Our planet, Earth, (and possibly the universe) may be divided into the living (organisms) and the non-living (inanimate objects). Living organisms are normally characterized by their ability to reproduce and grow. The Latin word for ‘soul’ is anima from which we obtain the English word ‘animal,’ meaning, roughly, any living organism that can move around: vegetation is usually excluded mainly because trees, plants, and grass cannot move around and presumably have no feelings. The soul is our self, our consciousness, or what we refer to when we say “I.”
This article deals mainly with the question of whether there is enough scientific or empirical (data-based) evidence that the soul exists and is indeed a separate entity from the body, or whether it is only a figment of our imagination: that is, whether the soul can still exist on its own after it is presumably separated from the body at death, say, and whether it is incorruptible and immortal as Christianity (as well as several other religions) contends.
Mind versus Brain
What this question boils down to is whether we can differentiate between the mind and the brain. The brain is simply that chunk of matter at the top of our head, but what it can do (the mind) is a totally different kettle of fish. For simplicity, I usually compare the brain and the mind to a computer (the hardware—the machine) and its program (the software), respectively.
Without an executable program, a computer just sits there: it’s simply ‘dead’; but once an executable program is installed, it comes to ‘life.’ It’s no wonder, therefore, that previous generations couldn’t figure out what the soul is all about: they had no computers. But they somehow knew there was something special and wonderful they could not quite put their finger on in the soul: the same way they figured out there was something invisible in the air, simply because they could feel the wind.
So, we may confidently conclude that the mind is the software program for the brain while the soul is the software program for the entire body. Consequently, it seems foolish to deny the existence of the soul; just as it is ludicrous to say that software does not exist in a working computer.
Now, there is something strange about software; it’s intangible. Moreover, a software program cannot do anything on its own: it needs a computer (a machine) to be able to do anything; and vice versa, a computer cannot do anything by itself without a program. Still, a software program can be separated from a computer on a disk, say, or it can perform the same job if it ’s reformatted and installed in a different type of computer. Can the soul be likewise separated from the body and ‘reformatted’ for a different type of ‘body’?
The computer program controlling our body is in practically every cell of our body; roughly speaking, it consists of twenty-three (23) twin pairs of chromosomes of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) inside the nucleus plus the mitochondrial DNA. There is no doubt this program can be written down on paper in terms of its four nucleotide bases (its ‘letters’) and stored on a disk: that’s what the human genome project actually did.
Still, it is not enough to write down the human genome on paper or save it on disk to be able to say that the soul ‘exists’; the crucial question is: can it take an existence of its own when separated from the human body? Is there any tangible evidence for the separate existence of the soul? Does it survive after a human dies? Moreover, is it (unlike the body) immortal and incorruptible?
One thing we know about computers is that if the machine is changed to another type, the format of the software must also be changed, to jibe with the new machine, in order to produce the same outcome. Does the soul take on a new ‘body’ after death—a ‘spiritual body,’ so to speak? But what exactly is a ‘spirit’? Christians believe that angels (and demons) are spirits: they are intelligent and presumably immortal and incorruptible. But what does their ‘body’ consist of? This is a question this article tries to answer.
God, presumably, resurrected Jesus from the dead: what kind of body does Jesus have in heaven? Christians believe they shall all be resurrected like Jesus: that Jesus was only the firstfruits of their universal resurrection. In one of his authentic letters, First Corinthians, Paul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul) writes,
“But now is Christ [Jesus] risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them [Christians] that slept [died].” (First Corinthians, 15:20, KJV)
Incidentally, one must admit it’s hard to imagine the total destruction of software, at least in the author’s mind: especially if the author is God. Conceivably, the author can always re-write it once it has been conceived; as mentioned above, it can also be modified to do the same job on a different kind of machine: a temporary ‘spiritual body’ or a finally-resurrected body.
According to Wikipedia,
“Following [philosopher] Aristotle … and [polymath] Avicenna, [Christian theologian] Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) understood the soul to be the first actuality [primary mover] of the living body. Consequent to this, he distinguished three orders of life: plants, which feed and grow; animals, which add sensation to the operations of plants; and humans, which add intellect to the operations of animals. … Moreover, he believed in a unique and tripartite [human] soul, within which are distinctively present a nutritive, a sensitive and intellectual soul. The latter is created by God and is taken solely by human beings, includes the other two types of soul and makes the sensitive soul incorruptible.” (Wikipedia: “Soul,” accessed June 18, 2021)
In other words, Aquinas believed a human possesses a nutritive soul in the zygotic and embryonic stage, a sensitive soul in the fetal stage (after about three months from conception), and an intellectual soul in its toddlerhood (after about three years from birth): from then on the intellectual soul takes over. According to Aquinas, this intellectual soul is incorruptible and consequently immortal. Indeed, until just over a couple of centuries ago, black people and women were believed to have no soul, presumably because they were not as ‘intelligent’ (well-educated) as white men; and therefore they were denied voting rights. Of course this was because of the fact that they were not given any opportunity to educate themselves.
