Friday, October 14, 2011

The Material Soul

It is something of a shock to realize that one’s soul is material.  The idea has been around for a long while, and one might recognize this truth intellectually,  but to grasp this insight experientially, at the depth of one’s soul, is quite a different thing.  How can this inner being, so weightless, so intangible, be made of the same thing as bricks and mortar, wood and water?  But the evidence is clear – the anesthesiologist puts our soul to sleep with his gas, and a hard bump on the head also puts it to sleep.  Were our soul un-material, it could defy these material things, but it can’t.  Despite the ghost stories from all times and places, the soul is material, its comings and goings are dictated by material conditions.

But then a brick holds a few surprises too.  According to Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC2, matter is energy also, and a little matter is a whole lot of energy.  If one could all-at-once convert all the matter of a brick into energy, it would shine with the brightness of our sun for a white hot instant.   The light of that explosion would race off in all directions, traveling forever at the speed of light, which is the speed of time.  It would travel as a wave (or is it a particle?) eternally, and eternally it would define the present.  And what is a wave, what is a particle?  Are they anything more than verbal containers to encapsulate something that defies encapsulation?  Are they anything more that the soul’s inventions? 

The soul has long been imagined metaphorically as light.  The soul brings things to light, and the soul bringing more and more to light is an en-lightened soul.  Is there, perhaps, more than a metaphor here?   The soul is awareness.  The objects of awareness are sensations, perceptions, appetites, emotions, imaginings, and thoughts.  These things “inform” our awareness, and if pertinent our body responds.  All this is mediated by electromagnetic energy traveling along neurons.  Light is a form of electromagnetic energy: so, perhaps the soul is not merely metaphorically light, perhaps it really is light. 

In the first shock of the realization that the soul is material, one might have imagined the soul's dignity deflating; but in the after tremor, should we not find that being material does not diminish the soul's dignity in the least; the soul is still that which brings to light.  If anything, the realization ennobles matter – for it brings to light the fact that self-consciousness is one of the potentialities that matter has always possessed.  And that is a rather mysterious fact to contemplate.


  1. >In any event, that the soul is material does not rob it of dignity in the least; the soul is still that which brings to light.

    Excellent point. Many worry that revealing the material substrate, or mechanical workings, or however you want to say it, will ruin the experience. Urusla Goodenough had the same trepidation as she fathomed the macrocosm and microcosm, but points out in The Sacred Depths of Nature that knowing the theoretical workings behind music does not in the least diminish our appreciation of a Mozart symphony. The workings of the "soul" are just that - a symphony.

    >If anything, the realization ennobles matter – for it brings to light that becoming self conscious is one of the potentialities that the material has always possessed. And that is a rather mysterious fact to contemplate.

    Important point. I think one of the reasons people may express fear at "reducing" spiritual things to matter, is that they are stuck in the view of matter is inert, dead, stupid stuff. But you completely undermine that. Matter is not dead and stupid - it has potentiality.

  2. What a pity so many confuse Soul and Spirit! Look at Hebrews 4 v 12 - ONLY God's Word-'Sword'-Spirit can divide our Soul and Spirit....
    Everything that is happening now is prophesied in the Bible - including the vast confusion regarding our Trinitarian Being - for everything in Creation is 3-Fold, from The Trinity to Space-Time-Matter to the 3-out-of-4 DNA chemicals [so utterly dependent on transcendent information] that help define all life - and only His return will sort it. For more info see the free PDFs on