On Souls

The soul. It is considered by many to be the quintessential human element, whether a gift granted by God, or simply a label for the notion of human consciousness. Some simply call it their “heart.” Very few people would admit to not having one, yet the physical evidence for its existence can be described only as a massive void. The only truly scientific attempt, by Duncan Macdougall in 1901, is sketchy at best – by measuring the mass of terminally ill patients before and after death, he concluded that the weight of the human soul is approximately 21 grams. However, many point out that this can simply be the result of molecular diffusion following death; as homeostasis crumbles, gases and water make their final escape from the body. Similar follow-up experiments have discovered that this measurement is not fixed, and in fact fluctuates anywhere between 10 and 40 g.

Therefore, the only evidence in favor of the existence of our souls (barring religious texts) is a massive compendium of personal testimony. We just feel it.

But what about clones? Would clones have souls? Some say no, that because the embryo was deliberately fertilized and grown by men acting in place of God it foregoes a soul. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Bay’s The Island both espouse this viewpoint in some form, from Miss Emily (serving metonymically for the general populace) and the corporate director respectively. It could be argued that the homogeny and starkness present in Huxley’s Brave New World and Niccol’s Gattaca symbolize similar fears, echoed in Thurman’s line, “You’re a God child?”

I’m going to perhaps be a little controversial here and reference a video game. The second installment of Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series Kingdom Hearts II introduces the paradoxically-named race of creatures known as Nobodies. A paradox because these beings are in fact only that, and are produced when the heart (for every purpose serving the role of “soul” in the games) of a person vacates their body. Portrayed as characteristically soulless, they are often coldly-calculating in their pursuits and serve as the primary antagonists. In many ways they represent the worst kind of clone – a perfect replica of a person’s corporeal being without the constraints of a morally-conscious soul.

However, as you play through, you begin to recognize that they do possess humanity undeniably similar to our own. Despite constantly being informed that they have no emotions (in many scenes informing the player of this themselves), that any sort of sentiment is pretended, pure manipulation, these Nobodies display a wide spectrum of feelings – sorrow, anger, frustration, regret. Fleeting moments of happiness. Hell, one even gives up his life to save the protagonist. Lost and rejected to a dark corner of the world, they are desperate to regain a sense of identity, and resolve to fight with all their beings, the only thing they have, to find their hearts and become “whole” again.

I was reminded of this while watching The Island, when Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta elude capture by the mercenaries and weave through precarious Los Angeles traffic to locate their sponsors. “I just want to live. I don’t care how,” Lincoln says. For all of its explosions and high-speed interstate car chases, this simple theme of survival, along with the gradual erosion of their innocence in the presence of the cruelties of life, really spotlighted their humanity.

Both groups fought to prove that which we take for granted.

This is why Never Let Me Go was so gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking for me. The clones were so indoctrinated into the cruelty of their situations that they never thought to question them; indeed, Kathy and Tommy only sought to extend their lives by a period of 3 years at best.  One could assume their apparent apathy over their fates to be symptomatic of a lack of soul, but Kathy’s narrative is so full of repressed emotion that it seems to scream less robotic anthromorph and more hopeless individual resigned to their fate, much like prisoners of a concentration camp. The current of the river ripping them apart (literally, in a sense) was too strong to fight. I never admitted to crying after reading this novel in class, I don’t have that sort of courage. But I feel like I felt everything these clones – rather, people – felt.

Clones are undeniably people, and like people, would undeniably have souls.

– R

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~ by vandyryan on February 10, 2012.

One Response to “On Souls”

  1. The soul is certainly a fascinating and controversial topic, and I think you’ve done a great job covering it. Reading through your post prompted a good amount of thought on my part.

    Macdougall’s attempts to scientifically verify the existence of the soul are particularly interesting, albeit a bit comical (by modern standards). Still, I think his efforts highlight a crucial point: so far as we know, it is impossible to prove the existence of the soul.

    As you’ve said, excluding religious texts, one can provide no genuine evidence in favor of the existence of our souls–we just feel it. This is where the scientific and the spiritual come to a crossroads: can we believe in the soul though its existence cannot be empirically proven?

    My own answer to this question required a good bit of reflection. After tossing the idea of the soul around in my head for a while, I realized something: no one has the right to answer this question for anyone else.

    Regarding the soul, it is not a matter of can we believe nor is it a matter of should we believe. All that matters is that we do–or do not–believe. As a science major and someone who has never taken a philosophy course, I could easily be getting in over my head here, but I think you were on to something when you said we just feel it. Perhaps the very existence of the soul is contingent on the belief therein.

    Of course, not everyone is willing to take such a leap of faith, but therein lies the beauty of this model of the soul: one’s personal convictions are all that matters. No one can tell me I do not have a soul, because quite simply, the existence of my soul does not depend on your beliefs. No one is qualified to denounce the existence of the soul in others. It is the right of every individual to decide for himself and for himself only.

    The way I see it, this model applies to clones just as well as it does natural-born humans. True, a clone is a replicate of another person, a copy. Genetically, the match may be exact, but a clone is still a free-thinking individual. As such, it is the right of clones, just as much as it is the right of humans, to synthesize their personal experiences and opinions into an opinion on the existence of the soul.

    Thusly do I take my position on the debate over clones possessing souls. A human being has no right to deny the existence of a soul in any other being. If a clone earnestly believes in the existence of his own soul, no one has the right or the power to take that away from him.

    -Cletus

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