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Throughout the ages the soul has been the subject of discussion, of argument, and of attempted definition. It has been, and still is, the paramount intellectual interest of the ages, and the outstanding theme of all religions and philosophies. From this alone, we may perhaps deduce that the soul is possibly a fact in nature, for the testimony of millennia must have some basis in reality. After the elimination of all conclusions founded on the visions and experiences of hysterics, of neurotics, and of pathological cases, there remains a residue of testimony and a structure of deduction, emanating from sane and reputable thinkers, philosophers and scientists, which evades negation and warrants recognition by humanity.

Dr. Richard Müller-Freienfels says, "To write the history of man's belief in the soul one would have at the same time to write the history of the whole human race." [lvii] 1

The problem has been well summarized for us by Professor Ames:

"On the one side was this self or soul, with its thinking; on the other, all the world of objects, other persons [73] and God. The efforts of wise men for centuries have been to find a way to span the chasm between the self and other objects. But with ideas as events in the head, and things existing outside, there was no sure bridge upon which to make the passage that alone could guarantee that the representations in the head were true to the objects in the outer realm. Upon the two sides of this gulf have been arrayed the armies of philosophers: the idealists upon the side of the self, vainly trying to stretch themselves to reach the reality they have posited as separated from their grasp; and on the opposite side the materialists, striving to ignore the self or to regard it as a phantom, or epiphenomenon, a breath or mist, exuding from the physical world itself. Some, called dualists, assumed the reality of both the psychical and the physical, but allowed each its place and never succeeded in an adequate answer to the question as to how the mind goes out of itself to so different an object, or how the object could be itself and yet be known." [lviii]2

Some definitions of the soul might here have place. They have been gathered out of a vast number. It is noticeable that there is a very remarkable uniformity in definition and exegesis. Webster defines the soul in most interesting terms, and from the standpoint of the Eastern wisdom, with great exactitude.

"An entity, conceived as the essence, substance, or actuating cause of individual life, especially of life manifested in psychical activities; the vehicle of individual existence, separate in nature from the body and usually held to be separable in existence."


As one investigates the different interpretations as to the nature of the soul, three points of view emerge and these have been well summarised for us in Webster's Dictionary:

"First, the soul has been treated as an entity or subject, manifested especially in man's volitional thinking activities; it is the subject of the experience meditated by the body; it is not the mind, but that which thinks and wills.

"Second, the soul is identified with the mind or with conscious experience; this is the usual sense of the word in psychology, and is the general conception of idealists.

"Third, the soul is treated as a function or the sum of the functions of the brain; thus Pierre J. G. Cabanis (1757-1808) taught that the brain secretes thought as the stomach digests food."

Webster adds the following comment which is appropriate in its application to the present trend of world thought:

"Some conceptions, such as that of Fechner, that the soul is the whole unitary, spiritual process in conjunction with the whole unitary bodily process, appear to stand mid-way between the idealistic and materialistic views." [lix] 3

Perhaps, after all, the "noble middle path" which the Buddhist emphasises, holds for the coming generation a way of escape from these extreme positions.

The Egyptians held the soul was a divine ray, [75] acting through a peculiar, fluid-like compound, whilst the Jews regarded it as the vital principle. The Hindus teach that the human soul is a portion of an immutable Principle, the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi, the all-pervading Ether (Akasa) of space. This Ether is simply the conductor of certain types of energy and serves as the interrelating medium between essential spirit and tangible matter.

Pythagoras, who did so much in his day to link the Eastern and Western philosophies, gave the same teaching. In China, Lao-tse taught that the spiritual soul is united to the semi- material vital soul, and between them they animate the physical body. The Greeks, in their turn, held that the soul (with all the mental faculties) was separable from the body, whilst the Romans regarded the soul as a triplicity—a spiritual soul, an intellectual soul or the mind, and a vital body. Many, such as Theophrastus, regarded it as "the real principle of passion" and

"The Stoics gave currency to a new designation of the animating principle or theory of the vital processes, namely pneuma.... With the introduction of the pneuma began that trichotomy of human personality into body, soul and spirit, which has figured prominently in the speculations of theologians. The conception of the soul or psyche ... became differentiated into two conceptions ... namely, on the one hand, the vital force of the physiologists, and on the other hand the spirit or immaterial soul of man." [lx] 4


The Stoics therefore emphasised a teaching which is entirely in line with the Oriental philosophy. They bridged the gap therefore between the two hemispheres.

