Do you have a soul?

by Christopher Calder   

     When I was a child, I was an atheist and only believed in what I could see and touch.  By age nineteen I started to believe in the existence of souls and reincarnation as a result of my exposure to a number of famous Indian yogis and the majestic J. Krishnamurti, who once claimed to have remembered all of his past lives.  At age 21 my belief in soul was dramatically reinforced by explosive experiences I had with Acharya Rajneesh, later known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and Osho.  I never believed in any "God," but for 35 years I lived under the shadow of the great meditation masters and was fairly certain that we all possessed souls that would survive our physical death.  [This essay was written in 2004.]

     Unlike Hindus, most Buddhists believe in some mysterious and poorly defined soulless form of personal karma which survives death.  I never believed in the Buddhist concept of immortal personal karma without soul, because when you reject the idea of a soul you lose the only credible vehicle for the transference of karma from one lifetime to the next.  To my mind, if there is no soul, there is no possibility of immortal personal karma and reincarnation. 

     When I met Acharya Rajneesh in 1970, he spoke of souls and reincarnation and claimed to have the power of astral projection.  I believed his claim because of what I thought were authentic experiences I had with this "Master" astrally projecting himself, not just into my room, but into my body while he was physically several miles away.  After reading Matthew Alper's book, The "God" Part of the Brain, I wonder if those amazing experiences were really what I thought they were.  Alper summarizes the latest scientific research into how the human brain functions while having religious experiences.  In this essay, I have added additional neurological data obtained from medical journals and my observations and theories regarding several of the main points of Alper's book.

     Medical research has shown that if you stimulate certain areas of the brain with a small electric current, you can give people the experience of spiritual visitation.  You may feel that Jesus is touching your heart, or that the soul of a dead relative is near you.  However, no evidence supports a belief in authentic soul travel, as all studies indicate that consciousness only exists in the brain cells that create it.  You cannot remove consciousness from the physical body because consciousness is a physical phenomenon created by chemistry, just as a firefly's light is created by chemical reactions.  That is why you can turn consciousness on or off by injecting a person with drugs to wake them up or to put them to sleep.

     Near-death experiences and even certain drugs, such as ketamine and sodium pentothal, can give you the feeling of being outside of your body, but researchers say that is just an illusion of the holographic nature of human consciousness, which is produced by the physical human brain.  When neural communications between the body and brain are reduced, the brain is free to project your sense of self anywhere it chooses, and this can happen while under partial anesthesia, while partially asleep, or even during the preliminary (and reversible) stages of death.  Prolonged fasting and isolation can also produce hallucinations and other distortions of reality, and such ascetic practices are a major source of the Asian myths of astral projection. 

     While true astral projection may be impossible, there is credible scientific evidence to suggest that telepathic communication is possible between human beings.  The human brain is an organic electrochemical computer so complex that no existing silicon-based supercomputer can approach its capabilities.  Think of all the things your relatively simple cell phone can do.  There is plenty of computer power in the human brain to imagine that some portion of its circuitry could be allocated to broadcasting and receiving messages, or at least sensing basic electromagnetic radiation from other human brains.  Such an ability would have obvious survival value for the species and thus would be understandable in terms of evolution and survival of the fittest.  A rudimentary telepathic communicative ability may be the reason disciples feel the presence of their spiritual teachers so strongly.

     The brain is the most metabolically active human organ and requires a steady supply of oxygen and glucose as fuel.  Although the brain represents less than 2% of the body's mass, it utilizes 20% of the body's oxygen consumption and 15% of its cardiac output, thus our brains produce an extraordinary amount of energy in relationship to the rest of the body.  Our bodies use chemical reactions to produce mechanical movements and electrical currents which flow through all of our living cells.  Our brains contain approximately 100 billion neurons connected by trillions of synapses which can be viewed as nature-created transistors.  Consciousness is born of an intricately woven flow of electromagnetic radiations, not by souls. 

