By Brent M. Jones
If the soul is eternal and lives on when the body dies, then it must be made of different materials. If that substance is spiritual, then where does it reside within our living bodies? Is it separate or part of our living flesh. Some have referred to the soul as the seat or location of our character and emotions, but is that just a metaphorical inference?
Some religions believe the soul comes back after death and reunites with a resurrected body at some future time, but then they are not clear as to whether the soul exists without being reunited with the body. Existence as a unique entity should carry within it the substance of the life and experiences it learned in the body so if the soul exists without the body then that substance must be part of the soul.
Plato, Aristotle and many others have written about the existence of the soul. A recent well-known historian, Will Durant, wrote about the history of man, looking deeply into the living lives of all things. He also wrote about the existence of a soul and said he had little doubt it existed as a part the human existence, a view shared by many intellectuals. Some, like Durant, are influenced by a belief that the universe brings about life taking matter and evolving it into living forms.
This view says that all matter has a spiritual essence. He was fond of his own unique soul but said he did not expect it to survive the complete death of his body. Durant summed up this conclusion in his last book, Fallen Leaves, saying that he felt the death of the body would likewise be the death of the soul. That conclusion seems to be at odds with his passion for life and view that it exists within all things.
Durant said he wanted to bring the “future into focus” and his method was to focus on the raw experience of history. This approach is clearly reflected in his extensive work in writing the 11 volumes of "The Story of Civilization”.
Durant believed that life flowed from what he felt was a mysterious source which moved like a river from an unknown beginning and then to an abrupt end with the death of the body. The sudden end of the soul is often the conclusion of intellectuals, that seem to be tied to the concept of determinism: the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Durant serves as a useful focus for discussions about the soul because he certainly was not a determinist and placed great value on individual experiences. He refused to accept the end was all predetermined by the beginning,
My own opinion is Durant was on the right track, but with incomplete conclusions on the nature of the soul in part because he just did not live long enough to see all the options. He defended free will, that the soul was unique, valued individual experience, and he saw a universe whose purpose was to create and advance life. and he valued individual experience. What he lacked were options into what could happen after death to the soul.
We live in a world clearly defined by three spatial dimensions including one dimension of time. Durant's and others in the past drew conclusion about the soul that were framed with this knowledge, but he did not have information about a 4th, 5th and other dimensions? In 1919, mathematician Theodor Kaluza presented new ideas about a 4th dimension. Today “string theorists” present more complicated thoughts saying it's quite easy to assume there are 10 or 11 dimensions and perhaps more. Maybe these other dimensions include or await our own participation, with our spiritual soul.
Seeing life metaphorically, like a river of influences and forces, is a poetic approach that ties things together but it ignores where the river starts and assumes that it ends.