"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better." - Dorian Scott Cole
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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Body, brain, mind, soul, spirit - what are they?


Are mystics real? What about psychics? Is there some channel of communication that science can't sense? Does the Spirit of God talk to us? What is this stuff about mind, soul, and spirit?

In considering these things, you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. But that doesn't make them less real.

Body, brain, mind, soul, spirit - what are they?

Christmas is just past. So how does Santa manage to be everywhere at once on Christmas Eve? Is quantum mechanics the answer? Tongue in cheek question.

I watched a program on ESP today. While rigorous science and direct evidence supports that some people have abilities that others do not, many scientists don't support that anything exists, beyond what they can measure. If they can't find a mechanism by which it works, and they can't measure it, then it can't be real.

I enjoy observing people's attitudes. Some believe in things that are "supernatural," that is, beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature. Some don't believe there is anything beyond what can be sensed and observed through tests and instruments. And some don't believe because they have no experience with the supernatural, and probably don't want to.

Convenience is certainly a motivator. If peers don't believe, and shun those who do, then the natural thing to do is not believe. It is a curious stance, though. Science can't sense in any way, up to 90% of the mass and energy in the universe. Scientists believe there is something there, but all they can do is put constants into formulas to account for that unknown. If they didn't, all flights into space would badly miss their targets.

Dark energy and dark matter are the new frontiers of science. Currently they are even spookier than quantum mechanics, which defy many of the laws of science. But that intrigues science, whereas "superstition" and the paranormal, for which there is evidence, doesn't.

We have no satisfactory explanation for the mind. We have the body, brain, mind, soul, and spirit, and science is beginning to get a grip on "body and brain." The rest, mind, soul, and spirit, are perplexing. Scientists often say there is no "mind," only the brain. But they can't explain how it works either way.

We humans are able to do some unusual things that can't be ascribed to other "animals," as far as we know. We can ponder our own existence, end it, consider our purpose in this world, change our purpose, create fantasy worlds, determine how we learn, think in abstractions, and creatively combine abstractions. Yet we are subject to the same laws of science that all the earth is.

We can appreciate things that have no weight, no energy, no elemental phases like gas and liquid, can't be measured by science in any way, yet are virtual things that we use every day. Words are one of those things. Words are symbols that point to other things. The most powerful word in the dictionary is arguably, love. Love can motivate people to do everything. The biggest word in the dictionary, packed with more meaning than any other word, is "universe." Everything is contained in that one word.

Words, in our minds, hold meaning. Yet words don't have any inherent meaning. They just point to other things, just like math symbols and numbers. If I say the word, "burkelswager," our minds come up empty of meaning. But if I assign a meaning to that word, and share it with others, the definition and their experience with the word, create something in other's minds. Scientist might have a bigger vocabulary than most of us, and they use words to describe things all day long. But you can't catch a word and scientifically analyze it. It doesn't exist. It's virtual.

Love is another thing we can't satisfactorily analyze. Scientists try to define love in terms of brain chemistry. They can even see the areas of brain that light up, and know that different types of love, such as infatuation, respond differently in the brain. They generally try to define it in selfish terms. But they can't explain what love is in a scientifically valid way, or in a way that is acceptable to people who experience it. Nor can they explain altruistic type love except in something that is selfish within the individual. "We do things that make us feel good." Well, why does that make us feel good? You can define love, but that still doesn't tell us what it is.

Ideas are yet another thing that the mind can play with, but science can't detect. We can think them up, consider them, modify them, and then bring them into concrete reality or let them disappear as if they had never existed. Ideas are virtual, but without them, the scientific method would not have a job.

Knowledge is similar to ideas. Yet knowledge has some basis in the world, even though it exists in words and experiences. Knowledge is virtual.

Some scientists say that if there is some kind of paranormal (supernatural) communication, then it doesn't know of a mechanism that would make this possible. Therefore it doesn't exist. Well, we work with the virtual presentations of mind, words, love, ideas, and knowledge all the time. But we can't put them under a microscope to verify they exist. But science has no idea what it would be looking for. Yet it can look for dark energy.

Science is a touchy-feely investigation. If you can't touch it or sense it in some scientific way, then it must not exist. Scientists are willing to postulate that some things convenient to science exist and devise ways to investigate those things. Other things? Meh. They don't exist.

What is the soul?

The soul is the repository of what we are. It is something that is unseen and immeasurable, the life force breathed into man. From the ancient Hebrew word, nephesh, it is the living, screaming, lusting, pleasure seeking, desiring, will, animus, psyche, associated with the word mind. To further expand on that, it is what senses meaning in life and gives us purpose. It is what gives consideration to things and makes decisions.

Scientists can see decisions made in a part of our brain, before they ever come to our conscious awareness and become an action. Our minds aren't as simple in function as we would like to believe. We are not the stimulus response black boxes that B.F. Skinner tried and failed to show. We are not the simple products of causation that some would like to believe (except young children). We are very complex. While the brain is very active, we simply don't know what feeds the decision making process. Mind and soul are good explanations. When we leave this world, there are indications that the soul lives on.

What is the spirit?

The ancients described the spirit as being like the wind. A force. Something not seen, but the mind could sense. Not far removed from soul, it is something rational, yet might also be described as life, anger, courage, vanity - something motivating.

We talk about things being spirited (rowdy, motivated), or being in the spirit of something as a comparison, such as the spirit of fear, the spirit of peace, the spirit of America, or the spirit of some famous person. The spirit of good, and the spirit of evil. The spirit (intent) of the law.

