What is Soul? As we flip across different religions and faiths, we find many definitions of soul but having fundamental similarities. The similarities being that the soul is something without which a living being can not exist and that soul is not made up of matter, it is non-material or intangible (incorporeal, as they like to say). Some sects of Confucianism even believe in corporeal soul! I shall go through the understanding of soul in three largest religions below. [I begin with Islam for no special reason.]
According to Islam, Allah has endowed humans with a mortal (nafs) and immortal (ruh) soul. Nafs comprises of temporal desires and urges and ruh drives nafs, ruh being the immaterial essence of the body. Now, if ruh surrenders to bodily urges then nafs becomes the master of the body.
Many Quranic commentators identify ruh with angel Gabriel. Simple.
The ruh, as it is immaterial definitely won’t need any food but nafs to exist needs food and if to reproduce then sex too. So, basically if you starve to death then it is only nafs which will die and ruh shall survive.
And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the Ruh. Say, “The Ruh is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind has not been given of knowledge except a little. – Quran 17:85
So, there’s it. Little knowledge to mankind. Now, it is left to mullahs and ayatollahs to make up things about ruh as per their convenience.
Can a ruh of such sort exist? Well, there’s a ruh and it is immortal which means it exists even today! (But only if there’s a ruh.) It is said that it was ruh which served as a messenger between god and the prophets. So, it was ruh which whispered the words of Quran in the mind of Muhammad and it was ruh which kept itself hidden from humans because god said so for it was his affair. Easy-peasy for Muhammad to escape the difficult question of ruh and focus on the cruelty of the judgement day and hell to scare the shit out of people.
According to Musolino in his book The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs, there is currently no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the existence of the soul; he claims there is also considerable evidence that seems to indicate that souls do not exist.
In Hinduism, Atman is the first principle (as per Vedanta). First principle is similar to mathematical axioms which are self-evident proposition. Self-evident! Zip. Here too. Closed for the understanding of mankind.
Atman is in every living being. Living beings die but Atman lives. Wait, something came to my mind. The human population of the world in 1910 AD was 1,750 millions and in 2010 it was 6,868 millions. New human souls in 2010: 5,118 millions. But Hinduism is smarter in defending itself! It says that the Brahman is the Atman and it is non-different from the infinite. Infinite, hmm, quite a big stuff!
Advaita (Non-dual) Vedanta school says that the human beings, in a state of unawareness of this universal self, see their “I-ness” as different from the being in others, then act out of impulse, fears, cravings, malice, division, confusion, anxiety, passions, and a sense of distinctiveness. To Advaitins, Atman-knowledge is the state of full awareness, liberation, and freedom that overcomes dualities at all levels, realizing the divine within oneself, the divine in others, and in all living beings; the non-dual oneness, that God is in everything, and everything is God. Cool! I’m a god too!
And then there are dualists, the dvaitas. Dvaita Vedanta calls the Atman of a supreme being as “Paramatman”, and holds it to be different from individual Atman. I’m not a god now?!
Things get crazy as we see other schools of thoughts in Hinduism. But what I really love is the Nyaya school. As proofs for the proposition “self/soul exists”, for example, Nyaya scholars argued that personal recollections and memories of the form “I did this so many years ago” implicitly presume that there is a self that is substantial, continuing, unchanged, and existent. Cool! Is it not?
Physicist Sean M. Carroll has written that the idea of a soul is incompatible with quantum field theory (QFT). He writes that for a soul to exist: “Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there can’t be a new collection of ‘spirit particles’ and ‘spirit forces’ that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments.
Things are easier in Christianity (to dismiss? I know not.). Christians believe that soul is different from the body yet integrally connected to it. When people die, their souls will be judged by God and determined to go to Heaven or to Hell. Which god will judge is the funniest religious joke in modern age? For, they shall answer Jesus! But there are millions of other gods too. But as we already know, the god one believes in is only the true one. Aren’t you laughing? Why?
In 1901 Duncan MacDougall conducted an experiment in which he made weight measurements of patients as they died. He claimed that there was weight loss of varying amounts at the time of death; he concluded the soul weighed 21 grams. The physicist Robert L. Park has written that MacDougall’s experiments “are not regarded today as having any scientific merit” and the psychologist Bruce Hood wrote that “because the weight loss was not reliable or replicable, his findings were unscientific.”