Synapses and Soul Epigenesis

Why are souls ‘locked’ in earthly bodies? This very old question has received many answers, but after so many centuries, none consensual.

For some, this question has no meaning at all, since it presupposes a dualism of spirit and matter, of soul and body, in Plato’s way. And Platonic ideas are rejected by materialists: the soul is for them only a kind of epiphenomenon of the body, or the outcome of an epigenetic growth.

In the materialistic approach, one cannot say that the soul is ‘locked’, since it is consubstantial with the flesh: it blossoms fully in it, vivifies it, and receives all its sap from it reciprocally.

But can a spiritual ‘principle’ (the soul) share a material ‘substance’ with a material entity (the body)? How to explain the interaction of immateriality with materialism?

Descartes saw in the pineal gland the place of the union of the soul with the body. This small endocrine gland is also called conarium or the epiphysis cerebri. I can’t resist quoting Wikipedia’s definition of pineal gland, such is its wild poetry:

“The pineal gland is a midline brain structure that is unpaired. It takes its name from its pine-cone shape. The gland is reddish-gray and about the size of a grain of rice (5–8 mm) in humans. The pineal gland, also called the pineal body, is part of the epithalamus, and lies between the laterally positioned  thalamic bodies and behind the habenular commissure. It is located in the quadrigeminal cistern near to the corpora quadrigemina. It is also located behind the third ventricle and is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid supplied through a small pineal recess of the third ventricle which projects into the stalk of the gland.”

Raw flavor of learned words…

In the Veda, the pineal gland is associated with the cakra « ājnā » (the forehead), or with the cakra « sahasrara » (the occiput).

The main question of the coexistence or the intimate conjunction of soul and body is not so much the question of its actual place as the question of its reason.

The reason why souls are « locked » in the bodies is « to know the singular », says Marcile Ficin. Ficin is a neoplatonician philosopher. This explains why he is a priori in favour of soul-body dualism. Souls, of divine origin, need to incarnate in order to complete their ‘education’. If they remained outside the body, then they would be unable to distinguish individuals, and then to get out of the world of pure abstractions and general ideas.

« Let us consider the soul of man at the very moment when it emanates from God and is not yet clothed with a body (…) What will the soul seize? As many ideas as there are species of creatures, only one idea of each species. What will she understand by the idea of a man? She will see that the nature common to all men, but will not see the individuals included in this nature (…) Thus the knowledge of this soul will remain confused, since the distinct progression of species towards the singular escapes her (…) and her appetite for truth will be unsatisfied. If the soul, from birth, remained outside the body, it would know the universals, it would not distinguish individuals either by its own power or by the divine ray seized by it, because its intelligence would not go beyond the ultimate ideas and reason would rest on the eyes of intelligence. But in this body, because of the senses, reason is accustomed to moving among individuals, to applying the particular to the general, to moving from the general to the particular. »i

Indeed Plotin and, long before him, the Egyptians, believed that the soul, by its nature, participates in divine intelligence and will. « Therefore, according to the Egyptians, one should not say that sometimes it stays there and sometimes goes elsewhere, but rather that now it gives life to the earth and then does not give it. »ii

Life is a kind of battle, a battle, where souls are engaged, ignoring the fate that will be reserved for them. No one can explain to us why this battle is taking place, nor the role of each of the souls. « The dead don’t come back, you don’t see them, they don’t do anything (…) But why would an old soldier who’s done his time return to combat? ».

But war metaphors are dangerous because they are anthropomorphic. They deprive us of the quality of invention we would need to imagine a universe of other meanings.

The Platonicians have a metaphor on these questions, less warlike, more peaceful, that of the ‘intermediary’.

They consider that human life is ‘intermediate’ between divine life and the life of animals. And the soul, in leading this intermediate life, thus touches both extremes.

This short circuit between the beast and the divine is the whole of man. Obviously, there is such a difference in potential, but when the current flows, the light comes.

The soul of the newborn child knows nothing about the world, but it is potentially able to learn anything. Its synapses connect and reconfigure several tens of millions of times per second. We can now observe this curious phenomenon in real time on screens. This intense (electro-synaptic) activity testifies to the adventure of the emerging « spirit », meeting the succession of singularities, caresses and rubbing, shimmers and shininess, vibrations and murmurs of tastes and flavours.

The Vedic vision includes this systemic, self-emerging, non-materialistic image.

