What Is the Soul? From Anima to Abstraction - Owlcation - Education
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What Is the Soul? From Anima to Abstraction

Science, philosophy, politics, and religion are frequent topics for writer and public speaker Catherine Giordano.

What Is the Soul?

What is a soul?  It's an age old question.

What is a soul? It's an age old question.

What Is the Definition of "Soul"?

There have been many definitions of the soul throughout the years. Beliefs about the soul arose from an attempt to explain observed biological and psychological phenomena. Anthropologists have found a belief in souls in virtually all cultures.

According to dictionary.com the soul is:

"the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part"

Debates about the soul revolve around two competing theories.

  • The first is “dualism” which posits that the soul exists separate from the body and is responsible for intention. The anima, or soul, animates the body and gives intentionality to the body.
  • The other is “materialism” which states that there is only a single substance, physical matter. The mind is a manifestation of the body. The soul is a manifestation of the mind. Both the mind and the soul are abstractions arising from neurological functions in the brain.

What Was the Earliest Thinking About the Soul?

The word soul can be traced back to the Old English word, sáwol or sáwel. The earliest known use of the word is found in the 8th century poem. Beowulf. The original concept of the word means "coming from or belonging to the sea or lake," and it reflects the old German belief that souls are born out of, and return to, certain sacred lakes.

One of the earliest references to a soul as a separate entity from the body is the stele of Kuttamuwa. Kuttamuwa was an 8th-century BC royal from an ancient kingdom in what is now Turkey, who ordered an inscribed stele, a small monument, to be erected upon his death. The inscription requested that his mourners commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts "for my soul that is in this stele."

But the idea of a soul probably began long before the 8th century. .It most likely began when human consciousness arose and humans came to understand death and first had language to put the idea of a soul into words. That would place the time frame for the beginnings of the concept of soul around 200,000 years ago.

Humans have always sought to understand why some things, like animals are living, and other things, like stones, are not. And, why humans are different from other animals. And since humans don’t like to think that death is the end of us, the concept of an eternal soul provides a way to survive death.

The ancient Chinese believed that humans had two souls. The lower corporeal soul, called po, remained with the corpse after death, but the rational soul, called hun, survived death. However, one of the traditions within Taoism proposes a soul structure of seven po and of three hun.

The ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. The body was a separate entity, the ha. However, the number of souls changed from one dynasty to another, sometimes five parts, sometimes seven, sometimes even nine.

What Did the Classical Philosophers Think About the Soul?

According to Plato (428-387 BCE) and Aristotle (322-384 BCE), humans were thought to have many souls. There were “body souls” which animated the body and “ego souls” which animated the mind, giving rise to thoughts and feelings. Some souls were “free souls” that could leave the body, and these souls carried us off into the worlds of our dreams. It was believed that souls could survive death.

Plato wrote about an immortal soul in two of his dialogues, Phaedo and The Republic. Plato believed in an endless cycle of reincarnation--souls originated in the realm of the dead and only temporarily existed in living beings before returning to the underworld.

Plato posited that the soul consisted of three hierarchical parts. The lowest was the appetitive; in the middle was the spirited; and the highest was the rational. The appetitive was located in the belly and controlled basic bodily functions (thirst, hunger, sexual desire). The spirited was located in the heart and controlled the emotions. The rational was located in the head and controlled thought and reason.

Plato’s student, Aristotle, wrote about the soul in his treatise on the nature of living things, De Anima (On the Soul). He posited that all living things had a soul (or anima). The nutritive soul was found in plants and controlled growth and decay. Animals had both a nutritive soul and a sensitive soul; this second soul controlled the five senses. Humans had three souls: The highest soul, the rational soul which controlled thoughts and emotions, was found only in humans and was what distinguished humans from the other animals.

Democritus (460-370 BCE) had an opposing view. He formulated the doctrine of materialism which posited that there was only one kind of substance—matter which was made up of the invisible particles called “atoms.” There was no separate soul substance; instead highly volatile atoms called “fire atoms” animated the body.

