Monday, August 30, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 and shorter posts

I'm planning on writing a novel this November. I don't think the characters will actively be practicing any form of paganism or polytheism, but some of my ideas will definitely spill over in to the story.

It's a Young Adult Fantasy story centering around the idea that magic is a natural resource that was consumed when humanity was young. An eccentric hermit believes he has discovered a way to replenish magic in the world. The main characters are children whose parents were hired by the hermit.

It's a new way to think about magic in a story. It also allows for a very modern day setting that can get stranger and stranger as the story goes on.

We'll see how the writing goes in November. I wanted to warn people that while there will still be regular Monday posts, they may well be less in-depth than some of my recent posts. (If they get as long as some of the recent posts they'll be split up.) I plan to double-up my writing for the blog in the coming months, so part of the October and all of the November posts will all be written well ahead of time.

I'm less interested in preserving the remaining ancient natural places than I am about reclaiming spaces for nature and setting them aside for the future. Plenty of folks want to preserve. Fewer want to transform the refuse and waste of human civilization and turn that in to something that will one day be mighty, ancient, and filled with potent magics. This is really the foundational idea for my story.

Now, whether this idea is related in any form through the story is another matter... ;)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Seperable souls do not make sense

There are a lot of theories about the number of bodies we have. Some say two, a soul and a body, some say three, a soul, a spirit, and a body. I've heard some folks claim seven or even thirteen.

I see the various multiple body theories as something like arguing about the layers of a complex pastry. It may be technically composed of layers but some of the layers are paper-thin and any attempt to separate individual layers (or even groups of layers) ultimately only violates the integrity of the piece. The pastry, like the human life, is designed to be experienced wholly without tearing it apart.

Now, I believe there is enough evidence to conclude there is a spiritual component to the world. Miracles happen. Sometimes people get better and the doctors can not explain it. People around the world have had deep personal relationships with their deities since the dawn of man. To ignore all the evidence of a spiritual component is to ignore a vast amount of human experience.

In this post, I'm going to argue against the simplest and most common of the multi-body theories. This is the theory that there is a physical body and a separate soul that can exist independently to the physical body. I don't think a theory of a soul that enters and exits and can otherwise exist independent to the physical body makes the most sense with the available set of facts and assumptions. My arguments against this works well enough for the other theories as well.

The evidence for the theory of souls or spirits surviving physical bodies -- other than religious texts -- would be various ghosts and apparitions that people have experienced. Mind you, some of the experiences people have with the spirits of their dead relatives have been intensely powerful, life-changing things. The haunted places may or may not be best explained by the souls or spirits of dead, but some of the experiences people have with ancestors and loved ones make most sense if the actual dead person is involved somehow.

That's the thing, though, it requires a "somehow". I assert that it not only does not require a separable soul, but that the presence of a separable soul adds unneeded complexity to the situation.

Now, I agree that the soul can transcend space and time. Astral travel and remote viewing are legitimate in my world-view.

In fact, on a personal note, I once lost an argument with someone on whether or not he was real. My argument was based upon the fact that the being had never been incarnate. His argument was based upon his ability to interact with the world and be felt. As I said, I lost the argument and had to conclude being incarnate wasn't as important as being experienced. However, I believe it may be fallacy to expect a being which has never been human to be similar to some concrete part of a human being.

It is like saying a chocolate pudding in a parfait glass is equivalent to the chocolate pudding found in a pudding cake. The flavor may be similar, and in fact you may be able to carefully scrape off a spoonful of pudding, but you can never completely remove the crumbs of cake. More than that, the structure of the cake was never native to the pudding. (Pudding, unlike cake, can never be easily eaten with fingers.) A spirit or a soul without some container -- like pudding -- may drip and dissolve and ultimately cease to be. Of course what sort of container a spirit that has never had a physical form may use is beyond the scope of this conversation. I only assert that it makes sense to believe that there is some other kind of vessel -- though like a glass dish we may see through it.

Back to topic, though, it appears that we may be multi-dimensional beings that span beyond the traditional four dimensions (three dimensions of space plus one for time). In this case it makes sense that it is hard -- if not impossible -- for us to use science grounded in these four dimensions to measure something which exists fundamentally elsewhere. This is only to say we not only do not need science to prove the existence of the soul, it is expected that real-world science will always fail find anything measurable when it comes to the soul.

If we are fundamentally multi-dimensional beings existing both in the four normal dimensions, and in one or more dimensions we have no direct way to measure then it makes sense for the spiritual side of our being -- that part of our being which exists beyond the ordinary world -- is capable of reaching out and back in to space and time in ways that science can not explain.

That being said, we only have solid memories of our experiences as we live them. We can astral travel in our sleep and still have little to no memory of it at all. If the majority of our soul exists someplace else then our souls could experience the "afterlife" while still rooted firmly to our physical bodies. The afterlife just as you always envisioned it can coexist -- without requiring a separable soul.

This allows communion with the dead -- but the soul or spirit of the person you are communing with is rooted to the person's life. While this may not make immediate sense with the messages (explicitly stating the person is in heaven) or attitudes of the loved ones (clearly transcended beyond the pain of life) which are related in these messages, you're communing with a part of their being that transcended space and time to reach you. It is unlikely they would be carrying the same baggage with them as they had in their life. More than that, it is likely the route they took to reach you, reaching out beyond time and space and back in, took them through heaven (even more than one heaven) or through other places of love and peace.

I say the theories about after-lives can exist as you envision within this theory, and that is the case...  more-or-less. Without a separable soul you can't do reincarnation. Interestingly, you can still have past-life experiences. I imagine that there is a resonance between two lives and a person can -- literally -- experience someone else's life. You're experiencing it as the other person and not as an observer so it feels like it is your life. As there needed to be a resonance -- a commonality -- before the link could be formed it is easy to draw similarities. (I'll be going in to this a little further in depth in another post.)

I take a relative view to time. I am immortal between the points of my birth and my death -- whatever trials I go through nothing can kill me during this time. I think it is possible that when we die our point-of-focus simply reverts to our birth. We're essentially reincarnated in to our own lives. We're forever alive, forever at choice, but we rarely know our other choices except perhaps in deja vu, dreams, or visions. (I, for one, have had profound experiences of deja vu where I've done things differently. Different choices led to different experiences. It produced deja vu, but it was flawed.)

There is no way for the soul to go on to some "afterlife" because my life never ends. This means the only way I could experience the traditional afterlife would be if I could experience it concurrently or even tangentially to my life. Even then, it is likely the only heaven or hell that any of us will ever experience is the one we create around ourselves. More than that, if I'm right you exist in that heaven or hell forever -- or at least until you change your mind and make a better choice.

I hope that by now I've explained you do not need separable souls to describe the sum of our experiences with the spirits of ancestors and loved ones. We are profoundly spiritual beings even without having detachable souls. The experiences remain as valid and accurate. Only the explanation of the experiences changes.

(If you wonder how this can work with the concept of "Walk-Ins", you'll have to wait for another post. I'll explain it, but not right now.)

Now to describe situations where the separable soul simply does not make sense:

[Some of the current theories about separable souls are grounded on a premise that humanity is unique or if not unique then superior. I do not share either of these beliefs, and this has effected my spirituality. More details on exactly what I believe has souls are described in an earlier post on anthropocentrism.]
Babies born without lungs, according to most separable soul theories, can never acquire a soul for their sad short lives. (This is certainly the case if the soul enters at the first breath.)
My theory allows for even babies without lungs to have souls.
What constitutes a first breath? Is it the exchange of gases with an environment outside of a parent? If a simple exchange of gases is required, then single-celled life-forms could have separable souls.
Since I believe things can have souls without breathing, I don't need to deal with this question.
Separable soul theories tend to favor humans as the only hosts for souls. They sometimes require the hosts of souls to be animals (and not plants).Separable soul theories (as far as I know) universally require the hosts of the souls to distinct separate living entities.
I believe that you do not need distinct separate living entities to have souls.
Conjoined twins may have two minds, but if they're conjoined in a way that they can not be separated does that necessitate them having two distinct souls? What if they share one lung? What if they share both lungs?
I've heard some say identical twins are (at least at times) different incarnations of a single soul. Is it even possible to describe conjoined twins as "different incarnations" when they distinctly share the same body?
My theory allows conjoined twins to both have their own souls as well as have a separate shared soul.
When there are parasitic twins by definition one twin is more capable than the other. If you have separable souls where do you draw the line on whether a parasitic twin has a soul or not? If a parasitic twin does not have a head, a lot of theories on separable souls would not allow that twin to have a soul. Does the parasitic twin share the primary soul in that case, or is it just this soulless piece of flesh?
My answer here is generally the same as my answer for conjoined twins -- there are three souls. One for each twin and one for the composite being. The only exception to this rule is that if a person were able to feel or move the limbs with sibling DNA (and thus belonging to a parasitic twin) they are effectively a single person and have no reason to have a separate soul for the parasitic twin.
There are symbiotic organisms which require the other to function. For instance, there is a tree which can not live without a particular type of ant living in it. If one can not live without the other, is this different than conjoined twins?
Unsurprisingly, I treat this exactly like the conjoined twin case. There are individual souls as well as a soul for the gestalt entity. When dealing with the case of an insect colony as one of the organisms involved in the relationship the individual insects have separate souls in addition to a soul for the colony as a whole.
How does separable souls play with individuals who have chimerism? This would be a single human being who was -- at one time -- two different zygotes in their mother's womb. The zygotes merge in a way that produces a single organism with two different sets of DNA. If the soul is somehow tied to DNA, (as some anti-abortion Christians believe), then this person would have two human souls.
Is the soul tied to the brain? What if there is two different sets of DNA in the brain? Does the person have two human souls then? Is it still tied to the intake of first breath? What if each lung has different DNA? Are there two souls then?
If a chimera gets only one soul because it performs only a single inhale, do conjoined twins get a single soul when they perform a single inhale, too? Remember, they may share one or more lungs. They may even share their whole diaphragm.
Chimera have different DNA, while most conjoined twins are identical. Is this acceptable reasoning for why conjoined twins should share the same soul, while chimera should have two souls? Does this explanation really make it acceptable to believe a chimera has two concurrent souls?
My theory ignores DNA and favors a practical approach. There is effectively one human being. That means chimera would only have one human soul. This doesn't require any special cases, either. Does it behave like a single being? If so it is treated as a single being with regards to how many souls it has.

My theories allow for a lot more souls than are even possible with separable souls.
  • Separable souls do not work for relationship-based souls. The soul of a marriage or the soul of a relationship with a son or daughter isn't something that can exist within the bounds of a separable-soul world-view. I assert that the relationship is alive if it can grow and change and impacts the actions of others. It seems self-evident that relationships have souls.
  • Separable souls do not work for things which are never born, like rocks or other inanimate objects. People who are fans of crystals, gemstones, and other rocks do seem to commune with them. If there is anything to commune with, there must be some spirit or soul there.
  • Separable souls do not work for places, buildings, hills, or other structures -- natural or man-made. People can accept that a place has a spirit to it, they'll accept that a rock or stone will have a spirit to it, but they need to create separate theories to explain how this can be the case while they still have a separable soul.
  • Separable souls do not work for the component organs, structures, cells, and systems within something already determined to have a soul. This creates a phenomena where many believe humans live on the Earth (which has a soul) instead of believing that humans are part of the Earth.
  • Separable souls do not work in cases where the source or root of the soul is fundamentally different than expected. For there to be a separable soul, there needs to be a process for the soul to enter, and the soul may need to have a place of residence within the body. When things are fundamentally different than expected this can create problems.We see these problems with the chimera and some conjoined and parasitic twins, but there is no reason to expect this to be where the problem ends.
I believe there is evidence to support the existence of some of these souls which the separable soul theory disallows. It doesn't matter if there's evidence supporting all of them, as any one of them makes the separable soul theory more complicated. Chimera also helps shine some light on some of the problems with separable souls.

