Thoughts on the body and soul

While I believe the soul is emergent from and dependent upon the body, I do not believe that we are our bodies. If this were the case then we would not retain our identity as the atoms and cells in our body constantly recycle. Our soul is like a song and our language is the lyrics - our body is the instrument it is played on. It has a certain duration in time, and a certain rhythm and its consistency is what makes it a distinct entity.

Nor is a river the same as the water that flows in it. An old Greek proverb has it that you never step into the same river twice for it is not the same river and you are not the same man. I would argue that a river and a man are a process rather than a material thing and that Heraclitus was wrong. It is the same river and it is the same man, even if it’s not the same water and soil.

Our consciousness, our narrative is a soul. A “natural soul”, dependent on the body.

Yet the body is also dependent on the soul. This is why poor mental health often leads to poor physical health and why there is a placebo effect. A body joined to a soul of poor spirit will usually wither and die quickly.

I do not believe our souls are immortal. I couldn’t rule it out but there is little evidence in favor of this. They seem to be bound to the time between the creation and destruction of our body and brain.

In a sense however you never cease to exist because all time is equally real and the present moment is relative to how much internal time has passed since your mind was formed. Additionally your actions in your life will influence events until the end of time in ways that are unknowable.

I suspect it likely that our descendants will become liken to gods and will live much longer and be much wiser than we are. And who knows, they may even escape this Universe and cheat entropy, attaining true immortality.

Perhaps they even mastered time travel and in fact created the Universe, in a paradoxical causal loop.

Since we’re sharing beliefs…

I believe the thing we call “soul” is an illusion our brain creates to make us think there is something immutable and special about our nature.

All it takes is a good knock on the head to change a person’s “soul” completely. Take away the access that you have to your memories, and you’re a new person. Develop a serious mental illness and you think, feel, and behavior in ways you would have never dreamed of before. Personalities change as people get older too. And I think personality is really what we mean by “soul”, even if folks insist they are different entities.

A river isn’t wholly changing, true. If I’ve collected enough monitoring data over a long enough period of time and I know something about the surrounding land uses and climatic patterns, I can make pretty good predictions about what I will find there the next time I visit. However, anything can change and completely render my model useless. Maybe the adjacent cropland is converted into forested land. Maybe they decide to remove an upstream dam. Or maybe we enter a long-ass period of drought and the river dries up completely. Rivers are heavily influenced by their environments, and they change as external factors change. So they are not all analogous to a soul. If they were, you could take a sip of water collected from a stream and say, “This takes like the Dan River!”, regardless of how much coal ash has contaminated it.

Why? The atoms are refreshed gradually, piecewise. You might as well say you don’t believe in the family, since as we die off and new kids are born, we lose our identity. But we don’t: our family identity is passed along, during the time that the generations overlap. Our individual identity is maintained in the same way.

(How extreme do you want to be in this pursuit of atomic-level identity? If I scratch your skin with my thumbnail and remove 500 skin cells…have “you” ceased to exist as yourself? What about a guy who loses both legs in an accident? A head in a bottle? A person who has suffered a massive cerebral stroke? Plato asked these questions, a very long time ago: are they really answerable?)

More to the point: there isn’t any evidence of an extra-physical soul, and no model of how it functions to reinforce identity. It is an unnecessary complication on our real-world observations. It doesn’t explain anything.

I disagree completely. As some people get older, they become less adept at hiding who they really are.

Amusing…but, no, some people’s personalities, without question, do change over time.

Does it happen to everyone? Almost certainly not. But it certainly does happen to a lot of people, at least in my experience.

Alas, about as often with worse results as with better ones. And very often with mixed results, where the individual gets nicer in some ways, but crankier in others. (And…yeah, this applies to me, too.)

I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m proposing. A “soul” is an emergent process that comes from a brain and a body, just like a thunderstorm is an emergent process that comes from wind, moisture and electricity or this Web site is an emergent property of a silicon arrangement, wires and electrons. A web site is not the same as the servers it exists on or the computers it is read with, but it nonetheless emerges from them!

Nor are our souls/personalities the “same” as our bodies, even though it’s a product of it. Does that make sense? Information is still “physical” but it’s distinct from matter and energy. I’m proposing that our consciousness is a unit of information.

Our consciousness is a product of electro-chemical activity in our brain. It does not exists outside our brain any more than a web site exists independantly of the server it’s hosted on (Take down the server and what happens to the website?). Information is nothing but matter and energy.

I think the static personality is also an illusion, driven by the narrow way we define personality. Demented Grandpa is not at all the same as Non-Demented Grandpa. But since Non-Demented and Demented Grandpa both love cigars, NASCAR, and buxom women, and both wrinkle their foreheads the same way and say “sonny” all time, we perceive them as being the same, fundamentally. Even if everything else about them has changed dramatically.

I think we do this to ourselves as well. I know I’m a different person from the person I was ten years ago. But because I can identify some trivial preferences and tendencies and idiosyncracies that haven’t changed that much, I still feel like the same person, fundamentally. My brain has also done a good job with storing memories so I can feel connected with “old” selves. But those memories may very well be illusions too. Maybe we’re like Replicants to some degree.

I’m grateful for my illusions. Without them, I’m sure I’d be pretty hard to live with.

protoboard, what’s the difference between soul and psyche, in your… er, mind?

protoboard this is my view, more or less:

And the other posters are countering by saying that this “emerging thing” is a byproduct of biological / psychological / evolutionary process. We are more likely to survive and procreate if we maintain a sense of Identity - apparently.

So - it is not whether an emerging Sense of Identity™ exists; it is whether it is a byproduct of the Divine in us, or an evolutionary construct that is tenuous at best, and can be affected by disruptions to our biochemistry, neurochemistry, etc.?

All it takes is a good knock to my computer to completely change the operating system and all the other programs on my computer. But that doesn’t mean that the operating system and programs are illusions.

“Psyche” is simply the Greek word for soul.

If I have a soul, where was it before I was born? Just wondering.

And how do you go about telling the difference between a personality that has changed and a personality that has merely been hidden?

The hidden one usually jumps out and scares the shit out of you.

Does it wear a clown suit?

Just a big funny hat.

Consider yourself lucky if it’s wearing pants at all.

The operating system on my computer exists separately from my files. If someone came and wiped out all of my Word .doc files, image files, mp3s, and bookmarks and cookies, my OS is still fully intact.

Take away my memories and there isn’t much of “me” that’s recognizable as such. I’m sure there will be some behaviors that I will keep, because I’d still at the mercy of my genes+environment. But unless you’re saying that the soul is that which is embedded in DNA, then no, my “me” isn’t that same.