01 December 2010

Soul Searching

What is the difference between animated objects such as humans and animals, and non-animated objects such as rocks, chairs and plants? Our ancestors thought that the animated objects had a mysterious life force and that was why they were animated. They referred this unknown life force as soul. They also further extended the idea and thought the soul would leave the body after death and never die.

Then we understand plants are life too and discovered million millions of micro-organisms. Now we know how life is certain complex set of chemical processes and how it evolved from simple form such as bacteria to plants, fishes to animals including humans through natural selection process. The evolution of life is as much proved as the earth is spherical not flat. We know the life's secret genetic molecule, the DNA and its four letters genetic code (A, C, G, and T), the same code that connects all living species on the earth! We can artificially create all the ingredients of living cell including DNA. For research purpose, scientists brought back a long-vanished 1918 flu virus that killed up to 50 million people back to life. Technically we can take a cell from our body and create any organ or another cloned individual.

As we understand the basics of life, people slowly moved the concept of soul to our mind. This idea was thrived from the concept of mind-body dualism. People thought mind was totally different from the physical body, the brain (people also used to think that the heart was the center of soul, spirit and love), and perhaps the brain somehow linked to the soul to give raise to the mind. Many bizarre mind phenomena such as near-death experience and out-of-body experience also fueled this view.

As walking emerges when our legs function, our mind emerges when our brain functions. Now we can watch our brain live when it is working in fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines. We know where our different senses are processed, how emotions are handled, and the pathways of how short-term memory (episodic memory) becomes long-term memory. Now we can explain better about many bizarre mind phenomena including near-death experience (light at the end of the tunnel syndrome) and out-of-body experience (it is better to say, out-of-body illusion). We can stimulate out-of-body experience by simply inducing our brain with magnetic pulses!

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres: right and left. The right hemisphere takes care of left side of our body and the left hemisphere takes care of right side of our body. Both hemispheres are connected with a bundle of fibers known as Corpus Callosum. In many respect, these two hemispheres can be considered as two different brains. When the Corpus Callosum is removed for some reasons, we can notice how these two hemispheres are different in their preferences, choices, desires, beliefs, etc. For example, there are patients with this condition say, they believe in God from one side of the hemisphere and do not believe in God from other side of the hemisphere (this can be done by closing one eye as each eye is processed by different hemispheres). If there is such a thing as soul, in this case it should have been halved (and perhaps one part of the soul will go to heaven and the other part will go to hell!).

Nevertheless in a different sense, the soul still exists in a real sense! It is an essence that emerges from something, say a book, a movie, an animal or a human (the soul of a book or movie). It is like a picture that emerges from collection of tiny pixels; it is like a story in a book that emerges from collection letters; and it is like a living cell emerges from collection of chemical processes. A single living cell is punch of chemical processes with no feeling or anything of a human. But our mind with feeling, hopes and desires, pain and pleasure emerges from collection of these cells! That is the soul of an individual person!

What we do that is essentially different from other animals? Other animals too form groups, love others and fight with others, seek food, seek mate and have sex, fall in love and form family, reproduce and take care of their children, and ultimately get old and die. We are not the biggest animal; we are not the strongest animal; or even the fastest animal! Then, what makes us different? It is our drive to understand the world we live in! This is what enabled us to predict weather and cultivate agriculture; this is what enabled us to reach the moon! That is the soul of our human species!


CorTexT said...

Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. -- Aristotle

Anonymous said...

Douglas R. Hofstadter's idea of soul in his interview.http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/douglas-r-hofstadter
See his answer to 4th question. I believe that there is a trace of her "I", her interiority, her inner light, however you want to phrase it, that remains inside me and inside some other people, people who really had internalized her viewpoint, people who really had interacted intimately with her over years, and that trace that remains is a valid trace of her self—her soul, if you wish. But it's diminished; it's very dilute relative to what existed in her own brain. So there are two sides to the coin. It's consoling on the one hand that there's something left, but of course it doesn't remove the sting of death. It doesn't say, "Oh, well, it didn't matter that she died because she lives on just fine in my brain." Would that it were. But, anyway, it is a bit of a consolation. Thought provoking...

CorTexT said...

//memoroid said...

Douglas R. Hofstadter's idea of soul in his interview...

I read this view of his in some other place. Agree, our loved ones leave traces of their soul within us! They are with us, as long as we remember them.

Thanks for the link; I always enjoy Douglas R. Hofstadter. BTW, how is GEB going?

Anonymous said...

GEB is awesome. My boring daily commute couldn't get better than this without GEB

Anonymous said...

