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May 2012 eGazette – Human Soul: The Final Frontier?

- The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam - What is it like to be a bat? - Aztec beliefs in the afterlife: Stephen Hawking and me - Human Soul and Science - Spirit (Ruh) and Soul (Nafs) - Defining the Soul: Perceptions in major world religions - Psychic Phenomena - Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness

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Al Islam eGazette

The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam

By the Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani

The year was 1896; a person by the name of Swami Sadhu Shugan Chandra had spent three or four years of his life attempting to reform the Kaaisth Hindu caste. In 1892 he came to the conclusion that unless people were gathered together under one roof, his efforts would be in vain. He therefore proposed to convene a religious conference, with the first one taking place in 1892 in Ajmer. In 1896, considering Lahore to be a suitable venue, he began preparations for the second such religious conference. The Conference of Great Religions was held at Lahore on December 26-29, 1896. Representatives of various religions accepted Swami Sahib’s invitation, and the Conference of Great Religions was held during the Christmas holidays of 1896. Each of the speakers was required to address five questions published in advance by the committee. The five questions were:

1. The physical, moral and spiritual states of man

2. What is the state of man after death?

3. The object of man’s life and the means of its attainment

4. The operation of the practical ordinances of the Law in this life
and the next

5. Sources of Divine knowledge.

After receiving prophetic revelation from God, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Messiah of this age and the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam on the 21st of December, publicly
declared that his essay would be the most overpowering one. A translation of his declaration is presented below:

A Grand Piece of News for Seekers after Truth

“In his announcement Swami Shugan Chandra has invited the leading divines of Muslims, Christians and Aryas, in the name of God, to set forth the excellences of their respective faiths in the conference proposed by him. We wish to inform Swami Sahib that to do honour to the name of God, as mentioned by him, we are ready to comply with his request and, if God so wills, our paper will be read in the proposed conference. Islam is a faith which directs a true Muslim to demonstrate perfect obedience when he is called upon to do something in the name of God. We shall now see how much regard his brothers the Aryas and Christian divines have for the honour of Parmeshwar or for Jesus and whether they are ready to participate in the conference which is to be held in the name of the Glorious Holy One.

In the conference of Great Religions which will be held in Lahore Town Hall on the 26th, 27th and 28th of December 1896, a paper written by this humble one, dealing with the excellences and miracles of the Holy Quran, will be read out. This paper is not the result of ordinary human effort but is a sign among the signs of God, written with His special support. It sets forth the beauties and truths of the Holy Quran and establishes like the noon-day sun that the Holy Quran is in truth God’s own Word and is a book revealed by the Lord of all creation. Everyone who listens to this paper from the beginning to the end, to my treatment of all the five themes prescribed for the conference, will, I am sure, develop a new faith and will perceive a new light shining within him and will acquire a comprehensive commentary on the Holy Word of God. This paper of mine is free from human weakness, empty boasts and vain assertions.

I have been moved by sympathy for my fellow human beings to make this announcement, so that they should witness the beauty of the Holy Quran and should realise how mistaken are our opponents in that they love darkness and hate light. God, the All-Knowing, has revealed to me that my paper will be declared supreme over all other papers. It is full of the light of truth, wisdom and understanding which will put to shame all other parties, provided they attend the conference and listen to it from beginning to end. They will not be able to match these qualities from their scriptures, whether they are Christians or Aryas or those of Sanatan Dharm or any others, because God Almighty has determined that the glory of His Holy Book shall be manifested on that day. I saw in a vision that out of the unseen a hand was laid on my mansion and by the touch of that hand a shining light emerged from the mansion and spread in all directions. It also illumined my hands. Thereupon someone who was standing by me proclaimed in a loud voice:

Allahu Akbar, Kharibat Khaibar (God is Great, Khaibar has fallen).

The interpretation is that by my mansion is meant my heart on which the heavenly light of the verities of the Holy Quran is descending, and by Khaibar are meant all the perverted religions which are afflicted with paganism and falsehood, in which man has been raised to occupy the place of God, or in which divine attributes have been cast down from their perfect station. It was thus disclosed to me that the wide publication of this paper would expose the untruth of false religions and the truth of the Quran will spread progressively around the earth till it arrives at its climax. From this vision my mind moved towards the reception of revelation and I received the revelation:

God is with you, and God stands where you stand.

