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Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The topic of "life after death" raises disreputable connotations of past-life regression and haunted houses, but there are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends. Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life. If science has something to say about, we should all be interested in hearing.

Adam Frank thinks that science has nothing to say about it. He advocates being "firmly agnostic" on the question. (His coblogger Alva Noë resolutely disagrees.) I have an enormous respect for Adam; he’s a smart guy and a careful thinker. When we disagree it’s with the kind of respectful dialogue that should be a model for disagreeing with non-crazy people. But here he couldn’t be more wrong.

Adam claims that there "simply is no controlled, experimental[ly] verifiable information" regarding life after death. By these standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese. Sure, we can take spectra of light reflecting from the Moon, and even send astronauts up there and bring samples back for analysis. But that’s only scratching the surface, as it were. What if the Moon is almost all green cheese, but is covered with a layer of dust a few meters thick? Can you really say that you know this isn’t true? Until you have actually examined every single cubic centimeter of the Moon’s interior, you don’t really have experimentally verifiable information, do you? So maybe agnosticism on the green-cheese issue is warranted. (Come up with all the information we actually do have about the Moon; I promise you I can fit it into the green-cheese hypothesis.)

Obviously this is completely crazy. Our conviction that green cheese makes up a negligible fraction of the Moon’s interior comes not from direct observation, but from the gross incompatibility of that idea with other things we think we know. Given what we do understand about rocks and planets and dairy products and the Solar System, it’s absurd to imagine that the Moon is made of green cheese. We know better.

We also know better for life after death, although people are much more reluctant to admit it. Admittedly, "direct" evidence one way or the other is hard to come by — all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. But surely it’s okay to take account of indirect evidence — namely, compatibility of the idea that some form of our individual soul survives death with other things we know about how the world works.

Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die. If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?

Everything we know about quantum field theory (QFT) says that there aren’t any sensible answers to these questions. Of course, everything we know about quantum field theory could be wrong. Also, the Moon could be made of green cheese.

Among advocates for life after death, nobody even tries to sit down and do the hard work of explaining how the basic physics of atoms and electrons would have to be altered in order for this to be true. If we tried, the fundamental absurdity of the task would quickly become evident.

Even if you don’t believe that human beings are "simply" collections of atoms evolving and interacting according to rules laid down in the Standard Model of particle physics, most people would grudgingly admit that atoms are part of who we are. If it’s really nothing but atoms and the known forces, there is clearly no way for the soul to survive death. Believing in life after death, to put it mildly, requires physics beyond the Standard Model. Most importantly, we need some way for that "new physics" to interact with the atoms that we do have.

Very roughly speaking, when most people think about an immaterial soul that persists after death, they have in mind some sort of blob of spirit energy that takes up residence near our brain, and drives around our body like a soccer mom driving an SUV. The questions are these: what form does that spirit energy take, and how does it interact with our ordinary atoms? Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there can’t be a new collection of "spirit particles" and "spirit forces" that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments. Ockham’s razor is not on your side here, since you have to posit a completely new realm of reality obeying very different rules than the ones we know.

But let’s say you do that. How is the spirit energy supposed to interact with us? Here is the equation that tells us how electrons behave in the everyday world:

Don’t worry about the details; it’s the fact that the equation exists that matters, not its particular form. It’s the Dirac equation — the two terms on the left are roughly the velocity of the electron and its inertia — coupled to electromagnetism and gravity, the two terms on the right.

As far as every experiment ever done is concerned, this equation is the correct description of how electrons behave at everyday energies. It’s not a complete description; we haven’t included the weak nuclear force, or couplings to hypothetical particles like the Higgs boson. But that’s okay, since those are only important at high energies and/or short distances, very far from the regime of relevance to the human brain.

If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?) So any respectable scientist who took this idea seriously would be asking — what form does that interaction take? Is it local in spacetime? Does the soul respect gauge invariance and Lorentz invariance? Does the soul have a Hamiltonian? Do the interactions preserve unitarity and conservation of information?

Nobody ever asks these questions out loud, possibly because of how silly they sound. Once you start asking them, the choice you are faced with becomes clear: either overthrow everything we think we have learned about modern physics, or distrust the stew of religious accounts/unreliable testimony/wishful thinking that makes people believe in the possibility of life after death. It’s not a difficult decision, as scientific theory-choice goes.

We don’t choose theories in a vacuum. We are allowed — indeed, required — to ask how claims about how the world works fit in with other things we know about how the world works. I’ve been talking here like a particle physicist, but there’s an analogous line of reasoning that would come from evolutionary biology. Presumably amino acids and proteins don’t have souls that persist after death. What about viruses or bacteria? Where upon the chain of evolution from our monocellular ancestors to today did organisms stop being described purely as atoms interacting through gravity and electromagnetism, and develop an immaterial immortal soul?

There’s no reason to be agnostic about ideas that are dramatically incompatible with everything we know about modern science. Once we get over any reluctance to face reality on this issue, we can get down to the much more interesting questions of how human beings and consciousness really work.

Sean Carroll is a physicist and author. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, and is now on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology, where his research focuses on fundamental physics and cosmology. Carroll is the author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, and Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity. He has written for Discover, Scientific American, New Scientist, and other publications. His blog Cosmic Variance is hosted by Discover magazine, and he has been featured on television shows such as The Colbert Report, National Geographic’s Known Universe, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. His Twitter handle is @seanmcarroll

Cross-posted on Cosmic Variance.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 60 Comments

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  1. 1. Hiroshima 6:48 pm 05/26/2011

    I am not going to make any arguments for the soul but it seems to me that Sean Caroll’s argument is obviously fallacious in that it uses circular reasoning. It presumes naturalism to prove naturalism.

    Defining naturalism/physicalism: All things that exist are physical things ie they can be described in terms of physical states and matter and energy and all interactions between these things can be described in terms of physical states and matter and energy
    Steps in Carroll’s argument
    1) Naturalism is true
    2)If naturalism is true the soul would have to posses some kind or energy or matter or physical properties and would have to interact with the brain via some physical process.
    3)In physics no such physical process/energy exists
    4)Therefore belief in souls is false.

    Most theist reject naturalism so they would hold premise 1 to be false.
    Some physicists such as Roger Penrose will dispute premise 3 even if they accept naturalism(he makes some arguments based on quantum mechanics that I do not find persuasive). Any way I think it fallacious to assume just because scientists have not found a physical process like x , they will not find x in the future.

    Most dualist would say something like a soul cannot be decribed in terms of physical states like Carroll assumes , but only in terms of mental states (like intentions , desires) so looking for a physical process is misguided.

    There are good arguments against dalism, but this isn’t one.

    Link to this
  2. 2. adamwho 6:54 pm 05/26/2011

    You are right but believers in the soul and scientists will not except this rather obvious conclusion. Believers have their faith and will compartmentalize the belief in a soul far away from facts, evidence, and well supported theory. Scientists will resist because of the unwritten rule that it is against the rules to criticize a faith-based belief, even when that belief makes testable claims.

    We should move from the passive, "there is no evidence there for doubt/disbelief is justified" toward, "we have enough evidence to positively rule-out this belief."

    Link to this
  3. 3. rwstutler 7:40 pm 05/26/2011

    "We should move from the passive, "there is no evidence there for doubt/disbelief is justified" toward, "we have enough evidence to positively rule-out this belief.""

    I’d say that we have enough evidence to state that the probability of this belief being true assymptoticaly approaches zero. Scientifically derived knowlege is not about certainty, but about probabilities.

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  4. 4. mrshiny 12:51 am 05/27/2011

    I believe the arguments put forth could just as easily "prove" that there are no human wants or desires, as these too do not have a demonstratable impact on electrons. The soul as an immortal aspect of the self as defined could not exist in this reality. No one I know of holds that it does. Perhaps science will someday discover a way to explore beyond this physical universe.

    How can proving soul does not interact with the body disprove the soul when it is not assumed to interact with the body? Does my body not cast a shadow simce that shadow does not interact with my body?

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  5. 5. mrshiny 1:00 am 05/27/2011

    "We should move from the passive, "there is no evidence there for doubt/disbelief is justified" toward, "we have enough evidence to positively rule-out this belief.""

    What evidence rules out a reality beyond ours of which the soul might be a part? I agree no verifiable evidence suggests it, but are there not other phenomena that are not verifiable, or at least not yet verifiable?

    What evidence suggest humans have hopes?

    If you talk about probabilities, then you should probably disbelieve improbable things such as that on a world of successful adaptations recurring multiple times, the uniquely human adaptations that elevated us to the dominant species happened once and only once by random chance.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Lightning Leo 8:52 am 05/27/2011

    This reminds me of Socrates’ final dialogue, where he discusses logical proofs with his friends/disciples to justify the existence of the soul and consequently an afterlife. Then, as now, I remain baffled at the discussion, as we are discoursing lengthily upon terms for which there is no shared definition.

    What exactly is this "soul" which you conjecture persists beyond death? Is it a consciousness? Is it a quality of elementary particles fundamental to life? What possesses this "soul", is it solely the dominion of humanity, or is it common to plants and animals as well? May this definition be extended to non-living objects and the fabric of space-time itself?

    All the constituent elements which establish our existence, forged eons ago in the hearts of dying stars, do not in isolation suggest this "soul"-phenomena. Are we to interpret that when arranged in a pattern we call "life", suddenly this "immortal" quality assumes existence?

    Until you exactly qualify the object of your ill-defined pursuit in a concrete manner which may be collectively understood, we are otherwise left chasing arbitrary phantoms. You are applying the scientific method in reverse, by forgoing examining the evidence and suggesting theory suitable to observable reality, and instead suggesting theory and examining observable reality for evidence.

    That is to say, I may suggest The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists and search for proof, yet does it not seem a capricious approach? I may as well suggest the existence of flying dragons, or unicorns. I believe it is better to examine reality and then suggest somethings existence, than the reverse.

    Here, we can all learn something from the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, which took a supercomputer eons to calculate and form an answer. The answer is 42. Why? Because the question itself is wrong. False premises lead to false conclusions, and unfortunately are a great waste of time.

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  7. 7. Julio Siqueira 9:40 am 05/27/2011

    Mr. Carroll’s article is interesting, but unfortunatelly it is highly faulty, even in terms of physics. I plan to make a deeper analysis of it in the following days.

    Best Regards
    Julio Siqueira

    Link to this
  8. 8. leuken 11:16 am 05/27/2011

    I truly feel sorry for those of you who can’t feel your own Being, your essence of who you truly are. So many are out of touch with their Being (pure consciousness) that they only live in their own prisons of thought and ego. Once you strip away your mind’s constant stream of egoic control, you will begin to sense a true essence, something that is by very nature, undescribable.

    People say that belief in a soul or an afterlife is all in the head. I contend that non-belief is truly the inability to sense the truth, that is, we are connected to the universe, a supreme creator which is pure consciousness.

    So try to get outside of you ego-controlled thoughts and feel.

    So many miss the mark and believe that people who belive in spirituality are mindless fools. They are not fools. They are in touch with something greater than themselves. Spiritual people are not spiritual because they use their logical brain to make a judgment about reality, they are in touch with something on a much deeper level.

    So for those of you have nothing to look forward to, I’m sorry.

    I expect the usual attacks and slander that come along with comments like these. It’s okay, I don’t mind.

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  9. 9. Operadical 11:52 am 05/27/2011

    Wonderful article, Sean

    At the outset, one needs to take in consideration the question of why we are even spending precious time questioning the validity of immortality, when, the evidence for such comprises no more than the thoughts of human beings transmitted generationally for millennia. Claims made in ‘holy’ texts have never, even to the slightest degree, been verified. To remain agnostic on the question of immortality is intellectual bankruptcy.

    Let’s take our eyes out of the ‘heavens’ and train them on the only life we know for certain. Billions of dollars are squandered trying to continually buttress these delusions against the persistent reality of – reality. Time would be better spent on – well, reality.

    Link to this
  10. 10. eveshi 2:31 pm 05/27/2011

    I did comment Mr Carroll’s article here:

    http://forum.mind-energy.net/48769-post14.html

    http://forum.mind-energy.net/48839-post35.html

    http://forum.mind-energy.net/48840-post36.html

    Link to this
  11. 11. rwstutler 3:35 pm 05/27/2011

    "What evidence suggest humans have hopes?"

    Human experience, and reports of human beings. Further, neuroscience using brain imaging technology and stimulation of specific brain areas demonstrate that "hope" is associated with activity in specific areas of the brain.

    Whatever is real exists, whatever exists interacts with other things which exist. That which is unreal does not exist and does not interact.

    Link to this
  12. 12. eanassir 4:06 pm 05/27/2011

    The soul or the spirit is not material to be measured by material scales; it is ethereal spiritual which is a true copy of the body.
    The true man is the soul not the body; the soul is the driver and the body is driven, it is the soul that hears, sees and feels the pleasure and pain; the body cannot do anything of that.
    http://www.quran-ayat.com/man/index.htm#What_Is_Man_
    http://www.quran-ayat.com/man/index.htm#The_Soul_

    Link to this
  13. 13. Michael B7 4:55 pm 05/27/2011

    I’m convinced. The photograph of the author, the assertiveness and confidence displayed, the smile (alors!, he looks astonishingly like yours truly!), not to mention the politically correct result of his argument – yep, I’m convinced.

    I.e. if Plato can have Socrates reply to Thrasymachus, in the first book of the Republic, with short-circuited arguments that are similar to the types of sophistries Thrasymachus attempts against Socrates (if on the subject of justice, rather than immortality), and if the author herein can remain so contentedly incurious as applied to philosophical subjects proper to this topos, then anyone should feel free to reply with similarly short-circuited – and contented – arrogations and pseudo- and quasi-arguments.

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  14. 14. ewfarrell 7:39 pm 05/27/2011

    More doubletalk from a "scientwist":

    Dr. Carroll:

    "Clearly this [life after death] is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life"

    Comment:

    And yet, as we quickly see, you really regard it as a silly question. The BS meters are registering high on the scale, though they’re not pegged.

    Dr. Carroll:

    By [Adam Frank's] standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese.

    Comment:

    But no thinking person ever believed the moon is made of green cheese; for this reason alone it’s not analogous to the belief in life after death. So this is just rhetoric and now the BS meters are pegged.

    Dr. Carroll:

    …all we have [to support the notion of life beyond death] are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences…

    Comment:

    You don’t mention the doctrines of nearly every major religion over the past 3,000 years.

    Dr. Carroll:

    …plus a bucketload of wishful thinking.

    Comment:

    Wishful thinking about the Christian hell? The Buddhist/Hindu realm of samsara with its sad, endless cycles? The doleful afterlifes of the Babylonian religions? But perhaps you’re only familiar with the Oprah Winfrey sort of religion you’re exposed to on the boob tube.

    Dr. Carroll:

    the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood.

    Comment:

    Completely understood? You evidently take your readers for complete dolts.

    Link to this
  15. 15. lysdexia 9:06 pm 05/27/2011

    You choose wrong: http://google.com/groups?q=%22Warfare+by+Autymn%22.

    Link to this
  16. 16. lysdexia 9:45 pm 05/27/2011

    Thanks, Further On.

    The soul is not immutabil, and thus not immortal.

    The soul is not supernatural, but http://dictionary.com/browse/preternatural.

