Who Stole The Soul?

Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Thoughts | 3 comments

You are familiar with the lightbulb and how to use it, right? You switch it on at the wall, the light goes on, switch it off and the light disappears. You know that electricity causes the light to be produced. You know that the electricity passes through the very thin filament, which creates heat and light, right? When you switch it off, the electrical current is interrupted, it no longer reaches the bulb, and light stops being produced. Where does the light go? Well, it goes away. The light that has been produced has travelled to the walls of the room, some being absorbed and some reflecting off, and some leaving through the window. But the light has all left, and for all intents and purposes, there is no light being produced by the bulb with no electricity passing through the filament. Electricity needs a circuit to travel, and the on/off switch for the light opens and closes this circuit. If it is interrupted, the flow of energy is broken and the light ceases to work. But where does the power come from?

In most domestic cases it is produced by harnessing the energy of another element at a far off power station, such as the energy produced while burning coal. The coal releases energy an heat, heat causes air movement, and the air turns massive turbines at huge speeds which is then converted into electricity. Energy in a potential form (coal) is burnt (releasing energy), and we capture a great deal of this energy and use it to power our lightbulb. There is no magic involved, just some ingenious engineering and science, and a huge amount of infrastructure. If we shut down our power station, and any backup power generators we have on standby, when we turn on our light switch, nothing happens. There is no power traveling to our bulb to create light. There is no energy leftover, all is accounted for when the light is switched off. Heat and light makes up most of it. Energy is converted once again, and according to the laws of thermodynamics, all should be able to be measured or accounted for. There is no such thing as free energy.

This is very rudimentary stuff, and even a child of 3 knows how to operate a light switch. I doubt however that they grasp just how much is involved in creating this energy.

What does this have to do with the afterlife? A lot actually.

The human brain is like a lightbulb. It requires power in order to function. Actually it’s like a billion billion tiny lightbulbs, all connected by an incredibly complex ┬ánetwork of wires, only the human neuron, instead of having two possible outcomes, on and off, have six connections and can deliver one of five outcomes from a single input, but this complicates things needlessly for illustrating my point. The brain controls the body and the mind, and everything we experience or do is first calculated through the incredibly complex neural networks in our bodies before we are even aware of it. Our brain needs power.

Our bodies have an inbuilt power station, one that supplies the brain and body with all the power needs it requires, and it does this by converting the potential energy in foods we eat into energy. By this I mean we absorbed the nutrients, carbohydrates and proteins thought our guts and convert them into energy for our bodies. If we stop feeding, the body uses stored energy in the muscles and fat, we actually start eating ourselves. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, even if it is ourselves on the menu. Without input, eventually we stop producing enough energy to keep our brains going.

If the supply of energy to the brain ceases, we cease to function. Our bodies shut down. We stop absorbing energy from our food, our heart stops delivering oxygen to our cells, and we stop breathing. Most of all, our brains, the part that we commonly consider to be ourselves, ceases to function. No more input, no more output. It’s a pretty bleak picture I admit, but it’s how things work. We can observe this through ECGs and other medical imaging techniques, we can see the neurons stop firing, the energy in our bodies simply stops flowing. No more consciousness, no more sense of self, we simply switch off.

There is plenty of evidence that this is the case, such as the effects on a person’s brain function when considered braindead. The body may continue to work, but the mind stops making thoughts, and the body goes into a state like autopilot, only the basest instincts suck as the heartbeat and breathing and digestion continues. The brain is us, but without the body the brain is just meat. Likewise without a brain the body is just meat.

Some people like to believe that since we are conscious of ourselves, overly aware of our lives, our actions and our interactions, and because we are able to make rational decisions about our lives and philosophies about the meaning of it all, that humans are above this basic physical fact. Sure there’s a lot going on in our brains, but we are, at base, still at the whim of the laws of science. No energy input, no energy output. We are not more than the energy we intake, we are very adept at using our energies for our social interaction, introspection and invention. We are very clever animals, to be sure but we are not above physics, chemistry or science in any sense.

Just like the lightbulb, when the flow of energies ceases, then so do we. There is no 21 grams left unaccounted for when we die, every bit of weight and energy could be accounted for with the right equipment. A great amount of our bodies decomposes, a transfer of energies from one form to another due to microbial ingestion of our bodies. A lot is lost as CO2. But the energy from our bodies is all used up, i.e. it has already been converted to another state. There is no leftover energy. It doesn’t cease to be, it changes form. This is where the believers in soul say “Ah hah! The new state of energy is our soul!” Well if that is the case, the human soul is nothing but dirt and gas, or basic chemical compounds, not a glowing mass of leftover energy that constitutes the life and deeds amassed in a lifetime. Are these chemicals something capable of ascending to heaven?

Public Enemy once asked “Who Stole The Soul?” I’d be inclined to say, “What soul?”

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  1. I usually enjoy your articles but this one is full of spelling and factual errors.


    …and according to the laws of thermodynamics, all can be measured…
    The ability to measure has nothing to do with the laws of thermodynamics.

    …We stop absorbing energy from our food, our heart stops delivering oxygen to our cells (another form of energy) and we stop breathing…
    Oxygen is not another form of energy (unless or bodies use antimatter now) its the oxidizing agent. Without a reducing agent oxygen would be completely useless to us as an energy source.

    And desipte the fact that im with you that there is no 21grams of soul i dont think we have the technical capabilities atm to actually do this:

    …There is no 21 grams left unaccounted for when we die, every bit of weight and energy can be accounted for…

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    • Sorry Stefan I admit I wrote this in a rush and on my phone, I’ll spellcheck today. I’m trying out some new software hoping to be able to blog on the run, but obviously I get too distracted when doing this to finalize my points properly. I didn’t mean that the laws of thermodynamics are a measuring system, rather that according to these laws, energy doesn’t create itself nor does it disappear. It all has to be accounted for in some form or another. As for oxygen? Well yes I got that wrong, it is a form of energy but we don’t use it as such. I’ll fix this.

      The 21 grams hypothesis ha been disproven. I’ll add a link when I am in from of a computer again.

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  2. I like your light bulb analogy Marty. Years ago I heard an argument against the existence of a soul that went like this:

    If you take a Music CD and throw it in a fire, the music recorded on it is lost. Our minds and memories are like the music and our brains are like the CD. Once the brain breaks down, our minds are lost forever.

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