Most people, regardless of race, religion or culture, believe they are immortal. That is, people believe that part of themselves-some indelible core, soul or essence-will transcend the body's death and live forever. But what is this essence? Why do we believe it survives? And why is this belief so unshakable?
A Boston University study led by postdoctoral fellow Natalie Emmons asked 283 kids from different parts of Eucador about this subject, and the result was fascinating:
The results were surprising. Both groups gave remarkably similar answers, despite their radically different cultures. The children reasoned that their bodies didn't exist before birth, and that they didn't have the ability to think or remember. However, both groups also said that their emotions and desires existed before they were born. For example, while children generally reported that they didn't have eyes and couldn't see things before birth, they often reported being happy that they would soon meet their mother, or sad that they were apart from their family.
..."They didn't even realize they were contradicting themselves," said Emmons. "Even kids who had biological knowledge about reproduction still seemed to think that they had existed in some sort of eternal form. And that form really seemed to be about emotions and desires."
I always respect the views of children. Kids are exposed to the world full blast, without the insulation of explanations and rationalizations. Human belief, in fact, usually contradicts itself in some ways:
If the soul isn’t physical, it’s not subject to “death”.
Nor can it be defined in physical terms.
Some religions, notably Hinduism
, build in a form of immortality, governed by rules like dharma and karma. Others, like the monotheistic religions, separate the soul’s existence into simple stages of life and death.
Emmons makes a useful, honest point:
"I study these things for a living but even find myself defaulting to them. I know that my mind is a product of my brain but I still like to think of myself as something independent of my body," said Emmons.
"We have the ability to reflect and reason scientifically, and we have the ability to reason based on our gut and intuition," she added. "And depending on the situation, one may be more useful than the other."
The mainspring of our relationship with existence, in practice, has an “I” which is defined, with an additional existence which is equally real, but not at all well-defined. It’s basically a beyond-corporeal existence.
Dreams are a case in point. If we physically did everything that happens in dreams, we couldn’t fit it all into one physical lifetime. The dream-self, a well-known, if horribly defined, entity, is usually consistent to some degree.
The waking self isn’t much better at self-definition. In fact, it’s lousy at this role. Conscious, perhaps, but not necessarily conscious of its other “extended self”, roaming the rest of its existence. It’s like a job- The job is the local reality, the rest of life is something else.
In Celtic lore, there were two worlds- This world, and the Other World. This is probably a metaphor for the two natures of people, the self we know and the self we extend outside mundane existence.
, the Tao, or Way, is the overriding nature of existence of all kinds. Taoism believes that the relationship with the Way is the main issue for life, not the purely material interpretation.
For thousands of years, religion, philosophy and billions of unsure minds have grappled with this issue. It wouldn’t be too surprising if the uncluttered minds of children, experiencing the transition from one state of existence to another, were better qualified to understand it.
One thing for sure- Every human being who has ever lived has had an experience which is “outside” the frame of mere physical rationalization. Mental experience goes well beyond the purely physical, in so many ways.
We are aware of our various different types of self at different times. We experience things beyond the simple physical life regularly. The soul (for the sake of argument, the primal raw self), the spirit (some would call the spirit the “evolved soul”, and the mind are all parts of the same thing, playing different roles.
In relation to what are they playing these roles?
It is irrational to deny experiences of your own existence based on arbitrary “rules” and pedantic/dogmatic “beliefs” which barely acknowledge that humans have brains, let alone minds.
One may be taught how to believe.
One may be taught what to believe.
Truth, however, makes no deals. What you really believe is what you are sure is true. It’s the belief you know you can trust. Personal truth, the nearest working principle to the soul, is uncompromising, and truth wins, every time. In a conflict between truth and belief, only truth can win.
There’s no religion on Earth which says “Be an ignoramus”. Nor is there one which says “Be a liar”. Your personal truth is what it is, not what some third party says it is.
Maybe we should try to learn to live with (and as) our real selves, not somebody else’s “interpretation” of what our real selves are?
This research could lead to people achieving something they have never done before- Being their real selves. Interesting thought, isn’t it?