    The soul interacts with normal matter, so cannot be in another univers or be of dark matter. Neither is "dark matter" in the standard model, but we know it’s there. And I know its composition: http://google.com/groups?q=%22main-ingrediend%22.

    The soul in men, dogs, and seeds has been weihed. In a radionics primer was a older experiment to find the gain in weiht of a seed in a stoppered test tube upon germination. Also there was a ref to the book /Biological Transmutations/ of nonstandard alkemical reactions in living bodies.

    With regard to Dirac equation, yes the soul implies the elèctròn’s wavefunction is nonunitary. Its componends are only five, and those in the real axis. But the soul is not onefold (simplex) but manifold (multiplex), and therefore emergent: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/emergence. Its drivers are not elementary motes but http://wikipedia.org/wiki/quasiparticles in a http://wikipedia.org/wiki/condensed_physics medium.

    Fýsics beyond the Standard Model, in ecsotics, squeezed states, and nonlocal interactions are quantifiabil: http://www.npl.washington.edu/AV/.

    The [scientific] proof for the soul and afterlife is old and plenty: http://twitter.com/#!/alysdexia/status/65520938892005376.

    By the way, weak is not one of the fundamental fortiæ; weak also is the comparison to well, and limp to strong. "weak" means near death or failship. The interaction of nuclear transmutations is a unification of elèctric and coloral; hennes its massive quantum and finite range. There are only three fundamental fortiæ: http://google.com/groups?q=Autymn+-autumn+%22The+New+Model%22.

    Also, black holes are fake: They breach conservation of momentum, probability, energhy, and entropy, and are forbidden by special relativity; the hýdrostatic Emden function is classical; as is Schwarzschild radius classical. I wrote a refutation of Chandrasekhar’s Nobel prize essay in Wikipedia’s talk page archive for "white dwarf".

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  17. 17. k2source 12:26 am 05/28/2011

    Until we have a better understanding of consciousness and qualia I think I will reserve the right to be agnostic. Yes, of course, Cartesian Dualism is not a coherent explanation of the mind or ‘soul’ but that is a straw man. Our minds do require a physical encoding but there is a broad class of physical machines that suffice: a human brain, a sufficiently advanced computer simulation on various platforms including perhaps a quantum computer, etc. In fact, our own introspection does not allow us to distinguish these (and a possibly infinite number of other) cases and for all we know we could be running in a computer simulation in some other galaxy light-years away or in a superposition of all of these possibilities. In a many-worlds (MWI) view of reality there is an inexhaustible source of physical structures available to encode any subjective experience and so it is not completely clear to me that some form of subjective continuity is impossible after death. Although this idea of Quantum Immortality is controversial, it does not require any appeal to the supernatural…

    k2source
    http://www.realitycipher.com

    Link to this
  18. 18. frankenberry 10:52 am 05/28/2011

    The equation for electrons is presented as evidence against the soul since it does not include terms for a soul, and experiments performed are consistent with the equation. But digging deeper, we need other particles to exist, particles we do not have direct evidence for, or our standard model does not work. So instead of God, we have a God particle. Same church, smaller pew.

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  19. 19. Further On 10:54 am 05/28/2011

    Mr. Carroll: Can I assume you read Edwin Abbott’s little mathematical allegory of 1884, Flatland, in your youth? You recall the visitor from a 3rd dimension coming to Flatland, showing the resident a point that appears, becomes a small circle, grows, then shrinks and disappears, as a sphere passes through the Flatland’s plane. The Flatlander comprehends neither the sphere nor a land with a 3rd dimension.
    Flatland is a lesson in humility, not math. Since 1884 we have defined time as a fourth dimension, although its temporal distances are different from the x, y and z scalars. And the idea of the tesseract shows its believers another ‘dimension’, but one we can’t touch or utilize, so far as we know. So where can we look for equivalents of Abbott’s sphere passing through- our intersection with another dimension? Perhaps in our ‘universe’ the element entering from the unseen dimension is US- living beings!
    Read the writings of Ian Stevenson (died 2007), then-chair of Psychology at U. VA-Charlottesville, who in the 1960s discovered young kids who recalled details of past lives. He studied over 3000 kids, taking some to their ‘old’ homes, where they chatted w/ former relatives about things only they could know. Or sung folk songs of places far away-in languages unknown to anyone nearby. These memories faded by age 7 or 8. Google Stevenson, many entries, esp one at: http://reluctant-messenger.com/reincarnation-proof.htm , which has good links.
    These kids have come ‘here’ from somewhere they went to at death some time before. I.S. verified dozens of facts for these kids in 30+ years. He published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at conventions for decades. Can chance explain, or allow, even 1/10,000th of these verified specifics? Mathematics says "No"! Science demands they be replicated- are these 3000 not enough?
    Many kids also describe floating above their dying body, the tunnel of light, etc that Elizabeth Kubler Ross describes from ‘this side’. Most are from India, Sri Lanka or Druze Lebanon, where parents’ world views don’t discourage talk of such memories, as do ours in the monotheistic West.
    What else might link these two realms besides memories? Not the tissues of our brains, to be sure. Where were these people ‘before’- between the lives? NASA can’t send rockets there, or see the ‘place’ with the Hubble telescope. An equally good Q: where is it that WE are? (Remember: Abbott councils humility.) Note-there’s no claim for a soul by Stevenson. But any denial of an afterlife must deal with this in-between ‘place’.

    Link to this
  20. 20. cstraus 3:20 pm 05/28/2011

    "We also know better for life after death, although people are much more reluctant to admit it. Admittedly, "direct" evidence one way or the other is hard to come by — all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. But surely it’s okay to take account of indirect evidence — namely, compatibility of the idea that some form of our individual soul survives death with other things we know about how the world works."

    How disengenuous. Dismiss a part of "what we know about the world" as "sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses"–even though: 1) many if the claims are far from sketchy, 2) many if the witnesses are var from unreliable 3) some of the claims have been investigated and found inexplicable without a change in our thinking-that is the witnesses have seen and recounted what they could not have known but for some sort of outside the body by some conscious observer.

    There us a lot more we (collectively) "know about the world" that indicate physics has not explained it all.

    This article is not science–it is conformation bias.

    Link to this
  21. 21. cstraus 3:46 pm 05/28/2011

    How disingenuous!

    Start from a false premise: “… an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies.”

    I do not recall this —- that this soul you don’t believe in “interacts with our bodies”– being part of any given definition of the soul. This “interaction” would certainly not be required for the soul to have a continued existence. Reasoning from a false premise is a gross breach of logic, as you certainly ought to know.

    Then you proceed to dismiss accounts of events you don’t happen to credit by calling them “sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences"

    First off the claims are not “sketchy”–”giving only the main points, with little detail" they are detailed. The details vary, but there are many details. The accounts are numerous.

    Second, some more open minded experts have set out to debunk these claims only to find they could not. The witnesses are not “unreliable” except that you don;t believe them– a tautology. So you have used dishonest means to refuse to address the fact that these claims are part of “what we know of the world.”

    Then you ask "what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?”

    Even physics knows the world is not made up of “particles”-the particles are sometimes waves and all of it is energy. And again, no one has claimed that the soul “interacts with ordinary matter.” This is a straw man you have set up so you can easily knock it down.

    We don’t know what the mind is apart from the brain. (Or the body, as we now know consciousness is not confined to the brain but has receptors in the gut.) Why did you not ask what particle the mind is made up of? Because it sounds silly, perhaps.

    For shame sir–this article is not science–it is blatant conformation bias and intellectually dishonest.

