This page was written as a personal homework reflection for Kira's Ways of Knowing workshop.

    Talking and Thinking about Soul

    I'm agnostic about soul.  "Soul" is a word-concept that think is important to have among our cultural constructs, even though I don't think it necessarily refers to anything real and definable.  I'm interested in the variety of meanings people ascribe to it.  I assume those have value and significance. 

    When I see the word Soul in conversation, my interest is in what people mean by it in that context -- what they are "trying to get at", and in a bigger sense, what it could possibly mean.  I don't feel pressed to decide which is "right" or what soul "is". 

    To make an analogy, soul is to the human being as dark matter is to astrophysics -- an admission that there's something out there but we don't know what is its.  A placeholder for the unknown, or maybe even the unknowable.  Without that placeholder, human imagination would complacently assume all is known and definable, which is not the case.

    When I "think" about soul, having a conversation with myself, it often involves ideas like the following:

    • Soul is a term in the folk philosophy of consciousness used to explain and refer to tacit aspects of human experience.
    • Soul invites one to contemplate the duality of "have" versus "am".  I'm more inclined to see the "am" side of that and think I "am" a soul rather than "having" one.  But I believe that to be dynamic (subject to change).  Therefore soul, as a process, involves "doing" (and practice). 
    • Soul can be "cultivated" by aware observation and practice.
    • Soul is a pattern, like Tao, not an "object", entity,  substance or property of a person.
    • Soul a unifying pattern, a totality.  And yet, soul may be fragmented.  Parts may be disconnected and may need to be brought together. 
    • Soul is the "deep" aspect of self and consciousness. 
    • Soul may be a word for the "true self" and for an intuitive encounter with it.
    • Soul is the aspect of Self that one identifies with but does not structure or model.
    • Soul is the uncognized part of the self.  There are probably some interesting distinctions based on the various reasons for something being unconscious. 
    • Soul is something like a "quality".  Qualities are nonlocal properties of a whole system.
    • Soul -- as an experience -- is a "way of knowing"  that depends for its existence on being implicit, shadowy, and not well defined.
    • Soul is a slow and holistic process that doesn't change moment to moment with quickness of thought (for example). 
    • Soul is a shelter for aspects of the self that cannot easily be defined and conceptualized, or are ambiguous, or  incipient.  These aspects need freedom to develop, like a seed germinates in dark moist earth. 
    • Soul as a concept is subject to idealism -- it often refers to the socially acceptable aspects of the deep self.  If this is true then there's also a "dark soul" is that is of a structural unity with the socially accepted soul but separated from it by conventions.
    • Soul is believed to be a point of contact between an individual and the "divine".  This is partly a projection of socialized values.  It is also partly a recognition of the distributed nature of mind (or intelligence) and its continuity with processes that are not identified as "self".
    • Soul is personal, "spirit" is more universal or transpersonal, and yet these are not separate.  There may be a "world soul" that includes personal soul as a subset.  The distinctions are mostly a matter of convention.
    • Soul can "grow", in the sense that there can be a shift in the deep sense of identification that defines a person in relationship to the "rest" of the cosmos.

    Quotes and Ideas

    I reviewed the large variety of ideas associated with the word Soul, at  Here are a few passages from that article that stood out for me.

    "Unlike Plato and the medieval religious tradition, Aristotle did not consider the soul to be a separate, immortal occupant of the body, just as the act of cutting does not occur without a knife or axe, the soul ceases to exist at the death of the body. In his view, the soul is the actuality of a living body."

    "Summarizing Hillman's views, author and psychotherapist Thomas Moore associates spirit with "afterlife, cosmic issues, idealistic values and hopes, and universal truths", while placing soul "in the thick of things: in the repressed, in the shadow, in the messes of life, in illness, and in the pain and confusion of love."[15] Hillman believes that religion—especially monotheism and monastic faiths—and humanistic psychology have tended to the spirit, often at the unfortunate expense of soul.[5] This happens, Moore says, because to transcend the 'lowly conditions of the soul ... is to lose touch with the soul, and a split-off spirituality, with no influence from the soul, readily falls into extremes of literalism and destructive fanaticism.' "

    "Science and medicine seek naturalistic accounts of the observable natural world. This stance is known as methodological naturalism.[80] Much of the scientific study relating to the soul has involved investigating the soul as an object of human belief, or as a concept that shapes cognition and an understanding of the world, rather than as an entity in and of itself.

    When modern scientists speak of the soul outside of this cultural and psychological context, they generally treat soul as a poetic synonym for mind."

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