to Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended.”[v]

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 ACE) preached about the spiritual nature of the soul though from a source other than the Bible. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “[Augustine] fused the religion of the New Testament with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy…Traditional Western philosophy, starting with the Greeks…shaped the basic Western concepts of the soul.”[vi]

In the Bible, the word soul is a translation of the Greek word psuche, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word nephesh. The accurate English translation for each of those words means nothing more than life. They have nothing to do with spirit essence or immortality. Psuche and nephesh are interchangeable terms used for animals, men, and sea creatures as found throughout the Old Testament. The phrase immortal soul is found nowhere in either Old or New Testament. The word immortality appears in the New Testament exclusively and only six times.

I Timothy 6:16 states, “[of all humans, Jesus] only hath immortality.” Not until the resurrection does God grant one the gift of immortality, as revealed in many verses throughout the New Testament.

Ezekiel 18:4, 20 indicates, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” According to Ezekiel, since man is a soul, or living being, he will die with no chance of gaining immortality at the moment of a future resurrection.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 states, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything…”

In Acts 2:29, 34 (RAV), Peter writes, “[David is] both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” He also indicates, “David did not ascend into the heavens.”

In John 3:13, Jesus of Nazareth said, “No man hath ascended up to Heaven.”

Ironically, in Genesis 3:4, Satan tells Eve, “Ye shall not surely die. You have an immortal soul.” Only a handful of Christian denominations make light of this verse and criticize others for continuing to believe that apparent lie, but their cries fall on deaf ears, and they are criticized by other denominations for adopting that belief.

There appeared a rather intriguing article in the October 2000 issue of Popular Mechanics. The article, “Science’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries,” had a segment asking, “Where is the Soul?”[vii] The Vatican and the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a gathering of neuroscientists and theologians to ask the questions, “Does religion require a soul?” “Does science allow one?”

The Bible indicates one does not have an immortal soul until after God grants it as a gift. One of the few churches in the world to make light of this is the late Herbert W. Armstrong’s The Worldwide Church of God. They are one of the few denominations that have made this determination and adhere to the original, intended translation of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church programmed much of society over the centuries to believe the word soul is not something physical, but something spiritual. The translation of the word soul, as it appears throughout the King James Bible, does not differentiate between a mortal and an immortal one. The original Greek and Hebrew translations, on the other hand, do.

(It should be noted that if quantum science discovers there is a soul, and it is a natural component of consciousness, perhaps the majority of Christians and ancient philosophers will have their interpretations validated. The point of this section was to show some error for what they adhere to in contrast to what the intended translation of the Bible reveals.)

Consider, for instance, a human being born with limited brain function and mobility. His mind is unable to process information of the outside world in virtually any manner whatsoever. Not only was he born deaf and blind but paralyzed from the neck down, yet he physiologically is alive. Machines assist with his biological processes. The boy ages, his body processes food, and his heart pumps blood, but the exclusive sense of feeling he has is from the neck up. Most would argue he is an individual living being, distinct from anyone else and eligible for the same intrinsic rights.

Without conscious reflection of the outside world, the boy is unable to develop what we consider a personality. Personality defines who one is, what he thinks, what memories he has, and what makes him distinct. Others may relate to him as being an individual because they know his name and who his parents are. They retain identifiable markers of who he is, yet he does not. His family creates a sense of labeled identity, which he is unable to do for himself.

Without sensory input from his perspective, the boy is unable to realize he even exists. He remains a complex biological organism that perpetuates but one lacking the self-knowledge to realize he is alive. Most religions would argue he has a soul but in the same breath argue against any animal having the same.

A chimpanzee or dolphin would appear more conscious and “alive” than the boy. Your dog or cat would also appear more aware. So after contemplating the previous argument, assuming any idea of an immortal soul is valid, why should such a thing remain exclusive to human beings?

Animals are conscious, have feelings and memories, and may reason, if only in their own, unique way. Each one perceives reality in a different manner, depending on the species and among individual animals of the same type. Some call an animal’s method of reasoning nothing more than instinct. But if the soul does exist as a natural phenomenon and quantum function, then all living beings would harbor one. It would not be something spiritual, but something natural, spread throughout the entire Universe and encompassing all life, including the Universe itself.

Are human beings egotistical enough to believe no other species on the planet is capable of performing a non-instinctive act? Are people too caught up in religious doctrine or scientism to believe otherwise? A multitude of research suggests other animals are able to perform non-instinctive acts similar to those performed by human beings. Who has the right to say the ability to reason determines whether a creature has a soul anyway, even if the concept is purely mythical?