    Link to this
  22. 22. estermazda 4:59 pm 05/28/2011

    this is silly, should I deduct from this that because scientists cannot explain what causes gravitational forces, gravity doesn’t exist? It is very strange for a publication which regularly features some far fetched, unproven tenets from some taxpayer-supported "researchers" in need of recognition to publish such restrictive opinion about an issue that has puzzled mankind for millennia. You’re way out of your present reach, stick to science based on observable phenomena and maybe one day you’ll have a chance at saying something interesting about this subject. But I’m only kidding myself, you guys are sooooo better than the rest of us, including all the smart people who came before, you’re not going to stop barking at the wrong tree and go back to address serious scientific and technological issues in this formerly serious magazine…

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  23. 23. Michael B7 5:50 pm 05/28/2011

    Peter Unger, in All the Power in the World (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), begins the first chapter:

    “For over fifty years, nearly all work by mainstream philosophers made no serious attempt to explore the nature of physical reality, even though most mainstream philosophers now take this to be all of reality, or nearly all. …

    “In this respect, we’ve been very different from Bertrand Russell … While Russell thought hard about the things that have preoccupied us, he also thought hard about the nature of physical reality. Why the great disparity?

    “By contrast with Russell, most contemporary workers, in core philosophic areas, just assume that, largely as a legacy from the physical sciences, we have been granted a happily adequate conception of physical reality. … Rather [than think hard about such matters] we’re much more moved by thoughts like this: `Let’s leave such terribly large matters to so many successful scientists, and to the few philosophers of science, so concerned to interpret the work of the many.’”

    [...]

    “… we do well to recall that Russell did not exaggerate much, if at all, when, in a generally robust epistemological spirit, he said, `as regards the world in general, both physical and mental, everything that we know of its intrinsic character is derived from the mental side.’ Nor did he exaggerate very much when, in a specifically Materialistic spirit, he said, `we know nothing about the intrinsic quality of physical events except when these are mental events that we directly experience.’”

    For emphasis, in a footnote to Russell’s quotes directly above, Unger tellingly notes, “[u]ntil recently, truths like those just quoted were, for centuries, influential with serious philosophers.”

    The preceding – should one eschew the pivotal elision, the incurious quality reflected in “[l]et’s leave such terribly large matters to so many successful scientists, and to the few philosophers of science, so concerned to interpret the work of the many” – can lead to the very real problems inherent in first philosophy, problems and a subject matter that our author, as with so many contemporaries, briskly and confidently elides altogether, and does so by virtue of a reliance upon what Unger properly titles the “scientiphical metaphysic,” or “scientiphicalism”.

    Unger proceeds, with notable rigor, to variously support what he labels a Quasi-Platonic Substantial Dualism or otherwise a Quasi-Platonic, Quasi-Cartesian Substantial Dualism.

    Unger is no fideist; the irony is, our author herein is, if of a late modern type.

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  24. 24. Michael B7 6:00 pm 05/28/2011

    For reference, the following, summarized, are Unger’s eight tenets of his Scientiphicalism:

    1) Idealism, formally understood (e.g., Berkeley), is untenable; matter exists outside of and independent of our consciousness/mind.

    2) To the extent the distribution of matter is determined (non-randomness, a rudimentary teleology), if perhaps only probabilistically (e.g., quantum probabilities), then it is determined by a combination of such distribution at an earlier time and the world’s most basic natural laws, all of which are physical laws.

    3) There are various levels of complexities of arrangement of matter, from slightly complex to fairly complex to highly complex, where living organisms, including humans, are generally conceived at the most complex end of the highly complex category.

    4) Cartesian dualism (dualistic interactionism) is untenable. Scientiphicalism may be conceived along two lines, 1) a "pure" physicalism or materialism – by far the most influential view – indeed the dominant view and 2) an epiphenomenalism that allows for a (very modest) dualism. But even where (2) is allowed, it is always the physical substrate which determines non-physical entities such as minds.

    5) To the extent the epiphenomenal version is allowed (here more personally understood), as individuals we are nonetheless devoid of any nonphysical powers/propensities.

    6) Everything is wholly physical and nothing more; everything is either a basic physical entity or a complex of basic physical entities together with less complex physical entities (whether an automobile or a sentient being, such as some among the commentariat in the blogosphere, though by no means all, and a few among D.C. based politicos, though few indeed).

    7) Likewise, all powers and propensities of complex physical things are derivative dispositions of physical entities and the basic natural laws which govern the physical. There are no exceptions. Thus again strictly limiting any epiphenomenal dualism allowed in this metaphysic.
    8) It has been the discipline of physics, at least so to this point, which has served as the main instrument used to discover the naturally basic properties of matter.

    Intellectual incuriosity, even when – or especially when – it relies upon au courant sensibilities and assumptions, is intellectual incuriosity nonetheless.

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  25. 25. breezanne 9:45 pm 05/28/2011

    Sean says that, "The laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood." This is true to the extent that humanly sensed "physical observables" behave in consistent ways that our physics models allow us to predict and explain. To a point. But so what?

    The predictability of apparent physical stuff does not begin to describe or delimit the nature of mental stuff [mind, awareness, soul, whatever you call it]. Heck, even "predictability" is a mental quality. Mental aspects of reality are inescapable… and MAY well be the ONLY inescapable quality that exists.

    If you seek evidence for or against the persistence of "soul" (to pick a word) beyond a temporary correlation with a brain… you’re going to have to get that evidence by being (or hearing from) a "soul" that has HAD verifiable experiences beyond temporary correlations with a brain. Where on earth else could you possibly expect to get it?

    Guess what? Such evidence exists… in the only forms one could reasonably expect.

    We hear many confident assertions that, "All such reports of verified experiences are surely mistaken, and surely have some [albeit hidden] physical explanation." Such assertions are based not upon evidence-against, but purely upon beliefs… beliefs that evidence-for cannot possibly mean what it most logically suggests.

    Why not? Because it contradicts/threatens adamant physicalist beliefs. It doesn’t contradict/threaten physics… just physicalist beliefs, which are sometimes (but not only, and not always) found in physicists like Sean. Similar to when evidence for evolution threatens certain creationist beliefs. Evidence against cherished beliefs is notoriously hard to swallow.

    Understanding physics is one thing. Understanding the place of physics within a more complete picture of reality is quite another, it seems.

    Consider the illogic of an argument that boils down to, "There are no nonphysical entities because I only acknowledge the existence of physical entities!"

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  26. 26. qwertyfool 2:27 am 05/29/2011

    The Dirac equation you point out in the article, where does that come from? Don’t tell me Dirac. If the Dirac equation exists from a locale, then the soul comes from the same locale. Both of these don’t violate the Dirac equation. Not everything is particles and fields, some of it is the "rules".

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  27. 27. qwertyfool 2:40 am 05/29/2011

    Not everything is particles and fields, some of it is the "rules". Can you tell me where the "rules" come from like Dirac’s equation in the above article? Watch out, religion ahead!

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  28. 28. guterman 9:23 am 05/29/2011

    The opening of Francis Crick’s book, The Astonishing Hypothesis states:

    The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: "You’re nothing but a pack of neurons." (p. 3)

    Crick’s work, along with others who have refuted René Descartes’ mind-body dualism, suggest that there is no ghost in the machine. I was never good at physics or mathematics, so I can’t follow the equation in the current article that Sean M. Carroll claims as proof that there is no soul and that there is no life after death. Let me remind the author and readers, however, that Gregory Bateson pointed out that science does not seek to prove anything but, rather, only to improve hypotheses. So, at best, we might say that physics lends support to the theory that there is no soul and that there is no life after death.

    We cannot know with absolute certainty one way or the other. I personally tend to think that the idea of a soul and life after death is a human myth; that is, a story that has been passed down despite lack of fact or scientific explanation. The reason why humans have created and perpetuated this myth is quite obvious. Who wants to think that when you die you are simply gone forever?

