Think Free



All Souls Night in Gdansk: Robin Hamman

All Souls Night in Gdansk by Robin Hamman

The idea of the soul is variously understood around the world and throughout history.

A distinction is often made between an individual soul and a world soul (anima mundi).

Some regard the soul as a multiple entity, as in ancient Egyptian religion or the contemporary views of the alleged trance channeler, Jane Roberts/Seth. Others insist the soul is single. And yet some say the soul is the conceptual “I” that apparently remains constant throughout one’s life (itself a highly debatable claim).

Plato viewed the soul as single but containing multiple functions.

Aristotle saw the soul as a partly rational and partly irrational function governing bodily needs, desires and actions that disappears at death.

Soul is also envisioned as a spiritual, self-motivating eternal agent or substance.

St. Thomas Aquinas insists the soul is united to the body but not of the body. For Aquinas it “operates through corporeal organs” with its “proper function” being “in the understanding.”

Deutsch: Thomas von Aquin

Deutsch: Thomas von Aquin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In much of Hinduism the soul reincarnates, ultimately to merge with God, as a drop of water returns to the ocean from whence it came. In this sense, individuality is temporary, at best.

However, Ramanuja‘s Visistadvaita school of Hinduism provides an important exception to this idea. For Ramanuja, individual souls (jivas) emerge from and ultimately rest within God (Brahman) but retain some aspect of their individuality, existence and, therefore, reality.

The anatman doctrine of Buddhism contends that the idea of a soul is just a conceptual illusion; for Buddhists, the soul does not really exist.

Catholics believe that the soul is created by God at the moment of human conception, a view that has sparked intense debate among pro-life and pro-choice groups. Concerning death and the afterlife, traditional Catholic believers say the soul might (a) rise to heaven (b) be purified in purgatory in preparation for heaven or (c) descend to eternal hell.

In pop culture “soul” refers to a musical form, originating in America, that blends gospel music with rhythm and blues. Although soul music was created by black Americans, its offshoots are composed and performed by anyone, anywhere.


Special Theory of Relativity

The Special Theory of Relativity is one of Albert Einstein‘s theories developed in 1905 which, in its most basic form, says:

  • in non-accelerated (i.e. inertial) frames of reference, physical laws always and everywhere apply regardless of the frame of reference and
  • the speed of light (in a vacuum) is constant independent of the speed of the observer

Because the speed of the observer is a frame of reference, the above statements seem to conflict. To resolve these apparently conflicting statements, complex equations were developed, leading to the famous e=mc², where ‘e’ is energy, ‘m’ is matter, and ‘c’ is the constant speed of light.

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this equation, mass increases with velocity and decreases with a loss of energy.

The implications of this theory are profound. In essence, space and time are interwoven, and not separate entities. Wikipedia says:

Time and space cannot be defined separately from each other. Rather space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as spacetime. Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.

What follows from this is hard for many to understand. But it has been experimentally supported:

We are each in our own, individual spacetime because we have each moved in unique directions and velocities in our lives.

So, according to this theory (and the evidence that supports it), while it appears that many events happen at the same spacetime among us, they do not. The reason it appears that things happen at the same spacetime is due to the extremely tiny spacetime differences among us.

Related Posts » General Theory of Relativity


Add to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinionAdd to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinion

1 Comment

Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Jewish philosopher of Spanish-Portuguese parentage who was barred from his synagogue in 1656 on the charge of expounding “atheism.”

This prohibition compelled Spinoza to delve even deeper into philosophy, in which he devised a metaphysical system that envisions God as one substance with a kind of dual nature.

  • The first nature is called natura naturata (“nature natured”), this being the whole of reality that necessarily comes from God’s nature
  • The second nature is called natura naturans (“nature naturing”), an infinite and eternal essence out of which God freely creates
Spinoza Letter to Leibniz

Spinoza Letter to Leibniz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spinoza’s popular metaphysic is something of a Western parallel to the Hindu notion of an manifest and unmanifest aspect of Brahman. It also has affinities with the Taoist idea of the named and unnamed aspects of the Tao. Some might also say that there is also a parallel with Immanuel Kant’s distinction between the phenomenon (that which can be apprehended by the senses) and the noumenon (the unknowable thing in itself).

