Ideas about the soul have been powerful throughout the history of religion and philosophy. Until the 19th-century, most people took the existence of souls for granted. With the rise of modern psychology, this belief lost its plausibility, and today it is largely absent from academic philosophical and even theological writing.
Many now deny the existence of a soul, considering human emotions and motives simply a function of neurons firing. Disney Pixars new film Soul seems to go against the grain of this development.
It presents its viewers with two realms of being. The first is the realm of human activity, where life occurs. The second realm is of the soul where life has yet to begin, the great before, and where it ends, the great beyond. In their conception of the soul, the producers hark back to some of the most influential ideas of western intellectual history but in an unmistakably 21st-century way.
The film follows Joe Gardner, an aspiring jazz pianist who is stuck in the rut of his daily life as a part-time middle school music teacher. At the beginning of the film, Joe suffers an accident which leaves him hovering between life and death. The viewer observes Joes soul separate from its body as it journeys to the great beyond.
This starting point accurately mirrors the historical origins of western ideas about the soul. The Greek word for soul psyche was originally restricted in its use to the context of dying. Homer describes death as the souls departure from its body. At the beginning of its history in the west, the soul was evident primarily in its absence from a dead body.
With the rise of Greek philosophy in the 6th century BC, the soul was also seen as the force animating the living body. Meanwhile, the idea of death as the separation of body and soul remained generally accepted.
This created tension. If souls were supposed to enliven a particular body, they had to interact closely with the body and arguably form a unity with it. But then how could the soul survive the bodys decay or even exist separately?
A further difficulty arose from the widely shared belief in reincarnation. Could human souls be born again into the bodies of animals or even plants? And if so, how could they then constitute the operational centre, so to speak, of their current host?
Plato and Aristotle parted ways over these questions. For Plato, the souls connection with the body was only accidental. The hero of Platos dialogues, Socrates, explained to his friends, hours before his execution, that the philosopher yearns for his death because it marks the liberation of the soul into its true existence.
Platos student Aristotle, by contrast, denied that there even was a proper afterlife for the soul. Insofar as the soul was simply the life of the body, he urged, the two formed an indissoluble unity, which death brought to an end.
Things took a further turn with the rise of Christianity. Overall, Christians were more sympathetic to the Platonist view than to its alternatives, because they believed in a life after death. But they rejected the idea of an accidental connection between soul and body. The classical Christian view of the soul as found in Thomas Aquinas fused Platonic with Aristotelian ideas: the soul is immortal but tied in eternity to the identity of a body-soul compound. As such, it will be brought back to life at the end of time.
Against this rough sketch of the western history of the soul, Pixars position comes closest to the Platonic view. Souls depart from the dying person and travel to the great beyond. Souls also pre-exist their earthly incarnation, and some of them at least dont seem overly keen to embark on this journey into life. Souls are immaterial - another tenet of Platonic philosophy - although in the movie they are understandably not invisible. Finally, reincarnation seems possible, even across species as Joe finds out when, for a while, he enters the body of a cat.
Yet the parallels only go so far.
Joe Gardner is unwilling to accept his departure from earthly life, and much of the movie deals with his attempts to return to his previous existence. For Plato, this would indicate that Joe was a bad person unable to detach himself from material pleasures. In the film, however, it is this desire that makes Joe remarkable.
His companion, a not-yet-born soul introduced only as number 22, learns more from Joe, due to his unbending will to return to Earth, than she did from the souls of Gandhi, Einstein and Jung, who had previously tutored her in preparation for her birth. In the world of 21st-century New York, into which the two enter through an extraordinary series of events, number 22 suddenly develops a lust for life after experiencing the simple pleasures of living from eating pizza to watching the leaves fall from a tree.
None of this would have made much sense to Plato. Rather, the film relies on distinctly modern ideas about the affirmation of the present life as worth living on its own terms. The ultimate purpose of the soul is to be the spark that imparts the simple gift of life.
Joes conclusion from his experience as a disembodied soul is to savour every remaining moment of the earthly life he regains at the end of the film. And even number 22 comes to embrace the value of an embodied existence, despite its risks and limitations.
These are ideas well known from romantic and existentialist philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) sneered at the notion of personal immortality as the ridiculous wish to perpetuate ones own miserable existence. Instead, he posited the idea of immortality in this moment. The lesson Joe learns, and wants us to learn, from his unusual experience is rather similar, and points to the thoroughly modern cast into which traditional ideas about the soul have been moulded by the makers of this film.
