What is Soul? Is it magic? Or is it something pretty much physical but seems to be magical? Is it something Science can explain? Or is it beyond human comprehension? In this article you are going to have your confusions surrounding the term Soul, thrown away, once and forever.
But before you learn about Soul, I must tell you a thing or two about the human brain’s affinity towards mysticism. Our species, that is the Homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago, and even before that our previous ancestral species existed, millions of years back. During the most of existential period we lived in the wild alongside wild animals. On the contrary Modern Science has only evolved a few centuries ago. So, compared to the civilized scientific mind of modern human, the instinctual primitive mind is way older and more deep rooted into the brain. That primitive mind has been surviving in the wild environment for a long time in the midst of fear and ignorance. By nature, that mind is easily fooled by supernatural mysticism. It is very gullible. And no matter how much we the civilized human beings advance in the fields of Modern Sciences, there is always a part of us, that tries to allure us with magical nonsense. Because that nonsense has been with us since the birth of humanity. Scientific understanding of things arrived much later, and in fact, if we compare it with our millions of years long acquaintance with ignorance and fear, Science would look in its infancy. So it is not easy for your brain to embrace the newly discovered scientific explanations of various phenomena which you previously knew as correlated to the domain of the Supernatural or Paranormal.
For example, due to lack of comprehension, primitive humans believed thunderstorms were caused by gods or spirits in the sky, earthquakes were caused by earth spirits and so on. But, now it is common knowledge for you, how various geophysical processes give rise to various weathers, and various natural disasters. Now you know that plate tectonics is responsible for earthquakes. All these things are common sense to the general public. In fact, now you know that the planets including our earth revolve around the sun, but a few thousand years ago, this simple idea was perceived by the ignorant population as blasphemy. Because it was against the mysticism of those days.
Science has advanced quite a lot since then. Especially with advancement in the field of Brain Science, we finally have started explore the existential questions of human life. We are finally investigating questions revolving around our own entity and identity. We Neuroscientists are constantly exploring the fantastic domain of the human mind to understand what makes each human being tick the way they do. And one of the most fascinating terms correlated with the term Mind, is Soul.
The concept of Soul goes way back during our tribal days in the jungle. The only way the tribal primitives could make sense of death, is to incorporate the concept of Soul. They perceived Soul as the breath of Life, without which the body would not function. From this, emerged the ancient mind-body problem. Due to lack of any understanding of human biology whatsoever, the primitive humans perceived Soul and Body to be separate because that’s the only way they could make sense of their fellow human one moment walking around and the next moment lying on the ground lifeless. And in order to diminish the uncertainty that goes along with the notion of death they further developed the primeval idea that Soul is immortal which upon leaving the body reaches a peaceful place, which many cultures termed as Heaven. This idea has been celebrated throughout the world for a long time, because of the comfort that it brings. It erases all the devastating anxiety, uncertainty and ignorance surrounding death. Hence till this modern day of fascinating scientific achievements the common human mind deems death as a blissful departure of the soul to another realm – far more beautiful that our planet earth.
And this idea of heaven is so strong in general human mind, that even today, every now and then we scientists come across various individuals who claim to have visited Heaven and come back to planet earth. These people are not lying. They are indeed telling what they experienced during a life and death situation. And here the ancient idea came into action. A person who has heard a lot about the Afterlife during his or her lifetime, once faced with a near death event, that idea would become a reality through his or her neural circuits. During a traumatic event the extremely high level of stress hormones triggers the release of a special neurochemical called DMT, or Dimethyltryptamine. DMT is one of the most profound hallucinogenic compounds on this planet. And upon the influence of DMT the human mind experiences a reality so soothing and surreal that makes the person forget about the trauma almost completely. It enables the person to deal with the situation. And what the person hallucinates about during that times, depends on the predominant ideas, fantasies and wishes rooted into the neural network of the person’s brain. So, here the person may not actually go to heaven, but to him or her, the hallucianatory reality of heaven or afterlife seems more real and the actual reality. It’s the brain’s way of self preservation. These near death experiences further strengthen the general idea of an Afterlife and the immortality of Soul in the masses.
Now let’s answer the billion dollar question. What is Soul?
It is not really a billion dollar question any more, at least for those who have a basic understanding of human biology. As I have said in my book What is Mind?, Soul is the functional expression of neurons. When billions of neurons start firing, the result is a mesmerizing thing called Soul, or which we more simply refer to as the Mind. Mind and Soul are one and the same thing. Although various cultures till this date perceive Soul to be the driving force behind the Human Mind. Cultural ideas have their own mysticism attached to them, so those ancient concepts cannot be accepted literally. Rather a rational civilization must investigate those beliefs beyond the limitations of primitive superstitions, in the pursuit of understanding the human mind in a better way.
Human Mind, or from an ancient perspective – the Soul, is born from protoplasmic activity within the brain. All regions of the brain’s neural network play their distinctive roles to construct distinct features of the Mind, such as Emotions, Memory, Individuality etc. If you turn even a small portion of the neural network off, the correlated mental feature of that region would completely disappear from the person’s mental life. And this way, if you keep turning off various regions of the brain one after another, in the end, there would be no sign of mental activity whatsoever. Soul would cease to exist. Because the brain that creates this fascinating phenomenon has been turned off. This is exactly what happens when a person is announced brain- dead.
Hence, we can quite naturally deduce that Soul does not come from any Supernatural Domain outside the body, rather it is born inside the biological domain of the body. And along comes the deduction that soul is born in the brain and dies with it. So, there is no Afterlife, or Heaven or Hell, or Reincarnation. With death you simply cease to exist as your self. However your bodily elements which created your individuality, or from a deeper perspective your Soul, gets dispersed into the nature. So, rhetorically speaking you do live on forever, but not as yourself like depicted in many of the religious cultures, rather as an eternal part of the Cosmos.
(This Article was originally published on Goodreads)