« Freakonomics Radio

74. Soul Possession

2012-05-07 | 🔗
In a world where nearly everything is for sale, is it always okay to buy what isn’t yours?
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Mary Roach is a writer nonfiction writer who is a bit obsessed with death, but not so much the dying part of death as what comes afterwards. Her first book stiff is The secret life of cadavers in her follow up books spook she goes looking for evidence of the aftermath of particular interest is the thing we call the sole. How real is it? What happens to it when we die and where is it located when we're alive, No big thinkers have been thinking about the sole forever and Mary Roach says there have been some. Trusting ideas: oh yeah, no evil! Aristotle had this notion of
Numa like as in pneumatic wind- and it was this spirit this this this thing, brought life where life didn't exist and it started out in this and so when the sperm would sort of on arrival inside the woman's body get busy kind of building thing where there was nothing in the breeze lay intimate with this new mothers beer it. Now, if you dont, like the aristotelian view, The sole Roche has some more. You can think about. The ancient Egyptians thought that the heart was the center of the Spirit, the sole resided there. The Babylonians identified the liver and I think the stomach was a secondary seat of the soul. and the liver is a beautiful varies leak streamline, really boss,
organ. I can imagine looking at that and thinking that could be it no science and anatomy moved forward, of course, and we learned a great deal about these organs, but on matters of the soul, the answers have been so forthcoming fast forward now to the seventeenth century, very quickly, it became obvious when you mess around with the brain, You change people's personality, people spirit come things kind of shift, so there is a sense pretty early on it this is where we should look in the brain, and Descartes related cart did a fair amount of this work using livestock heads, Had this purely this room sorted with heads of of cows and livestock. Indifferent stage this assembly, and he would sometimes when dinner guests were over, he would open the door
this room and say these? Are my books view these carcasses and heads, and you have had to think that after our people didn't want to go over to rename house for dinner very much. I'm happy from w advice in eighty, an american public media. This is broken homage, radio upon cast that exploits the hidden side and everything. Here's your house statement that today we are talking about the human soul, what it is, what represents, and this being freak anomalies, we'd like to ask a different kind of question about the soul- is the sole to use a very utilitarian word trends.
herbal? Let me tell you about something strange: it happens not long ago an hour for economics blog. There was a post about scepticism and in the comments section of that post, a reader named Caleb be posed the question, something that had been puzzling him for years. My question was: why are people who profess not to have a soul, hesitant to sell it and it's kind of come about because through
my interactions with people. You know growing up. I will run into somebody who profess to be an atheist and naturally I find a conversation interesting. I would ask the question: well: if you dont have a soul, can I buy it from Caleb? Is thirty years old pleads in Oklahoma City? You might think from his question that he's not a Christian. That's what I thought at least, but it turns out that he is now. We took Caleb Blog comment and turned it into a blog posts. oh, do you have in front of you? The actual blog posts are now. I do not ok. So let me three the little bit of it. This is from Caleb on the fanatics bog. I've been trying to the better part of ten years to buy a soul. I have offered a dollar mount between ten and fish. dollars for someone to sign a sheet of paper that says that I, on their sole, despite multiple debates with confessed atheists
no one has signed that contract will any for economics reader. Take me up on this. I'm willing to spend fifty dollars on souls, ok so did the offers comparing enter now were the first respond to me was Bruce and he was very excited and adamant, and he said I'd be instances my soul, if you're willing- and so we struck up a conversation. and agreed to aid contract and whatever I realise that there was a guy other do produce real money, I mean, like my first thoughts, are while there's a guy who pay fifty. I wonder if there's somebody will pay. Fifty one Even look briefly, and I
Ebay has a policy against selling intangible items. You can't you can go auctions, Olaf, on whose Hamilton he's the guy, who saw the soul to Caleb for fifty dollars. Bruce, is in its fifty teaser tech entrepreneur in Seattle, unlike Caleb key is an atheist. He does not believe the sole exists so for Bruce getting paid. Fifty dollars for something that doesn't exist was not. A hard decision did try to understand Gibbs reason before he agreed to sell us, so I was very interested in his motivations, because I wanted to make sure that he was happy doing it. That I wasn't doing it with somebody, I shouldn't be making such a deal, but he was soon perfectly competent guy and he knew what he was doing and we the stranger Logan. I talk about theology or belief, but not so much. I think there was some
hang out about trust, you know he's about to send me fifty bucks in didn't know who I was, and I guess I was about to get a check that my bounds, but in general I was I was happy to do it. If I could convince myself that he was- and I did convince myself that he was in for me. strict Steve. Let it go away, I would have done it for a dollar. I was trading, something that had no value for something that had some valuing. Fifty bucks doesn't mean I much one I assume that a guy who offers to buy a soul in this situation, somebody's posting on a blog asking questions of a sceptic One might assume that that kind of person would be a sceptic or non believer an atheist himself and that the point was to show that see. It means nothing, but were you surprise to find out that that's not who he was that he asked.
