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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 02:12AM

In another thread dealing with so-called “near-death experiences,” RfM poster “ab” argues for the physical substance of some mythical thing called the human "soul." In this case, “ab” refers to it as “the materiality of the 'soul,'” and recommends an article for reading:

“The ‘Parabola Magazine’ for January has an article titled ‘The Materiality of the Soul.’ It talks about the argument that has gone on for ages on the seat of the soul--body or elsewhere.

"The argument for the body goes something like: When a part of the brain is damaged then consciousness changes. The argument for ‘located elsewhere’ agrees that damaging a part of the brain does change consciousness but that it is like damaging a radio receiver.

"The body argument and the elsewhere argument both equally well answer the effect of psychoactive drugs and damage to the brain. Only the elsewhere explanation can explain NDE such as reporting seeing things when there is no brain activity that are verified by people present at the time, things that sometimes occur in another room from the body.

“We can only find well less that 10% of the material/energy in the universe that is needed to explain the operation of the university. We humans know so little. ‘The larger the island of knowledge the longer the shore line of mystery.’

"I say that it pays to keep an open mind; otherwise we haven’t really left the mentality of the Mormons.”

(“Re: OT: NPR Interview with Sam Parnia on "After-Death" Experiences,” posted by “ab,” on “Recovery from Mormonism” discussion board, 21 February 2013, at:,802142,802411#msg-802411)

Um, “ab,” I say that it pays to keep your "open mind" from falling out of your ears if you're willing to stuff anything into your head, no matter how absurd.

Believing in unscientific nonsense IS (to use your phrase), "the mentality of the Mormons." Might want to think about jumping off that train--unless, of course, you think that being “open-minded” means embracing every nutty idea that comes down the track--including the Mormon notion that there really may be a planet Kolob somewhere out there in the Land of Elsewhere.

This is not to say, of course, that you don’t have the equal right to your own ideas.

But not all ideas are created equally.

The idea of some kind of so-called “materialistic soul” floating around out there in “elsewhere” is without meaningful, observable, replictable, testable, empricical or falsifiable evidence.

Other than that, it's great concept--for fairy tales.

The notion of a "material "soul" is a fantasy, a wish, a hope, a tug at the heart that is skipping a beat over the fear of death--these emotions all springing forth as they do from a superstitiously-religious “mentality” that is akin to the belief in the physical existence of Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole (or, if it’s not at the North Pole, then at a yet-to-be-discovered “elsewhere”).

Poster “ab,” however, is right about one thing:

The argument about the so-called “seat of the soul” has, in fact, “gone on for ages." (So, too, did the argument over whether the Earth was round or flat; or whether life has macro-evolved from species to species over billions of years. Both issues have been soundly, scientifically settled, so the “gone-on-for-ages” argument no longer is a relevant position to take).

Wake up and smell the embalming fluid.

In an article entitled, “'Souls' Do Not Exist: Evidence from Science and Philosophy Against Mind-Body Dualism,” Vexen Crabtree observes:

“. . . Our 'minds', 'souls', 'spirit' and consciousness are all physical in nature. Thousands of years of research have shown that our brains comprise and produce our true selves. 'Souls' and 'spirits' do not exist. Our bodies run themselves. We know from cases of brain damage and the effects of psychoactive drugs, that our experiences are caused by physical chemistry acting on our physical neurones in our brains. Our innermost self is our biochemical self.”

He then goes on to, step-by-step, lay out the science behind the imaginary notions of so-called “souls” and “spirits”:

"--The Physical Brain is the Source of Emotions and Personality, Not the 'Soul'

“’If you take a couple of drinks, or smoke some pot, YOU become intoxicated. It is easy to understand how the chemicals in alcohol and cannabis can affect the ticking of your nerve cells. But how can physical reactions in your brain cause the psychological or spiritual YOU to get high? If your mind controls your body how does it do so? When you drive a car, you sit in the driver's seat, you push on the pedals with your feet, and you turn the wheel with your hands.

"If you consider your body to be a biological machine "driven" by your mind, where does the driver ‘sit’? And how does your purely spiritual or psychological ‘mind’ pull the biological strings that make your neurones fire and your muscles move?’

("Understanding Human Behavior," by James V. McConnel, 1986) . . .

“'Do emotions result from us having a "soul," or merely from the laws of nature? Degenerative diseases of the brain that erode personality, and cases where brain damage causes sudden changes in character, are both only possible if character itself is biological.

“’Mood disorders and mind-altering drugs indicate that the sources of feelings are biochemical. Inherited mood disorders and developmental diseases show us that personality is driven by biology. Depression, love, niceness, politeness, aggression, basic drives, abstract thinking, judgement, patience, considered behaviour, instincts, memories, language construction and comprehension, and every emotion, have turned out to have biochemical causes, not spiritual ones, and can all be radically affected by brain damage and brain surgery.

“’If there was a "soul," brain damage could not also damage our emotional feelings, but it does. Electrical stimulation of the brain causes actual desire to arise instantly. If memory, behaviour and emotions are all controlled by the physical brain, what is a soul for? It seems that there isn't anything for a soul to do--it certainly does not control behavior or character, and any free will it exerts is promptly overridden by biological chemistry, hence why so many diseases have an uncontrollable effect on personality. Modern science proves that the idea of souls is misguided. Everything is biological.'

("Emotions Without Souls: How Biochemistry and Neurology Account for Feelings," by Vexen Crabtree, 1999) . . .

“’Virtually all contemporary scientists and philosophers expert on the subject agree that the mind, which comprises consciousness and rational process, is the brain at work. They have rejected the mind-brain dualism of René Descartes, who in “Meditationes” (1642) concluded that 'by the divine power the mind can exist without the body and the body without the mind.’

("Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge,” by E. O. Wilson, 1998)

“Our brainstem controls the impulses that are sent to our body. Our muscles, glands, hormone secretions, skin sensitivity, organ action, heart rate and thousands of other actions are all controlled by our nervous system, which is managed by our brains.

"So, if we damage a part of our brain we can impair our ability to control our bodies. If we damage our medulla, our physical co-ordination can be lost, if we damage our frontal lobes, our personality can be changed. This is because the brain controls the body and emotions. The cause and effect is clear: physical damage to the brain damages our 'soul.'

“Conversely, even if things happen to our bodies that we do not choose (such as the progression of Alzheimer's disease, which causes senility and dementia)2, we are forced to change our behavior and feelings as a result of changes to the structure of our brain during medical procedures.

“Psychosurgery, including lobotomies or leucotomies, became used regularly from the 1930s for severely disrupted patients. Since then highly accurate and specific stereotactic tractotomies, stereotactic limbic leucotomies and the like have been developed, allowing the destruction of very small parts of the brain, normally locating particular pathways between one part and another in order to change specific aspects of behaviour and symptoms.

“For example, a cingulotomy is occasionally used against obsessive and compulsive patients by destroying 2-3 cm of particular white matter. An amygdalotomy destroys the brain's neural connection between the amygdala and the hypothalamus and is normally used on patients who suffer from episodes of unstoppable violence and terror.3. What all this shows is that the physical structures and chemistry of the brain can control large portions of our chosen behaviours, experiences and feelings.

“If our medulla is damaged, or our brainstem, why can't the 'soul' control our body? If we have a serotonin imbalance as the result of disease, why does our 'soul' suffer depression and mood disorders? It seems that the 'soul' is completely physical.

“’A small amount of damage . . . might even cause rather dramatic changes in your personality. Why? Because your brain is the seat of your self-awareness, the locus of your intelligence, your compassion, and your creativity. All of your mental activities--your thoughts, emotions and feelings--and all your bodily processes are affected by the functioning of your brain.’

("Understanding Human Behavior" by James V. McConnel, 1986)

“If we suffer brain damage, take drugs, or if we are injected unknowingly with hormones by an experimenter, our feelings can be altered. This must mean that a 'soul' is a reader of our experiences, but not a cause of them. . . .

“It seems that whatever role our 'soul' has, it is not directly linked to the control of our physical bodies, and it is not directly a cause of our experiences.

“In addition to physical feelings, our emotions are deeply tied to biochemistry and neurology. Neurological causes (especially in the limbic system) precede emotions, and that cognitive events precede conscious awareness of feelings and emotions. This means that our qualia and fundamental experience of life results from our brain chemistry.

“The Physics of the 'Soul'

“’Ghost, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.’ There is one insuperable obstacle to a belief in ghosts. A ghost never comes back naked: he appears either in a winding-sheet or 'in his habit as he lived.' To believe in him, then, is to believe that not only have the dead the power to make themselves visible after there is nothing left of them, but that the same power inheres in textile fabrics. Supposing the products of the loom to have this ability, what object would they have in exercising it? And why does not the apparition of a suit of clothes sometimes walk abroad without a ghost in it? These be riddles of significance.’

("The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce, 1967)


“Our physical eyes operate by absorbing certain frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our retinas contain special wavelength-sensitive chemicals that absorb photons of light precisely due to their physical properties. Some problems emerge when we consider what eyesight disembodied souls or ghosts might have:

“Without eyesockets, eyelids, a skull and a brain to get in the way of light arriving at the eyes, a 'spirit' is free to view a full 360 degrees around itself, unhindered. Yet I have never heard of such a report from ghost-hunters and mediums and the like.

"Without light-absorbing chemicals, immaterial 'spirits' cannot absorb light. It is ridiculous to think that they mystically 'see' the exact same frequency ranges as happens to be absorbed by certain photosensitive chemicals; it therefore stands that there is nothing limiting 'spirits' from 'seeing' all frequency ranges. This means they can see infrared, ultraviolet, radiowaves, etc. But why is it that 'spirits'--and those who claim to speak on behalf of them--never report anything physical from the vicinity that can't be seen with normal eyes?

“Any absorption of light is detectable by scientific instruments --light is, after all, composed of lots of photons which are well-understood by science. To see, your eyes must absorb photos of light. In addition, if 'spirits' can see, their interaction with result in detectable quantum and/or normal physical side-effects of observation. But to have these effects, 'spirits' must have physical components. To observe, you must become detectable, but many a scientific study have found no such evidence of 'spiritual' eyesight.

“These are important questions which all highlight contradictions with the very idea of 'spirits' being able to see in the real world, and also highlights the fact that all stories told about 'spirits,' 'ghosts' and 'souls' have merely reflected the state of knowledge of the storyteller.

“If the 'soul' was able to interact physically with the body, or to view the world, it must have some physical structure in order to be an observer.

"Yet, despite attempts, no evidence for the 'mass' of 'soul' has been found. An object cannot be mass-free and physical; it cannot react with energy without having energy. In order to react with the brain it must have mass, but in order to be invisible it must be mass free. In order to see it requires photoreceptors and energy measuring devices which need to interact with the physical world. All such interactions are detectable. If 'souls' interact with the world at all, they would be scientifically detectable in the world, but, scientific studies published properly in peer-reviewed journals have found no signs of 'souls' or 'spirits.'

“Evolution and Development of the Self

“There is another major problem with the idea that a 'soul' is required for some parts of the brain to function--the fact that all the individual parts of the brain obey normal biological and chemical rules. Animals and such evolved through a long process of gradual complexification.

"At no point in the history of the evolution of the nervous system has a 'soul' became necessary. The 'soul' itself must have evolved with us, within us. Growing with us from birth. It is as if our 'soul' is our brains, and nothing more. Or in other words, the evolution of our brain shows us that we have merely mistaken some of the emergent properties of consciousness to be a 'soul,' somehow different from the brain itself.

