When planning this project, I felt eagerness mixed with apprehension – which is one way we typically feel when future events loom in our lives.  I think about other people’s futures with more equanimity.  I have great difficulty feeling the same way about your future as about my own.  It is like trying to imagine that my left arm belongs to someone else – a bizarre, difficult feat of the imagination – yet there are cases in neurophysiology which report that experience in otherwise sane individuals.

We are attached to the saga of ourselves as ongoing subjects of experience.  We readily imagine we will somehow continue to exist, to have experiences, even after the death of our biological organisms.  Many of us who do not believe in an afterlife nevertheless have no trouble imagining one.  I picture myself floating up, out of my body.  I see grief-stricken family and friends around the bed.  I hear their conversations – I try to take part and realize I cannot be heard.  Later, I leave the earth and find myself in some other place – hopefully a pleasant one – where I may again meet people who were my friends when I was alive.

Such ideas are impossible to disprove.  But there is little or no scientific evidence for them.  The notion of an afterlife strikes me as wishful thinking.

Let’s assume I am not something that can exist independent of a living body.  Then what am I?

To try to answer that question, I will introduce a thought-experiment.  A thought-experiment is a method used by philosophers to clarify concepts.  The experimenter describes a hypothetical situation, then asks, “What would we say about that, if it happened?”

As thought-experiments go, this one is plain vanilla.  It does not violate the laws of physics; in fact, it is so in keeping with current technological trends that it could become reality within a few decades.  And then we’ll have to decide what to say about it.

We are getting very good at capturing information about the world in electronic form.  Consumer-grade digital cameras acquire images in breathtaking detail – better than my aging eyes.  Digital sound and video recording are commonplace.  3D shape capture – a field I worked in for years – continues to improve.  Motion capture is used to great effect by the video game and animation industries.  Automated chemical analysis is another burgeoning field.   And our ability to capture detailed information about the human body is improving at warp speed.  From old-fashioned Xrays and EEG’s to biometrics, PET scans and functional MRI’s, we can measure countless attributes of our living organisms, not just static qualities like fingerprints but dynamic information about fleeting brain-states.  The BC Cancer Agency can now sequence a person’s entire genome in about two weeks. This time is dropping by an order of magnitude every five years.  If that trend continues for thirty years, we’ll be doing it in a second.

By the way, a full genome can be stored in a very manageable 1.6 Gb file.

Now suppose that in, say fifty years – by 2059 – we’ll be able to create the equivalent of the transporter technology of Star Trek.  I visualize it as a scanner that can capture enough information about physical objects to allow them to be rebuilt at another location.  Things transported this way look and taste the same as the originals.  The technology works for animate as well as inanimate objects – living creatures continue to live after digitization and reconstruction.  They know their names and addresses, recognize their friends, and can recite the same poetry or sports statistics.

Consider the advantages of information-based teleportation compared to airplanes.

First of all, planes pollute – one transcontinental flight uses up a person’s carbon allowance for an whole year.  Secondly, flying is less and less pleasant.  Not only are we bums in seats, we’re bums that are security risks, who must be put through the ritual humiliations of the Department of Homeland Security.  Third, air travel is unreliable.  Although the risk to life and limb is small, the risk of missed flights and lost luggage is huge.  Fourth – going back to number one, carbon – rising fuel costs will inevitably raise ticket prices to a deterrent level.  People will again decide not to fly because it’s too expensive.

Think about the convenience and potentially low cost of travelling as information.  No taxis to airports fifteen miles out of town.  No need to show up two hours ahead or take off your shoes.  Just visit a transporter facility in your neighborhood, pick a cubicle, get scanned with all your stuff and – after a few minutes or maybe an hour to transmit a gargantuan slug of data over the internet – you find yourself in another cubicle in your destination city.  If it’s in another country, you’ll still have to go through customs and immigration.

A fail-safe system with plenty of  data integrity checks to ensure that big, complicated files are successfully copied without losing a single bit.

