Friday, July 30, 2010

The Immortal Soul

After death, there is a part of you that lives on: the Immortal Soul. People all around the world maintain some variation of the belief; the Soul goes somewhere—Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the Soul inhabits a new body—Reincarnation, the Soul becomes a ghost, or the Soul goes to another world (i.e. the Spirit World). Regardless of variation, these people all believe in the existence of an Immortal Soul. I, on the other hand, reject the idea of an Immortal Soul for a variety of reasons.

First of all, the Immortal Soul implies You do not change over time, which is of course ridiculous. When I die, does my childhood Self move on or the Self directly preceding my death? Does my Self as an infant, a teenager, a young adult, a thirty year old, or a fifty year old live on eternally?

The question puzzled me. Perhaps all of these Selves, merged into one, comprise the Immortal Soul. This, however, made no sense to me. How can I simultaneously be an infant who cannot walk, an innocent child, an angst-ridden teenager, a hard working adult, and a dying old man all at once? Perhaps that is a unique quality of the Immortal Soul: counterintuitive, but nevertheless true. I think not.

To believe in an Immortal Soul is to believe in a Dual Self. There is the Physical Self, the body, and the Spiritual Self, the soul. The Physical Self undeniably exists. The existence of the Spiritual Self is harder to prove. Can a part of oneself really separate from the body? I think not. When people refer to the soul, they are simply referring to their conscious mind.

That being said, the Immortal Soul is nothing more than an undying copy of our thoughts, emotions, personality, disposition, creativity, etc. When looked at in this way, the idea of the Immortal Soul is easily blasted into oblivion. The conscious mind cannot separate itself from the body! It is a part of the body! The conscious mind resides in the brain, a large and complex collection of nerve cells. When those nerve cells collectively cease firing, the conscious mind (a.k.a. the Immortal Soul) dies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Unknown

The unknown frustrates me. I am a curious guy, I want to know! But alas, the unknown does not care about my insignificant irritation. The unknown does not reveal itself on its own, knowledge and understanding must be sought after by curious minds. This principle applies to all unlearned knowledge, but specifically, I would like to focus on Creation—I use a capital “C” to identify this creation as the famous First Cause, the Beginning of Everything, not just the Earth or the Universe but Everything.

Naturally, no human observed Creation. Therefore, empirical knowledge of Creation becomes extremely difficult to acquire. Scientists have their Big Bang Theory, but it is an unsatisfying explanation. The Laws of Physics break down when so much matter and energy is concentrated on so small a point. Therefore, physicists are seeking a better understanding of the Laws of Physics, but a unified Theory of Everything remains out of reach. Perhaps it will always be out of reach. Current explanations raise more questions than they answer. String Theory, arguably the most elegant theory available, cannot be directly proved. The alleged strings are too small to observe. Without going into sundry tangents, it is clear enough that science currently falls short of understanding Creation.

Religion, on the other hand, claims absolute knowledge concerning Creation. The Bible itself starts with the words, “In the beginning.” Every religion has its Creation story, or stories. They tend to be very similar. In monotheistic religions, an all-powerful Supreme Being creates Everything out of Nothing. In polytheistic religions, there tends to be one or two original supernatural beings that create the heavens and the earth and/or give life to more supernatural beings—which, in turn, give rise to more supernatural beings and so on down the line. Both explanations do not satisfy me.

The logic does not make sense to me. Creation needs a Creator, but the Creator can just exist. Is it just me, or is that a double standard? Let me bring the scale down a tad. The chicken cannot exist without being born from an egg. The egg cannot exist without being made by the chicken. So which came first? It is an infinite digression. In this case, evolution solves the digression. However, in the case of Creation, I am not aware of any satisfactory scientific solution to the digression.

I reject the God Hypothesis, to use Richard Dawkins' terminology, because having a Creator create Creation initiates an infinite digression. Who created the Creator? Who created the creator of the Creator? It just gives me a headache. I next turned to science, but science also failed to provide a satisfactory answer—for the aforementioned reasons.

After religion and science failed me, I turned to philosophy and to imaginative thought. Perhaps we are all living in a computer program, designed by some unknown superior intelligence, not God or gods but aliens or machines (like in the Matrix). Of course, this invokes the same infinite digression as the God Hypothesis—who created the beings that created the computer program we inhabit? Maybe there are forces beyond our perception at work, not God or gods but spirits, ghosts, etc. However, I do not like to go beyond the empirical. Since I cannot know if such forces exist—I cannot know if they exist by definition: they are forces beyond human perception—I disregard the option as pure imagination. Maybe there was no Beginning. Maybe we, as humans, want to give Everything a Beginning because we have a beginning ourselves. This is my favorite explanation, although it falls short of satisfying my curiosity.

After carefully considering all the aforementioned possibilities and being no closer to the answer, I fear I must bow down to the power of the question. It seems there currently is no way of finding the answer. I hope the answer will one day be found, but even if it is never found, the fact that I enjoyed searching for the answer made asking the question worthwhile.

Yours truly,
Gabriel Gethin

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Life is unfair. Life consists of suffering, toil, and hardship. However, everyone wants to enjoy life. This fundamental problem, how to enjoy life when it is filled with the aforementioned troubles, draws answers from countless sources, everything from religions to advertisements. Christianity promises salvation and eternal life at the end of suffering, where death does not end life but transitions into eternal life. Advertisements promise happiness, but only after buying the product being promoted. Naturally, there is a bit of a gap between the two promises, but that is not the point. With so many answers, from so many sources, how does one choose? How does the individual distinguish the “right” answer?

Learn what makes you, not society, not your parents, not your friends, happy. Happiness is a personal goal, a subjective truth. Although self-knowledge tends to be elusive and hard to attain, acquiring self-knowledge provides a metaphorical road map to happiness—arguably the Holy Grail of metaphorical maps. If introspection fails, trial and error works just as well. Try different activities, anything from reading to base-jumping. Then, simply make the enjoyable activities into hobbies, or, if lucky, a career. Do not be discouraged if this process takes a long time. Remember, there are billions of people in the world, but only a small fraction truthfully content.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Importance of the Pursuit of Happiness

The importance of the Pursuit of Happiness is obvious. Life is short; enjoy it. Make every effort to be happy. Personal happiness is the most logical goal in life. Perfection is impossible. Problems—world hunger, extreme poverty, war, etc.—will continue to plague mankind. Fighting for ideals—justice, order, human dignity, etc.—is great, for progress is possible, but perfection has been and always will be unattainable. Personal happiness, on the other hand, is entirely possible. Personal happiness depends on the individual alone, whereas the aforementioned problems and ideals rely on society’s cooperation. This single principle makes personal happiness the most logical goal in life

True, religious beliefs uphold doctrines such as reincarnation or eternal life after death. Under such beliefs, life does not end with death, a comforting notion. However, without proof of life after death, it is in the best interest of the individual to doubt. Make life on earth enjoyable, there may not be another chance at happiness. Of course, this is a subjective truth. Perhaps for some, belief in life after death contributes to the individual’s personal happiness. Whatever works, whatever cultivates happiness, passionately pursue.