     Dr. Johnjoe McFadden, a Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, has described consciousness as an electromagnetic information field, known as the CEMI Field Theory.  The CEMI abbreviation stands for conscious electromagnetic information.  It states that consciousness is physically integrated, and causally active information encoded in the brain’s global electromagnetic field.  McFadden extends the theory to argue that consciousness implements algorithms in space, rather than time, within the brain’s electromagnetic field.  McFadden states that the CEMI field theory accounts for most observed features of consciousness. 

     Laboratory research has revealed that when the brain stops producing an observable electromagnetic field, consciousness disappears as quickly as turning off a radio transmitter.  Consciousness feels like an ethereal nonphysical cloud floating in space.  Electromagnetic fields are physical, but not in the same solid state form of physicality as a rock or a tree. The 
CEMI Field Theory explains why mystics and holy men from all cultures and nations may feel that their consciousness is nonphysical and supernatural, and thus might survive death.  All of Earth's animals that have significant consciousness, from ants to elephants, must share electromagnetic and bio-mechanical traits, expressed in different levels of sophistication and complexity.  It is not difficult to imagine that the fantastically complex human brain may have capabilities beyond our current level of understanding. 

     Perhaps what I thought was astral projection was simply Rajneesh concentrating on me, sending me his super-mental energy long distance.  That powerful jolt of energy may have caused my brain to supply the added illusion of personal visitation on top of the strong telepathic transmission.  There is no doubt that Rajneesh had tremendous mental powers, but was that power really supernatural or just a product of his unique brain structure and meditative skill?  Science has uncovered a strange phenomenon known as
Quantum Entanglement.  The miraculous psychic phenomena of the guru-disciple relationship may have something to do with this bizarre natural phenomenon of space-time.  We know that consciousness is constructed through an incredibly complex web of streaming particles and electromagnetic waves created by brain cells.  Are the communion and communication disciples feel with their teachers at a great distance a matter of highly complex physics as well as psychology?  


     If you inject any human being with enough sedative, enlightened or not, they will become unconscious.  If you damage certain areas of the brain you can drastically alter human behavior.  You can turn a conservative bank president into a garbage-eating bum just by killing off some of the brain cells that contain the biocomputer program for his personality.  If you damage other areas of the brain, you can erase all memory.

     If consciousness, personality, and memory are all physical phenomena of brain cells, then when your brain dies there is nothing left of your identity.  Your permanent identity of time-energy-space (see The TES Hypothesis) continues unharmed, but there is no soul, no reincarnation, and no Buddhist transference of personal karma.  If this is true, it means that all of the major world religions are wrong.  It also means that we all achieve "moksha" (liberation) at the time of our death because there is no personal cycle of birth and death to escape from and no magical afterlife.  You are born once, and you die once, and you will never come back.

     One theory states that we have souls and/or personal karma which transmigrates from one life to the next, and another theory states that nothing survives death, and only DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and the will of the living determine the future of our species.  Which theory is correct?   I once believed in reincarnation with a high level of certainty.  After many years of seeing the rampant corruption of gurus, "enlightened" or not, the idiocy of disciples, cults, and organized religion, and with the new scientific evidence in hand, I find the soul-reincarnation-karma theory far less plausible.

     You do not have to believe in anything supernatural to believe in cosmic consciousness (satori).  Anyone can take the drug psilocybin and get a dramatic imitation of the natural religious experience.  Clinical research shows that our brains are built to have religious experiences.  As time-energy-space is one singular phenomenon, it is only natural that we occasionally experience the grand cosmic unity.  I suspect that even animals have satoris, though they cannot give it a name or understand its implications.

     One of the most interesting concepts of Matthew Alper's book concerns the rise of self-consciousness in human animals, and how knowledge of our impending death has affected our brains and even our DNA code.  If you put a dog in front of a mirror, he will never figure out that he is looking at his reflection.  If you put a higher primate in front of a mirror, such as a chimpanzee or human child, the higher primate will eventually use the mirror for grooming purposes because he recognizes himself in the reflection.  Man's self-consciousness is so highly developed that humans have come to realize that our life expectancy is short and that our personal demise is inevitable.

     Other animals fear death, danger, and pain, but most have no real understanding of time and the inevitability of their destruction.  Non-human higher primates and elephants may have some perception of the time-death equation, but that has not been proven scientifically.  Our human understanding of the inevitability of death can become a constant source of anguish.  A strong survival instinct is built into our DNA code from our long evolutionary journey from bacteria to man.  When the survival instinct collides with the self-conscious knowledge of impending death, the human brain needs both a psychological and a neurological barrier to block the conflict and tension.  That barrier we call religious belief and "the God part of the brain."  The theory states that man has invented myths of God, soul, reincarnation, karma, and an afterlife as a way to provide the brain with mental opium, a buffer to the constant ticking clock inside our heads that tells us that our inevitable destruction and decomposition is getting closer every day.

     The psychological need for a feeling of immortality is so great that our religious tendencies have become part of our DNA code.  Humans who believe in supernatural religions tend to be calmer, and healthier and thus live longer than the non-religious.  Believers also tend to show more bravery when courage is needed to protect their tribe.  Genetic tendencies to have religious feelings are fortified over thousands of years of evolution through survival of the religiously fittest.

     If your religious beliefs feel exactly right to you, it may be because your subconscious mind wants you to believe them so that you will have a better chance for health and a long lifespan.  If you intuitively sense that you have been alive on planet Earth before, perhaps that feeling of déjavu comes from your DNA code, not from a reincarnating soul because DNA has been active on planet Earth for at least 3.8 billion years, and we are all created and united by its existence.

     Scientists know that there is only one real-life form on planet Earth, and that is DNA itself.  DNA is like a giant vine that has taken over the world.  Through the never-ending chain of DNA code we are not only closely related to other mammals, but also intimately related to insects, plants, and even bacteria.  Many times in Earth's history the higher life forms have been wiped out by impacts of asteroids and comets, and by massive volcanic eruptions which made our atmosphere toxic, yet the surviving bacteria have always evolved upward into more complex plants and animals.  DNA is not just a helpful chemical substance that resides inside us.  DNA is our biological level identity, our three-dimensional physical 'soul.'    

     All over the world, wherever you find man, you will find supernatural religions promising some form of life after death.  Muslim extremists gladly kill themselves in the name of their religion.  American war heroes have died fighting Japanese and Germans in the name of Jesus, and no doubt many felt they were going to heaven for their heroic efforts.  God is a pretty handy device to have when your tribe is in trouble.  Almost all of us, atheist and theist alike, instinctively call out to God for help when we are in grave personal danger. 

     Man's philosophical beliefs have also been shaped by a survival contest of world religions to see which religion can most completely satisfy our emotional needs for a feeling of comfort and safety.  Organized religion is a business and must have money and public support to survive.  If your spouse or child dies, you want a priest, rabbi, monk, or swami to tell you that your loved one's soul is going to a better place.  Can you imagine a funeral service where a holy man bluntly states that the deceased has no soul and is gone forever?  That would seem cruel, and any religion that provided such a terse death ritual would not last long in the religious marketplace.

     Why do so many enlightened teachers believe in souls and karma?  It has been my observation that even the enlightened are affected by cultural conditioning and have a tendency to pass on the religious teachings of those who came before them with only minor modifications.  For example, the famous enlightened teachers from meat-eating societies in Tibet, China, and Japan also ate meat, while the great sages from strictly vegetarian India believe that eating meat is a horrible unspiritual practice.  So I ask, did Rajneesh and J. Krishnamurti believe in souls because of some direct experience, or simply because they grew up in soul-oriented India?  Rajneesh once stated that even plants have souls, and if an enlightened man (Rajneesh himself) sat next to a plant, that plant would be so graced that in its next incarnation, it might be born as a human being.  I find that grandiose and self-serving statement difficult to believe, and I suspect a significant amount of the time Rajneesh was simply shooting his mouth off without even thinking about what he was saying.

