I suspect that we all wonder at some times if we have a soul and if that soul is separate from our physical body. We are certain that we look out from our eyes, and hear around us with our ears, smell our environment with our nose, feel around with our skin and some other things too. We can’t help but wonder if this perceiving entity is somehow independent from our bodies, but we also know that our conscious perception vanishes when we are soundly asleep. Will our soul retain conscious perceptions after our bodies die, or will it go into another body or other dimension as an individual entity? There haven’t been any empirically verifiable tests of after-death communication, nor are there verifiable tests of pre-existence of our personal consciousness. If these things could be proven I would be happy to explore the past and re-live it and go off into the future and pre-live that world, but so far that has only happened in various fictions.
Perhaps the question of soul could be approached in a way which would be satisfying to a more empirically inclined person. The soul is something which we feel we have, but what is that feeling based on? At first encounter it is our own perceptions of the world around us and after a moment’s consideration that is expanded to include those thoughts and feelings which percolate up from within our own bodies and minds. Then we consider whether the people around us have these same thoughts and feelings, and a simple inquiry assures us that they do, and I trust that they are being truthful when they say these things because these are exactly the things I say to them when they ask these same questions of me.
There arises a fellow-feeling between us humans when we interact socially, but it quickly becomes obvious that similar things are going on between other social animals, like dogs. Just as humans enjoy interacting with other humans, in a similar manner dogs like interacting with other dogs – each species has its special rituals for interacting with their own species. There is some overlap in social relations and thus we humans get along very well with dogs which returns us to the soul problem and sets one to wondering if these social species also have a soul and is that soul independent of their bodies.
There is an answer to these questions and it comes from the very nature of social relations. The social species have been bred by their ancestral history to approve of their fellow members who relate in socially comfortable ways with each other. Those members who relate well become part of the in-group, the herd, and live safer lives and have more children. Those who fail to live within the species rules are to some degree shunned and to some degree lose the safety advantages of being in the herd and thus are more often killed by their group’s predators. But these relative outcasts also lose, at least marginally, the right to reproduce. They lose out from reproduction in two ways: they get killed more often and they don’t get to reproduce as often. With these processes at work the central genetic code of the social herd breeds an animal with the fellow-feeling that social animals feel for one another. When the animal feels this feeling for other creatures, normally of his own species, but sometimes of other species too there comes at some point of mental development, as it has in humans, the ability to separate his own awareness of being from his own body.
When this separation occurs there ensues a feeling of personal soul and when that thought arises there is a wondering about life, death, and after a while what happens to his self-consciousness after the death of his body. The soul is thus the natural development of a social species evolving enough intelligence to have self-awareness. Developing a language and an extended intellectual social structure hones this quest for personal soul into a complex of social ideas we call a religion.
The soul is the blending of our genes, our consciousness and our learning.