The soul is a spiritual entity. It has no physical existence; one cannot observe or understand it through scientific or other material means. Its essence, its reality, are beyond the understanding and comprehension of man . . . – Taken from an article by Adib Taherzadeh on The Covenant and the Human Soul, date unknown
Such a statement as this could not have had any real scientific meaning until the science of quantum mechanics was discovered. Science since Isaac Newton* steadily evolved through the close and careful observation of the world around us, and as such, depended very much upon physical evidence to convince us of what is true and what is not true.
*In his personal life, however, Newton was by no means an atheist. In fact, he was a biblical scholar and had much interest in mystical subjects.
However, since quantum mechanics, with its paradoxical wave-particle duality, was introduced to the scientific community by Heisenberg, things have changed. Something quite perplexing, that cannot be directly observed and which is full of apparent contradictions has now become part of mainstream scientific reasoning. Quantum Theory gave birth to other associated models, such as String Theory – the most favoured model for a unified field theory. Other models, however, are still evolving, and a complete understanding of the universe and everything in it has still not been reached.
In fact, one of the greatest scientific minds in human history could not come to terms with the dilemmas posed by certain aspects of Quantum Theory, and towards the end of his life was constantly at odds with it, despite having initially aided its introduction. Albert Einstein was convinced that a unified field theory needed to be found to make it more complete and comprehensible:
My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend of the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of a presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
Quantum mechanics is very worthy of regard. But an inner voice tells me that this is not yet the right track. The theory yields much, but it hardly brings us closer to the Old One’s secrets. I, in any case, am convinced that He does not play dice. – Albert Einstein, The 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture, pp. 36-38
It is commonly understood in the Baha’i Faith that the soul is also something unobservable, and therefore defies scientific reasoning. Could we ever arrive at such a thing as a unified theory of the soul?
Different religions offer different explanations on this fundamental concept. I can offer the reader a condensed but fairly comprehensive overview of the Baha’i understanding of the soul.
As we dig deeper into Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha’s writings, we begin to uncover a whole range of hidden gems that point us in the right direction. For example, the soul, even though it is perceived as a non-material entity with reflective qualities (associated with the human body, but not attached to or part of it) is still seen as a spiritual life force, said to come into being at conception, which then gradually helps forge a person’s identity.
Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this Sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery or to appraise its virtue. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 165
It appears, then, that any attempt we make to understand something so immaterial and incomprehensible requires expert assistance outside the realm of our normal experience. Nevertheless, in the Baha’i writings some features of the soul have been revealed to us in some amount of detail:
- It is something with a beginning but also (paradoxically) without an end.
- It is associated with the human body at birth, but disassociates from it at death.
- It is “exalted above all egress and regress. It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still.” – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings of the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 161.
- It is a vessel for the acquisition of virtues, values and divine attributes; a vessel filled with “preordained” and “latent” forces as well as free will; a vessel steered by individual acts of volition.
- It is elevated through the bounty of God, energised and empowered by its acquisition of virtues and divine attributes.
- It returns to God through other worlds, which surround and encircle this world and are closer to us than we imagine.
- It progresses from one world to the next without limit, and is elevated in accordance with how pure, refined and sanctified it has become during the course of its earthy life. It is assigned a particular condition in the next world according to its progress in this world.
- It can only carry with it good qualities into the next world.
- It is like a child in the womb, surrounded by the next world and not separated completely from it. It is unaware of the nature of the next world until disassociation occurs, and only at the moment of death will it become aware of its true station.
- It can help the physical world to progress in manifold ways, through its own development.
- It is a harbinger or sign of things to come.
- It is a heavenly gem with many hidden properties.
- It is a mighty and unfathomable sign of the mystery of God.
What all of us must strive to do both night and day, therefore, is to gradually learn how to develop the kind of virtues, values and practices that will bring this urgently needed elevation about. Then and only then will we eventually begin to see the world progress spiritually, and ultimately be transformed!