If you lived in 2060, would you use teleportation technology?   If other people used it, if the safety record was good, I bet you would.  The alternative will be trains and ships – nice, but expensive and slow – or teleconferencing and Second Life – useful, but not like being there.

And here comes the sharp point of the thought experiment.  People will only use teleportation if they expect to survive it.  They will use it – therefore they will expect to survive it.

If I am teleported to Australia, the living, breathing person who emerges from the terminal down under will be regarded by society as the same guy who entered the terminal in North Vancouver.

Testing our concept of ‘the same person’ against the thought experiment of teleportation, I, for one, come down on the side of, “Yes, that would be me.”  Being teleported is not the same as dying.  Everything important about me would be preserved.

This leads to the conclusion that what’s important in personal identity is not substance, but attributes.

The material substance of my physical organism stays in North Vancouver, where it may be decomposed into its constituent molecules.  The organization of my organism is transmitted to Australia, where it is reinstantiated in a new substance.

The shift in thinking from substance to attributes is subtle.  It is also abstract.  What does it mean?

Being attributes rather than substance means that we are less like musical instruments than like tunes – less like computer hardware and more like software.

Beethoven’s 5th is the same piece of music when played by different orchestras and heard in different concert halls.  It is instantiated in a variety of media – in sheet music, Ipods, and human memory.  Firefox is one program running on millions of computers.

If we are attributes, not substances, what difference does it make?

For one thing, it changes our relationship to death.  If I am a substance, then the death of my physical organism means one of two things.  If my existence depends on my body remaining alive, then the death of my body is the end of me.  Or, if I can somehow exist independently of my body, then death is the beginning of a radically new phase.  But if I am a collection of attributes, then death is something else – it’s like a terminal hard drive crash.  A nuisance, but not a catastrophe if you have a backup.

If we are attributes, then change matters.  Change is a bit like death and rebirth, but need not be so radical; mostly we change gradually, preserving enough to make us recognizably ‘the same’ from one day, or year, to the next.

Am I the same person I was at age five?  Certainly there are similarities.  I remember thinking ahead to starting Grade 1 with the sinking feeling that I was about to lose my freedom for a very long time.  On July 1st of this year, I felt that I’d made it through.  Again I have the opportunity to do what interests me.  On the other hand, there are lots of differences between me at age five and me at age sixty-one.  Same person?  Is it a clear question?

If we are attributes, then our relationship to our future and past selves is not radically different from our relationship to other people.  It is different in degree, not kind.

Each of us plays an important causal role in determining how life will be for our future selves.  What I learn today may become a memory or skill I retain for a long time.  If I fry my brains with crystal meth, the future Gordon may regret it.

We also affect the lives of others, and the world around us.  Beethoven’s music and Shakespeare’s plays are recreated in thousands of minds, centuries after their deaths.  Every conscientious parent and teacher conveys a wealth of information to the children in their care.  And we all influence each other as we interact, willy-nilly, in countless ways.

I hated the third President of a company I once worked for.  He was a former Xerox executive who fired a close friend of mine (the first President).  I plotted to get him sacked, and eventually succeeded.  A year later I was writing in my journal, and caught myself using the word, “Boom!” in the same odd way he did.  I had picked it up from him.  And although I tried to stop, a couple of years after that I was still saying “Boom!” in that way.  A bit of his personality entered me, and stuck around.  Like a tune stuck in my head.  Like a software virus.

Our brains are wonderful at storing memories, mannerisms, habits, skills, emotional responses to various kinds of events – all the qualities that make us who we are.  When our brains stop working properly, we may be so transformed as to be recognizable only by face, fingerprints, and dental work.  The continuity that healthy brains provide lets us carry out projects that take a long time, like becoming a surgeon or raising a family.  This gives us a very good reason to try to preserve the life and health of our biological organisms.

But our brains’ capacity to store information is not our only means of influencing the future.  We also write things down; and what we write can be read by others.  And we talk.  Many tasks are too big to be accomplished by a single individual.  Leaders are people who share a vision, inspire others to work towards a common goal.  Asking others to support your cause is not unlike exhorting yourself to get on with some personal project.