Are you an atheist? I am a thiest, and I don't want to question my belief in God (by god I do not mean a religious god like kali with a sool in her hand). I don't want to do that because I believe it provides a drive for me. I of course believe in science and search of knowledge. This is to make sure that, if this is the case, I can continue my pursuit of science and knowledge from a different place without an atheistic approach. Or, I can go over other things in your blog that are not too much into this :) Hope u don't mistake me.

And just a word - you are amazing man! You have vast and deep knowledge about medicine as well as other sciences! I could not get much information about you, but keep it up!

My name: ?

the question here is whether to follow u or not :)

CorTexT said...

Hi Anonymous or ?, thanks for your comments and compliments!

So, you are an atheist of kali; perhaps you are also an atheist of hundreds and thousands of other gods that exist now or in the past. You are a theist of 'what' – I did not get that. Whatever it is, that is ok. If it provides a drive for you, then go for it. My post is not for - what others believe or not - personally. But when they use it for social and economic issues, then it affects everybody; then we have to analyze and question it.

In any case, we all have beliefs. That is the nature of intelligence; we cannot escape from it. But beliefs are nothing but theories in common man's term. They are there to explain something. Without analyzing, questioning, verifying them, we will stuck in the same place. As we grow up with some beliefs so dearly (as our drive; as our meaning), it is hard for us to question them. As we have been building hierarchy of neural models in our head based on these beliefs, questioning them would collapse and shake our core. That is why these kinds of changes happen over generations. Doing it in one's lifetime requires courage, effort and time. However hard it is, it is my "belief" that it is good to march towards truth. In Gandhiji terms: so far I thought God is truth, now I have realized truth is God.

Einstein believed in god (nature) with no randomness (totally predictable; with proper cause and effect); that is why, he said, "God does not play dice", against quantum mechanics. He turned out to be wrong. So I try my best to keep my mind open. Though I do not prefer any labels on me, hope this answers your first question. Regards to your last question, of course it is totally your choice.

Anonymous said...

mm.. Thanks for your words Cortext.

I would like to grade myself as an agonist with theistic inclination :) I do want to search, but do not want to lose :) If there is a high probability of losing, then I would not search at all :)

I perceive God as - some universal force that maintains the balance between one's 'action' and 'result' in some indirect and unknown way (like, as you sow, so you reep). In addition, I find that my faith helps me in regulating my core and conduct, provides me an almighty for prayers to others and a friend to share my thoughts and beliefs.

I do not mind the superficial atheists who argue against God as a superhero/heroin who wrote the religious books. But got a bit shaky as I find you very sound and strong :)

I have been following you already :) May be I can be slightly selective to go for science and mind, leaving God apart.

If Einstein could go wrong - may be you or I can go wrong too :)

Thanks again :)

(I won't continue to be anonymous after this :) )

CorTexT said...

Hi Not-so-anonymous, Thanks for sharing your honest views and feelings. In a way, I am humbled.

We lead our life with so many hidden and often so fundamental assumptions/beliefs. Before Einstein, time is a constantly ticking natural property and is same everywhere. He showed time is relative and different at different place (without this time correction, our GPS will not work correctly). He believed, there is a fundamental order in nature (no randomness), and hence arrow-of-time, cause-and-effect, action-reaction, etc. But at more fundamental level, quantum mechanics shows he was wrong. At high, classical level, cause-and-effect, action-reaction, consciousness, freewill, etc. are related ideas (When I have time, I write about our latest understanding).

Yes, just like Einstein, we all can go wrong in our beliefs and assumptions; and that is why, we need to verify and validate them. Just imagine some tribes who have been thinking the Earth is flat. If we describe to them that the Earth is round not flat… do you think we may go wrong? Many of our latest understanding are like that (say evolution) and most of the people are like tribes.

What you have described, I call them mind tricks. As long as they are reasonably natural, not far away from reality, with knowing their limitations and used with proper dosage, they may be useful to us. But they may vary person to person and we should not impose them on others.

Anonymous said...


// At high, classical level, cause-and-effect, action-reaction, consciousness, freewill, etc. are related ideas (When I have time, I write about our latest understanding)//

Sure. :)

தருமி said...

I like the para in one of your comments ..//In any case, we all have beliefs..... However hard it is, it is my "belief" that it is good to march towards truth.//

happy that i at least 'tried' some of my earlier beliefs and came out of some of them. let me keep going...

CorTexT said...

//தருமி said...
I like the para in one of your comments//
Thanks! I just treasure your compliments, as I have high respects for you.

//happy that i at least 'tried' some of my earlier beliefs and came out of some of them. let me keep going...

Based on your posts and writings, I have no doubts in your courageousness. I think, I am just lucky enough to never have any unshakable beliefs. I just try to keep my beliefs as theories.

Anonymous said...

Near-death experiences