    Advances in biotechnology, on the other hand, hold promise for making life after death a reality. One example is cryonics. Also, progress in biotechnology may make it possible for humans to someday achieve immortality or, as futurist Ray Kurzweil puts it, it may be possible for humans to choose to live as long as they want.

    There is one thing I am now certain of. I don’t ever want to die.

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  29. 29. dromd 2:32 pm 05/29/2011

    Has everyone forgotten Neitzche’s eternal recurrance?We simply relive our lives exactly the same way over and over eternally.This gives us all good reason to make the most of each moment.

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  30. 30. Mark Pine 10:11 am 05/30/2011

    Carroll wrote, "Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics…." He asked, "If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of?"

    I respect Carroll’s learning and expertise as a physicist, and it is with no small amount of trepidation that I undertake to contradict him. I am confident, however, that Carroll has no better understanding of what consciousness is than I do. Moreover, I think it is possible to make the case that physics does allow for the possibility of souls and afterlives.

    In quantum field theory, Carroll says, there can be no spirit particles of which a soul might be made or "we would have detected them in existing experiments." I agree, and I also accept the correctness of quantum mechanics. Souls and afterlives cannot exist unless they are possible within QM.

    A core principle of QM is that everything that exists is describable in two alternative ways, as either a particle or a wave. The particle description describes material entities, things with mass, energy, momentum, etc. The wave description, however, does not describe material things, but immaterial ones. The wave aspect of an entity is actually a "wave function," a mathematical thing, and as such, it is an idea, an element of consciousness.

    QM implies, therefore, that everything that exists can be described either as a material thing or an immaterial thing. Some physicists may assert that the immaterial aspects of entities, their wave functions, exist only in an operational sense, as formulas allowing physicists to make predictions about their material counterparts. But as I understand it, QM does not make such a qualified statement. It holds that both the material and immaterial descriptions of entities are equally valid: If it is truthful to assert that material particles exist, as physicists do, it is equally truthful to say that immaterial wave functions exist.

    (Cont’d in next post.)

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  31. 31. Mark Pine 10:12 am 05/30/2011

    If physics allows for the existence of the immaterial, then it seems to me certain things are possible, including souls and afterlives. In what follows, I do not claim that what I think must be the case, only that it is possible within the intellectual framework of physics.

    Physicists usually deal with the wave functions of small particles, such as photons and electrons, but large things, too, have wave functions. Even the entire universe has a universal wave function. Each person, also, exists as both a material body and an immaterial wave function. I think it makes sense to say that the immaterial wave function of a person’s material body is her soul and the immaterial wave function of her brain is her consciousness. If this makes sense, then the principles of physics are consistent with the existence of immaterial souls and consciousnesses.

    I think physics is also consistent with the possibility that consciousness persists in an afterlife. To explain that, I need turn to the other major theory of the nature of reality: relativity.

    We experience our lives as things that pass through time and one day come to an end. From the relativistic perspective, however, a life is a thing that occupies a region of space-time. Rather than moving from beginning to end, it is like a region on a map, with a topography and boundaries. From that perspective, our bodies and their wave functions occupy areas in the space-time of the universe.

    During life, I suspect, our consciousness is tied to our material brain, and we experience time passing from moment to moment. It is as though the wave functions of our brains exist in the three spatial dimensions alone, and we experience a succession of them as time passes.

    But at death, I think our consciousness loses the connection to the material brain, and our perspective changes to the relativistic one, in which the wave functions of our brains exist in four-dimensional space-time. Our consciousness spans at once the full extent of the region of space-time that the brain wave function occupies in the universe. I think the same thing happens with regard to wave functions of our bodies, i.e., our souls.

    At death, I think, we see our entire lives and the universe of which we are part in their full extent, all at once and all together.

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  32. 32. tkgn 11:11 am 05/30/2011

    Sean Carroll questions the belief of life after death. I hope he believes that we have a soul when we are alive. Can physics locate it in our body? Where is it located? What constituents does it have? If we cannot locate or physically identify the soul when we are alive, how can we say that it does not exist after our body dies? Hindus believe that our soul is a little bit of the eternal universal energy. Soul is the force which essentially controls our thoughts which in turn controls and activates our body.

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  33. 33. Scatter 5:05 pm 05/30/2011

    First, I’m not ready for science to trivialize who I might think I am by dissecting the soul into some pill for profit. Let’s see, how about: "Take this pill to ease the passage."

    Restricting the soul to a new derivation of the Dirac equation is akin to restricting Vera Rubin’s discovery of dark matter to misguidance. Her empirical measurements pointed to dark matter in the 70′s but her results were dismissed by those still inbred in the male hegemony of science. So the soul is just another thing science dismisses. It apparently matters not whether there are measured results.

    So why not just hang the soul out there somewhere like dark energy. Maybe there are no accepted measurements indicating the soul today, but consider there were no measurements indicating dark energy 40 years ago.

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  34. 34. docandrewsilverman 5:34 pm 05/30/2011

    I would suggest that perhaps the word ‘soul’ carries certain baggage that clouds the issue in this discussion. The question could really be phrased as whether a stream of consciousness or sentience continues beyond death. People have commented on the fact that you can not empirically measure sentience. In fact you can not observe it at all empirically despite the fact that no observation occurs without it. This is a result of the nature of empirical observation. A point which was well put by the nobel laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 book "What is Life?" which was published by Cambridge University Press and is still in print: “We step with our own persons back into the part of an
    onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this
    very procedure becomes an objective world”.
    “Colour and sound, heat and cold, are our immediate
    sensations. Small wonder that they are lacking in a world
    model from which we have removed our own mental
    person”.
    “The objective world has only been constructed at the
    price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it, remaking it
    mind is not part of it; obviously, therefore, it can neither
    act on it nor be acted on by any of its parts”.
    So within the empirical method it is not possible to comment on, measure or acknowledge the existence of the very thing which makes the observations upon which empiricism depends i.e. the mind.
    Schrödinger also argued that time itself is a product of sentience and therefore that sentience cannot begin or end in time:
    “I venture to call (the mind) indestructible, since it has a peculiar time-table, namely Mind is always now”
    … “This means a liberation from the tyranny of old
    Chronos. What we in our minds construct ourselves
    cannot, so I feel, have dictatorial power over our mind,
    neither the power of bringing it to the fore nor the power
    of annihilating it.”

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  35. 35. docandrewsilverman 5:40 pm 05/30/2011

    sorry some of the quotations marks have somehow not made it onto my post and neither has the ‘o with an umlaut accent’ in the middle of Schrodinger’s name
    I’m just going to post the quotes from "what is life?" here so you can see which part of what I wrote was quoting him:
    "We step with our own persons back into the part of an
    onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this
    very procedure becomes an objective world."
    "Colour and sound, heat and cold, are our immediate
    sensations. Small wonder that they are lacking in a world model from which we have removed our own mental
    person."
    "The objective world has only been constructed at the
    price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it, remaking it mind is not part of it; obviously, therefore, it can neither act on it nor be acted on by any of its parts."
    "I venture to call (the mind) indestructible, since it has a peculiar time-table, namely Mind is always now."
    … "This means a liberation from the tyranny of old
    Chronos. What we in our minds construct ourselves
    cannot, so I feel, have dictatorial power over our mind,
    neither the power of bringing it to the fore nor the power of annihilating it."

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  36. 36. TelevisionaryGuy 6:14 pm 05/30/2011

    While I believe making this one life count as if it is all we have (I truly do), I don’t think this article proves or disproves anything about the existence of a soul/spirit. All it proves is that with what we know NOW scientifically, it’s not likely to exist. This assumes one gigantic thing; that we already know exactly how everything in the Universe (or outside of it) works. Any scientist worth their diploma will tell you we are a far cry from that state of knowing. I think we are just beginning to crack open the lid on how things really work in this box we call existence. From what I have glimpsed, seems like there’s plenty of room for the possibility of a soul in that container.

