Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soul, en själ

I am currently taking a class to improve my Swedish. Recently in class, we discussed the word själ, "soul" in English. Our instructor first introduced the word by referring to it as something all people have. I don't think the instructor is particularly religious, but it doesn't seem that one needs to be in order to believe in a soul. The concept of a soul has become so ingrained in mainstream culture that many, religious or not, take it for granted as true. Of course, there are many definitions of soul and many interpretations and ideas about the soul pre-date modern religion, but there is no good evidence for what most people mean when they refer to a soul. My instructor referred to it as something other than the body, and yet the only evidence supported interpretation of a soul is brain function. Last time I checked, my brain was a body part. The only concept of a soul that I can get behind is what is at best superfluous.

We were asked to use själ in a sentence. My sentence was: Jag tror inte på en själ för att det finns inga vetenskapliga bevis för den och när man pratar om en själ, beskriver man funktioner av hjärnan. This translates to: I don't believe in a soul because there is no scientific evidence for one and when one speaks of a soul, one describes the functions of the brain. That's as good as I could do on the spot and in Swedish. I never got to read the sentence in class so I don't know how it would have been received, but I just couldn't let that opportunity pass.

To be clear, I have no issue with one using "soul" as a metaphor for person, as in: I looked into the classroom but I was so early that there wasn't another soul to be seen. I don't think that is what my instructor meant, though that usage is acceptable in Swedish.

Woo Norden

This blog may take a slightly new focus soon. Since moving to Sweden, I have heard (in personal conversation) and seen (around the internets) the assumption that living here in the cold north must be like living in an atheist's paradise. Sweden has its own version of the religious right and its fair share of over-zealous fanatics, to be sure. My experience has been, however, that that's not a totally off-base assumption. The problem is when people also assume that because many Swedes have thrown off the reigns of religion, that means that they are perfect skeptics. I've noticed that different types of woo are still pretty pervasive here and I am interested in shedding some light on it. More to come.