Would you sell your soul for a cookie?

images-3There is a prevailing religious belief that we all have a soul, but this is simply a historical tradition that came about because our ancestors ran with this idea as a way to explain themselves, the actual empirical evidence for this is exactly zero. The fact that something cannot be detected or measured need not imply it is not real, but what we have here is not just a lack of anything that is directly measurable or detectable, there is also a complete lack of any indirect evidence.

Some might of course suggest that human consciousness is a huge unknown and that soul is a word that is a religious attempt to explain that. However what we do clearly understand today is that human consciousness is something that naturally emerges from the human brain and is not something separate from it. We know that if you mess with specific areas of the human brain then the change will directly impact the human personality, and so quite clearly the essence of us as an individual can be demonstrated to be very much something that naturally emerges from the human brain; there is no need to fall back upon any supernatural claims. It is of course still true that we do not fully grasp or understand what consciousness is at all, but the lack of understanding something is not evidence for anything at all except a lack of understanding.

So anyway … back on track … the religious idea of a soul is not simply archaic, it is something that does not actually exist at all.

Selling Your Soul

The net effect is that the concept of selling your soul is quite meaningless, and so doing exactly that is a highly effective way to cause people to pause and start to think about such things, and that is exactly what a secular student group in Cincinnati university just did …

Students sell their souls for cookies at Secular Student Alliance table on Friday, September 4th at the University of Cincinnati

A student organization invited students to sell their soul in exchange of a home-baked chocolate chip, snicker doodle or macadamia cookie Friday, where a sign advertising the event hung directly between McMicken Commons and Tangeman University Center.

This sign served as a marketing flag to recruit potential members to UC’s Secular Student Alliance (SSA).

… and they were doing this for exactly the right reason as well, it was not simply a stunt designed to mock …

“I’d really love to get people thinking and challenging their own beliefs, to think about us, to think about politics, to think about social issues,” Butcher said. “I’d like to inspire those kinds of conversations around campus.”

If you are in any way worried, then don’t be …

Souls are not real at all …

“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”.Sean Carroll

The above quote comes from a great article written by Physicist Sean Carroll in the May 2011 issue of Scientific American – Physics and The Immortality of the Soul.

OK, its lunchtime here as a I write this, anybody want to buy my soul for a few cookies (chocolate only please).

6 thoughts on “Would you sell your soul for a cookie?”

  1. Souls may in fact be real (you just don’t believe they are/ still can’t know), and the context isn’t actually as noble as you (or the one who is giving the cookie) paints.

    Sean Caroll’s quote is pretty foolish/ ripe with fallacy too. He takes pure naturalism (if they were there our tools could sense them) and applies it to something people already claim exists apart from naturalism. I’m sorry, what part about “super nature” doesn’t Sean understand?

    • The claim is essentially one in which something that is supposedly beyond interacts with our reality, it gives you two choices …
      1) either it does indeed interact with our reality, and so that is something that is both detectable and measurable … but nothing has ever been detected or measured
      2) it does not in any way interact with our reality, and so even if real it would essentially be no different than a fantasy.

      • That depends Dave, upon whether or not the thing interacts in a predictable way.

        Suppose we were all billard balls on a pool table traveling after a break. We may know where we came from, are headed, angles, ect. But a hand might come down and stop what we know to be natural. We can’t predict if, or when, it will happen, but some billard balls say it sometimes happens.

        The analogy is not very good, but hopefully my point is coherent. If there is supernature, it might not have predictable (with certainty) patterns. If there are patterns to supernature, they might be impossible to find.

      • Sorry- to address your second concern, I think what you’re saying is things we can’t verify are as useless as fairy tales?

        That may be, but it’s hard to distinguish what we can verify now, in the future, and what we could never possibly verify. Also,
        I believe supernature is grounded on more rational thought than Fairy Tales- there are still philosophical reasons (even if you disagree) educated men believe in supernature.

        • Unpredictable events pose no problem for science if they are detectable and measurable. An asteroid hitting Earth is unpredictable, but it’s not undetectable. The hand touching the billard ball can be detected by measuring the final position of the ball and comparing it to its expected position if there was no hand. We don’t need to relly on the billard ball’s “word” for it, we can detect when and how the unpredictable event occured only with this measurement.

          If you define supernatural events as unpredictable, but still detectable and measurable (as the hand on the billard table), then science should be able to find them by looking at the results of them happening, kind of like measuring the final position of the billard ball. Whether we have the technology to do it now or not is irrelevant to this definition, because it defines supernatural events as a scientific claim, therefore Sean’s quote is spot on: whenever a natural explanations is sufficient, Ockham does his job.

          If you define supernatural events as undetectable and unmeasurable (not by our current technology, but by definition: it can never be measured or detected), then, independent of being predictable or not, there is no difference between supernatural events and nonexistent events. You make the term “existence” meaningless. Which makes Dave’s second point, again, spot on: supernatural is no different than fairy tales. It’s not more rational to believe in supernatural: it’s as irrational as.

          So we have to turn the question back to you: what part of supernatural don’t you understand?

          • Actually the way the world works, putting that into the billard ball example, a Billard ball that doesn’t travel it’s full length would get the answer “We don’t know what happened, but Magical hands interfering are nonsense. We could never prove that”

            No, I’m afraid in our universe, we can’t find things beyond matter and energy by using matter and energy, the same way a computer program can’t read past 1’s and 0’s.

            And to make the statement an event unmeasurable and unpredicted being the same as nonexistent is reaching too far. You’re claiming all reality is measurable and predictable, but you don’t take into consideration the barriers of the human mind. The dog understands more than the ant, and man the dog, but there may be much more that man can’t know. Real things may be immeasurable and unpredictable due not in their nature, but in man’s limitations.

            Okham’s Razor is about choosing the simplest explanation, which is usually good, but there are some situations where in the past man’s lack of knowledge applied to the Razor actually led to the wrong conclusions (ie: flat earth)

            But my “What don’t you get about supernature” question still stands. When someone makes theories about something beyond matter, and someone answers with “that doesn’t make sense with matter”, it’s like they didn’t grasp the concept of the theory- can something beyond matter affect matter.

            (And Mr. Gamble and I have commented towards each other for at least a year now on his page off and on. We’re blunt but polite so this isn’t some fight lol)


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