The Human Soul and The Floating Man

February 10, 2011 § 7 Comments

By: Tai Carmen

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” ~ Bhagavad Gita (2.20)

From the dawn of time people have speculated about the existence of the soul. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the soul was demonstrated by a bird with a human head, the Ba; the essence of the individual, post-corporeal form.

The word soul is derived from the Old English sáwol, the etymology of which is suspected to relate with the sea… Scholars speculate that the crossover from sea to soul comes from the early Germanic people’s belief that the souls of the dead existed at the bottom of the sea…a kind of mermaid afterlife.

Drawing on the works of his teacher Socrates, Plato considered the human soul to be the eternal essence of our temporary form. Plato believed that after each body died, the soul returned to subsequent bodies.

The 11th century Persian philosopher Avicenna devised The Floating Man thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantiality of the soul: he directed readers to imagine themselves suspended in mid air, isolated from all sensation. One would still have self-awareness in this scenario, he argues, and thus concludes that the idea of the soul is not logically dependent on any physical thing.

In 1907, the ambitious Dr. Duncan Macdougall undertook an experiment designed to prove the existence of the soul, weighing patients before and after death. His results (though never replicated, and held in debate due to their anecdotal nature,) indicated that moments after death the patient lost a relatively consistent amount of weight. From his research Dr. Macdougall concluded that generally the human soul weighs around 21 grams.

We are all in a way floating, suspended between belief and non-belief. Some of us may be further towards one end of the spectrum, but in the end, both uncertainty and hope are universal. Certainly there is more to us than meets the eye, each person, like a geode rock with a unique and unexpected inner world.

Existence is a thrilling mystery.

If the cosmos is any indicator, we should remain open minded: worlds beyond our imagination surely exist. And we are only able to see so much with the naked eye.

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