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.)
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.