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Alex, Are You Aware ...?

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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on October 19, 2001 16:03:03 UTC


There exists a logical problem in any analysis of reality. As Paul Martin says, "the only thing I know for sure is that thought happens!": i.e., I am thinking. One might say, "I am aware"! Now, I know *I* am aware but I have no sure way of really determining if you are aware. You say you are; but that is not a proof. Certainly, there exists no proof that anyone is aware other than the mind thinking about the issue.

Now, I am personally of the opinion that an explanation of that phenomena is clearly beyond possibility. Essentially, we do not even know what we are talking about. Nonetheless, we can certainly talk about it (at least everyone seems to want to). The whole idea of "afterlife", "god", "consciousness" and many other concepts are really bound up with that clearly uncomprehendable phenomena.

Since everyone seems to be convinced that *they* are aware, let us suppose that these *aware* entities exist and give them a name: because it seems to be consistent with common usage of the term, how about we use the term "soul"? So long as I get no complaint from anyone I will presume the use of that term for this concept is acceptable.

So; we can then presume everyone on this forum has a soul. The real question of "life after death" which they are asking is: what happens to the soul after we die. (Stick with me Alex, I am not headed off the deep end.) We may not be able to comprehend a soul but we apparently have some experience with it and can perhaps talk about some logical limitations and possibilities.

The first issue is, exactly what does the soul know? We have already defined the soul to be attached to a living being and it is pretty clear that what that living being knows seems to be very closely related to what the soul knows. I don't think I have heard Harv claim that his soul was aware of anything he wasn't aware of.

Now against this, we have the fact that the problem called amnesia exists. When I talk to an amnesiac, he claims not to be aware of things which, by all normal expectations, he should be aware. Since we have defined the soul to be the seat of awareness, it becomes clear that, in order to be consistent with observed facts, that the information the soul is aware of can decrease. (And seems to be very closely related to the information the entity harboring the soul is aware of.)

Please, Alex, don't go chomping off at the bit. The "soul" here is not an entity as you would define an entity, it is more of an abstract concept meant to package the issues we are concerned with so that we can examine them carefully.

Does or does not the soul exist? Certainly it exists! I am thinking about the concept (the category of thought) so the concept (the category of thought) exists. Is it a useful concept? I think so; if it allows us to constrain the logical ideas associated with that concept in any way which certainly seems benefits our thinking. Can we make any real logical deductions concerning a soul? Well sure. I think I have pointed out that it is very logical to presume the knowledge of a soul is the same as the knowledge of the entity to which it is attached. Isn't that a start?

So I will ask another question. If my soul suddenly found itself attached to Paul Martin, would I (the soul, the aware entity) know that *I* wasn't Paul Martin? If my knowledge was then exactly the knowledge of Paul Martin; my feelings were exactly the feelings of Paul Martin (feelings are a consequence of chemical hormones, firing synapses etc. aren't they?) and everything I was aware of was what Paul Martin's soul was aware of immediately prior to the switch, how could I (the awareness) know I was not Paul Martin?

It seems to me that the only conclusion which can be reached is that, in the absence of an entity to be attached to, all souls are identical. If all souls are identical it seems that I can appeal to Richard Feynman's idea that there is only one! If there is only one, why don't we just give it a name? Can we call it god? I have gone full circle and gotten right back to where I started. God is the Great Original Dilemma: i.e., that phenomena which underlies everything and cannot be explained!

What are we? What is reality? We, and Reality are no more than a thought in the mind of God.

Have fun -- Dick

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