Now, at the other end of the Christian spectrum, it is somewhat distressing that Jehovah’s Witnesses accuse all Christians of corrupting the purity of the Bible by adopting pagan philosophies. In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s?, they write,
“Christendom has proved to be a false friend of the Bible. … Bible truth was corrupted by Greek philosophy, and many mistakenly came to accept pagan doctrines as Bible truth.” (pp. 25, 27)
It’s interesting to note that although Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the same Bible as the Protestants, they deny the existence of the soul—let alone its immortality. I am mentioning their belief only to bring to light the major differences of opinion in interpreting biblical texts—even among Bible inerrantists; begging the question: what should one believe? In their book Is There a Creator Who Cares About You?, they write,
“During the fifth creative ‘day,’ the Creator proceeded to fill the oceans and the atmospheric heavens with a new form of life—‘living souls’—distinct from vegetation. … The Hebrew word [nephesh] translated ‘soul’ means ‘a breather.’” (p. 97)
The Hebrew original text does indeed use the word nephesh, meaning ‘breather’ in Genesis 1:20. Of course, one might argue that fish cannot breathe air like other animals under water. We now know, however, that fish are also creatures that ‘breathe’: they can extract the oxygen dissolved in water through special organs called gills. But how did the biblical author, with his primitive scientific knowledge, know that fish ‘breathe’? Was Genesis’s author inspired what to write directly by God himself? At first blush, that is what it seems like. However, we also know that vegetation does, in fact, ‘breathe’ in carbon-dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night; so, technically (i.e., according to the above definition), they should be called ‘breathers’ or ‘souls’ too. Yet clearly, Genesis’s author excluded vegetation from among the ‘breathers’ (as Jehovah’s Witnesses confirm above): which doesn’t say much for ‘divine inspiration.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny not only the existence of an immortal soul that survives apart from a dead person’s body but also the possibility of its suffering or its happiness. In their book Is There a Creator Who Cares About You?, they write,
“Christendom … [teaches] that humans have an immortal soul that survives the body. This ‘soul’ is said to be involved in suffering—either in a present life or in an afterlife. Such ideas are widespread, but what proof is there that they are valid? On important matters like this, is it not wiser to be guided by what our Creator says?” (p. 167)
Jehovah’s Witnesses are, of course, referring to the Bible as God’s ‘Word,’ here. However, in my book Is the Bible Infallible?, I show, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Bible is very often inaccurate and even wrong.
Moreover, Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to overlook their own translation of another one of Paul’s authentic letters, First Thessalonians, where he writes,
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may the spirit [pneuma] and soul [psuke] and body [soma] of you brothers, sound in every respect, be preserved blameless at [for] the presence [second coming] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (First Thessalonians, 5:23, NWT)
Furthermore, there are also other biblical verses in the New Testament, where the Greek word for ‘soul,’ (psuke—the equivalent of the Hebrew word nephesh), is mentioned in reference to disembodied martyrs (e.g., Revelation 6:9, 20:4)—not to mention several other instances where the word ‘psuke’ is used for ‘soul.’
There are many philosophical (and religious) definitions of the soul, but I define it simply as the ‘principle of life’: it is the quality that distinguishes a living human from a corpse (or an animal from a carcass).
Most scientists contend that our consciousness (or self-awareness) is a figment of our imagination. For example, in his essay “The Soul of the Matter,” philosopher Charles Taliaferro summarizes Daniel Dennett’s philosophy as follows:
“Dennett’s case against subjective states of awareness is … radical …. Dennett takes particular aim at our apparent awareness of ourselves as subjects. … Dennett thinks there is nothing physical in the brain or the body as a whole that can play the role of such a substantial, individual subject.” (p. 31)
Indeed, in his book Consciousness Explained, philosopher Daniel Dennett, quite appropriately, writes,
“The trouble with brains is that when you look in them, you discover that there’s nobody home.” (p. 29)
I have to agree with Dennett: there is no ‘little person’ inside our brain. However, I do believe that there is a connection, a ‘supernatural’ (in the sense of ‘above’ the natural) ‘hardwiring,’ between the brain’s physical states and the living organism as a whole entity. Matter is intrinsically dead, and it is this ‘supernatural’ hardwiring that gives it life (see the section on the universal wave function below). It is similar to telling the computer of a complex mechanical system which relay is number one relay, which proximity sensor is number three sensor, which pneumatic cylinder is number seven cylinder, and so on.
In his book The Self Illusion, developmental psychologist Bruce Hood writes,
“Philosopher Derek Parfit uses [certain] types of scenarios to challenge the reality of the self. He asks us to imagine replacing a person cell by cell, so that the original person no longer contains any of the physical material before the process started. (Parfit, Reason and Persons) … Using this logic, Parfit dismisses the notion of an essential self in the first place.” (pp. 112–13)
So, according to Hood and Parfit, regarding anything you remember from your childhood, that wasn’t you: because there probably aren’t any cells left in you from your childhood. Your maternal fertilized egg has probably died and been replaced by now; your original identity (the self) must have changed, or perhaps better, he contends, it never even existed: it’s just an illusion. Nonsense, of course!