"Now we know enough neurology to say for sure that this isn't true. In short there is only one sensible conclusion: 'Souls' do not exist. This lesson from natural biology came too late for some, and the belief in special 'souls' just for human beings has pervaded human religions up to the present day.

“Consciousness and Complexity

“The most basic consensus amongst those who study consciousness is that it is a result of the complexity of our brains:

“’The complexity of our nervous system which makes our consciousness possible . . . . [I]t is less obvious whether consciousness was itself adaptive or simply a side-effect or byproduct of a complex nervous system.’

(“Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour," by Richard Gross, 1996)

“EEG scans have told us much--including the point during gestation where consciousness first looks like it could have arisen:

“’But when does the magical journey of consciousness begin? Consciousness requires a sophisticated network of highly interconnected components, nerve cells. Its physical substrate, the thalamo-cortical complex that provides consciousness with its highly elaborate content, begins to be in place between the 24th and 28th week of gestation. Roughly two months later synchrony of the electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythm across both cortical hemispheres signals the onset of global neuronal integration. Thus, many of the circuit elements necessary for consciousness are in place by the third trimester.’

(Prof. Christof Koch, 2009)

“But as researchers looked deeper, they found a system so complex that it defied centralisation. E. O. Wilson summarizes brilliantly:

“’Consciousness consists of the parallel processing of vast numbers of such coding networks. Many are linked by the synchronized firing of the nerve cells at 40 cycles per second, allowing the simultaneous internal mapping of multiple sensory impressions. . . . Who or what within the brain monitors all this activity? No one. . . . There is not even a Cartesian theater, to use Daniel Dennett's dismissive phrase, no single locus of the brain where the scenarios are played out in coherent form.

"'Instead, there are interlacing patterns of neural activity within and among particular sites throughout the forebrain, from cerebral cortex to other specialized centers of cognition such as the thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus. There is no single stream of consciousness in which all information is brought together by an executive ego. There are instead multiple streams of activity, some of which contribute momentarily to conscious thought and then phase out. Consciousness is the massive coupled aggregates of such participating circuits.’

("Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge," by E. O. Wilson, 1998)

"E. O. Wilson also repeats the little expression of the biologist S. J. Singer to sum it all up11 ‘I link, therefore I am.’

“This may all highlight how consciousness is possible, but why did it arise? The psychologist Richard Gross above has already said that it is hard to tell if consciousness is merely a by-product of complexity, or if it specifically evolved. In "Kinds of Minds" by Daniel C. Dennett (1996) the author airs a respectable theory: That consciousness arose as a method for trying to manipulate other individuals' reactions to our actions, therefore 'mapping' their consciousness, therefore leaving space to analyze own reactions too. Combine with words and language and we have a modern, Human, intelligent conscious lifeform being where consciousness awareness is selected for on the basis of the benefits of increased social skills.

“Particular Phenomenon . . .


“Ghost stories have a tendency to become true. The suggestibility of many people means that they actively seek out confirming experiences for even the most improbable stories that they've heard. Colin Wilson's television series in the 1970s, 'Leap in the Dark,' traced the history of a haunting:

“’A writer, Frank Smythe, deliberately put round an entirely fictitious story that a particular place was haunted by a particular ghost. No one, apart from Smythe and his team, knew that the story was fictitious. A while later the researchers were flooded with reports from people claiming to have sighted the ghost in question. In this case, then, we have sightings of a ghost which arose simply on the basis of the public suggestion that there was a ghost to be seen.’

("The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind," by
Stan Gooch, 2007)

"The Recently Dead

"In many folk tales, Westerners tell of seeing the 'ghosts' of the recently departed. Scientific investigation has always found that such cases are either explainable in terms of the subject actually knowing more than they knew they knew (or let on), or are mistaken.

"Experiments where people write down such predictions before finding out confirming evidence (such as receiving a phone call informing them a relative is dead), results in a very poor record of accuracy, with the only slight success rate attributable to the fact that people tend to predict the deaths of the elderly or unwell.

"The investigative psychologist Stan Gooch, who does believe that the human brain is capable of supernatural intelligence, argues that all such encounters with the dead are actually subjective methods of interpreting information, but which do not actually have a basis in physical reality:

“’In all these cases we do not require the discarnate spirit hypothesis at all. It is totally irrelevant. . . . As emphasized, the person is not always dead when the vision occurs). Is it not enough to say that in all cases of death that having received kind of telepathic impulse if events, the unconscious mind then generates some kind of symbolic fantasy - a vision, a dream, a premonition--by which means it presents the received information to consciousness?

"'That view gains enormously also from the fact that Australian aborigines are very good at sensing the death of a distant companion. But they do not see a "ghostly" vision of that person, as westerners often do. Instead they see a vision of that person's totem animal running about the camp. Once again, 'we see what we expect to see' in terms of our cultural (and in this case religious) upbringing. The totem animal is the best choice, and the obvious choice, for the Aborigine unconscious mind to make in presenting its information to consciousness.’

("The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind," by
Stan Gooch, 2007)

“'Out of Body Experiences'

“'Out-of-body experiences' were once poorly studied scientifically because of their purely psychological nature, but recent technological developments have allowed neurologists to study these types of states of consciousness. Scientists have been able to recreate situations in which "out of body experiences" occur in wide-awake individuals.

“’Two sets of studies published independently in the same issue of the journal “Science” demonstrate how the illusion of a bodily self outside one's own body can be stimulated in the laboratory. The studies forge ways to better understand both "out-of-body" and "near-death experiences." "The research provides a physical explanation for the phenomenon usually ascribed to other-worldly influences," Peter Bruger, a neurologist at University Hospital in Zurich who was not involved in the experiment, told science journalist Sandra Blakesee in her report on these experiments in “The New York Times” (August 24).'

