2016 is a great year for physics. Not only have we discovered gravitational waves, but just this week, physicists have announced the existence of a long sought after object: the human soul.
Yes, the soul — the source and seat of human will, consciousness, and emotion — has been confirmed to exist. “Many of the properties of the soul predicted by ancient cultures and religions have been confirmed,” said one physicist on the discovering team, who preferred to remain anonymous.
An artist’s rendition of the soul1
“We have found the soul to be responsible for differences in personality between people, at the p<0.001 significance level. It carries information about our past and its meaning to us, and quite a bit of information and tendencies from before our births as well, including the lives of our ancestors. It even operates via a fundamental force of nature whose field exists outside the body, which itself can be used for communication with the aid of certain artifacts."
A few predictions about the soul made by certain individuals have turned out to be false. For example, a few religious leaders had theorized that it would be immortal, but that turns out not to be the case, more so in accordance with other religions. The human soul, it seems, can be destroyed. As well, a few others believed that the soul could be used to exert non-negligible forces on the external world, without the aid of the body, and could be used for unaided mind-to-mind communication with other people or deities. These predictions haven’t panned out.
But, by and large, almost everything else folks traditionally expected about the soul have turned out correct. “It’s quite astounding that pre-scientific introspection was able to tell us so much about the soul.”
Some have argued that the soul isn’t really the soul because this-or-that prediction about it made by such-and-such a person wasn’t quite right. Our physicist disagrees. “If we found the Higgs boson, and this many of its properties matched our predictions about it, except that its mass was a little off from So-and-So’s estimate but within the bounds predicted by others, we wouldn’t say ‘That’s not really the Higgs boson!’. That’s just not how words and concepts work; we’d just say So-and-So was wrong in his predictions. And that’s what we’re saying about the soul: some people were just wrong about some of the details.”
It also appears that animals have souls as well, as many had previously suspected. “Animal souls are mostly simpler than humans’, but at least mammalian souls exhibit many of the same capacities for fear, anger, caring, and memory.”
Some research is already underway to develop ways for the soul to interact more directly with the external world — and other people — without the intermediation of the body. This research is truly exciting. “The widespread use of human [soul]-to-[soul] technologically mediated communication,” says soul researcher Alvaro Pascual-Leone at Harvard University, “will create novel possibilities for human interrelation with broad social implications.”
As well, in light of the soul’s physical vulnerability, some groups have begun searching for ways to preserve the soul after biological death. “But the research is remarkably poorly funded,” says one proponent. “You’d think, after billions of people were hoping their souls would transcend death, and we found that that wasn’t going to happen by default, they’d re-prioritize their weekly donations to try correcting the problem.”
Nevertheless, at this point, with the soul firmly in the domain of science, I’m personally excited that a more reliable understanding of its nature will soon follow. “There’s just no need to sit around idly speculating about how the soul works; we can test our hypotheses now, and formulate new ones that never would have occurred to us without all this new data.”
It seems to me that advancing our understanding of the soul may be the greatest challenge, and triumph, of the 21st century. Here’s hoping it all goes well and according to plan.
1 Artist’s rendition not scientifically accurate.
Also, since I broke my usual rule of not being sarcastic on the internet here, I figured I would add, as a matter of ceremony: this post was actually about the brain, electromagnetism, brain-computer interfaces, and cryonics.