One Man, One Soul – or Not?
Since ancient times, most humans have believed that each person “owns” his or her own individual soul.
This belief was a worldwide phenomenon before Mohammed, before Jesus, and before Buddha – as far back as we know from the historical record. Scholars have often debated what we should conclude from this worldwide belief. Is it a natural consensus, resulting directly from human intelligence and experience when unbiased by the heavy yoke of modern nation states and ideologies? Or is it a byproduct of human beings being at an intermediate stage of evolution – advanced enough to understand that each of us will die, but not advanced enough to overcome the use of magical wishful thinking and self-glorification as defense mechanisms when confronted with that “bad news”? Or both?
There is a classic book by Mircea Eliade, called Shamanism, which provides important empirically-based insight into the early cultures of humanity. In ancient times, shamans of various types existed all over the earth; they influenced and were influenced by the beliefs of all normal people. One universal belief was that people can “travel out of their body” during dreams or during “ecstatic trances.” These sorts of subjective experiences occur routinely in normal people as well, especially when they are trained to remember and be conscious during their dreams; see Lucid Dreaming, by Stephen Laberge of Stanford. There is a fantasy novel, Prince of Dreams, by Christopher Huff, which does a magnificent job of conveying the “feel” of the early cultures in central and east Asia. From those dreams, people felt that they owned a kind of second (or third or fourth) body which could travel around even as their “other body” stayed at home. They believed that these dreams were real in an objective way, because of “veridical details” – information obtained in a dream, which was later confirmed to a degree which they felt to be definitely more than a coincidence. Mohammed’s veridical dream of riding to heaven on a white horse and learning things there was the number one event bringing followers to him in the decisive early days of Islam; it is the most famous veridical dream in human history, and far more modern and well-recorded than the lives of Jesus, Buddha and Moses. But there are also rich and interesting reports by Michael Fox and in the novel “V” by Pynchon. Less trustworthy but more entertaining are the Oversoul novels by Jane Roberts and In My Soul I am Free by Stieger, which were clearly influenced by Indian culture, among other things.
But even if one accepts veridical dreams as a fact of life, do they really imply that people have multiple bodies that wander around in various kinds of space? The details of the reported experiences, and the underlying logic (as discussed in my introductory paper on consciousness and a condensed follow-on paper) convince me that there is a more plausible explanation. This explanation would seem like gross heresy to both extreme viewpoints –
the people who deny that veridical dreams exist at all, and the people who believe that their dream bodies are real.
Yet is it really crazy to take the middle path, and to believe something which is intermediate between the extreme views which people fight over, when that is where logic and experience really take us?
If there is a kind of “invisible” connection between the minds of different people – a kind of “noosphere” or collective intelligence – then these dreams may be just as real and just as false as the experiences you may have on the Internet, when you participate in a virtual chat room with other real people. The dreams themselves are like the virtual chat rooms. The chat rooms are real only in a secondary sort of way; the Internet itself is the more universal and more fundamental information layer of the larger physical reality. But the InnerNet has far more embodied intelligence in its architecture than does today’s InterNet, even though it too is plainly in an immature state. The famous “astral body” is just what computer scientists called “an avatar” for the chat rooms. It is something that can be changed easily and quickly by users who know the system. And of course, users may have different “avatars” at different times.
Nevertheless – who is participating in these chat rooms?