What is a "soul"

I grew up Roman catholic and therefore have a sense of the meaning of the word “soul” as used and taught to RC’s like myself. However, now that I have had certain benefits of education, I am wondering if the word really has any real meaning. Here is my logic:

  1. It appears to me that the word “soul” is more or less understood as a sort of “ghost” within the human body, namely, the state, I believe, was described by Decartes, a duality of mind and body.

2.The problem, however, with this concept is that it doesn’t match up with reality because my personality, my memories, my rational functioning are all related to the physical body. I have a mode of behavior, for example, which I call my personality and it can be controlled or affected by chemicals or disease processes. Alzheimer patients, for example, are not the same “person” (if you will) post disease as they were pre-disease.

3… It seems to me, therefore, that the term “soul” really has no referent in reality. I submit that there is no “ghost in the machine”. Who can offer convincing proof that the human personality survives death when it cannot survive a lobotomy, for example?

The soul is the form of the body by which it lives. In most living things this soul does not have its own substantial existance in and of itself, but in a human being it does.

It makes intuitive sense to me, therefore, that everything in the soul (such as its faculties of intellect and will) have some basis in the body as long as the body is living, though this would cease to be the case once the body is dead and therefore the substantial soul no longer corresponds to any physical body.

The personality is not the soul, nor the person.

Personality is simply the expressive surface that our mind presents to others via the body. Damage the body, particularly the brain, and the personality will be changed, just as someone with Bell’s palsy will have impaired facial expression.

The soul is the life in a human being. The human mind is generated by the soul, but requires a working head to do it in.

We are not immortal in ourselves. We are soul plus body; we need both for being human. When our natural body (psychikon soma) no longer holds life, we will depend upon our LORD to reassemble us in Eternity.


Your Soul (which is an objective truth) was infused into you by Our LORD, when you were conceived in your mothers tummy. It is destined for enternity, to be spent with Our GOD in heaven. However Free will was a gift that was given for you and your soul. As with regards, this is a realm that science cannot touch and never will. snopes.com/religion/soulweight.asp, i urge you to read this story, and look it up, As with Descartes and Dualism (although i hope to study Philosophy next year to warm me up for seminary) i do not know much abouth although i am fascinated with Philosophy. Your soul is indestrutibile, and will spend an eternity either in heaven or hell. Now i hope i helped to some small degree (im still only 16), and also note, your SOUL was made in the image of GOD. Our HEAVENLY FATHER keeps your soul in existence, and please dont be so skeptical. Only Our LORD can give you what your soul needs. HIM.

That is strange. I have had quite a lot of benefits of education (PhD in Astrophysics) and I still believe in the soul & the Truths of the Catholic Church.

This is incorrect. The soul is the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. Thus, the soul & body are one and not dual, as Descartes erroneously posits.

The first sentence is correct. The latter, not so much. You are very much the same person before and after injury or disease, what has changed is your ability to animate your body.

See (2) and (1).

To me, and, at least from my perspective, these are meaningless concepts, I am afraid. “The soul is the life in a human being”? “The human mind is generated by the soul?” What does that mean?

I actually think, if you reflect on what you have stated, that you make my argument stronger. What people of faith mean when they speak of a soull is to refer to some amorphus “ghost” which inhabits a body which has a brain, which has a personality, which is basically the human person. By believing that there is some humulcus type of entity inside and which is really “the self”, I have to think this is simply an imaginary and perhaps superstitious concept. Sorry, but, it doesn’t make any sense to me.

As much as I like astrophyisists, in general, I simply find your explanation unpersuasive. I haven’t ever met a person who was lobotomized, but, I remember Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Coco’s Nest. (I know that can’t be the way you spell the bird species)–anyway, could one validly argue that ole’ Murph was just having trouble controlling his body after Nurse Rachett got thru with him? I mean, wasn’t Murpf a fundelmentally different persona?

PS I realize I am being somewhat light with this this subject, but, I trust that we are all people of good will and earnest in our search for understanding. Hence, I will hope you see my underlying point.

The Catholic teaching of the human soul is in fact not that of a ghost in a machine, nor of a homunculus. Methinks It behooves you, before rejecting the teaching, to read the CCC and the papal encyclicals concerning the human soul.

The soul also is not really the “self”. It is the spark, so to speak, that enables our familiar heap of anatomy to become the “self”.


Your argument is unpersuasive because you are not correctly defining the soul.

Cuckoo is the correct spelling, and I never saw the film, so I cannot comment on it.

However, as far as I know (which is not a whole lot), real (not fictional characters from movies and novels) people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other brain injuries have brains with largely inactive portions. Since the brain’s power has decayed, it stands to reason that the soul cannot animate the body as it once was able.

