In more primitive religions (forms of animism and spiritism), the soul is often conceived as controlling both motor and mental processes; death, the cessation of these processes, is thus viewed as caused by the departure of the soul. Pantheism denies the individuation of human souls, and materialism declares the soul nonexistent. One of the widespread concepts in religion is that of immortality, which almost always postulates the existence of a soul that lives apart from the body after death.
In early Hebrew thought, soul connoted the life principle, but in later times the concept of a soul independent of the body arose. The soul of the righteous was seen as achieving immortality, rejoining the resurrected body at the end of days. Similarly, in Islam, a person's soul is, according to the Qur'an, the original spirit that God breathed into Adam. Its seat is the heart and it is endowed with two basic impulses—good and evil. After death the souls of the pious stay near Allah and will be reunited with their risen bodies on the Day of Judgment.
In Eastern religions, which do not stress individual salvation, the emphasis is placed on transcendent principles embodied in a multiplicity of gods (see world soul). The Hindu and Buddhist doctrines of reincarnation do not posit the existence of an individual soul, but rather stress the closeness of the human person, in successive transformations, to an overriding principle of virtue, piety, and peace.
No distinction between the rational soul (i.e., the soul of a person in scholastic Christianity) and others is made in many systems; such a distinction is quite impossible in most forms of reincarnation and of transmigration of souls. The soul of humanity when such is conceived as existing is called the world soul, or anima mundi. For many Western philosophers the term soul is synonymous with mind (e.g., René Descartes). Others, although asserting its undefinability, have seen it as a useful element in a system of ethics (e.g., Immanuel Kant). This undefinability has led yet others to reject the idea of a soul and to postulate ethical systems based upon a different conception of human nature (e.g., William James).
In Christianity the soul is all important. However, because the Bible does not give a formal definition of the concept, Christian interpretations vary greatly. Under the influence of the Neoplatonists, the soul often came to be set over against the body in a dualistic concept that posited a God-given soul distinct from an inferior, earth-bound body. Scholasticism (specifically that of St. Thomas Aquinas) studied the soul in great elaboration, and the scholastic definition of the soul as "substantial form of the body" obviates many philosophical difficulties. The nature of humanity is involved in the whole consideration of the soul; hence the term "rational soul" for the distinctive soul of humans. The soul of beasts is called the "animal soul" and that of plants the "vegetative soul." The scholastics considered the rational soul alone as immortal and capable of union with God.
The origin of the soul has been a controversial question in Christian history. Two points of view may be distinguished: creationism, which posits that God creates each individual soul in a special act of creation (at the time of conception according to some or that of birth according to others), and traducianism, which suggests that the parents in begetting the child beget the soul too. The creationist principle has been generally held sway in Christianity.
Style of U.S. popular music sung and performed primarily by African American musicians, having its roots in gospel music and rhythm and blues. The term was first used in the 1960s to describe music that combined rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz, and rock music and that was characterized by intensity of feeling and earthiness. In its earliest stages, soul music was found most commonly in the South, but many of the young singers who were to popularize it migrated to cities in the North. The founding of Motown in Detroit, Mich., and Stax-Volt in Memphis, Tenn., did much to encourage the style. Its most popular performers include James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin.
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Immaterial aspect or essence of a person, conjoined with the body during life and separable at death. The concept of a soul is found in nearly all cultures and religions, though the interpretations of its nature vary considerably. The ancient Egyptians conceived of a dual soul, one surviving death but remaining near the body, while the other proceeded to the realm of the dead. The early Hebrews did not consider the soul as distinct from the body, but later Jewish writers perceived the two as separate. Christian theology adopted the Greek concept of an immortal soul, adding the notion that God created the soul and infused it into the body at conception. In Islam the soul is believed to come into existence at the same time as the body but is everlasting and subject to eternal bliss or torment after the death of the body. In Hinduism each soul, or atman, was created at the beginning of time and imprisoned in an earthly body; at death the soul is said to pass to a new body according to the laws of karma. Buddhism negates the idea of a soul, asserting that any sense of an individual self is illusory.