     On another occasion, Rajneesh stated that we are attracted to beautiful people because their outer beauty represents the inner beauty of their souls, as it is the soul which creates the physical body and mind.  Science has proven that DNA creates the body and brain, not any mysterious and immaterial "soul."  Outward beauty does not always mean inward beauty or even a sane mind.  The infamous serial killer Ted Bundy was quite handsome physically, yet he is estimated to have murdered between 35 and 50 women just for the thrill of it.  If the great "enlightened" Rajneesh could be mistaken about something this basic, then couldn't he be wrong about anything?

     The "Master" Rajneesh presented many idiotic theories about life right here and now, so why should anyone believe his theories about souls and reincarnation?  It is only because of his great psychic presence that his disciples refrained from laughing out loud at some of his ridiculous ideas.  Rajneesh was living proof that enlightenment, intelligence, and honesty are separate phenomena.  You can be a fool, a liar, and a criminal, and also become a great energy channeler (enlightened) if that is your predisposition and desire.  Freedom means the free choice to be good or bad, and you have that choice no matter how powerful your meditation skills have become.  George Gurdjieff, the famous Greek-Armenian mystic, was an alcoholic.  Rajneesh became a drug addict, yet both men could channel a great cosmic presence that inspired thousands of spiritual seekers.

     Rajneesh's use of drugs, especially Valium, nitrous oxide, and LSD, also casts doubt on his soul theory of enlightenment.  Rajneesh once stated that from his personal experience, LSD can produce the same consciousness as a Buddha.  During his younger sober days, Rajneesh stated that LSD produced a "false samadhi" and that consciousness was the product of the "soul," not just physical chemistry.  Rajneesh changed his teaching to rationalize his drug use by stating that "You are nothing but chemistry."  He thus implied that it is acceptable to use chemicals to alter consciousness because you are chemicals bonded together in an organic biological machine.  One could ask that if Rajneesh had the power of astral projection as claimed, wouldn't flying around the world in his soul body be more entertaining than getting cheap thrills from taking LSD and nitrous oxide?

     Rajneesh claimed to be as enlightened as the historic Buddha, and I believe that he was, but why does a Buddha need to take hallucinogenic drugs?  My answer is that Rajneesh became bored with the Void because the Void can only provide peacefulness long term, but not an eternal buzz of blissfulness.  Judging from my meditative practice and reading of science, the buzz, and bliss of meditation comes from a buildup of excess neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain.  When you meditate in formal sessions, you are conserving the chemical energy of your brain by not wasting it on thoughts and sensory distractions.  Thus, you become blissful and may experience nonsexual orgasms during meditation sessions, but that ecstasy gradually dissipates after you return to your normal work routine.  The feeling of spaciousness and peacefulness continues, but the buzz settles down to a feeling of neutrality and quiet emptiness.  There is no eternal orgasm-ecstasy-buzz-bliss possible because any human feeling that has a beginning must also have an end due to the inherent chemical nature of the brain.

     The Buddha is reported as having said that there is "no bliss."  Rajneesh at times admitted that he felt "no energy," though those around him felt awash in his energy.  U.G. Krishnamurti stated that there is "no bliss."  When I meditate in formal sessions, I experience bliss and nonsexual orgasms felt in the Hara (belly center), the heart center, the forehead center, and the center of the head directly behind the eyes.  The problem is, the orgasmic feelings never last.  I have to go back to my meditation room and sit to regain the neurochemical energy that dissipates during the daily routine of work.  Using my brain for utilitarian purposes eats up those neurotransmitters rather quickly.  It may also be that the brain itself wants to bring us back to a state of neutrality because a neutral brain has the greatest ability to ensure our physical survival.  A man distracted with a blissed-out brain is likely to be the first member of the tribe eaten by the lion, not the last.  Meditation and enlightenment may be a neurochemical experience, not a magical soul experience outside the laws of chemistry and physics.

