I’ve been reading about the various ways the human soul is perceived by various religious traditions as well as non-believers. In most cases the soul is seen as an entity that remains in existence after death of the body. For those uninclined toward religious dogmatisms the soul may, if accepted as existential at all, likely lack individual identity and will, after death, merge into a collective unconscious, a mindless and immaterial essence.
A common religious perspective has the soul maintaining the identity, personality and memories of the individual from which it emanates. If one is to experience the benefits of heaven or the eternal miseries of Hell such a soul will be necessary, even as such a belief may be a strain on the thoughtful faithful who may have trouble with the idea of a functioning dead brain.
Another concept of soul can be found in the scifi realm. A ‘cortical stack’ situated between the brain and spinal column containing one’s identity is found to be portable. This ‘personality package’ can be transferred once one’s body wears out into a fresh physical specimen creating in effect a new you. Belief in such futuristic technology will certainly be a significant strain on even the most avid of scifi proponents.
Anticipating a future reality beyond life as we know it is something humankind has been contemplating for millennia and it’s pretty compelling for many of us to continue to do so. Contemplation is never a bad thing.
I’ve been reading the stories of Flannery O’Connor lately. The secluded culture of rural Mississippi in the 1940’s along with her inventive brilliance led to the creation of phrases that capture essential human experiences. One phrase that particularly struck me relates the idea of sudden discomfort someone might experience as thoughts unravel in contemplation.
‘A whole fear quick’ effectively captures, it seems to me, the anxieties that tend to spring up as one proceeds through unsettling daily encounters, dark thoughts emerge from the past and/or uncertain anticipations invade the mind: mental meanderings in which WFQ’s bound to the surface of one’s mind with regularity.
Such uncomfortable thoughts are all controllable, of course, understood in context. These are thoughts that can be dealt with prior to any sort of panic attack. If it were otherwise, if the unpleasantness became incapacitating, it might be time to home in on thoughts of an escapist nature, thinking about existence on an uninhabited desert island while at the same time experiencing amnesia. Such a scenario would promise a serenity of sorts, think.
I’ve been reading about a new technology: a computer chip inserted into one’s pointer finger along with a screen capable of projection implanted into the palm of one’s hand. A truly personal computer available to everyone.
Well, SciFi you know, but an intriguing idea. What a great innovation it would be. We’ll no longer have to keep track of I. D.’s or credit cards. It’ll be a communal data base, essentially a hive mind, a collective intelligence making everyone smarter and more informed.
But, I suppose, on the downside, one becomes an identifiable cog subject to not only AI algorithmic manipulation but in danger of persecution if malevolent entities gain control of the hive, which then may devolve into uncritical conformity.
I guess new innovations will almost always come with a downside.
I’ve been revisiting the ideas of the dream/reality conundrum as depicted in the Matrix scifi stories. The dream state the films present is so intensely real, there are no give aways, no non-contextual interludes as often happens in actual dreams. The dreamer is unaware that he is physically inactive and sedated, kept alive by chemical means, he’s living a dream.
Anyway, I’ve been finding myself lately mentally wandering off, envisioning imaginary places and situations I’m pretty sure never existed or occurred. But, upon further consideration perhaps these memories are in fact reality and what I’m presently experiencing with pencil in hand is a dream.
I’m really not too concerned, though, because in either case, real or imagined, my experiences are fairly pleasant.
Fall season celebrations remind me of the deeply ingrained inclinations of people to hold onto ideas of the supernatural. I’ve been wondering if, beyond the dogmas of organized religions, do all reasonably sensitive human beings sense the existence of a presence beyond yet within the physical universe, a presence within all beings that accounts for spirit and vitality? A life-force simply unattributable to biological composition alone, an Other, without singularity, ethereal, ineffable, beyond definition?
Such an awareness, I think, might provide a useful perspective when one is experiencing the travails of daily life.