This is a metaphor conveying the assurances of Divine support. I need write no more. I urge everyone to attend the conference in Lahore even at some inconvenience and listen to these verities. If they do so their
reason and their faith will derive such benefit as is beyond their expectation. Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.

Ghulam Ahmad
Qadian, 21 December 1896.”

To read the book click here

Human Soul: The Final Frontier?

By Zia H Shah MD

And they ask thee concerning the soul. Say, ‘The soul is by the command of my Lord; and of the knowledge thereof you have been given but a little.’ (Al Quran 17:86)

For the purposes of this article for reasons detailed later the terms human soul, consciousness and mind will be used interchangeably. We will start off with confessions of the leading experts in the field as to how little we know about consciousness. Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS (born 1931) is an English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College. He has received a number of prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe. He is renowned for his work in mathematical physics, in particular his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He writes:

A scientific world-view which does not profoundly come to terms with the problem of conscious minds can have no serious pretensions of completeness. Consciousness is part of our universe, so any physical theory which makes no proper place for it falls fundamentally short of providing a genuine description of the world. I would maintain that there is yet no physical, biological, or computational theory that comes very close to explaining our consciousness and consequent intelligence.[1]

Thomas Nagel (born 1937 in Belgrade, in present-day Serbia) is an American philosopher, currently University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics. He is well known for his critique of reductionist accounts of the mind in his essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974), and for his contributions to deontological and liberal moral and political theory in The Possibility of Altruism (1970) and subsequent writings. He argues that two radically different perspectives on the world exist side by side. One is essentially subjective, tied to a particular point of view. The other is an objective perspective, essential to science: the ‘view ‘from nowhere.’ Because consciousness is essentially subjective, it is one entity objective science will never be able to explain.[2] Although objectivity is a major conceptual achievement, Nagel thinks it is not the whole story. There is more to reality than objective reality. Could an objective science of subjectivity be possible? Even if the answer to this question is yes Nagel thinks it is not possible for centuries to come:

The strange truth seems to be that certain complex, biologically generated physical systems, of which each of us is an example, have rich non-physical properties. An integrated theory of reality must account for this, and I believe that if and when it arrives, probably not for centuries, it will alter our conceptions of the universe as radically as anything has to date.[3]

Daniel N. Robinson (born 1937) is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Georgetown University and a Fellow of the Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University. Robinson has authored more than seventeen books and edited over thirty volumes in a wide variety of subjects, including moral philosophy, the philosophy of psychology, legal philosophy, the philosophy of the mind, intellectual history, legal history, and the history of psychology. He has held academic positions at Amherst College, Georgetown, Princeton and Columbia University. In addition, he served as the principal consultant to PBS and the BBC for their award-winning series “The Brain” and “The Mind.” According to him Rene Descartes’ Dualism, meaning that physical and mental are two separate realms, is given an unduly bad press, the contribution of philosophers of the past to mind-theory is not properly appreciated by their descendants of today. He has spelled out his criticism of Physicalism or Materialism, which deny Dualism, in an effort to unify the physical and the mental, in his book, Consciousness and Mental Life. Sam Coleman, University of Hertfordshire writes in the review of this book:

Robinson’s central thesis is briefly as follows: There is far less to be gained from modern philosophy of mind and its interplay with the mind-sciences than is widely thought, especially when one properly examines the work on these issues carried out by great historical philosophers. Robinson’s list includes Plato and Aristotle, up to Reid and James, but it is above all Descartes, he opines, who either foresaw current ‘advances’ in mind-theory, or else presented considerations powerful enough that, properly understood (as presently they are not), prove fatal to most every current analysis of mind. For Robinson, physicalism’s falsity is quite clear, and Descartes — read aright — has already had more or less the final word on the mind/body problem.[4]

In other words Thomas Nagel and Daniel Robinson believe that Rene Descartes will continue to be right as far as the eyes can see! I do not intend to make a case akin to God of the gaps, banking on lack of scientific knowledge at a given time. I will make a positive case for limitations of human knowledge based on quantum physics and Godel’s incomplete theorem. It is one thing to be a dog another to be a bat, each has its own limitations and therefore it is not inconceivable that human knowledge and concepts may have limitations. After all we are only better evolved mammals.