Dualism: Body and Soul

Rene Descartes posited that humans have an immaterial soul that controls the body.

Rene Descartes posited that humans have an immaterial soul that controls the body.

When Did the Modern Concept of the Soul Begin?

Early Christian thinkers, such as St. Augustine (354-430 CE) and Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274 CE), adopted the soul concepts of Plato and Aristotle. It was not until René Descartes (1596-1650) at the dawn of the Renaissance that a new idea about the soul took hold. Descartes downsized the three souls of Aristotle down to just one soul, thereby formulating the dualism approach that predominates today—a material body animated by an immaterial soul.

Descartes had a mechanistic view of the human body. Humans were machines with tubes (blood vessels), pipes (nerves), and springs, (tendons and muscles). He ran into a problem with this line of thinking—machines can’t think and feel. He thus posited “res cognitive,” the thinking substance, an immaterial substance, the soul.

The noted British philosopher, Gilbert Ryle, scoffed at this idea of dualism in his 1949 book, The Concept of Mind. He called it the “ghost in the machine,” a phrase that has since been used by many others,

Today “the-body-is-a machine” concept is used only as a metaphor, but the idea of an immaterial soul that inhabits the material body continues. It is commonly thought that the soul is responsible for consciousness, as well to have the ability to reason, to have thoughts and feelings, to have a sense of right and wrong, and to have free will.

What Do Some Religions Believe About the Soul Today?


There are many different sects of Christians and beliefs vary from one to another, but some generalizations can be made.

Christians believe that the human soul (and only humans have souls) is central to personhood. Some believe in the dualistic concept of body and soul while others believe that humans are triune with body, soul, and spirit.

Some Christians emphasize the importance of the soul by saying you are not a body with a soul, you are a soul with a body. Others say you should not look at the body and soul as separate entities because they are unified within each individual, essentially fused together. However, the soul departs the body at death and ascends to Heaven. (Presumably, some go elsewhere.)

They believe that the soul is eternal and survives death. Every soul that has ever existed still exists.


The word in the Hebrew that is often translated as soul is “nephesh.” However, its actual meaning is “a breathing creature.” It can also mean desire, passion, or appetite. In the five books that comprise the Torah, there is no sense of nephesh as meaning an imaterial entity that inhabits a body.

When the Jews came into contact with the Persian and Greek influences, the idea of a soul began to be part of Judaism, especially in the more mystic traditions like Kabala.


In Islam, a person's soul is located in the heart. It possesses two opposing impulses—good and evil. After death, the souls of the pious remain near Allah so that, on Judgment Day, their souls may be reunited with Allah.


Atman is the word used for soul in Hinduism. (it is derived from the word “atma” which means breath.) It underlies all bodily functions, including the ability for rational thought. It is the eternal core of the personality. When a person dies, the soul will either transmigrate to a new life or be liberated from any further bodily existence.


Buddhists take a materialistic approach. In Buddhism, as Gautama Buddha taught it, there is no reincarnation and no soul. The word anatta means no self or no soul, is central to the Buddhist tradition.

When Do Humans Get a Soul?

There are many varying Ideas about when a human gets a soul.

There are many varying Ideas about when a human gets a soul.

When Does Ensoulment Occur?

If a religion teaches the existence of a soul, the natural question is ,"When does the soul enter the body? Most believe that God creates each individual soul in a special act of creation, but there are many different beliefs about when ensoulment occurs.

The various beliefs about the time of ensoulment are:

  • When the sperm enters the egg
  • When the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall (Conception is a process that takes several hours.)
  • When the embryo's heart first starts to beat (About 18-21 days after conception)
  • When the embryo first begins to look like a human (At the end of the first trimester, more or less)
  • When the mother first feels the fetus move, e.g. quickening (At about 4½ months)
  • When sentience is attained, e.g., the fetal brain is capable of some higher functions and has some form of primitive consciousness (At the end of the second trimester)
  • When the fetus has emerged half-way from its mother's body
  • When the umbilical cord has been cut and the newborn is breathing on its own

(Interestingly, the Catholic church opposes abortion at any time by any means, but it currentlly takes no position on when ensoulment occurs.)

Where is the Soul?

The brain manifests the soul.

The brain manifests the soul.

How Does Science Explain the Soul?

Although some people think of body, mind, and soul as three separate entities, modern science proves that the materialism theory is correct. There is only body. The body gives rise to the mind, and the mind gives rise to the soul.

The brain is part of the body, and the sense of self arises in the brain. Your sense of “me-ness,” your identity, arises from the functions of the brain. When brain activity stops, the self ends.

Biologists have determined how the body works. All physical processes—the nervous system, physical feelings like pain, hormone secretions, heart rate, and thousands of other bodily functions are all controlled by complex processes that occur within the brain.

Neurologists have discovered the processes that occur within the brain produce all of our mental states. Abstract thinking, judgments, thoughts, instincts, memories, personality traits (niceness, politeness, friendliness, etc.), and emotional states (love, hate, anger, depression) all have biochemical causes. All can be radically affected by stimulating the brain in certain spots, by consumption of certain substances (e.g. alcohol, drugs), by brain damage, and by brain surgery. This is all only possible if consciousness and emotions all have physical causation.

How then to explain a soul? If the brain can and does control and affect everything about our behavior and mental states, what is left for a soul to do? If physical changes or damage to the brain cause changes in behavior and mental states, do these physical changes affect the soul also? Can the soul—an eternal, non-physical, and non-material entity—be affected by physical means? Clearly, there is no soul that exists independently from the body.

Why then do so many seem to feel the presence of a soul? Again science has the answer: Emergent Reality. Both consciousness and the soul are illusions created by the brain.

It’s not a very well-understood phenomena. That is why scientists call it “The Hard Problem of Consciousness.” Nonetheless, I’ll provide a very over-simplified explanation. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

As you read this, you are actually just seeing pixels of black and white. The brain gnores the white specks and interprets the black specks as letters, then interprets the letters as words, and then finally gives meaning to these words. It may then have a mental reaction to the message. All of this occurs almost instantly in the brain. The meaning is not in the pixels, but it emerges from them.

There is no specific site in the brain for consciousness; no single spot that we could label “ego.” To use an analogy, there is no command center where the self (or soul) sits controlling everything. Consciousness results from the interaction of vast arrays of neuronal processes.It is all neuro-biological. It is all an illusion.

The soul is no more than a metaphor for a feeling, the sense of self that we feel. It is a word best left for the poets.

From the “anima” of philosophy and theology to the “abstraction” of modern science—the concept of the soul has evolved over the centuries.

The Soul Fallacy

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Conundrums, Quandaries, and Questions

The concept of a soul raises more questions than answers. The following essay shows why the concept of soul cannot survive thoughtful examination.

Does the Soul Exist? Conundrums, Quandaries, and Questions

© 2016 Catherine Giordano

What do you believe about the soul?

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on May 25, 2018:

Harold Sewell: I agree. We have consciousness and that leads some people to think we have a soul. It is only a metaphor.

Harold Sewell on May 24, 2018:


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on July 13, 2017:

annart: If you have any questions, I'd be happy to discuss them with you further. You can email me, if you wish. I hope the article helped you understand why I do not believe a soul exists.

Ann Carr from SW England on July 13, 2017:

Again, Catherine, such a well researched hub and all is succinctly explained though I'll have to read it over at least two more times before it all sinks in. It is probably an argument which will extend into time immemorial but these things need to be discussed and need to be explored even more. Thanks for the link.


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 13, 2017:

rjbatty: You have given an excellent summation about why people are so attached to the diea of a soul and why it is so hard to let go of this idea. Thanks.

rjbatty from Irvine on January 12, 2017:

Some people can face it, others cannot. When the body dies, everything goes with it, e.g., all forms of consciousness. This is a concept that is just too much for some people to bear. It may run counter to their religious predispositions or simply be unfathomable. Our minds are not designed to incorporate extremes. We are built to sustain our lives as long as possible thus the extinguishment of our consciousness seems abhorrent, repellant and perhaps absurd.

