Chassidus reveals the essence of the soul. - The Rebbe, Hayom Yom, 13 Kislev.
Hi Dr. Gotfryd,
I subscribe to your newsletter and enjoy it immensely.
Recently, I got into a discussion with a lawyer about the soul. (My bad). He says there is no such thing because there is no scientific evidence that there is one. I said that there is and asked if I forwarded it to him and he was satisfied, would he stop eating non-kosher food. He said yes.
Now, I'm searching the internet and I can't seem to find anything that is "scientific enough" to send to him. Could you possible point me in the right direction?
As a lawyer, your colleague understands the concept of expert testimony. In court, issues requiring authoritative opinion are addressed exclusively by acknowledged experts in the field.
S/he may be personally skeptical about the existence of the soul, but the authority to confirm or deny its existence in the name of science lies exclusively with the scientist, not the lawyer. I have had the privilege on numerous occasions to testify in courtroom settings on matters of environmental impact, for example. In every case far more time was spent verifying my expertise and authority to address the questions at hand than probing the reasons for my professional opinion.
To say that there is no soul is equivalent to maintaining that what we really come down to at the end of the day is the chemical soup of which our bodies are comprised. But what does chemistry itself have to say about this?
On p.7 of Vol.64, No.4 of SCIENCE which is the prestigious journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the recipient of the American Chemical Society Medal, Prof. William Blum says a few things of spiritual relevance, one of which is that science has never disproved the existence of the soul.
It's something obvious, but something to remember nonetheless. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Furthermore, what evidence in principle could be brought to bear on the question of whether or not a soul exists? For if one assumes that only material phenomena and causes exist, then there is no conceivable observation one could make that would compel a conclusion that spiritual entities and forces are real.
On the other hand, if one begins with the premise of an open-minded perspective, i.e., that maybe there is such a thing as a soul and maybe not, then the balance of evidence will indeed prove relevant, and in the view of many, compelling.
To quote Ilya Prigogine, the recipient of not one but two Nobel Prizes in chemistry, "The statistical probability that organic structures, and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident, is zero." (Physics Today, Vol. 25, p.23-28)
The whole debate brings to mind the old Chassidic tale. Two friends walking home from synagogue late one night pass by the home of a third, who they happen to notice through the window pacing back and forth with a lit candle, calling out his own name, "Berel, Berel, where are you, Berel?"
Concerned that the poor fellow had lost his marbles, they barged in and demanded, "Hello! What's the matter with you? You are Berel! What kind of nonsense is this?"
Without missing a beat, Berel answered, "My dear friends, if I were to die right now, you would cry out, "Berel is gone!" But let me ask you, what would be gone exactly? Every organ, muscle, every drop of blood, every cell will be in place. And yet you would maintain without any doubt whatsoever, that Berel is gone. That 'Berel' that you'll be looking for then, I'm looking for now."
That je ne sais quois, the ver vaist vos, the "I don't know what it is but it is" factor plays an immense role in neurology and medicine these days. The placebo effect for example is very real. It is physical healing caused by the belief that a fake treatment is real medicine. What part of my anatomy is doing the believing? What is a thought for that matter? And what is consciousness? If we assume that there is a non-physical "I" that experiences, believes and decides, many physical phenomena are explained but if not, we are left with unsupportable assumptions about matter that have no basis in observation.
There are other issues as well. How does one explain the shared experiences of physically isolated twins, the US military's research into remote viewing, or the linked brain waves of remotely separated meditating monks? How does one explain the 10% better recovery rate of patients who were prayed for in a controlled, randomized, triple-blind study of 990 heart patients reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine of the American Medical Association?
I am not a very spiritual person. If I didn't have reliable information to the contrary, I would not know that I had a soul. I'd be like every other skeptic in the absence of expert testimony. My natural reaction is to say that if I don't see it, hear it, feel it, taste it or smell it, it doesn't exist. That would suffice for me except for two apparently independent sources of information that seem to agree on the matter: science and faith.
