The Emerging Soul
Published on April 25th, 2011 | by Harmonist staff4
In the last century, science has undergone several revolutions, with profound implications for answering this ancient spiritual question.
Traditionally, scientists speak of the soul in a materialistic context, treating it as a poetic synonym for the mind. Everything knowable about the “soul” can be learned by studying the functioning of the human brain. In their view, neuroscience is the only branch of scientific study relevant to one’s understanding of the soul. The soul is dismissed as an object of human belief, or reduced to a psychological concept that shapes our cognition and understanding of the observable natural world. The terms “life” and “death” are thus nothing more than the common concepts of “biological life” and “biological death.”
Of course, in most spiritual and religious traditions, a soul is viewed as emphatically more definitive than the scientific concept. It is considered the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing, and is said to be immortal and transcendent of material existence.
The current scientific paradigm doesn’t recognize this spiritual dimension of life. The animating principle in humans and other animals are the laws of physics. As I sit here in my office, surrounded by piles of scientific books and journal articles, I cannot find any reference to the soul or spirit, or any notion of an immaterial, eternal essence that occupies our being. Indeed, a soul has never been seen under an electron microscope, nor spun in the laboratory in a test tube or ultra-centrifuge. According to these books, nothing appears to survive the human body after death.
While neuroscience has made tremendous progress illuminating the functioning of the brain, why we have a subjective experience remains mysterious. The problem of the soul lies exactly here, in understanding the nature of the self, the “I” in existence that feels and lives life. But this isn’t just a problem for biology and cognitive science, but for the whole of Western natural philosophy itself.
What we have to understand is that our current worldview −- the world of objectivity and naïve realism — is beginning to show fatal cracks. Of course, this will not surprise many of the philosophers and other readers who, contemplating the works of men such as Plato, Socrates and Kant, and of Buddha and other great spiritual teachers, kept wondering about the relationship between the universe and the mind of man.
Recently, biocentrism and other scientific theories have also started to challenge the traditional, materialistic model of reality. In all directions, the old scientific paradigm leads to insoluble enigmas, to ideas that are ultimately irrational. But our worldview is catching up with the facts, and the old physico-chemical paradigm is rapidly being replaced with one that can address some of the core questions asked in every religion: Is there a soul? Does anything endure the ravages of time?
Life and consciousness are central to this new view of being, reality and the cosmos. Although the current scientific paradigm is based on the belief that the world has an objective observer-independent existence, real experiments have suggested just the opposite. We think life is just the activity of atoms and particles, which spin around for a while and then dissipate into nothingness like a dust funnel. But if we add life to the equation, we can explain some of the major puzzles of modern science, including Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the double-slit experiment, entanglement, and the fine-tuning of the laws that shape the universe as we perceive it.
Read the Entire Huffington Post article, here.
Lanza’s Book “Biocentrism” is definitely worth the read for anyone interested in recognizing the cultural scientific bias that inevitably colors everyone’s perspective born in the 20th century. As well, it expertly joins a vision of consciousness as transcendent to understanding from the “old physico-chemical paradigm” in a way that evolves the older paradigm rather than simply dismissing it. Lanza’s succinct historical and clear presentation showing how we arrived at the prevailing current scientific perspective creates a threshold for the truly inquisitive to seriously question the dominant material dogmatism.
One or two of Lanza’s earlier articles on Biocentrism have been featured on the Harmonist. With your recommendation, Tom, I have ordered the book.
Nice to see you here on the Harmonist.
This video by Keith Ward, a theologian, also addresses similar concerns.
A brief excerpt about the video:
Keith Ward: Misusing Darwin
Scientists sometimes complain about the introduction of religious ideas into science. But many scientists, especially evolutionary biologists, blatantly introduce materialism into science.In fact neither theism nor materialism are entailed by science. They are philosophical views, and materialism is one of them
The video touches subtle points on this topic. Some other comments that are from my friend on this topic, “Personally, I find the emergence claim hard to accept, since I don’t know how to think about reality independent of consciousness. Even when trying to imagine what it would be like without consciousness existing, I would still be using my consciousness. So consciousness seems to be something fundamental, and I find it incomprehensible how someone can use consciousness-dependent observations and theories to say that consciousness emerges out of matter. I don’t know if such a claim can ever be proven. I don’t know of any claim, observation, theory or thought that can be arrived at without using or relying on consciousness.”
Your friend makes the case for “preformative contradiction,” as it is known in philosophy: The denial of the self is irrational in the strongest sense because it involves claiming something that is at odds with the presuppositions or implications of the act of claiming it and is thus self-refuting (no pun intended). This is of course a basic premise of Vedanta.