A Dialogue on the Soul (Part 1)

This is a dialogue in which four friends discuss arguments for and against the existence of a soul. At the start, two believe in a soul and two oppose the idea of the soul. To make it a bit clearer who supports which statement, I will (very) briefly discuss the characters.The two characters that do believe in the existence of the soul are Milo and Alden. Milo is a young man, a bit hot headed at times. Alden is the oldest of the group, he is a few years older than Milo.Lyra and Zeno are the two opposing the existence of the soul. Lyra is the only girl in the company, and carefully thinks through everything she says. Zeno has not really thought about the subject before this conversation and is quite straightforward when he says something.This dialogue is not meant to take one side or another in the conversation. It is up to the reader to decide which arguments (s)he finds more compelling and make the judgement call him/herself. It is not meant to lecture the reader; it is meant to make the reader think. The dialogue will be uploaded in multiple parts, with an undetermined amount of time between them (I still have to write the rest of the scenes).
I have written the names of Milo and Alden in italics to show that they are on the “Soul Side” of the dialogue. Lyra and Zeno are also written both without italics to show they are also on the same “side”.

Let me first set the scene. A few weeks ago, Milo turned 23. Not wanting to let this go by without throwing a party, he decided to invite some friends over to his apartment. It grew later, and when the majority of the people had left, four friends where left with a couple of beers, a friendly discussion and each other. The topic of discussion turned more philosophical the later it got, and they got to the point that they were talking about the soul. We will skip a small part of the beginning of the discussion. Where the concrete things are being said and discussed is where we will begin observing their conversation:

Milo looked confused. He got the notion that his best friend, Zeno, did not believe in a soul. He decided to ask him about it: “So what do you think about souls then Zeno?”

Zeno: Well, the notion of a soul is ridiculous of course!

Alden(curiously): Wait, do you really think that? Why do you think that the notion of a soul is ridiculous?

Zeno: Well, if we are in possession of a soul, where is it? I can not see the soul, therefore I have no reason of believing in it.

Alden: Is that your only criteria for believing in something to be? In order for you to believe in something, you have to see it?

Zeno: Correct. What reason do I have to believe in something when I can’t see it?

Alden: But you do know that other things that you can’t see are real right? What about atoms?

Zeno: Well, that is because that is just science. A soul is not science!

Lyra had been listening closely to the conversation, but now spoke up after this last statement of Zeno.

Lyra: Wait up Zeno. That is not a good argument at all. I agree with you that there is no soul, but your arguments are simply not good enough. Science relies on the principle of ‘inference to the best explanation’. We infer the existence of atoms based on the fact that doing so allows us to explain things that are in need of explaining. One should be careful, that not just any explanation is sufficient. Why do we believe in viruses and bacteria, and not in evil demons that make us ill? Germ theory is a better explanation than Demon theory, because it explains why some treatments — like medicine — work and why other treatments — like exorcism do not work.

Alden: So in order for us, Milo and myself, to justify our belief in the existence of a soul, we will have to find a problem that is better explained with a soul than with just a purely physical body.

Lyra: Yes that would be correct

Alden: So let us think of properties which a purely physical system, like a computer, could never possess and try to convince you.

Milo sprang up and told them what he thought to be a good argument.

Milo: The soul is the animating force behind the body of course! At the end of our lives, when the soul leaves the body, a person dies and cannot move any longer. All the physical parts of the body are still there. If you, Lyra and Zeno, say that the body is purely physical, why can we not move once we have died? You cannot say that our body has the same composition when one is alive and when one is dead, because there is such a stark difference between the two states. It is clear that something has left our bodies, and that something is the soul!

Lyra: But Milo, would you agree that a phone works good, when all of its parts are working together and are connected with each other in the correct manner?

Milo: Yes, I would agree to that.

Lyra: And would you agree that we can have a robot that walks on it’s own, when all parts of that robot are working together as they should, and are connected to each other with the correct wiring?

Milo: I would.

Lyra: I hope that you also agree with me on the fact that both of these systems, which are purely physical, are susceptible to breaking? They break when the wires are not connected correctly, they break down when the parts do not work together properly any longer. So the soul is not needed as an explanation for the animating force behind the body, because phones and robots also break down, just like the body — and we do not feel the need to infer upon them the concept of having a soul.

Alden added to the conversation between Milo and Lyra:

Alden: I agree with you, Lyra, that the soul is not the animating force behind the body. But let me phrase Milo’s argument a little different: The body not only moves, it moves purposefully. I will take the example of the phone that you have used. The phone ‘moves’, when it goes from app to app on the screen. But we give the phone those instructions, which application it needs to turn on. Maybe we can say that it is the same case with our bodies. We are not purely physical systems, because we have purpose — we do not move about randomly, but purposefully. As I have shown by the example of a phone, this purpose is acted upon our physical bodies by something else. This would be the soul.

Zeno, for the first time since he was criticized by Lyra, also joined in the argument now:

Zeno: But a purely physical thing can have purpose by itself. It can redirect itself without commands from no one and decide for itself what the best course of action is. Take for example a heat seeking missile. The missile detects heat, and redirects itself with purpose towards its source. So a purely physical thing can move purposefully without a source outside of itself.

Milo: But the heat seeking missile was programmed to search for the heat. Could we not say that it is the soul that programmes the body to move purposefully, like the programmer programs the missile?

Zeno: Our programmer is our DNA first and foremost, and even our parents and our society are our programmers. Our DNA takes care of the natural aspects, and our parents and society of the social aspects.

The room fell still and after a few seconds of silence, Milo broke it with a new argument.

To be continued.

READ PART 2 HERE: https://medium.com/@svenbouman/dialogue-on-the-soul-part-2-d7af5306c265#.hap8l3irr
READ PART 3 HERE: https://medium.com/@svenbouman/dialogue-on-the-soul-part-3-76672f2a1ef9#.hd6bcv1u6