Friday, August 11, 2006

Do We Have a Soul?















Judaism teaches that man has a soul – a consciousness which exists independently of the physical body and brain. This belief has broad implications. It means that there is an afterlife and there are future lives – reincarnation. It means that reward and punishment follow death and therefore the righteous are always justly rewarded and the wicked cannot escape punishment in the grave. More than that, the human soul distinguishes man from the lower animals and from inanimate objects. We are not merely biochemical robots; bags full of water, proteins and nucleic acids. On the contrary, the body is merely a superficial shell. We possess a divine spark which God has breathed into us. This is our true essence.

However is there any scientific proof to support this concept?

Seemingly, yes, there clearly is.

What if we could switch off a person’s brain, wait a little while, switch it back on and then ask him if he was conscious during the time that his brain was not functioning? If a great many people answer in the affirmative, then seemingly this would prove the existence of the soul.

In fact, this has happened, and it has been documented thousands of times. It’s called a Near Death Experience and people whose brains have ceased functioning for 5 to 20 minutes upon being revived frequently recall being completely conscious during this period. Considering the fact that the existence of the soul is something we all feel intuitively anyway, this would seem to be ample confirmation of the soul’s actual existence.

16 comments:

Goatboy said...

Hows that?

Cameron said...

Judaism teaches that man has a soul – a consciousness which exists independently of the physical body and brain.

- If you say so.

This belief has broad implications.

- It certainly has some absurd implications.

It means that there is an afterlife and there are future lives – reincarnation.

- Unfortunately, neither of these actually follow from your premise. Even if I grant you the existence of some ineffable 'soul' something that somehow interacts with the physical universe despite being 'intangible', it does not follow that the sould lives on after death, or that reincarnation happens. All you have done is posit that there exists a soul, that it is eternal, and that we are reincarnated.

It means that reward and punishment follow death and therefore the righteous are always justly rewarded and the wicked cannot escape punishment in the grave.

- Again, even if we grant your premises (which I don't) it doesn't follow that because you have an eternal, renicarnating soul that the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished. Maybe the righteous become insects? The just come back as dogs, and the wicked get to be humans again? I also don't recall any biblical support for reincarnation. Strikes me as a new agey take on the matter.

More than that, the human soul distinguishes man from the lower animals and from inanimate objects. We are not merely biochemical robots; bags full of water, proteins and nucleic acids. On the contrary, the body is merely a superficial shell. We possess a divine spark which God has breathed into us. This is our true essence.

- One of my favourite jokes; Q: 'If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be'? A: "You already are an animal". The distinction between 'higher' and 'lower' animals isn't in the soul, it's in the cerebellum. But I see we have now added 'divine spark' to your list of invisible intangible things you believe that so far includes; 'eternal souls', 'afterlife', and 'God'. None of which you have the slightest shred of evidence for, physical or metaphysical. When William of Occam spoke about 'not multiplying entities needlessly' he was thinking about you.

However is there any scientific proof to support this concept?

- I'm always amused when you attempt to find scientific support for your beliefs - weren't you clear that you felt that scientists were merely 'technicians'? What could they possibly add in the way of evidence to your invisible notions, given that science explicitly rejects supernatural explanations?

Seemingly, yes, there clearly is.

- Actually no, there clearly isn't.

What if we could switch off a person’s brain, wait a little while, switch it back on and then ask him if he was conscious during the time that his brain was not functioning? If a great many people answer in the affirmative, then seemingly this would prove the existence of the soul.

- Piffle.

In fact, this has happened, and it has been documented thousands of times. It’s called a Near Death Experience and people whose brains have ceased functioning for 5 to 20 minutes upon being revived frequently recall being completely conscious during this period. Considering the fact that the existence of the soul is something we all feel intuitively anyway, this would seem to be ample confirmation of the soul’s actual existence.

- A. I don't feel my soul 'intuitively'. Given that you suggest 'we all do', your universal claim is hereby falsified.

B. I think its very reasonable to believe that NDE is in some cases an accurate reporting of what it feels like to 'die' (i.e have ones conciousness dissolve). Thinking gets fuzzy, vision diffused, thoughts become randomized, a brigh white light appears, etc. None of which isn't possible to explain with physical materialism. No 'soul' required.

Cameron

jewish philosopher said...

Cameron, welcome back.

That is indeed distressing that you don't feel intuitively that you have a soul; perhaps you actually don't, in which case I can't argue with you. Would I argue with an air conditioner or a refrigerator? Your brain chemistry is causing you to think whatever it is you think and that's that.

Avi said...

Jewish Non Philosopher.
If you are so sure that you have a soul I guess that you can tell me all about it. Where was your soul last night while you were sleeping? What was your soul doing and thinking at the time?

jewish philosopher said...

I know I have a liver. Do I know what it's doing every minute?

Avi said...

I know I have a liver. Do I know what it's doing every minute?

But your liver is not your soul. It cant think. I presume that your soul can think. If not please disregard this message

Jewish skeptic said...

>"We possess a divine spark which God has breathed into us. This is our true essence."