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The concept of the soul has strong links with notions of an afterlife, but opinions may vary wildly, even within a given religion, as to what may happen to the soul after the death of the body. It also shares as a Proto-Indo-European language root of spirit.
Modern English soul continues Old English sáwol, sáwel, first attested in the 8th century (in Beowulf v. 2820 and in the Vespasian Psalter 77.50), cognate to other Germanic terms for the same concept, including Gothic saiwala, Old High German sêula, sêla, Old Saxon sêola, Old Low Franconian sêla, sîla, Old Norse sála. The further etymology of the Germanic word is uncertain. A common suggestion is a connection with the word sea, and from this evidence alone, it has been speculated that the early Germanic peoples believed that the spirits of deceased rested at the bottom of the sea or similar. A more recent suggestion connects it with a root for "binding", Germanic *sailian (OE sēlian, OHG seilen), related to the notion of being "bound" in death, and the practice of ritually binding or restraining the corpse of the deceased in the grave to prevent his or her return as a ghost.
The word is in any case clearly an adaptation by early missionaries to the Germanic peoples, in particular Ulfila, apostle to the Goths (4th century) of a native Germanic concept, coined as a translation of Greek ψυχή psychē "life, spirit, consciousness".
The Greek word is derived from a verb "to cool, to blow" and hence refers to the vital breath, the animating principle in humans and other animals, as opposed to σῶμα "body". It could refer to a ghost or spirit of the dead in Homer, and to a more philosophical notion of an immortal and immaterial essence left over at death since Pindar. Latin anima figured as a translation of ψυχή since Terence. It occurs juxtaposed to σῶμα e.g. in :
In the Septuagint, ψυχή translates Hebrew נפש nephesh, meaning "life, vital breath", in English variously translated as "soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion"; e.g. in :
Francis M. Cornford quotes Pindar in saying that the soul sleeps while the limbs are active, but when one is sleeping, the soul is active and reveals in many a dream "an award of joy or sorrow drawing near".
Each of these has a function in a balanced and peaceful soul.
The logos equates to the mind. It corresponds to the charioteer, directing the balanced horses of appetite and spirit. It allows for logic to prevail, and for the optimisation of balance.
The thymos comprises our emotional motive, that which drives us to acts of bravery and glory. If left unchecked, it leads to hubris – the most fatal of all flaws in the Greek view.
The eros equates to the appetite that drives humankind to seek out its basic bodily needs. When the passion controls us, it drives us to hedonism in all forms. In the Ancient Greek view, this is the basal and most feral state.
There is on-going debate about Aristotle's views regarding the immortality of the human soul; however, Aristotle makes it clear towards the end of his De Anima that he does believe that the intellect, which he considers to be a part of the soul, is eternal and separable from the body.
Aristotle also believed that there were four parts (understood as powers) of the soul. The four sections are the calculative part and the scientific part on the rational side; these are used for making decisions. The desiderative part and the vegetative part on the irrational side, responsible for identifying our needs.
While he was imprisoned, Avicenna wrote his famous "Floating Man" thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantiality of the soul. He told his readers to imagine themselves suspended in the air, isolated from all sensations, which includes no sensory contact with even their own bodies. He argues that, in this scenario, one would still have self-consciousness. He thus concludes that the idea of the self is not logically dependent on any physical thing, and that the soul should not be seen in relative terms, but as a primary given, a substance. This argument was later refined and simplified by René Descartes in epistemic terms when he stated: "I can abstract from the supposition of all external things, but not from the supposition of my own consciousness.
Avicenna generally supported Aristotle's idea of the soul originating from the heart, whereas Ibn al-Nafis on the other hand rejected this idea and instead argued that the soul "is related to the entirety and not to one or a few organs". He further criticized Aristotle's idea that every unique soul requires the existence of a unique source, in this case the heart. Ibn al-Nafis concluded that "the soul is related primarily neither to the spirit nor to any organ, but rather to the entire matter whose temperament is prepared to receive that soul" and he defined the soul as nothing other than "what a human indicates by saying 'I'".
