Existential Questions: The Soul

I’d like to think that this is the start of a new arc of articles covering some different thoughts about many of the philosophical ideas human beings have come up with over the years, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out. As I was ruminating over ideas for the next article, I was reminded about how lately I’ve been thinking about one of the biggest existential questions most people wonder about: do I have a soul? That question immediately sparks other ideas to write about, but only time will tell if that can turn into a complete series.

It is interesting how our perceptions change as we age. When we are young, we are hardly concerned with the later stages of our lives, fully focused on the moment and what we want for the near future. Our attention is easily snared by shallow, unfulfilling things like attractive members of the opposite sex or partying or any other number of other “fun” activities. Barely more than children, most young adults never really think about anything beyond the here and now.

The time eventually comes, however, when we are beginning to approach the second half of our lives, and certain questions start coming up that we never really put much thought into during the first half. Among those questions is what happens after we die? It wasn’t much of a relevant issue when we still had so much of our lives in front of us, but as the number of years we have left continues getting smaller than the years we have behind us, the question becomes much more pertinent.

There are many differing viewpoints on the topic, ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some believe that you cease to exist at the moment of death. Others believe that you live forever in perfect happiness. The truth is likely somewhere in between. Extremes don’t tend to be the norm in nature, and it seems likely that whatever follows our existence here will be something reflective of what we’re experiencing now.

Certain schools of thought try to use existing scientific evidence to disprove anything spiritual, claiming that our inability to quantify it means there is no reason to believe it exists. This is a rational viewpoint to some extent, but it could be argued that biology itself should discourage this viewpoint. One of the primary factors in biological evolution is the idea that a trait is only retained if it increases a species survivability over time. While basic intelligence obviously meets this criteria, the level of consciousness that we humans enjoy seems more of a luxury than a survival advantage, and biological evolution typically filters out unnecessary traits.

It is certainly true that we could be a case of “luck of the draw” and we just happened to get lucky enough to develop consciousness through a nearly impossibly large set of variables. Mathematicians will tell us that anything is certain to happen at least once if you get enough tries at it. However, making the assumption that there are an infinite number of attempts available for a particular thing never really made much sense to me. It seems more likely that consciousness is something outside of our biological development.

If this is the case, then we have to start wondering where our consciousness comes from. If we reject the idea that our consciousness is simply a function of our biology, it has to reside somewhere outside of our bodies, or at least separate from the physical functions of it. This is where the idea of the soul comes from. It is a separate part of us that can’t be quantified in our physical world, but has an effect on it all the same. When we are talking about anything spiritual, it is this part of our existence that we are talking about.

Like anything in life, going down the path I’ve taken in this article makes a number of basic assumptions. Unfortunately, you can’t arrive at any position in life without making at least one or two of them because we never have complete enough information to make a fully informed decision. It gets even more murky when we get into all things spiritual. At some point, you simply have to decide to accept certain things more based on feeling than fact because you know you’ll never get a completely true answer to all the variables surrounding it.

That said, since we can’t really prove scientifically whether or not our consciousness is separate from our biology, but it makes more logical sense that evolution would have trimmed that fat off, then it is fair to make the assumption that it is separate. If it is something outside of our physical form, it must exist in another place or form outside of something we know and understand. The logical end point for this line of reasoning is inevitably that we have a soul in one form or another.

Of course, this isn’t the complete answer to the question of the soul. It would be arrogant to think that any single article could ever exhaustively explain something so esoteric and complex, but that really wasn’t the point. I am not here to convince anyone of anything, and your personal beliefs are yours alone. The goal is to put out ideas that my readers might not have thought about, or to present them in a way that provokes additional thought on the topic. Sometimes it just takes hearing one thing to get us thinking differently about things.

What do you think about the idea of the soul? Do you lean more towards a biological explanation, or might there be something more? What would you need to see before believing in something more spiritual? We tend to need quite a lot of evidence to accept most things, but when we can’t get those answer we must sometimes bridge the gap ourselves. The answer we get from those leaps of faith can certainly be wrong, but if you have a solid foundation of logic behind the way you see the world.

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