To summarize:
  • Separable souls complicates birth, as you need to add the soul sometime.
  • Separable souls complicate parasitic and symbiotic relationships -- especially in the cases where an organism was born conjoined.
  • Separable souls require an entirely different explanation for the souls of  places, rocks, and other things determined to not be "alive."
  • Separable souls have a hard time dealing with conjoined twins and chimera in a manner which doesn't require explicit special cases.
  • Existing spiritual and past-life experiences, including direct encounters with spirits of dead ancestors and loved ones do not require a separable soul to be explained.
  • Few afterlife theories require separable souls.
  • Any theory of separable souls requires a lot of special cases and even then fails to explain the spiritual aspects of some of reality.
If we're looking for an answer that is as simple as possible to explain what is accepted as fact, yet no simpler, it leans favorably toward an inseparable spiritual aspects of all of reality. These provides souls which behave like traditional souls, but which can not actually separate from our physical body. This allows all souls to be treated equally, whether they are the souls of hills, mountains, haunted houses, still-born babies, parasitic twins, chimera or alien life forms fundamentally unlike anything we have on this planet.

That being said, I have some things to say regarding how this plays with ancestor worship and my particular form of polytheism. That will be discussed more in a later post.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Justice and faith

I recently went to a 15 year high school reunion. I had a great time. At one point, my feet were sore, my back was achy, my stomach felt a little uneasy -- the night was just wearing on -- and even though I tend to be quite social, at some point I need to cease being an active participant, step back and enjoy the event as it unfolds around me. (I am an introvert by nature.)

So I was sitting there, and getting to a point where I'd kind of like some company, but not feeling up to finding company of my own. I said to myself, "I'd like someone to see me sitting here, then sit down near me and talk to me."

A few seconds later that is exactly what happened. More than that I knew that the person that sat down would eventually try to proselytize. I knew it when he sat down. It is what he does. We talked shop for a few minutes, and right on course he ends up going there. I had a good time talking with him. It was fun.

A key point in his argument seemed to be that his god's laws are imprinted on our hearts, and that all the good that humans do is an act of grace on God's part. If it weren't for this "restraining grace" we would be unable to restrain our carnal desires.

At one point he brought up the fact that if he were right, I was going to hell. I have problems with various aspects of Christianity -- particularly the bit about it being the only path to the Divine. I responded with this: Any god that would punish men who were good, honest men regardless of what was in their hearts(*) and minds but simply because they never heard about Jesus isn't so nice. "In an unjust society, the only place for a just man is in prison." If you are right I will gladly go to hell. (I'd forgotten who said the quote at the time, but it was Thoreau.)

This was, in part, my humanist tendencies showing themselves. I believe that a person can be good and can have never heard of Jesus. The Reciprocal Ethic -- what Christians call the "Golden Rule" -- exists in virtually all cultures though it is worded differently. Caring for the elderly and infirm is a trait common to all cultures regardless of religion.

We treat people with dignity and respect because we are human and this is a human trait. I don't see our social behavior as particularly unique to us, so much as it just a product of our being social animals. Other social animals have behavior that are unique to their species -- or in the really interesting cases unique to a specific culture. We can, of course, become better at being humane to each other, though if we really want it to stick it should not be out of fear of punishment but out of a desire to improve the world and make it better for everyone.

You can see evidence of the reverse at work. To commit atrocities against our fellow humans the targets must first be dehumanized. It is intrinsically repugnant to butcher humans like so many animals, but if you mentally turn the humans in to animals first it can become just another job.

The first job of all bigotry, then, is to take a wonderfully unique human individual and transform him or her in to a pest animal. There are different levels of success, of course, and only in the extreme cases is the transition complete enough in a person's mind to allow them to commit atrocities without remorse.

Anything that degrades the individual into a generalization is bigotry and is the starting point for full dehumanization. If you realize this early, you can nip it in the bud. You need to be aware of this both for yourself and your community, as any group can become the target of a lynching if tensions are allowed to be driven toward a generalized group of people.

Anyway, back to the reunion, the bar, and the interesting fellow preaching of his thoughts of Jesus.

I was being asked to believe that the only reason there is a sense of justice in the human soul is because of the Christian deity. More than that, I was told that since He created everything, He can take a group of humans and use them to kill other humans. We're effectively His playthings and He can do with us as He wishes. (Which sort of reminded me of an earlier post.)

If I was given a sense of justice because of this deity, why then is that sense of justice so offended by this behavior?

I was told that it is better for a Christian to have Jesus in mind than in heart. I was told that Christians should do or believe things that don't seem self-evident, things that are right because they are Godly, even though they don't feel right to a person's heart.