The idea that we are attributes, not substances,  casts a new light on the diversity that exists within individuals.  I know a couple who fight bitterly and often when they are alone together – but can instantly transform into gracious, delightful hosts when company arrives for dinner.  Voice tones change from harsh and hurtful to pleasantly modulated, light and musical.  It’s as though different spirits came to inhabit their bodies – the angry ones displaced by the benign ones.  But what are these spirits?  Brain-states triggered by a change in circumstances.  Like sad and happy tunes played on the same instrument, or different programs run on the same computer.

If we are attributes, not substances, then the immortality we can aspire to consists in our effect on other people and on the world at large.  When I die, I lose the highly integrated continuity engine that is my central nervous system.  If I have lived without putting my stamp on the world I lived in, without reaching out to others – then it is indeed a death, but maybe not one that makes much difference.  But if I have communicated to others what I really think and feel, transformed some part of the world, those effects do not suddenly stop when my brain dies.  I live on, in the only way I can live on.

And while my organism is alive, it’s more or less the same thing.  My influence on my future selves is like my influence on other people.  I can be helpful, or I can cause trouble. I can prudently look out for their interests, or be wasteful and short-sighted.  I have an influence on what will happen both inside my skin and outside it.  The skin is not such a very important boundary.  It is an important boundary of the biological organism,  but if we are attributes, skin does not limit us.  Information can flow across skin.

I can feel a reaction kicking in – “Wait a minute!  I am a biological organism!  I’m a human being, flesh, bones and guts.”  That idea is hard to shake, and grips us at the first hint of threat.  I suspect the sense of physical self is grounded in millions of years of evolution.  It’s easy to imagine a living creature without a sense of the boundary between itself and the rest of the world – the skin line.  Such a creature would be at high risk of injury, and would have lost in the Darwinian struggle against other species more attuned to protecting and nourishing their bodies.   Behind my sense of physical self is a major biological imperative.

The imperative applies not only to myself at this moment, but myself at other times.  The success of the human species depends on our propensity to worry about ourselves and our families in the future – to lay in provisions for winter, plan for our children’s education. We bound our lives with a visceral sense of self, which shapes and motivates a huge amount of what we do.  A threat to self always gets our attention.  Opportunities to acquire stuff are rarely ignored.  Greed and fearfulness often dominate our behaviour.  Some of us think that domination is excessive.  But we are all subject to it.

I suggest that we acknowledge our feelings, and move on.  We have many urges rooted in biology.  We have learned to curb some of them.  Especially in Canada, most of us are pretty good at inhibiting our aggressive impulses.  We disapprove of unbridled violence; we recognize the need to suppress aggression in order to have a civilized life.  We are much less likely to suppress our selfish impulses.

There is a popular idea that all actions are motivated by self-interest, including ‘altruistic’ ones.  This is a reductivist notion with no explanatory power, which serves mainly to mask important moral distinctions.  Yet it has currency in our culture.  Why?  I suspect because acting out of self-interest is so deeply ingrained in us that we have trouble imagining an alternative.

It’s the strong – and I believe, irrational – hold that the idea of the self has over us, and particularly its role in motivating action, that led me to characterize it as the ‘phantom self’.  Like the Phantom of the Opera, the self has a powerful voice that demands to be obeyed.  Like an amputee’s phantom limb, it is a vividly felt presence – but there is nothing really there.

This project will only succeed if it becomes a dialogue.  I invite any interested reader to leave comments, particularly critical ones.  Ideas thrive on argument.

Return to the Phantom Self home page.

19 Responses to “Introduction”

  1. Claudia says:

    I have two questions.
    If I have a phantom limb, I am suffering under an illusion, but if I have a phantom self, who is suffering from an illusion? If I am, doesn’t this mean I am there, i.e. not a phantom?

    And? You claim we all live under an illusion. But just what is this illusion? I don’t believe in an afterlife. After death, I may continue to have an influence, my friends and family may remember me. But I think that once my body dies, I will not regain consciousness. What then is the illusion I have about the self?

