Spirit vs Soul

You are not a drop in the ocean,
You are the entire ocean in a drop.

Rumi

In folk belief, spirit is the vital principle or animating force within all living things. As far back as 1628 and 1633 respectively, both William Harvey and René Descartes speculated that somewhere within the body, in a special locality, there was a ‘vital spirit’ or ‘vital force’, which animated the whole bodily frame, just as the engine in a factory moves the machinery in it. Spirit has frequently been conceived of as a supernatural being, or non-physical entity; for example, a demon, ghost, fairy, or angel. In ancient Islamic terminology however, a spirit (rūḥ), applies only to pure spirits, but not to other invisible creatures, such as jinn, demons and angels.

Historically, spirit has been used to refer to a “subtle” as opposed to “gross” material substance, as put forth in the notable last paragraph of Sir Isaac Newton‘s Principia Mathematica. In English Bibles, “the Spirit” (with a capital “S”), specifically denotes the Holy Spirit.

The concepts of spirit and soul often overlap, and both are believed to survive bodily death in some religions, and “spirit” can also have the sense of ghost, i.e. a manifestation of the spirit of a deceased person. Spirit is also often used to refer to the consciousness or personality.

The word spirit came into Middle English via Old French esperit. Its source is Latin spīritus, whose original meaning was “breath, breathing” and hence “spirit, soul, courage, vigor”; its ultimate origin is a Proto-Indo-European root *(s)peis.

In Latin, spīritus was distinct from Latin anima, whose etymological meaning was also “breathing” (PIE root *h₂enh₁-), yet which had taken a slightly different meaning, namely “soul”.

Classical Greek also had a similar distinction between “soul” and “spirit”, in each case involving again an etymological sense “breathing”:

A distinction between soul and spirit also developed in the Abrahamic religions: Arabic nafs (نفس) opposite rūḥ (روح); Hebrew neshama (נְשָׁמָה‎ nəšâmâh) or nephesh (נֶ֫פֶשׁ‎ nép̄eš) (in Hebrew neshama comes from the root NŠM or “breath”) opposite ruach (רוּחַ‎ rúaħ). (Note, however, that in Semitic just as in Indo-European, this dichotomy has not always been as neat historically as it has come to be taken over a long period of development: Both נֶ֫פֶשׁ‎ (root נפשׁ‎) and רוּחַ‎ (root רוח‎), as well as cognate words in various Semitic languages, including Arabic, also preserve meanings involving miscellaneous air phenomena: “breath”, “wind”, and even “odour”.)

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