Buddhist teaching holds that the delusion of a permanent, abiding self is one of the main root causes for human conflict on the emotional, social and political levels. They add that understanding of anatta (or "not-self or no soul") provides an accurate description of the human condition, and that this understanding allows "us" to go beyond "our" mundane desires. Buddhists can speak in conventional terms of the "self" as a matter of convenience, but only under the conviction that ultimately "we" are changing "entities". In death, the body and mind disintegrate; if the disintegrating mind is still in the grip of delusion, it will cause the continuity of the consciousness to bounce back an arising mind to an awaiting being, that is, a fetus developing the ability to harbor consciousness. Thus, in some Buddhist sects, a being that is born is neither entirely different, nor exactly the same, as it was prior to rebirth.
However, Shirō Matsumoto noted a curious development in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, stemming from the Cittamatra and Vijnanavada schools in India: although this school of thought denies the permanent personal selfhood, it affirms concepts such as Buddha-nature, Tathagatagarbha, Rigpa, or "original nature". Matsumoto argues that these concepts constitute a non- or trans-personal self, and almost equate in meaning to the Hindu concept of Atman, although they differ in that Buddha-nature does not incarnate.
In some Mahayana Buddhist schools, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, the view is that there are 3 minds: Very-Subtle-Mind, which isn't disintegrated in incarnation-death; Subtle-Mind, which is disintegrated in death, and is "dreaming-mind" or "unconscious-mind"; and Gross-Mind. Gross-Mind doesn't exist when one is sleeping, so it is more impermanent even than Subtle-Mind, which doesn't exist in death. Very-Subtle-Mind, however, does continue, and when it "catches on" or coincides with phenomena again, a new Subtle-Mind emerges, with its own personality/assumptions/habits and that someone/entity experiences the karma on that continuum that is ripening then.
One should note the polarity in Tibetan Buddhism between shes-pa (the principle of consciousness) and rig-pa (pure consciousness equal to Buddha-nature). The concept of a person as a tulku provides even more controversy. A tulku has, due to heroic austerities and esoteric training (or due to innate talent combined with great subtle-mind commitment in the moment of death), achieved the goal of transferring personal "identity" (or nature/commitment) from one rebirth to the next (for instance, Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama a tulku). The mechanics behind this work as follows: although Buddha-nature does not incarnate, the individual self comprises skandhas, or components, that undergo rebirth. For an ordinary person, skandhas cohere in a way that dissolves upon the person's death. So, elements of the transformed personality re-incarnate, but they lose the unity that constitutes personal selfhood for a specific person. In the case of tulkus, however, they supposedly achieve sufficient "crystallization" of skandhas in such a manner that the skandhas do not entirely "disentangle" upon the tulku's death; rather, a directed reincarnation occurs. In this new birth, the tulku possesses a continuity of personal identity/commitment, rooted in the fact that the consciousness or shes-pa (which equates to a type of skandha called vijnana) has not dissolved after death, but has sufficient durability to survive in repeated births. Since, however, subtle-mind emerges in incarnation, and gross-mind emerges in periods of sufficient awareness within some incarnations, there isn't really any contradiction: very-subtle-mind's original nature, that is irreducible mind / clarity whose function is knowing, doesn't have any "body", and the coarser minds that emerge "on" it while it drifts/wanders/dreams aren't continuous. Any continuity of awareness achieved by tulku is simply a greater continuity than is achieved by/in a normal incarnation, as it continues across several, is only a difference of degree.
Many modern Buddhists, particularly in Western countries, reject the concept of rebirth or reincarnation as incompatible with the concept of anatta, and typically take an agnostic stance toward the concept. Stephen Batchelor discusses this issue in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. However, the question arises: if a self does not exist, who thinks/lives now? Some Buddhist sects hold the view that thought itself thinks: if you remove the thought, there's no thinker (self) to be found. A detailed introduction to this, and to other basic Buddhist teachings, appears in What the Buddha taught by the Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula.
