There is no soul.

David - Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 22, 2009

I believe there is no soul.

Alan went through life as normally as possible, until the moment his speech turned to nonsense. Excitedly, he opened his mouth, intending to say something. But what came out was a hesitant language so strange it sounded foreign, oddly peppered with English words. “Fuller pulled. The Kemper. Onto bead.” He stopped, confused, and looked down at his flaccid right arm. Then, he shook his head once to the right, eyebrow furrowed, and tried again. Alan was having a stroke. I was treating him for the blood clot starving and killing neurons.

Why should the death of these neural networks result in Alan’s aphasia? Because that’s the way the world works: destroy a cause, destroy its effect. This is not only contingency. This is causation. A guitar causes notes, cut the strings and stop the music. That the brain causes the existence of the soul is a scientifically trivial viewpoint. Yet the implications are profound, for the belief entails that we do not survive the death of our brain. How could it be otherwise? A brain causes the thing we imagine as our soul, so brain destruction ends everything we hold as ourselves.

Science historically disabuses humans of our ignorance, which tends towards hubris: notions of exceptionalism and privilege from the natural world. But we are not the center of the universe. We were not willed into existence. Should we care to learn, our mental lives are not separated from the natural world: minds are complex but not special, not immaterial, not endless.

Nature applies herself equally to all processes: once begun they must also end. Before our conceptions, we did not have a brain to sustain our mental lives. And what was that experience like? We all know the answer! It was a dreamless, urgeless sleep. It was a cavernous nothing dug into a colorless void.

It was from this place, from this absence, that human life began and grew. From sleep came a period of awakening. A period only, existing for a time. Our covenant is this: this natural world gives us time, we perhaps give it meaning, and then we leave. We then exit into the same state from which we came – that dreamless void.

The period should be summed in decades before the inevitable tragedy. Time makes one measure. There are also our weights and velocities. But all velocity must come to an end, no matter how great the momentum. We are not exceptional, not endless.

A kite pulls against its string and seems almost free, for a while anyway, but every kite must also land. Our stings bind us so tightly to this world that there’s no stitch. There’s not even a string. Perhaps if we consider the unseen nothings which are so thoroughly nothing we can better know the middle. Knowing the truth, what is your velocity? And what are you going to do with it today?