However, we would be unwise to generalize beyond this hasty comparison because each religious and philosophical system contains elaborations that differentiate them from one another in important ways. By way of analogy, we can say that Coke and Orange Crush are both soft drinks largely based on water. But anyone who has actually tasted these drinks know that they are very different from one another. This might not be a perfect analogy but I think it suffices to make the point.

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our em...

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our emotional responses to them should be reasoned from the perspective of eternity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the question of free will, Spinoza argues that mankind’s thoughts and actions are determined by myriad causes—we only believe we’re free to make choices when, in fact, we’re not.

In 1673 Spinoza declined an offer for a teaching position in philosophy at Heidelberg. He is often upheld as a forerunner to the Enlightenment, and his approach influenced several modern disciplines, ranging from deep ecology, postmodernism,¹ and biblical criticism.

Wikipedia notes: His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th-century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers”. See

Related Post » Pantheism

Leave a comment

Susan Sontag

taking a picture of a picture/of sontag: Susan NYC

taking a picture of a picture/of sontag by Susan Sermoneta via Fickr

Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was an American scholar, writer, playwright, filmmaker and human rights activist dedicated to freedom of expression in the arts.

Sontag did graduate work in philosophy, literature and theology at both Harvard and Oxford. Her thinking covers many topics and is both complex and subtle, sometimes taking a turn to postmodernism but never falling into any particular category.

In her non-fiction work Illness as Metaphor (1978) she argued, not unlike Michel Foucault, that contemporary ways of approaching and understanding illness are intricately linked to societal norms and biases. Wikipdedia outlines:

Illness as Metaphor is a nonfiction work written by Susan Sontag and published in 1978. She challenged the “blame the victim” mentality behind the language society often uses to describe diseases and those who suffer from them.

Drawing out the similarities between public perspectives on cancer (the paradigmatic disease of the 20th century before the appearance of AIDS), and tuberculosis (the symbolic illness of the 19th century), Sontag shows that both diseases were associated with personal psychological traits. In particular, she says that the metaphors and terms used to describe both syndromes lead to an association between repressed passion and the physical disease itself. She notes the peculiar reversal that “With the modern diseases (once TB, now cancer), the romantic idea that the disease expresses the character is invariably extended to assert that the character causes the disease–because it has not expressed itself. Passion moves inward, striking and blighting the deepest cellular recesses.”

Sontag says that the clearest and most truthful way of thinking about diseases is without recourse to metaphor… she makes sweeping claims that, while perhaps true to a first approximation, may go too far (Donoghue, 1978).

She believed that wrapping disease in metaphors discouraged, silenced, and shamed patients. Other writers have disagreed with her, saying that metaphors and other symbolic language help affected people form meaning out of their experiences (Clow, 2001).¹

Reluctantly realizing her same sex preference at the age of 15 years, Sontag had a romantic relationship with the photographer Annie Leibovitz, among other women.



1 Comment


spirit catcher: Rannie Turingan

spirit catcher by Rannie Turingan via Flickr

The idea of spirit contains several meanings. One definition of spirit points to an invisible incorporeal being, as compared to a ghost which allegedly is seen by a living person. But spirits, in this sense, can also been seen if they choose to manifest or if the seer is on the right wavelength, so to speak.

Spirit has several other meanings, such as an animating or vital force within life, the soul or some some kind of invisible force or presence that permeates the created universe (to include inanimate objects).

Spirit arguably becomes an ambiguous concept if viewed from a purely conceptual level. Many New Age thinkers, for instance, equate the notion of spirit with that of matter/energy. This is a dubious analog when we consider Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung‘s treatment of the term numinosity and, moreover, the Christian understanding of The Holy Spirit. Otto, Jung and many mainstream Christians agree that there are different types of spirits, each with different types of numinosity.

It almost seems as if those who haven’t experienced any difference between their perception of matter/energy and spirit tend to automatically equate the two, just as one might equate any seemingly similar variables in the absence of any additional experiences that would complicate the picture.

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of analogy, if one had never tasted white wine they might look at its color, recognize it as a liquid and claim that white wine is equivalent to apple juice or perhaps urine. And so it is, many mystics say, with the experience of spirit. Those who know (i.e. with gnosis), they claim, realize that spirit’s character may vary significantly, not only because spirit is passing through psychological and cultural filters, but also because of the differences inherent to the type of spirit in question.

