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Science of the soul

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There are four questions of value in life... What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love. -- Johnny Depp

Can there be a scientific study of the human soul? (Soul blog)

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Science of the SoulEdit

Such a science would be concerned with scientific investigation of the universal human cultural feature of belief in a soul. There are many websites (for example[1][2][3][4][5]) and published books dealing with the idea that there can be a science of the soul. These various approaches to a science of the soul range from that of Francis Crick (very materialistic[6]) to many New Age speculations about how non-material spirit links through a soul to our material bodies.

Science, Pseudoscience, Protoscience?Edit

Two conventional positions within modern Western culture have dominated attitudes about the soul. According to one view, souls clearly exist and the idea that science could have anything to say about souls seems absurd. According to the other major perspective, souls clearly do not exist and it would be a waste of time to attempt a scientific study of the soul. One minority view suggests that there has long been available objective evidence of the soul, but that the "scientific establishment" will not admit the facts because they do not fit into conventional materialistic thinking. It is also possible that some scientists would like to work within a science of the soul, but they fear being rejected by their scientific peers.

Probably the most prominent recent attempt by a group of trained scientists to develop a scientific study of the soul comes from the efforts of quantum physicists. Some proposals have been advanced by which unconventional physical processes might account for the existence of conscious beings beyond the domain of conventional material objects. At best, such efforts are protoscience, with their advocates struggling to gain recognition from their peers to the effect that they are actually doing science. A harsher view is that such attempts to develop a physical account of the soul should be classified as being pseudoscience.

However, one aspect of the science of the soul seems to have been clearly established within the bounds of conventional science. Francis Crick's book The Astonishing Hypothesis has the subtitle, "The scientific search for the soul". Crick holds the position that one can learn everything knowable about the human soul by studying the workings of the human brain. In his book, Consilience, E. O. Wilson took note of the fact that sociology has identified belief in a soul as one of the universal human cultural elements. Wilson suggested that biologists need to seriously investigate how human genes predispose people to believe in a soul. Daniel Dennett has championed the idea that the human survival strategy is heavily dependent on adoption of the intentional stance, a behavioral strategy that predicts the actions of others based on the expectation that they have a mind like one's own (see theory of mind). This behavioral strategy is probably facilitated by mirror neurons in brain regions such as Broca's area. The intentional stance is so successful that people tend to apply it to all aspects of human experience leading to animism and other conceptualizations of soul. Thus, we can clearly begin a scientific investigation of the soul by studying how it is that our genes predispose us to belief in a soul.

Multidisciplinary studiesEdit

This Science of the Soul Wiki should be fundamentally multidisciplinary and it would be desirable to invite many others from outside to join in the development of this wiki and share their perspectives. Since science as a human enterprise and investigation of the soul have often diverged, it will be important restrict material at this proposed wiki to efforts that have a real connection to science. Much of the material in this proposed wiki is expected to be speculative, but the wiki's rules for article style should force participants to try to frame all discussion in the language of science. Speculations about the nature of the soul will need to be expressed in terms of hypotheses and the goal of finding objective methods to test those hypotheses. h

List of multidisciplinary approaches to soul scienceEdit

  • Lyricus - The Wingmakers and Lyricus Teaching Order approach to the soul.

Biology of BeliefEdit

One of the areas of science that is mentioned in the Wingmakers material as being important for scientific understanding of the soul is the study of cultural evolution. Just as the study of genes has become central to biology, memes (cultural units of inheritance) are central to the study of culture. Beliefs are memes and we can describe beliefs as being formed by neuronal networks in brains. Complex human behaviors such as belief in a non-material soul may be shaped by the human genome.

Philosopher Dan Dennett has popularized the idea that humans make use of "the intentional stance" as a key component of the human survival strategy. Evolutionary psychologists have introduced the related term "theory of mind" to describe the fact that for some species of animals each individual seems to have an innate ability to respond to other individuals by making the assumption that other individuals have their own mind and share similar thoughts, emotions and sensory perceptions. There is currently a lot of experimental work being done to determine which species are able to constructively shape their social behavior by making correct assumptions about what other members of their social group are likely to know at any given time.

The intentional stance is such a successful behavioral strategy that people tend to automatically apply it all the time. In many situations we even try to understand and interact with inanimate objects as if they have a human-like mind. As our scientific understanding of the natural world has grown, we have been able to increasingly account for many processes in nature by making use of the "physical stance". We can come to identify sets of mechanical rules which govern many natural processes.

In the past few decades it has become possible to ask if purely physical processes can account for human thought, beliefs, consciousness and what people in all human cultures have conceptualized as the human soul. Some neurobiologists have suggested that we can account for human beliefs about the soul in terms of conventional physical processes that take place in our brains. A path of discovery that is open to us is by way of biology and our increasing understanding of how the brain allows us to have the beliefs that we have. Our innate use of the intentional stance is fundamental to the kinds of beliefs we tend to have.

To what extent does the intentional stance shape human beliefs about the nature of the soul? The ability of the human brain to adopt the intentional stance makes it natural for people to imagine spirit or mind in all parts of the world we find ourselves in. Since the physical basis of most complex and interesting phenomena are not easily accessible to our senses, it is easy for us to imagine that there are non-physical spirits or minds or souls that make things happen in the world.

If this view is correct, then we have to expect a natural progression of change in human thinking about why things happen in the world. Our species evolved under conditions of ignorance about physical processes, conditions that have favored the idea that non-material spirits are dominant. As hard-won scientific knowledge about the physical world has accumulated, the number of processes that might require the intervention of spirit has decreased and it has been possible to assume that purely mechanical forces account for what happens in many situations. 100 years ago there was much debate about what Life is. Vitalists were sure that physical objects such as dead molecules could never account for Life. However, biochemists were able to discover the special molecules that make life possible and now we have an excellent physical account of the difference between living things and non-living things in terms of molecular and cellular processes. Neurobiologists are now asking if our beliefs about the nature of the soul can all be accounted for by the activity of neuronal networks in our brains.

Neo-sciencesEdit

As an example of a topic that would require speculation, the Lyricus website mentions "neo-sciences". It is expected that there will be additional information about the nature of "neo-sciences" in the future at the Lyricus website, but for now the Wingmakers community must speculate. One idea is that neo-sciences center on efforts such as the field of quantum consciousness and the study of interactions between consciousness, spirit and matter.

Historical perspectiveEdit

A portion of the wiki should provide an historical perspective from Aristotle [7] to Blavatsky[8] and on in to the 20th century approaches towards a science of the soul that have been suggested by workers in specialized fields such as physics, computer science, and neurobiology.

Spirit and Soul WebringsEdit

Circle of Soul WebRingEdit

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The Circle of Soul WebRing is a community of spiritually based websites that knows no restrictions or biases - the website must only be dedicated to esoteric matters, whether they be religious, New Age, poetry, inspirational writing or any other site with Soul.

Soul WebringEdit

Websites in any way- truth / expression / writing / art / music / &/or soul-related. What is soul? Inpenetrable, unique, perfect - sometimes illusive, always teaching us along this journey called life.

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Suggest additional webringsEdit

There are many webrings dealing with spirituality. If you know of any that would be suitable for this website, list them here:

  • Multi-Dimensional Science Project would probably be of interest. Comments always welcome to my email address dharao4@yahoo.co.uk. Robert Searle is the contact name, and originator of MDS.
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