     Rajneesh changed his name to "Osho" and ended his life in a state of dementia due to illness and drug addiction.  J. Krishnamurti avoided major scandals, stayed sober, and is still highly revered long after his death.  But was J. Krishnamurti a saint and somehow better ethically than any normal human being?  I know many people who lead virtuous lives who don't meditate at all.  What made J. Krishnamurti different was not how he lived, which was ordinary, but his tremendous presence of being.  You stood next to him and felt flooded with cosmic energy which pushed you high into the sky, destroying all feelings of limitation.  Was J. Krishnamurti's grand presence the result of many past lifetimes of spiritual effort, or was it the result of modest effort in meditation combined with a genetic gift for cosmic consciousness?

     Matthew Alper points out in his book that some forms of epilepsy cause hyper-religiousness and mystical experiences.  J. Krishnamurti's mother was an epileptic, and we know epilepsy can be genetically transferred.  J. Krishnamurti never had fits, but he often mysteriously passed out, giving those near him a warning that he was about to lose consciousness.  The Indian sage Ramakrishna was reported to have had fits in which he thrashed on the ground uncontrollably.  The universally revered Ramana Maharshi claimed that his emotional heart center was located on the "right side" of his chest, which I suspect represents a brain abnormality.  In normal human beings, the emotional heart center is located in the exact center of the chest.

     Is it possible that natural variations in our genetic code could produce in each century a handful of people with brains perfectly adapted for enlightenment, thus making meditative practice so easy that they reached the goal with little effort?  Ramana Maharshi is reported to have achieved "God-consciousness" at the tender age of 17.  Rajneesh claims to have become enlightened at age 21.  J. Krishnamurti was in his early twenties when people around him started to feel that he was fully enlightened.  Ramakrishna was reported to have been "born enlightened," as was the ancient Chinese mystic, Lao Tzu.

     Are the spiritually gifted among us the rare but naturally occurring result of genetic variation?  Of the 20,000 to 25,000 genes that make up a human being, roughly half are suspected of being devoted to blueprinting our central nervous system.  Thus, with 10,000 to 12,500 individual genes controlling the formation of our brain and spinal cord, the potential for major variations in the level of human consciousness is enormous.  For example, scientists have found that changes in just a few human genes can have a dramatic effect on the level of our intelligence.  Is it therefore logical that human gene combinations exist that control the amount of raw consciousness we possess?

     Few humans have the artistic talent of Michelangelo or the mathematical genius of Albert Einstein.  If there is a natural genetic "bell curve" for intelligence, then why not a natural genetically driven bell curve for psychic power as well?  [See The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.]  Research has shown that identical twins tend to have the same level of interest in religion and/or mystical experiences.  This suggests that there is a strong genetic component to our meditative potential.  If DNA can explain the vast differences between a mosquito and a man, then why can't genetic variations also explain the vast mental differences between a Hitler and a Buddha? 

     Are the enlightened simply those few individuals at the extreme forward edge of the bell curve, with the masses of the world population stuck near the middle?  If there are child prodigy pianists, artists, and even child prodigy golfers, then why not child prodigy meditators as well?  The Asian cultures may have simply mistaken naturally occurring genetic variations in the human brain for evidence of a romanticized past life history that does not exist in fact.  The group conditioning became so strong that the myths of reincarnation fooled even the enlightened ones.  History shows that the easiest explanation for a phenomenon that has the most supporting evidence is usually correct.  Grand claims require significant evidence to justify a belief in them, and there is currently no scientifically valid evidence of reincarnation or a magical transference of personal karma.

     If the spiritual bell curve theory is true, it could help explain the obvious corruption of gurus.  Rajneesh was a convicted felon and a proven liar and hypocrite of historic proportions.  George Gurdjieff was also a chronic liar and a loud and often rude alcoholic.  The genetics-based view of enlightenment helps explain why there are so few enlightened ones at any given time.  If every soul has multiple chances to improve its meditation skills over lifetimes of effort, then surely the world would produce more than the meager handful of enlightened sages that are born each century.  Since at least the dawn of Hinduism (about 1500 BC), long before the historic Buddha was born (about 563 BC), millions of human beings have been making a sincere effort at meditation, so where are the results of these lifetimes of effort?  The mathematical logistics of the soul-karma theory just do not add up. 

