Social Question

whiteliondreams's avatar

Why is the mind also referred to as "soul"?

Asked by whiteliondreams (1703 points ) June 29th, 2012

I just made a post about why don’t animals have minds and I found it interesting that several people answering the question referred to the mind as nearly synonymous with “soul”. Is cognition theorized to be operated by or synonymous with “soul”? By soul, what are many of you thinking it is?

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24 Answers

marinelife's avatar

It is not. They are two different things.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@marinelife I know this, but why do people associate the soul with cognition?

marinelife's avatar

@whiteliondreams Because a soul without cognition would not be too cool.

syz's avatar

There’s no such thing as a soul. It’s something that humans have made up in an effort to differentiate themselves from animals.

fundevogel's avatar

I blame it on the notoriously wishy-washy definition of “soul”. I try to avoid using the word because even with context it is hard to know which definition a person is using without further explanation.

A person’s immortal spirit
An individual person
The “essence” of a person
noteworthy emotional content of…whatever

thorninmud's avatar

The idea of a soul is derived from the common intuition that there is a singular entity that is the experiencer of “my” experience, the thinker of “my” thoughts, and the willful originator of “my” actions.

In this intuition, the body doesn’t seem to suffice as the ultimate subject. The intuition is that “I” am somehow in here. There is a persistent illusion of the body as a shell— kind of me, but not entirely me.

So the soul was conceived to account for this cluster of perceptions. We also strongly identify with our thoughts; they seem to be a defining feature of who we are. We don’t feel that way about other products of our biology; who I am seems unrelated to my morning poop. So we can’t divorce our notion of ourselves as autonomous agents from our thoughts.

tups's avatar

Because some people think it’s the same.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@thorninmud As Buddhists we understand the notion of no self and thus, no soul; however, I simply asked out of sheer curiosity to see what the people who did see the two as synonymous (or not) would say about it. Thanks again.

JLeslie's avatar

Since we are our thoughts, some see the mind as the soul.

The other Q you link, someone was guessing that maybe your daughter was actually asking about the soul. I only recebtly discovered that some religions do not think animals go to heaven. I was at a funeral around a year ago, and some Christian guy I guess? Not sure if he was a preacher or a friend of the family or what, started talking about how the person who had died would go on to heaven, but animals don’t. WTF did he even have to bring up animals for anyway? So, does that mean animals are soulless? Mindless?

I would tell her animals do have minds and thoughts and in some ways they think very mich the same as we do, and in other ways they don’t. Their brains are different than ours, but they still have minds. They remember us, they get frightened, happy, sad, just like people.

josie's avatar

It could mean a lot of things, but usually when people speak of soul, they imagine there is an eternal essence that relates their existance to everything else they do not fully understand and that it persists even after material death.
I figure this is because people have a tough time grasping the notion of eternal oblivion after death.
But when you think about it, everybody alive at this moment experience oblivion for the ages before birth, so it is not as if your unfamiliar with it.

wundayatta's avatar

I think we often use words interchangeably when we are referring to undefined, somewhat abstract concepts that are strongly related. What is a brain? A mind? A soul?

At least two out of the three are abstract ideas. It’s not clear what they are at all. You’d probably have to study it a lot to nail it down, and we are on a social website where people like to blather on and no one really holds us accountable.

I think that most people use “soul” as a kind of idea for the essence of a person. It is kind of the idea of the person—their character and their proclivities and history and feelings.

“Mind” is similar, although I think it is more focused on the head and the brain. It is still the essence of a person, only it is the essence of how that person thinks.

What is the difference between the essence of a person and the essence of the way a person thinks? Hard to say. So I can see how people would use the two terms interchangeably. They are similar in every day parlance, when we are not being scientific, and when we are not defining terms.

tinyfaery's avatar

A brain I can point to, a soul can only be conceived of in thought. A soul cannot be seen or studied. Soul is the stuff of faith not reason.

Bill1939's avatar

As @wundayatta suggests, the problem is one of semantics. The terms mind, spirit, and soul have been used in various ways at different times in human history, sometimes sharing similar meanings and sometimes describing unique aspects. The terms soul and mind are often used interchangeably, soul and spirit less so.

In some cultures, whose origins are in antiquity, one’s spirit enters their body with their first breath and leaves the body with their last breath. In this sense, spirit is seen as the animating force of an inanimate object. It existed before entering the material realm and continues to do so without corporeality. The soul is likewise seen as existing continuously through out time; some believe it manifests repeatedly in the physical universe as reincarnated life forms.