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  37. 37. dromd 10:52 pm 05/30/2011

    The only reason we even give consideration for having a soul is because we find it unreasonable not to have one.If life as we know it were eternal we would have no use for a soul and would find it ridiculous to assume we had one.There is nothing to indicate we have a soul except our need for one.

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  38. 38. Avi Keslinger 1:15 am 05/31/2011

    What is the probability of the atoms being so arranged in the first place? If Gd could arrange the atoms in the first place He can certainly do it again. In any case, who says that memories are only inscribed in the atoms of the physical brain? It could very well be that there is a "back-up" in the spiritual part of the person.The fact that Science cannot measure it is not a proof that it does not exist any more than the fact that nobody hears a tree falling in a forest means that it did not make a noise.

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  39. 39. PRLemasson 1:42 am 05/31/2011

    rshoff says: "A persistent soul does not exist, if it had, it would be scientifically documented."

    Wow, science possesses absolute truth and has documented all that exists! Now why do we pay scientists to do any research if all that exists has already been scientifically documented…?

    Physicist Sean Carroll is asking the right questions and is clearly on is way to demonstrate the existence and persistence of consciousness or something that may be called a soul after the dissolution of our material human vehicle. It’s a question of perspective. Quantum field theory (QFT) contains the answer!

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  40. 40. PRLemasson 2:16 am 05/31/2011

    Hint: "information" is not just data; its simplest form is geometry… Think about it. What is the difference between a blossomed Rose under a sealed opaque glass bell and the same completely faded Rose a month later assuming no atoms nor photons have escaped the glass bell? The atomic count for each element and the total energy is the same. Yet the difference is obvious but not measured by conventional science. All human beings experience the reality of forms and relationships. It escapes the limited perspective of today’s physicists, but Quantum field theory (QFT) does account for that important difference that is not measured as energy, mass or force. It is a difference in space-time geometry (information).
    Consciousness, or a functional reality of soul, may not have to be composed of atoms. It may be a net or knot of geometric relationships to its surroudings that experiences and can transforms the material reality. Invisible relationships, not made of energy, nor mass, yet we are so embedded in them that we have a hard time observing these directly. It is the life of our everyday relationships to people and everything we ever became aware of. As far as I know, physicists still forget to investigate the flow of life, virtues, harmony, beauty and love, all fundamentals of existence and reality.

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  41. 41. Dr. Strangelove 6:42 am 06/1/2011

    Immortality or resurrection of the dead is possible if you are living in virtual reality, if the universe is a computer simulation. A fantastic idea no doubt. But how do you know if you are real or a simulation? Can the simulated know he is a simulation?

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  42. 42. docandrewsilverman 9:15 am 06/1/2011

    No it can’t because the simulated is not sentient and therefore can not know anything. However bing ‘unsimulated’ you can know you are not a simulation purely because you are sentient. Whether or not your experience is simulated you have to exist in order even to be able to perceive an illusion. Cogito ergo sum . I think therefore I am

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  43. 43. bucketofsquid 10:43 am 06/2/2011

    I am disappointed that all of the posts I read totally failed to jump on the most obvious answer: Dark matter and energy. If astrophysicists and cosmologists can pull something out of their rumps with no proof we should use the same non-proven source to explain souls and also lunar cheese. It is clearly dark green cheese. Remember, if the math is bad it must be dark.

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  44. 44. CLMiller 4:33 pm 06/6/2011

    Anyone interested in a comparison of Stephen Hawking’s recent statements on the immortality of the soul and/or the afterlife, with those of psychologist C.G. Jung might be surprised by some of the parallels. I recently posted a blog that delves further into the subject: http://blog.mythfire.com/?p=2597.

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  45. 45. hhsbvt 10:00 am 06/12/2011

    A friend of mine sent this article to Henry Stapp. There is room for a soul and afterlife in his reply in the following posts (too long for one post):

    When he says that "the laws of physics underlying everyday
    life are completely understood", then I would insist that insofar as they
    are completely understood, and are in fact the laws spelled out by von
    Neumann’s orthodox ontologicalization of the pragmatically extremely
    successful Copenhagen interpretation, then these laws are *dynamically incomplete*. These basic laws, involve at their conceptual core the concept of "measurement", which concerns the problem of how the aspect of nature represented in the theory by physical descriptions are connected to our human experiences. The quantum laws are about the connection between our conscious thoughts and the activities in our physically described brains.

    This connection is defined by von Neumann’s "process 1". This process
    chooses some probing question, which is expressed in terms of a possible conscious experience and a closely associated "neural correlate". The known quantum mechanical physical law, the Schroedinger equation, governs only an underlying physically described substrate, which evolves via this physical law into a continuous smear of possible physical worlds of the kind that can be correlated to definite experiences of the kinds that occur in our streams of consciousness. The known laws do not specify or determine how the crucial "process 1" choice linking brain to conscious experience is determined: there is a huge *dynamical gap* in the theory, as it is known today!

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  46. 46. hhsbvt 10:00 am 06/12/2011

    Stapp continued:

    There is a certain prejudice among physicists—stemming perhaps from the experiences of scientists with the now-superceded classical mechanics, or perhaps from a professional wish for a universe controlled by mathematical laws of a familiar kind—that asserts that the process 1 connection between mind and brain should be bottom-up, controlled in full by the brain, which is imbedded in a physically described universe, or at least that the process that generates the process 1 choice have an essential bottom-up component. If this physicalist notion were to be veridical then it would seem to follow a person’s mind could not survive the death of that person’s body.

    But there is a serious difficulty seeing how a definite possible
    conscious experience (and an associated neural correlate) could
    be naturally generated by a continuous smear of possibilies if the
    person’s physical described body/brain is itself a smear of
    possibilities.

    A viable rational alternative would be a *completely top-down* process-1 choice, in which "the mental being" that is the person’s mental aspect, is continually probing that person’s physically evolving brain, via a virtual process that searches for possible neural correlates (in the person’s current brain state) corresponding to possible process 1 actions. Such a theory would constitute the basis of a quantum theory
    involving human *souls*: mental entities that could become detached from temporary bodily hosts.

    The point here is that *IF* the evidence demands reincarnation, or
    some form of survival of personality traits after bodily death, then
    a TOP-DOWN resolution of the open question of "What determines the
    experimenter/observer’s process 1 choice?" would be indicated:
    quantum could tolerate a soul-containing version of the von Neumann
    ontology, if the data in fact demands survival. In the end, it is the
    empirical data that must rule, and an empirical demand for suvival can
    be accommodated rationally within the von Neumann ontology by exploiting the dynamical gap arising from the lack of determination within that "ontology" of the causal origin of the process 1 choice!

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  47. 47. dmthurman 9:22 am 06/16/2011

    Funny how "Christian" reductionism is actually. The author argues that only verbs exist, and that Noun’s do not exist. Does he make this determination from the perspective of a verb,or a noun? If only the verbs exist, then his determination from the Noun perspective is incorrect, since it in of itself is a fictional or non existent perspective according to him. Since he does not exist according to himself, his point of view is Ex Nihilo, or "Christian" standing independent of reality to make his determination.

    Physics is constrained by the same Noun/verb relationship that language is since math is nothing but language itself. It’s not a magiKal creation but is simply neurological. Since physics or our perceptions is constrained by neurology the Noun/verb split is cultural and evolutionary only. Primate speaks, Not MagiKal Abstractive being evolved from primate.

    Apparently the last people on the planet that will be willing to admit that we are primates constrained by neurology will be scientists who make scientific Objectivism, or "Secular Christianity" the only true reality. Freud had it half right, Religion is only a projection of the psyche. So to is Christian secularism.

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  48. 48. verdai 6:30 pm 06/18/2011

    who says the soul cannot exist in an atom, a quark, a photon?
    Ashes-
    light is the greatest information.