     The argument for souls and/or immortal karma is that enlightenment is a process that takes many lifetimes of effort, and the fruition of our long journey through time is the eventual payoff of "moksha" (final spiritual freedom), infinite ecstasy, and liberation from all suffering.  This highly romantic idea appeals because it brings a sense of warmth and justice into a cold and often pointlessly cruel world.  It intuitively seems fair that the right action is eventually rewarded with positive results, but this belief in inevitable karma has also caused negative results.  In Tibet, it produced a kind of fatalistic inaction that aided the Communist Chinese in their military takeover in 1950.  To quote Drupon Samten Rinpoche, "They can be taking this life, but they cannot take the next life."  This feeling of immortality has brought Tibetan Buddhists a great sense of peace and compassion in the face of invasion and genocide, but is it based on real-world fact or just wishful thinking? 

     Belief in souls and immortal karma has had many negative effects in India, where the theory of reincarnation helped establish the ancient Hindu caste system.  The caste system was abolished by law in 1949 but lives on as an unfair social class structure which is considerably worse than the traditional class snobbery practiced in Europe.  The lower caste, the Shudras, are considered inferior to the higher castes of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas.  Even below the Shudras are the outcasts, known as the "untouchables," who have no caste at all.  The untouchables are looked down upon as being spiritually unworthy due to past life sins and are limited to performing the most unpleasant jobs, such as disposing of dead bodies and cleaning toilets.  The theory of reincarnation has been used in India as a convenient rationalization to exploit those who are poor and uneducated.  Skin diseases, such as leprosy, are considered signs of punishment for evil deeds committed in past lives.  Medical science has proven that leprosy is just an ordinary bacterial infection that anyone can contract given sufficient exposure to mycobacterium leprae bacillus.  Even the great Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh promoted the inhumane karmic explanation for leprosy.

     Reincarnation and immortal karma were a way ancient peoples could explain and rationalize the inherent inequities of life, death, disease, riches, and poverty in religious terms that had no basis in fact.  All of the major world religions are relics of the prescientific era, and all have negative biases woven into their teachings.  I suggest that it is time to embrace a pro-science meditative attitude that does not promote irrational belief in magic and the supernatural, things that exist in our imagination, but which have no real existence.

     Rejecting the soul theory negates any need to answer such impossible questions as where souls come from and why they exist.  The rebellious sage U.G. Krishnamurti stated "There is no such thing as enlightenment," and that his state of continuous cosmic consciousness was without cause, or "acausal."  Could it be that the real cause of enlightenment is rarefied DNA combined with modest effort?  Perhaps the ancient Hindus and Buddhists invented myths of souls and immortal karma simply because they were uneducated observers of the natural phenomena around them and inside them.  Siddhartha Gautama never knew about neurons or DNA, so how could he be expected to come up with any explanations for life that were not based on inherited cultural myths of the supernatural?

     I dismiss claims of past life memories because of the projective nature of the human brain.  The brain can project any image or feeling, and it is the same neurological mechanism that projects fantasies of the subconscious that also projects authentic memories stored in brain cells.  What comes out of that one singular projector may be real memory or real fantasy, but no one can tell the difference with certainty, not even the late J. Krishnamurti or the Dalai Lama.

     False memories are a common occurrence in courtrooms and have sent many innocent men to their deaths for crimes they never committed.  Just imagine a monk walking into a courtroom claiming to remember all of his past lives.  Then imagine the monk being grilled under cross-examination. and he cannot even remember what he had for lunch just a few days before.  Even the enlightened sages have memory problems and need to write down important dates and facts, so they won't forget.

     If a high Tibetan lama or Hindu yogi enters a medical laboratory full of skeptical scientists and proves through testing that he can transfer his consciousness out of his body, then belief in souls and reincarnation would be easier for everyone.  To date that has not happened, and hospital tests designed to prove out-of-body episodes during near-death experiences have yielded no positive results.  As far as scientifically valid evidence of a soul is concerned, the well is completely dry.  Human beings exist as footprints in the sand.  One day the footprints will be erased and only the sand will be left behind.  There is no reincarnation and there is no personal continuity of karma.