Science cannot point to the soul and say voila! any more than it can point to love or loyalty or joy. These qualities are abstract, yet we know that they exist, and even can study them scientifically. Intelligence for example is measurable but is it physical? It is reminiscent of the little boy in Communist Russia who was being indoctrinated into the official faith of the motherland: Atheism. The teacher said, "Do you see G-d? Of course not. So obviously He does not exist. Right, class?" to which the child answered, "And can we see the teacher's intelligence?"
I know from experience that making a commitment to eating only kosher food is a very big step. If your lawyer contact finds it difficult because of the bother and the expense, maybe this story will encourage him/her.
A poor fellow came to the Apter Rov in a quandary. He needed to marry off his daughter and he was pretty much destitute. The Rov gave him a ruble and told him to invest in the first opportunity that presents itself. The man set out and eventually came to an inn where he saw some co-religionists gambling. One of them asked what he was doing there and he said he was looking for a business to invest in.
"Business? Look at you. You don't look like a businessman. What kind of business can a guy like you be looking for?" the gambler sneered.
"Whatever comes up," the Chassid answered.
"Oh yeah? How much do you have to invest?" the gambler taunted.
At this the whole cadre of card players fairly collapsed in paroxysms of laughter. "One ruble! Business! The guy's going to do business with one ruble! That's hysterical."
Finally one of them pipes up, "Hey. I've got an idea for you. A superb investment really. How about I sell you my portion in the world to come... for just one ruble. You can't go wrong."
"Okay," the Chassid replied remembering the Rov's directive to take the first opportunity that comes up. "But I want the deal in writing."
The two parties documented the transaction, the paper and the coin changed hands, and the gambler headed home with his newfound earnings. "Honey, I'm home."
"You drunk skunk, what are you so cheery about? You never take care of us, you just drink and gamble the whole day away. You..."
"Hold it! That's not fair. I actually did business today."
"Business! What do you know about business? You mean you made some kopeks gambling?"
"Kopeks? I made a whole ruble, and it wasn't from gambling," he said tossing the coin on the table with flourish. "I sold this new guy in town my portion in the World to Come. We even made a contract."
"What?! You sold your Olam HaBa? What am I supposed to do after 120 years? Go up there by myself? All my friends will be there with their husbands and I'll have to spend forever alone? Not a chance buster. You go right back there and get that paper back from him, whatever it costs, you hear? You're not setting foot in this house without that paper, and that's final!"
He set out in a hurry, searched here and there and finally found his customer at the local inn. "Look, there's been some mistake. I need to get that paper back. It was just a joke but now it's over, okay? Look here's your ruble back. Just give me the paper."
"Sorry sir, but it's going to cost you."
"Fine, I understand. Here's five rubles for your trouble."
"Nothing doing. I need three hundred."
"Three hundred! Are you kidding?! That's blackmail! Where am I going to find three hundred rubles?"
"I don't know but I'm not giving you back this paper for anything less. I've got a kid to marry off."
The gambler scrambled from friend to friend, begging on grounds of mercy, explaining how his wife won't have him back without it. Finally he scraped it together and the deal was revoked.
The Chassid returned to the Apter Rov who asked him how he had fared. After telling him the whole story the Chassid confided how badly he felt for demanding such a high price to sell the man back his portion in the World to Come.
To this the Rov replied, "Don't worry. When you bought his portion it wasn't even worth the ruble you paid for it. But by the time you sold it back to him, he had done teshuvah (repented) and by now it's worth far more than the 300 rubles he paid you."
Chaya, with this email, I think you fulfilled your part of the 'contract' with the lawyer. For the sake of his soul, if he keeps his side, he will definitely be getting the better deal.
PS, for a more formal and detailed information about all this, see online at chabad.org and search "Neurology, Medicine and the Soul."
Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868.