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Do we have a soul?

Updated on March 8, 2013
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Most people are absolutely certain they have a soul. Yet no one has ever seen one or been able to give real evidence they exist. Like so many things they are something we assume, believe, or take o faith. I can’t do that.

The brain is all there is. That’s what I have to make my case on. I do not know that a soul exists, so anything a soul might do or might not do is pure speculation. No one can show me a soul or tell me how it works. What does it do? What part does it play in thinking? I cannot assume it exists any more than I can assume a god exists.

To me when people talk about the soul I think the subconscious because that is what I think people mistake for a soul. The subconscious is where all our feelings and emotions come from. It’s what people talk to when they prey and what answers them. As I have stated before, you can train the subconscious. Any skill you learn well is utilized best on automatic. The conscious process is too slow.

If you want to ride a bike you start by thinking it through. You have to think about all aspects of your ride like your balance and where the brakes are and experience how the bike behaves. But once you have learned to ride the bike you no longer have to think about it. In fact, conscious thought at that point is detrimental. You second guess yourself, you may even fall off the bike.

So you have educated the subconscious through conscious deliberation and it ready for when you want to ride the bike. That leaves your consciousness free to do other tasks.

So the subconscious has several jobs. It is where needs are first noticed and manifest as feelings. They motivate us to do things. That is why they are called emotions. The emote us or motivate us. It also springs into action when faced with imminent danger. Again, the conscious mind is too slow to prevent an accident or win a fight. But it is the tool that modifies what the subconscious can do in emergency situations, before they arise.

But the subconscious has another job. When faced with a question it will instantly produce an answer for you. Often though, that answer is wrong.

You can do an experiment right now. It is a problem given to students by neuroscientists as part of a study. You have to report the first answer that pops in to your head.

If a ball and bat costs $1.10 and the bat costs one dollar more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

Over 75 percent of students got it wrong. But almost all of them gave exactly the same answer.

Be honest now, didn’t ten cents spring to mind? Of course that is the wrong answer. The point is that consciousness is lazy and it often accepts what the subconscious pops up without thinking. This is fine for many situations, but it is useless for problems like math. If the question is asked of a bunch of math teachers most will get it right because their subconscious has been trained to work things out, and this is such a simple problem that the subconscious knows this kind of problem because the teacher has given similar problems to their students before.

So that’s another function of the subconscious. But it isn’t finished yet. When I have a problem that I am having a very hard time with I often just forget about it and sleep on it. That is to say I throw it at my subconscious and quiet my deliberation. I usually distract myself and think about something else.

The subconscious eventually throws the solution back to me as if it came from nowhere. All my experience is there and all my knowledge. The Subconscious does all the work cross referencing and comes up with the right answer. But it had to have the information and the training there before it could do that.

So the subconscious can answer us when we prey, in exactly the same way. In the case of Christians, they may mistake the subconscious for an answer from god.

The subconscious is also what the gurus tell us about. They say it is egoless and we have to kill the ego. By doing so you can attain states of great bliss and just knowing. But it has been my experience that really, as intense as the feeling of just knowing and just understanding can be, you really come away with no more real knowledge then before the experience.

To throw away ego is to throw away the tool that educates the subconscious. And I will throw in another word here. The subconscious is also our instinct. Consciousness educates the instinctive.

Consciousness is a great tool. And it is the thing that identifies with the idea of self. More than that, it creates the ego. Like with everything there is positive ego and negative ego.

Now what creates the “I” in a world without souls? The simple answer is, the entire system that is a human being. But specifically the fact that we have needs which manifest as feelings and emotions, coupled with our limited sensor array, isolate us from the world around us. They give a sense of “I”. But it wouldn’t be complete without memory. Memory is key because it gives us continuity and personal history. Without memory the “I” factor is gone. Now I am not talking dementia where only part of memory is gone, I am talking about people with no memory at all in a vegetative state.

All these physical characteristics create and maintain the idea of “I” or self awareness in humans. Every animal, even single celled ones, have to have a rudimentary self awareness to function and survive. Ours is more complex, and has been made even more complex by the use of language and concepts.

The human being is made of billions of cells, each alive in its own right. Each with a life cycle. A human being is not the same being they were when they were a baby, or a teen. All their original cells have been replaced by 7 years old. In the absence of a soul nothing but memory gives us a continuity of self. Are we then really individuals? Of course we are. The human is an evolving system. But the idea of absolute solidity is an illusion. The self is constantly changing.

Are we isolated? At the atomic level we would be hard pressed to tell the difference between outside us and in.

It seems to me that in the evolution of brains, their prime function was to serve the cells as a control center. With our advanced sense of self the brain began to think that it was the most important part of the system, and like a bad government decided that it must survive at all costs, even above the people it is supposed to serve. In the case of the brain it took it’s prime directive of finding ways for the system to survive at all costs, to the limit, and decide that it must survive the death of the system. Hence we invented the idea of souls and gods to achieve that goal.

So unless someone can show me a soul or real evidence of one, I have to discount it and work with what we do know.

One last thing: There is no real separation between subconscious and conscious. They are aspects of the brain which work together as a system. But it is easier to talk about them as separate things.

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    • profile image

      jgshorebird 

      3 years ago

      Good points. Although I like MsDora's posts, I'd have to disagree with her here. One cannot disprove a negative. By this reasoning anything goes. Can one prove that I do not have a large invisible frog on my head?

    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      5 years ago from Ottawa

      I completely agree. I'm not saying a soul does not exist because there is no evidence, I'm saying I can't put any belief in the idea that a soul exists because there is no evidence.

      So the alternative to a soul is the brain, and in fact the entire human system. No we do not know everything about it, but what we do know points to the model I detailed above.

      Models are always just ways of putting together and explaining evidence and facts. They are not the last word, they are only tools we can build on.

      Thanks for your kind words.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Slarty, good hub. I follow your arguments very well. However, just a friendly suggestion that not seeing something is not proof of nonexistence; and seeing something (like the brain) does not mean that we fully understand it. You mention our "limited sensor array." A very interesting presentation.

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