Is it me now believer who thinks that the soul is real and has value our shocked? I assumed he would be an atheist. It's just struck me as a very irreverent thing to do general and if he really does believe that soldiers is an integral part of a person and that he just took mine Wallis that wasn't a very nice thing to do. I saw a lot of incongruity there and was quite surprised, that was Killops point really all those people he talked to. Who said they were atheist? wouldn't sell, em their souls which proved to him that they thought the sole did have value but then finally, along. came Bruce. Let me ask you this way. The last time you read Faust
I don't know much about files. I only know enough to know about what it is. I I couldn't say that I know a lot about so I'm guessing. You do know that in exchange for his soul, for selling his soul to the devil, viewed Mephistophelean, it felt received unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures in you. Bruce Hamilton got fifty bucks. You think you got short changed. Well, as you say that fifty was more than anybody else was offering. So he fish open the value of zero, and I got fifty. I think I'm scorn Caleb mailed Bruce a cheque for fifty dollars and a contract to sign. Turning over possession of his soul. Uttering soul, possession, but what's Caleb posted do so. Can I
take possession of that soul. I'm not going to put in a Mason jar and I can own it in any kind of particular The value to me was just seeing the contracts signed by somebody, you do believe in God. Yes, yes, and what would you make of a god who lets you a believer by the soul of a fellow human being I don't know- I don't know my wife asked the question will do you now have responsibility for Bruce's soul. Bruce goes out and enters a bunch of horrible and and spectable acts? Are you going to be held responsible in the afterlife and my responses? Really I don't know, I don't know
coming up. If you can buy a soul, what else can you buy if you ve wrong somewhere near a fear on the out with someone whether in a strange lover or business partner in UK, quite bring yourself to apologize? Personally, you can apparently higher and the company to do it for you, the motto of the companies, We say sorry for you for a fee, yeah.
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in Seattle sold his soul to a guy named Caleb in Oklahoma for fifty bucks. It makes you wonder about the line between what can be bought and sold in what can't were shouldn't now. This line is a fluid line. It shifts from person to person and it especially shifts overtime markets evolve for all kinds of reasons. From the but it goes to the moral. Michael Sandel is a political philosopher at Harvard. You may know him from a course. He teaches called justice, which was so popular that got turned into a public television show. Sandals latest book is called what money can't by the moral limits of markets. I ran across an example of a company in Tianjin, China
Albert Tianjin Apology Company, if you, if you ve wrong somewhere, fear on the outside with someone a few, Turn estranged lover or a business partner in UK quite bring yourself to apologize personally, you can apparently higher the company to do it. For you, then the motto of the company is we say sorry for you. forever No, how welcome that possibly work. Let's say you ve deeply wronged me, Professor Santa. Let's say that you ve, you know, kicked my puppy on the street. I get it collar and email a telegram from this very lovely apology company, saying Professor Michael Santa wishes to express his regret, kicking right, happy, that suppose I work out. How is that supposed to work? Well, if an interesting question whether it works, I suppose a defender of this could say: look heavy ever set a hallmark card,
point so this is a scenario and run past you, professor, send out. We talk to a fellow who, whose name is Caleb hoo hoo, wanted to buy some one soul. He offered fifty dollars and he finally found a seller, so they made the transaction paperwork was exchanged. Cash was exchanged, Caleb bought, Bruce's soul. I am very curious to know what you, Professor Sandel, think of this kind of transaction. Well it it's strikes me. The first thing that it strikes me about it is that it's it's over very old idea. It's not it's not new! Think of the indulgences of the mediaeval period the issue is, after all, the sale of indulgences which is pretty close, is there are different speed, green selling, your soul and buying salvation? If you can
I a person saw it would seem that pretty closely akin to buying salvation, which was you remember, that was the practice that was carried out in me catholic church at that time that Martin Luther rose up against indulgences against the buying and selling of Salvation Do you know when we look back on that period in history now and Martin Luther nailing to the door of the church? We we think. Oh, thank goodness. This is the kind of transit that we no longer are surrounded by. here's a guy hundreds of years later, who on a scale of one at least, is trying to reenacted it's different. This is a little bit different. There was not the sale of an indulgence to save the soul in the same way. Here this was one person transferring his to another person. I'm curious: do you have personally, morally ethically through the lens through which you see the world, have a problem with this transaction.