  2. Old Friend Don says:

    There were several other issues I wanted to bring to your attention, but I didn’t jot down enough notes on the 18th.

    One was the fact that when you are looking at DNA and how the body is structured, don’t forget that “our” bodies aren’t all ours .. we have a lot of helpful bacterial hangers-on that make life a lot easier (or harder) for us, and without which we wouldn’t be who we currently are. Here is a case in point:

    So when you move that DNA collection and general body plan, don’t forget our helpers.

    Also, I’m not sure if you got all of Lorraine’s comments about the movie, “The Fly” – the problem was that when the scientist transported his body, he didn’t notice there as a fly in the chamber with him and it got transported as well, then was inadvertently incorporated into his reconstituted body at the other end. So you better make sure your chamber is aseptic except for those bacteria that really belong there. Obviously, there will be no room for flies, mosquitoes, hair lice, jock itch fungus, athletes’ foot, parasites, etc.

  3. Gordon says:

    Thanks, Don. I was aware that bacterial cells outnumber our own 10-1. Thanks also for the link – that’s a very interesting article! I especially like the evolutionary discussion. To address your point: You are right that it is important. Yes, information about the bacteria that inhabit us should also be digitized, and used to rebuild the bacteria on the receiving end. Since there are so many of them, and so many distinct species (let alone individual genomes!), I’m afraid that would add considerably to the data volumes required for this process. However, there still would be opportunities for data compression, I’m sure. One digestive bacterium is a lot like another of the same species; so it might be enough to transmit defining information for one member of each species, together with a rough count and distribution in the host organism (i.e. the human organism).

    At the same time, not all the bacteria and viruses that inhabit us are benign. One benefit of ‘travelling as information’ is that the process lends itself to identifying harmful invaders and simply omitting them from the reconstructive process. HIV, for example, or H1N1, could be just left out when the person is being rebuilt. Possibly tumours could be as well, and even those few extra pounds (unless fat has been socially rehabilitated by the time this technology is mature). I can well imagine that this sort of clean-up and improvement will be offered as value-added options (for an added price), like a lube&oil or car wash when you park your car at the airport.

    Re The Fly: I don’t see an aseptic chamber as a requirement. The technology would have to be smart enough not to confuse two distinct organisms. This also relates to the point about our bacterial inhabitants. If a fly was in the chamber, one of two things should happen: (a) in the simple case, the fly would also be reproduced on the receiving end, or (b) the software would recognize that a fly had been digitized, and leave it out, like the cancer and the H1N1.

  4. Gordon says:

    Reply to Claudia: I have indeed used the word “illusion” in this context, but not in this post. Certainly I am not opposed to the ordinary use of the first person pronoun or to other ordinary ways that we refer to ourselves and one another. The thrust of my argument is not, “We don’t exist,” but, “We are not the kind of entities we think we are.” Musical works like Beethoven’s Fifth exist; and so do the instruments on which they are played. The identity criteria for instruments and tunes are quite different. My argument is that a theory of persons that makes them out to be more like tunes is better than one that makes them out to be more like instruments. I will try to develop this argument in more detail in the coming months.

  5. Bob Mitchell says:

    Hi Gordon

    I love the idea of a transporter and I keep hoping I will be around to take a ride, but it sounds like getting all the attributes (DNA and such) of a person on board will be a bit like the problem Noah had on the Ark. What if we have a flu virus. Will it be killed by the transporter cops (custom agents) in Australia.

    I like the idea that we are made up of attributes, flesh a bones are just a evolved means of transport. Lets get on with evolution so we can be where ever we want, when ever we want.

    Good stuff



  6. For awhile,I thought i was worried Star Trek was a passing away franchise. Then JJ Abrams came along. Nice touch. The scene with kid Kirk was a bit too quirky in the movie, however it was popular in the trailer. Star Trek XI breathed new life into this beloved Roddenberry universe. I’d like to see all of this Enterprise cast come back for further outings. I grew up with the classic series. Heck, my father got us a color TV just so we could enjoy Star Trek every single Friday night. At this point, I’m stuck on these new actors. In MHO, they have breathed life into their characters and made them their very own. I, for example, am looking forward to more.