Blueroses's avatar

I would just reiterate what @josie said. It’s our relationship to our concept of “time”.

We’re aware of our selves. We’re aware of physical death, but it’s difficult to apply that knowledge to ourselves. We can’t conceive of a time after our bodies die, so we apply the notion of everlasting “soul”.

ETpro's avatar

@marinelife How do we know that mind and soul are two separate “things” when we don’t have any proof there even is a “thing” called soul?

@whiteliondreams I think the reason they are often conflated in talking about human mental behavior is that conceiving of something separate from the all-meat brain. We even have a word for it. Modern neurology refers to the concept of observing self as the homunculus brain, drawing upon the word Latin masculine, homunculus meaning little man. Whatever the actual source of sentience, it feels for the world like we are a little man poised before some view-screen in our brain, watching the sensory inputs from our camera eyes and microphone ears, and able to control our motions and reactions simply by thinking about them.

Bill1939's avatar

@ETpro, your response to @marinelife‘s response is unresponsive to @whiteliondreams’ question, which was not whether mind, soul, or spirit actually exist, but how such abstract concepts have been and are being used. The original question that @whiteliondreams posited was “Why don’t dogs (animals) have minds?” Responses to this question led @whiteliondreams to wonder about the use of the terms soul and mind. (I added spirit to the issue.)

ETpro's avatar

@Bill1939 This is the Social Section, and I reserve the right to comment on a specific answer as well as answer the question, which I did to the best of my ability after taking @marinelife‘s assertion to task.

Bill1939's avatar

My thinking was that @marinelife‘s response was based upon @whiteliondreams’ premise and was not an assertion. Perhaps my criticism was ill chosen, @ETpro. If so, I apologize.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@ETpro & @Bill1939 The reason I didn’t ask whether the soul (spirit) exists is because I do not believe in such. However, the animal question is another post.

Bill1939's avatar

I am inclined to believe in the concept of a transcendent form of existence, and currently I imagine a soul to be an eternal force that produces manifestation in space and time, which is accompanied by a spiritual field. However, I am willing to believe that such notions are pure fiction.

I do not think that the concept of mind, as a product of neurological functions that largely occur within the brain, can reasonably be limited to humans. Though, presumably, the number and complexity of mental functions that our brains have is greater than that of any other animal.

whiteliondreams's avatar

Indeed @Bill1939 and what I have synthesized myself, has been the notion that the area, which controls the function of the “mind” is more than neurological…it’s almost, separate.

Bill1939's avatar

The mind seems separate to me too, @whiteliondreams. It is possible that the notion of separateness is an illusion, given the possibility that metaphysically speaking all is one. However, without separation we cannot ‘know’ anything. So until we are no longer corporeal beings, such an illusion is inescapable . Just thinking.

whiteliondreams's avatar

I concur @Bill1939 and unfortunately, or fortunately, this mental itch will not be scratched for quite some time. Although, considering the industrial revolution and what was required to get all the people in England to become healthy or, at least be in a somewhat cleaner situation, so that they could live and work. All that work that it took; the Sumerians did this first. (Yes, I’m jumping ideas, I do that) Yet, it almost seems that with so much work that was done, someone knew something that we obviously do not know today. For if many of todays agricultural and developmental marvels were available over 4,000 years ago and we are now coming to terms with some things that the ancients already came to terms with, i.e. metaphysics, then what are we missing that is so detrimental to that itch we cannot scratch?

Also, have you theorized that when you sleep, your conscious is in another body? Which is why many times we cannot remember our dreams or feel as though they were so real because of the physical pains endured? I’m just throwing it out there, but it seems that when someone like me throws out an idea, the skeptics and idealists sneer at such a non-professional opinion because of the lack of backing as to how the idea would work. Why are people that way?

Bill1939's avatar

Still merely thinking out loud.

I do not think that the ancient’s had the answer, metaphysically or other. Creating a social order wherein everyone has the opportunity to develop and contribute their talents, and receive sustenance for body, mind and spirit, is an elusive goal that civilization has sought since its beginning.

The problem of population growth, which accelerates when society approaches this goal, and an instinct to procure power to maximize an individual’s access to increasing resources, which creates an imbalanced society, has always been insurmountable obstacles to achieving this goal.
——————————————-

Perhaps some dreams reflect our existence on parallel universes. Considering the principle of quantum entanglement, a parallel consciousness may occasionally leak into our unguarded minds while we sleep.
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I guess people are that way because the perturbation that such notions create for them is unbearable. Denial is the first line of psychological defense.

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