I see your underlying point, and it is wrong. The fault comes from your initial position that the soul and body are two items, and not one. If you accept they are one, you cannot reject the reality of the soul. If you wrongly believe they are two, then you can reject the reality of the soul because you do not understand it.

It isn’t a ghost, it isn’t a homuncus and not the self…rather it is “a spark” (so to speak". Hey, thanks. That clears that up.

I worked in a dementia unit at a nursing home prior to my conversion from Atheism to Christianity. I asked some of the same questions you seem to be pondering. I can’t answer convincing proof against your supposition, but I can share my experiences with you.

I know there are varying levels of Alzheimers, dementia, ETC… and I worked with people of many different levels and tiers of ‘degradation.’ At the time, I had no great stock in religion, I had no great belief in a soul, since it could not be palpated nor shown nor scanned nor known. However, what struck me, and strikes me to this day, was the sheer amount of ‘them-ness’ that remained with even the most severe cases I dealt with. If one takes the time to spend with their residents, the person that once was, still is, and is trying to manifest itself. It struck me then, and strikes me now, that there was a disconnect between the person and the synapse, and that there was something deeper than the brain-matter that made a person unique. Hardly scientifically ordered, I know, but it’s all I have.

I always used the analogy of we are a computer. Our body is the hardware, Mind is the Software, and the Power cord is the Soul. The power that runs through that cord comes from God as he is our sustainer and maintainer without him we would not exist. I don’t know if this is exactly how the Church would describe it but I think it sounds perfect.

Would you agree to the proposition that all living things have a life force or animating principle? While I can’t prove that to you beyond a shadow of a doubt, I think most human societies throughout time have subscribed to this idea as fairly commonsensical.

The Church wouldn’t use it, only because it is run by philosophers who use terms far older than the computer age.

It’s still good, though. It illustrates why when you pull out the plug, not only does the program (mind) halt, the physical hardware (limbs, senses etc) stop functioning at the same time.

Of course, you can’t turn the Human Soma 1.0 back on. But the power is still there, and when the new system has been assembled with its software backup, it will be ready to run.


:shrug: It may not be scientifically ordered but it is true nevertheless. The materialist makes the mistake of equating the mind with the brain, a mistake which transforms persons into biological robots incapable of thinking for themselves, thereby rendering all the materialist’s conclusions suspect! Who would rely on a robot’s conclusions? :eek:

The materialist dispenses with the power and the software leaving nothing but the hardware, i.e. the brain - which doesn’t know what it is doing! :wink:

I am not sure that you do see my point. You say I am not defining the soull correctly and hence do not understand it. You attempt to correct my uinderstanding by your belief that it is not two items but one with the body.

What is the soul if it is to be distinguished from the body, albeit in union with the body?

My point is that it has no definition. Rather, it seems to be a word that is loosely subsumed within idealized versions of “a spark” or “a spirit” or, the Cartesian " ghost within the machine"–or as you put it “the ultimate animating principle”. These definitions add nothing to the discourse. These definitions are not explanatory of the characteristics of the entity called “a soul”. For example, If the soul suffers torment or enjoys bliss after death, presumably it is of such a nature that it has feelings of some sort, yet the soul is thought to survive the corruption of the body and is not thought of as functioning from a predicate of the cerebral organ or physical. Yet this is so utterly contrary to what is known of sensation and the faculties which produce experience (consider once again the state of a lobotomized man).

How can a belief in something be justified when the thing believed in cannot be defined? I submit the term “soul” is in aid of our desire to survive death, and, its meaning is function of the need to find a basis to rationalize the belief. Some of Wittgenstein’s analysis of our use of language, perhaps, best explains my perception of how the term “memed” its way into our traditions.

The soul, when one with the body, gives life and animates the entire body.

An example would be an electrical wire that has electricity flowing thru it.
We call that a live wire. If the wire is cut, there is not energy flowing thru it, and it is called a dead wire. The wire looks the same before and after.

So also the soul animates the body. At death the body may look the same, but it isn’t, the soul or principal of life is gone. The body corrupts, but the soul continues to exist seperated from the body. This cannot be proven thru science one way or the other. But it has been revealed to us thru Jesus. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his soul.”

Just a thought.

What about all the doctors who insist on there being some natural explanation for a NDE?

Even if NDE were thoroughly disproven (it has not been), this would in no way disprove the human soul. Church teaching concerning the human soul in no way relies on the witness of NDE cases.

I for one am highly sceptical of NDE for the simple reason that it could very easily prove to be the product of a breath-deprived head fighting the darkness. NDE is not why I believe in life everlasting.


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