(Kendrick Frazier in “Skeptical Inquirer,” 2007)

“’Olaf Blanke and his colleagues report that they are able to bring about so-called "out-of-body experiences (OBE)," where a person's consciousness seems to become detached from the body, by electrical stimulation of a specific region in the brain. I have discussed "OBE" experiments in two books and have concluded that they provide no evidence for anything happening outside of the physical processes of the brain.’

("God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist,” by Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)

“The two books by Prof. Victor Stenger on this subject, plus relevant page numbers, are: 1. ‘Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World beyond the Senses’ (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1990) p. 111; [and] 2. ‘Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe’ (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003) pp. 290-99.

“Extensive research into cases of 'OBEs' by skeptical scientists have shown that in all cases, details of the event have not produced anything that could not have been known by the patient. Experiments have included hidden symbols placed high up in rooms so that only through an 'OBE' or other supernatural process could someone know what the symbol was. Simple tests like this have always demonstrated that what is 'seen' during an 'OBE' is only ever what the patient already knew was there. This, combined with our neurological understanding of 'OBEs' is conclusive proof that 'OBEs' are purely psychological, with, as Prof. Stenger says, ‘no evidence for anything happening outside of the physical processes of the brain.’

“Night Terrors: 'Demonic' Attacks . . .

“The following phenomenon has its basis in the biochemistry of the brain, involving the limbic system, cerebellum and duodenum and the way that they are suppressed during sleep. An incorrect balance of neurone-controlling chemicals during sleep makes some people more susceptible to night terrors than others. They occur in the early night and ‘experiences of entrapment, of being choked or attacked, often with shrieking, sitting-up, or sleep-walking, and tremendous acceleration of the heart. [They become] more frequent when there is greater daytime anxiety; they are frequent among wartime battle evacuees and night terrors are commonly experienced by children aged 10-14.’

“The human biologist McConnel describes a likely Night Terror:

“’You begin to senses--deep down inside you--that something has gone very wrong. Slowly, almost dimly, you regain enough consciousness to realize that you are suffocating, that some heavy weight is lying on your chest and crushing your lungs. Suddenly you realize your breathing has almost stopped, and you are dying for air. Terrified, you scream! At once, you seem to awaken. There is this thing hovering over you, crushing the very life out of your lungs. You shout at the thing, but it won't leave you alone.

“’Despite a strange feeling of paralysis, you start to resist. Your pulse begins to race, your breathing becomes rapid, and you push futilely at the thing that is choking you to death. Your legs tremble, then begin to thrash about under the covers. You sweep the bedclothes aside, stumble to your feet, and flee into the darkness. You run clumsily through the house, trying to get from the thing.

“’And then, all at once, you find yourself in your living room. The lights come on, the thing instantly retreats to the shadows of your mind, and you are awake. You are safe now, but you are intensely wrought up and disturbed. You shake your head, wondering what has happened to you. You can remember that you were fleeing from the thing that was crushing you. But you have forgotten your scream and talking in your sleep. The thing dream is a classic example of a night terror.’

("Understanding Human Behavior," by James V. McConnel, 1986)

“It is clear to see how such physiological events can be interpreted supernaturally by its victims!

“’Before the physiological causes of these experiences was known, night terrors were interpreted as being the attacks of evil spirits. Others have experienced it as an alien abduction, an attempted possession or as the evil magic of medieval witches, along with all manner of other supernatural and paranormal explanations that have arose historically.’

(“Nightmares and Night Terrors,” by Vexen Crabtree, 2005)


“A 'Life Force:' The Creation of a Pre-Scientific Age

“The whole idea of a mystical and 'spiritual life-force' embodied a lack of knowledge of neurology and cognitive psychology; the neurology of the self was simply beyond any possible investigation. Many ancient languages and cultures conflated the act of breathing with life:

“’The association of 'spirit' with air is embedded in a number of ancient languages: the Hebrew ruah ("wind" or "breath") and nefesh, also associated with breathing; the Greek psychein ("to breathe"), which is related to the word psyche for "soul"; and the Latin words anima ("air," "breath," or "life") and spiritus, which also refers to breathing. The "soul" was seen as departing the body in the dying last breath. . . . In the Old Testament, the "soul" is life itself, breathing into the body by God.’

(“God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist,” by Prof. Victor J. Stenger, 2007)

“Now we know that us humans evolved, along with all other animals, developing a complex nervous system and brain along the way. This led slowly, over time, to conscious life and emotional awareness. As we noted in the section on evolution, there was no point in the evolution of our minds that an independent 'soul' became a necessary addition.

"Yet many religionists such as Jews, Christians and Muslims have gone to great lengths to argue that only human beings have 'souls' and that animals and plants do not. This is based on the account of creation where God 'breathes life' into Adam and Eve but not into the various animals. This is despite the fact that the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam do not endorse the idea of 'souls.'

"Confused? The leaders of the main faiths have taken up some pretty contradictory positions on the existence of the 'soul': it has been endorsed, denied, preached for, preached against, declared heretical and declared essential.

“In his classic work, ‘The Illusion of Immortality,’ philosopher Corliss Lamont surveyed all the aspects of the subject of immortality, from theological and philosophical to scientific and social. He points out that the exact nature of the immortality that is preached in Christianity, as well as in other religions, is not at all clear, with many different doctrines being presented over the ages.’ . . .