Plato expounded the doctrine of the soul in the following manner:

"He believed the soul to have three parts. One, an immortal or rational part, coming from God; another a mortal, animal or sensitive part, the seat of appetite and sensation, belonging to the body; and a third, lying between these and making their interaction possible—will or spirit—by means of which reason conquered desire. Plants have the lowest part; animals the two lower; but the rational part is exclusively human.

"This rational soul he regarded as immaterial and metaphysical in nature, incapable of being perceived by the senses, and only to be grasped by the intellect. The union with the mortal, material and physical body was only a minor incident of its long career.... Plato thus drew a fundamental distinction between soul and body." [lxi] 5

Aristotle regarded the soul as the sum of the vital principles and as being to the body what vision is to the eye. The soul was to him the true Being in the body, and with him Plotinus was in agreement. He regarded the soul as the living sentiency of the body, belonging to a higher degree of being than matter. Tertullian divided the soul into two parts, a vital and a rational principle, as did St. Gregory. Most of the Oriental schools regard [77] the soul as the self, the individual, and Christian mysticism is concerned with the elaboration of the teaching of St. Paul, that there dwells in each human being a potentiality which is called by him "Christ in you," and which, through its presence, enables every man eventually to attain the status of the Christ. A close comparison of the Christian and Oriental teachings leads to the conclusion that the terms: Self, Soul, Christ, connote the same state of being or consciousness, and indicate the subjective reality in every man.

The early Christian Fathers were tremendously influenced by Greek ideas as to the Soul, and their teaching was later coloured by Gnosticism and Manicheanism. By them the soul was regarded as light and the body as darkness; light must irradiate the body and eventually be liberated from the body. St. Gregory in the 4th century emphasised the triplicate of body, soul and spirit as did St. Paul. He summed up in his teaching the point of view of the best thinkers of his time, and (quoting Dr. Hollander) taught that:

"... the Soul has no parts, yet Gregory distinguished nutritive, sensitive, and rational faculties, corresponding to the body, soul and spirit. The rational nature is not equally present in all parts of the body. The higher nature uses the lower as its vehicle. In matter resides the vital power; in the vital dwells sensitive power, and to the sensitive power is united the rational. The sensitive soul is thus a medium, purer than flesh and grosser than the rational soul. The soul thus [78] united with the body is the real source of all activities." [lxii]6

From the 5th century on to the 17th we have the ideas of various schools; of Scholastics, of Arabian philosophers, of Kabbalists, also the philosophers of the Middle Ages, and that notable group of men who brought about the Reformation and Renaissance. They discussed the various theories accounting for the soul, but not much progress was made, for all was gradually tending towards the emergence of modern science, the establishment of modern medicine, and the revelations of the age of electricity. Gradually the form aspect of nature and the laws governing natural phenomena engrossed attention, until speculations as to the soul and its nature were increasingly relegated to the theologians.

In the 17th century, Stahl wrote fully upon the subject of the soul and summarised a great deal of the teaching extant in his time. This has been termed the Theory of Animism. It is the doctrine that the soul is the vital principle, and responsible for all organic development. We speak of the animism of the little evolved races, who personified and worshipped the forces of nature; we recognise the animism outlined by Stahl in the later cycles of our own time as having been always present; we study the modern scientists' teaching as to force, as to energy, as to the atom, and we find that we are [79] confronted by a world of energies which cannot be negated. We live in a universe animated by forces. Speed, activity, vitality, transportation, the transmission of sound, electrical energy, and many such phrases are the catch-words of today. We speak and think in terms of force.

Stahl summed up the teaching in the following terms:

"The body is made for the soul; the soul is not made for, and is not the product of, the body.... The source of all vital movement is the soul, which builds up the machine of the body, and maintains it for a time against external influences.... The immediate cause of death is not disease, but the direct action of the soul, which leaves the bodily machine, either because it has become unworkable through some serious lesion or because it does not choose to work it any longer."[lxiii]7

Berkeley's definition of the soul is interesting, for he defines it as a simple, active being, revealed to us through experience.

The modern materialistic psychology which regards the soul as the product of brain activity is perhaps not entirely wrong but is dealing with a secondary demonstration of the vital soul.

Dr. Müller-Freienfels says:

"... we must not regard the body as an atomistic mechanism but rather as the vehicle of a comprehensive vital energy; whereupon the 'body' ceases to be merely matter and is conceived of as being `animated'."