A human perceives reality on a different level than does a dolphin. Is a person more intelligent because she walks and it swims? Are people smarter because dolphins are unable to communicate with us, or are they more intelligent in some respects because we are unable to understand them? Are humans the exclusive conscious beings on the planet because we are more aware of our place in the Universe? Perhaps more conscious of our surroundings is the only fair argument. We have evolved to comprehend certain concepts that other animals have not. Perhaps an alien civilization significantly more advanced than we are would view us in much the same manner.

[i] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, “Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology.” Images of the Human: The Philosophy of the Human Person in a Religious Context. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1995, p. 453.

[ii] Herodotus; Cary, Henry. The Histories of Herodotus: Euterpe Book II. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904, p. 130.

[iii] Plato, Phaedo. 399BCE.

[iv] Plato, The Republic. Book X, 380BCE.

[v] The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1910. Vol. VI, “Immortality of the Soul,” p. 564.

[vi] The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 1998. (quoting St. Augustine of Hippo) Vol. 8, p. 397.

[vii] Wilson, Jim. “Science’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries.” Popular Mechanics. (October 2000): p. 56.

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Life After Death

We can feel assured that, in death, there is nothing to be afraid of. If a person is non-existent, he/she is immune from misery. When once immortal death has relieved us of mortal life, it is as good as if we had never been born –Lucretius[i]

If the ability to reanimate a corpse in its entirety becomes possible, would that person retain the same consciousness as before death? The physical structure of the brain, body, and organs, though somewhat deteriorated by the initial freezing process, would be similar to what they were before the person died. The learned input and memories obtained within the individual’s lifetime should remain intact provided exact reconstruction of damaged tissues and cells from advances in nanotechnology become possible. The physical pattern of the brain, such as memories, education, the way it perceives input, and more, should be no different.

Injecting microscopic nanomachines for repairing cells damaged during the freezing process, which is a form of cryopreservation, would be imperative unless scientists develop a better method of preserving the dead. Reconstruction of these cells should be no different from what the body does naturally to replace damaged or aging ones throughout its lifetime. Cells and tissues within a living organism continuously repair themselves and regenerate. As long as the DNA blueprint remains intact, so should the potential to reanimate the same brain.

A better scenario is if scientists develop a liquid solution to preserve the entire body with no possibility of deterioration. The problem of the original cells becoming compromised in any way is then eliminated. This might be the key to eliminating the need for cryonics and plastination, or the solution method of preserving the body, would take over as the preferred method.

The remaining question is whether the mind or consciousness also remains intact. If the entire physical mind is salvageable, then so should be individual consciousness provided there is no spiritual component to it. If that is the case, where would consciousness go in the meantime? There are paradoxes for this future scientific achievement covered below.

Cryonic agencies, like Alcor and CryoCare, freeze people until a day when the world develops the technology to reanimate them. However, the procedure does come at a hefty price. Whole-body suspension estimates are around $150,000 and rising.

Another avenue for life after death is artificial intelligence. In order for it to become possible, biologists would need to map and download the entire structure of any given brain down to the last synapse and brain cell. In essence, the copy would be no different from the original. In the future, the program hosting the software would be interactive so that, in theory, someone could actually hold a conversation with one’s self.

Taking the idea one step further, a programmer could download that copy into a mechanical or synthetic biological body so he or she could live in the real world instead of being trapped in a virtual one. The real question then hinges on whether this reproduction contains the same mind, soul, or individuality.

Would the program allow that person to experience reality from two separate perspectives if he remains alive following the download? How would this work if an exact copy of the brain is fundamentally identical, or would it be nothing more than a clone? Since a reanimated brain would be the same individual in every respect, what would an exact copy be while the person remains alive? After all, one’s consciousness could not exist in two places at once.

Where does the mind go after it dies and what factor might prevent an exact copy from being the same individual? Does location of the mind or its displacement from the original body determine whether the copy is conscious or retains the same mind? The next section explores potential solutions for this paradox since the technology to do both will become possible in the not-so-distant future.

[i] Lucretius. De Rerum Natura. Cambridge, UK: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1971.

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Individual Displacement Signature

Let us not forget that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience; all else is remote inference—Arthur Stanley Eddington[i]

All living beings appear and evolve through a process of natural selection. The reason an individual was born a human as opposed to a chimpanzee rests on the fact that his parents were human. Perhaps that seems like a trite answer to a rather complex topic, but it may be the prevailing determinate for individual existence.

John Smith’s ancestors evolved from single-celled organisms until his parents gave birth to him. That is the main reason he came into existence as a human being instead of a different living organism along the same evolutionary path. The reason he was born the human, John Smith, is because his parents were human, crossed paths, and copulated when they did. If he was instead born 10,000 years from now, he would resemble the next step in human evolution. His parent’s genetic makeup and the fact they were not born thousands of years ago are the sole reasons he was not born anything or anyone else. Additional environmental factors as he aged determined each recurring marker of self-identity.

