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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Friday, May 11

Humanism: Is there a use for a soul?

I've been attempting to take an email course on Humanism. I've been busy, so I haven't been so good about keeping up with the reading, but I'm saving the emails for pleasure reading when I have a free moment.

I was craving something interesting to think about today, so I decided to dig in a little and read the latest email. It was on the topic of souls. The article pretty well reflects my thoughts about souls.

What this means is that who we are is a function of our memories and our personalities, neither of which have any independent existence apart from our brains.
If either is altered sufficiently (whether through physical damage, hormonal imbalances, or some theoretical medical intervention), then the identity of the person in question will also be altered. It will, in effect, not be the same person anymore.

I don't believe in a soul in the religious sense nor in anything "supernatural", but I have taken to using the words "soul" and spirituality to mean something a bit different, and useful. I'm not entirely sure how I'd define them, but I'll attempt to describe them.

By soul, I mean something like the sum of ideas and emotions - my personality. However, soul gives a connotation, that I think fits something I sometimes want to express, which the word "personality" doesn't. "Soul" feels a bit more like saying "me" where personality feels like I'm describing something about me. My personality can change, it is an aspect of me, but not the sum total. Maybe what I mean is the soul is what makes "me" as distinct from someone else. My personality might change so much that I am in fact a different person. However, I'm still "me" (as opposed to any other human). Maybe it doesn't have a use that isn't already covered perfectly by "me" or "you". Still, soul has a sort of poetic/romantic feel that "me" or "you" doesn't have. It also might be that soul could apply to the personality + memories.

I have had the experience of knowing people who had changed so much in personality - or in memories - that they seemed like a different person. In one case, it was my grandfather, who'd suffered a stroke. For a while, it was very disconcerting seeing him and having the feeling that "he" wasn't there any more. I was very sad, thinking that in a sense, he was gone and I might never "see" him - the one I had known - ever again. Over time, I got to know him again, some of his old ways returned and it felt like "him" again. I think he was there all along, but I couldn't tell at first with the huge changes in him.

It means something to ME to say something like "feed my soul". I'd consider feeding it to provide it with good ideas, hugs from friends, etc. I don't know of another word that works quite so well. I wouldn't mind using a different word if it worked for what I want. Maybe "psyche"?

For myself, I don't mind borrowing religious terms and giving them a meaning that works for me - that help me relate to my religious friends and vice versa. I probably would be more careful about using such a term with someone who might misunderstand it, but my friends and I seem to understand each other just fine.


Leo said...

I don't think that explanation is completely correct. The soul is not personality.

I had a different personality when I was little (much more interesting) because I had different problems, life experience and ideas. But I am not a different person. When you pinch me, it's still me feeling the pain.

Individuality cannot be defined by a set of ideas, or a book would be an individual. The individual is the sentient being experiencing life in all its aspects.

I am one and you are other and we are not interchangeable even if I suddently start thinking like you and you like me.

Becky said...

Hmm. I did say that soul is something "more" or different than personality. Here's the quote...

"Maybe what I mean is the soul is what makes "me" as distinct from someone else. My personality might change so much that I am in fact a different person. However, I'm still "me" (as opposed to any other human)."