From October 2, 1910
“NO IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL” SAYS THOMAS A. EDISON: In Fact, He Doesn’t Believe There Is a Soul — Human Beings Only an Aggregate of Cells and the Brain Only a Wonderful Machine, Says Wizard of Electricity. (PDF)
On the occasion of a Harvard Professor’s death, Edward Marshall asked Thomas Edison about his views on life after death.
Searching the inner structure of all things for the fundamental, Edison told me he had come to the conclusion that there is no “supernatural,” or “supernormal,” as the psychic researchers put it — that all there is, that all there has been, all there ever will be, can or will, soon or late, be explained along material lines…
“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul,” he said to me.. “Heaven? Shall I, if I am good and earn reward, go to heaven when I die? No — no. I am not I — I am not an individual — I am an aggregate of cells, as for instance, New York City is an aggregate of individuals. Will New York City go to heaven?
“No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life — our desire to go on living — our dread of coming to an end as individuals. I do not dread it, though. Personally I cannot see any use of a future life.”
“But the soul!” I protested. “The soul–”
“Soul? Soul? What do you mean by soul? The brain?”
“Well, for the sake of argument, call it the brain, or what is in the brain. Is there not something immortal of or in the human brain — the human mind?”
“Absolutely no,” he said with emphasis. “There is no more reason to believe that any human brain will be immortal than there is to think that one of my phonographic cylinders will be immortal. My photographic cylinders are mere records of sounds which have been impressed upon them…
“Yet no one thinks of claiming immortality for the cylinders or the phonograph. Then why claim it for the brain mechanism or the power that drives it? Because we don’t know what this power is, shall we call it immortal?”
If you’re guessing that this article, which appeared on the front page of the Times Magazine, caused some controversy among the Times readers, you’re guessing correctly. In this weekend’s entries, I’ll publish letters from Times readers in response to this article.