Imagining the Soul Hardcover – 6 Nov 2003
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About the Author
Rosalie Osmond has a PhD from Cambridge and teaches a variety of courses for adults at the University of London's department of continuing education. Her previous books include Mutual Accusations:Seventeenth-Century Body and Soul Dialogues and Changing Perspectives: Christian Culture and Morals in England Today.
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The ancient Egyptians pictured a soul as a bird with a human head, combining the person with the capacity of flight. The ancient Greeks kept the visual image of the winged soul, but had the first ideas of souls that would separate from bodies at death and survive independently thereafter. Plato thought that thoughts were the best things that humans produced, and he insisted that souls were in charge of this function. Christian teachers borrowed many of the Greek ideas and modified them. Significantly, the church fathers imagined souls as having some sort of mystic bodies of their own; the Greeks could stand abstractions, but the early church stood by at least half-corporeal souls, like that of the Hell-tormented Dives who begs Lazarus for water. The spiritualists adopted the idea of literally weighing souls (in addition to producing ectoplasm), but there is a long tradition, even in Greek art, of souls being weighed as part of the judgement they must endure. However, a French thinker named La Mettrie wrote in _The Human Machine_ in 1748 that humans were merely complicated machines, different only in degree from timepieces or lizards. As the idea is expressed currently, mind is entirely a product of brain. Certainly, if you mess with a brain by trauma or drugs, you do change its mental product.
The manifestations of the soul and its images though history are extraordinarily rich, and Osmond is a witty guide who is obviously delighted by what her research has turned up. She frequently uses exclamation points to show just how funny or ironic she finds many of the ideas and pictures here. There is organization to the work, with a chapter on souls as depicted in the theater and another on souls at the very time of death. There is concentration on how each society has handled the folklore of souls in comparison to what can truly be known about them, especially in current scientific views. Osmond has obviously wide erudition, and has presented it entertainingly in a well-illustrated volume.