Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Musings of a part-time philosopher

Someone we knew for a long time died in a freak accident couple of days ago. When I mentioned it to a friend he remarked, "such events make me fearful of my own eventuality". I smiled and quoted Mark Twain, "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it". This friend was shocked at my response, to say the least, and he took the discussion towards soul, spirituality and the whole nine yards in that direction. Here is my humble philosophy on these matters (as you will see, I borrow quite heavily from great intellectuals and thinkers, and add a few cementing touches to form my own philosophy).

Imagine a castle that your child just made out of lego bricks. This castle undeniably exists in space-time- right here, right now. He then takes the bricks apart and throws them all in his toy box. Where is the castle now? In the toy box, you may say. But, no. Its "constituents" are in the toy box that the child can later use to make a truck, a train, a robot or a house. The unique arrangement that made the castle does not exist anymore. You could easily imagine a mathematical model that defined this arrangement. Similarly, every atom in our body came from somewhere in the universe. If you could track an individual atom's journey (dear physicists, please ignore the quantum implications of such an exercise), you may find that it once formed a part of a highway robber, a saint, a king, a pig, a fish, a tree, an amoeba, a stone, a meteorite, a star...there are a zillion other possibilities. A person's existential reality is merely a unique arrangement of matter in space and time. Just like the lego castle, but a zillion times more complex. To me, this mathematical reality, when applied to living things, approximates to the concept of soul.

Consciousness is merely a mental model that integrates the particles of our body into a unitary perception, contemplates the relationship of this perception with its environment and (most importantly) contemplates itself contemplating all of this. If this is complicated, I am sorry, but consciousness is not easy. The last step where the mind contemplates itself contemplating the reality differentiates human level of consiousness with that of other living things...or so I hope. The neural network of our brain should exist, and in a certain form to create this consciousness. It is also easy to see that mathematically, this arrangement is a subset of the model that we called "soul" above.

To sum things up...
  • The physical reality of our material constituents is our "body".
  • The mathematical reality of this unique arrangement in space-time is "soul".
  • A special subset of this arrangement that creates a mental state of awareness of these realities is "consciousness".
(Child of the Universe, by Josephine Wall)
So, what is death? The arrangement that we called "soul" need not be completely decimated for one to die. Death is merely an irreversible elimination of the conditions that give rise to consciousness. The rest is physical degradation. And before you ask me, the difference between being in coma and being dead is irreversibility. Why don't I particularly fear death? Because, death is absence of consciousness, and therefore experience. I needn't fear something I wouldn't experience. 

In the end I'd like to quote Dr. Wayne Dyer- "your life is but a paranthesis in eternity".


  1. Bouncers over by dumb head. LOL. Anyway discussing soul and death is meaningless without God. Why did you not bring God in this discussion?

    - Vijay

  2. Well, because, God asked me to leave him alone. Apparently, too many people are using his name in vain too many times and that annoys his infinite mind to no end.

  3. Interesting..
    Some people who are parallel in thought to you and you might enjoy reading those:
    1. The selfish gene by Richard Dawkins
    2. Khalil Gibran

  4. In case you are wondering who made the last comment. It is Sandeep Giri. I just wanted not to login.

  5. Ah Sandeep, my friend. I have read Dawkins, and Gibran as well. Like I said, "I borrow quite heavily from great intellectuals and thinkers".