What is the Soul?

What is the Soul?

“In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

Oscar Wilde

We’ve all experienced those moments when we lie awake at night wondering why we’re here and what really makes us tick, in an attempt to gain a clearer understanding of our own soul and the “precious things” within it. But what exactly is the soul? Where does it come from? How do we define it? And I’m not talking about Otis Redding’s greatest hits.

The concept of the soul has been with us for centuries, with evidence to suggest that our prehistoric ancestors had an awareness of something other than our physical form. The general, layman’s definition is that the soul is universally regarded as an energy; a distinct, incorporeal entity that encompasses our spiritual makeup – separate from our flesh, bone and sinew. It is unique and individual to every living thing, but in humans it is our sense of self, our thoughts, perceptions, actions, memories and consciousness. It is not what you see when you look in the bathroom mirror, but what you feel.

Aristotle was particularly fascinated by this spiritual ideology, writing his noted work De Anima (On the Soul) in c. 350 BC. He believed that all living things possess this soul, and that there is a hierarchy to it, not so much spiritual as a biopsychological exploration of what it means to have form and matter. Other Greceian schools of philosophy didn’t share this complex notion, but they weren’t alone (nor were they the first) to envisage a sense of energy or “life-force” that we are all apparently blessed with.

It was in ancient Egypt that one of the earliest references to the soul was made, written on a stone monument to a royal official erected in the wake of his death. The Egyptians (and the Chinese) believe that the soul exists in two parts, a dual soul, and that one part essentially perishes when we die, while another echos into the land of the dead or an ancestral plain.

In Christian eschatology, the soul is purported to seek an audience with God, who judges us and sends us to heaven or to hell depending on how we conducted ourselves in life. Similarly, in Judaism, the quality of one’s soul can be improved by adhering to the commandments in order to bring you closer to God. Muslims believe in something akin to this, with the soul connecting to our physical form at birth and staying with us until death, a sort of tenant and landlord arrangement. Indeed, obsessed with the concept, St. Augustine likened the soul to that of being a horseman. How you ride the horse determines your identity with it; sentiments echoed by writer, theologian, and Christan poster boy C.S Lewis when he said; “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Hindus believe in something called ?tman (which means self or breath) and is an eternal, universal, true self in which all living things are entwined. In this regard, this unending spirit can inhabit multiple entities through limitless reincarnations. The Buddist school of thought is that we are in a state of constant change, that essentially there is no soul, but only “oneness” ; we have no permanent self and that death will be rebirth in an entirely new form.

Science, wary of the apocryphal dogmas of organised religion, argues the opposite. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson rather brutally acknowledged “Your consciousness is the sum of chemical and electrical impulses – get over it.” While Stephen Hawking quipped; “I think the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.” I feel I don’t need to labour the point.

In 1907, Massachusetts physician, Duncan MacDougall hypothesized that the soul has a physical weight and set out to prove it by measuring the mass lost by a human body at the point of death. Of the six subjects he tested, one of them lost three-fourths of an ounce when they checked out. Fascinatingly, although the experiment was widely ridiculed and rejected, the concept of the soul having weight stuck, repeatedly solidified in popular culture as being 21 grams.

The Damned Soul. Drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti c. 1525

But let us return to St. Augustine briefly when he said; “Love is the beauty of the soul.” and if that’s the case, how far would you go to rescue the soul of your love?

That’s the central theme to the new work by Kas Smith. Simply titled Soul – Augmented, it’s an exciting, edge-of-your-seat, sci-fi adventure with…well…a soul. In the not too distant future, the Earth has become an uninhabitable place and natural disasters threaten to tear our world apart. Some 60 million people have fallen into unexplained comas many believe to be the rapture while others are convinced it is the work of mysterious, unseen creatures.

For Joshua Smith, a brilliant young physicist obsessed with matter teleportation, his personal world literally collapses when his partner suddenly ends their relationship, only for her to be attacked by something unspeakable and committed to external mindlessness. She becomes one of comas victims…which are labelled “the Unknown.”

In a race against time, across the far flung corners of the universe, Joshua must find a way to locate the entity of his lost love. With the help of a team of crack paramilitaries, as their very existence is falling down around them and in the face of a horrifying foe, everything is at stake as they strive to restore balance to the established order, save humankind as they know it, and bring a soul back.

While it might be some considerable years before we can transfer matter across time and space, it will be even further still before we can fully comprehend what a soul actually is – or if it exists at all. But we’ll all find out soon enough when death comes to claim us. In the meantime, it’s fun to speculate, debate, read enticingly imagined works of science fiction, that attempts to unravel the mysteries of the soul, while we stare at ourselves in our mirrors and wonder who we really are.

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