- The Immortal Trailer and Poster Revealed by HBO Max - VitalThrills.com - July 16th, 2021
- Psychonauts 2 Will Have An Immortality Option - Attack of the Fanboy - July 16th, 2021
- Nike Recalls The First Time Giannis Antetokounmpo Had A Smoothie With Latest Release - Sneaker News - July 16th, 2021
- 'He would do anything for this game': How Bud Black quietly reached baseball immortality - The Athletic - July 16th, 2021
- Novak Djokovic wins 20th grand slam title at Wimbledon on the road to tennis immortality - The New Daily - July 16th, 2021
- Book Notes: In search of Proust, finding Ruskin, poets, poems and art - theday.com - July 16th, 2021
- Hanford Gourmet: The Eight Immortals live up to the name - Hanford Sentinel - July 16th, 2021
- 'Success breeds success.' Ohio is on a post-pandemic winning streak - Buckeye Institute - July 16th, 2021
- England seal emphatic Ukraine win at Euro 2020 and stand two games away from immortality - The Mirror - July 5th, 2021
- Netflix's The Old Guard Sequel Is Confirmed to Start Filming 2022 - The Mary Sue - July 5th, 2021
- The old Guard 2: Synopsis, Cast, Release Date, and Everything - LeeDaily.com - The Lee Daily Register - July 5th, 2021
- NHL to Engrave Fan Tweets at Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto - iPhone in Canada - June 28th, 2021
- [Interview] Sam Barlow Talks Movie Mystery Game 'Immortality', 'Inland Empire' Inspiration, and the Spiritual Successor to His 'Silent Hill' Game -... - June 24th, 2021
- Nike Giannis Immortality Revealed In Aqua And Crimson As The Greek Freaks Title Run Continues - Sneaker News - June 24th, 2021
- Jurgen Klopp in tears, a new Liverpool anthem and the night immortality beckoned - Liverpool Echo - June 24th, 2021
- 'Fast' franchise soars to new heights in 'F9: The Fast Saga' while also looking to the past - The Spokesman-Review - June 24th, 2021
- THE OLD GUARD: TALES THROUGH TIME #3: Unexpected Family and Moon Landings - Comic Watch - June 24th, 2021
- Lobsters, jellyfish, and the foolish quest for immortality - Big Think - June 20th, 2021
- Can We Really Become Immortals? Voice of Biotecnika - BioTecNika - June 20th, 2021
- Ageing process is unstoppable, finds unprecedented study - The Guardian - June 20th, 2021
- SHARUKO ON SATURDAY : In that moment, Yogis legacy, was sealed - The Herald - June 20th, 2021
- 'IMMORTALITY' from Sam Barlow (Her Story, Telling Lies) Is an FMV Adventure Set to Release in 2022 on PC and More - Touch Arcade - June 15th, 2021
- Her Story and Telling Lies creator reveals new game Immortality - Pocket Gamer - June 15th, 2021
- Hazard, Vertonghen and a stunning Belgium generation running out of time - Football365 - June 15th, 2021
- Whispers of Immortality by T. S. Eliot | Poetry Foundation - June 6th, 2021
- Wordsworths Poetry: Ode: Intimations of Immortality ... - June 6th, 2021
- Why didnt the Eternals help fight Thanos? - The Daily Dot - May 24th, 2021
- Henry Cavill in talks to star in Highlander reboot - WION - May 22nd, 2021
- $100 Disneyland sandwich ranks as one of the worlds most expensive - East Bay Times - May 22nd, 2021
- Josh Taylor eyeing boxing immortality in undisputed Las Vegas clash with Jose Ramirez - Mirror Online - May 20th, 2021
- Josh Taylor expects nastiness towards Jose Ramirez ahead of chance at immortality - The Independent - May 20th, 2021
- Kobe Bryant enters the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Heres how he achieved basketball immortality. | Mike Sielski - The Philadelphia Inquirer - May 20th, 2021
- INTERVIEW: Ram V and Filipe Andrade on Deaths rude awakening in THE MANY DEATHS OF LAILA STARR - Comics Beat - May 20th, 2021
- Legendary Comics announces YA imprint - MP3s and NPCs - May 20th, 2021
- William Urban: The perils of publishing - Monmouth Daily Review Atlas - May 20th, 2021
- The anomaly of Jon Bois's '17776' - The Michigan Daily - May 20th, 2021
- Guide to the classics: Shakespeares sonnets an honest account of love and a surprising portal to the man himself - The Conversation AU - May 20th, 2021
- The Nike Giannis Immortality Set To Release In An Essential Black And Volt - Sneaker News - May 9th, 2021
- Michael Schenker on creativity, immortality, and why hell never make peace with Rudolf - Louder - May 9th, 2021