We generally don't think of ideas and knowledge as active. Not something that forces us. I like to call the spirit, the land of ideas. Some of those ideas are good. Some are bad. They are things for us to consider and find compelling. Ideas are an influence. Like the wind, when we raise a sail (embrace the idea) they compel us one way or another. They are ideas that the soul embraces to give it direction and motivation.

They are ideas or events that may enrage us, or give us hope. The spirit is what the soul considers.

God is spirit. Yet God is not limited to existing in that domain. God is love. God is something that when embraced, influences our direction and behavior. The Holy Spirit teaches and reminds.

Spiritual ideas aren't dormant, composed of interesting knowledge. They are things that we find compelling. Our souls respond to them.

What we know, those spiritual ideas, and the ideas we find appealing and actually motivates us, our desires, may lead to tragedy. Many ideas presented to us are illusions and temptations, but yield bad or no results. Our thoughts and attitudes may lead us to trouble. Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

What proof is there?

Science is wonderful. It separates superstition from fact. It gives us a way to differentiate what is true from what is not. It brings us wonderful things. Yet science can't say that one thing is an illusion that will take you to a bad result, while another is not. It explains the universe to us. But science has its limits. Those who prefer not to believe in any kind of happening that they can't sense scientifically, have standard answers that they give. It usually takes the form of "It could have been done this way," or "we can't see it, so it doesn't exist," as if that spares them from ever taking notice. Speculation is not an answer or proof of anything. Many scientists have been doing paranormal research that offers proof of the unknown, for some time. Many professionals have been using those with paranormal abilities, with great success, for centuries.

One account of the use of paranormals to find archaeological ruins, is documented in the book, The Alexandria Project, by Stephan A. Schwartz. This book explains how psychics capable of remote viewing, were asked independently to locate ruins in Egypt. Each independently saw the ruins of Cleopatra's castle, but not where people expected to find it, on land. In the water. On investigation, that's exactly where the archaeological team found it. You could speculate that they somehow found information that said the water is where it might be found. But they precisely located other ruins using this method that were not even known in any historical trail.

Another account of paranormal experiences is in near death experiences. A substantial amount of research has been done on NDEs by doctors, scientists, and religious investigators. The explanations given by skeptics don't come close to accounting for what people see during those experiences. To be sure, a few are bogus. But most accounts come from people who had no desire to even tell their experiences to others. Later the things they saw were verified as impossible for them to have known or seen prior to their experience. Generally they see things in locations to which they had no access.

Other accounts are about the use of psychics to help detectives solve crimes. This happens often. The psychics don't want to know information except the missing person's picture or a personal item. Sometimes from afar they locate dead bodies. Sometimes they help detectives find the killer. Sometimes they know the killer is going to kill again and who their victim is going to be. Sometimes they even tell the killer's name. The program Psychic Detectives presents the experiences of skeptical detectives who find themselves engaged successfully with psychics.

There have been psychics like Edgar Cayce, who was able to locate where a bottle of medicine would be on a shelf in a shop several states away that he had never even been close to.

Many scientists are involved in very strictly controlled paranormal research. Their findings indicate that many people are able to sense what the rest of us cannot sense.

The existence of the supernatural has much more evidence for it than against it. While we may find eras of the Bible, and passages that are difficult to understand, and applicable to only that time, faith is a walk that gets stronger every day as people try the ideas that God presents to us through the spirit, and we find that they work. Faith builds from those experiences.

The difficulty is separating the charlatans and "bad spirits" from the good ones. 1 John 4:1-6 (NIV) "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood."

1 John 3:24 (NIV) "The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."

So there are those who don't have the spirit of God in them, and they are misleading in the ideas they present to us.

What is the spiritual?

We may choose to experience the spiritual through a group of like-minded individuals with a long history of walking with God - we hope - in a religious institution. There we may be taught spiritual ideas that others have found to be true, and ways of living our lives so that those spiritual ideas become a part of us, and we find outlets for them as a group or individual in helping others. But we as individuals participate in the spiritual, not the church. Only we as individuals are responsible for our lives. The church has a mission, to be sure, but ultimately we are responsible.

The spiritual is a land of compelling ideas for our souls to experience and evaluate. We may communicate with the spiritual through reading words in the Bible or inspirational texts, or even in the newspaper. We may communicate through hearing preachers, teachers, and the experiences of our friends. We may communicate through personality integrative processes such as meditation.

Mystics are thought to communicate with spirits or souls of others, but for most of us, while we may have revelations when we consider ideas and something resonates, it is knowledge that we already have but haven't evaluated or integrated.

Most of the time, for most of us, the spiritual is something profound, but found in mundane ways. The virtual world of ideas is something we can perceive and take part in. In Theologian Paul Tillich's words, "A symbol participates in that to which it points." We experience words and symbols. For example, when we see a cross or other religious symbol, it presents ideas to us. It resonates in each of us in different ways.

There are others, like mystics and psychics, and those who have had very different experiences at some point in their life, who seem to have experienced other ways of communicating beyond this world.

It is the Spirit of God that draws people to him. He shows us deeper truths about the world through compelling spiritual ideas, when we are ready to receive them. When we look at those ideas through the context of love, then we recognize them as true. God is love. God is spirit. We usually don't find him in forces of nature like earthquakes, storms, and thunder. We find him in the still small voice of word, conscience, love... those virtual things that hide from scientific instruments.

- Dorian

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