THE SOUL

The self, awareness and intent cannot exist in a void. It makes sense that they are the properties of a relatively discrete (non-material) energy field. Despite its baggage, the traditional name for this part of a living organism, the soul, still seems to be the most convenient. To ease possible discomfort from certain associations that the usage of this word may evoke, a brief historical perspective will be presented first.

The notion of soul (interpreted in various ways) appears in practically every culture: the Egyptian term was ba, the Hindu atman, the Jewish neshamah, the medieval Christian anima divina. Popper writes:

There is an abundance of important evidence that supports the hypothesis that dualistic and interactionist beliefs concerning body and mind are very old - prehistoric and of course historic. Apart from folklore and fairy tales, it is supported by all we know about primitive religion, myth, and magical beliefs. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.157)

Greek philosophers identified the soul with the life principle itself and also the source of inner movement. Plato considered the self (soul) distinct from the body and capable of living without it. Aristotle also acknowledged a non-material aspect of a human being (although he interpreted it in a different way from Plato). A Roman biographer Plutarch speaks about nous, uncorrupted soul that survives death. Cicero too was a dualist. Soul, as a breath of life, appears in Egyptian Gnostic Myths, the book of Genesis and the Arabian Creation Myth. Not all religions however, support this notion. Mainstream Buddhism rejects the idea of the eternal non-material soul that is taught in Hinduism (anatta doctrine), which is consistent with its creed of impermanency and makes its essentially idealistic position closer to materialist views. However, this creates a number of other inconsistencies (in relation to the concepts of the self, reincarnation and Nirvana). The Old Testament seems ambiguous about whether humans are purely physical beings or not. In the earlier period, the emphasis is very much on this world (as, for example, in the Book of Job). Later, though, the soul becomes more independent from the body. In Christianity, it is considered an eternal, divine, perfect and beautiful aspect of the human, which nevertheless resembles the physical body and can suffer an equivalent of physical pains and pleasures. Some modern theologicians (such as Teilhard de Chardin) rejected these naïve notions of the soul and developed much more sophisticated interpretations. So the idea of the soul has a long tradition, and should not be identified with any particular religious framework.

The perception of the soul (epistemological issues)

The soul is not material, so it cannot be detected indirectly through the physical senses or mechanical instruments[1]. It can be, however, directly felt, experienced. Most people are vaguely aware of these experiences (although they are often ascribed to the body or mind). For example, it is common to describe individuals in terms of energy properties, such as ‘warm or cold', ‘open or closed', ‘deep or shallow', ‘cracking', ‘being on the same wave length', etc. They may be the descriptions of some processes at the non-physical level, rather than just metaphors. Yet, the understanding of the soul has remained rudimentary even for those who believe in it, for several reasons:

  • Such experiences are unstable, fleeting, vague, unstructured and difficult to classify, so they are usually consciously ignored as a background noise.
  • Perception of the soul is easily overrun by more intense and concrete physical and mind processes, such as inputs from the environment and more tangible mental states (e.g. imagination or thinking).
  • They are not based on sensory perception, so it is extremely difficult to conceptualise and objectify these experiences within a socially shared framework.

A fuller comprehension of the soul requires the combining of several methods: transpersonal perception, phenomenological reduction and deductive inferences.

  • Transpersonal experiences are of course essential, but they involve shifting the focus of awareness. Considering that the soul is non-material, using a visual apparatus, of course, is not necessary. However, maintaining the attention (e.g. on a person) and stabilising fleeting impressions are.
  • An accurate perception (that may or may not produce a mental image) requires separating that which comes from the observed soul and that which belongs to the observer. So, phenomenological reduction, concentrating on the experience of phenomena related to the soul without social and personal interpretations, is essential. In other words, the accuracy depends on the extent to which a person is capable of bracketing and going ‘below' the constructs through which reality is normally perceived and other projections.
  • Deductive conclusions (following the criteria of reasoning) can also contribute to a better understanding by bridging the existing gaps.
  • [1]. Whatever instruments can find could only be properties of the matter, because they are based on such properties. This limitation of instruments should not be a reason to dismiss other phenomena out-of-hand.

The description

An objection may be raised that any attempt to describe the soul may ruin the magic and mystery associated with this subject. However, although the soul is very special (being different from anything else) there is no reason to mystify it. Reality is mysterious enough (not only in relation to the soul), so there is no need to worry about attempts to understand and describe what can be understood and described.

The first challenge that such an endeavour faces is that the soul is not a kind of substance or ‘stuff' (as assumed in the so-called ‘ectoplasm' account). It is more accurate to think about it as focused fluctuations of pure energy (meaning without ‘stuff' that fluctuates). However, for any intelligible account it is practically impossible to imagine or speak about the soul and avoid completely the terms usually associated with substance (i.e. shapes or colours). In a similar vein physicists represent light, for example, as a wavy line with peaks and troughs although, in fact, light is not like that. So for the sake of better understanding, these familiar terms will be used in the description of the soul, fully acknowledging that any conceptualisation is not only limiting, but crude too.