- For Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, there is immortality in art - Yahoo News - May 9th, 2021
- Shadow and Bone Recap: Now Kiss - Vulture - April 29th, 2021
- Misinformation will prevail | Opinion | dailyitem.com - Sunbury Daily Item - April 29th, 2021
- TFT Set 5 Reckoning Shadow items: Updated stats and best-in-slot - Dot Esports - April 29th, 2021
- Dying for immortality, this artist wants you to dispose of her body - Sydney Morning Herald - April 23rd, 2021
- Opening the Gate to Immortality: 25 years of Satyricon's Nemesis Divina - Invisible Oranges - April 23rd, 2021
- How (not) to be a god The Bowdoin Orient - The Bowdoin Orient - April 23rd, 2021
- The X-Men Are Losing Their Soul, and Nightcrawler Wants to Find It - Gizmodo - April 23rd, 2021
- Artificial Hearts: Could They Be the Key to Immortality? - Interesting Engineering - April 21st, 2021
- New study sheds light on the interplay between belief in an afterlife and secular-symbolic avenues to immortality - PsyPost - April 21st, 2021
- Messages of Faith: Resurrection is the answer for immortality - Daily Record-News - April 17th, 2021
- Exploring immortality and the value of life - Bangkok Post - Bangkok Post - April 17th, 2021
- Overwatch players are furious at the worst Experimental patch yet - Dexerto - April 17th, 2021
- 'Tina': The Ultimate Thesis of Why She Deserves Rock Hall Immortality - wmgk.com - March 31st, 2021
- Three top contenders in the fray for Indian Derby - The Hindu - March 31st, 2021
- Immortal Jellyfish, Radiated Tortoise, and More: 11 Ancient Animals Older Than Every Human on Earth - Nature World News - March 31st, 2021
- Keanu Reeves' BRZRKR Can Show Why He'd Be The Perfect MCU Wolverine - Screen Rant - March 31st, 2021
- Daily Recco, March 17: The People in the Trees, battling immortality and immorality - DailyO - March 21st, 2021
- Hulk Crushes the Avengers in Jaw-Dropping New Alex Ross Cover Art - Screen Rant - March 21st, 2021
- Unheard-of//Ensemble probes inner space in Messiaen's Quartet and new works - South Florida Classical Review - March 21st, 2021
- Katrick: The color green and its many meanings - The Newark Advocate - March 21st, 2021
- 10 Comic Book Superpowers That Are Highly Overrated | CBR - CBR - March 21st, 2021
- Millennials on Exhibit at the Russian Museum - The Moscow Times - March 21st, 2021
- Star Wars: How the Great Sith War Changed the Galaxy | CBR - CBR - Comic Book Resources - March 21st, 2021
- Wonder Woman: 10 Facts About The Amazons You Need To Know | CBR - CBR - Comic Book Resources - February 22nd, 2021
- How to achieve immortality and have a food named after you - The Takeout - February 21st, 2021
- How rejecting Inter and Lyon set Andre-Pierre Gignac on his way to Tigres immortality - Squawka - February 10th, 2021
- Marvel Confirms Thanos Can't Be Killed, But Not For The Reason You Think - Screen Rant - February 10th, 2021
- Why Bayern Munich's opponents, Tigres, are taking the Club World Cup seriously, even if Europe is not - DW (English) - February 10th, 2021
- 'The Bitter Comes With The Sweet': Without Death, There Is No Life - WBUR - February 10th, 2021
- Life after death: Woman 'engulfed by light and God' in afterlife vision - Daily Express - February 10th, 2021
- Charles Woodson's Words Prove Just How Special The Hall Of Fame Is - Wolverine Maven - February 10th, 2021
- Cicely, Cloris, and two paths to Hollywood immortality - The Boston Globe - February 2nd, 2021
- Regular Exercise and Lifting Weights Might Be the Key to Immortality - The Great Courses Daily News - February 2nd, 2021
- Roblox CEO Dave Baszucki believes users will create the metaverse - VentureBeat - January 29th, 2021
- Does Matthew Die in 'A Discovery of Witches'? The Vampire's Fate Revealed! - Distractify - January 29th, 2021
- Cyberpunk 2077's Development Was Shorter Than Anyone Realized - CBR - Comic Book Resources - January 19th, 2021
- How Star Wars Could Bring Back A Weapon More Powerful Than The Darksaber - Screen Rant - January 19th, 2021
- How to Fix Some of the Bachelors Thorny Logistical Issues - The Ringer - January 19th, 2021
- JUANITA FLOYD: What testimony will you leave behind? - Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - January 17th, 2021
- The Kansas City Chiefs can secure place among NFLs all-time greatest teams - Arrowhead Addict - January 17th, 2021