Others see the Buddha's warning that those who believe that a permanent self does not exist are just as gravely mistaken as those who believe that one does, and understand that he taught that both views were erroneous and could not capture the actual truth of the matter, speculations along those lines would only cause suffering rather than its removal. (See: neti neti).
Some say that the self endures after death, some say it perishes. In the Theravada Buddhist view, both are wrong and their error is most grievous. Theravadins believe that if one says the self is perishable, the fruit they strive for will perish too, and at some time there will be no hereafter. Good and evil would be indifferent. This salvation from selfishness is without merit. Theravada Buddhism's stance on many beliefs of soul after Death are explained in the Brahmajala Sutta.
In the Wisdom tradition of ancient Israel, is the statement "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Nowhere, however, in the Jewish scriptures, is there a notion of the soul existing apart from its embodiment in the individual person. References to the soul's origin include Genesis 2:7 ("And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.") and 1 Corinthians 15:45 ("And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit.") Christians tend to understand the soul in moral rather than philosophical terms. In this understanding, when people die their souls, which have been formed (or malformed) by the good or evil deeds that the person has done, will be judged by God as being worthy or unworthy of salvation. Though virtually all branches of Christianity – evangelical, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox – teach that Jesus Christ plays a decisive role in this salvific process, the specifics of that role and the part played by individual persons or ecclesiastical rituals and relationships, is a matter of wide diversity in official church teaching, theological speculation and popular practice. Some Christians also believe that if one has not repented of their sins, they will go to Hell and suffer eternal separation from God. Variations also exist on this theme, e.g., some which hold that the unrighteous soul will be destroyed instead of suffering eternally. Others recognize the not only righteous as those who will equally inherit eternal life in Heaven and enjoy eternal fellowship with God, but include babies and those with cognitive or mental impairments, as well as all the righteous saints who lived before Jesus came.
Other Christians reject the idea of the immortality of the soul, citing the Apostles Creed's reference to the "resurrection of the body" (the Greek word for body is soma σωμα, which implies the whole person, not sarx σαρξ, the term for flesh or corpse). They consider the soul to be the life force, which ends in death and is restored in the resurrection. Theologian Frederick Buechner sums up this position in his 1973 book Whistling in the Dark: "...we go to our graves as dead as a doornail and are given our lives back again by God (i.e., resurrected) just as we were given them by God in the first place."
Augustine, one of western Christianity's most influential early Christian thinkers, described the soul as "a special substance, endowed with reason, adapted to rule the body". Some Christians espouse a trichotomic view of humans, which characterizes humans as consisting of a body (soma) , soul (psyche), and spirit (pneuma), however the majority of modern Bible scholars point out how spirit and soul are used interchangeably in many biblical passages, and so hold to dichotomy: the view that each of us is body and soul. Paul said that the "body wars against" the soul, and that "I buffet my body", to keep it under control. Philosopher Anthony Quinton said the soul is a "series of mental states connected by continuity of character and memory, [and] is the essential constituent of personality. The soul, therefore, is not only logically distinct from any particular human body with which it is associated; it is also what a person is". Richard Swinburne, a Christian philosopher of religion at Oxford University, wrote that "it is a frequent criticism of substance dualism that dualists cannot say what souls are.... Souls are immaterial subjects of mental properties. They have sensations and thoughts, desires and beliefs, and perform intentional actions. Souls are essential parts of human beings..."
The origin of the soul has provided a sometimes vexing question in Christianity; the major theories put forward include soul creationism, traducianism and pre-existence. According to creationism, each individual soul is created directly by God, either at the moment of conception or some later time (identical twins arise several cell divisions after conception, but no one would deny that they have whole souls). According to traducianism, the soul comes from the parents by natural generation. According to the preexistence theory, the soul exists before the moment of conception.