He goes on to say also:

"And now at last we see a possibility of arriving at a conception of the soul! Let us remember how mankind came to form this conception. Not in order to explain the 'consciousness' (for the 'soul' can exist without consciousness), but in order to make comprehensible that complex continuity of activities which we call life, mankind created the conception of the soul. We have already stressed the fact that in all primitive cultures the `soul' is by no means identical with the consciousness, and that this equivalence is a late philosophical reservation. As a matter of fact, what primitive man understands by `soul' is what we today call `life.' 'Animated' and 'alive' are, as conceptions, completely identical, just as the conceptions 'inanimate' and `dead' are identical. The Greek word psyche does not by any means signify merely consciousness, but can usually be translated simply by `life,' and similarly, in many cases the German words Leben and Seele, as the English words 'life' and 'soul,' are interchangeable....

"In this, however, we are at one with both the main tendencies of recent philosophy. Even the later materialists had come to admit that the soul is not a substance, but that the psychical processes occur in substance, and they therefore regarded it as equivalent to 'motion.' On the other hand, the conscientialists also regarded psychical processes as 'events' which they had somehow to bring into relation with physical movements.

"We accept both these notions. What we call 'soul' is neither an extended 'substance' nor a thinking 'substance'; it is not a 'substance' at all, but a highly complicated event, a continuity of effects, which reveals itself on the one hand in the building up of the body, and on the other in the consciousness.


"Nevertheless, this doctrine of ours, which does not divide the universe into substance and consciousness, but places a connecting-link between the two, which on the one hand reveals itself materially, but is also the hypothesis of the consciousness, differs from both materialism and conscientialism in this, that it does not conceive of the soul as existing in substance alone nor yet in consciousness alone. On the contrary, both consciousness and body appear to us only as effect of a third thing which comprehends them both, producing the consciousness and also giving form to the raw material. We have already seen that the consciousness must necessarily demand such a profounder `being,' whereas the materialistic theory demands a formative `power,' which forms the body and with it the soul. One might call this theory `monistic,' though it avoids one-sidedness just as it avoids dualism, only that the conception has been overworked, and both the consciential theory and the materialistic theory are—though, after all, incorrectly—described as monistic. We call the theory towards which we are working the dynamistic theory, because it represents the nature of the soul as directed force; and we may also call it vitalistic, because this force, which gives the body form and engenders the consciousness, proves to be identical with life." [lxiv]8

We get a hint of the relation between these three, spirit, soul and body, in the words of The Secret Doctrine.

"Life we look upon as the One Form of Existence, manifesting in what is called Matter; or what, incorrectly separating them, we name Spirit, Soul and Matter in man. Matter is the Vehicle for the manifestation [82] of Soul on this plane of existence, and Soul is the Vehicle on a higher plane for the manifestation of Spirit, and these three are a Trinity synthesized by Life, which pervades them all." [lxv]9

The soul, the self are synonymous terms in Oriental literature. The main treatise upon the Soul, its nature, purpose and mode of existence, is that most famous of all the Eastern Scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita. Deussen summarises the teaching as to the Atma, the self or soul, as follows:

"If for our present purpose we hold fast to this distinction of the Brahman as the cosmical principle of the universe, the atman as the psychical, the fundamental thought of the entire Upanishad philosophy may be expressed by the simple equation:

Brahman = Atman

This is to say—the Brahman, the power which presents itself to us materialized in all existing things, which creates, sustains, preserves, and receives back into itself again all worlds, this eternal infinite divine power is identical with the atman, with that which, after stripping off everything external, we discover in ourselves as our real most essential being, our individual self, the soul. This identity of the Brahman and the atman, of God and the soul, is the fundamental thought of the entire doctrine of the Upanishads....

"The atman is, as has often already been pointed out, an idea capable of very different interpretations. The word signifies no more than `the self,' and the question then arises what we regard as our self. Three positions are here possible, according as by the atman is [83] understood (1) the corporeal self, the body; (2) the individual soul, free from the body, which as knowing subject is contrasted with and distinct from the object; or (3) the supreme soul, in which subject and object are no longer distinguished from one another, or which, according to the Indian conception, is the objectless knowing subject." [lxvi] 10

An Oriental writer comments as follows:

"All organic beings have a principle of self-determination, to which the name of `soul' is generally given. In the strict sense of the word, `soul' belongs to every being that has life in it, and the different souls are fundamentally identical in nature. The differences are due to the physical organizations that obscure and thwart the life of the soul. The nature of the bodies in which the souls are incorporated accounts for their various degrees of obscuration.

"Each buddhi, with its grasp of senses and the like, is an isolated organism determined by its past karma, and has its own peculiarly associated ignorance (avidya). The ego is the psychological unity of that stream of conscious experiencing which constitutes what we know as the inner life of an empirical self.

