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Soul concepts

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Sociologists have studied the hundreds of human cultures and produced a catalog of their features. Trapped within a single social system, people assume that the arbitrary conventions of their society are "natural".....how else could it be? The science of sociology grew up in the excitement of revealing just how diverse the various modes of human social organization can be. However, within all the diversity that is possible between human societies, there are several dozen common features found in all human societies, as first compiled by George P. Murdock]. Many of these "universals" are derived from the common human struggle for survival which leads us all to seek to understand and control our existence.

One of these universal human memes is rituals for the control of weather. This is a great example of the persistence of memes even when they are totally useless in accomplishing their objective. In some sense, it is important for people to at least think about the possibility of controlling the weather.

Another universal meme is belief in some conceptualization of a soul. In some sense, humans have been designed to naturally imagine that they have a spiritual part that is beyond their physical existence. There are many variations on the basic concept of a soul. In some traditions, each individual human is linked into a unitary soul that pervades all of physical reality. In the dominant Western tradition of our society, each individual is imagined to have a personal soul. A popular "new age" soul concept adds the idea of reincarnation so that people can fantasize about past or future lives.

Many concepts of soul have their origins in pre-literate and pre-scientific history. They are linked to particular religions and tribes. An interesting exception to the universality of belief in non-physical souls has its origins in the scientific world view. Once you become aware of the arbitrary nature of traditional belief systems, how they are contradictory guesses, and once you begin to learn some details about physical reality, the great mysteries like weather begin to seem less mysterious. Is there a non-material spirit in the wind or just law-governed molecules? It becomes impossible to avoid the scientific hypothesis that the universal cultural element "soul" must have a material basis.

Of course, "good" scientific hypotheses have associated with them tools for investigating their validity. Where do we turn for a scientific investigation of the human soul? Francis Crick has outlined a scientific research program for investigation of the material basis of "soul" in terms of the functioning of the human brain.

Given the many views of "soul" that various people have, an important issue becomes: How can we all talk about this? Unfortunately most people refuse to talk about "soul" or refuse to talk in an adult manner. In the interests of promoting constructive interactions between different people who view "soul" in different ways, we should established a play ground where "soul" can be explored.

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