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Committed materialists (or "physicalists") that they were, Epicurus and his followers believed that the soul, just like the body, was somehow material, and consisted of atoms as well; those were, admittedly, particulary subtle, agile, nearly ethereal atoms. In his Letter to Herodotus, Epicurus sub-classified the ingredients of the soul into some that are "like breath", some that are "like heat", and a third, vague, and ineffable kind that is more closely attached to the whole (i.e. the compound of body and soul).

Lucretius devoted significant effort to explaining the critical (to him) distinction between animus and anima; this semantic refinement is offered by the peculiarly Latin, linguistic duality of what in other cultures might be viewed as synonymous and tantamount to each other.

Despite the rudimentary understanding of the neural system during the Hellenistic era, many Epicurean observations anticipate the modern paradigm of neurological functions. The "third element" of the soul, in particular, may very well be the nervous system, or some proxy for it.

The Epicurean position on the soul is decidedly materialistic and anti-metaphysical: the soul is neither "implanted" in the body upon birth, nor does it "migrate" from one living thing to another (i.e. by reincarnation), nor does it survive the cessation of the body's operations upon death. In this respect, Epicureanism strikes a radically irreverent philosophical note amidst a cultural environment influenced by both Pythagorean and Platonic ideals.

Shocking as these suggestions may have been in Epicurus' own time, they stand up well to modern, scientific scrutiny.

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