Saturday, June 25, 2005

What They Believe: The Soul

Dear Internet Diary,

The soul has about two dozen definitions for ever individual on eath who has ever thought about the word. Look it up on Google. It can mean anything you want, thus making it a sort of a New Age term: it's so vague any religion can claim it. And they do.

The concept of a "sort of energy" (ugh) that can carry your essence has been around at least since the Vedas were written, which makes it almost inherent to the concept of "going somewhere after we die." Some gurus have taken to saying that there are billions of souls that exist in the primary particles in the universe. Well, it's sort of clever, since we know that all organic material was born inside of stars. But then that would make all of our particles souls, getting into Scientology turf.

In the days of the bodily humours and bloodletting, even in the days of Hippocrates, they beleived that each organ had its own soul. The stomach had a soul whose job was to attract food to it, to make it work. The kidneys and liver were nothing but meat without a soul. It's a sort of "God of the gaps" argument. Since they move, the gods must have caused them to move, in this case by giving them souls. The Chinese just needed a special "human life force" to get everything going. A Qi. Somehow in the west, the qi retreated away from the body and hid up in the pineal gland in the brain. This "seat of the soul" was described as "The Cartesian Theatre," where all impulses, all stimuli was somehow presented before the body could then act. It was as if a little man, a homunculus, sat there pulling all the strings, and watching everything on a big screen. A theatre. Here on this stage was where the essence of a man lived.

To Christians, though, the soul lives on after death, and somehow manages to carry our personality with it when it escapes our mouths, all 21 grams of it, and flies "up" to Happy Land, or some other stage before happy land where it is judged. So the Essence of Us means every thought, every deed, every experience. I don't know what the point of this is, since all you have to do is make a little incantation about believing in Jesus, say we're sorry, and all those deeds and thoughts are erased, and we get a free Golden Ticket.

We had to invent a soul. We loved our parents, and they died. They stopped moving. That thing that made them move went away. Maybe we poked them and the last bit of air escaped their lungs. That was it: that was the soul leaping to freedom. Today we manage to keep that belief, theist or atheist. We moved the soul concept to the psyche, and prefer to believe in a phantom us essence that we call the mind. The problem is, the self os so important to us--of course it is--that we can't let go of the feeling that there must be something otherworldly in there besides the brain. In many cases, that otherwordly thing is the self, seated in a special place, somewhere, probably, in the middle. Thus we move from geocentrism to egocentrism.

We're funny that way.

Thanks for listening, diary.


Aaron Kinney said...

That movie 21 grams was so stupid! If 21 grams really does escape you, then what is it made of? 21 grams of electricity? Impossible. 21 grams of air? Again, Impossible. It would have to be a heavier-than-air type of matter. So what is it? If it really leaves a body when we die, then we should be able to detect it and find out what it is made out of. But then, having a material soul would take the wind out of most religious afterlife beliefs.

Yet so many people see that movie and then believe its message. Even Christians.

Skull_Duggery said...

Well, an ounce of water weights about 28 grams. I suppose if you piss yourself and you continue to respire from your cells (all the cells of a body don't die at once, you know) and exhaust some water vapor, I can see where you could lose 21 grams after death, easily. Nothing mystical, nothing magical, merely science. I'd also like to see where they came up with that exact figure. Did they do careful weight analysis on a bunch of terminal patients and just hang around like a bunch of vultures, waiting for them to die? Kinda grisly if you ask me.

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