I'll be honest, at one point I felt particularly tired and felt like conceding the argument. During that time of weakness, the thought came to me, "What about the cats? He discounts their gods completely." That gave me strength to keep on. (Bless the cat gods!)

There I was, sitting in one of my gods (for aren't most bars masculine?), feeling the presence of the Divine deep within my being. My senses expanding, feeling the floor and room around me. Knowing my place in the room, in so many senses of those words.

Here he was telling me to discount everything I had ever experienced, telling me that -- literally -- I should think about whether I might be influenced by demonic forces. I felt honored that he felt the need to go "there" to argue with me.

The "demonic influence" argument was on par with my asking him if he ever considered that if you look at the Bible objectively, without the implicit assumption that it is True, it looks like the sort of BS you'd see in an abusive relationship. (I didn't go there with him.) "No one loves you like I do." "You're a worthless wretch, your lucky my son -- my son! -- gave his life to protect you." "Anyone that says I am not telling you the truth is a liar. You just tell me who they are so I can 'talk' to them."

The last of those reasons is why I never really try to convert people. They're in a bad relationship with a god that admits he is the jealous type. I have no need to get in the middle of that. I am a polytheist, so it isn't like I don't believe in their god, I just think he isn't all he claims to be.

Ultimately, I shouldn't have to subjugate my sense of justice to my faith. They should stand strong and proud beside each other, both of them supporting the other as need be. This would be one of the reasons I support social justice initiatives like marriage equality, intactivism, prison reform, etc. These things are demanded by both my sense of justice and my faith.

If you need to subjugate your sense of justice to your faith, maybe -- just maybe -- you have an unjust faith.

Footnote (*): I wanted to make sure I was framing the opposing viewpoint correctly, so I ran by the post by the person I was talking to before making it live. His response was that the Bible states that all hearts are deceitful and wicked, so there is no question as to what is in a non-Christian's heart. (No one is truly good except for God.) This also means it would be inaccurate to say he believes that non-Christians are punished regardless of what is in their hearts. I -- unsurprisingly -- do not believe that everyone has a wicked or deceitful heart. In my mind the evidence simply does not back up this assertion.

His argument is not concerned with the contents of a person's heart, as he believes he knows what is there. My argument is concerned with the contents of a person's heart. What I'm left with is such a fundamental difference in perspective that it seemed more accurate to annotate the reference than to try to change my statement.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Deities and animal spirits

It is my belief that cats, for one, have their own deities. I also believe that at least some of their deities enjoy live sacrifices and prolonged torture. I am distinctly a cat-person, mind you, but there's something about some cat behavior that seems best explained by this. Sure, part of it is the cats trying to teach us how to hunt. That doesn't cover everything, though.

More than a decade ago my housemate at the time and I had a pair of brothers from the same litter. We found a pile of entrails on the white bathroom carpet two days in a row. No hair, no blood, no bones. Just the entrails of something that must have been as large as a squirrel. It certainly didn't map to "teaching" at all. It stopped after we both talked to our cats about it. I said they could do whatever they liked, but they should keep it outdoors. What sort of strange ritual were the cats performing? I, for one, haven't the foggiest. I'm confident that it wasn't praying to Jesus, though. (Even though my wife says cats like Jesus -- anyone who can multiply fish like that has to okay in their book, right?)

Note that I'm talking specifically of the deities of the cats. This is entirely different than the human deities governing or pertaining to cats. Human deities may have a cat head or take a cat shape, however they are tuned to the human mind and spirit. Cat deities on the other hand are tuned to feline minds and spirits. That is to say, I suspect that even in ancient Egypt the cats did not worship Bast or any other human deity

It seems logical that cats, like most creatures capable of complex social interactions, probably have multiple deities. But what about the simpler souls? If we accept that amoebae have souls, (as I do), is it logical to expect them to also have multiple deities?

I suspect that the extent of the variation among the deities of a particular species is directly related to the number of ways that the species is capable of perceiving the world as well as the number of types of social interactions that are available.

Some things may only have a single possible deity available. Rocks? While they can form complex interactions with any number of things, on their own they are pretty boring. It seems logical that the deities of the rocks would be as boring.

If there is no distinguishing characteristic that separates two deities they are essentially the same. More than that, if there are no distinguishing characteristics between two souls they are essentially the same.