The idea of a soul is of Greek & maybe Persian origin.The Chazal borrowed it from them;as they did with many other ideas.
In the Tanach there is no mention of a soul;on the contrary,as I will show.
It's a mistranslation to translate Gen.2:7 "va'ipach b'apaf nishmat chayyim" as "He breathed into his nostrils a soul of life ".
The correct transltion is "He breathed into his nostrils a BREATH of life"
The word neshamah in biblcal Heb. always means BREATH. e.g when the Israelited were commanded to exterminate the 7 nations it says: "lo techayeh kol NESHAMAH"-you shall not live anyting with a BREATH(also the domestic animals were to be killed).
You as a frum Jew,I presume,davens every Shabbos "nishmas kol chai".
I think every Eng.trans.of the siddur will have it translated as "the BREATH of every living thing";& not the SOUL of etc.
Why don't you check it yourself.

In Sam.2:14, the wise woman tells King David:
"For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again".
So as you can see there is no soul& they didn't believe in an afterlife! We are like waters spilt which can't be gathered up again!!!
And Job 7:9:
"As the cloud fades and vanishes,
so those who go down to Sheol do not come up"
sheol=grave.
So you can see that according to the Bible there is no *soul* & no *afterlife*
Actually,the Rambam writes in his 'Igeret Tchiyyat Hametim' that people during the bible didn't believe in an afterlife.There are Eng. trans.of his work .why not read some of them,as you claim to be a "philosopher".

In my last comment on your blog quit a wile ago I wrote that I am disinclined to comment because you don't answer to the points,you are glib,smug & of no depth.
Let's see if you can do any better.
Suggestion:do some research before you answer.

jewish philosopher said...

Avi, apparently sometimes my soul isn't thinking, like when I'm asleep.

Jewish Skeptic, take a look at Samuel I 28:15 where Samuel appears to Saul long after Samuel's death. To the best of my knowledge, all pre-modern societies believed in an afterlife. The Bible does not discuss it at length because the topic of the Bible is how to serve God here and now.

Cameron said...

Cameron, welcome back.

- Good to be back

That is indeed distressing that you don't feel intuitively that you have a soul

- I'm sure it probably is. Just not for me. I certainly don't notice it's absence.

perhaps you actually don't, in which case I can't argue with you.

- Another sweet victory.

Would I argue with an air conditioner or a refrigerator?

- I don't know, would you? Why would you? Does the fact that I don't intuit the existence of my own soul mean you have run out of arguments for its existence?

Your brain chemistry is causing you to think whatever it is you think and that's that.

- More or less true, if inelegant in presentation.

Jewish skeptic said...

>"take a look at Samuel I 28:15 where Samuel appears to Saul long after Samuel's death."

That's because you read the Bible superficially & in English.
If you knew Hebrew well enough to read the Radak on the above passage,you would read him quoting the Gaon Shmuel Ben Chofni (lived over 1000yrs ago)& other Geonim who say that it was all a trick played by the witch.I don't say it the Geonim say it!

I see you haven't changed! You conveniently ignore my point on the word neshamah.
You are a great "philosopher" & "seeker of truth"!...

Avi said...

Jewish Non Philosopher.
The torah says that the soul of an animal is in the blood. Does an animal have a soul as humans do, or is it maybe just saying that the soul of an animal and the soul of a human being is the same.

jewish philosopher said...

Jewish Skeptic, even if the Radak considered Samuel to be an illusion, he certainly believed in the existence of the soul.


Avi, I think animals do have some sort of soul, however not on same level as a humans.

Anonymous said...

JP I think the Q was Whether the torah belives in a soul not radak by hthe way if you look in otzar hageonim in chagiga 14 you will see that most geonim argued and said this was a misreading of shemual

jewish philosopher said...

Actually I couldn't even find this in the Radak. The Talmud seems to clearly understand the incident as having been an authentic meeting with the ghost of Samuel, which seems to have been the intent of Bible's author.

David N. Friedman said...

In this case, JP, I believe you owe Jewish Skeptic a greater answer. I accept your translation of neshamah as "soul" but if the Jewish tradition clearly places such emphasis on our souls (and we did not merely absorb this belief from the Greeks as skeptics claim)--there must be greater evidence of it than what you have put forward. I will research this on my own and I have a question for you that I have had for many years.

Isn't it likely that the Greeks absorbed the concept of a soul from the Jews? Are there good academic sources that demonstrate that part of Greek wisdom was derived from the Jews?

jewish philosopher said...

To me that initial statement "The idea of a soul is of Greek & maybe Persian origin." seems absurd.

The Egyptians, who built massive pyramid tombs, didn't believe in a soul?

The Hindus, whose religion involves reincarnation, don't believe in a soul?

The Chinese, whose religion is based on ancestor worship, don't believe in a soul?

Is there solid documentary evidence of any society which did not believe in a soul before the establishment of the atheistic Soviet Union?

I believe that to the Biblical authors, the soul was so obvious it doesn't need to be emphasized. How often does the Bible talk about the brain, let's say?

This idea that "oh, the Jews got it from the Greeks" is just a cheap shot at Jewish tradition. There is no evidence.