I propose that life is much less spectacular than most people are led to believe by religion, politics, and other world views. I do think there are a lot of wonderful experiences in life, but I do not think they can be unbound from the banal and the truly awful. Life is spectacular – not in and of itself – but as part of a much bigger and more banal process. I think there is danger in seeing the world as an abundant source of overflowing joy; just as there is danger in seeing the world as a grim surface full of suffering on which humans play out their meager existences. There is especially a danger in focusing only on human life. I think the world can be seen as a system of processes that can be arranged on a spectrum from living to non-living. In these processes, conscious beings may experience feelings on a spectrum from elation to sorrow. There are many unconscious processes in the universe that are important and banal.
The biggest question, as I see it, is do lifeforms have souls? The soul is the key element in religion and storytelling that allows us to see things in a spectacular spotlight – rather than a purely deterministic, mechanical, biological, scientific softbox studio light.
I propose that humans do not have souls. Lifeforms at large – and the special subset of humans – have personalities and patterns of behavior. I think consciousness is so powerful at creating compelling behaviors and so good at recognizing patterns, that human behaviors and some animal behaviors feel like unique magical abilities that fill our bodies. Our minds and behavior feel larger than life itself; our actions usually do not feel like simple animal instinct, or mere causal results of biological processes. It feels like something bigger than us imbued our bodies with these amazing abilities of action and consciousness.
I think most of the potentially dangerous views in our minds stem from a focus on the spectacular while ignoring the banal.
We see the human soul shine through music, art, poetry, and laughter. We emphasize these parts of life in a spotlight. We do not think of our soul showing when we sleep, get a headache, or finish the process of digestion by eliminating waste from the body. The banal things are just as important as the spectacle and they are the results of the same mechanics that make up the human body. We must understand our complete biological forms and consciousness. Our bodies are amazing and terrible. Our mind is a part of our body. Our mind and personality change as a part of the whole system. This can be made apparent when disease, addiction, injury, or aging seem to change who a person is. We celebrate people who survive an injury and keep the same personality – it looks like proof of a soul – a soul that is separate from the body and unaltered by injury to the body. I think it is more realistic that what we think of as a “soul” is just the function of our body. It can be changed by psychological and physical events. My view of the ultimate question is: I do not think what we call the soul continues after the body is dead.
Why would I say all of this? If there is something I am comfortable calling a soul, then how can I say it does not exist?
I do think it is important to our society to see people as unique individuals. I think people are so unique that I am comfortable calling their essence a soul. However, I do not think that that essence has an ethereal nature separate from the body. I do not think it gets reincarnated, nor gets rewarded with heaven, nor damned to hell. I do not think the concept of a soul should be used to manipulate people’s behavior with religions that operate like cults and multi-level-marketing schemes. I think a banal scientific view of the body and soul, might be more useful than the myriad views offered by the major religions. I think the Christian view is especially dangerous and leads to more suffering than benefits.
I am intrigued by a possible view of the world without individuals and without souls. It is not something I currently use, but the possibility of it is fascinating.
To be continued.