In the future, scientists will discover how to reanimate a body and, if necessary, repair the entire structure of the brain. There are no limits to technology, so it is only a matter of time. How much of the repaired portion of the brain can be preserved as the original? Would any damage to the cells change the personality of the original mind and prevent that individual from becoming the same person after any and all repairs were made?

Individual displacement is the unique abode of one’s mind and consciousness within itself rather than another person or being. It is what separates one living organism from another. Considering the paradoxes of dual-conscious individuality mentioned in the previous two subchapters, what might solve this inconsistency with regard to reanimation since a person could not experience two realities at once? How will cryobiologists resolve this parody to ensure they revive the original?

If scientists cloned a human, he or she would be nothing more than a separate individual with the same DNA structure, much like an identical twin. (Since clones require a surrogate, they will not be 100% identical to the original unless a vat is developed that acts as an identical host.) The copy would possess a unique name and, over time, develop a distinct personality different from the original.

Would an exact copy of the mind be no more than that: a clone? The obvious answer is yes unless there is a natural signature unique to each organism differentiating between individual consciousnesses, much like how a signal operates in the radio spectrum.

So is the concept of an eternal soul the remaining solution to the paradox of individual displacement? Is it a necessary component to revive the same person as opposed to a copy? Individual displacement and the problem of dual consciousness appear to leave no other conclusion.

As long as the copy was preserved right before or just after the death of the original host and has no ability to grow or change until booted up in either a mechanical or synthetic biological structure, is there a way for it to become the original as though the person just reawakened? More on that in a moment.

The best chance for an individual to retain original consciousness and live again in the real world is either by way of cryonics or plastination. It is much easier to imagine that person retaining original consciousness if the local displacement of her brain and mind remain in its original container. In this scenario, there may be no need for a conscious signature unless the question of where consciousness goes following death remains. While said person was dead, what happened to her conscious mind and where did it go if she awoke as though she just fell asleep and then immediately came to?

A natural solution to these problems might be if every person or living being harbors what is called an individual-displacement signature (IDS) that acts as a unique subatomic or quantum radio frequency. The mind could operate similar to a receiver that picks up distinct quantum signals on specific frequencies. Each frequency is unique to the original pattern and structure of the mind-brain schematic, both physically and electrically. The distinction between each is an underlying quantum function spread throughout the cosmos.

IDS might solve the riddle of individuality and the soul, which could be a perfectly natural phenomenon. If the Universe is a living organism on a grand scale, and living beings are constituents of it, then each being throughout might harbor a unique signature separating one portion of the Living Universe from another. It may be something unique to our DNA, which would be receptive to a specific conscious impression at some moment during inception.

No two beings are the same, even with regard to identical twins. Studies of how twins separated at birth exhibit congruent interests and perform similar tasks are, in some cases, amazing and coincidental. Perhaps they are connected in the same manner since their individual signatures are more similar than those of non-twins, but still somewhat different. As a side note, environment is not considered since it is irrelative to this particular argument.

Each person and being throughout the Universe might operate on a unique signature received by the exact structure of that being’s DNA makeup, but only one at a time. Since there remains one unique version of the signature in existence at the subatomic level, only one identical brain structure could host it. Again, a person could not experience reality from two different brains at the same time. Any manufactured copy would have to wait for the original to “blink out” before it could become receptive to the same unique template and again become conscious. All signatures of all beings would be spread throughout the Universe based on properties similar to that of quantum non-locality. In addition, they may reside in all dimensions, on all levels of existence. Only on a different plane of an alternate universe could a copy of yourself become receptive to the same conscious signature and coexist in many worlds.

If a perfect copy of someone’s mind is not booted until after he dies, there may be no paradox. But if the program was permitted to exist in a virtual world at the same time, would it develop a unique personality while harboring the same signature template if the original was still alive? Only after he died would the program need updated with final memories and experiences and only at reboot should it cancel out the copy and allow him to take its place. The copy might decide that is not such a good idea for the sake of its existence, but that is a different argument entirely. Or the copy may automatically receive the same updated quantum signature following the person’s death, and his consciousness would overtake and replace the virtual-program copy on its own.