Christianity has been under constant attack by science for the last few centuries and has been constantly retreating. First came the astronomers and the physicists and exposed the inaccuracies of the Bible and played havoc with the influence of the clergy. Next came the biologist being led by Sir Charles Darwin and showed that our sins cannot be inherited and that Adam and Eve were not the first human couple, so the whole of institution of Original Sin and vicarious atonement is hocus pocus. One can choose to continue to believe in whatever one chooses, but, the rational foundation for Christianity as seen by earlier Christians like Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, has completely disappeared in thin air.

To read more click here

What is it like to be a bat?

By Prof. Thomas Nagel

Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong. The recent wave of reductionist euphoria has produced several analyses of mental phenomena and mental concepts designed to explain the possibility of some variety of materialism, psychophysical identification, or reduction.

But the problems dealt with are those common to this type of reduction and other types, and what makes the mind-body problem unique, and unlike the water-H2O problem or the Turing machine-IBM machine problem or the lightning-electrical discharge problem or the gene-DNA problem or the oak tree-hydrocarbon problem, is ignored.

Every reductionist has his favorite analogy from modern science. It is most unlikely that any of these unrelated examples of successful reduction will shed light on the relation of mind to brain. But philosophers share the general human weakness for explanations of what is incomprehensible in terms suited for what is familiar and well understood, though entirely different. This has led to the acceptance of implausible accounts of the mental largely because they would permit familiar kinds of reduction. I shall try to explain why the usual examples do not help us to understand the relation between mind and body—why, indeed, we have at present no conception of what an explanation of the physical nature of a mental phenomenon would be. Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless. The most important and characteristic feature of conscious mental phenomena is very poorly understood. Most reductionist theories do not even try to explain it. And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it. Perhaps a new theoretical form can be devised for the purpose, but such a solution, if it exists, lies in the distant intellectual future.

To read more click here

Aztec beliefs in the afterlife: Stephen Hawking and me

By Zia H Shah MD

Source: Muslim Sunrise – Spring 2012

Stephen Hawking in a recent interview claimed that there is no heaven. A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story” for people afraid of death, Stephen Hawking has said. In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection of religion, Britain’s most eminent scientist said there was nothing beyond the moment when the brain flickers for the final time.[i]

I beg to differ! I believe that there is a life after death. Neither Hawking nor I have returned from the hereafter and have no eye-witness testimony to present. Additionally, afterlife, heaven and hell are beyond time, space and matter and so, outside the scope of a scientific study. However, I have some philosophical arguments to present to Hawking or any other agnostic. Firstly, there are the revelations of the prophets and saintly people, both in the Islamic and Christian tradition and it is foolhardy to deny them summarily, as there is so much in human culture that we accept on the basis of human testimony. This is, however, not the argument that I want to focus on in this article. Secondly, there is a large body of literature about near death experiences, but that is also for another day.

So, I move to present two arguments that are mentioned in the Qur’an, but can be presented on the basis of reason and rationality, rather than on the authority of revelation. If our universe is an accident and that is your world view and you do not stand in awe of the beauty, elegance and organization of this universe then Hawking is right for you. But, if you are agnostic, at least to some degree and are amazed at the beauty and organization of our universe as Albert Einstein was, then Hawking is plain wrong for you. Here I present to you the verses of the Qur’an arguing the case for hereafter, on the authority of the elegance of the first creation:

“Allah is He Who raised up the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He settled Himself on the Throne. And He pressed the sun and the moon into service: each pursues its course until an appointed term. He regulates it all. He clearly explains the Signs, that you may have a firm belief in the meeting with your Lord” (13:3).

To read further click here


May 2012

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The Review of Religions


Muslim Sunrise

Excerpts from the writings of the Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani

Essence of Islam is a 5 volume collection of excerpts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi; Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The excerpts are organized under different subjects.

