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