but there are two possible problems and only one of them is moral. I suspect that most people would regard this commercial exchange either as absurd or is abhorrent, but not both people will view it as absurd if they think there is no such thing as the sole or if they think that the soul is the kind of thing that can't conceivably be bought and sold in the first place. If you believe that about the sole then you'll regard this as absurd, but not as important, it will be based on a mistake,
If, however, you believe that there is such a thing as the sole and if you believe that bartering in the cell buying and selling it it's a kind of violation of a proper regard for the sole, then you will regard this not as absurd but as important as trench. Aggressive is, as maybe even as a kind of in which brings out part of the general argument that I would make about markets in order to decide where markets belong and where they don't. We have to sort out the hard underline questions about the nature of the goods that money would buy. In this case, you have to work out. Your theology you'll have to decide what is the status of the soul and is there any transgression intact?
to buy or sell it? That's why I say it: it's either absurd or abhorrent. Depending on your underlying view about the status of the soul, you see what I mean. I do and that's a very valuable distinction. It makes me curious what about you personally If I offered to buy your soul for fifty dollars, what would you say? Well first, I would say why do you want it? What are you gonna do with it? I wouldn't let I would. opted to hear what you had in mind. Let's say that I am told that lets say that I feel that you are not exercising it properly, that that you are not king seriously enough for my based on my moral code, the responsibility of this, the spiritual entity known as a soul,
and I therefore am willing to pay dollars in order to better curate that sole, because I do believe in the sanctity of a soul, and rather than see you not tend yours properly. I am willing to to pay the price to take over that responsibility. That say that, where my answer well, the more seriously I took your answer, but the more genuine I took it to be and the more plausible I thought it might be a way of thinking about my soul, my destiny, the more offended I would be the less seriously. I took it the more I thought, listening to you, that you were either a crank or a prank stir
the less offended I would be, which is to say it would be less a matter of of offence taking offence and pouring this. Then rigour it is absurd young animator of indifference, but you know it's connected this question. How we would regard such an offer is not unrelated to the debate that we have heard about in connection with the Romney campaign. Some say that the governor Romney should renounce a practice of thee, Mormon Church of retrospective conversions, Ellie Weasel you may have,
noticed came out urging Romney to renounce the practice of the Mormon Church of retrospectively, converting some Jews, including Anne Frank. Now the church itself apparently said the person who did that retrospective posthumous conversion of Anne Frank was did so and enough unauthorized way. But the question is: if there is a church that that carries out posthumous conversions, converts, let's say Anne Frank for the sake of her soul.