The second volume has a chapter on ‘the soul,’ to read it click here

Human Soul and Science

By Dr. Amtul Qudoos Farhat

The nature and makeup of human soul has long been the source of questioning and curiosity. Scientific quest is equally fascinating. What is the nature of soul or consciousness? Are we the human beings merely bodies and brains or is there something we call the soul or the conscious or spirit? Such and many more questions haunt scientific curiosity.

To read more click here

Spirit (Ruh) and Soul (Nafs)

By Imam Mubasher Ahmad

In general speech, a person’s Spirit (Ruh) and Soul (Nafs) are usually interchangeable. At times
the Qur’an also uses these two terms indicating the same thing; that is, the life force within the human body. However, in several instances in the Quran, these terms have different meanings.
Therein Spirit denotes the spiritual faculty of man to receive God’s word, and Soul indicates the Self, a living person, or the entire inner nature of man – his heart, mind and conscience. The Quran also claims that God has Spirit, and He breathes His Spirit in human beings. This means that God gives life to humans, and also that a spiritual faculty is granted to them enabling them to receive the Divine communion by God’s will.

To read further click here

Defining the Soul: Perceptions in major world religions

By Aisha Husain Ahmad

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the soul as “the spiritual element of a person,
regarded as immortal.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the spiritual principle
embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe.” And the Cambridge
International dictionary defines the soul as “the spiritual part of a person which some people believe continues to exist in some form after the body has died.” In all three definitions, the
use of the word “spiritual” is the common thread. All three draw a correlation between “soul” and “spirit”, and in fact, the line between these two is so faint that they are often used interchangeably. But what exactly is the soul? Where did the concept come from? In a society
obsessed with materialism, there is much to be said for the enduring presence of this ethereal entity. Almost every religion contains some sort of ideology in reference to the soul. By exploring these ideologies, One may begin to gain some insight into this widely acknowledged yet rarely understood concept.
The concept of the soul arose from the human need to feel some sort of connection to the divine. In studying the ancient polytheistic philosophies, such as Greek and the Egyptian, it becomes clear that the afterlife played an extremely vital part in these people’s earthly lives. The view that
one should be judged by one’s earthly deeds is not a new one. The ancients viewed the body as a vessel for an intrinsic energy that lived on even after death. Whatever deeds a person did in his lifetime, whether good or evil, these deeds had an impact on what happened to the person after death. As the ancient philosophies died out and the monotheistic religions began to emerge, the
relationship between humans and the divine, and thus the concept of the soul, became more pronounced.

The Jewish Soul:

Judaism is the oldest of the three major monotheistic religions prevalent today. It defines the soul as a reflection of God in human beings. Therefore, a spiritual realm exists beyond the individual that sustains and energizes the soul. Jewish belief states that the body is from the earth, but that the soul is from God. The Torah itself, however, does not make any distinction between these
two and does not even acknowledge them as different parts in a human being. A human being is viewed as a unified being, described in Hebrew as nefesh. This word encompasses two ideas. It
refers to human life in general and to human character in particular. In describing human life, there are a few more terms that are utilized. The word ruah means “spirit” and neshamah
means “breath.” In the Torah there are no differentiations made among all these terms. They all roughly define the soul. In the Book of Job, it states, “In whose hand is the life [nefesh] of every
living thing, and the breath [ruah] of all mankind” (Job 12:10). The underlying and fundamental principle idea in Judaism in regards to the soul is that the soul comes from God.

To read more click here

Psychic Phenomena

By the Late Bashir Ahmad Orchard

There are two realms of phenomena in operation which embrace dreams, visions, sounds
from nowhere, and so on. They are the realms of:

1. Psychic Phenomena

2. Spiritual Phenomena

This personal treatise is devoted only to a brief study of psychic phenomena; and the principal
design of the writer is to lay bare certain physical laws which should not be confused with spiritual laws. Visions, startling dreams, voices from space and other phenomenal manifestations are everyday experiences which can all be explained scientifically. Each experience should be examined with reserve and not hastily accepted and proclaimed as a sign from heaven. Two men may hear a voice in the still of the night. One may be listening to a revelation from on High; the other may be listening to a telepathic communication.
Phenomenal experience must be studied in the light of caution otherwise irresponsible and uninitiated people in spiritual matters will not hesitate to regard them as Divine manifestations.

