The Physics of Souls
There is nothing wrong with wanting a tangible physical explanation for things. It helps us navigate and understand this very physical existence we all experience. However, it is also important to remember that we don’t always get to understand everything as well as we might wish to because our physics is still under development. This is easy to see since we are constantly changing theories and rules based on newer, ideas, data and analyses. For example, our world view drastically changed from Newtonian to Relativistic by the inspiration of Albert Einstein who was mostly re-interpreting Maxwell’s equations to a more general case when he had an epiphany. Subsequently, quantum physics came along and altered our understanding drastically yet again. The past is riddled with replaced, superseded scientific theories.
The human soul is a matter of endless debate. Does it even exist? If so, where does it reside and what is it made out of and how does it interact with our bodies? We have enough information at this point to theorize numerous explanations of how such an intangible form of “permanent central identity” might exist but we have very little evidence to support it other than anecdotal and experiential. A strict materialist would say, “Poppycock!, we don’t need some voodoo, magical explanation of human self-awareness and identity. It all comes from atoms interacting.” Yet, even they are at a loss to actually prove that self-awareness can be imparted to atoms if simply arranged in a certain way and given some electricity to work with. And unfortunately, we can’t with certainty say that true self-awareness exists for anyone outside ourselves (qualia) which makes it extra tricky.
Physics and math are so good that we can achieve astounding real things such as launching an intricate unfolding, self-adjusting and massive Space Telescope and placing it into a perfect orbit to observe deep into the Cosmos. But it gets much trickier to launch a probe into the depths of matter right in front of our noses to see what atoms and the like are doing and what all they are composed of and what those sub-things are doing at a given moment. Because of instruments and tools we can measure many things we know about. Yet our best instruments have their limits both in sensitivity and scope of measurements they can make.
Of course we already have a term for “intangible physics” called metaphysics but this is more about the question of whether science has the ability, over time, to scientifically move something from the realm of metaphysics into physics. I see no reason why not and I’d even venture that it’s already been done quite a few times with modern “magical” science. As Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” True magic is surely metaphysical and hypothetical but science can make what was once fantasical and magical into an everyday occurrence.
The world is awash in invisible fields, waves and nano particles passing through our bodies at every moment of the day. For the most part we are relegated to the four main forces of Nature we know about and can measure somewhat: gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear forces, and strong nuclear forces. Are there really only four? Doubtful. Mathematically, we also are fairly adept at working within the familiar three dimensions. Math has no limitations with higher dimensions and imaginary numbers but our mind’s ability to visualize and comprehend higher dimensions is extremely limited. The question is to what extent does the physical world mirror the mathematical world. In other words, is the physical world also composed of many more dimensions than we are aware of or able to comprehend? If so what is the role of these dimensions since we have to assume they wouldn’t be there just for kicks but have an important role to play in the firmament of Reality.
What if there were additional forces yet to be discovered or detected just as with gravity and electromagnetic forces that remained cloaked in mystery for ages? String theory requires a mathematical model that posits up to 11 dimensions, 7 more than we are familiar with if you accept time as the fourth dimension. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine forces that operate in these higher dimensions completely off the human radar. Even “down” here in the regular 4-D world we are not set up to detect invisible fields that are not one of the big four. There are lots of things we don’t see that we make all sorts of scientific claims about by measuring their effects and forming logical conclusions. Much of physics and chemistry is based on such inferences and claims are made on what the mind’s eye sees via analysis of repeatable effects.
The philosopher/scientist Rupert Sheldrake has spent a lifetime looking for evidence of what he calls Morphic Resonance, a “field” he says we are jacked into that allows all sorts of things to be explained such as why we can feel when someone is staring at us or how new knowledge and ideas can propagate over large distances without “physical” contact. He’s devised many clever experiments that show such phenomena exist and can’t be explained by statistical means. For example if one is asked is someone staring at you behind your back, statistics would say you have a 50/50 chance of guessing— yes or no. But Sheldrake has found the odds are more like 55–60/40–45 that we will guess right. That then leads to the question how is this possible? You can deny the validity of the data but if it is peer-reviewed and witnessed by many that seems futile. Our job becomes how to explain this.