Is it possible that instead of having numerous distinct amoebae souls and deities there may be a single Spirit governing the aspects of the amoeba with no distinction between members or between souls and deities? Personally, I think it is possible. It certainly bears more research.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Anthropocentrism

Back when I was first exploring my spiritual path I engaged in experimental prayer. There will be more about this in a later post, but let me assure you that it blew my mind. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that everything had spirits if not bona fide deities. I cast aside any hope I once had of integrating my new views with the liberal Christianity I once believed in. What I had experienced was unlike anything I'd heard about, and the repercussions of it were mind boggling. For now, I'll say I had experiential confirmation that the spiritual universe is not centered on humans.

I realized I had run in to the same problem again when I found the reason for existence. The problem is that the reason for existence must pertain to the whole of existence and not just humanity. I found a reason for existence, and it distinctly works for everything -- not just humanity. (More on that in a later post.)

These experiences skewed some things dramatically as I started exploring my own polytheism. I realized and accepted that humanity isn't separate from nature or the earth. We are part of it. We're a small cell within the organism of the planet. It's one thing to talk about that sort of thing in the abstract, but fully realizing it -- feeling it in your bones instead of your words -- and seeing this profoundly effect your spirituality is another:
We are cells of another organism and we have souls.
Looking at this in macrocosms: We are like cells of the planet. The planet as a whole has a soul, and may have deities of her own. The planets, the stars, all have souls and all may have deities. As we expand out the scale changes and we have new things which again may have souls and deities.

I have had experiences which led me to the conclusion that in among the infinite forms available to deities there are places. That is, you can both interact with deities externally -- seeing them with a body, limbs, a head, maybe even specific clothes -- or you can interact with deities within their internal landscape. In these cases you're surrounded by the deity and the interactions are vastly different in nature.

If deities are capable of having a physical form existing as a place would be vastly more permanent than existing with a human body. It is quite possible that we live each of our days within a massive multilayered Divinity. If this is the case we may find that our deities are literally around us all the time, every day of our lives.

Looking at this in microcosms: I believe that our organs each have their own souls and deities. Our cells themselves have souls and deities, too. This may well have implications for the human soul. Does the human soul exist separate from the souls of the cells of which we are composed of or is the human soul a composite of those souls? If we exist as a composite then our soul will change over time as the individual cells live their lives and die. The removal of even the slightest part of our bodies would also have consequences to our souls. To receive another person's heart could be to literally receive a part of another person's soul.

On its own, though, this seems to complicate things. Where do you draw the line between organs and cells, and why should you draw this line? Let's look at the issue more closely.

What are we really saying has souls? It seems this is at least this would be everything that moves or has the capacity to move others. Everything from the smallest cells -- perhaps even the subatomic particles -- to the universe itself, plus mountains and organs and everything in between.

What are we missing? Well, what about the circulatory system as a whole? Sure it is composed of various organs and cells but as a system it is greater than sum of the parts. We don't notice systems and interactions as much when we look at the macrocosm because there's so much space between things, but within a human it is hard to avoid.

To distract from things briefly, I have an idea about composite life-forms... In effect, when a human being drives a car, they cease being simply human and become the detachable brain and reproductive organs of the vehicle. The interaction of the two produces a new, a third entity. That third has a soul and deities.

When we think about these two things together it seems logical that all interactions create new souls and raise the possibility of new deities. When two people have a relationship there is literally a "soul of the relationship." All of the systems of our bodies have their own souls and can have their own deities.

How long do these interaction-based souls last? (The systems-based souls clearly last as long as the system.) How long are you impacted by a particular interaction? If it is street vendor you only ever buy from once in your life it is likely a soul that is short-lived. If you got food-poisoning and died from the vendor's food and the vendor went to prison that interaction has a significantly greater impact to everyone and as such may well exist as long as the consequences of that action persists.

This, of course, means there may be deities devoted specifically to the purchase of food from street vendors. When you think about it this makes as much sense as having a deity devoted to strictly to romantic relationships between people.

But let's not be so specific to humanity. The dung beetle has a soul. The dung has a soul. the interaction of the dung beetle and a particular pile of dung has a soul.

This is what I mean when I say I am a polytheist. This is what I mean when I say I am not anthropocentric.