According to Wikipedia,
“Many modern scientists, such as [cognitive scientist] Julien Musolino, hold that the mind is merely a complex machine that operates on the same physical laws as all other objects in the universe. According to Musolino, there is currently no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the existence of the soul and there is considerable evidence that seems to indicate that souls do not exist.”
However, in his book The Taboo of Subjectivity, author of books that discuss Eastern and Western scientific, philosophical, and contemplative modes of inquiry, Bruce Alan Wallace, writes,
“Mainstream neuroscience … insists that individual consciousness vanishes with the death of the body. However, given its ignorance of the origins and nature of consciousness and its inability to detect the presence or absence of consciousness in any organism, living or dead, neuroscience does not seem to be in a position to back up that conviction with empirical scientific evidence.” (p. 5)
In other words, Wallace is saying here (and many scientists agree) that mainstream neuroscience has no clue as to what consciousness is all about. Mainstream science downplays consciousness: explaining it away as the direct result of complexity: culminating in an illusion of self. In actual fact, current empirical (data-based) evidence from near death experiences (NDEs—see corresponding section below) seems to support the opposite view: namely, that consciousness can still have an existence separate from the body while clinically dead. In short, neuroscience has no solid argument in declaring that consciousness ceases to exist at the organism’s death.
Indeed, in his book God and the Folly of Faith, also particle physicist, philosopher, and self-declared atheist Victor Stenger graciously admits,
“The one major area where we do not yet have a plausible physical model that satisfies a consensus of experts in the field is the question of the nature of consciousness.” (p. 44)
I can’t say that I agree with Stenger that everything in our universe can be explained physically, but it’s worth noting the exception he makes.
Incidentally, scientifically it’s doubtful whether the human soul can suffer mental anguish (not to mention physical pain) without a brain, but people who had near-death experiences seem to indicate that our consciousness can, somehow, have such experiences. Moreover, Christians believe that angels and demons are presumably pure spirits (immortal and incorruptible), yet it seems they can be happy in God’s presence or suffer from lack of it. I must admit this is not easy to grasp: there must be some very basic concept we are still unaware of. (Something quite revolutionary like, for example, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s formula E = mc2—i,e., that mass ‘m’ is another form of energy ‘E.’)
Mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank Tipler proposes, in his book The Physics of Christianity, that Jesus’s body turned completely into neutrinos and antineutrinos (see annexed note) after his resurrection. (pp. 496, 649 of 714) Could Tipler, be right despite particle physicist and philosopher Victor Stenger’s vehement disagreement in his book God and the Folly of Faith? (p. 244)
Note: Neutrinos and antineutrinos are very small (a millionth of the size of an electron) neutral (uncharged) particles; they hardly interact with any kind of matter—they can pass through the whole globe (Earth) without colliding anywhere: they are therefore invisible and can pass through matter very easily.
Do spirits have neutrino bodies? I must confess I do not have the answer to this question yet. But to be able to suffer (including mental anguish) or to be happy, in my opinion, a ‘spirit’ needs some kind of ‘spiritual body’ (or, at least, a ‘spiritual brain’).
In his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, philosopher Alex Rosenberg assures the reader that matter is simply atoms: there is no such thing, he contends, as atoms that can convey other ideas, such as concepts, memories, or thoughts: it’s all just an illusion; he writes,
“Physics has ruled out the existence of clumps of matter of the required sort [i.e., conveying thoughts, etc.]. There are just fermions [e.g., electrons, protons, neutrons & neutrinos] and bosons [e.g., photons] and combinations of them. None of that stuff is just, all by itself, about any other stuff. There is nothing in the whole universe—including, of course, all the neurons [see annexed note] in your brain—that just by its nature or composition can do the job of being about some other clump of matter. So when consciousness assures us that we have thoughts about stuff, it has to be wrong. Therefore, consciousness cannot retrieve thoughts about stuff. There are none to retrieve. So it can’t have thoughts about stuff either.” (p. 179, emphasis in original)
Note: Neurons (or nerve cells) are cells that can be stimulated electrically by means of ions (electrically charged chemicals); thereby, they process and subsequently transmit information to other cells through these electrical signals. (Wikipedia: “Neuron,” accessed June 23, 2021)
I suggest the reader’s not taking Rosenberg’s above quote too seriously; its author obviously cannot understand how inanimate matter, a complex aggregate of simple atoms, can possibly generate thoughts or retrieve memories in human beings—and neither can I, but we know it does. So, for its author, ideas, thoughts, and memories cannot exist—problem solved! However, we know that a living human being can generate thoughts, while a human being that has just died irreversibly, presumably, cannot. They have the same collection of cells; yet one can take care of itself, one might loosely say, indefinitely, while the other is doomed to constant decay. So, what is the difference between them? The soul! The soul is the principle of life.