Just because we can’t measure this hypothetical field currently, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But it’s also no surprise that Sheldrake is somewhat of an outcast and derided in the scientific community. He often speaks about intangibles and paranormal things as though they were the only way to explain certain experiences such as ESP or astral projection (perception outside the mechanisms of sensory organs). But he mainly concerns himself with the nature of consciousness itself which to this day has no solid explanation in physics or biology. He seems to think of the brain as a sort of receiver or antenna picking up on things in other dimensions or even far away. He has also found that some people have better mastery over this receiver and do statistically better than others in his experiments.
We have many anecdotes throughout the ages of clairvoyants, psychics, mediums and shamans who seem to be able to see and hear things that others can’t. Are they all mad? Or are they on to something that is real out there? People who have reported contact with extraterrestrials have almost all said the being didn’t speak but communicated directly into their minds. Sounds crazy to me but is it really any stranger than life itself? I sort of like to believe all of this is possible because I know for a fact we have barely begun to unveil the Universe’s secrets and we already live in a magical time where moving images fly invisibly through space to our phones and we can meet with people over Zoom and do all sorts of things that would have until very recently seemed impossible and magical. I’m pretty sure things are going to get weirder and more mysterious as time goes by if past is prologue.
It’s not that hard to imagine a being that is far more advanced than we and judging from where we are technologically, at such a beginner level, why wouldn’t a being millions of years more advanced have psychic abilities? It’s just not that shocking of an idea given where we already are. So what if they don’t use radio waves but some other yet undiscovered means of “sending information.” We barely just got radio communication 130 or so years ago so we’re not exactly in a position to say what’s all possible with transmission of data from A to B. Plus, as Sheldrake believes, we might already be commonly doing this sort of thing ourselves but at a beginner level.
soul n. the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.
This gets me back to the theme of this article which is the physics of souls, an elusive explanation that scientists can sink their teeth into of something we don’t even know if it exists. Nearly all religions have the idea of souls in common. Whether it’s the reincarnated type of Hinduism and Buddhism or the one and done type of Judaism and Christianity, the idea of a persistent, immortal component to our being has deep roots in culture and philosophy. Plato said that even after death, the soul exists and is able to think. He believed that as bodies die, the soul is continually reborn (metempsychosis) in subsequent bodies, similar to Eastern religions. Plato went so far as to divide the soul into three parts: the logistikon (reason), the thymoeides (spirit), and the epithymetikon (appetite), being the deep thinker he was. These beliefs don’t make themselves true, of course, but they show that humanity has intuited a realm beyond the well-understood world throughout history and across all cultures.
Numerous modern scientists in various fields are now regularly entertaining the idea of a conscious Universe (panpsychism). See this article in Scientific American for example. In this case we may be merely tapping into a vast ocean of Cosmic Consciousness or perhaps our souls are little fractal bits of it. And quantum physics is full of strange things that take place such as entanglement and much more down on the nano level of matter and energy. Since our brains and bodies are made of this stuff, they must necessarily do all of the things that matter does, including entanglement and much more.
We may be on the verge of taking our understanding how our bodies are connected to the fabric of Reality to a new level and it may be quite explainable with next level physics. Already, I can see no contradiction of having our brains be intertwined on a much deeper level in many more dimensions than traditional neuroscience has discovered. Just because we put neurons under a microscope doesn’t mean we understand everything they are doing. They may just be the tip of the iceberg.
The physics of the soul need not be impossible to understand but we have to be willing to be ignorant of the many mysterious forces and fields for quite awhile because we are still a young species. If we were to someday scientifically prove to ourselves the existence of an eternal identity (a sort of Cosmic Social Security card) at our core, the thing that says “I am,” I wonder how it would change us. Would we become more or less cavalier about this Earthly life manifestation? Would we feel more responsibility and caring toward our eternal self or of others?
For now I’m satisfied that the pattern of discovery will continue for centuries and what was once mysterious will become common knowledge, as always. If I can already posit a physical explanation involving new types of fields and quantum physics as others have done then it’s only a matter of time before we get to the next level and can find numerous physical explanations for how consciousness and souls could operate outside of current models. Keep your antennae open!