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Soulmates: A Cinematic Quandary

Couple in old car kissingIf the age-old theory of soulmates is but a theory, why are so many inclined to believe in it—is it really just a myth? Or is there some merit to this theory?

Believe it or not, the theory of soulmates has left an indelible mark on cultures around the world. Evidence of the belief can be seen in religious and traditional practices such as Judaism, Hinduism, the ancient Chinese principles of Yin and Yang, and has even made its way into the broad ranks of American cinema.

The idea of romantic love has been around for ages, probably since the dawn of time. And while it is a relative term, it is generally accepted as a notion of significant, intimate connections. Love, is a process—over time—when emotional bonds are formed between people who connect with one another on deeper levels such as kinship, commonalities, or aesthetic attractions. But how do you explain a bond that is formed instantaneously? Some call it love at first sight, others refer to this phenomenon as a possible soulmate or twin flame connection.

The theory of soulmates was first made popular in Plato’s Symposium dated c. 385-370 BC. According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces, which would eventually be split into two separate parts or entities, condemned by the Greek God, Zeus, to spend their lives in search of their other halves. It has been said to have entertained many, but perhaps there is some merit to this myth.

If you live on the planet earth, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “You complete me,” in some way, shape or form. Now a cliché, it was first made popular by the 1996 drama, Jerry Maguire, when a man uses sign language to confess his love to his significant other—it became the ultimate motto for this “soulmates” type of love. The word as defined by some, is the masculine and feminine equivalent energies. And by way of etymology, the Greek root word [andros] meaning masculine or of man and [gyne] meaning feminine or of woman, combine to make the word androgyny, which is the characteristics of both sexes expressed in one individual. (Androgynous figures occurred frequently in Greek mythology, often depicting an attractive blend of male and female characteristics.)

It may sound ridiculous, but perhaps 'metaphoric' is a better way of describing it. According to quantum physics, the universe is made of energy. In fact, everything is energy moving at a certain frequency that attracts other energy moving at the same frequency. Like energy attracts like energy, which clearly defines the laws of attraction. We as humans, are made up of atoms, which at the deepest level, is nothing more than waves of energy, so we too, are energy. Chaos Theory teaches us that energy seeks to complete itself. Could this be the underlying cause of why opposites (in every sense of the word) tend to attract? Much like in Plato’s Symposium, many people today feel they need another person to complete not just their lives, but themselves. Studies show that people all over the world search unconsciously, for a partner who possesses qualities and traits which they lack.

One such study conducted by Maristpoll in 2011 found that 73% of Americans reported they believe two people are meant to be together, compared to only 27% of who don’t. Surprisingly 74% of the men surveyed as compared to 71% of women believed there is an ideal partner for them. Who knew? In American culture, the ideation of romantic love between soulmates is a highly romanticized one and has become a recurring theme in American cinema.

Hollywood, the universal icon of entertainment, has made a major impact on cinema since the early twentieth century, and continues to evolve its global influence. Over the years, Hollywood has imbued international audiences with important historical documentaries, fine drama, hilarious comedy, and visually stunning action on the big screen. And when it comes to romance, American film makers certainly know how to reel in an audience. With some of the top grossing films surrounding love and romance, as it turns out, the soulmate theory is a winning formula that resonates with many cultures around the world.

Serendipity, the 2001 romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, is a classic example of the soulmate theory. Two people meet, fall in love and ironically become separated by a twist of fate, (such as the ill-fated punishment imposed by the Greek god, Zeus in Plato’s Symposium). Still convinced that they belong together, years later the two embark on a seemingly inevitable mission to find each other only to experience a series of trials and tribulations in the process.

Today, most all religious paths in the Indian subculture are classified as a single tradition known as Hinduism, encompassing roughly 79% of India’s population (the oldest evidence of religious practices in India date back approximately to 5500 BCE). In Hindi culture, there is a certain belief that everyone has a karmic connection with certain souls. An example of this belief could be found in the Academy Award winning, 2004 romantic science fiction comedy-drama, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Best Original Screenplay stars Kate Winslet as one half of a troubled couple in love, who, after a disheartening breakup, undergoes a procedure to erase the memories of her better half, played by Jim Carrey, who later undergoes the same procedure. It works, and they forget about each—until they meet and fall in love again.

According to Jewish tradition, the Oral Torah was passed down orally in an unbroken chain, from generation to generation, until its contents were committed to writing in 70CE. The word “Bashert,” is a Yiddish word which means destiny, can be found in its contents. The word is often used in context of one’s divinely foreordained spouse, or soulmate who is called “basherte” (female) or “basherter” (male). There is also a Jewish notion called hevruta, which means learning partner, or one who pushes and challenges another. This belief can possibly be identified in the 1989 romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally. Two college graduates and complete opposites, played by Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, find themselves in an ongoing argument about whether or not men and women can ever truly be strictly platonic friends, on a long drive from Chicago to New York. Ten years later, they meet again and form a deeper relation as friends and embark on a journey to stay friends without sex becoming an issue between them.