According to Newton’s laws of motion, if we know accurately and completely the initial states (mass, position, velocity, direction, acceleration, temperature, impact-restitution factor, frictional coefficient, etc.) of two particles that interact (collide) with each other, we can predict their final states. Conversely, if we know their final states, we can tell what their previous states were. This also holds true for a system of particles, that is, ‘bodies,’ if we are able to know accurately and completely the state of every particle constituting the body.
If, for a moment, we forget about our inability to know the state of every particle accurately and completely, whatever those states might be, it follows, from the above reasoning, that the current state of any body is completely determined by its prior state, and that prior state is completely determined by an even more prior state, and so on and on. It follows that any physical system, including our bodies and our brains, is completely determined by what occurred before; in other words, according to the laws of classical physics, we have no free will: Newton’s laws are completely deterministic. This scientific conclusion, one must admit, is quite a formidable one. And this is exactly what Rosenberg proposes in his same book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. (pp. 236–37)
It so happens, however, that, in fact, the laws of physics are not as deterministic as described by Rosenberg above. When we speak of an electron orbiting a nucleus, initially we imagine it orbiting in a two-dimensional circle or mild ellipse, perhaps, like the moon or a satellite orbits the earth, or like the planets orbit the sun. But then, when you think about it, why should the electron settle in one plane; why shouldn’t it move in a sphere all-around the nucleus? So all we can say is that the electron of every atom settles in some three-dimensional distance from the nucleus (in a spherical shell); at any instant of time, we cannot tell exactly where it is: we can only talk about its probability of its being in a certain location. Not only that, but even the distance of the electron from the nucleus is not defined precisely, it can deviate a little in a mild elliptical manner. One can plot a bell-shaped statistical distribution of the distance of the electron from the nucleus; it will be a very narrow distribution, but still we can only talk about the probability of an electron being a certain distance from the nucleus; therefore, we can only think of an electron as a negatively charged cloud when it is inside an atom—albeit the electron is definitely a particle.
Changing gears, the reader probably knows that red light does not affect a photographic film in a developer’s ‘dark room,’ no matter how intense the red light might be, or for how long it shines onto the film. Blue, green, or perhaps yellow light is required to produce (or spoil) an image on the film; their higher frequency enables them to produce an image: the higher the frequency the higher the energy of a light train, termed photon. Although light consists of waves, it travels in discrete ‘packets’ of energy termed quanta (singular quantum—hence quantum physics). The energy of a light quantum is given by the equation E = hf, where ‘h’ is a very small fixed number, known as Planck’s constant, and ‘f’ is its light frequency. Although there are many observations indicating that light consists of waves, at times it also behaves as particles—normally called photons. Unless these photons have a certain threshold (size) of energy, they will not produce any effect: the cumulative aspect of waves wearing off a cliff gradually (through numbers) does not kick in. The red light in a photographic dark room is such an example.
It is beyond the scope of this article, but it can also be proved, experimentally, that matter, particularly electrons and light, can behave both like particles and like waves under different circumstances. (Attard, Is God a Reality?, pp. 261–64)
The theory of determinism originated from the behavior of particles alone; we don’t even know if electrons and light are going to behave as particles or as waves at any given time: we can only talk about probabilities. So, by its very nature and at its very foundation, physics is probabilistic. Now, if you think about it, probability and chance cannot co-exist with determinism. The behavior of matter and energy at the subatomic scale is termed quantum physics or quantum mechanics.
Now, according to Wikipedia,
“Physicist Sean M. Carroll has written that the idea of a soul is incompatible with quantum field theory (QFT) [i.e., quantum physics]. He writes that for a soul to exist: ‘Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there can’t be a new collection of “spirit particles” and “spirit forces” that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments.’ (Carrol, accessed October 11, 2014) Some theorists have invoked quantum indeterminism as an explanatory mechanism for possible soul/brain interaction, but neuroscientist Peter Clarke found errors with this viewpoint, noting there is no evidence that such processes play a role in brain function; Clarke concluded that a Cartesian [as upheld by René Descartes] soul has no basis from quantum physics (Clarke, p. 84).” (Wikipedia: “Soul,” accessed June 19, 2021,)
However, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard totally disagrees with them. In his book The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul, he writes,
“[The] area of physics, [known as] quantum physics, is the study of the behavior of matter and energy at the subatomic level of our universe. Briefly, the synapses, the spaces between the neurons of the brain, conduct signals using parts of atoms called ions [charged particles]. The ions function according to the rules of quantum physics, not of classical physics. What difference does it make if quantum physics governs the brain? Well, one thing we can dispose of right away is determinism, the idea that everything in the universe has been or can be predetermined.” (p. 32)
There you have it: our brains function at the subatomic level and therefore obey the laws of quantum physics, not of classical physics. In other words, our brains act freely: their behavior is not predetermined. Our every-day experience confirms this: we are free to do what we want, plan for the future, or change our mind in between.
