Sunday, February 28, 2010

Problems of the Soul (Arguments from Physics)

The soul theory’s contradiction with neuroscience isn’t the end to its implausibility; it’s strongly at odds with modern physics as well. While neuroscience may be a more subjective field, physics is certainly not, and here I shall present problems that the soul theory faces according to physics (some of my arguments are directed specifically at ghosts aka wandering souls).

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which is the principle of conservation of energy states that the overall energy within a closed system will remain constant, although it may be converted into other forms. For its energy level to change, it must come into contact with another system. In such a case, the energy level of the system will increase if work is done onto the system, and vice versa. As far as evidence goes, the Universe is a closed system.

Here comes the problem. For the soul to be able to do work in the material world, some of the soul’s energy must be converted into physical energy. Since the soul exists independently of the physical universe, the total energy in the universe will increase when the soul does work, and this must mean that the universe is an open system, which is contradictory to modern science.

Another saying that I’ve heard from my friends is that instead of existing in a separate realm, the soul enters the physical world when one is born (or during fertilization, gastrulation etc.). Somehow, the soul can affect physical entities, but not the other way around. This hypothesis doesn’t make sense, as they’re implying that the energy that makes up the soul is limited, and being unable to receive energy from the physical universe, it will use up its energy quickly and cease to exist.


For us to see something, then that thing must either reflect or emit visible light. Ghosts are supposedly visible in quite some anecdotes, but that’s not possible if we’re to follow the usual definition for ghosts. Let me explain.

First of all, a ghost shouldn’t be able to reflect light. For light to be reflected, it must hit a surface. Since the soul is defined as being made up of only energy, there’s no way it can reflect light, and if I’m not wrong, all forms of light emission require matter as a source of fuel. Thus, for us to see ghosts, they must be made up of matter (at least partially). However, as the soul is supposed to survive physical and material death, such a definition is self-contradicting.


In every single anecdote that my friends gave me, ghosts have the ability to float. This, however, simply contradictory to most widely established model for gravity – general relativity. Unlike previous models, general relativity describes gravity not as a force, but as a curvature of space-time, and everything in this universe is subject to the effects of gravity – matter, light, electromagnetic waves, energies etc.

If the souls exist within the material plane, then it must be subject to the gravity as well, no matter what it’s made of. No matter what universe you’re in, you’re going to subject to it’s time-space constraints. It’s logically contradictory for a ghost to float and not be affected by gravity. If a ghost is to float, then it must exert force against the centre of gravity. Such an act would require massive amounts of energy, and the soul would quickly cease to exist. Unless the 1st law of thermodynamics is violated, of course.

And by the way, if ghosts are free from gravity, they should be hurtling into space.


Here I have put forward a few points showing that the concept of the soul is quite problematic from the viewpoint of modern physics. It’s a wonder that mind-body dualists can still insist that the soul theory is true even when it contradicts one of the most objective fields of science.

Of course, the list is far from complete, and I would be thankful if anyone can come up with even more ideas showing how the soul contradicts physics.


Sabio Lantz said...

If there are collapsed dimensions and things like dark energy or dark matter, aren't there ways to imagine interactions with beings which abide in different sets of dimensions or such? Thus, with collapsed dimensions, we could overlap shared dimensions in the same world.

I like the light and gravity arguments against visible wandering ghosts. But then I wager your friends are not science fans ! Smile.

Darren Wong said...

Sabio: Hmm... are collasped dimensions related to string theory or M-theory? I'm not familiar with it, but I'll look into it.

And damn! I found several grammatical errors in my post, but for some reason I can't access Blogger's online editor. Sigh.

KKBundy said...

Although I fully agree with what you've said and fervently hope you keep it up, the targets of this criticism are nearly immune to it. They still believe the world works by magic. They believe God is outside the realms of physics because he created them. If you just wish or pray or sacrifice goats or swing dead cats over your head, you too can get the world to do what your particular religion wants it to do.

God or anything of simply doesn't need to interact with the material world, or if it does, it is on a lossless basis or whatever other antiscientific crap they can think of on the spur of the moment to avoid the spotlight on the absurdities of their position.

"God is here. Logic and sense need not apply!"

I enjoy your strategy for fighting the battle for science. I may be borrowing some of these arguments in the future. I have picked my fight at the other side of antitheism, through the horrors and absurdities of biblical literalism. I wish you the best of luck and will be back.

The blessed Atheist Bible Study @

godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

I think Sabio might be onto something -- not that I'm arguing in favor of belief in the soul, but I think it was Michio Kaku (?) who wrote about a theoretical fifth dimension (he called it the fourth dimension of matter, but explained that was because he wasn't considering time/duration as the fourth dimension). My memory is hazy and the book is thrashed from too many trips to the beach, but (as I recall) his explanation cited the differences between the second and third dimensions -- Flatland was referenced. It was about how we three-dimensioners would be like gods to two-dimensional beings, so by extension, any entity with a command of a fourth dimension of matter would be able to do things that seem impossible within our dimensional frame of reference.

It was more a thought experiment than anything, I think.

I think that 'soul' and 'consciousness' or 'sentience' are basically words for the same thing, really.

Apologize in advance for going slightly off-topic, but have you ever wondered about whether the abstract concept of reincarnation could in any way be related to DNA? We may have sequenced the genome, but 98% of it is still considered "garbage" DNA, which doesn't make it garbage, that's just the word used to describe it. So ... A, T, C, and G is a way better storage matrix than 1's and 0's, right?

I'm not saying this means anything or proves anything, it's just something I wonder about from time to time. Especially since I recently went off on a rant about people believing they'd been reincarnated, but maybe they just had a different word for something we'll explain eventually when we develop proper DNA readers?

Darren Wong said...

KKBundy: Thanks for the compliments, but do note that I was referring to the soul theory in my post, not God.

godlizard: I don't think Michio Kaku's analogy works here. You see, he was comparing Flatland to our universe, and we have one more dimension that the Flatlanders. However, do note that we still have 2 dimensions that intersect with the Flatlanders - width and length, while having an extra one - height. Souls, on the other hand, are often described as being in a separate dimension, which means their dimension doesn't overlap with ours. There's the difference.

DNA, on the other hand, is completely unrelated to the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation is the rebirth of a soul in the physical universe, which means that it's independent of the parents (except for the karma part); while DNA is all about inherited information from our parents.

As for 'junk' DNA, the geneticists may not be FULLY right, but I do think they have a point there. In our genes, there're certain codons that causes our body to start transcribing amino acids from that point on, and there are codons that tell our body to stop the transcription. The nucleotide pairs before and after them are most likely ignored. Also, we do have redundant/repeated DNA sequences in our body, and also clustered DNA sequences scattered around our chromosomes. These genes do not have any effect on our phenotype. My point is that while it may be found that some 'junk' DNA are actually useful, there's certainly going to be a great amount of pseudogenes nevertheless.

Felipe Nogueira said...

The extra-dimensions from stringTheory or M-theory (they are the same thing) or any other kind of physical extra dimensions: they will be here in this physical world.
M-Theory postulates that this world has 10 or 11 dimensions. The extra dimensions we don´t see would be tiny enought, but they´re will be part of the real world.
So, the extra-physical dimensions are not another dimension of existence, they will be part of this physical world. If spirits interact with our world, they interact will all dimensions. And they´re TINY, they cannot accomodate "another world".
I can´t see how dark enery or dark matter could help spirit idea.