It’s a curious thing to read an article purporting to be on the topic of consciousness, that delves lightly into the neurological foundations of our (very incomplete) consciousness, and then ends up mentioning such a primitive notion as “soul.” It’s akin to reading an article on tensor calculus that ends with a quick reference to how gods and goblins probably manipulate the results of calculations.

Any ten-second consideration of the primitive notion of “soul” shows the concept to be entirely without foundation. Not only would it violate everything we know about physics but it is also entirely unnecessary. We know there is no magical invisible “essence” of who we are because a simple brain lesion or psychoactive compound can utterly change someone’s personality. We do not see any phenomenon that requires a “soul” to explain it.

Furthermore, we know that no species characteristic emerges instantly and fully-formed but rather develop as a series of gradations. Even the most complex organ begins as a very simple mutation that conferred some advantage and hence was retained. Eyes are the classic example, beginning with a simple photosensitive patch of skin. But what possible evolutionary advantage could a proto-soul convey? And if it’s a non-corporeal entity how could DNA encode for it?

Even if we presume some magical force that side-steps all of evolution and all logic, we must still presume that other creatures also have souls (there is no compelling argument that would preclude this possibility). So where do we draw the line? Do mammals have souls but insects don’t? Given the incrementalism of evolution, what creatures have “partial” souls and what could this even mean?

So please, when we’re trying to talk about real-world phenomenon, let’s not regress intellectually to the Dark Ages. We know the concept of “soul” arose merely because earlier humans had no knowledge of physics, neurology, biology, or the psychology of perception. We no more need a “soul” to explain human function than we need “automotive souls” to explain why cars accelerate when we press the gas pedal.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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