In his book The Universe in a Nutshell, possibly the greatest theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking goes so far as to write the following regarding Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle—a direct result of quantum physics uncertainty.
“We cannot even suppose that [a] particle has a position and velocity that are known to God but are hidden to us. … Even God is bound by the uncertainty principle and cannot know [both] the position and velocity [simultaneously]; He can only know the wave function [probability].” (p. 107)
It is this uncertainty principle which is the basis of our free will: otherwise everything would be predetermined. God constructed our world in such a manner that we can have free will. So, I contend that God does not really know the future, especially where we are concerned. One cannot have it both ways, either we are completely free to do what we like or God knows everyone’s future (implying predestination): I opt for the former.
Recall that, according to mainstream scientists the mind/soul is just a machine—a complex computer—that develops consciousness as a consequence of its complexity. So, let us examine some properties of computers and compare them with our experience of ourselves.
The Chinese room is a thought experiment originally conceived by philosopher John Searle. In this thought experiment, he assumes the existence of a computer program that can pass the Turing test in the Chinese language: that is, it can carry on an intelligent, or rather a human-like, conversation in Chinese. He then supposes that an English-speaking person, who knows no Chinese at all, either written or spoken, is locked in a room with a manual containing a set of instructions corresponding to the operations of the above computer program—but written in plain English. These instructions enable an English-speaking person to correlate one set of formal symbols (Chinese characters constituting the ‘question,’ so to speak) with another set of formal symbols (different Chinese characters constituting the ‘answer,’ so to speak). Consequently, if pieces of paper written in Chinese are slipped under the door, by hand-simulating the above program, the English-speaking person can carry on an ‘intelligent’ conversation in Chinese without understanding a single word! The process will, admittedly, be very lengthy and much slower than that of a computer; but nevertheless, conceivably at least, he can. Therefore, Searle concludes that, if there were such a program that allows a computer to carry on an intelligent conversation in any given language, the computer executing the program would not understand the conversation either. (Wikipedia, “Chinese Room,” accessed June 21, 2021)
Now, in all fairness, it is worth noting here that Tipler, in his book The Physics of Immortality, denies the possibility of hand-simulating a computer that passes the Turing test:
“A human being could no more hand-simulate a program that could pass the Turing Test than she could jump to the Moon.” (p. 39) And again a bit later, he insists,
“As I said, a man can no more hand-simulate a Turing Test-passing program than he can jump to the Moon. In fact it is far more difficult.” (p.40)
He also gives mathematical calculations to this effect because he believes that if a computer passes the Turing test, it becomes a ‘person.’ I, for one, disagree with him and so does Searle: I still think that if a non-Chinese-speaking person in a closed room is given a manual corresponding to the program, one (or a dozen non-Chinese-speaking people, say) can hand-simulate a sophisticated program without understanding any Chinese. In any case, I won’t go into the assumptions and calculations because it’s outside the scope of this article; let’s stick to the concept here, and suppose for a moment that it is possible. I only wanted to point out, for the sake of fairness, that a scientist, Tipler, thinks that hand-simulating a computer that passes the Turing test is physically impossible: just keep that in mind.
One of the things I realized since my youth, is that machines can do things much better and much faster than the people who invented them: a car runs much faster than a human can; a crane can lift loads much heavier than a human can; a sewing or weaving machine can do the job much faster and much better than a woman can; and so on. So, is there anything that makes us, their creators, ‘better’ than machines? We have creative powers, and they possibly cannot carry out an intelligent conversation, that’s true; machines don’t have that … yet; but we don’t know what will happen in the future! Truly we are an efficient package; but our own machines seem to be outrunning us—by far.
I was told, while still in my youth, that we have ‘intelligence,’ which machines don’t have. But then this last statement has always baffled me. A ten-dollar ($10.00) calculator can do calculations much better and much faster than I can, even though I have a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics: and I surmise that puts me, mathematically, in the top ten-percentile (10%) of humanity. So how intelligent does a machine have to be before it is considered human? Talking about intelligence, chess is a game of both intelligence and strategy: nobody can deny that; I’m a very good chess player, I’m not a master, but I pride myself on being able to play a good game of chess; again I surmise I’m in the top ten-percentile (10%) of humanity in my ability to play a good game of chess. Yet, I can hardly beat my computer program without taking some moves back. I don’t have the least doubt that I could mistake my computer program for a human being if I gave it a ‘Turing test’ in chess, rather than in English. So exactly how ‘intelligent’ does a machine have to be before we consider it human? So for a while, until the recent past, I leaned towards scientists like Tipler who believe that machines can eventually be considered persons. However, deep down, I somehow felt something was wrong in my way of thinking. I think I resolved the puzzle only lately during my research, when I came across the Chinese room thought experiment and realized that, as Tipler himself points out in his book The Physics of Immortality,
“Searle’s central point in the Chinese Room Experiment is ‘A computer has syntax, but no semantics.’ (Searle, p. 33) That is, all the program does is manipulate symbols according to certain formal rules (syntax). It has no understanding of what the symbols mean (semantics). True enough, symbol manipulation per se gives no understanding. … The meaning in the symbols comes from how the symbols in the program are connected through the computer hardware to the environment, not from the manipulation of the symbols themselves.” (p. 42, emphasis in original)
Manipulations are carried out depending on the exact position (first, second, third, etc. location) in a line, or string, of characters. That’s not intelligence; that’s a mechanistic process: typical of a machine. The machine does not understand anything it is doing—it’s not aware of what it’s doing!
