Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Do we have a soul? What do you base your answer on?"

I just posted this response to the titular conversation on FB:
It seems that there is something about being alive, and more particularly, being human, that allows us to have experience and to be aware of our conscious experience. There also seems to be a real distinction between "my" conscious experience and "your" conscious experience. So to that extent, I think that we have "souls."

If we take that experience, and extrapolate to the broader conclusion that "my" experience means that there is an essential, unchanging "me" that moves from experience to experience, then I start to have intellectual and existential problems with that conclusion. How much of "me" can I lose before I am no longer "me"? If I lose a finger, or even all my limbs, most people would say I am still me. If I lost my entire body and was merely a brain in a jar enjoying a virtual life, would I still be "me"? If I am not my body, but am my mind, then how much of my mind can I lose before I am no longer me? My memories, my preferences, my habits, my use of languages, which of these parts is "me"? Am I the same "me" that I was before I became a parent, before I went to graduate school, before I had sex the first time, before I learned to drive, before I learned to speak, before I was born? If we believe that "I" will survive death, which "me" will live on? Me at 18? Me at 28? Me at 38?

I would add that this does not necessarily mean that I DON'T have a "soul" or some "essence" that won't live on after death. The universe is far stranger than we CAN suppose, to paraphrase Terence McKenna, and so I can't categorically deny that some Other may have the power or ability to restore "me" (like software, if you must) in the future. As some Christian apologists have pointed out, most of us have no problem accepting the theoretical possibility of the transporter on Star Trek. ("Beam me up, Jesus!") If the flickering, flowing nature of my current experience doesn't deny my felt experience of being an individual with consistent, if not unchanging, characteristics, then the restoration of this felt "me" in the future isn't impossible.

And even if I insist that it WERE impossible, by my own admission, I'm a talking monkey. So just who am I to insist to that hypothetical Other? As the aforementioned Terence McKenna adroitly pointed out, "For monkeys to speak of truth is hubris of the highest degree. Where is it writ large that talking-monkeys should be able to model the cosmos? If a sea urchin or a raccoon were to propose to you that it had a viable truth about the universe, the absurdity of that assertion would be self-evident, but in our case we make an exception."

Ah the mystery of being human.

Please weigh in with your own thoughts on this question.

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