This symbol is the pentacle, the five points are five elements, four physical and one spiritual. It also represents the body: four limbs, and head, of a human. When encircled, it is a pentagram. These symbols are associated, popularly, solely with satanism or witchcraft. The practice of witchcraft is not satanism, nor vice versa, and the pentacle and pentagram are not used exclusively by these groups at any rate. These symbols are purported to represent a higher reality in the western tradition. Just as surely as there are more than four physical elements (and that fire, water, earth, and air are not among them), so, surely, there is no fifth immaterial element, namely spirit.
Spirit (or soul) is an ancient, perhaps stone-age, idea. Conceptions of spirits are based on this old idea, apparently because it's such an old idea. It appears to this writer as an uncritical belief. The Really Good News is: literal belief in spirits and souls is absurd, and you don't have to believe it or feel guilty that you don't believe it.
What is a spirit? Is it consciousness, is it conscience, is it bodyless mind, is it information riding on an energy wave (without a modulator, with a modulator, are spirits a technic?)? These are senseless.
What does a spirit do? Does it animate things, does it benignly exist in things but does not actually motivate them, does it exist in "another dimension" in a spiritual war of which material existence is a shadow, does it recycle, does it make a fetus grow? These concepts are baseless, and sound quite silly.
Why believe in spirits? NDE/OBE experiences are sometimes viewed as confirming evidence. These can be explained though. NDE/OBE experiences are like visits from the "Old Hag", or sexual predation from UFOnauts, they appear to be explainable as dreams. Citing Holy Literature firstly, unacceptably validates spirits by resort to spiritual literature; it would be acceptable to validate spiritual literature by providing evidences for spirits. And secondly,begs the questions, why do you believe this literature and not another literature? and why esteem one literature over another as revelatory and not the product of imagination? If you take the literature and the traditions of all spirituality to be evidence, can you justify to yourself, the leap of faith needed to make contradictory spiritual systems be one in purpose and content? Consciousness, self-conscious behavior, ultimately will be explained through neuro-science.
The evidences for spirits are non-existent, unless viewed through the eye of faith. That is to say, you must believe there's a spirit animating your body to believe there are such things.
Some books about natural causes for supernatural spirit-mediated events:
Neurophilosophy by Patricia Smith Churchland. Discusses scientific reductionism (forming a new theory that does the work of multiple theories) in general and as applied to the "mind/body problem"; neuroscience; and emerging models of mind/brain identity. A tough read, but worth the effort.
Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick. The astonising hypothesis is: the brain does all the work that spirits were once thought to do.
Candle in the Dark and Broca's Brain by Carl Sagan. Candle in the Dark is a careful rebuttal to pop-culture's embrace of faith promoting rumor as proof of various spiritual disciplines.
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Last modified 8/1/00