Roman Catholic beliefs:
See also Limbo
Other Christian beliefs:
In Hinduism, the Sanskrit words most closely corresponding to soul are "Jiva/Atma", meaning the individual soul or personality, and "Atman", which can also mean soul. The Atman is seen as the portion of Brahman. GOD is described as Supreme soul. Hinduism contains many variant beliefs on the origin, purpose, and fate of the soul. For example, advaita or non-dualistic conception of the soul accords it union with Brahman, the absolute uncreated (roughly, the Godhead), in eventuality or in pre-existing fact. Dvaita or dualistic concepts reject this, instead identifying the soul as part and parcel of Supreme soul (GOD), but it never lose its identity. That is where we as an individual get an identity. According to scriptures, this identity exists eternally; the soul never dies. It only transmigrates from one body to other body.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most significant puranic scriptures, refers to the spiritual body or soul as Purusha (see also Sankhya philosophy). The Purusha is part and parcel of God, is unchanging (is never born and never dies), is indestructible, and, though essentially indivisible. It is made up of three components:
(i) Sat (truth or existence)
(ii) Chit (consciousness or knowledge)
(iii) Ananda (bliss) It has form "Vigrha".
Presence of soul is perceived by its consciousness. According to Bhagavad Gita, all living entities are soul proper. When soul leaves the body, then it is called death. That means, DEATH is transmigration of soul from one body to another body [Bhagavad Gita]. Soul transmigrates from one body to another body based on their Karmic[performed deeds] reactions.
According to few verses from Qur'an though the following information can be deduced: In part 15 verse 29, the creation of humans involves Allah "breathing" souls into them. This intangible part of an individual's existence is "pure" at birth. It has the potential of growing and achieving nearness to God if the person leads a righteous life (to be noted: this is a sufi perspective of the soul which is also held by a large majority of Sunni and Shia lay Muslims but which cannot be directly supported by the Quranic texts or Mutawatir Ahadith except with extremely free interpretations and influence of other religions and philosophies). At death, the person's soul transitions to an eternal afterlife of bliss, peace and unending spiritual growth until the day of judgement where both the body and soul are reunited for judgement at which point the person is either rewarded by going to heaven if they have followed God's commands or punished if they have disobeyed him (Qur'an 66:8, 39:20).
From the Hadith we understand that Allah assigns an Angel to "breathe" soul into an embryo after 40 days of pregnancy.
Generally, it is believed that all living beings comprise two aspects during their existence: The physical (being the body) and the non-physical (being the soul). The non-physical aspect, namely the soul, is one's soul-related activities like his/her feelings and emotions, thoughts, conscious and sub-conscious desires and objectives. While the body and its physical actions serve as a "reflection" of one's soul, whether it was good or evil, and thus "confirms" the extent of such intentions.
For Jains, Moksa- the realization of the soul and its salvation- are the highest objective to be attained. Most of the Jaina texts deal with various aspects of the soul i.e. its qualities, attributes, bondage and interaction with other elements, and its salvation through the right views, right knowledge and right conduct. Following are the quotes on soul from Pancastikayasara, a first century CE Jaina text authored by 'Acarya Kundakunda:
- The qualities of soul and its states of existence are described in Verse 16 - The Jiva (Soul) and other Dravyas (substances) are real. The qualities of jiva are cetana i.e. consciousness and upoyoga i.e. knowledge and perception, which are manifold. The soul manifests in the following form as a deva i.e. demi-god, as a human, as a hellish being or as a plant or animal.
- The permanency and the modes of soul are described in Verse 18 – Though the soul experiences both birth and death, it is neither really destroyed nor created. Decay and origin refer respectively to the disappearing of one state and appearing of another state and these are merely the modes of the soul.
- The cycle of transmigration of the soul until it attains Nirvana or liberation is described in Verse 21 – Thus Jiva with its attributes and modes, roaming in samsara (universe), may lose its particular form and assume a new one. Again this form may be lost and the original acquired.
