Science and Soul
The mind and the soul are not physically identifiable entities of the human anatomy. They are merely hypothetical parking sites for brain functions. They are however frequently referred to in comments such as: mind boggling, mind’s eye, soul searching, and more.
They cease to function at death. Most of us, across the spectra of religions, are led to believe, by faith, that the soul leaves the body mysteriously into an ill-defined environment from which it may be sent back into another body or perpetually released from the cycle of life and death.
In the scenarios referred to as comatose condition, dementia or even anesthesia including near death experience (NDE) and out of body experience (OBE), the brain function is impaired, but not dead. When blood circulation through the brain ceases, with no chance whatever of restoration, the system is dead. The memory bank of the individual turns completely blank. No means whatever to recover any of the information content exists in this condition. Nor has the soul got any sensory perception capability. If this is the moment in which the hypothetical soul leaves its housing, viz the body, it leaves with no information because the reservoir of the information pack is empty.
The Soul and One
It is inaccurate to imagine, therefore, that the soul, or jeeva atman, of some person is floating around awaiting its next assignment in another new born. The identity of the released soul is erased. This is inconsistent with the basic tenet of the Bhagavad Gita, wherein the Sarathy (one with a chariot—Krishna) persuades Partha (son of Kunti—Arjuna) to believe that there is no sin in killing his cousins and uncle because only the evil aspect of these individuals is destroyed in battle. The pristine segment survives?
Atman (self) is variously described in annotations as other than the known and beyond the unknown; basis of atman is reality, permanence and bliss; formless, eternal and infinite.
In contrast, consider the three blind Frenchman, in folklore, who went to “see” an elephant. They were more precise, relatively speaking. It is flat, said one. It is rough, said another and it stinks, said the third. All were right, at least partially.
This point is elegantly expressed by poet, Vijay Seshadri, the Pulitzer prize winner for English poetry (2014) in the first poem of his collection: “The 3 Sections.” “The soul, like the square root of minus one, is an impossibility that has its uses.”
What is the use of this illusory idea? In the realm of the divine, it serves as a link to the body.
The immortal soul is a difficult concept to comprehend, interpret, or defend. It would be non-controversial to state that nobody has been able to correlate a soul, in transition from one body to another or even released from bondage, with a particular host body. The conceptual soul, is delinked from anything real at the time of death of the host.
This makes it impossible to perform any function, such as even finding the Param-Atman (God). The imaginary group of seven chiranjeevees (immortals) in our epics, such as Mahabali or Parasurama, therefore, are endowed with their body and embedded souls always to circumvent this discomfiture.
Everything we have been led to believe out of faith, cannot be dismissed as invalid due to inconsistency with the science of today.
During the previous seven decades, science and technology have advanced by leaps and bounds. Space exploration, including moon landing, Hubble telescope, lasers, the personal computer, safe air travel, angioplasty, and numerous miracle drugs for heart and other diseases are some of the noteworthy.
Science, Moods and Emotions
Science, by itself, at its present level of development is yet unable to explain many facets of life we accept for granted.
There are many examples. We cannot analyze, scientifically, our moods, called the Nava Rasas: sensuality, heroism, empathy, contempt, fierceness, awe inspiration, fiendishness, surprise and calmness? So too, our emotions: amorous desire, anger, jealousy, greed, pride and unhealthy competition. We have felt or seen all these in the normal course of events every day. Even children go through some of these. Other inaccessible phenomena for science at present are: destiny or fate, dreams, para-normal phenomena, telepathy and more.
The link, if any, between para-normal activity and brain waves is an unknown. Surprisingly however, the Hindu epics foreshadowed very many of these miracles and applications. To name a few: the Pushpaka Viman for air travel with solar power, pilotless navigation and voice or face recognition for commands is mentioned during the era of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata many times. Lord Siva’s emitting eye is the forerunner of the modern laser—in the 1980s two massive laser systems were built in one of the defense research facilities in California, not surprisingly named SIVA I and SIVA II.
At the present time, it is enigmatic even to attempt to figure out why we humans are trying, knowingly or otherwise, to develop equivalent systems for war with the aid of modern science and engineering.
We all belong together anyway. Each one of us, homo-sapiens, has received the greatest gift of all, the infinite capacity system known as the Brain. Progressive evolution of life forms into the ultimate form of humans has taken place.
With my judgmental limitations, it would be preposterous to cede, at this time, to science only on these issues. We face a phenomenally baffling conundrum.
I acknowledge the benefit of discussions with Dr. T.V. Krishnamurthy, Costa Mesa, CA and Smt. Ranjini Iyengar, Fullerton, CA in drafting the above manuscript.
P. Mahadevan is a retired scientist with a Ph.D. in Atomic Physics from the University of London, England. His professional work includes basic and applied research and program management for the Dept. of Defense. He taught Physics at the Univ. of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram. He does very little now, very slowly.