On the basis of the above methods, several inferences can be drawn. The soul, first of all, does not resemble the physical body. It would not be functional for the soul of a rabbit, for example, to have the shape of a rabbit. This shape is adapted to life in the physical environment and would not be of much use in non-material reality (what would be the purpose of legs, for example?) The difference between the body and the soul, despite their resonance, is possible because the experiences (that may be mediated through neuronal activity) are not organised in the same way as the nervous system. This is not unlike various parts of the body being disproportionally represented in the neocortex. It is already put forward that such an energy has to be focused (crate loops). So, it is suggested that the basic ‘shape' of the soul can be conceived as spherical, although its better topological representation would be torus[2] (a doughnut shape) with an infinitely small point in the middle (known as ‘umbilicoid') and an infinitely large field:

The soul, therefore, can be considered a field that consists of energy loops and two major vortexes. This resembles an electro-magnetic field, except that the latter does not have the centre. Transpersonal experiences indicate, however, that the soul is not a uniform lump of energy. It seems that the soul has a complex structure, with various components and their specific functions. In a way, such an energy field is better compared to a single-cell organism, with its centre, inner space and the membrane. These components are not sharply demarcated though, there is a much greater fluidity between them than between biological components. Different layers of the soul can also have a different density. For example, in the part of the soul where the processes associated with physical life occur[3], the layers towards the surface are comparatively less dense but faster. A diagram below is a simplified representation of the basic (but not exhaustive) movements of the soul; it is not, by any means, a picture of the soul, but only a highly schematised diagram of energy trajectories in relation to the central point.

 

It is not controversial that energy does not need to be corpuscular (material). What makes the soul non-physical is that it exists in a non-material realm where only some known laws are relevant (e.g. the effect of a variance in energy potential). Thus, the soul is not in the body, nor does it leave the body after death. The soul is a low density and high speed energy that is all the time in non-material reality and only resonates for a while with the body.

The soul defines how one is, rather than who one is. So, various descriptions such as physical appearance, name, role, gender, race, nationality or religious affiliation have nothing to do with the soul, although they may affect it indirectly, to the extent to which these descriptions are allowed to influence one's experience and actions.

Because they are often associated with an ideal image, the common assumption is that souls are perfect and beautiful. However, some transpersonal experiences suggest that  this is not always the case. For example, a soul can be so ‘soft' that it loses its shape, or so solidified that it loses its fluidity. Some impulsive and uncontrollable desires (when the energy of the soul stretches out before an action) may look like protrusions from the main ‘body'. Also, the surface of a soul may have ‘cracks' that interrupt the flow of energy, darkened areas (that can be the result of inner conflicts or traumatic experiences) and depressions. Moreover, the movement of energy may not always be pleasant: a soul normally pulsates, but sometimes this pulsating can be erratic or resemble trembling (like in fever). Nevertheless, every soul possesses an element of infinity, which without doubt has an aesthetic quality (even if the individual shapes may not be particularly appealing).

  • [2]. A torus is different from a sphere - one cannot be reshaped into the other.
  • [3]. This part is so distinct from the rest of the soul that it can be practically seen as a separate unit.

The dynamic of the soul

Contrary to popular belief, souls are not perfect (the idea of perfect souls is incompatible with interactionism and the purpose - what would be the point of physical life if souls were perfect and unchanging?). In fact, souls are initially latent, little aware, and with minimal internal control (akin to children). They need to develop in order to become independent and capable of self-determination. In a way, souls can be seen as a raw material that have to undergo various processes (experiences) and the treatment of tools (the body and mind). In other words, they are the units of volatile energy that require a form to give them stability. To maintain a soul's coherence, its energy is first limited by the body and then by the mind, until the self is capable of controlling it. So, although the soul should not be identified with the mind, the mind (as well as the body) affects the soul. Plutarch (among many others in the Ancient world for whom the perception of the soul was a matter of fact) thought that the variations and movement of colours could reveal the passions and vices of the soul. So, the energy of the soul gradually grows and gets harmonised through the evolution and development of the mind.

The soul is shaped through life experiences, in other words, through an interaction with the internal and external environment. Every experience affects its shape - redistributes energy (which we may be aware of as a feeling, the recognition of the effects that an experience has on us). This, however, does not mean that the soul is directly involved. As in a dream, the dreamer is not really in that realm, but s/he still experiences, and these experiences can have an effect even after waking up. To follow this analogy further, like a dreamer while dreaming, the soul is, in a way, suspended during the life-time. It could be said that the soul sleeps (meaning that the self is not normally aware of non-material reality). This is why the soul does not exist for most of people, as the one who dreams usually does not exist for the one in the dream. In terms of quantum physics, the soul is suspended in a state of uncertainty until the function that is physical life, collapses (at the moment of death). Sometimes the soul can become aware of a larger reality (lucid dreams - when the person realises that s/he is dreaming without actually waking up, would be an equivalent), but such events are arguably rare. This is not to say that the soul is completely passive. The soul affects the brain (body) by intent and energy shifts, but its influence is not very strong, although it can increase in time (the more effects the self can have, the more developed life is). So, differences between souls are the result of  having different experiences and making different choices.

The overall dynamic of the soul can be also considered in terms of the balance (or imbalance) between the two basic principles, static and dynamic:

  • The stronger static principle is manifested as the slackness of the soul and a longing for security and predictability, which can lead to inertia and stagnation. If this principle is balanced, it can contribute to internal and external harmonisation. Balance is achieved by developing agency (which includes curiosity, courage, creativity, and also personal responsibility).
  • The dominant dynamic principle can be recognised as the restlessness of the soul, a longing for freedom from the constrains of the physical environment, body and mind, which can lead to chaos and even madness. If balanced, it can contribute to self-actualisation and development. The balance is achieved by nurturing self-discipline.

The most important characteristic of the soul is that it is a focused energy. This focal point that enables awareness and intent can be called the self. However, the self needs to be distinguished from I (personality); awareness needs to be distinguished from the materials of awareness (such as thoughts, images, feelings etc.); intent also needs to be distinguished from other possible causes of activity (reflexes, urges, desires, will). To make this clearer, these three properties and how they relate to the material aspect of the human being are discussed next.