I'm pretty much convinced that I don't have a soul. If it shows up one day like a lost puppy that managed to find its way home, I'll be pleasantly surprised. (At least, if it wags its tail and licks my face.)
Quite a while ago I gave up the search for my self, impelled in part by a source of great spiritual wisdom, The Onion, which told the tale of another guy who did the same thing.
As neuroscience learns more and more about how the brain functions, my decision appears increasingly wise to me. Of course, what else would I expect? Most of my decisions make a lot of sense to me.
After all, I'm me.
But is this really true? Is there actually an "I" and a "me"? Is there more than one entity lurking inside my cranium? Heck, is anyone there? And regardless of who or what my brain is, how different is the inside of my head from the outside?
These are great questions. I have no intention of answering them with any degree of certainty. I'm simply going to share a passage from Julian Baggini's "The Ego Trick" that I liked a lot.
(Here's a previous post about the book.)
Here Derek Parfit and Baggini express some sentiments that I've felt myself, but haven't been able to speak about anywhere near so clearly. They point out the upside of not having an immortal soul or an unchanging distinct self.
What we lose in uniqueness and everlastingness, we gain in communion, in commonality, in connection.
This is from the chapter, Living Without a Soul.
'My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air.'
These are not the kinds of words you typically read in contemporary anglophone analytic philosophy. But there they are, in Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons, describing the effect of adopting his version of the bundle theory. And why shouldn't such a shift of philosophical theory be life changing?
On the pearl view, life can indeed seem like a narrow tube down which we are dropped, accelerating all the time as the years shorten with age, the end approaching with alarming rapidity. But on the bundle view, the hardness of both tube and pearl disappear.
The boundaries of the self appear vaguer. 'There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people,' writes Parfit. 'But the difference is less.'
...It sounds strange, but the logic behind the claim is clear and compelling. For Parfit, a person is simply a highly ordered and complex network of psychological connections and continuities. But if you ask yourself what we are connected to and continuous with, the answer includes many things that are not inside our own bodies. These include not only other people, but other things.
...Getting used to the idea that I am a process, never remaining the same, helps me to accept how life too is forever in flux, never settled for too long. Accepting the impermanence of self is part of accepting the impermanence of all things.
Parfit is right: there is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people as there is between land and sea. That difference, however, is now more like a tidal beach, and less like a cliff edge.
If I had no self
Would I want you to know it?
Would I cover my nakedness
Or would I show it?
If I had no self
Would compassion be my guide
Or would self-possessed people
Make me run and hide?
If I had no self
Would I know what to do,
Do what I’m told
By god knows who,
Or never know what I’m doing
Until it’s done?
If I had no self
Would I have any fun?
Posted by: cc | July 15, 2011 at 05:20 PM
"If I had no self
Would I have any fun?"
If you had no thought
... would you have a self ?
Do amimals have a self ?
Thinking itself BELIEVES
it has a self.
But, all thought is impersonal.
Posted by: Mike Williams | July 15, 2011 at 08:03 PM
Don't think of it as magic - but in natural terms, rather - like a plant (or onion even), germinating, living, wilting, and decomposing. That plant has life - a purpose - and a finite amount of time to accomplish its ends. It has DNA too - and a 'footprint' of it's existence - or wake.
Imagine for what purpose you might have been place here - who or what the enabler may be - and what you might rather be or do if you were in line with that purpose. What natural physical laws do you perceive about you - in the dark of night - the natural world - and in social interaction.
Are you a simple carbon dioxide factory? a fertilizer and seed vehicle? sabre-tooth tiger food? or a catalyst for deep thoughts amongst your peers? a driver for improvement? justice? and mediation?
I used to think about the soul some - the afterlife - and the cosmos - but now I'm just happy to be here! It's an incredible opportunity - and I love it!
He made your thoughts - your mind - and gifted you with the incredible ability to think critically - whoever 'He' or 'It' - or those 'Laws of Physics' are. We don't know - and probably never will. By our pondering though, our writing, and building - we emulate Him - the Ulimate Creator. Thank Him, It, Her for the amazing opportunity to be here - for daily provision - and fresh air!
Keep it up Hines - I like your stuff - I'm sure He does too. :-)
Posted by: John from Dunbar | July 15, 2011 at 08:28 PM
DNA brings up an interesting question.
We know the DNA of man came up from
the sea sponge, a fish (which still
survives off the coast of Africa)
and the monkey.
Was God having a hard time trying
to create us ?
Why didn't He get us right the first
Posted by: Mike Williams | July 15, 2011 at 11:22 PM
I got new for ya - He didn't get us right the second or third or the thousandth time.
Actually, He couldn't care less. When you, as an individual body, get to that point, you will finally understand. And then - you couldn't care less.
Posted by: Willie R | July 16, 2011 at 04:56 AM
Good question, Mike!
We're here, so was the sponge really wrong or right? and how can a living thing's existence really be wrong or right? especially if it's in our long family tree? Why is man so arrogant to think of himself as right? In another sense, it would appear many of us are not right - but who are we to judge? Why do we have a sense of right and wrong - and why is it so pervasive (generally speaking) across disparate cultures.
"For nothng worthy of proving can be proven, Nor yet disproven; wherefore thou be wise, Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt." - Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Jews called God YHWH, the great 'I am' - so whatever He is and we are - we are - and there's only a finite amount of time to do something worthwile with it.
I also believe your creator is still in the business of 'getting you (us) right'.
He (anthropomorhically speaking, of ccourse) is very capable of utilizing the incredible mechanisms of evolution to create and improve us, incrememntally, over billenia - and the sponge you've alluded to, plays a significant role, for some, in accepting our true place in that strategic and divine plan (Matthew 27:48).
"Reason is our soul's left hand, faith her right" - John Donne
PS - my dog thinks, has a self - and holistically, a soul.
Posted by: Crustacous Robert Rectangular Trousers | July 16, 2011 at 06:57 AM
Good point, Willie.
Religious or not, once you realize that your slef-perception affects your world-view, ambition, emotions, and treatment of others - you couldn't care less - only more.
Some think all is futile, that were are statistics to be beurocratically 'rolled' if we try to buck the system; to others, nothing matters, so get the getting while the getting is good (me, me, me!), until even that getting loses it's flavor, becomes depressing work to which we are shackled and enslaved; others believe that in some abstracct all men resemble the creator, possess a divine spark, and should be revered.
Teach them the best you can - the more you learn, the closer you are to learning the truth - and who knows who is the 10g-grandfather of the next Churchill, inventor of interstellar travel, or I am One. Perhaps a bum, and 3rd-world leperous widow, or you.
How do you think this different perceptions of 'God' affect a person's life?
2. 3 millions gods
3. Distant God
4. Authoritative or Critical God
5. Benevolent God
Make haste - and treat them the best you can.
Posted by: Coach Bart | July 16, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Is there a Thinker of thought ?
WHO is thinking your thoughts ?
Is thought thinking itself ?
Posted by: Mike Williams | July 16, 2011 at 11:33 PM