“'Souls' are a Pagan Concept

"The concept of a 'soul' exists in various pagan religions well before they existed in the monotheistic, traditional ‘world religions.’ Mainstream religions inherited local pagan concepts of 'souls' from the local, uneducated masses. For example, early Christianity inherited the beliefs of the Roman, pagan masses on 'souls.' Bertrand Russell (1935) outlines briefly the source of the Christian idea of the soul:

“’The "soul," as it first appeared in Greek thought, had a religious though not a Christian origin. It seems, so far as Greece was concerned, to have originated in the teachings of the Pythagoreans, who believed in transmigration. [ . . .They] influenced Plato, and Plato influenced the Father of the Church; in this way the doctrine of the soul as something distinct from the body became part of Christian doctrine. . . . It appears from Plato that doctrines very similar to those subsequently taught by Christianity were widely held in his day by the general public rather than by philosophers.’

("Religion and Science" by Bertrand Russell, 1935)

“In all ancient religions, the 'soul' was the surviving aspect of the self that afforded reincarnation (or ‘transmigration’); in Hinduism and Buddhism it was the source of life that passed on from one body to be reborn in another, in the samsaric cycle of life; with further incarnations being higher up or lower down in the scale according to a measure of the good (or fruitful) and bad (or deluded) actions performed during life. This concept easily translates into the Christian concept of 'sin' and the idea of the 'soul' thus passed from the pagan-influenced advanced Jews of the first century, and the Roman pagans themselves, into Christianity.

“The Religion of Spiritualism

"Institutionalized Spiritual Populism

“Religion In Britain: The 2001 census revealed there are over 32 thousand Spiritualists in the UK

“Despite all the logical and physical problems with supposing that 'spirits' can interact with the world, as examined above, Spiritualism, a modern religion that is based on such interaction, arose in the 19th century. It involves 'mediums' receiving messages from the dead, during psychodramas called séances.

“'Spiritualism includes a variety of differing networks and groups, some of which hold some specifically Christian beliefs and others of which are almost totally devoid of any religious dogma at all. They all, however, share on central concept - communication with the "spirit realm" through gifted or psychic individuals. Spiritualists always speak of the 'departed' rather than the 'dead./

("Encyclopedia of New Religions," by Christopher Partridge, 2004)

“The modern movement began in Hydesville, New York, . . . in 1848, where the Fox family lived. John Fox's two daughters, Maggie and Katherine, along with a few early converts and colleagues who accompanied them on tours around the country, all proceeded to demonstrate that they communicate with the dead. It presumed a general Christian outlook on life and retained a Christian morality. It has become more than a sect of Christianity, and should be considered a religion in its own right due to the development of its authoritative written works that are no longer Christian. It remains a very loose and secular spread of practitioners, but nonetheless Spiritualist Churches hold services several times a week, some of them including Christian Holy Communion.

“It has become the public face of the New Age: 'channellers' and 'mediums' have appeared on a long string of television dramas and in books, so much so, that portions of the population think that there must be underlying truth (if not evidence) to it.

“Issues and Problems: Its Original Proponents Admit Making It Up

“The religion [of spiritualism] has been mired in problems. Not only the apparent fact that souls, spirits and ghosts don't exist, but that mediums' communications are fraudulent. The information gleaned from the dead is the same tone and quality as that obtained through cold-reading, which is the method used by psychics such as tarot-card readers. It is a mixture between obscurantism, astute observations and a Machiavellian understanding of what types of things people want to hear and will believe.

"There have been several court cases resulting in criminal convictions for fraud against Spiritualists, which is probably the reason that some of their websites state that they are 'for entertainment purposes only.' Not only are there problems with the soul-based theories of the religion and the general substance of séances, but the two Fox daughters who founded the movement admitted later during their lifetimes that it had been a hoax:

“’Four decades after spiritualism began, sisters Margaret Fox Kane and Katherine Fox Jencken confessed it had all been a trick. On Sunday, October 21, 1988, the sisters appeared at the Academy of Music in New York City. . . . She explained how she had produced the rapping noises [ . . . and] demonstrated the effect for the audience. . . . Margaret then went on to state:
"I think that it is about time that the truth of this miserable subject 'Spiritualism' should be brought out. It is now widespread all over the world, . . . I was the first in the field and I have the right to expose it. . . . Mother . . . could not understand it and did not suspect us of being capable of a trick because we were so young.’

“’ . . . Margaret also stated that Leah knew the spirit rappings were fake, and that when she traveled with the girls (on their first nationwide tour) it was she who signaled the answers to various questions. (She probably chatted with sitters before the séance to obtain information; when that did not produce the requisite facts, the "spirits" no doubt spoke in vague generalizations that are the mainstay of spiritualistic charlatans). Margaret repeated her exposé in other cities close to New York.

“’Today, spiritualists characterize Margaret's exposé as bogus, attributing it to her need for money or the desire for revenge against her rivals or both. However, not only were her admissions fully corroborated by her sister, but she demonstrated to the audience that she could produce the mysterious raps just as she said.’

(Joe Nickell in “Skeptical Inquirer, “ 2008)

“Extensive investigations at the original site in Hydesville where the Fox daughters invented the first Spiritualist communications, have also shown every aspect of the story to be invented falsehoods; with details about bodies, persons and fake walls all to be incorrect and with evidence of attempted trickery.

“The [Spiritualist] religion's take on 'spirits' and 'the spirit world' remain a mixture of pop culture assertions and assumptions, with very little rationality or coherency. There seems to be no reason why, if 'spirits' can communicate by banging things, moving tables, talking through people's mouths, that they can't instead simply write clear letters with pens on paper. Also, the abysmal failure rate of psychic 'help' in real police cases, the cold-reading associations, the fraud cases and the negative results of scientific investigations into Spiritualist claims all point to fundamental flaws in the religion/movement.”

(“Souls Do Not Exist: Evidence,” by Vexen Crabtree, 14 December 2007, at:

As to the non-substantive silliness of the “materialstic soul," Massimo Pigliucci squarely addresses it in his article, “Does the 'Soul' Weigh 21 Grams?”