There are things we cannot fathom -- eternity, infinity, zero, infinity, nonexistence, etc. We can no more easily imagine total nonexistence as we can living for eternity. Just as a thought experiment everyone should try to imagine the total cessation of thought and cognition. Trying to imagine a total void is very, very difficult.

According to the Buddhists, the difficulty in imagining a total void is due to attachment -- attachment to the self. Yeah, it's hard to accept that your entire life may end up with no payoff, no reward, no punishment, nothing but a void. We all work so hard to preserve our lives and provide "a life worth living."

In some way we have to do this (or most of us anyway) in order to provide a meaningful context for our day-to-day trials and tribulations. It's not an easy thing for Western man to go into that dark night without at least leaving a mark of himself. Think of the reason that Achilles entered the Trojan War. He wanted to leave an indelible mark upon Western culture. He wanted to be remembered -- the only thing that lasted, the only that mattered.

Well, for most of us, we will pass on with one maybe two generations remembering us -- and that is it... for whatever it's worth.

For us, personally, after we die, we have nothing more to offer. And that's okay once you come to a point philosophically that everything is temporary -- even the universe itself.

Our personal lives are irrelevant in the big picture, but it's hard to live your life this way. There may be no ultimate meaning to life but it seems "right" or "dutiful" to reduce the suffering of others. We all may be here for no "reason" but we can recognize suffering, and if we've ever suffered a day in our lives we should want to reduce the suffering of others -- who are no better than ourselves.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 27, 2016:

Austinstar: You have nicely summed up the difference between real science and pseudo-science.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on October 27, 2016:

The biggest point that I take from this and other articles about the "soul", is that there is still no testable, repeatable, peer reviewed, conclusions that can be demonstrated.

Again, science and "faith" are simply two separate things. As far as "the soul living on", first one would have to prove that it exists, then, that it could exist without a physical body.

As soon as someone is able to provide proof, then there would be no need for "faith".

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 27, 2016:

lawrence01: let's not get into an endless back and forth. Let's just agree to disagree about the validity of this Southhamptoon study. I just did not want to leave the claims about this study to go unaddressed.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 27, 2016:


You obviously didn't read the actual articles as I did!

You're right it was about life after death, the article also argued that death itself is a 'process' and is only called 'death when it becomes irreversible!

The article also pointed out that the people who had the 'out of body experience' were beyond the point where it was considered 'reversible' but came back!

By the way I read up on the 'quantum mechanics' theory you mentioned and found the names of four of five well respected physicists who've put forward the theory, I hadn't heard if it before, but there are two theories regarding quantum mechanics.

By the way, regarding 'the soul' and life after death, if it isn't the soul that lives on then what would it be? That's why I linked the two.


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 27, 2016:

lawrence 01: I checked out the Southampton study. It wasn't about souls; it was about life after death. The headlines in the various news media that reported on this were widely exaggerated. It was about people who had near death experiences, the operative word being "near." They were not actually dead. Only one subject gave a possibly positive result. This is one of the many links that debunk the wild claims made. http://web.randi.org/swift/no-this-study-is-not-ev...

The truth doesn't get the headlines. And people who want to believe don't search out the research that disproves what they want to believe.

Benjamin Vande Weerdhof Andrews from Barrie Ontario Canada on October 08, 2016:

Sam Parnia of the Stony Brook University.

Yes I argue that in my blogs and book "Why You Won't Go to Hell"as well. It was one of the reasons I started my research.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 08, 2016:

Ben V. W. Andrews: I believe that cognitive science already shows that awareness (soul) is a brain function. Can you tell me what "awareness" study you are referring to? I'm sorry to learn that your mother had Alzheimer's. It is indeed one of the most terrible diseases. Actually Alzheimer's is one of the "proofs" against the notion of soul. If our identity, personality, and memories came from a soul, how then could a brain disease destroy these things?