Dr. Stewart Hameroff, medical researcher at the University of Arizona, is doing research to show consciousness is a quantum phenomenon and, with the right calculations, could be measured.[ii] Computer-like structures, or microtubules, in the brain act as individual collapsed wave functions similar to those defined by quantum physics. According to the hypothesis, each conscious and subconscious process in the brain is governed by wave functions collapsing at the quantum level. This quantum-mind connection functions like quantum entanglement does in physics. The quantum mind hypothesis argues that consciousness is an integral part of the Universe. Extreme interpretations like those found in biocentrism indicate the Universe could not exist without this entanglement. (This is inconsistent with the fact that in the early Universe there were no conscious beings around to witness its initial formation, yet it still formed.) Microtubules in the brain hold the mind information, and it goes back out into the Universe after someone dies.

The individual-displacement signature is similar to the quantum mind hypothesis, but includes a potential solution to the problem of dual consciousness that might arise when manufacturing an exact copy. If the body is resuscitated, the unique DNA structure of her brain remains intact and should become receptive to the same quantum signal on its own, thereby eliminating the problem of dual consciousness. If ever substantiated, this idea might explain near-death experiences based on what a resuscitated patient insists they experienced.

If the quantum-mind connection is a valid hypothesis, eventually humanity will discover how to become immortal. If there is anything to look for and a method of doing so is devised, perhaps physicists should devote some time in search of the soul at the subatomic level, particularly those scientists that adhere to Living-Universe interpretations.

[i] Eddington, Arthur Stanley. Science and the Unseen World. “Swarthmore Lecture,” New York: Macmillan Co., 1929, p. 24.

[ii] Hameroff, Stuart; Kaszniak, Alfred W.; Scott, Alwyn. Toward A Science of Consciousness II: The Second Tucson Discussions and Debates. (Vol. 2) Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1998, pp. 635-644.

Animal Consciousness

If humans harbor a spiritual or natural soul, would animals harbor one too?

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GLOSSARY

* Terms devised and/or uniquely defined by the author

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Not all robots are considered AI. First, there must be a level of actual reasoning and intelligence before robots are considered as such. As of yet, we do not have the technology to create AI, but engineers are making great strides in the field. Some predict we should have a working AI model before the end of the century. AI does not have to be a walking, talking robot but could be in the form of software.

Hades One of the three original Greek translations of the single English word Hell. The basic, original interpretation means pit or grave and has nothing to do with fire or brimstone. English farmers would talk of burying their potatoes in hell for the winter. The influence of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy and his mythical trek through the Hades Underworld had a significant influence on popular culture of the time, directly impacting how the King James Bible was translated.

*Individual Displacement (ID) The concept of individuality by way of mind, consciousness, and geographic location, from one person or being to the next. It separates one person from another and explains why you are you instead of someone else. Also referred to as the individual-displacement paradox (IDP) since the same consciousness cannot reside in more than one body at a time, regardless of advances in cryobiology. It may be a quantum function.

*Individual-Displacement Signature (IDS, aka “The Soul”) Determines the unique, individual conscious signature found in all living things. It is a quantum phenomenon that defines and differentiates between the energy forces separating one being from another. Geography, ancestry, environment, and other elements from the idea of individual displacement are determinable factors. It is the interpretation of an eternal soul, but with a scientific explanation as a quantum function. Each signature, like a subatomic radio wave, is unique to the individual being. IDS is localized and receptive to the unique DNA structure of a particular brain while said individual is alive. After the person dies, it again becomes part of the Universe. If the person’s unique mind-map is saved and later revived, it should become receptive to the same conscious signature, and that person could live again. (If memories and individuality do not remain intact with the signature, cryonics may be a pointless endeavor.) A Type IV civilization may have the technology to harness this quantum-energy signature in a virtual reality universe, which might explain reincarnation and past lives if one considers the many-worlds interpretation.

Nanotechnology Billions of dollars have been invested by the government for research into this technology. There are many applications, nanobots and cryonics among the most popular. For the purposes of this book, future applications in cryonics include injecting programmed, microscopic machines into a frozen cadaver to repair ice-crystal damage that occurred during the freezing process.

Natural Selection The driving force behind evolution that takes advantage of natural variations in a particular species. The natural process of trial and error for life. Some call it survival of the fittest. Different traits of a species become either more or less common over time until a significant change occurs. We see evidence of it in action through selective breeding, but that is attributed more to artificial selection. People that develop different species of dog or cat are taking part in artificial selection, which suggests it should occur on its own over a longer period of time in nature. In 2009, biologists proved natural selection is occurring in our DNA.

Plastination A method of preserving biological tissue using chemicals in lieu of a freezing process. It will become the preferred and less destructive method for cryonics once biologists perfect its development.

Quantum Mind Hypothesis Dictates classical mechanics is unable to correlate and describe the function of mind or consciousness. Only will quantum mechanics have the ability to explain its mysterious properties.

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