Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Soul

What is the soul?

In various religious traditions, the soul is referred to as the immortal essence, the spirit, the “higher self”. The soul is generally considered to be “immaterial”, meaning not made of matter but in some way supernatural, existing on a higher plane.

These religious interpretations of the concept of the soul can now be answered by science. The immortal essence of humanity is DNA, RNA, and other genetic material that achieves immortality by copying itself through successive generations.

The soul is therefore NOT immaterial. The ancients recognized that our bodies were just “envelopes for the soul”, but lacked the science to identify the substance of the soul itself. Their stories were naïve interpretations of a genuine natural phenomenon.

Part of what this blog wants to argue is that it is all too easy to dismiss the naïve interpretations of the ancients as ignorance, and to miss the deeper truths they tried to express.

Medieval paintings of winged souls departing the body for the great beyond may seem like pure fantasy, but they symbolized something of enormous importance for humanity. Even after our mortal remains have scattered to dust, there is a part of us that lives on - a part of us that is a record of our own experience, and a record of the uncounted generations before us who left us the legacy of their genetic material.

Mention made in the classics of the “World Soul”, or the “Soul of Humanity”, are inklings of an understanding that in vital ways we share our soul with our fellow human beings.

In fact, since all life is on a journey towards immortality, we share a soul not just with those creatures whose DNA is very close to our own. We share a soul with all species who use DNA to overcome time.

When the ancients write of “Spirit”, I think of that common spirit shared by all living things – the desire to persist through time and to overcome mortality and decay.

When current religious traditions speak of how the body is a mere envelope for the soul, and the soul is a mere envelope for the spirit, I understand what they are saying better than they do themselves. The body is just an envelope for DNA, and DNA is just an envelope for the mainspring of life – the desire to defeat and overcome time itself.

No comments: