The current post will not conclusively answer if souls exist or not. What it will definitely do is develop a scientific line of inquiry that may lead to an answer about the existence of souls. But before that, what do we mean by a soul? Google it and this is what Wikipedia has to say – “A soul – in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions – is the incorporeal essence of a person, living thing, or object”. The catch here is that the soul, if it exists, is incorporeal, not matter.
All possible efforts shall be made to argue with in the realms of reason and not resort to scriptural dogmatism. Since we are discussing the question of existence, let’s see what can possibly be valid proofs of some object’s existence. We will start with some very obvious objects/phenomena/property. Take the sun. We know that it exists, because we can directly perceive it (through our faculty of vision). Another example – sound waves exist because we can directly perceive them (through our faculty of hearing).
Let’s complicate a little. The nucleus of an atom – Direct perception is not possible here, courtesy the limitation of our vision. What do we do now? We perform Rutherford’s alpha rays scattering experiment and infer that an atom has something called the ‘nucleus’. The spin of an electron, wave-particle duality, electricity, magnetism are other examples where our senses fail us in direct perception. The more we move away from the limited sphere covered by our senses, the greater is the need for inferential arguments.
The point of the above discussion is this – if direct perception fails us in distinguishing certain states of matter, then it will surely fail in that which is immaterial/ incorporeal- a soul. So we have to cook up an inferential inquiry. If there is a soul in humans, then an individual can be thought of to have three parts – the physical body, the brain and a soul. If we can somehow ‘switch off’ the physiological body and the brain, whatever remains will provide an answer about the soul’s existence. This is no ingenious technique – this is exactly what you’d do if your house’s electrical wiring goes awry – check each wire one by one after switching off the rest.
It is no easy task to switch off our physiological and mental components (I, for one, prefer agnosticism in this regard) How do we control the heart, or our digestive system? And that’s only half the story. The brain is even queerer. It doesn’t stop for one moment. You might think that it does when you sleep – but it doesn’t. Here is a simple explanation – if the brain does stop when you are asleep, how is it that dreams are registered? The brain never stops.
To sum up, because we do not directly perceive the soul cannot be a reason to deny its existence. Advice on how to control the physical and the mental might provide an answer to the soul’s existence. The system of Yoga addresses this need.