In another text, BHAVAPAHUDA, gatha 64, Acharya Kundakunda describes soul as thus:
This is translated as follows:
Hence the soul according to Jainism is indestructible and permanent from the point of view of substance. It is temporary and ever changing from the point of view of its modes. Māhavīras responses to various questions recorded in Bhagvatisūtra demonstrates a recognition that there are complex and multiple aspects to truth and reality and a mutually exclusive approach cannot be taken to explain such reality:
The soul is always found to be in bondage (with its karmas) since the beginingless time and hence continuously undergoes the cycle of birth and death in these four states of existence until it attains liberation (Moksa).
The Jaina beliefs on the soul can be summarized as under:
The Torah offers no systematic definition of a soul; various descriptions of the soul exist in classical rabbinic literature.
Saadia Gaon, in his Emunoth ve-Deoth 6:3, explained classical rabbinic teaching about the soul. He held that the soul comprises that part of a person's mind which constitutes physical desire, emotion, and thought.
Maimonides, in his The Guide to the Perplexed, explained classical rabbinic teaching about the soul through the lens of neo-Aristotelian philosophy, and viewed the soul as a person's developed intellect, which has no substance.
The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but are slowly created over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually:
The Raaya Meheimna, a Kabbalistic tractate always published with the Zohar, posits two more parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah. Gershom Scholem wrote that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals":
For more detail on Jewish beliefs about the soul see Jewish eschatology.
The soul has two manifestations, the po (魄 pò) or yin soul and the hun (魂 hún) or yang soul. The pò is linked to the dead body and the grave, whereas the hún is linked to the ancestral tablet. There could be multiple pò and hún for each person.
According to two guidance books, the mechanism of Judgment Day is called Souyuan and the world is currently in the third Souyuan. The first reclaimed some 200 million beings as did the second Souyuan, making the population in heaven some 400 million strong.
Some transhumanists believe that it will become possible to perform mind transfer, either from one human body to another, or from a human body to a computer. Operations of this type (along with teleportation), raise philosophical questions related to the concept of the Soul.
Crisscrossing specific religions, the phenomenon of therianthropy and belief in the existence of otherkin also occur. One can perhaps better describe these as phenomena rather than as beliefs, since people of varying religion, ethnicity, or nationality may believe in them. Therianthropy involves the belief that a person or their soul has a spiritual, emotional, or mental connection with an animal. Such a belief may manifest itself in many forms, and many explanations for it often draw on a person's religious beliefs. Otherkin hold similar beliefs: they see their souls as partially or entirely non-human, and not necessarily of this world.
Another fairly large segment of the population, not necessarily favoring organized religion, simply label themselves as "spiritual" and hold that both humans and all other living creatures have souls. Some further believe the entire universe has a cosmic soul as a spirit or unified consciousness. Such a conception of the soul may link with the idea of an existence before and after the present one, and one could consider such a soul as the spark, or the self, the "I" in existence that feels and lives life.
In Surat Shabda Yoga, the soul is considered to be an exact replica and spark of the Divine. The purpose of Surat Shabd Yoga is to realize one's True Self as soul (Self-Realisation), True Essence (Spirit-Realisation) and True Divinity (God-Realisation) while living in the physical body.
G.I. Gurdjieff taught that nobody is ever born with a soul. Rather, you must create a soul during the course of your life. Without a soul, Gurdjieff taught that you will "die like a dog".
The consensus among neuroscientists and biologists is that the mind, or consciousness, is the operation of the brain. They often fuse the terms mind and brain together as "mind/brain". or bodymind. Science and medicine seek naturalistic accounts of the observable natural world. This stance is known as methodological naturalism Much of the scientific study relating to the soul has been involved in investigating the soul as a human belief or as concept that shapes cognition and understanding of the world (see Memetics), rather than as an entity in and of itself.
