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The Soul and its Mechanism - The Nature of the Soul and its Location
Chapter IV

The Nature of the Soul and its Location

Throughout the ages the soul has been the subject of discussion, of argument, and of attempted definition. It has been, and still is, the paramount intellectual interest of the ages, and the outstanding theme of all religions and philosophies. From this alone, we may perhaps deduce that the soul is possibly a fact in nature, for the testimony of millennia must have some basis in reality. After the elimination of all conclusions founded on the visions and experiences of hysterics, of neurotics, and of pathological cases, there remains a residue of testimony and a structure of deduction, emanating from sane and reputable thinkers, philosophers and scientists, which evades negation and warrants recognition by humanity.

Dr. Richard Müller-Freienfels says, "To write the history of man's belief in the soul one would have at the same time to write the history of the whole human race."
- Müller-Freienfels, Richard, Mysteries of the Soul, p. 24. 72

The problem has been well summarized for us by Professor Ames: "On the one side was this self or soul, with its thinking; on the other, all the world of objects, other [73] persons and God. The efforts of wise men for centuries have been to find a way to span the chasm between the self and other objects. But with ideas as events in the head, and things existing outside, there was no sure bridge upon which to make the passage that alone could guarantee that the representations in the head were true to the objects in the outer realm. Upon the two sides of this gulf have been arrayed the armies of philosophers: the idealists upon the side of the self, vainly trying to stretch themselves to reach the reality they have posited as separated from their grasp; and on the opposite side the materialists, striving to ignore the self or to regard it as a phantom, or epiphenomenon, a breath or mist, exuding from the physical world itself. Some, called dualists, assumed the reality of both the psychical and the physical, but allowed each its place and never succeeded in an adequate answer to the question as to how the mind goes out of itself to so different an object, or how the object could be itself and yet be known."
- Ames, Edward Scribner, Prof. of Philosophy, University of Chicago, Religion, pp. 127-128.

Some definitions of the soul might here have place. They have been gathered out of a vast number. It is noticeable that there is a very remarkable uniformity in definition and exegesis. Webster defines the soul in most interesting terms, and from the standpoint of the Eastern wisdom, with great exactitude.

"An entity, conceived as the essence, substance, or actuating cause of individual life, especially of life manifested in psychical activities; the vehicle of individual existence, separate in nature from the body and usually held to be separable in existence." [74]
- Webster's Dictionary, Edition of 1923.

As one investigates the different interpretations as to the nature of the soul, three points of view emerge and these have been well summarized for us in Webster's Dictionary:

"First, the soul has been treated as an entity or subject, manifested especially in man's volitional thinking activities; it is the subject of the experience meditated by the body; it is not the mind, but that which thinks and wills.

"Second, the soul is identified with the mind or with conscious experience; this is the usual sense of the word in psychology, and is the general conception of idealists.

"Third, the soul is treated as a function or the sum of the functions of the brain; thus Pierre J. G. Cabanis (1757-1808), taught that the brain secretes thought as the stomach digests food."

Webster adds the following comment which is appropriate in its application to the present trend of world thought:

"Some conceptions, such as that of Fechner, that the soul is the whole unitary, spiritual process in conjunction with the whole unitary bodily process, appear to stand midway between the idealistic and materialistic views."

Perhaps, after all, the "noble middle path" which the Buddhist emphasizes, holds for the coming generation a way of escape from these extreme positions.

The Egyptians held the soul was a divine ray, [75] acting through a peculiar, fluid-like compound, whilst the Jews regarded it as the vital principle. The Hindus teach that the human soul is a portion of an immutable Principle, the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi, the all pervading Ether (Akasha) of space. This Ether is simply the conductor of certain types of energy and serves as the interrelating medium between essential spirit and tangible matter.

Pythagoras, who did so much in his day to link the Eastern and Western philosophies, gave the same teaching. In China, Lao-tse taught that the spiritual soul is united to the semi-material vital soul, and between them they animate the physical body. The Greeks, in their turn, held that the soul (with all the mental faculties) was separable from the body, whilst the Romans regarded the soul as a triplicity, - a spiritual soul, an intellectual soul or the mind, and a vital body. Many, such as Theophrastus, regarded it as "the real principle of passion," and

"The Stoics gave currency to a new designation of the animating principle or theory of the vital processes, namely pneuma... With the introduction of the pneuma began that trichotomy of human personality into body, soul and spirit, which has figured prominently in the speculations of theologians. The conception of the soul or psyche... became differentiated into two conceptions... namely, on the one hand, the vital force of the physiologists, and on the other hand the spirit or immaterial soul of man." [76]
- Hollander, Bernard, M.D., In Search of the Soul, Vol. I, pp. 53-54.

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