He writes:

"This myth, reinforced by a 2003 fictional movie by the otherwise rather cryptic title 121 grams' is occasionally thrown to non-supernaturalists as one more ‘proof’ that we are fools, by our own standards of reason and evidence.

"It turns out that the only source for the 21-gram figure is a discredited study carried out in 1907 by a Haverhill, Massachusetts, doctor by the name of Duncan MacDougall. He managed (apparently overcoming any ethical qualms over human experimentation) to put six dying people on a bed equipped with sensitive springs, and claimed to have observed a sudden loss of weight--about 3/4 of an ounce--at the exact moment of their death. Having reasoned that such loss could not be explained by bowel movements or evaporation, he concluded he must have measured the weight of the soul.

"A follow-up experiment also showed that dogs (which were healthy, so they were probably poisoned on purpose by the good doctor) don't seem to suffer the same sort of loss, therefore they don't have souls (sorry, you canine lovers).

"This is an excellent example of where pseudoscience and belief go wrong, on a variety of levels. Let us start with MacDougall's claim itself: it turns out that his data were decidedly unreliable by any decent scientific standard. Not only was the experiment never repeated (by either MaDougall or anyone else), but his own notes (published in 'American Medicine' in March 1907) show that of the six data points, two had to be discarded as 'of no value'; two recorded a weight drop, followed by additional losses later on (was the soul leaving bit by bit?); one showed a reversal of the loss, then another loss (the soul couldn't make up its mind, leaving, re-entering, then leaving for good); and only one case actually constitutes the basis of the legendary estimate of ¾ of an ounce. With data like these, it's a miracle the paper got published in the first place.

"Second, as was pointed out immediately by Dr. Augustus P. Clarke in a rebuttal also published in 'American Medicine,' MacDougall failed to consider another obvious hypothesis: that the weight loss (assuming it was real) was due to evaporation caused by the sudden rise in body temperature that occurs when the blood circulation stops and the blood can no longer be air-cooled by the lungs. This also elegantly explains why the dogs showed no weight loss: as is well known, they cool themselves by panting, not sweating like humans do.

"Third, MacDougall's allegedly inescapable conclusion ('How other shall we explain it?') did not derive from any theory of the 'soul,' but was simply arrived at by excluding a small number of other possibilities. In other words, the 'soul explanation' won by default, without having to go through the onerous process of positive confirmation. This is yet another version of the 'god-of-the-gaps' argument so in vogue among the faithful, and that constitutes the backbone--such as it is--of Intelligent Design 'theory.'

"But perhaps most damning of all is the very idea that the 'soul' has weight. Whatever it is, the 'soul' since Plato's time has been understood as immaterial, i.e. without mass and, therefore, weightless. Obviously, this in turn raises all the classic problems of dualism: how can something immaterial interact with a material world? How can 'ghosts' walk through walls and yet 'see' things or make noises? How can the mind direct our actions--that famous conundrum that stymied Descartes--if it is an incorporeal 'substance' (itself an oxymoron)?

"Even more basically: why are the so-called 'faithful' perennially in search of scientific confirmation of their inanities? Shouldn't faith be enough? Indeed, isn't the very idea of faith as a value that one should hold fast to it, not only despite the lack of evidence, but even in the face of contrary evidence?

"C'mon guys, I'm beginning to think that somewhere in your subconscious you have this terrifying suspicion that you really believe in nonsense, and are therefore desperate to get science to provide some evidence, however flimsy, that you are right after all. Why not shed the superstition altogether and see what happens? It's a nice, comprehensible world out here."

("Does the Soul Weigh 21 Grams?," by Massimo Pigliucci, "Rationally Speaking," 20 March 2007, at:

--Finally, in her article, “Why I Don’t Believe in the 'Soul,'” Greta Christina lays out the rational reasons for answering “no” to the question, “Got Soul?”:

“Today . . . I want to talk, not about why I don’t believe in God or gods, not about why some particular religion’s belief in God is mistaken or contradictory … but about why I don’t believe in the 'soul.'

“A lot of people who don’t believe in God per se still believe in some sort of 'soul,' some sort of metaphysical substance or animating 'spirit' that inhabits people and other living things. And I think this is mistaken. I think it’s every bit as mistaken an idea as God is.

“And today, I want to talk about why. I want to talk about why everything that we think of as the 'soul'--consciousness, identity, character, free will--is much more likely to be a product of our brains and our bodies and the physical world, than a metaphysical substance inhabiting our bodies but somehow separate and distinct from it.

“Much, much, much more likely.

“Here’s the thing. I know that there are enormous unanswered questions about how the mind works, and indeed what it is. The questions of what consciousness is, how it’s created, how it works… these are questions that we don’t really have answers to yet. Ditto identity and selfhood. And we’re not sure that free will even exists, much less how it works. The science of neuropsychology, and the scientific understanding of consciousness, are very much in their infancy. In fact, I would argue that ‘What is consciousness?’ is one of the great scientific questions of our time.

"But infant science or not, there are a few things we know about consciousness, identity, character, the ability to make decisions, etc.

”And one of the things we know is that physical changes to the brain can and do result in changes to the consciousness, the identity, the character, the ability to make decisions. Changes caused by injury, illness, drugs and medicines, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, oxygen deprivation, etc., can and do result in changes to everything we think of as the 'soul.' Even some very small changes to the brain--small doses of medicine or drugs, injuries or interventions to just a small area of the brain--can result in some very drastic changes, indeed.