Partly because mystics and seers have written about of so many different types of spiritual experiences, we also have the notion of “pure and impure,” “holy and unholy,” “good and evil” spirits, along with their respective tendencies to influence human beings for good or ill.

This tremendous diversity as to the meaning of spirit is not only found in Christianity but within most world religions. But, again, some well-meaning but arguably naive individuals simplify this diversity by making unsupportable claims, as did Sri Ramakrishna, who claimed that all spiritual paths lead to the same kind of spiritual experience. This may have been Ramakrishna’s belief when dabbling in different religions from his master perspective of Hinduism but it certainly isn’t everyone’s.


Spiritual Attack (or warfare)

Spiritual Warfare: Chris and Laura

Spiritual Warfare: Chris and Laura via Flickr

The idea of spiritual attack (also spiritual warfare) is found in most religious and spiritual traditions sharing the belief that a normally invisible attack is caused by evil or lower beings wishing to cause misfortune, distress and physical or psychological illness. I say “normally invisible” because certain mystics, saints and seers claim to actually see the process through visions, revelations or inward, intuitive seeing.

Alleged remedies for spiritual attack vary somewhat, according to the beliefs and practices of a given tradition. Perhaps the biggest difference among traditions is between those that overcome spiritual attack through

  • humble prayer to God and interceding angels and saints
  • one’s own effort, such as the of casting spells or identifying with some kind of spiritual warrior that slays or contains negative spiritual influences¹

In Roman Catholicism, we find a lengthy exorcism prayer aimed to “repulse the attacks and deceits of the devil.” A shorter prayer to St. Michael illustrates this well:

St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits that wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.³

Tuwinische Schamanin, Ai-Churek (Moon Heart, g...

Tuwinische Schamanin, Ai-Churek (Moon Heart, gestorben 22.11.2010) während einer Zeremonie am Feuer bei Kyzyl, Tuva, Russland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also in Catholic theology we find the term obsession, which means not possessed but significantly disturbed by an evil spirit, spiritual power or influence. Most religions and individuals probably interpret the idea of spiritual attack through their own cultural filters, arriving at beliefs that are just as man-made as actual. And some people go to great lengths to convince us that we’d do well to purchase certain beads or charms to ward off evil.

However, the overall idea of spiritual attack remains important, especially when viewed thoughtfully instead of dogmatically. Spiritual attack presents an alternative to the reductive belief, forwarded by the likes of Richard Dawkins,² that living beings are nothing more than an assemblage of electrically charged chemicals.

By way of analogy, ancient and medieval astronomers made mistakes while viewing the night skies, but those errors didn’t dissuade others from improving observational techniques, leading to better categorizations and explanations of astronomical phenomena. And so it is, one could argue, with observing and understanding the spiritual realm. Some claim to sense, discern or perhaps see its reality. However, we still have a long way to go in decreasing the interpretive biases and influences that can arise from preexisting religious beliefs and worldviews.³

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ (a) In some cultures a professional shaman is enlisted or even paid to overcome evil for another person believed to be under its spell. Mircea Eliade notes that sometimes if the shaman can’t make a living out this, they choose another profession. See

(b) I should add that these two categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A modern witch, for example, might cast a spell but also pray to God or spirits for guidance. Likewise, a contemporary shaman might talk about the reality of one God among all traditions.

² See The Selfish Gene, 1976; The God Delusion, 2006.

³ See and

Related Posts » Obsession, Occam’s Razor, Possession, Alien Possession Theory, Shamanism, Spirit

Leave a comment

Splitting (Freudian concept)

Split Up: ViaMoi

Split Up: ViaMoi via Flickr

In Freudian theory splitting is a defense mechanism where the ego divides into one or more parts to attempt to deal with anxiety. One part remains fully conscious and is experienced as the real self, while the other may become unconscious and projected onto an object (a Freudian term that includes another person).

When a split-off aspect of the ego is projected, the object is often unrealistically seen as alternating between being “good” and “bad.”

Wikipedia sums up

Splitting (also called black and white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking) is the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people.[1] The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).¹

It should be noted that Freud, himself, did not coin the term. Instead, one of his followers, Ronald Fairbairn developed the concept in his object relations theory. Freud, however, did write about the idea of splitting, especially in regard to fetishism and psychosis.² — ¹ ²


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 414 other followers