In ancient Chinese philosophy and culture, the principle of Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept dating back to the third century, BCE. It is the idea that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. This principle forms a basis of equilibrium within nature, the cosmos, and even human nature itself. An example of this philosophy is metaphorically evident in the 2004 romantic drama, The Notebook, based on the original 1996 novel, written by Nicholas Sparks. It is a story within a story, as an elderly man reads a nursing home patient a love story from his notebook about a young couple, played by Rachael McAdams and Ryan Gosling, who fall in love, blinded to the opposition of their life circumstances— she’s rich and he’s unacceptably poor. The two separate and are kept apart over the years, unknowingly, by the young woman's mother. But as fate would have it, they find each other again and all is revealed.

It is said that Yin and Yang affects the male in his organs, his activities and relationship to the environment. In psychology, intuition is defined as a person’s capacity to obtain or have direct knowledge and immediate insight without observation or reason. We often call this phenomenon a “gut feeling,” but scientists and medical professionals refer to it as the “second brain.” The gut or ENS, the enteric nervous system, actually works independently of the brain. In fact, the ENS sends signals to the Brain that directly affect our feelings. In a recent article, Francis Cholle, founder of The Human Company, makes a clear distinction between this “gut feeling” or haunch, which he describes as a sensation that appears quickly in consciousness, one that is noticeable enough to act upon if one chooses without being fully aware of the underlying reasons for its occurrence. “As a culture, we have learned to believe that rationality is what should prevail when making decisions about anything from crucial business mergers to what to eat for lunch. But what of that "inner voice,” that gut feeling, that little something instinctual from within that tells us how we feel beneath those layers of logic?”

Bringing it back full circle, Plato, the author of Symposium, the work that first brought the soulmate theory to light, is also the author of these words: “We have within us, true thoughts which only need to be awakened into knowledge by putting questions.” While there is no solid, scientific evidence of so-called soulmates, there is plenty of intellectual proof in the pudding. Soulmates may have started as myth, as many theories do, but does that mean its origin has no merit or basis in reality? Certainly not. The root of many modern-day mysteries still lies within folklores, symbolism and tall tales of the past, some of which we may never fully understand, but one thing we must all agree upon is that our ancestors were an intelligent and evolving species, which is why certain traditions that have been passed down for centuries, are still alive and well in our hearts and culture today.

Find Candice on Twitter: @Cstockstell

Other Articles by the Author

art_museum_smWhat is Aesthetics? In this brief overview of aesthetics, Candice considers the views of Wittgenstein and Hume who attempt to shed light on whether aesthetic value is in things themselves or consists in the personal sentiment of what each of us finds beautiful

What is Aesthetics?

In the Eye of the Beholder

photo of crowd at art museumQuite noticeably, there is an over use of certain words in the English language–words that are given over to clichés–ones we could all afford to avoid once in a while. You know those little words that create such big clamor like ‘risqué, and even the term cliché itself. On the flip side, there are also words that are severely underused, some even undermined. I’m talking about the terms that hold meaning beyond the spoken word–the ones that often linger on our palates, leaving a taste of thought to be pondered... like the word ‘aesthetic.’

Though underused, the soft and pleasing sound of the word may evoke thoughts of art, poetry, or philosophy–all of which are quite befitting–as the term aesthetic lends itself, in some way or another, to all artistic disciplines. The responsibility that such a word carries, when heard, can conjure a curiosity within us that drives an emotional response. But why? Why does this word strike our senses with such intrigue and engage so deeply our thoughts? Well, if you are an ‘aesthete,’ or someone who is sensitive to beauty and art, you have an understanding that this word incessantly holds us to a certain standard of taste or degree of opinion–or our own personal judgment.

In its plural form, the term ‘aesthetics’ is derived from the Greek word aesthesis, meaning perception, and refers directly to the principles that govern the nature and appreciation of beauty. Academically, it defines the branch of philosophy that deals with the issues of beauty and artistic taste, such as questioning whether or not the qualities of a work of art are actually autonomous–or not being subject to political, moral, or religious criteria. This doctrine of aesthetic standards called aestheticism, which started as an artistic and intellectual movement in Britain in the late nineteenth century, supports the emphasis on aesthetic values as opposed to social and political ideology. Similarly in art, the term aesthetics also lends itself to what we call an ‘aesthetic experience,’ a phenomena in which the qualities of some artistic work evokes an emotional response within us. Be it a painting, a sculpture, written prose or the spoken word, every work of art has unique qualities that speak to our individual opinions. So, attempting to understand what it means when someone refers to a thing as “aesthetically pleasing,” can shift our focus from a thing’s beauty, to a detached issue in philosophy, or a more personal attitude about it qualities when dealing in art and perception.