When modern scientists speak of the soul outside of this cultural and psychological context, it is generally as a poetic synonym for mind. Francis Crick's book The Astonishing Hypothesis, for example, has the subtitle, "The scientific search for the soul". Crick held the position that one can learn everything knowable about the human soul by studying the workings of the human brain. Depending on one's belief regarding the relationship between the soul and the mind, then, the findings of neuroscience may be relevant to one's understanding of the soul.
A search of the PubMed research literature database shows the following numbers of articles with the indicated term in the title:
An oft-encountered analogy is that the brain is to the mind as computer hardware is to computer software. The idea of the mind as software has led some scientists to use the word "soul" to emphasize their belief that the human mind has powers beyond or at least qualitatively different from what artificial software can do. Roger Penrose expounds this position in The Emperor's New Mind He posits that the mind is in fact not like a computer as generally understood, but rather a quantum computer, that can do things impossible on a classical computer, such as decide the halting problem (although quantum computers in actuality cannot do any more than a regular Turing machine, they can in theory solve problems that would require billions of years for linear algorithims on the fastest computers in the world in as little as one unit of quantum time). Some have located the soul in this possible difference between the mind and a classical computer.
In his book Consilience, E. O. Wilson took note that sociology has identified belief in a soul as one of the universal human cultural elements. Wilson suggested that biologists need to investigate how human genes predispose people to believe in a soul.
Daniel Dennett has championed the idea that the human survival strategy depends heavily on adoption of the intentional stance, a behavioral strategy that predicts the actions of others based on the expectation that they have a mind like one's own (see theory of mind). Mirror neurons in brain regions such as Broca's area may facilitate this behavioral strategy. The intentional stance, Dennett suggests, has proven so successful that people tend to apply it to all aspects of human experience, thus leading to animism and to other conceptualizations of soul.
In the film Bedazzled, the character of Elliot Richards sells his soul to the Devil for seven wishes, but after six of the wishes backfire on him, his seventh unselfish wish negates the contract and prevents the Devil from acquiring his soul
In the Harry Potter series, the main villain of the series, Lord Voldemort, manages to achieve a form of immortality by creating six horcruxes, fracturing his soul into seven pieces; even if his physical body is destroyed his soul is still present in the horcruxes, thus preventing him from moving on to the afterlife as long as the horcruxes exist.
In the TV series Supernatural many characters have "sold" their souls as part of deals.
In the TV series Charmed, the half-demon Cole Turner possesses a soul as part of his human heritage, granting him the capacity to feel real human emotions, including falling in love with protagonist Phoebe Halliwell; one episode features the sisters going up against a demon who takes the souls of others in exchange for deals.
In the film The Chronicles of Riddick, the antagonist of the film, the Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, has the ability to remove the souls of his adversaries, apparently subsequently banishing them to some unknown location; only the film's hero, Riddick, is shown to be able to stop him from claiming his soul.
In the anime series Yu-Gi-Oh!, souls played an important role in several episodes, with many of the villains stealing the souls of others for their own ends; the protagonist, Yugi Mutou, also shares his body with the soul of an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh.
Souls play a prominent part in various comic storylines; in DC Comics, for example, the hero Ragman draws his power from the corrupted souls that make up his cloak, tapping into their abilities and experiences in an attempt to redeem them, while the character Sebastian Faust seeks to regain his soul after his father sold it at birth in exchange for the ability to command magic (The gift in question was passed on to his son). The characters of Hawkman and Hawkgirl also have souls as a key part of their origin, with the two of them being the reincarnated souls of two Ancient Egyptians who discovered Thanagarian technology and formed an almost spiritual bond with the Nth metal wings that they discovered. The storyline Underworld Unleashed featured several villains selling their souls to the demon Neron in exchange for greater powers
In Marvel Comics, the demon Mephisto is also known to exchange souls for bargains, such as the deal he made with Johnny Blaze that resulted in Blaze becoming the first Ghost Rider, or his deal with Cynthia von Doom – the mother of Doctor Doom – that kept her soul imprisoned until Doom was able to free her with the aid of Doctor Strange. The Fantastic Four on one occasion recovered the soul of deceased member the Thing from Heaven after his death.