Monday, April 20, 2015
In the back of my head, I had a feeling that I mused about this subject -- alternate afterlives -- on this very blog. And lo, and behold! I wrote something way more silly and vague about four and a half years ago.
Anyhow, here is my revised, pseudo-theological, quasi-cosmology of the soul. For our purposes, the soul is defined as the "electricity" that runs up and down a person's nervous system (etc.), quickening all voluntary and involuntary movements, accessing memories and thoughts from brain cells, and giving that person a point of view. A disembodied soul might look like an electric flying spaghetti monster. Because it is neuron-less and hormone-less, a disembodied soul can neither feel pain, pleasure, fear, etc., unless it is incarnated, re-embodied, given a meat suit, given a vessel, some sort of animal machine -- in other words, a soul needs a body to feel. A disembodied soul cannot remember anything because it does not have any storage medium like brain cells. A resurrected body might not remember anything, unless this new/refurbished vessel downloads previous memories from ... the cloud? In any case:
PARADISE. The first possible afterlife is Heaven. Without getting into the religion-specific (denomination-specific, even) dogma, paradise is a place of no stress (peace) and good stress (pleasure), but little to no bad stress (pain). Food is easy to acquire, and friends are always available. In fact, if you're not trying to make your current life, on Earth, in the mortal realm, a bit like my aforementioned description of paradise, then you're really wasting your life. Here's the plan that won't guarantee heaven on earth, but it certainly looks good on paper: Be kind, be mellow (until you cannot be either), don't buy crap (things and ideas) that you don't need, and acquire food and shelter.
PERDITION. The second possible afterlife is Hell. This has always been a confusing bit of theology. Is it a place to punish the wicked? Is it a place to create a powerful demonic army from the wicked, to subsequently invade all realms of paradise? Seriously. What the hell (pun intended)? I hear the music's good down there, though. In any case, kind people can neither be punished by hellfire, nor be transformed into an unkind demon soldier. Hopefully.
ANNIHILATION. The third possible afterlife is none at all. Your time, my time, and everyone's lifetimes are all mayflies in the grand, multi-billion year scheme of things. It's short, beautiful, and every moment must count. The gods are jealous, and so are the elves, et cetera, et cetera. Alternatively, some non-mainstream versions of Christian eschatology give an eternal paradise to the redeemed, but for the damned -- they also get resurrected, only to get their asses handed back to them in the Battle of Armageddon, and then the wicked no longer exist. Annihilation for everyone, or annihilation for the wicked, seems to be a cosmically just fate, either way ... I suppose.
REINCARNATION. The fourth one, traditionally, involves being reborn as one person, then another person, then perhaps another life form, going up and down some sort of hierarchy of existence. If you're good in one life, you get a promotion. If you're bad in one life, you get a demotion. Then, upon discovering the true meaning of the universe, one breaks the cycle and ... stops existing? Or exists everywhere? I'm not sure. It seems to me that this kind of afterlife, can also be applied to a civilization to create a (theoretically) stable social order: If you're born rich, you deserve it because you were good in the previous life. If you're born poor, you deserve it because you were bad in a previous life. How can one be good in this life? Don't rock the boat, and don't mess with the stable social order. How convenient ...
I either stumbled upon, or synthesized the following non-traditional afterlives:
THE FINAL MOMENT. The fifth afterlife is an eternal dream of Heaven or Hell, or both, or none of the above. You know when the alarm sounds, you hit snooze, then dream a dream that feels longer than the five minutes before the next alarm sounds? I think we're able to perceive time differently while asleep. Perhaps, at the moment of death, a person will dream one final dream that lasts ... forever. Hopefully it's a good one.
QUANTUM IMMORTALITY. The sixth afterlife might be worse than Hell. I must've picked up the concept reading Wikipedia years ago. As I interpret it, there are an infinite number of possibilities for every moment of time. If there is a possibility for death, there is a also possibility for survival. One's subjective point of view will always experience the moments of survival, and never the moments of death. In effect, this immortality essentially provides a solipsist universe for every individual. It's a lonely eternity in an aging body. Everyone eventually becomes a trillion-year-old tree stump in their own separate reality. I can think of no greater Hell. (It must suck to be the Face of Boe.)
THE TIME LOOP. The seventh afterlife recognizes that one's lifetime is but a speck in the wibbly, wobbly expanse of space-time. It also recognizes that one's lifetime exists and cannot be undone. When a sentient organism dies, its consciousness will travel back in time, back to the mammal womb or reptile egg or fruit seed -- the moment when the "lights" turn on. Since you can't take anything with you when you die, not even memories, you'll re-live the same life, as if everything were brand new. For example, when I die, my "point-of-view" goes back to some moment in utero, I get born on the same birthday, and I make the same mistakes in life, without realizing I've done this before. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's kind of a comical fate, come to think of it. At least, it can be a comedic for ethereal outsiders who observe this time loop for all the mortals, or perhaps reruns might get a bit boring.
EXTREME REINCARNATION. The eighth afterlife takes the fourth afterlife, reincarnation, to its most absurd and logical conclusion. I picked this up reading the weird part of the Web (i.e., parts of Tumblr). Basically, you have lived, and will live, every life possible in the universe, regardless of chronological order. If you were MLK in a past life, then you'll be James Earl Ray in a future life -- and you won't even know it at the time. You'll be the hunter and Bambi's mother ... and Bambi, and Thumper, too. For those who actually adhere to this belief, it makes the Golden Rule a literal thing. Anyhow, I wonder if that is actually a valid afterlife in an actual religion. Traditional reincarnation has an out, i.e., Nirvana. This one does not. Well, at the end of it, so the Tumblr story goes, you have a conversation with the God of the Universe, who gives you the keys to your very own universe, so you get to play god.
THE SAME PLACE. The ninth and final afterlife might be the most blasphemous to most flavors of Christianity, and perhaps most mainstream religions as well. Various hymns, as well as the verse in the book of Romans (“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God”) tell of a Heaven where the redeemed sing "Holy, Holy, Holy," in the warmth of God's love. Conversely, similar sources imply of a Hell where the condemned scream "Holy, Holy, Holy" in the heat of God's wrath. If souls have no memories, there is no difference between this version heaven and hell. A soul would have to be given either a "happy body" or a "sad body" to tell the difference.
As for me, I'd like to believe in good fates, happy endings, and cosmic justice. However, in lieu of that, I try to live my life, as if it'll loop ad infinitum. The year 1995 has happened, and will always exist in this universe, so hopefully I made it a good year ... I just might re-live 1995 the same exact way, without even knowing it.
The same goes for 2015.
POSTSCRIPT. Highlighted in bold above, here are my three obvious suggestions to live well in an infinite loop:
1. Be kind and be mellow, until you can be neither kind nor mellow. Then kick some ass.
2. Don't buy crap you don't need. Don't consume stuff you don't need. Don't believe ideas you don't need.
3. Acquire food and shelter ... for yourself and those under your care. (Duh.)