Benjamin Vande Weerdhof Andrews from Barrie Ontario Canada on October 08, 2016:

Absolutely. Thank you for the compliment, however I do not regard it as a "poetic take" but rather a conclusion on the basis of the material I studied. I forgot to mention that I loved your article. I totally agree with you on the subject. I am also convinced that Cognitive Scientists will eventually be able to show that our awareness (soul) is a brain function and therefor when the brain dies, awareness dies, which we can observe when we deal with Alzheimer's patients (my mother suffered from this dreadful disease). I have also dealt with the unscientific conclusions drawn from anecdotal "evidence" on my website and in the book I wrote. I am sure you have read about the flaws in the "awareness" study, which made the headlines a while ago as the "proof" that an afterlife is a possibility. (Sam Parnia of the Stony Brook University)

Benjamin Vande Weerdhof Andrews from Barrie Ontario Canada on October 08, 2016:

Absolutely. Thank you for the compliment, however I do not regard it as a "poetic take" but rather a conclusion on the basis of the material I studied. I forgot to mention that I loved your article. I totally agree with you on the subject. I am also convinced that Cognitive Scientists will eventually be able to show that our awareness (soul) is a brain function and therefor when the brain dies, awareness dies, which we can observe when we deal with Alzheimer's patients (my mother suffered from this dreadful disease). I have also dealt with the unscientific conclusions drawn from anecdotal "evidence" on my website and in the book I wrote. I am sure you have read about the flaws in the "awareness" study, which made the headlines a while ago as the "proof" that an afterlife is a possibility.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 08, 2016:


It wasn't an 'unscientific study!" It was research involving eight hospitals in the USA, UK and Austria! It involved two thousand patients and was co-ordinated by the university of Southampton!

Please check out the study before 'labelling it' by the way they concluded 'More research needed'


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 08, 2016:

Ben V W Andrews: I like your poetic take on spirit. Can we agree that the Great Spirit is a metaphor?

Benjamin Vande Weerdhof Andrews from Barrie Ontario Canada on October 08, 2016:

Researching the concept of Spirit or Soul I have developed the hypothesis, using Occam's Razor, that because of the widespread belief in a soul or spirit, developed in the small group of survivors of the current Human race, before they spread throughout the world, was the breath we take, as it is the life force we cannot do without for minutes. A baby receives its spirit (the first breath) upon birth from the Great Spirit, while the last breath upon death, leaves the body to rejoin the Great Spirit. See www.origin-of-religion.com

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 04, 2016:

lawrence01: I intend to write about these unscientific studies (anecdotal evidence is not evidence for purposes of science) and fallacies. I will also address NDE (near death experience). I'm sorry to tell you there are next to no scientists that believe that there is "life after death" as a scientific truth. I don't know where you get such ideas. Perhaps there are some scientist that compartmentalize and believe such things as a personal belief, but they would never call it scientific fact.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 04, 2016:


Thank you for the explanation as to the words used for 'soul' and the connotations.

However I'd not fully agree with what you say about science pointing to the non-existence of the soul as there have been literally thousands of recorded instances that science (and doctors in particular) have cataloged NDE's and sought to research what they are!

There are some that have tried to say they're the last parts of the brain 'shutting down' but recent studies done at the university of Southampton challenge that idea!

This one was completed in 2014 and published in the journal 'Rescusitation' (you can find it by googling 'NDEs university of Southampton' as I just did) and the findings are pretty amazing!

Science actually says 'More research needed, but possibly there is life after death '

There are those who try to say it's not so but they're doing it from the point of view of their own beliefs and not from science!