We have already talked a little about consciousness (or self-awareness) above: it’s an awareness of oneself; computers are not conscious of themselves or of anything around them. However, nowadays, some scientists (including Tipler) think that, as a system becomes more and more complex, somehow, it automatically develops consciousness: somewhat like a pattern emerges from the natural arrangement of a large number of basic entities. I do believe that, to some extent, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: that a whole system can accomplish feats that the individual (separate) parts cannot. Every good chess player knows that one must play the whole board and coordinate all of one’s pieces together (rather than use them one at a time) to beat the opponent. So the above claim is not entirely without merit.
A computational model, such as a weather-forecasting model, contains numerous variables that characterize the system being modeled; it uses mathematics, physics, and computer science to study the behavior of complex systems by computer simulation. Because of such a system’s many connections to the outside world, some scientists nowadays think that, somehow, it becomes conscious automatically. The computational theory of mind holds that the mind is a computation that arises from the brain acting as a computing machine: that is, the brain is a computer and the mind is the result of the program that the brain runs. In his book Consciousness and Language, philosopher John Searle writes the following concerning consciousness emerging from complexity or computation:
“Computational models of consciousness are not sufficient by themselves for consciousness. The computational model for consciousness stands to consciousness the same way the computational model of anything stands to the domain being modeled. Nobody supposes that the computational model of rainstorms in London will leave us all wet. But they make the same mistake of supposing that the computational model of consciousness is somehow conscious.” (Searle, “The Problem of Consciousness” p. 16)
Consciousness and understanding are what, I believe, makes us ‘superior’ to the machines we create; and this is not just wishful thinking on my part: I honestly believe it. They are what make us living beings, capable of being hurt or murdered.
Strangely enough, ever since resuscitation methods have improved, lately, there has been a considerable body of positive evidence that the soul is a separate entity from the body. There are books written by doctors, nonetheless, on near-death experiences (NDEs). However, I suppose they have been happening all along in humanity’s history, but they were not reported to us because so few survived to be able to tell us about them.
One of these extremely rare accounts in antiquity, for example, is given at the end of Plato’s work The Republic. Plato recounts the case of a soldier who was slain in battle; he was dead for twelve days but came back to life; the soldier tells of how his ‘soul’ separated from his body, travelled through a different world, and was sent back into his body to tell us, the living, what he experienced. (bk. 10) For the longest time, everyone took this account as a myth, of course, but lately (i.e., ever since medical doctors have been relating accounts of near-death experiences) people have started to wonder whether it truly happened. Possibly, it was happening all along, despite people, in general, denying it or refusing to believe it. Plato does not give any impression that he doubted the soldier’s account.
Near-death experiences have only lately been studied by the medical profession: since resuscitation techniques have improved and are succeeding in bringing more and more people back to life from clinical death. One of the first books to be written on the subject, in 1975, was Life after Life: again, by a physician—Raymond Moody. In this book he was first to coin the phrase ‘near-death experiences.’ His book ended up selling more than thirteen million (1.3×107) copies. In Moody’s book, and many others after it, we are told that 10%– 20% of people, who happen to be very near death to the point of even being unconscious, experience lucid ‘consciousness’ at the very moment they can ‘see’ their own body, while totally unconscious and being resuscitated. As mentioned, although the medical profession became aware of it only lately, it has probably always been happening. Past records of this phenomenon are much rarer, of course, because whoever experienced it probably ended up dying and was therefore unable to come back and tell us about it; while the very few who survived would have been hesitant to talk about it because nobody would believe them.
In a survey on 613 near-death survivors by a medical doctor, Jeffrey Long, about 75.4% (i.e., 462 individuals) reported that they had an out-of-body experience (OBE—see annexed note), while about 57.3% (i.e., 351 individuals) reported encountering deceased relatives—some of whom they never knew before. (Long & Perry, Introduction) Needless to mention, both cases are evidence for the existence of the soul as a separate entity from the body.