"The Empirical Self is the mixture of free spirit and mechanism, of purusa and prakriti.... Every ego possesses within the gross material body, which suffers dissolution at death, a subtle body, formed of the psychical apparatus, including the senses." [lxvii]11

An Indian scripture sums up this teaching as follows:


"So there are four Atmas—the life, the mind, the soul, the spirit. The ultimate force which lies at the root of macrocosmic power of the manifestations of soul, mind, and the life-principle, is the spirit." [lxviii] 12

All, therefore, appears to be an expression of the life force, and we begin to approach the truth as formulated in the East, that matter is spirit or energy in its lowest manifestation, and spirit is matter in its highest expression. In between these two extremes, and thus manifesting in time and space, come those diversities of the manifested life-consciousness which engross the interest of the religious man, the psychologist, the scientist, and the philosopher, according to their peculiar predilections and tendencies. All are studying the varying aspect of the one animating life.

The differentiations, the terminologies, and the tabulations in connection with these various approaches to truth are the cause of much of the confusion. We are engaged in separating a unified Reality into parts, and in so doing we lose our sense of proportion and over-emphasise that particular part which we happen temporarily to be dissecting. But the whole remains intact, and our realisation of this Reality grows as we become inclusive in our consciousness and participate in a veritable experience.

The testimony to this experience can be traced from the very night of time. From the emergence [85] of the human family in the unfolding evolutionary development of the world plan there has been a paralleling progressive development of the God idea to account for nature and the soul idea to account for man. An anthology of the soul remains as yet to be compiled, the very magnitude of the task probably serving as a deterrent.

Speculation has always been rife as to where the soul was to be found, and where, within the human form, it might be located. A few of the theories propounded might be touched upon here.

Plato held that the vital principle was in the brain and that brain and spinal cord were coordinators of vital force, whilst

Strato placed it in the forepart of the brain, between the eyebrows.

Hippocrates placed the consciousness or soul in the brain and

Herophilus made the calamus scriptorius the chief seat of the soul.

Erasistratos located the soul in the cerebellum, or the little brain, and stated that it was concerned in the coordination of movement.

Galen, the great forerunner of modern medical methods, argued for the fourth ventricle of the brain as the home of the soul in man.

Hippolytus (3rd century A.D.) says: "The membranes in the head are gently moved by the spirit which advances toward the pineal gland. Near this is situated the entrance to the cerebellum which admits the current of spirit and distributes [86] it into the spinal column. This cerebellum by an ineffable and inscrutable process attracts through the pineal gland the spiritual and life giving substance."

St. Augustine regarded the soul as located in the middle ventricle.

The Arabian philosophers, who so strongly moulded thought in the Middle Ages, identified the ventricles of the brain as the seat of the soul or conscious life.

Dr. Hollander tells us that:

"The reason why the ancient philosophers, from whom the Arabs adopted this localization, placed the faculties in certain cells, meaning cavities or ventricles, probably was to give more room for the pneuma, the gaseous substance, to expand.... Some distinguished four regions, as follows: The first or anterior ventricle of the brain, which was supposed to look towards the front, was the ventricle of common sense; because from it the nerves of the five outer senses were presumed to branch off, and into it, by the aid of these nerves, all sensations were brought together. The second ventricle, connected by a minute opening with the first, was fixed upon as the seat of the imaginative faculty, because the impressions from the five outer senses are transmitted from the first ventricle into it, as a second stage in their progress through the brain. The third ventricle was the seat of the understanding; and the fourth was sacred to memory, because it was commodiously situated as a storehouse into which the conceptions of the mind, digested in the second ventricle, might be transmitted for attention and accumulation. As a matter of fact, the so-called anterior ventricle consists of two ventricles: the right and left lateral [87] ventricles, which communicate with one another and are continuous with the third ventricle—called in ancient times the middle ventricle—by the Foramen of Monro; and the third ventricle communicates with the fourth ventricle—called by the ancients the posterior ventricle—by the Aqueduct of Sylvius.

"The lateral ventricles are roofed over by the corpus callosum; the third is covered by the optic thalamus; and the fourth is situated between cerebellum and pons.... If the sense of sight and sense of hearing are stimulated at the same time, their effects somehow cohere in consciousness, and the knowledge of this fact inspired the hypothesis of a sensory centre to which the term sensorium commune or common sense was applied. By some this was regarded as the seat of the soul. As parts of the brain are double, the localities to be selected were very limited, and only structures in the middle line could be chosen; as, for example, the pineal gland by Descartes and, as late as the nineteenth century, the optic thalamus by W.B. Carpenter, and the pons cerebri by Herbert Spencer." [lxix]13

Roger Bacon regarded the centre of the brain as the place where the soul could be found.