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  49. 49. verdai 6:33 pm 06/18/2011

    what you really have to worry about is what they call, inaccurately mostly, teleportation.

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  50. 50. johnbremner 11:52 am 07/15/2011

    Sean has made some good points, but I still find myself thinking of some personal experiences that seem too far-fetched to have been pure coincidence. And I find the interconnectedness of subatomic particles intriguing. Perhaps physicists will eventually find the answers to the distance communication that seems to exist in rare telepathic events, and the way paired particles can communicate instantaneously. If there was a big bang, weren’t we all part of the same quantum flux, and is it possible that some element of our origination has left us with particles that are somehow able to communicate at a distance? Physics becomes nonsense when we assume things we don’t know and can’t test, but it also becomes nonsense when we assume that because we don’t know of a possible mechanism, one doesn’t exist.

    I’m an atheist who is very aware of our subjective evaluation of personal experiences, but I nevertheless find myself hoping that something will survive my personal death, whilst at the same time not understanding any mechanism by which this could happen. If our soul is our life-force, then it dies when we die. But if our life-force is part of a living universe, then maybe it just become part of the pool again. There doesn’t seem to me to be any possible way that personality could survive death, but what do I know? The thing Sean hasn’t answered is the elusive thing about how the same matter can be alive one minute and dead the next. The question about how the soul interacts with the body can also be applied to the life-force. Yet we are alive. We can’t capture the life-force in the same way that we can’t capture the soul. Yet the life-force exists.

    At the end of the day I think he has opened up some good questions, but not provided the answers. Maybe physics will one day have the answers, but it’s only just beginning to ask relevant questions.

    Read my discussion on the subjectiveness of personal experiences on my Ethical Atheism blog.
    John Bremner

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  51. 51. sbkolleril 11:50 am 10/6/2011

    The concept of soul is an extention of mind. Existance of soul can not be proved by scientific experiments as soul is not identifiable under any known scientific or psychological theories. soul is a mental phenomenon and hence evolved as a psychic function. Soul exists, but not in space. On the other hand soul exists in the mind of living acquaintences of the deceased. Hence it is not a concept of something appearing after the death of a person and moves about in space. Defining soul is a sheer waste of time and energy as long as ampteen theories are postulated on soul by different religious faiths. Let every body’s soul rests in peace.

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  52. 52. Thuven 9:05 pm 12/28/2011

    Just like how we have progressed from believing the Earth is the centre of universe, into celestial mechanics and now quantum mechanics..they would learn about the existence of souls as well. The more you learn, the more you should realise, there are so many unknown possibilities in this universe…and to have the attitude that I can apply the existing fundamental law of physics to something completely new and unknown is ignorance. We built our known physics based on 4% of what universe is. Doesn’t that by itself show that quantum physics or nt, we have long long long way to go to understand some really ambiguous things that we have believed for many thousands years such as souls.

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  53. 53. rhenry45 3:59 pm 02/27/2012

    Great article! You spelled out the absolutely beautiful facts about the make believe world of life after death. Your scientific approach to this old question was spot on evidenced by the ridiculous arguments about the invisible and impossible would want us to believe. The human story is a beautiful one and I am proud to be a part of it. We are here so the universe can understand itself and we have done that very nicely. Great work and thank you for such an elegant and accurate description of something everyone in their hearts knows is true.

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  54. 54. Reciprocity 6:51 am 10/25/2012

    “there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die”

    So what are you suggesting happens to the “information”? Is it not preserved?

    Just because the “soul” is contained by physical matter while we are alive what makes it required to interact with the physical matter that contains it? Why does the “soul” have to be what we understand as physical matter at all?

    If an electron can serve as both a particle and a wave based upon whether or not we make an observation then how would you construct a test for the soul based upon a similar methodology?

    Why are “hypothetical particles” acceptable in your understanding of physics but “soular particles” (hehe) are not? If experimentation in science forces logical deductions of your “hypothetical particles” then any attempt to rationalize the double slit experiment proves logic has no basis in forming conclusions; it is only through observation that we can rationally extrapolate theories. Simply because we have yet to devise a methodology for experimentation on observing the soul does not mean science leans one way or the other on its existence. There has been no reproducable experiment that either confirms nor denies its existence yet you argue that the sum total of scientific experiments deny its existence? Actually you are arguing that the experiments thusfar deny its existence as a normal state of matter currently understood by science. Ridiculing the souls existence as a normal state of matter as currently understood by science has as far reaching an implication as ridiculing a babies inability to feed itself in its current state of development.

    Given how much science has revealed that we do not know, how is science able to come to the presumption that the “soul” does not exist? It would seem that actual science would conclude unknown at this time before it could conclude probably not.

    Just thought I’d throw it out there :)

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  55. 55. amarinaccio3 11:43 pm 04/17/2013

    Your statement about the Moon is so frustrating…Please read this, I would actually like to engage in an argument with you about your statement, please send me an email or respond to my comment.

    “The way they do it now is basically that if you’ve got something that’s orbiting the moon its weight is going to produce gravity. The stronger the gravity the farther you can orbit. As soon as you put a satellite orbiting the moon you can measure its mass quite accurately. By looking at how a satellite’s orbit changes as it goes around the moon you can see tiny variances in mass from mountains and things. You can get very accurate gravitational maps of the Earth and find things like ore bodies. If you’re got very dense rock somewhere then that’s going to pull you down a bit. In the distant past you might have worked it out the size of the tides on the Earth because you know how far away the moon is and how string gravity is on the Earth. By working out how much of an effect the moon has on the water you might get some idea of how much mass must be in the moon.”

    This was from one of the first google searches.

    Consider the following statements and then I will use all of them in conjunction at the end to prove a point:

    Now obviously measurement instruments are not perfectly accurate, but IF they were, we would still not be able to test for a soul. However, the following things WOULD be measurable, IF devices were perfect.

    I would like to point out that because we know both the gravity of the moon and it’s volume, we can calculate it’s mass. We can from this calculate it’s average density.

    Also, per the laws of physics(heavier material sinks below lighter, and the moon was once molten as evidenced by rock samples, so much of this separation happened early), a planet will inevitably be denser at it’s core than surface. Both due to sinking and Pressure caused by gravity which packs things tighter together.

    Also by measuring the Gravitational Tidal Forces (not ocean tides) being exerted on the Moon by the Earth and the Sun we can determine the Stiffness of the Moon by the simple equation K=F/L, where L is the measured displacement of the surface of the Moon from it’s axis caused by the pull of Gravity of other large celestial objects.

    Furthermore, Gravity not only acts upon the surface of the Moon, but every particle in it all the way to it’s core, thus the L at the surface is a indication of the Stiffness of every particle in the Moon.

    Since we know the mass, gravity and volume of the Moon we can determine the Pressure being exerted on the Moon as you get closer to the core.

    Additionally, we know with relative certainty the temperature of the planet’s innards from various observations.

    Now, considering that we know all these things this is what we can do:

    This data leads to a finite number of possible combinations of materials that could compose the moon.

    None of which constitute enough Green Cheese for one to say the moon is “made” out of green cheese. Just because it is on the planet does not mean it is made out of it. Uranium is on Earth, but you would be wrong to say the Earth is made out of Uranium. so you may still be able to fit into your proposition that Green Cheese is on the moon, but the moon is not made out of it.

    See, we know how much space materials (including Green Cheese) will take up at various temperatures/pressures because we know the specific volume (m^3/kg) of Green Cheese corresponding with those T’s and P’s. From this we can determine how large the moon would be if it were composed of any composition of Green Cheese + other material.

    For the current volume and mass of the moon there is no combination of material that can lead to Green Cheese being a plurality constituent, because the intensive properties of Green Cheese do not match the parameters of the moon.