I’ve been reading about kenosis, the idea that, in order to fully embrace the natural world in all its beauty and complexity it is necessary to suppress the ego. Seems reasonable I guess: if one’s sense of self is excessive the inclination will be to subordinate, view the world as a vast department store where everything is available for the personal satisfaction of the consumer: forests, water, mineral resources, human labor is there to enrich the individual who covets it.
A strong ego may fail to recognize the presence of the Other: the aethereal essence permeating all things responsible for the beauty and complexity of the natural world. As the natural world comes increasingly under threat, in order to temper its decline an effort will be required that may exceed one’s comfortable complacence, demand actions and behaviors of uncommon strength and sacrifice. It’s not like these ideas are new: most all spiritual beliefs have embraced the sacredness of the natural world, honored the food animal sought benevolence from the Other to ensure food production.
Time to disavow our sense of anthropomorphic superiority, work to become one with the natural world.
I’ve been reading a book on Buddhist thought, lately, and have been thinking about the counter-intuitive idea that one is two. On the surface, the idea is explainable (at least to my mind) in terms of a single defined object that takes on additional meaning when juxtaposed with other things within its visual field: that an object doesn’t exist in isolation, assumes aspects, is affected by, becomes part of a chaotic whole. And the more deeply an object is studied the greater its complexity is realized, melds into the complexities around it. The idea, I guess, is to realize, get a sense of the Whole, the profound inter-relatedness of all matter.
I assume this is what meditation is about. As I sit before my concrete Buddha (the buddha near the pond in my backyard) I allow daily concerns to pass beyond my conscious awareness and instead find and embrace the Whole. Seems simple enough I guess; requires attention though.
In these divisive times of disparate beliefs and alternate realities it seems reasonable to weigh with care one’s personal offerings on subjects of controversy. Strong opinions will arise inevitably in all of us paying attention to the political narrative these days, our chosen news feeds providing us with sound bites of ‘logical’ support for our irrefutable truths. Voicing opinion may best be tempered in the interests of momentary calm, but such a stance seems rarely practiced.
I’ve been reading about the concept of Mumbo Jumbo, an adaptable personage in the traditional cultures of Central Africa. When conflicts emerge, often within the polygamous harems, Mumbo Jumbo may appear with masked face, top hat and staff to gather the community and then single out the most egregious disruptor for punishment.
I’m wondering if a similar sort of magical thought may be creeping into our thinking these days.
I’ve been reading about the reality lived by people of late-medieval Europe who were inclined to interpret the phenomena of daily existence as a struggle between the forces of good and evil. Caught, as they were, between the beginnings of a science-based understanding of the physical world and the ancient beliefs they held about the potency of the supernatural, these folks tended to lean most heavily on the latter, which unfortunately led to ill-conceived practices detrimental to their existence: bloodletting and exorcism to name just two.
Not so easy, though, to dismiss the magical thinking of those earlier times: many of us still conjure images of evil entities responsible when bad things happen. As much as we might like to think ourselves intellectually superior to our medieval forebearers it would appear their ancient beliefs still inhabit our psyches.
I’ve been thinking lately that language is a limiting and essentially inadequate means of describing experience. (As I think about this it occurs to me I’ve probably thought this very thing before; in fact, I doubt I’ve had a truly original thought anytime recently).
Anyway, language may be the only way of describing experience, but the descriptions rendered no matter the mastery one may have of the written word will fall well short of sufficiently describing the color and complexities of sensual experience.
Roland Barthes, the late French literary theorist, said that man cannot know, understand prior to developing at least a rudimentary language. I’m inclined to disagree with such an idea. It seems to me my colorful and complex sensual experiences can occur to my conscious self without interpretation; that it is unnecessary for language to supervene upon my experiences for them to actually exist.
But, then, maybe my memory is going, I am aging after all; brain cells are being lost. Still, the visual imagery is there and doesn’t seem to require captions. I’m thinking language is over-rated. It simply is unable to account for the ineffable.