Ludovico Vives "regarded the soul as the principle, not only of conscious life, but of life in general; the heart is the centre of its vital or vegetative activity, the brain of its intellectual activity." [lxx] 14

Mundinus, a famous anatomist of the Middle Ages, believed firmly in "animal spirits." He taught that these animal spirits passed into the third ventricle by a narrow passage. He also [88] taught that the cellules of the brain are the seat of the intellect.

Vesalius, the first to discern the difference between the grey and white matter of the brain and to describe the five ventricles, "distinguished three souls ... and he assigned to the brain the chief soul, the sum of the animal spirits, whose functions were distinctly mental." [lxxi] 15

Servetus located the soul in the Aqueduct of Sylvius, the channel connecting the third and fourth ventricle of the brain.

Telesio in De Rerum Natura "taught that the soul was the subtlest form of matter, a very delicate substance, enclosed within the nervous system and therefore eluding our senses. Its seat is chiefly the brain, but it extends also to the spinal cord, the nerves, arteries, veins, and the covering membranes of the internal organs.... Recognizing that the nervous system is in close connection with soul-life, he acknowledged that the soul in man differs only in degree from the soul in animals. He assumed beside the material soul in man, a divine non-corporeal soul directly implanted by God, which united with the material soul." [lxxii] 16

Willis ascribed the various faculties of the soul, such as mentality, vitality, memory, etc., to different parts of the brain.

Vieussens located the soul in the centrum ovale.

Swedenborg says: "The royal road of the sensations [89] of the body to the soul ... is through the corpora striata.... All determinations of the will also descend by that road.... It is the Mercury of Olympus; it announces to the soul what is happening to the body, and it bears the mandates of the soul to the body." [lxxiii] 17

The corpora striata are a pair of large ganglia of the brain immediately under the anterior and superior region of the brain.

Hollis concluded that "both sensation and movement have their power in the medulla of the brain. This therefore is the seat of the soul," and

Charles Bonnet said: "The different senses ... with which we are endowed ... have, somewhere, in the brain, secret communications by means of which they may act on one another. The part where the communications take place is that which must be regarded as the seat of the soul.... It is by this part that the soul acts on the body, and by the body on so many different beings. Now the soul acts only by the agency of the nerves." [lxxiv] 18

von Sommering localized the seat of the soul in the fluid of the cerebral ventricles, whilst

W. B. Carpenter, the physiologist, regarded the optic thalamus as the seat of the soul life. [lxxv] 19

However, from the time of Francis Joseph Gall, the great animist and physician and the founder of the Science of Phrenology, emphasis is no longer [90] laid on the probable location of the soul. The mind has emerged into the limelight; character, ethics and what has been called the Science of Ethology has come into being. The relation of psychical qualities to the brain has become the subject of consideration, and today we have included the glands in our speculation and so carried the idea forward. The modern mechanistic teachings of psychology have temporarily taken the place of the older vitalistic, animistic, and mystical ideas. The materialistic approach, however, has been of profound value. It has brought about two things among many others: It has preserved the balance, first of all, and produced a structure of knowledge, based on natural facts, which has off-set the errors and deductions of the visionary mystic and the superstitions of the religious theologians. Secondly, by means of the conclusions arrived at through the work of the modern psychologists, through the study of the mind, and of its power, and through the influence of such organisations as Christian Science and New Thought, a bridge has been constructed between the East and the West. It is now possible for the Oriental teaching as to the triplicity of soul, mind and brain, to be appreciated and understood. After eliminating certain undesirable features (and there are several) and in collaboration with Western science, light again may stream forth from the East and point the way for humanity into a new state of being, into a fuller realisation of power, and into a truer appreciation [91] of the nature of the human soul. Then perhaps we shall appreciate the truth of Browning's conception of this integrated human being:

"Three souls which make up one soul; first, to wit,
A soul of each and all the bodily parts,
Seated therein, which works, and is what Does,
And has the use of earth, and ends the man
Downward: but, tending upward for advice,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the next soul, which, seated in the brain,
Useth the first with its collected use,
And feeleth, thinketh, willeth—is what Knows:
Which, duly tending upward in its turn,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the last soul, that uses both the first,
Subsisting whether they assist or no,
And, constituting man's self, is what Is—
And leans upon the former, makes it play,
As that played off the first; and, tending up,
Holds, is upheld by, God, and ends the man
Upward in that dread point of intercourse,
Nor needs a place, for it returns to Him.
What Does, what Knows, what Is; three souls, one man."

 [lxxvi] 19