This series will elaborate on ancient dilemmas and may or may not find an answer. Beware, it can even raise more questions than it can answer.
It has been the discussion since human intellect, what the soul is and where it is located. This question brought together philosophers, neurologists, psychologists and even religions. As we know the question shapes the answer, questioning the location of the soul suggests it is located somewhere in the body. But, is it?
We will have a look at the studies on this everlasting search for the soul.
Ancient Egypt may be the first, around 2600 BC, to describe the human body and the brain, and they saw the heart as the location of the soul. Before them, the brain was even thought useless and abnormalities have been blamed on bad spirits and the gods. The Egyptians may base this theory logically on the fact that the heart actually react to emotions, it races when on adrenaline, and literally hurts when heartbroken.
Plato is known to be the first to write on the definition of the soul. He defined sensation as a communication between the soul and the body. According to him, the body was the medium for the soul to experience sensations. He considered the psyche as the essence of humans and categorized it in three versions, with one of them located in the head (logos), the thorax (thymos) and the abdomen (eros). He considered the soul as the most important dimension of the human being, speaking about it as if it is imprisoned in a body. Clearly, in the fifth century there was no answer on where exactly the soul is located, although ‘everywhere’ can also be taken as a fulfilling answer to me.
Rene Descartes wrote about his ideas on the functions of the brain in the seventeenth century and mentioned a specific location of the brain, the pineal gland, as the ‘ seat of the soul’. Little was known about the brain and especially about this part and Descartes was lacking scientific background. He is known for his work on the ‘mind-body problem’ studying how the immortal mind can interact with the mortal body. Because the lack of knowledge on the brain and on the pineal gland, he linked the soul and this part on the brain.
More interesting is the fact the Catholic Church refers to the pineal gland as the seat of the soul, they use the pine, from which the word pineal gland is derived, in many paintings and statues. The Vatican Square even has the largest pine statue in the world.
The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam has a passage on the soul which tells mankind have only been given little knowledge on the soul, which is a good summary of the struggle to find answers. Elaborating on this topic, in the eleventh century, islamic philosopher Avicenna also has theories on what the soul should be. According to him, the soul is a perfect immaterial substance independent on the body, basing its existence on perception and intelligence. Mankind should understand it intuitively, as it is not something bodily and could therefore not be perfected as such. Until this time, philosophers agree only on the assumption the soul should be something invisible and untouchable.
Although, the answer has not been found on what exactly the soul is and where it is, fMRI studies on the brain show information does not have a specific location in the brain, but follows a pattern of fired neurons. Recent research therefore stopped on searching for an actual location for the soul and opened the discussion on what the soul is. How can we even find something we think is from another dimension?
Thousands years of questioning, thinking, researching yet there is no clear answer on this dilemma. Throughout the years, the soul travelled from the heart, to everywhere in the body, to different locations of the brain, to nowhere. We should maybe accept the beauty of the soul is in its vague nature.
As C.S. Lewis nicely put: ‘You do not have a soul, you are a soul, you have a body’.