I was at the gym today, doing an easy (read: stationary bike) workout in light of a recent back injury I apparently sustained this past Friday. Seeing as I’ve been taking it easy for the past few days due to the injury, and in light of the fact that I didn’t engage in much business activity this evening for the same reason, I decided to pick something up to read for the sole purpose of intellectual stimulation. (I’m sure you’ve noticed the difference in my writing style. This is what happens when I let my mind take a leave from the mundane things, such as technical knowledge and even people skills, and let it explore the more esoteric reaches of its interests.)
After a quick glance through my book collection I decided to pick up my copy of Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes. (Note to Junior: I read a few chapters of the Gita this afternoon. I’ll likely have some questions in the future, as I study it further.) Interestingly enough, I also picked up my MP3 player (iRiver H320) and started to listen to the soundtrack for The Matrix: Reloaded. This is especially fitting, since the more I watch The Matrix the more I am enthralled by the philosophical and theological overtones of the film. Though at first I saw only a few recognizable threads, now I can’t watch the film without analyzing the interplay between the various philosophical sources the film draws upon. I have been especially attracted by the interplay between the Socratic and Cartesian quests for the meaning of freedom and the knowledge of what is real. (Although I don’t generally suppose that there is a supreme being dictating our existence by some nefarious means, whereby it deceives us into believing that what we see is real, the question of what we define as “real” is another question entirely, one which, as the Buddha proves, is more pertinent than what we first believe it to be.)
As I read Descartes’ meditations, I began to wonder about something that, although I have before thought of, I have never really given much mind to:
In every belief system I’ve seen — other than Buddhism, that is — there is an automatic presupposition that the soul is something which was at one point created, or rather, preexisting. Hinduism, some sects of Christianity, and perhaps (likely) other religions presuppose that the soul is always was, and always will be. On the other hand, mainstream Christianity, for example, teaches that although planned by God, the soul has a definite beginning (the infusion of the soul into a child at conception), though not an end.
But I wonder, presuming that instead of the long-held belief that there is a supreme being, all knowing, all powerful, responsible for at least the planning of the Universe, that there is no God… can the soul evolve into being? By this I mean (and this presupposes evolution) can an organism, after a certain point in its evolution, evolve a soul? In this I would presume the soul to be an incorporeal thing which may or may not keep its individual identity, realizes that “it is” (though perhaps not as we now understand it, peahaps being only partially), and may or may not exist for an indefinite amount of time, but would more than likely be a being of cognizant energy. (Yeah, I know — too much Star Trek. Follow me on this one, though.)
Imagine if you will our consciousness. The one thing most of us understand at a certain point in our lives is that we think, therefore we are. We can think individually, and identify our own identity (self), and that therefore we must necessarily have a “soul”, something individual which makes us who we are, different from anyone else, and which somehow makes us greater than the sum of our parts. (This is not to say that we have an “eternal soul” just something which houses our individuality, perhaps being nothing more than a special pattern of vibrating strings, as predicted in String Theory.) It would stand to follow that, if it has been given the opportunity, this soul is something that has, over time, developed the ability to exist outside our body, perhaps as a being of consciously-driven energy, which allows us to “live on” after we die. This would be the natural evolutionary step in the face of belonging to a species which (a) has a full knowledge and is in the full realization that we are going to die, and (b) has a nature which sees our personal survival (as opposed to, or in conjunction with the survival of the species) as the greatest biological goal.
In short, given all other evolutionary and scientific evidence, could the evolution of a soul be a possibility, regardless of whether a Supreme Being existed or not?
(I would get into this further, but to do so would require a lengthier set up of my foundational arguments and the steps which I would then follow to these conclusions. Although I’ve followed those steps in my mind, to write them would take a fair amount of time, especially since I would have to develop concrete examples of all these ideas in order to pass on the specifics of my thoughts and the conclusions thereof. I know that this pretty much knocks out any possibility of argument for or against this philosophy, but unless I hear a demand for it, I’ll not take the time now to do it, but instead wait until I can devote the proper amount of time to develop this thought.)
Another question which came to me was. do we earn a soul? By that I mean if we live life to such a level as to overcome our own senses and body, if we question enough, and look hard enough, could a soul be essentially “wished” into existence, much in the way a person on the brink of death is able to make a full recovery from cancer, due in large part to their fighting will, and their desire to live? This one’s a bit more sketchy, and doesn’t peak my curiosity as much as the first, but it’s still somewhat debatable. (Even if it is lacking in evidence.)
In short, both of these questions as whether a higher level of cognizance and intellectual development include with it an immortal aspect, even if there is no God to have created that soul. Does the soul need a God?
“Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences.”
— Descartes, First Meditation