     I use to dismiss U.G. Krishnamurti's claim that there is no enlightenment, no soul, and no reincarnation as just his negative way of teaching.  Perhaps, however, he was just trying to tell us the truth no matter how shocking that truth may be.  Instead of becoming attached to the small personal identity of a mythical human soul, or the very real human body, it is apparent that we must identify with nothing less than infinity itself to find authentic immortality.  That is a pretty tall order for a human brain that only weighs about 3 pounds (1,300 to 1,400 grams).  All of the great religions of the world may be wrong and just a product of our fear of dying. 

A summary of the main issues

1)  There is no positive proof for the existence of souls, immortal karma, reincarnation, or any spiritual afterlife.  It is interesting to note that in their last years, even Rajneesh/Osho and J. Krishnamurti reversed themselves and stated that there was no reincarnation and thus, presumably, no soul.  If there is no reincarnation and no heaven or hell, then the question of soul is moot.

2)  There are legitimate science-based alternate explanations for phenomena attributed to souls and immortal karma.  The enlightened teachers seem to confuse the effects of DNA for the effects of soul.  For example, people with higher intelligence and a more finely articulated DNA code are perceived by them as being older and higher souls.

3)  There are obvious profit and political power motives for those who promote belief in the supernatural.  How many gurus have made fortunes off the idea of souls and reincarnation?  How many monasteries, ashrams, churches, mosques, and synagogues would go out of business if people found out there is no soul or immortal karma?  How can governments and religious hierarchies control the masses if word leaks out that we all end up in the same state of eternal unconsciousness after we die no matter how we behave while we are alive?  Would there be a Vatican City or Tibetan Portola Palace without a belief in souls and/or immortal karma?  The idea of soul has historically been as much a matter of politics as it has been an issue of personal religious belief.

4)  It is highly probable that human animals have a built-in genetic predisposition to avoid the inevitable fact of our future death to reduce fear and stress.  Our brains create myths of God, soul, immortal karma, reincarnation, and afterlife as a buffer against the hurtful knowledge of the inevitable demise of ourselves and everyone we love.  By inventing myths of afterlife and/or reincarnation, the brain can exist comfortably without the highly charged survival instinct electrically connecting to the newfound knowledge of the inevitability of our death.  The supernatural myths thus act as resistive electrical insulation blocking a dangerous short circuit between two parts of the brain.

5)  The wild and colorful supernatural myths of Hinduism and Buddhism were created by the human brain mixing up the very real phenomenon of cosmic consciousness with the romantic, fiction-producing part of the brain that makes us fall in love.  Humans have an inbuilt biological need for love so we can sexually reproduce the species.  This urge for romance becomes embedded in our DNA code through the evolutionary process, just as our need for strong bones and sharp teeth.  Love is a survival requirement for the human species, and it is the very same internal brain wiring and euphoric brain chemistry which also creates fantastic myths of reincarnated religious superheroes.  The flawless Godly guru becomes our non-sexual fantasy spiritual lover.  Many Asian and Western gurus have taken advantage of this brain phenomenon and used their female disciples as a personal harem.  Sexual scandals follow gurus as regularly as summer follows spring.

6)  The soul-karma-reincarnation theory has no reasonable explanation as to how disincarnate souls enter a mother's womb and merge with a newly formed fetus.  The traditional Asian myths state that low souls get less auspicious bodies and higher souls get better-looking, healthier bodies with more intelligent brains.  Few believers in reincarnation have asked themselves how low souls are rejected from better-quality fetuses, and how high souls avoid the trap of getting attached to poor-quality fetuses.  The theory implies that souls have consciousness that lets them figure out which wombs to enter and which to avoid, and fetuses and/or wombs have built-in restrictions as to what type of soul may apply to enter.  Certainly, even low souls would like to enter better quality fetuses because everyone wants to be good-looking, healthy, and wise.  There are a thousand and one Hindu and Buddhist explanations for this process, which sounds a lot like house shopping and applying for a home mortgage.  None of the traditional theories meet even marginal standards of believability in explaining such an impossibly complex theoretical process.

