spiritThe English word spirit, from Latin spiritus “breath”, has many different meanings and connotations, most of them relating to a non-corporeal substance contrasted with the material body. It can also refer to a “subtle” as opposed to “gross” material substance, as in the famous last paragraph of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

The word spirit is often used metaphysically to refer to the consciousness or personality. The notions of a person’s spirit and soul often also overlap, as both contrast with body 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.

The term may also refer to any incorporeal or immaterial being, such as demons or deities. In the Bible, “the Spirit” (with a capital “S”), specifically denotes the Holy Spirit.

For how can we bring into the orbit of our thought those limitless complexities of life which we call “Spirit” or “Life” unless we clothe them in verbal concepts, themselves mere counters of the intellect? The mistrust of verbal concepts, inconvenient as it is, nevertheless seems to me to be very much in place in speaking of fundamentals. “Spirit” and “Life” are familiar enough words to us, very old acquaintances in fact, pawns that for thousands of years have been pushed back and forth on the thinker’s chessboard. The problem must have begun in the grey dawn of time, when someone made the bewildering discovery that the living breath which left the body of the dying man in the last death-rattle meant more than just air in motion. It can scarcely be an accident onomatopoeic words like ruach, ruch, roho (Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili ) mean ‘spirit’ no less clearly than the Greek πνεύμα and the Latin spiritus