Are spirits needed for spirituality? An exploration of concept of “souls”

What we need to believe for souls to exist?

Vichar Mohio
6 min readJan 27, 2023

This is a companion piece to a new philosophical framework called Sacred Nihilism, which attempts the improbable — imbuing a nihilistic worldview with meaning.

The goal is also to do so without having to rely on hard-to-prove, catch-all concepts such as God; preferring instead to use observations that are hard to refute.

However, “meaning” is different things for different people and in speaking about this philosophy with others, a recurring objection that often comes up is centered around the concept of soul.

This isn’t surprising as the “soul” seems to be a basic feature of most religious traditions — integral for the creation of meaning. While Sacred Nihilism does have room for the concept of souls, it is not a necessary ingredient.

In face of the continued objections, this article is an attempt to understand what it would take to turn me into a believer of the concept of souls. Thereby understanding what my own objections to the concept are.

For this purpose, I will assume Sacred Nihilism to be valid and explore statements would have to be true for me to concede that souls do exist.

Recap: Sacred Nihilism

Sacred Nihilism is the articulation of three observed truths:

  • Observation 1: The existence of boundaries (an almost intangible & poorly understood quality that allows us to distinguish where a thing ends and another begins) is the building block of reality
  • Observation 2: All of reality is interactions between objects with distinct boundaries. Interactions could be described as flow of energy between different boundaries.
  • Observation 3: The universe (when viewed over a long stretch of time) seems built to increase both the number of different boundaries that interact with each other (“width”) and the complexity/quality of the interactions between different boundaries (“depth”)

It builds upon these observed truths to develop a rudimentary framework that helps further understand what guides boundaries & their interactions.

To that end, the theory proposes three governing domains for boundaries

The theory further goes on to state that these domains are built on top of one another — after all, life uses physical processes to sustain itself and so is dependent on physical domain as well.

In effect, each boundary could follow the guiding principles of all three domains — but in different proportions.

We could then derive a rough graph that shows different boundaries that exist (x-axis) along with a rough understanding of what proportion of the three domains is most dominant (a stacked graph chart). See below

Force-fitting a soul?

After explaining this framework to many people, a common objection emerges often — people are often uncomfortable by the absence of “souls” in the framework.

And they are right, there seems to be no need for an immortal spark that is contained within you & is chasing a goal (heaven, nirvana etc.).

In fact, as humans who are heavily influenced by the biology domain, the governing law for our boundary is often survival & thrival (i.e., death avoidance). In this context, the concept of soul is likely a coping mechanism to help us overcome fear of death.

However, acknowledging that no theory is perfect is important as well. To that end, I started thinking about specific statements which, if proven to be true, would make me more open to souls existing.

Statement 1: Boundaries can be completely independent of the physical or biological domains

If souls exist, they too will have some sort of boundaries. Otherwise, it would become impossible to distinguish a soul from its surroundings (including other souls).

Souls are generally assumed to lie outside the “material world” and are therefore free of any limitations of the physical or biological influences.

Can such boundaries, i.e., boundaries that are not directly or indirectly influenced by the material world even exist?

The closest I can come to imagining this concept would be with abstractions from the human world (e.g., communism, Christianity, the harry potter universe, AI training models etc.). These abstractions could be said to be non-material while still having clearly defined boundaries.

However, in all such cases there is an indirect link to the biological domain (these abstractions are birthed by living creatures themselves) and therefore to the physical domain (living creatures tend to be dependent on the physical world).

Furthermore these abstractions depend on the material and biological world for their survival. Not the other way around — as often theorized in discussion about souls with people.

Outside of this, it is difficult to imagine boundaries as being completely independent of physical & biological domains.

One possible way this could exist is if ‘dark matter’ or ‘dark energy’ is proven to be another aspect of a physical reality that has not been understood well.

While this is certainly possible, I suspect that it is more likely that the ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter’ conundrums will get solved through better maths /understanding of the physical universe we’re already acquainted with (maybe another law or a refinement of existing theories that makes everythign make sense without needing dark matter / dark energy).

Statement 2: Supposing the above is true, we would need to distinguish between two non-material boundaries — but how does one do so?

Souls (even if existing in a non-material plane) will have to be different to other souls around them. Otherwise, the concept of separate souls doesn’t make sense.

But what are the specific attributes that could make a soul distinct from another soul?

Thinking of ways to distinguish two objects without relying on physical world (composition, shape, color etc.) or biological world (feelings, ideas or thoughts) becomes an impossible task.

If you have some way to think of how to distinguish between two boundaries without relying on outcomes generated by the physical or biological world, please do comment below.

Statement 3: Assuming non-material boundaries exist & can be differentiated, is there any rationale for the universe having 1 million souls vs 10 billion souls vs infinite souls

Simply put, why not have an infinite number of souls instead of any upper limit. It would tie in well with the larger goal of broadening the width and depth of interactions between boundaries.

And if there are truly an abundance of souls, then what purpose are they serving? What are souls able to accomplish for the universe that would not be possible in a universe without souls?

It is said that universe abhors vacuum. But in this case there doesn’t seem to be a vacuum to fill anyways.

Other than, of course, giving humans the hope of immortality and furthering our tendency to engage in death avoidance.

Conclusion or Why it doesn’t even matter in the end

The concept of immortal souls is an important part of many cultures — even tribal cultures that don’t ascribe to major religions.

And I can certainly see the appeal — why wouldn’t one want to believe in something that helps one live forever. As discussed, the main driving force for humans is surviving & thriving — and souls are a great tool to help reduce existential dread.

Unfortunately, convenience and truth are not always co-related.

And while one can acknowledge the helpful nature of the concept of an immortal soul, the problem I struggle with is that there doesn’t seem to be a larger purpose for souls to exist other than feelings of security offered to humans obsessed with death avoidance.

Having said that, it would be too egotistical to claim that there is zero chance that souls exist when the concept is so widely spread. In which case, what I find interesting is that IF souls are proven to be real, then the following statement must be true as well:

1. Boundaries can exist outside of the material plane of existence

2. There are ways to differentiate between boundaries in ways that lie outside the ability of humans to conceptualize

3. There is a reason for the number of souls to be capped at a certain upper limit

Much like the existence of God, these statements would be impossible to prove as they often lie outside a human ability to conceptualize. This is certainly convenient for the believers, but who am I to chastise them for this convenience?

After all, all religions (along with a belief in souls) is yet another way in which interactions between boundaries (human to human, humans to surrounding) are maximized — thereby achieving more depth!



Vichar Mohio

Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology