As a physician, I have studied the human body intimately. Through cadaver dissections, autopsies, physical exams of tens of thousands of patients, I have seen the body through many lenses and in its manifold forms. X-rays, MRI’s, CT scans, nuclear scans, scopes of every orifice have given me astounding views of this incredible organism we call man. An engineering professor patient refers to the body as an unbelievably complex, self-regenerating machine. And yet, it is so much more than a machine.

In all this looking and seeing, though, I have never caught a glimpse of the soul. Well maybe once. I might have seen something special when a newborn I had just delivered opened his eyes and smiled at me as the first face he had ever seen.

In general, this lack of a visible, measurable thing called a soul would seem to offer proof enough that there is no such entity. Is the body then, as Carl Sagan said, merely a physical complex of interwoven star stuff?

Consciousness, the mind, the spirit, those ineffable qualities that make us truly human are not to be seen or measured. The soul may be likened to the ancient concept in Chinese medicine of Chi. This ceaseless river of invisible energy flows like electricity through our meridians and body. The soul, like Chi, is somewhere, everywhere and nowhere to be found.

So is the soul, or its concept important to the practice of medicine? It seems it depends upon who you ask. Clearly, patients wish to address issues connected to their spiritual being. Doctors are often not so sure they have the skills to address these issues.

Maybe we should look at the concept writ large. A number of thoughtful people over the year have pondered this issue. Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of the Oversoul. Teilhard de Chardin of the noosphere. Both are constructs on a mind-space that connect us at a level of oneness that is invisible but indivisible. Our individual souls, spirits are somehow joined. Are these connections we cannot see perhaps as or more important than the physical, visible dance of bodies in motion? Is there a parallel spiritual space that surrounds, abounds and astounds even though we cannot see it?
An example is the recent memorial gathering at Moody Gardens for Galveston icon, Vandy Anderson, a soul who brought comfort, information and assurance to our community. The energy in the room brought to mind the Oversoul that Emerson referred to.

Coincidences, premonitions, dreams, telepathy all point to a reality bigger than our normal waking consciousness. These raise the suspicion that we exceed who we normally conceive ourselves to be.

Physician author Dr. Larry Dossey has written extensively on this non-locality of consciousness citing numerous studies by respected scientists that refute a purely materialistic view of the universe and reality. You can find his thoughtfully detailed evidence in his books such as “One Mind, The Power of Premonition, Healing Beyond the Body, and Recovering the Soul.”

So if you doubt there is a spirit or a soul just because our senses and technology cannot identify it, pay closer attention. You might just be awed.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.