Scientists Debate the Existence of the Human Soul

Joel Eisenberg

The soul, once the purview of religion and spirituality, has received renewed attention from professionals in various science-based disciplines.

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Author’s Note

This article is based on scientific postings and accredited media reports. All linked information within this article is fully-attributed to the following outlets: Britannica.com, Snopes.com, Wikipedia.org, Psychology Today, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, The National Academy of Science, and Evolution News & Science Today.

Introduction

Earlier this week, NewsBreak published “The Science of What Happens to Your Mind After Death,” my article discussing scientific studies of one of death’s great mysteries.

As excerpted from the article: The intersection of religious belief — or lack thereof — and science frequently leads to conversations about the existence of a “soul.” In March, 2022, Britannica.com published “Soul: Religion and Philosophy,” a comprehensive piece detailing various perspectives through the centuries as to its existence. More skeptical readers may want to also click here for a Snopes.com “fact check” as to whether the existence of a soul has been proven, and if the soul itself has a measurable weight.

As can be viewed in the above hyperlink, Snopes reported neither a “true” nor “false” conclusion on the matter, instead labeling the legitimacy of the effort as somewhere between those two binary options. While referencing the questionable nature of the early 20th century work of Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who determined the human soul has mass and a weight of 21 grams, Snopes writer David Mikkelson’s 2003 fact-check stated: In March 1907 accounts of MacDougall’s experiments were published in the New York Times and the medical journal American Medicine, prompting what Mary Roach described as an “acrid debate” in the latter’s letters column.

Indeed, as discussed in Mikkelson’s piece, Dr. MacDougall’s efforts have been highly discredited. However, in recent years a host of doctors and scientists have continued related work with a renewed fervor.

Let us explore further.

Science and Religion

In a vintage 2011 article by Dr. Robert Lanza for Psychology Today, titled “Does the Soul Exist? Evidence Says ‘Yes,’” the author and head of Astellas Global Regenerative Medicine discusses the theory of biocentrism in its relation to the soul: As Kant pointed out over 200 years ago, everything we experience — including all the colors, sensations, and objects we perceive — are nothing but representations in our mind. Space and time are simply the mind's tools for putting it all together. Now, to the amusement of idealists, scientists are beginning dimly to recognize that those rules make existence itself possible. Indeed, the experiments above suggest that objects only exist with real properties if they are observed. The results not only defy our classical intuition but suggest that a part of the mind — the soul — is immortal and exists outside of space and time.

It should be noted that in 2014 Dr. Lanza was named one of Time Magazine’s "100 Most Influential People in the World." See here for Time Magazine article on the matter.

It should also be noted that biocentrism is a field of study within the realm of quantum physics, which skeptics frequently denote as a pseudo-science.

For an additional overview of religious and philosophical perspectives of the concept of a soul, see well-attributed Wikipedia page here.

In March, 2017, teacher-philosopher Daniel Dennett, author of the 1991 bestseller “Consciousness Explained,” was the subject of a New Yorker piece entitled “Daniel Dennett‘s Science of the Soul.”

From the article: In the nineteenth century, scientists and philosophers couldn’t figure out how nonliving things became living. They thought that living things possessed a mysterious life force. Only over time did they discover that life was the product of diverse physical systems that, together, created something that appeared magical. Dennett believes that the same story will be told about consciousness.

Philosophical and religious perspectives will rarely be the same as scientific findings on the matter of the soul’s existence, or lack thereof as science has to date remained wholly inconclusive, but Dennett implies such an intersection.

Perhaps the National Academy of Science said it best, in their piece titled “Does Science Disprove the Existence of God?” The article’s subtitle is provocative, and the same words can be applied to the human soul: Science doesn’t have the processes to prove or disprove the existence of God. Science studies and attempts to explain only the natural world while God, in most religions, is supernatural.

Finally, a June 2019 David Klinghoffer article published by Evolution News & Science Today, titled “Why Neuroscience Points to a Soul,” profiled the work of neuroscientist Michael Egnor.

The neuroscientist believes we are more than physical, easily-explainable beings: Egnor details the findings of his own field, neuroscience. These indicate that something extra, something immaterial, is joined with the material body to form the complete human being. That something extra is traditionally designated as the soul.

Conclusion

Science has yet to prove the existence of a soul, and perhaps it never will.

The work continues, though, which some scientists hope will prove the skeptics wrong.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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