Dutch cardiologist, researcher, and author Pim van Lommel describes out-of-body experiences as follows: (Beauregard & O’Leary, p. 157)
Note: “Out-of-body experience (OBE) … is an experience of floating outside one’s own body, while retaining one’s identity and a very clear consciousness. Most patients report looking down from above. … In some cases, patients have reported information that was later verified.” (pp. 120–23)
In 1988, van Lommel started a study consisting of interviewing heart-attack survivors within a week of their resuscitation from clinical death; he interviewed three hundred and forty-four (344) patients. Medical science has no doubt that a person in a state of clinical death is not aware of anything happening around him or her; yet, sixty-two (62), or about eighteen percent (18%), of the above subjects reported experiences of varying intensity during the exact time they were clinically dead; twenty-four (24) of them, or about seven percent (7%) of the total interviewed, reported a very deep such experience. These results showed no connection to the patients’ educational or religious background. (Van Lommel, “About the Continuity of Our Consciousness”)
Similar studies resulted in roughly the same percentage of very deep experiences: in an American study (Greyson, 2003) the rate was ten percent (10%), and in a British study (Parnia et al., 2001), the rate was over six and three-tenths percent (6.3%). (Beauregard & O’Leary, pp. 156–57)
It goes without saying that the details are of the essence in such reports: it’s the only way to be convinced. In his book The Spiritual Brain, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard gives the following well documented account of a particular near death experience. The reader may refer to the internet for confirmation of what follows and possibly for more details if one likes.
In 1991, thirty-five year old singer and song writer Pam Reynolds of Atlanta, Georgia, USA, started to feel dizziness, lose her speech, and experience general difficulty of movement. So she had a CAT scan done. Her CAT scan spelled very bad news: she had a grossly swollen blood vessel in the brain stem that was inoperable.
Note: The acronym ‘CAT’ stands for ‘computerized axial tomography’—a CAT scan is a special X-ray-type test that produces cross-sectional images of the body on a computer.
Attempting to drain and repair the swollen blood vessel would most probably kill her anyway; her doctor told her that she had no chance of survival if conventional procedures were used. (p. 153)
But Pam’s mother had heard of neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler, who was a specialist and pioneer in a dangerous, but sometimes necessary, procedure known as hypothermic cardiac arrest. The technique basically consists of cooling the body down to a very low temperature (60F/15.6C): so low that the body is essentially dead; but then the body is brought back to normal body temperature (98.6F/37.0C) in a timely manner, that is, before the brain has had enough time to suffer irreversible damage. The swollen blood vessels that would easily burst at normal body temperatures become soft and operable with less risk at the low temperature used in the procedure. There is also another added advantage. Since the brain is non-functional in this cooled state, it uses much less oxygen. As a result, it can last much longer without oxygen before irreversible damage sets in. Pam consented to this procedure because she realized she didn’t have much of a choice. So, for all practical purposes, Pam was actually dead during her surgery: in fact, her heart stopped, and her EEG was ‘flat’ (a horizontal straight-line).
Note: The acronym ‘EEG’ stands for ‘electroencephalogram’—it is a test that detects electrical activity in the brain using electrodes, or small flat metal discs, attached to the scalp.
Beauregard continues his account by giving several details of Pam’s near-death experience, which I shall simply quote for the sake of accuracy: (p. 154)
“When all of Reynold’s vital signs were stopped, the surgeon began to cut through her skull with a surgical saw. At that point, she reported that she felt herself ‘pop’ outside her body and hover above the operating table. From her out-of-body position, she could see the doctors working on her lifeless body. … She described with considerable accuracy for a person who knew nothing of surgical practice, the … bone saw used to open skulls. Reynolds also heard and reported later what was happening during the operation and what the nurses in the operating room had said. … She became conscious of floating out of the operating room and travelling down a tunnel with a light. Deceased relatives and friends were waiting at the end of this tunnel, including her long-dead grand-mother. She entered the presence of a brilliant, wonderfully warm and loving Light and sensed her soul was part of God and that everything in existence was created from the Light (the breathing of God). This extraordinary experience ended when Reynolds’ deceased uncle led her back to her body. She compared entering her body to ‘plunging into a pool of ice’”. (pp. 154–55)
Possibly, she felt so cold because her body was still at a very low temperature when she came to again. The reader is here asked to notice the sentence above: “She entered the presence of a brilliant wonderful warm and loving Light and sensed her soul was part of God and that everything in existence was created from the Light (the breathing of God).” Recall the Bible’s (Genesis’s) concept of God’s ‘breathing’ life into Adam’s (mud) form (Genesis 2:7) and into every living being—see also Tipler’s proposal of a universal wave function below. I think they fit Pam’s experience like a glove. Many near death experiences (NDEs) have been reported; of course, not all of them are equally credible. However, Pam Reynolds’ case is unique for several reasons: she had the experience at a time while she was fully instrumented; she was under observation by the medical profession and known to be clinically dead (see annexed note); furthermore, she was able to recall verifiable facts that happened while she was clinically dead: things she could not have known if she were not somehow conscious during her surgery.
