What is spirit?

Ok, in this thread Jodi states:

In response to Glee’s asserstion:

All through this thread the word “sprit” gets thrown around alot as if it were a factual force. What I wonder is, How do YOU define spirit.

Now, when I get done say, running a mile, I feel really good, estatic and on top of the world. Back when I went to church, and had no doubts, The feeling I got after a good sermon was very, very similar if not exact. Now, does running fulfill me spiritually? Or will you define it another way?

What exactly is a spirit, is it something aside that can be proven exists, or is it just a general warm fuzzy feeling?

I consider this an excellent question. I expect people to start by saying that it is unanswerable in scientific terms, by definition. But certainly, if there is such a thing as spirit, we should be able to describe in logical terms its general characteristics and functions. We should then also be able to seperate those characteristics and functions which can be explained by other means from those which cannot, which in turn is useful in answering deeper questions about the usefulness and/or neccessity of spirit.

I have searched for useful features and functions that spirit might have, and for myself, I have found none. (I would argue, for instance, that a life after this one can have no importance to this life (and vice versa) in any useful sense.) I do recognize and respect that this may not be the case for everyone, and I eagerly await their answers.

Technically and originally, “spirit” means “breath” or “wind”. (I knew someone would have to point this out, so I decided to be the first). It clearly harks back to a time when breathing was seen as the hallmark of life, and so Spirit was literally The Breath of Life – the kind God blew into Adam’s nostril’s. The Holy Spirit is thus God’s Breath – an incorporeal essence of life.

Of course, things have advanced. We now know that breath may seem insubstantial, but is composed of gas molecules, and that breathing is only one of a host of aspects of living things – although there are living things that do not breathe. So we use “spirit” in a poetic sense. If we refer to it theologically it forms the incorporeal part of a thinking being, supposedly what sets us apart from lower beasts, and which survives the death of the body.

Sounds a lot like software.

When I refer to spirit, it means the essence of a person apart from his cellular composition. For example, consider the agony that Jab described when he couldn’t sleep because of the contention that he had created by his famous Pit thread. Yes, there were synaptic discharges in his brain and electrochemical reactions there. But it was his spirit that was in agony, not his brain. Lesser people might have reacted differently than Jab. They might have even enjoyed the experience, frankly.

So, the spirit is that part of you that decides which is it, shame or pride, agony or ecstasy, good or evil. It is that part of you that is a moral context within the matrix of an amoral universe.

But it has been verified that peoples moral reactions can be changed by changes to certain areas of the brain. I take this as evidence that moral reasoning is not substantially different from any other sort of reasoning or thinking. If we need resort to spirit to explain those thoughts, do we need to resort to it to explain a neutral thought, such as “the light is red”? Why, or why not?

Phrased another way, would it be possible for thinking creatures without spirit to create a moral framework? I can’t think of any reason why not. In fact, I can think of a few philosophers who developed moral systems based on logic alone.

They couldn’t have done so in any meaningful fashion unless they had started with some basic, arbitrary moral principle.

The universe is amoral. All that exists is what is. It does not include what ought to be. A human intelligence is necessary to decide what is ethical; indeed, that’s practically a definition of sentience right there.

Ethics are worth, and only sentience can propose worth. Worth is what makes paper into money, and it’s what makes a killing into a murder (or an act of heroism, for that matter). If we rely only on what is - that is, base our philosophy entirely around natural reason - we cannot derive ethics because there is nothing ethical in nature for them to be deriven from.

Ethics are illogical. That’s good.


I was just wondering if you wanted to offer an explanation for the obvious problem posed by the dualism you describe. This essence you speak of is non-physical, yes? If so, how could it affect something which is physical? If the essence is physical, then why would it not be grouped with jab’s “celluar composition”?

Or am I just misreading your use of the word “apart”?

But you haven’t shown any evidence that sentience requires anything other than the nuts and bolts of physical beings. If sentience is all that’s required to choose an arbitrary moral principle, and sentience can be explained from a materialist stance, then we cannot say that spirit is necessary for morals. Sentience has not been fully explained by materialism yet, but its concievable that it might be. Would that be all that’s needed to disprove the existence of spirit?

Secondly, if all that is required to create a moral system based on logic is an arbitrary choice of some starting principle, then sentience is not even required. I’m sure a computer could be programmed to set differing worths to various things based on environmental circumstances and develop a moral system based on that. I don’t think its much different in theory from the way human morals developed. And you haven’t addressed the first part of the question, which is why isn’t spirit required to explain other kinds of thought?

You are right to link ethics and sentience (though I think the link is stronger if you say consciousness instead). The basis of most human morality is the assessment of whether something has consciousness or not. This is why abortion is such a touchy issue, for one example. Consciousness itself is not clearly understood yet, though, so clearly this is a somewhat arbitrary choice of principles on our part!

Not only is a human Intelligence necessary, It, I would argue, in fact CREATES ethics.

It seems to me Libertarian is saying that how he defines spirit is the collection of thought processes as a whole.
The closest analogy I can think of is that of computers. The CPU would be the brain, the physical parts, while the software as a whole is the spirit of the computer.

This however really makes it the same definition as Consciousness.