  7. Tim Wilson says:

    The human brain appears to work in the same way as a computer.
    A vast video easy store which will replay past experience or imagination
    and even add in the required body chemistry.

    I think therefore the world exists and if i stop thinking the world will cease to exist i am therefore the most important person in the world.

    the way we think is a direct contradiction of reality, The biosphere places no value on the individual and see’s no one as important Quantity not Quality is the rule. In addition the human brain is wired to create a completely false sense of reality. Which allows it to exist in a finite world
    and in a finite universe which conveniently has a fence surrounding it and a sign saying infinity. The word I N F I N I T Y making our total inability to understand IT the universe somehow acceptable or more
    importantly comfortable.

    Human biology therefore is an incredible example of patronization. The
    Ape doesnt have to recognise a potatoe as incredibly advanced
    technology it just had to learn to push the button and eat it.

  8. Tara says:

    “All that a guru can tell you is:
    ‘My dear Sir, you are quite mistaken aboutyourself.
    You are not the person you take yourself to be.'”
    “There is no such thing as a person.
    There are only restrictions and limitations.
    The sum total of these defines the person. (…)
    The person merely appears to be,
    like the space within the pot appears to have the shape and volume
    and smell of the pot.”

    -Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

    Have you checked out Mooji? …his teaching (direct from Ramana Maharshi through Papaji) seem to comfirm all that you write about here.

  9. J W says:

    Your argument is our only chance at immortality is to leave a legacy of attributes behind us on Earth. In fact there are multiple possibilities. Every major world religion has something to say on the subject.

    Excluding the possibility that we could be more than a collection of attributes (i.e. we could have souls) is an either/or fallacy. Failing to acknowledge the possibilities presented by a multitude of beliefs is a fallacy of false alternatives.

  10. Dear J W,

    You’re correct to say that I more-or-less ignore a lot of religious views on this subject. I’m trying to come up with a concept of the self that is compatible with a scientific view of the world. I’m not aware of any scientific evidence for souls (understood as spiritual substances), and so I discount the possibility that they exist. Collections of attributes, on the other hand, or as I’ve come to prefer, ‘informational entities,’ are easy to understand within a scientific framework.

  11. J W says:

    Proof by lack of evidence is a fallacy as well. One must be exceedingly careful when presenting a case for one’s world view!

  12. J W says:

    Let’s assume an exceedingly simplified model. I transmit an attribute to three people. One person absorbs it, turns it into the complete opposite of what I originally gave him, and passes that attribute on to others. The second person acquires my attribute, garbles it somewhat, and transfers it to others. The third person passes the attribute on to others exactly as I originally transmitted it. This isn’t a very good success rate even in a simple model. It’s also interesting to note that each of these three people made an individual choice about what to do with the attribute.

    So are you working toward a metric to measure the impact of individual “informational entities” on other “informational entities?” Quantifying the impact of someone like Mahatma Gandhi would be difficult, but perhaps within the realm of possibility.

    I would caution you to not move into the realm of the unprovable, namely:

    “If we are attributes, not substances, then the immortality we can aspire to consists in our effect on other people and on the world at large.”

    This is a rather exclusive claim. Examples of other exclusive claims are, “Studying Buddha is the only way to attain Nirvana,” (I know, I know, most Buddhists don’t say that), or “Jesus is the only way to Heaven,” or “I myself am God.”

    Instead, I suggest you stick to what you can say about your model. Namely, you are discussing the assimilation and transmission of attributes. You have some very fascinating ideas, but I caution you to remember the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Human beings are incredibly complex, and you’re describing just one aspect of humanity – the acquisition, processing, and transmission of traits. That alone is a wonderfully deep subject, but it’s merely one tiny little aspect of what makes an individual human being tick.