Note: Clinical death is the state in which all vital signs have ceased; the medical profession can tell that someone is clinically dead by the following observations. (1) The heart is in ventricular fibrillation: that is, the muscle that normally contracts (squeezes) the ventricles (chambers) to pump the blood out of the heart does so in an uncoordinated manner, making them quiver rather than contract properly. (2) Brain-stem activity is abolished: characterized by loss of corneal (blinking) reflex, fixed and dilated pupils, and loss of the gag reflex. (3) There is a total lack of electrical activity on the cortex (outer layer) of the brain (i.e., the EEG is flat): during a cardiac arrest, the brain’s electrical activity vanishes after 10 to 20 seconds. (p. 155)
Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard concludes his account of Pam Reynolds’ NDE with the following two statements:
“Pam Reynolds’s case strongly suggests that: … mind, consciousness, and self can continue to exist when the brain is no longer functional and clinical criteria of death have been reached; and … RSMEs [religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences] can occur when the brain is not functioning. In other words, this case seriously challenges the materialist view that mind, consciousness, and self are simply by-products of electrochemical brain processes, and RSMEs are delusions created by a defective brain. Such a view is based on metaphysical belief, not on scientifically demonstrated facts.” (p. 155)
Pam Reynold’s case seems to satisfy most, if not all, of the requirements for authenticity. In his article “Who’s Afraid of Life after Death?” philosopher Neal Grossman writes the following regarding this case:
“Perhaps the ‘smoking gun’ case is the one recently described by [cardiologist] Michael Sabom (1988). In this case, the patient had her NDE while her body temperature was lowered to 60 degrees [Fahrenheit], and all the blood was drained from her body: ‘her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain (Sabom, p.49). A brain in this state cannot create any kind of experience. Yet the patient experienced a profound NDE which included detailed veridical [coinciding with reality] perception of the operation.” (Grossman, p. 6)
The reader probably noticed the author’s use of the phrase ‘smoking gun’: meaning, that there is hardly any doubt as to its authenticity.
Universal Wave Function
Now, in the introduction to his book The Physics of Immortality, mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank Jennings Tipler writes,
“[Theologian] Wolfhart Pannenberg has suggested [in 1977 and 1981] that there may exist a previously undiscovered universal physical field … which can be regarded as the source of all life, and which can be identified with the Holy Spirit. … I shall argue … that the universal wave function … is a universal field with the essential features of Pannenberg’s proposed new ‘energy’ field. If this identification is made, it becomes reasonable as a matter of physics, to say God is in the world, everywhere, and is with us, standing beside us at all times. … Such Presence is a key property of the Christian God. (This does not mean, however, that God intervenes in human history in a supernatural way.)” (pp. 13–14)
These are the words of a full-fledged scientist who endorses the original idea of a theologian and identifies the Universal Wave Function with the Holy Spirit. In the “Nicene Creed”, formulated in the year 325 CE, Christians profess as part of their faith: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life ….” I am not sure, from a scientific point of view, whether the Holy Spirit is another person distinct from God (the Father) as Christians believe; but I do believe that there is a close connection between God and life: giving living beings a self-awareness (or consciousness) among several other things, like feelings and qualia (color, smell, taste, etc.). I also believe that God is the only source of life: that all matter is intrinsically dead and will remain dead unless he acts on it directly.
Note: A field is usually invisible in space, but its effects are obviously noticeable. For example, we don’t see the gravitational field that pulls us to the ground, but if one falls off a building, there is no doubt that something is pulling one down: yet we see no strings from the earth attached to the individual being pulled down. Likewise we don’t see a string pulling magnetic pads to the refrigerator door, but we know there is an invisible magnetic field in between. Similarly, the universal wave function (or the Holy Spirit) is an invisible field from God to all living organisms supplying them with life.
Finally, in conclusion, I would like to add an impressive statement from Jeffrey Long’s 2009 book Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences. Notice the word ‘science’ in the book’s subtitle. He is a medical doctor and therefore must know quite a bit about science; still, in his book he categorically declares,
“By studying thousands of detailed accounts of NDErs [Near-Death Experiencers], I found the evidence that led to this astounding conclusion: NDEs [Near-Death Experiences] provide such powerful scientific evidence that it is reasonable to accept the existence of an afterlife. Yes, you read that correctly. I have studied thousands of neardeath experiences. I have carefully considered the evidence NDEs present regarding the existence of an afterlife. I believe without a shadow of a doubt that there is life after physical death. My research convinces me that near-death experiences are the exit from this life and the entrance to another life. … This book presents the remarkable results of the largest scientific NDE study ever reported …. In the NDERF [Near-Death-Experience Research Foundation] study we examined the content of more than 1,300 NDEs. Previous scientific NDE studies generally examined only a few hundred case studies at most. With great care, we analyzed the twelve elements of the near-death experience. By looking deeply at the accounts of these NDErs, we have found some answers to humankind’s oldest and deepest questions about the afterlife.” (Ch. 2, p. 34 of 149, emphasis in original)
Notice that Long calls it “powerful scientific evidence,” he endorses the “existence of an afterlife,” and ends with the emphatic statements “you read that correctly” and “without a shadow of a doubt.” Science is never totally certain of a hypothesis or even a theory: it only goes by analysis and probability. Whether the reader wants to believe it or not, medical doctor Jeffrey Long testifies that the existence of an afterlife is simply a fact— proven scientifically.
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