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 04, 2016:

lawrence01: Science does not prove or disprove anything. It merely collects evidence. When the evidence is strong for a particular belief, it is called "true." When the evidence is non-existent, it is called "false." If the evidence is contradictory or vague, there is no conclusion. New evidence can move ideas between the various categories. At the current time, everything that is scientifically known about the soul, points to it being non-existent.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 04, 2016:

lawrence01: There are five different words that can be translated as "soul" in the Hebrew language. Each has a slightly different connotation. They are Nephresh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, and Yechidah. Again, due to space considerations, I did not go into all of this. My aim was to provide an overview of soul beliefs and show how they changed over time.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on October 04, 2016:

lawrence01: The concept of soul appears to exist in almost all cultures. I did not wish to make this essay overly long, so I began the discussion with the ancient Greek philosophers. Many other cultures also had various ideas of the soul, the Chinese, the Hindus, and others. Socrates (469 and 399 BCE) did not leave any writings of his own. We only know him through the writings of others. I assume Socrates did not differ in any significant way on this issue from Plato and Aristotle. Most discussions of soul (for the Western world) begin with Aristotle and Plato.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 02, 2016:


I just looked up the meaning of 'Nephesh' and need to apologize as your meanings of it are partly correct.

But it's root meaning comes from the idea 'to breathe' and all the things/beings in the list of how it's used are living breathing creatures leaving the articles to say it literally is a 'living breathing creature' or 'life force'

But the concept of 'spirit' (remember Christians believe we're 'tripartite' beings of body, soul and spirit!) still isn't explained.


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 02, 2016:


'Interesting' hub to say the least. Some really good information here, but also some that isn't quite right.

1. Plato, actually the first Greek to suggest the existence of a 'soul' was Socrates not Plato! But then Socrates was Plato's mentor!

2. You're correct that the Medieval church largely followed Aristotle's teaching on the soul, at least the church in the West did! In the east much if the influence came from the Zoroastrians and Hindu beliefs.

3. Incidentally you don't mention those two faiths as being the origin of the ideas if the soul even though they pre-date Socrates by at least two and a half thousand years!

4. The Hebrew word translated 'soul' is 'ruah' literally meaning a breath, and is never thought of as a physical thing!

5. Science says it can neither prove or disprove its existence

Just a few thoughts


Mel Comeau on October 02, 2016:

Catherine Giordano Your knowledge and patience with those who have neither of those qualities is commendable.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 04, 2016:

Thank you FlourishAnyway. It is really hard to understand consciousness. Cognitive scientists are working on it. I'm glad my pixel analogy helped make it clear. I had to think quite a bit to come up with that one. I doubt it is original with me. It seems likely that someone else has come up with this same analogy. Perhaps I have even read it some time in the past. But it feels original to me, so it MUST be original. (HaHa--I just made another analogy about how we can't trust that what we "feel" is what is actually true.)

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 04, 2016:

I'm back to comment, as for some reason comments made from my iphone often don't "take" on HP. Anyhow, I liked your analogy of the pixels, as it made your point easier to comprehend. Very thought provoking hub.

Frik Harmse from Vanderbijlpark on September 04, 2016:

You are right! It will not help to argue about some things. When it comes to so called facts, I firmly believe that the Biblical truths are the only reliable facts. I will never ever deviate from those truths, nor argue about them. I just believe them. Life will never succeed for people who oppose their creator. I prefer to be 100% on his side and to support what he has said about any topic on earth. I will now withdraw myself from this discussion.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 04, 2016:

Harms: I don't wish to argue with you. Obviously your mind is made up. If you wish to show how any of the facts I presented are wrong by presenting verifiable information, then we can have a discussion.

Frik Harmse from Vanderbijlpark on September 04, 2016:

The bible does not represent a Hebrew belief, or any other human belief. It is the words of the living God himself who created mankind. He created us body, soul and spirit, and who is better to explain and understand his own creation than the Creator himself.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 04, 2016:

Paladin: Thanks for your comment refuting the idea of weighing the soul. The soul is immaterial, so how could anyone weigh it? If it is not immaterial, then how could it be eternal? All matter decays.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 04, 2016:

johnmariow: Thanks for bringing up NDE (near death experience). The subject is too complicated to discuss in a comment. (I think I will have to write my next hub on it.) I'll just make one point. The term is "NEAR death". No one has actually died and came back to life. Is Heaven now accepting people who are not quite dead yet? Does the soul flee the body of a dying person, but then changes its mind and returns. All the NDE accounts are anecdotal, unverified, and in some cases the person telling this story have later recanted and admitted that they made it up.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 04, 2016:

Harms: Christianity did not invent the concept of the soul. It evolved from earlier pagan beliefs. (Not Hebrew beliefs.) This is all explained in the essay, but you ignore history in order to maintain your own belief. You do not refute anything I wrote; yu just ignore it.

Paladin_ from Michigan, USA on September 04, 2016:

I'm glad someone mentioned Dr. McDougall, because his study is often cited in discussions about the soul. While there are plenty of websites, both pro and con, regarding this study, I think the most informative and accessible is the article on Snopes:


For those who don't wish to read the whole article, there is one paragraph that fairly succinctly sums up the problems with McDougall's study:


"...So, out of six tests, two had to be discarded, one showed an immediate drop in weight (and nothing more), two showed an immediate drop in weight which increased with the passage of time, and one showed an immediate drop in weight which reversed itself but later recurred. And even these results cannot be accepted at face value as the potential for experimental error was extremely high, especially since MacDougall and his colleagues often had difficulty in determining the precise moment of death, one of the key factors in their experiments..."


Obviously, much more study on this topic is necessary. Until then, I'll remain a skeptic with regard to the existence of a soul.

Frik Harmse from Vanderbijlpark on September 04, 2016:

I simply believe what the bible teaches viz. that man consists of three parts which is the body, soul and spirit.

(1Th 5:23) And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blamelessly at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

johnmariow on September 03, 2016:

First and foremost, this is an excellent educational essay. I enjoyed reading this essay and I learned from it. Thanks for creating this hub.

I wonder if you are familiar with Dr. Duncan MacDougall who conducted an unusual experiment in 1901. He found that the body lost 3/4 of an ounce upon death and credited it to the departure of the soul from the body.

I am a Christian. I believe in life after death. I believe the soul is real. Their are hundreds of stories about near death experiences wherein a person was clinically dead for several minutes or more and revealed information about deceased people that the person could not possibly have known.

In one case, the person told the doctor exactly what the doctor was doing while the person was clinically dead. The person could not have known this because from where the person lay, he could only see the doctor's back. The person claimed that he watched the doctor from the ceiling.

With all due respect; How can one explain this along with thousands of other near death experiences that have been documented?

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 03, 2016:

Austinstar: You are so right. I would love it if God was real and souls were real. But He isn't and they aren't. You can't prove a negative, so perhaps science can never prove that souls do not exist. However, believers can not prove that souls do exist. First person subjective experiences are not proof. This essay (and the book "The Soul Fallacy") shows why this type of evidence is unreliable and the experiences can be better explained using the scientific method. But you are right, no believer wants their beliefs challenged by fact.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on September 03, 2016:

Paladin: I never gave the soul much thought until I read a book that was recommended to me, "The Soul Fallacy," that I included in the hub. I thought the soul was just a metaphor. I was surprised to realize how many people think it is a real thing. So I tried to find out where the idea of a soul came from and why so many believe it.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 03, 2016:

Excellent hub! But now you are going to get the 'believers' weighing in on the so-called experiments that are PROOF of the soul leaving the body at the time of death by 'weighing dead bodies'. These experiments have actually NOT been proven or reproduced, but the believers will never understand that.

If someone BELIEVES in something, no amount of facts and figures and logical thinking will sway them. It's sad that they tend to believe in lies and conspiracy theories.

But why would a scientist NOT want to prove that a soul exists? Any scientist would love to prove a soul exists.

Paladin_ from Michigan, USA on September 03, 2016:

An interesting hub, Catherine! It appears you've done your research, though I must admit I don't know all that much about the subject. No doubt I'll have to read through the hub a few more times before I can offer any more significant commentary...

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