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  56. 56. amarinaccio3 3:38 am 04/18/2013

    nevermind

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  57. 57. ZeynepBC 4:23 am 09/23/2013

    I am an MA student and Research Assistant in Dep. of Philosophy and currently I am writing a thesis on soul and immortality in early greek thought. Thank you for sharing your point of view. I find it enriching.

    After all I’ve read and thought, I can say that I couldn’t agree more with Lightning Leo. First, we need definitions. Are we talking about an immaterial soul, an astral body or embodiment? If it’s immaterial, it’s perfectly normal that we cannot measure it scientifically.If it’s an astral body, it is possible that scientists cannot measure it yet. If embodiment is the case, not only God but even a more advanced society might be able to do that using a technique similar to cloning.
    But all these explanations exclude the third option, the option that scientists hate to think about: Human intellect is limited. “Vanity… Definitely my favourite sin” said John Milton. When I read about pre-homeric societies and learn that their intellect was not evolved to create abstract terms, when I think about how limited their perspectives were, I cannot help thinking about our own condition. Think about scientists in 4th century BC. Could they comprehend quantum phyiscs? Cell phones or tvs would be considered miracles. Radioactive materials would be seen as cursed artifacts bcs they make you sick. Why can’t we accept that our intellect is also primitive compared to the intellect of future-human beings. And let’ go further and think of other creatures with more advanced brains who might be living on other planets or even other dimensions. I think that scientists who are interested in quantum physics should be more open-minded. Thinking outside the box requires thinkging outside our physical universe as well. Think about computer games. We create a reality and play in it but the laws of this reality are true only on this reality. In games you can fly or walk on walls bcs the game creator designed it that way. It is an internally consistent system, nothing can move differently than it has been designed. But the fact that a system is internally consistent doesn’t imply that there cannot be other systems external to it with different laws. Lets think about cell-phones. If you only see the cell phone and do not know about the waves and the network, you would think that your pictures are lost if the cell-phone is broken. But if you see the bigger picture, you understand that your pictures are saved on a cloud. Therefore, these scientific explanations of yours are only valid in this internally consistent system. In my opinion, asserting that this is the only possible system and that we can understand everything about existence is a defectof modern way of thinking that we inherited from the era of enlightenment.

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  58. 58. DougRyan 3:33 am 01/3/2014

    Scientific refutations of God and the soul usually go something like this:
    “Hello, I’m an astrophysicist. Because I studied much more difficult course material than any of you, my opinions are much more highly evolved and I never make mistakes of logic. I can take shortcuts because I can’t be bothered to follow the scientific method for such laughable concepts as God, immortality and the soul.

    Now about this concept of a soul that’s been bandied about for over 5,000 years. I’ve been thinking a lot the past week about this, and you’re all wrong, there is no soul. A soul cannot be seen or measured, so therefore it doesn’t exist. I mean I’ve never seen one, and during the past week I’ve really been on the lookout for one. Trust me, I haven’t seen one, so they don’t exist. Now, you can go about believing in something else, like quarks or leptons, which have been seen and directly measured. Besides, think about all of the time I’ve just saved you since you’ll have your Sunday mornings free. You can thank me by buying my latest book: Science for Dummies. It’s written to your level.

    I’ve also decided that Antarctica doesn’t exist. I know people claim to have been there, but I’ve never seen it or measured it, so it does not exist. Even the name Antarctica sounds made up, doesn’t it? Has anyone ever weighed it? If someone could produce a weigh ticket from a truck scale in Alabama, I would believe it exists then. Yes, I know, my Aunt Edna claims to have been there—she even produced alleged photographs of her trip. But, I’ve been thinking, Aunt Edna really hasn’t been trustworthy ever since she went off and joined the Methodists. I can’t possibly rely on her judgment.

    Now, where was I? Oh yeah, the soul. I have an equation here. It really proves something else, but I found it lying around and didn’t want it to go to waste: a^2+b^2=c^2

    Don’t worry about what it proves, that’s irrelevant. What’s important here is I understand it, which makes me smarter than you. And, under the immutable laws of physics, that means what I believe is correct and whatsoever you believe is incorrect (but only to the extent with which it is inconsistent with what I believe). See how that works, the equation proves there is no soul because I understand it and you don’t.

    Now to summarize for the dimwitted amongst you: There is no soul. The jury is still out on Antarctica. I showed you an equation that proves I am smarter than you, so I must be correct about the non-existence of a soul. Oh, and buy my book! Because if you’re gullible enough to believe in the existence of a soul, you’ll believe anything I could write.”

    If the “scientific” community wants to dis/prove God or the soul, then devote some real science to the matter. Become informed about the subject, develop realistic hypotheses, and test them in verifiable way. Then, you’ll have hard science backing up your case.

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  59. 59. SteamScience 12:14 pm 02/26/2014

    “Admittedly, “direct” evidence one way or the other is hard to come by — all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. ”

    “…all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. ”

    We have a lot more than that http://www.near-death.com/storm.html
    Psychiatrist and physician Ian Stevenson, who founded DOPS, began gathering stories of past lives in 1960.

    We have to ask what kind of quantitative / qualitative investigation Sean Carroll did in evaluating “unreliable witnesses. ” The website mentioned goes into near death experiences in some detail of those who claimed to have them and is a good introduction for people unfamiliar with numerous near death experience testimonies. Or search “near death experience” (if the website is blotted out).

    On NPR they had a story about a child who claimed to have been a navy pilot assigned to an obscure aircraft carrier who was shot down and killed in of the WW2 pacific battles(Past Life Story of James Huston, Jr. | James Leininger). We also have the stories of mystics and others who claimed visitations by historic personages. Joan of Arc was claimed to be visited by Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine. Her claims might have gone unnoticed except she stated they gave her the task of lifting the siege at Orleans, breaking the enemy power(the English which the French had been at war with for the last 80 years), crown Charles VII rightful sovereign of France at Rheims 150 miles inside of enemy territory. It all happened a year later, just as she said.

    While no one can confirm directly Joan saw and spoke to them, the closely related historical events observed by numerous witnesses and two trials that came to past do not contradict her claims. It is the optimistic radical skeptic indeed who believes such a thing came about by the blind luck and zeal of the hyper-religious led by a charismatic temporal lobe epileptic riding the high wave of a superstitious age. These things exist in great abundance even today. Hence, if naturalistic, it should follow in history that there should have been more previously unknown, inexperienced charismatic farm girls (or boys) who, out of the blue, appear before their sovereign lord, successfully solicit an army and save their nation.

    And she is only one example as there are others to include Padre Pio; Aimee Semple McPherson; Fatima 1917; Kibeho, Rwanda, starting in August, 1982; The Medjugorje Six (1981 to present); suggest the involvement of celestial personages who previously lived on the earth (most notably Mother Mary, but also Jesus), hence the immortality of the soul.

    Therefore, I gather, it becomes incumbent on the persons who state no soul exists to clear up these types of situations that cast doubt their assertions in a way that does not conflict with what we know about science, biology medicine, psychology, sociology etc.

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  60. 60. Lonesail 7:51 pm 04/29/2014

    Sean, let me ask you a couple of questions. What exactly are the Dark Energy and Dark Matter, that make up, oh, only about 95% of the known universe? Can’t answer that? Pity. What about Quantum Mechanics? Can you explain everything in that field? No? Hmmm.. OK, an easy question then – why is it that during REM sleep, human brain looks and behaves in every possible way exactly like a brain that is awake and active? What is it doing? No answer? Really? Well… I guess you are not as smart as you try to seem, and really don’t know everything do you? Can you really claim, with absolute certainty, without having answers to all of the questions above, that human brains are not on some quantum level connected to a bigger, and persistent, consciousness? Thank you.

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