Veda and neurological imaging meet on this point: the passage through the bodies is a necessary condition for the epigenesis of the soul.

i Marcile Ficin, Platonician Theology. Book 16. Ch. 1

ii Ibid. Ch.5

The Divine Omnipotence vs. Contingency, Chance and Fortune

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), a Dominican monk, spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison where he was tortured for heresy. He wrote an abundant worki there after narrowly escaping the death penalty by posing as mad.

He said of Aristotle that he was « unholy », « a liar », « father of the Machiavellians », and « author of amazing errors ».

He said of himself: « I am the bell (campanella) that announces the new dawn. »

Campanella wanted to found a philosophical republic, « The Sun City », referring to Plato, Marcile Ficin and Thomas More.

In his Apology of Galileo, he describes the world as « a book in which eternal Wisdom wrote his own thoughts; it is the living temple in which she painted her actions and her own example (…) But we, souls attached to dead books and temples, copied from the living with many errors, interpose them between us and the divine teaching. » ii

Nature is the « manuscript of God ». It is necessary to look for « all ugliness and all evil ». They are « beauty masks ».

From the « living book » of nature, Man is the « epilogue ». Man can be compared to a « windowpane ».

He is a « spark of the infinite God ». He can reach the level of the « archetypal world » by means of ecstasy, – even if it is « denied by the stupidity of the Aristotelians ».

Through his immortal soul, man can escape the condition of other living beings, who are « like the worms in a belly or in a cheese ».

The characteristic of a good metaphor is that it can be followed ad libitum, and given unexpected directions.

If the world is a « book », many of its pages may be stained, incomplete, unreadable; other pages are simply missing, or have not even been written.

In other words, in this world made for « being », there are also many « non-being ». In this light, there is a lot of darkness. There is wisdom and a lot of ignorance; there is love and hatred.

Everything derives from a mixture of necessities and contingencies, destinies and chance, harmony and antagonisms.

But it is from this contingency and chance that the possibility of freedom is born for man.

Contingency, chance, fortune are defects inherent in the very texture of the world. From the beginning, all creation is affected by a « deficit » of being. Hence the rifts, the blindness, the gaps in the world.

However, it is in these gaps and blindness that man can find freedom.

Campanella’s theory (freedom through « lack of being ») was both revolutionary and « heretical » at the beginning of the 17th century.

It was difficult for the authorities to accept that contingency, chance, fortune could contradict the supposed manifestations of divine omnipotence and omniscience.

Contingency (contingentia) unnecessarily breaks the chain of necessity (necessitas) willed by God. It limits the power of causes, it denies the tyranny of determinism, it undoes the inflexible chain of causality.

Chance (casus) counters fatality (fatum), and « contradicts » what has been « predicted » (by God). In this way, he invalidates the idea of absolute, divine prescience.

Fortune (fortuna) thwarts universal harmony (harmonia). It thwarts world order and the will that drives it.

Thus are marked the necessary limits of necessity, and the constraints that are imposed even on divine power, knowledge and will.

Contingency, chance and fortune are all obstacles to divine « omnipotence », and therefore all openings to human « freedom ».

Subversive ideas!

If God is omnipotent and omniscient, how could He be limited in His power or prescience by contingency or chance?

If God wants universal harmony, how could His will be thwarted by the whims of fortune?

If God wants the necessary sequence of causes and effects, how can He tolerate contingency? How can His « omniscience » be compatible with the effects of chance?

Campanella replied that creation was drawn from nothing by God. It is therefore a combination of being and non-being. It comes from the Being, but its being « lacks being ». Contingency, chance and fortune are the concrete expressions of this lack, and the visible expression of the possible freedom of man.

Contingency, chance and fortune can be interpreted as providential figures of God’s absence in the world, as signs of his voluntary withdrawal, to leave man a responsibility in his creation.

This absence and withdrawal from God is reflected in the ideas of kenosis (S. Paul) and tsimtsum, (Kabbalah).

I will evoke these concepts in another article.

i Philosophia Sensibus Demonstrata, La Cité du soleil, Atheismus Triumphatus, Aforismi Politici,

ii « Mundus ergo totus est sensus, vita, anima, corpus, statua Dei altissimi, ad ipsius condita gloriam, in potestate, sapientia, et Amore (…) Homo ergo epilogus est totius mundi, ejus cultor et admirator dum Deum nosse velit, cujus gratia factus est. Mundus est statua, imago, Templum vivum et codex Dei, ubi inscripsit et depinxit res infiniti decoris gestas in mente sua. » (De Sensu Rerum et Magia, 1619) Cité par J. Delumeau Le mystère Campanella