“In some cases, they can do so to the point of rendering a person’s personality completely unrecognizable. Physical changes to the brain can make people unable to care about their own families. They can make people unable to make decisions. They can make smart people stupid, anxious people calm, happy people irritable, crazy people less crazy. They can render everything we know about a person, everything that makes that person who they are, totally null and void. Read Oliver Sacks, read V. S. Ramachandran, read any modern neurologist or neuropsychologist, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s f***ing freaky, actually, just how fragile are mind and self, consciousness and character.

”And, of course, we have the rather drastic change to consciousness and character and coherent identity and the ability to make decisions, known as ‘death.’

“Simply cut off oxygen or blood flow to the brain for a relatively short time, and a person’s consciousness and self and ability to take action in the world will not just change but vanish--completely, and permanently. (Attempts to find solid evidence supporting life after death have been utterly unsuccessful: reports of it abound, but when carefully examined using good scientific methodology, they fall apart like a house of cards).


“Think about any other phenomenon in the world. When Physical Action A results in Effect B, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Apply heat to water, and get steam; apply force to an object, and get motion; apply electricity to metals in certain ways, and get magnetism; apply vinegar to baking soda, and get gobs of rapidly expanding foam. These are physical events, every one. Only the most hard-line religious believers insist that God’s hand is in every physical action that takes place everywhere in the universe. Most rational, reasonably- well- educated people understand that the physical world is governed by laws of physical cause and effect.


“We have a phenomenon, or a set of phenomena: consciousness, selfhood and identity, character and personality, the ability to make decisions. There’s a lot we don’t know about these phenomena yet, but one of the few things we do know is that physical changes to a person’s brain will result in changes to the phenomena. Small changes or drastic ones, depending on the stimulus.

“Doesn’t that look like a biological process?

“Doesn’t that look like phenomena that are governed by physical cause and effect?

“Even though we don’t fully understand them, don’t these phenomena have all the hallmarks of a physical event, or function, or relationship?

“I mean, even when we didn’t know what gravity was (which, if I understand the science correctly, we still don’t fully grasp), once we got the idea of it we understood that it was a physical phenomenon. Once we got the idea and began studying and observing it, we didn’t try to explain it by invisible spirit- demons living inside objects and pulling towards each other. We could see that it was physical objects having an effect on other physical objects, and we understood that it was a physical force.

"In other words, we don’t need to completely understand a phenomenon to recognize it as a physical event, governed by laws of physical cause and effect.

“And when you start looking at the ‘soul,’ you realize that that’s exactly what it looks like, too.

“Everything that we call the ‘soul’ is affected by physical events in our bodies, and those events alter it, shape it, and eventually destroy it. Apply opiates to the brain, and get euphoria; apply a stroke to the brain, and get impairment in the ability to understand language; apply vigorous physical exercise to the brain, and get stress reduction; apply repeated blows to the brain, and get loss of memory and intelligence. Apply anesthesia to the brain, and create the temporary obliteration of consciousness. Remove blood or oxygen to the brain, and create its permanent obliteration. It looks exactly like a physical, biological process: a poorly understood one as of yet, but a biological process nonetheless.

“And there’s no reason to believe otherwise. The theory that the 'soul' is some sort of metaphysical entity or substance has no solid evidence to back it up. Just as with life after death, attempts to find evidence for a 'spirit'
or 'soul' have consistently withered and died when exposed to the searing light and heat of the scientific method. And there’s never been any good explanation of how, exactly, the metaphysical 'soul' is supposed to influence and interact with the brain and the body.

“Not to mention why it can be so drastically altered when the body alters.

"Is there energy inhabiting our brain and our body? Yes, of course. There are electrical impulses running through our brains and up and down our nerves; there are chemical signals being transmitted through our muscles and guts; we consume food energy and radiate heat.

“But is there some sort of non-physical energy inhabiting our brain and our body? Is there some sort of non-physical energy generating our consciousness, our personality, our coherent identity, our ability to make decisions?

“There’s no reason to think so.

“We have an enormous amount yet to learn about self and will, consciousness and character. But everything we know about them points to them being physical phenomena. And the more we learn about them, the more true that becomes.”

(“Why I Don’t Believe in the Soul,” by Greta Christina,, on “Freethought Blogs,” 8 July 2008, at:


Soul there. Wrap it up and stick a fork in it.

Wait. You can't stick forks into souls--even though they're made out of material. Chew on that for awhile.

No, wait. You can't chew on souls. Ok, then, it's not necessary for your salvation.

No, wait one more time. There is no salvation.


Edited 17 time(s). Last edit at 02/22/2013 05:51PM by steve benson.

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Posted by: MyTempleNameIsJoan ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 04:28AM

Where did the first notion of a soul originate?
without a soul there is no salvation.
Without salvation there is no new testament christianity.
Without christiantity there would be fewer drones.
ergo...drones need a soul.

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Posted by: anybody ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 04:50AM

People fear death and want to believe in an essence (soul, spirit, pneuma, ka, or whatever) that makes the living different from the dead.

When you are dead, you are dead. You don't come back.

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 12:13PM

. . . I thought I'd give it one more stab with another scientific stake to the heart. Silly me. :)

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 02/22/2013 01:16PM by steve benson.

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Posted by: anybody ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 01:14PM

as long as you don't force other people to participate in your make-believe against their will.

Or, to paraphrase a line from "The Cage:"

They have an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant...

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 05:34PM

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Posted by: Paint ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 12:19PM

Or should I say delusions?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/22/2013 12:21PM by luvcake.

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 12:58PM

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Posted by: Paint ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 01:15PM

I set that up pretty good didn't I.

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 03:23PM

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Posted by: cecil0812 ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 01:16PM

Steve, I appreciate your attempt to shove the scientific stake into the heart of this debate.

That said, you might want to read this article:

While I am certainly with you and completely agree with you on the concept of souls, I have a feeling that all the scientific facts in the universe won't convince the soul-believers.

C'est la vie, I guess.

