by Daniel Friedmann
The Torah says we have a divine soul: “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”Has science detected it or measured it?
Science is actually still grappling with the definition of consciousness, never mind whether or not we have a soul. However, science in the last 30 or so years has identified what seem to be the definitive behaviors that make us human, what are termed “modern human behaviors.”These are the ways we behave that are uniquely different from the behaviors of anything else alive today, especially apes, or that existed in the past as understood from the fossil record of extinct species that resembled us.
They include: 1. Complex language—not simple formulations, such as, “I want a banana,” which monkeys can say via sign language, but communication like this article, conveying a prolonged discussion about an abstract topic relating to the past and present. 2. Abstract thinking/symbolic behavior—our ability to think in the abstract, for example, by imagining a sphere and identifying it with the Earth or an apple or a geometrical figure on a piece of paper. 3. Our ability to plan—to understand the past and the present and make a plan about the future.
These and other unique abilities give us activities such as singing, art, painting, mathematics, and so on and make us uniquely modern humans. Science does not have a fully developed and accepted explanation for how these behaviors came about.
In the Torah, our body is made in a similar fashion to the bodies of animals.Our body can be likened to the hardware of a computer, with our soul as its software. Animals come with animal-soul software, focused primarily on survival. We also have that component, but in addition, we have the divine soul (like an extra-super app). Of course, we ordinary people can’t see the soul, as it’s spiritual. But our soul provides us with certain abilities, manifested in behaviors that can be measured—as science has and does.
In Genesis, God blows the soul into Adam. What does Adam’s soul have to do with us? After Adam sins, his soul shatters into billions of sparks.A spark is incarnated in every human who has lived or will live. So by understanding what came with Adam’s soul, we understand our soul. What does the Torah say comes with our soul? 1. Speech. Right after the soul is blown into Adam, he is called a “speaking being.” 2. Creative thinking and free will. When the Torah speaks of man being made in the image and likeness of God,it is referring to our soul possessing God’s creative process, understanding, and free will.From Kabbalah we know a lot about God’s creative process, and it certainly encompasses what science calls abstract thinking and symbolic behavior. 3. The ability to envision the future. The Midrashtells us that with our soul comes our ability to use the past and present to envision or plan for the future.
The Torah says we have a divine soul that science cannot measure, but it defines very clearly what behaviors come with that soul. These are essentially the same qualities that science pinpoints as unique to humans, with an important caveat: science is still grappling with whether or not free will exists. This aside, we can be said to have “detected” the soul. Notably, all the Torah sources for this information predate anything in modern science.
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Genesis 2:7 and 2:19.
Arizal, Shaar HaGilgulim (Gate of Reincarnations), Chapter 6, section 3.
Onkelos on Genesis 2:7. He translates the verse as: “And the Lord God created man, dirt from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils a living soul, and it was for a speaking spirit in man.”
Rashi, Ramban, and other commentaries on Genesis 1:26 and 2:7.
Genesis Rabbah 8:11, referring to man being made from attributes of lower and higher beings: “The four attributes of the higher beings are: he stands upright, he speaks, he understands, and he sees [i.e., envisions the future].”
Daniel Friedmann is Chairman of Carbon Engineering, a company dedicated to removing CO2from the air to aid in solving climate change. Until 2016 he was, for 20 years, the CEO of a global communications and information company. A professional engineer with a master’s degree in engineering physics, he is also a long-time student of religion. Daniel has 37 years’ experience in the space industry and has published more than 20 peer-reviewed papers on industry topics, along with three science and religion books. His work on reconciling the biblical account and scientific observation has been reported in magazines, newspapers, television, conferences and radio.