7)  Life on Earth was created through the nonhuman laws of chemistry, physics, and probability.  Strands of chemicals (DNA) were created by sheer accident and replicated themselves faster than they could be destroyed.  By further accident, some DNA strands became encased in protective shells which increased their survivability dramatically, creating the first bacteria.  From simple bacteria, more complexity was added until a myriad of multi-celled creatures were produced.  Through this slow process of evolution over billions of years, there was never any need for soul except as a myth to help human animals deal with their growing consciousness of the inevitable time-death equation.  
Scientists have produced the genetic heart of active bacteria from their base chemical components. 

     The logistical mathematics of the soul theory does not add up.  Does every new bacterium, seed, egg, spider, minnow, or cockroach that appears in the world demand a soul to go along with its already sufficient DNA code?  We know that humans evolved from bacteria.  When did soul come into the picture and why?  Is there a printing press somewhere stamping out trillions of new souls every second to keep up with the demand?  The soul theory lacks logical credibility, and science has shown that the universe is extremely logical in its structure, formation, and evolution.

8)  The famous film director, Alfred Hitchcock, often added a theatrical ploy to his movies called a "MacGuffin."  The MacGuffin distracted the audience long enough so that suspense could be created and the plot could develop without giving away the true course of the story.  In the end, the MacGuffin has no meaning in itself.  Likewise, Hindus and Buddhists have invented complicated myths of reincarnation and/or immortal karma, declaring that we are all trapped in a cycle of birth and death and only our eventual enlightenment can set us free.  The Eastern traditions have created highly sophisticated myth structures, but the underlying function of their myths is identical to the more childlike myths of Christianity, with its almighty God, angels, and heaven.  The belief in karma and reincarnation is the MacGuffin that keeps our minds diverted from the inevitability and finality of our death.

     No one can honestly say that it is impossible that human beings have souls or immortal karma.  You cannot prove an absolute negative against such a big and complex issue.  One can only say that given the proven facts of life and nature, the possibility of a soul is unlikely.  On one side of the scale, you have an almost infinite preponderance of evidence that the supernatural does not exist, and on the other side of the scale, you have rumors, myths, and wishful thinking.

Here is an excerpt from The Over-Soul, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which was first published in 1841.

     "We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles.  Meantime within man is the soul of the whole: the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE.  And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one.  We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul."

     The universe is a pretty cold place.  We, humans, can warm it up with heart and poetry.  There is nothing wrong or scientifically inaccurate in declaring that the entire universe is God and that the entire universe is the soul.  The entire universe keeps creating living creatures, so it constantly reincarnates itself through its own living conscious structures.  This is nondualism, which is a simple understanding, not a religion. 

Christopher Calder   calderconnection@gmail.com


See the 16-minute YouTube video by physicist Max Tegmark, Consciousness is a Mathematical Pattern.   

Suggested reading

The "God" Part of the Brain, by Matthew Alper.  Alper details the logical scientific argument that spirituality is the product of genetics and biochemistry and that God, soul, and reincarnation are inventions of the human brain, used as a device to relieve the tremendous stress of death awareness.

Note  Opinions expressed on this page must be viewed as the ideas of an ordinary student of meditation.  While I truly believe everything I say, you should not believe anything unless you see it, feel it, and know it for yourself.  I make no claims of infallibility.  I claim fallibility. 

Copyright notice: Please feel free to copy, repost, or publish Do you have a soul? (© 2004 Christopher Calder) for educational, noncommercial use.  You may repost or publish any of my essays without cost, but you must clearly state that the essays were written by Christopher Calder.  No one has been granted permission to use my writings to sell any products or services.  This is a 100% free website published only for the benefit of other students of meditation.