That’s quite a broad spectrum for one such word, but according to Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889- 1951)–one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century–“The word we ought to talk about is ‘appreciated.’” So let’s talk about it, and what it means to appreciate things in the world around us.

Appreciation and Experimentation

“What does appreciation consist in?” Wittgenstein asks, in his Lectures on Aesthetics. The root word appreciate, means to think well of; to esteem. But definition alone is not sufficient as it too is ambiguous and far too broad. Appreciation can refer to: Grateful recognition–as to favor something, sensitive awareness–as in artistic beauty, or rise in value–as in commerce or finance. But there is a unifying theme: the overwhelming sense of recognition or perceiving something of value within the thing itself. So in dealing with appreciation of any kind, we know that a thing is recognizable either by its familiarity or by some outstanding quality. One way we might come to appreciate one thing over another is by doing a series of comparisons to determine which we prefer most. In fact this process is how we come to acquire a taste for most things like pairing wine with certain foods, and even a particular fashion sense, or the clothes we choose to wear instead of others.

But Wittgenstein dismisses the idea of experiments in aesthetics as absurd: “Aesthetic explanations are not casual explanations”, he claims. “If a man goes through an endless number of patterns in a tailor’s and says: ’No, this is slightly too dark. This is slightly too loud’, etc., he is what we call an appreciator of material. That he is an appreciator is not shown by the interjections he uses, but by the way he chooses, selects, etc.” Similarly in music: “Does this harmonize? No. The bass is not quite loud enough. Here I just want something different . . .” This is what we call an ‘appreciation.’ So, it is not only difficult, but impossible to describe what appreciation consists in, says Wittgenstein. “To describe what it consists in, we would have to describe the whole environment.”

But when considering works of art, such as an abstract painting or a sculpture, it would be quite challenging to consider the ‘whole environment’ before making a judgment about what one comes to appreciate, as we generally gravitate toward a particular artistic work, musical score, or even a well-made pastry. In this case, people tend not to compare well-made pieces of art, music or baked goods. We simply favor the individual thing or not. And while appreciation may be impossible to precisely describe, we can turn to another great thinker, philosopher and historian, David Hume, who offers a decided opinion on the central problems of aesthetics that may shed some light on the challenge.

Objective Appreciation?

David Hume (1711-1776) considered a leading thinker of the eighteenth century, in his classic essay, Of the Standard of Taste, questions: In spite of the all the diversities in people and in their individual likes and dislikes, is there an objective standard of appreciation in art? In short, his answer is this: “Amidst all the variety and caprice of taste, there are certain general principles of approbation or blame whose influence, a careful eye may trace in all the operations of the mind.” But who shall we credit with having such an eye? And is appreciation a learned skill, or is it some inherent talent that can be found in most any individual? Hume professes that some people have greater powers of discrimination than others. But, he also agrees that beauty and deformity are not really in objects but “belong entirely to the sentiment.”

To better understand this logic, let us explore the notion of sentiment. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the term as having or showing tender or delicate feelings; of or resulting from sentiment–a combination of feelings, or an opinion, often, one colored by emotion. Surely, most of us have coveted an object that carries ‘sentimental’ value on some level, like your great-grandma’s green vase that still sits on your modern console table, completely outside of the room’s décor. Though your company may feel entirely different about it, it was grandma’s, and for that reason alone, you love it. With that in mind, Hume insists, “It is natural for us to seek a standard of taste; a rule by which the various sentiments of men may be reconciled; at least a decision afforded confirming one sentiment, and condemning another.”

So we come to the crux: Is it possible to judge art objectively when sentiment is involved? Would not sentiment invoke disagreement even among experts? Like Wittgenstein, Hume acknowledges that a completely uniform set of universal standards is impossible, but his decided answer remains that there are naturally wide differences in point of delicacy between persons in their practice of a particular art form. He also seems to claim that the frequent survey and contemplation of a particular species of beauty increasingly improves this talent, which he refers to as developing the “careful eye.” In other words, practice makes perfect.

In all that there is to be considered about aesthetics—appreciation and recognition, beauty and deformity, sentiment and judgment, practice and the “careful eye”—perhaps there is a standard of taste. But it does not belong only to the aesthete, the rich or the highly educated. Personal taste lies innately within us all. So let us not trade our appreciation for the likes of perceived expertise. Instead, we should examine and explore our own sentiments. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Find Candice on Twitter: @Cstockstell

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