I’m not a religious person, but I have been known to use the word “soul.” Sometimes it’s in a sarcastic way, but other times it’s a metaphor for identity; a quick way of summing up the core of what makes a person a person in one word.
In a non-religious sense, then, a soul is simply a pattern of matter. It’s our bodies and physical appearance, combined with a brain that is wired to send signals that give rise to certain subjective experiences and cause certain behaviours that constitute “personality.” It’s all just stuff arranged in a certain way.
Is a person’s identity – their soul – confined within the boundaries of their skin? I would argue no. And not just because clothing and hairstyle can convey identity (sometimes a little too much, if you ask me). I would argue that whenever somebody creates something – whether it’s a painting, a scientific paper, a poem, a doodle, a piece of music, a delicious meal, a blog post, etc. – anything that causes matter to be rearranged – they have put a piece of their identity into that creation. Why not? Is there a fundamental difference between changing the layout of a few neurons, and changing the layout of a few blobs of paint? Both can be a direct result of, and become incorporated into, what we’d call a person’s identity. The fact that one is written in neurons and one is written in paint is an arbitrary distinction.
Furthermore, affecting another person’s thoughts is just rearranging their neuron patterns. Thus, making a big difference in another person’s life means putting a big piece of one’s soul into their physical brain. Something one has created can even affect other people. Which isn’t surprising, given that creations are also a part of one’s soul. It’s all just soul affecting soul.
In sum, as we go through our lives creating things and affecting people, we put pieces of our souls in these things, and they are just as real as the pieces in our bodies and brains.
So when we die, and only the pieces in our brain cease to exist, with our bodies soon following, are we really dead? Well, if our soul – the thing that makes us us – is still existing in patterns of matter all over the place, including in other people, then no. We are less alive, sure, but we are not completely dead.
Even if all the religious folks are wrong – and no offense, but I think most of them are – there is still room for life after death in some sense. A very real sense.
Weird coincidence: This morning I downloaded Islands’ album Return to the Sea, not paying attention to the track list. I put it on just now. The first track is called “Swans (Life After Death)”.
Screw everything I just wrote, IT’S A SIGN FROM GOD.