2009-12-20

The Living Soul

If the body gives rise to the soul, what we think of as the self, how can we understand the soul? What truly are we? We are not only our bodies, only material things, but we are also not only minds, disembodied or able to be disembodied. If the body gives rise to mind, then what we are is both together, in a way that is difficult to put into words.
 
We may take a metaphor from meteorology. A whirlwind is an energetic vortex of particles. The wind's movement takes on a pattern, and the wind picks up dust and moves them, and drops them, and picks up new particles as it moves along, changing in size and strength and structure depending on its surroundings, and it can change its surroundings, too, by its nature. A whirlwind is a storm in matter, whose true identity is not any particular particles, or even any particular configuration, but rather, the process.
 
A person is also a process. The soul and the body are ever changing in nature, dynamic patterns in which new elements are continually brought in and old elements removed, changed by what is around them and also changing what is around them.
 
The body takes in elements and removes them; the atoms in our body come and go - we cannot identify ourselves with any particular matter that may compose our bodies at any particular moment in time. Our minds also acquire new memories, and new memories can change old memories, and so our associations can change over time; we cannot identify ourselves with any particular state of mind we may have at one particular moment in time. The energy we draw in powers this process, and as we expend the energy we need to take in new energy to continue the process. Each one of us is a force of nature, in nature. We arise from the world in which we are embedded and change the world in which we are embedded, each in our own characteristic way. The self is a vortex, taking in streams of events from the world around it, and also producing streams of events.
 
So we are also storms in matter. As a person can be identified with a process, we understand that a person can be characterized at any given cross-section of space-time as a static pattern, which can be captured as information. Any elements of matter that can carry forward the characteristic process that is the person can do so, and there is no change in identity. A process can be stopped, and start again, and if it resumes its process in the state at which it left off, continuing in the same character as it had before, there is no change in identity. As we live, we are not a static pattern; we are not disembodied spirit; we are not a set of material particles; we are not the information that captures a specific, momentary state; we are not a supernatural soul.
 
In this way we can understand that we do not need to fear the loss of any particular embodiment, and that we, in all our uniqueness, may be embodied in many forms of matter. We are also not identified with the soul that arises from any particular matter, so we do not need to cling to any particular matter (and indeed, our bodies already do not cling to any particular matter; our bodies are also a process). So we can understand that a process can be paused, and it can resume under the right conditions. These conditions include an embodiment which can continue the characteristic process that we are. If the same process continues from the state at which it paused, in its characteristic nature, it is the same process, under whatever conditions it finds itself when it resumes.