  13. My theory has some explanatory and predictive content, and therefore is subject to test. That does not make testing it easy; but testing becomes more straightforward when there is a clearly stated alternative theory to test against. In your September comment you suggested the possibility that we have souls. What is the predictive content of THAT hypothesis? If I believed in souls, I would predict that information-based teleportation, as I have described it, would not work. Scientists’ best attempts to replicate a person would fail, because a soul is (I suppose) something that cannot be copied by conventional technology. Without a soul, the replica would, presumably, be dead–or perhaps it would have a kind of organic life, but no ‘inner life,’ no consciousness. Would it be zombie-like? What’s your prediction? (If you think it would be dead, consider the fact that even today it is possible to construct a mouse heart using ink-jet printing technology, and the heart beats! See my post on bioprinting.)

    The more general a theory is, typically, the more difficult it is to prove or disprove it by empirical test. For many years after the Copernican revolution, Ptolemaic geocentrism was better than Copernican heliocentrism at predicting astronomical observations. Today, we see the difficulties in trying to confirm or disconfirm the existence of the Higgs boson. Difficult is not impossible, but it will be a few more decades before we have a definitive answer on human replication.

  14. Bill Meacham says:

    Fascinating. Your notion of personhood or selfhood as a collection of attributes rather than a substance sounds remarkably like the Buddhist notion of _anatta_ or no-self. In this view, what we take ourselves to be is a collection of thoughts, feelings, perceptions and so forth (this is not a complete list) that undergoes change, but in that collection there is no stable thing or substance that is the self. What has continuity is the pattern, which is constituted by the attributes but is not itself any of the attributes or even all of them. Instead it is how they are combined and how they interact through time. A bit like information, I suppose. Good on ya!

  15. Peter Haase says:

    Hiya, Gordon. I feel a little bit out of my league with all these long words like ‘marmalade’ bouncing around like electrons in a light-bulb, but before the penny is finally thrown out with our currency-bathwater, I’d like to throw in my tuppence worth. I’ve always loved your inquiring mind; a welcome oasis for the questioning Bedhouin, me.
    As you know, I was raised within the bounds of a Stoical religion and by the grace of god [an old term meaning ‘intelligence’] saw the light and got the hell out. I taught and studied the good ol’ KJV scriptures for years. I still study them, but now compare their somewhat child-like, yet complex stories and thoughts with other mythologies. I like Egyptology. The transportaion of Osiris to Orion etc.
    Throughout my layman’s comparisons of standard myths, I’ve noted the converging avenues of the hope/messages; that of the carrying on of one’s self, the transportation from what often is regarded as a stepping-stone here and now to the better more satisfying destination. The Hope Myth of ‘starting all over again’ in a nicer, better form or body. The casting aside of the gathered drose of this here meagre moment, to a more idealized local where we arrive pain free, desease free, care free, debt free, guilt free, The freedom seems to be endless, and agonizingly alluring. Hence, the popularity of invented religion.
    But, I’ve always thought, there’s more, out there, than meets the eye in our holographic world, but our hubristic heads continue to stymie our progress, we know it all. WE DON’T. nano nano.
    The Phantom limb phenomenon has always intrigued me. How is it that a soldier in a hospital bed, can ask the nurse to scratch his foot, when he lost it to a land-mine days before? Is it just the nerve ending threading themselves together in confusion? Does such a phantom feeling last a lifetime, or just for a while as the roaming spirit of the leg [HA I’m getting crazy here] takes a few days to settle into it’s new awareness and then leaves for good?
    Some religions teach such a thing as the three to forty day pause, after death, before the spirit finally feels it’s bearings in the new experience of seperation from it’s companion body.
    On another note, drug-induced estrangement can be either hellish or heavenly, or both. Ask any maharishi, HA. Do we remember the 60’s? NO!
    The personalized mode of ‘dissolve and re-assemble’ technology, you mention, may one day come, but I think the transportation of ourselves exists already in a more organic form of our off-spring, which look like us, talk like us, inherit many similar attributes, good and bad, that are delivered through that amazing door-from-the-other-side, that silver thread connection, the umbilical, double helix transporter, DNA.
    Maybe this particular DNA cord is severed at conception, transfering all needed information to the beginning life-form, the fertilized egg; ‘creating’ a totally new individual being. After the required developemental time is reached, the physical birth then requires the dividing of the physical cord, and what you may be looking for, Gordon, is the intermediate cord, which may exist between the two we know of?
    Somebody mentioned Star Trek. I recall those worn out words, sometimes when I flip open my old cell-phone lid, “beam me up/ down, Scotty”. Now is your moment to beam us ‘sideways’ Gordon.
    Teleportation will make for a greener world. “…..and man made god in his own image.” Amen.
    Cheers to all, Liverpool Pete.