here's how its analogous to your case. If you want to buy my soul the better to look after it, here's a church- and there is no money trading hands. Is this offensive or if you don't believe it suffocation? If you, if you don't believe this anything in it, can you really take offence or is it simply something? That's absurd saw how people react to this retrospective posthumous conversion. Controversy, I think, would pretty closely track your question about whether the soul is the kind of thing that can or should be, bought and sold. It depends on your underlined view of the status of the soul or of conversion in that case, or innovation in the case of indulgences and Martin Luther now, who am I
to challenge the model you just laid out, because I think it's right on in a lot of ways, but if you divide it into abhorrent and absurd I'm not sure that it can't be both because I'll tell you my position. personal position on the Mormon posthumous baptisms, which have been going for years and years and have included you know not just the notable names that you that you mentioned, but be many many many hundreds of thousands Probably millions but a lot of holocaust victims, holocaust survivors, not just Jews, but I know when I was doing genealogy research into my jewish family from three or four generations ago. I came across this issue of the Mormon Church having posthumously baptized relatives who had died in the Holocaust and and I felt Opponents of yours yes happier and I found it. I have to say both important and absurd
So, even though I posed the question about this one we saw the soul for fifty bucks and it does I'm kind of like a joke or a crank as you put it, but then when we get into something words, systematic, where there's church in this case that baptized is non members, posthumously, baptisers them and admits them into its church. I have to say I quickly go beyond the moral and I go to the legal and I think, if One fellow named Caleb in Oklahoma City is willing and able to buy the soul of another fella named Bruce in Seattle. For fifty dollars should let's say the Mormon Church be required to pay. Let's say we ve just set a precedent rate of fifty dollars. Fifty dollars per soul per posthumous. Baptism
Is there an argument to be made here for reparation pay based on the inherent value of a soul? Well, there is a risk in that you, you called it reparation pay, Stephen, that, yes, I suppose The the people doing the retrospect baptisms considered that it was so important that they were willing to raise the fund, sorry to pay fifty dollars per conversion. What they would be doing would be converting the reparation for the penalty for the sanction into a cost of carrying out what to them is a very important religious right and that connect to to the distinction I make between a fine which is like a rapper age,
in a fee which is the cost of doing business without any moral opprobrium or stigma attached to it. A market economy is a tool. It's a valuable tool. It's an instrument for achieving economic wealth affluence
prosperity, it's a tool that we use in that we put to our purposes, but as markets in market thinking come to inform all aspects of life as everything becomes available for sale, we become a market society which is a way of thinking and being an unreflective way of thinking and being that just assumes that all the good things in life can in principle be up for sale and that I think, diminishes a great many moral and civic goods that markets and market relations don't honour and that money can't or shouldn't by
I wondered what Caleb the guy, who bought Bruce's soul for fifty dollars, would think about the moral limits of the mark? It struck me that once you start selling souls, it's a slippery slope. Let me ask you this just between you and me now. If I offer you sixty bucks for Bruce's soul, would you resell it to be? I probably would really yeah certainly tell me again exactly what you do for a living. I am a and analysed more mank, so you're familiar with markets, how they work when they, when they work and when they don't work when they fail some time. generally do you? Have you considered publishing some kind of a soul market. It be a if I had the technical
It might be something indeed that I can do is, and what about Bruce the seller? on the central matter here. The existence of a soul Bruce and Caleb disagree Caleb, believes in the soul and thinks it's worth something Bruce. Doesn't the soul and therefore was happy to sell at any price, but as to how the market should work even for souls. Well. On this point, the two men are in complete agreement. I asked Bruce if he cared that Caleb would resell, his soul, Noah its he's completely free to do whatever he wants. If, if he finds a way to make a thousand dollars with it, I mean be disappointed that I I wasn't smart enough to figure out how to make a thousand dollars with it before he did, but
he's clever enough to do that. I'm offering that's fine with me and what? If someone else comes to you that doesn't know you sold your soul to this guy named Caleb in Oklahoma and offers to buy? your soul. What do you do next time? well. You know the solar such nebulous certain in general? Is these spiritual things, or so amorphous that you can just make up anything, you want about them and just decree them to be true. So I might just stay say that my soul is Canada starfish, like you know you chop off, but it goes back so near it is. Look I haven't again is for sale. against any of your audience. You know anybody else wants to come along and give me fifty bucks I'm here to take it all day long, and maybe this is a nice way to make a living. If I just do it. Twenty times a day
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-16.