Monday, March 27, 2017

Soul Searching

Along with Daniel Dennett and many other philosophers of mind and neuroscientists, I do not believe in the soul--as an entity separate or separable from the body. Yet soul is an important part of my vocabulary and story.

Those same scientists and philosophers have persuaded me that the self or the "I," that individual choice or freewill, and that the sense of certainty (maybe even of space and time?) are illusions of consciousness. Consciousness, where we get the sense of soul or spirit, is not yet explained by science. But I have no doubt that it will soon be explained objectively by identifying the evolved genes and the neuronic structure of the brain that give rise to consciousness.

Plato discovered the soul (psyche). Aristotle and his scholastic followers define the soul (L. anima) as the form that gives life to matter in animals. And while all animals have souls, the special form for humans is the rational soul. Thus human is defined as animal rationalis. In so teaching, scholastics were playing a peculiar language game.

Using modern philosophy of language, I prefer to say that soul is a metaphor for intentional consciousness; or, in other words, for the capacity of the human body to be aware of itself intending the world through words and other symbols. While consciousness may be explained objectively by science, the actual fact of consciousness as a subjective or inner phenomenon will not be explained. It just is. Science alone, since it is objectively oriented, can never fully probe its depth of meaning. That is the venue of poetry and philosophy, especially philosophical psychology (as distinguished from experimental psychology) or phenomenology.

This philosophy is called "second reflection" because it reflects on the first act of reflection, i.e. speaking to or thinking of the objective world. I'm not only doing science or art or politics, but I explore my experience of doing science, art, and politics. I try to describe my inner experience in figures of speech and offer them to others who might verify or refine them based on their own inner experience.

When I probe deeply into my inner experience including my sense of self, intentionality, and free will, I discover that I am already joined with others in the world. I am not an individual "I" but exist only by being engaged in a "We." I find that my ego is but an artificial moment in a complex set of relationships in the evolution of the universe and life.

The consciousness, which we experience in ourselves and each other, we can attribute to every living thing and perhaps to all things from the smallest particle to the hugest galaxy, but only analogically. We can experience consciousness in our pets which/who become friends and even family to us. But we know it is not quite the same as human friendship and family. We see the squirrel and jellyfish respond when we touch them. Their consciousness we feel is similar, but not quite the same. Perhaps, we conjecture, matter itself has an "inner side"--a sort of consciousness that develops with complexity. Perhaps the earth, Gaia, our communities, and the universe itself have souls. Think of Eywa in the movie Avatar, the Devine Spirit when we gather in her name, or the Force in Star Wars.  In this way, perhaps God might still be a part of our story even if not the independent supernatural entity of religious beliefs.

In many places I have asserted that we are in between the era we call modernity and a new postmodern era. Modernity and its myths are threatening our species and our earth. We need to construct a new story--one that does not wipe away the old ones, but one that includes, transforms, and converges them. It needs to be a story informed by what we are learning from science, but also pushing and leading us beyond our knowledge and ourselves. Transcendence constitutes human existence. Transcendence is the passage from self to community, from self-interest and individual free-will to progressive and equitable freedom, and from beliefs that divide to faith that unites. To continue to exist, we must continue to transcend.

In our new story, the transcending dimension of our being shall be paramount. That is what I call soul.

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