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 03:16PM

"The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call 'affect'). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to'stimuli in our environment. It's a 'basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

"We're not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn't take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that's highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about. . .

"And it's not just that people twist or selectively read scientific evidence to support their preexisting views. According to research by Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, people's deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict whom they consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place—and thus where they consider "scientific consensus" to lie on contested issues. . .

"In other words, people rejected the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views—and thus the relative risks inherent in each scenario. . . .

"And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever. . . .

"A key question—and one that's difficult to answer—is how 'irrational' all this is. On the one hand, it doesn't make sense to discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information. . . .

"Some researchers have suggested that there are psychological differences between the left and the right that might impact responses to new information—that conservatives are more rigid and authoritarian, and liberals more tolerant of ambiguity. Psychologist John Jost of New York University has further argued that conservatives are 'system justifiers': They engage in motivated reasoning to defend the status quo. . . .

"The upshot: All we can currently bank on is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself?"

I regard myself as a relatively independent, institutionally unaligned and instinctively iconoclastic thinker--one who is not afraid of contrary information that serves to refute ideas I may hold at a given moment--and, therefore, for whom the best approach for undermining intellectually stupid or empirically faulty arguments which do not comport with known reality is the heads-on, direct approach of empirical confrontation and contradiction..

I say that, of course, from my personal life experience, (Mormonism's rigidity attempted to throttle my independent impulses and I fully recognize that how I respond today is a reflection of how I was controlled in the past).

I have done complete 180s over the years on many religious, social and political issues. I have also done reverse 180s on some of those initial 180s. It all depends on what the evolving and expanding informational database presents me with at a given time.

That said, I tend to stick to my guns--that is, until evidence is presented to me in a comprehensive, understandable, persuasive manner that serves to knock the struts out from under my current viewpoint on a given subject. When that happens, I will gladly and appreciatively adjust my own perspective to align with the additionally-provided facts that better serve to support viewpoints contrary to those being held by me at the time.

Perhaps I am more inclined to more readily change my perspective on matters than are some individuals because I work in a media culture of information, where I am exposed to and bombarded by on a daily, intensive basis arguments, facts, opinions and evidence that are presented to me as being "correct" but that are often in massive contradiction with each other. When that occurs (and it occurs regularly), it is then my responsibility on a personal level to sort through it all and render a considered judgment on what position I think is best supported by the available evidence.

In short, new evidence that refutes a point of view of my own doesn't scare me. Can I be stubborn in not immediately relenting? Yes, especially if I have a lot of personal intellectual and emotional investment in it. But hit me long and hard enough with enough compelling data and I have been known to change my views, often rather dramatically.

Edited 12 time(s). Last edit at 02/22/2013 06:40PM by steve benson.

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Posted by: cecil0812 ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 03:32PM

Yeah, I tend to be the same way although I HAVE caught myself reacting to new information that contradicts my old thinking with more emotion than reason. I think most if not all humans do this from time to time. Some people just do it more frequently.

I really try to not allow emotional biases to influence me. I tend to be a more analytical/logical person so it comes somewhat natural to me.

However, reading that article, I swear it was about one of my non-Mormon Christian friends. No matter what facts you hit him upside the head with, he always refers back to his emotional biases.

I think a lot of people who believe things like souls and yes, even God, are probably like that, relying more on feelings and emotions than logic (hence, Moroni's promise and Mormonism in a nutshell).

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 03:40PM

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Posted by: WinksWinks ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 05:00PM

This post gave me a great insight! How my parents, while trying to get me to feel the spirit confirm the church is true, were inadvertently training me out of 'affect'ed thinking.

Church has never felt good in any fashion to me, so the more they pushed the "church is good and makes good feelings(AKA H Ghost)", the further they pushed me from using that emotional bias/confirmation.
As a child I most definitely had to go along to get along, but the conflicting messages that I was getting, everyone around me gushing about the warm fuzzies of church, and me feeling uncomfortable at best, lead me to a very logic oriented way of thinking.
I'll wait for the evidence.

I'm totally okay not having an answer about some things, and that included the church for the longest time. And I am also not as deeply connected to my own conclusions and opinions as many mormons seem to be. After all, I was told in no uncertain fashion that I was wrong wrong wrong for YEARS. So I had MY feelings on the matter, and I was pretty sure someday when I grew up I would understand why I was wrong.
They were still MY feelings, and nobody can get all up inside my head and change my personal experience, but 100% of the adults around me KNEW different, in no uncertain terms...

So I waited, collecting facts where I could, because facts hold more weight than emotion. Even the right facts will convince the most feeling mormon, when presented the right way at the right time.

What a useful tool they gave me without knowing!

And also, it feels damned good that my feelings were right all along!

Don't get me wrong, I do my share of affected reasoning, just vastly less than the emotionally overloaded morMon that raised me. But my feelings have been "wrong" so often for long enough that it seems comparatively easy for me to learn that I have been wrong and change my position when new information is presented.
Besides, I love being right! So taking the ego hit of having been wrong is always outweighed by being able to become even more right.

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Posted by: rationalguy ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 03:25PM

You probably know where I stand, being an inveterate reader of Shermer, Dennett, Harris, etc.

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Posted by: Boyd K. Packer ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 03:46PM

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Posted by: jacob ( )
Date: February 22, 2013 05:28PM

Steve, once again, has used words and studies and more words to express the depth of the argument against dualism. I wonder about the dearth of the argument in favor of us being dual beings.

So for all of you who believe that we are in fact body and soul I will explain, no that would take to long, let me sum up. Until you can measure, record data, test and dissect the soul you can't prove that it isn't a figment of your imagination. I'm not saying that the figment isn't mighty powerful, I'm saying that the figment doesn't express itself outside of the mind, making its origin, the mind.

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