  16. Wow, what a comment! It’s like you, Peter – a bit larger than life. And many-threaded. Too many to pick up on, but that’s so often the case. Our connections to other people are not only to our children, and I don’t think DNA is the most important connecting thread.

    I will say something about phantom limbs. A lot more is going on there than frayed, confused nerve endings. Our brains support a computational model of our bodies. The model is vital for coordinated movement, for navigating the world, and for staying out of various kinds of trouble. A phantom limb can be painful to an amputee, but it also has a positive importance. Oliver Sacks reported an amputee with a prosthetic leg. When he woke up in the morning, he couldn’t walk until he first gave his stump a healthy slap–his phantom leg would then”shoot out” of the stump. When he put the prosthesis on, the phantom would adjust its boundaries to those of the artificial leg–and that enabled him to walk.

  17. Peter Haase says:

    Over 40 years ago I sat for a few days with an interesting, old, spiritual sage/brother. This was down in Ozzy land. I think the heat, fasting and long hours of meditation was getting to us. He rambled on about the spirit that we all possess and it’s beginning form; that of a tadpole or sperm. We both agreed that the strongest motivating force in all of nature was the reproduction of the self. Whether it was plant or animal, the main theme of all things, was pro-creation. Oui? The continuity of the species.
    We laughed for hours over all the silly connotations we could come up with. It’s amazing what comes to mind when it’s been ‘weeks’ since the last meal.
    The invisible spirit, he went on to describe, maintains this ‘comma-like shape’ as it developes to maturity. This physical ‘brain attached to the spine’, being the mirror image of it’s partner, the personalized spirit of the being. All this without drugs!
    So Gordon, if the grey matter between the ears, as you mentioned, has been programmed to operate the coordination of movement and motor management of the visible, would a slap on the leg be a repremand to the invisible life-force, that resides within; telling it to behave and stop complaining that part of what you used to ‘possess’ was now missing?
    Why is it that near-death-experience people report on looking back with sadness at the frail body they’ve just stepped out of? Does a spirit express angst upon seperation from it’s host? Are they symbiotic twins? Will the spirit be left behind upon teleportation? Will they catch up in the luggage? I remain agnostic and I like to relish the mystery of it all. L Pete

  18. I think we need to get over the idea of invisible spirits that have location and shape. That idea only holds us back. We have the Greeks to thank for it, principally Plato, who wrote about the immaterial, immortal soul–an indestructible spiritual substance. This, in my view, was a wrong turn.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a post called “Soul 2.0.” I’ll have to research it first, and right now I don’t know if the research will bear me out. The idea is that, long before Plato, there were pre-philosophical ideas of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ in common circulation, not precisely articulated, and that those pre-philosophical ideas of the soul were consistent with what we would now call the set of a person’s attributes, or her informational content. Remember the anecdotes about primitive tribes who object to being photographed on the grounds that the camera ‘steals their souls?’ The camera only acquires information. Perhaps the tribemen understand that, and that’s WHY they object. (Even in technological societies, many people object if their picture is taken without permission.) In this sense of ‘soul,’ books have souls as well as people. The soul of a book is its text. The body is its physical pages, cover, and ink. And a book is the kind of entity that survives if ANY COPY of it survives.

    Hence the viability of teleportation. The spirit is not left behind.

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