To read more click here

Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness

By Joseph Levine: Professor of Philosophy at The Ohio State University.


Conscious experience presents a deep puzzle. On the one hand, a fairly robust materialism must be true in order to explain how it is that conscious events causally interact with non-conscious, physical events. On the other hand, we cannot explain how physical phenomena give rise to conscious experience.

In this wide-ranging study, Joseph Levine explores both sides of the mind-body dilemma, presenting the first book-length treatment of his highly influential ideas on the “explanatory gap,” the fact that we can’t explain the nature of phenomenal experience in terms of its physical realization. He presents a careful argument that there is such a gap, and, after providing intriguing analyses of virtually all existing theories of consciousness, shows that recent attempts to close it fall short of the mark. Levine concludes that in the foreseeable future consciousness will remain a mystery.


“…a very rich work. It contains, as preliminaries, a nice contribution to the irritatingly nontrivial problem of characterizing materialism, a useful discussion of mental causation, and a critique of David Chalmers’ well-known conceivability argument for mind-body dualism.”

“Purple Haze is a thought provoking, well-written and honest book. …I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the problem of consciousness.” Metapsychology Online Review

“The American philosopher Joseph Levine explores the ‘explanatory gap’ between physical sciences and consciousness: conscious phenomena cannot be explained in terms of material phenomena. Levine surveys a number of modern theories of consciousness and finds them inconclusive. In Levine’s opinion, that gap will not be filled any time soon.” Piero Scaruffi, Thymos.com

Review by Tim Crane of the Book and two others:

What exactly is the problem of consciousness supposed to be? Every few months new books appear promising solutions or dissolutions to the problem, or deeper explanations of it and why it is insoluble. Here we have three more. Everyone wants to take part in what a recent book called ‘The Race for Consciousness’. The grand title suggests the Space Race: like the competition to get a man on the moon, scientists all over the world are working furiously around the clock to find the elusive essence of consciousness. Some even say that the explanation of consciousness is the ‘greatest challenge left for science’ – after a cure for cancer, perhaps.

On reflection, there is something wrong with these analogies. For unlike the explanation of consciousness, scientists involved in the ‘Space Race’ had a pretty good idea of what it was they were trying to achieve. Similarly with cancer research. But in the ‘race’ to explain consciousness, there is no such consensus. Few philosophers or neuroscientists appear to agree about what would count as a solution, what the assumptions behind the problem are, and what methods should be employed in solving it. In this context, Joseph Levine’s new book represents a clear advance in the debate: a lucid statement of what it is that might worry materialists about
consciousness. The problem, according to Levine, consists in what he calls ‘the explanatory gap’: although we have good reason to believe that conscious phenomena are physical, we have no idea how to explain how this comes about. To use an analogy of Thomas Nagel’s: those who say that consciousness is physical are in the position of an Ancient Greek who says that matter is energy. They are saying something true, but they cannot understand how it can be true. There is a gap in our understanding, between what we know about the physical world and what we know
about consciousness, even though we are supposed to know enough to know that consciousness is physical.

The source of this explanatory gap, according to Levine, lies in an essential feature of explanation itself. Explanation is at heart deductive: to explain a phenomenon is to show how we can logically deduce facts about it from other underlying facts and the laws of nature. For example: the superficial facts about water (transparency, liquidity etc.) can be explained by the underlying molecular facts and the laws of nature, in such a way that someone who knew these underlying facts and laws would be able to deduce that the superficial facts are the way they are: given full knowledge of the underlying facts and laws, it is impossible and therefore genuinely
inconceivable that the superficial facts could be other than they are. But with consciousness, it seems conceivable that someone could know all the underlying facts and laws about a creature’s brain, and yet not be able to deduce logically whether, or in what way, the creature was conscious. This is because it seems logically possible that a creature (called a ‘zombie’ in the philosophical literature) could be physically identical to me but not have my consciousness. So even if consciousness is, as a matter of fact, physical, we cannot explain why it is, since we cannot deduce the truths about consciousness from the underlying physical facts. This is the explanatory gap.

To read more click here


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