This last week my wife and I finished up watching HBO’s “Westworld”. If you enjoy heady science fiction, westerns, or shows that you can get lost in it’s a wonderful show. There is a lot within the show. In fact, our most recent podcast (found here) is about that show. Of course we only just touched on the immense topics that are found within. But the one question that came up in our conversation, and while watching the show is this question of “What is sentience?”
Now you could go with the standard definition which is still rather vague and confusing or go with the classic redefinition of theologians into what we call the soul. So then what is the soul? We have heard that we are triune beings in the image of the trinity, comprised of body, spirit, and soul. But does that make it any easier to understand? I don’t think I have ever really found it easy to understand myself. I had someone explain it to me like this once, the body is obviously your physical being, the spirit is your personality, and the soul is the very thing that is you. I think people interchange the three sometimes. I’m still a little unclear on the lines of delineation, but I want to explore the idea of the soul this week.
I was struck by a different interpretation of the genesis creation narrative that I had not heard before when doing research on the philosophy of “Westworld”. This interpretation was to say that eating of the fruit in the garden was the gaining of sentience. This intrigued me because that would mean that the Judeo-Christian tradition has always viewed the soul as a bad thing, subconsciously. That it stems from the idea of original sin, and that everything bad came about from that moment. The Judeo-Christian narrative as a retelling of pandora’s box. Does that mean we believe everything that has a soul is inherently bad? Is the knowledge of good and evil a bad thing? I struggled with this a bit on the show.
The show plays with the idea of bicameralism, and quite openly I might add. Julian Jaynes presented the idea in his book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. While it is not generally accepted by modern psychologists, it is an interesting concept to play with. The hypothesis states, if you didn’t already click the link above to find out more, that the human mind assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys. Jaynes’ idea was that these auditory hallucinations are what the early human civilizations attributed to the ancient gods and when this started breaking down that is when those civilizations started breaking apart. While I don’t believe in this idea fully, it is an interesting thought to play within the idea of the soul or consciousness.
I wrongly (See, I admit when I am wrong in an idea) wrestled with the idea that some humans may not have consciousness in our show on Sunday. I was still wrestling with the idea of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil being a symbol for consciousness and the depth of that. I started venturing deeper into that idea, as you can see thus far, I started to think about what really separates human beings from other living things. I know this is something that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with for millennia and one idealistic writer isn’t going to figure it out in a week sitting on the couch watching tv. But I was struck with a thought. Maybe, just maybe, what separates us from other living things is nothing. That the thing we call the soul is really the spark of the Divine that resides in all living creatures.
Maybe that still small voice in our minds is the Divine speaking through our own conscience. Maybe when we didn’t have so much noise around us demanding our attention we were much more able to listen to what the Divine had to say, auditorily or not. Is it possible that it is still there waiting to have a conversation with us? Somewhere within us?
There is an ancient spiritual tradition of a walking prayer that is seen in many different cultures around the world. You have the Nazca lines in Peru, even in ancient Minoan, Greek, and Egyptian cultures this idea of a maze or labyrinth that one focuses on following in an attempt to quiet the mind and soul (or spirit and soul if you’d like) in an attempt to commune with the Divine. In medieval Christian traditions, the labyrinth was a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). Or it was also a trap for demons because they can’t figure out mazes for some reason, but I like the God metaphor more. There are also people who believe they were symbols to communicate with aliens, but again let’s stick with the God metaphor.
Maze walking, I like to believe, has been a form of meditation since human beings have been around. Meditation has always been about calming the mind and body to reach a higher level of understanding. I would like to believe that higher level of understanding is a communion with the Divine. I have often mentioned before that I believe the Divine is everywhere, and in everything. I would like to believe that all of Creation communes with the Divine in its own unique way. We can see that each form of meditation works differently for different people. Labyrinths have always been a favorite of mine. It gives me something to focus on to quiet my body and mind. I do believe that the Divine can and does communicate with those who are willing to listen.
This is certainly a very turbulent time for very many people. I know I wrote about some very headache inducing topics this week, but I want to stick with this idea. Maybe the soul is the spark of the Divine that resides in you. Maybe you just need to calm your body and spirit enough in your own unique way to find the center of the maze and commune with it. Maybe it is there sitting, waiting for you to meet with it. Maybe. Maybe I’m just an idealistic writer with an errant thought while watching tv.