Where Relationships Happen

This follows recent a domestic ruckus in a family I know and a row I had about a decade ago. That row was with a person who thought I was trying to manipulate them. He knew I was an atheist and yet in an explosion added “… and you can’t make me go to church!” I’ve never been able to follow that up but do know Sundays were a misery for him – a day for solemnity, no music, no TV, no fun and games with any infringement rewarded with a beating. So how did my friend conflate me with his, what I would consider, abusive parents?

My thinking (not “the Truth” obvs)…

This must be the most naïve view of a relationship. Works for spatial relationships, ie, if I am six foot away from you then you are six foot away from me. But with social relationships two people will regard each other differently. A may regard B as a mate while B may regard A as an irritating acquaintance.

So a little less naïve would be a relationship comprising two elements. But it’s assuming that our senses afford us perfect knowledge of each other.

More accurate is to model the relationship as happening between oneself and one’s idea of who the other person is. It’s all taking place within one’s head. That or some nonsense about souls.

Obviously we can’t imagine the other person perfectly, we’re limited to our senses and actual meetings which can’t give the full picture. So we’re having a relationship with a low-definition and distorted version of that other person

But how do we event create a model? Even if our brain came with a model it could be no more than a sketch template as it’s hard to see how evolution could anticipate even gross cultural variables. So with or without a given basis, we must construct a model for what a person is from our earliest encounters, most often parents. I imagine then that, at least early in life, we see other people as variations on those first models built from those first relationships.

Pity then the child born into early abuse – the world must be full of monsters to hide from or fight against.

Soul, the final frontier

A child once asked me what the soul was, I suppose having heard it repeatedly mentioned at church, school and in the odd pop song. I described it as the driver of a car which was the body. This fails for a number of reasons. Firstly it ignored the issue of what a driver’s soul would be. Secondly it didn’t account for what the soul was doing that a perfectly good brain couldn’t cope with. Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, was the issue of authority. I was simply repeating what I had been told but was presenting it as truth to a young enquiring mind; a mind that may have gone on to tease apart the mystery of consciousness with an untried approach – possibly.

There are some common ideas of what a soul might be. It’s not brain as that’s hardware. I don’t think it’s the same as mind either; I get the impression a mind is seen as hardware dependent, like the story where the brain is the book. As it persists after the body perishes it can’t be dependent on the physical body at all. But although it influences the physical self it avoids detection, which is a bit odd – like a torch that lights up objects but is invisible itself.

There are differing specifics on offer. Does it collect sin getting grubbier until cleansed with Grace-O the wonder holifier? On physical death, does it migrate to complete another human body or to any animal depending on earned merit or coalesce with a universal consciousness or even meet up with the souls of those gone before in a wonderful place, giving praise to their manufacturer for ever (and ever)?

The fact that there are competing models itself doesn’t mean they’re all wrong. But there are no tests available to decide the competition, neither on a cohort of souls nor on the methods by which the models were arrived at. So to say one tradition has the model right is like saying one person knew the winning lottery numbers in advance as they did indeed win but with the added complication of never being able to hold the draw.

Not that’s enough to scientifically discount the possibility of a soul, that method can’t judge on what can’t be tested but it can say that in that regard it is equivalent to any other untestable notion, for example, the claim that at the centre of every life sustaining planet there is a unique and breathtakingly beautiful gemstone that generates the force for that planet’s life and influences its character – a claim invented this very moment.

Its persistence is down to the absence of possible tests and perhaps that success gets confused with persistence of, say, using language to communicate, which persists because it has worked for millennia and telepathy doesn’t.

The age of the idea of the soul gives it credibility, authenticity even. Some like to believe that those ancient peoples were closer to nature, so more spiritual and knew more about the mysteries of life. But there’s no evidence for that, so we can simply bundle it in with the whole soul model: if it were real, as intangible, the revelation of its existence is a part of its mystery; if not real, the establishment and persistence of the idea is as much a part of the study as the belief itself.

Why does belief in it persist?

Just as fiction relies on interaction between people; science fiction often relies on interaction between people form other worlds. Sadly, apart from the nine local planets (eight if you discount Pluto, nine if you include the Moon) and a few possible moons all other worlds are so far off. There being limited scope for interaction between human heros and the Supreme Slimemold of Europa, SF is left with the basic issue of bringing races together. So devices like warp drive, bloater drive, stargates, wormholes and hyperspace in general are accepted constructs. So useful and appealing that they appear in tales without explanation or query despite them being baloney. Besides in the untestable future who knows what engine will be devised.

Similarly the soul – so early is this idea inculcated and so widely and casually distributed that its existence is not up for question.

And so appealing too. No one wants to die and even we who rarely see a human corpse recognise there’s no hope of reanimation. So if we’re going to persist there needs to be an elemental aspect to our self that will survive physical demise.

And so useful to those in power, since it offers an organised religion a handle on a part of us they can claim privileged knowledge of, then ownership of and then control.

But the challenge remains: if not the soul, what gives us consciousness given that science hasn’t figured out how the brain does that trick yet?

Call it a soul if you like and I’ll agree with the definition: soul (n): an outcome of the brain that gives the sensation of consciousness by an undiscovered mechanism.

Imagine there’s no death…

Rather a world where the old, infirm or unfortunate are simply taken away. Imagine a fleet of black vans, as common as ambulances. They would feature in that world’s Lego set of emergency vehicles.

999 in Legoland

When your time came to be taken a van would pull up. The black-cloaked driver would get out, make his way to your bedside or tap you in the shoulder and with a bony nod of his head towards the van, you would simply rise and follow. You would be driven off towards an otherwise avoided, vast, windowless, black building beyond the limits and no one would ever see you again. No one ever came back.

Some driven by the loss of a loved one, curiosity or the need to escape a desperate environment would make their own entry to this StaSiesque establishment. They’d not be prevented from entering but they would never reappear either.

From time to time a driver might turn up for a collection, exchange glances with their intended and leave alone. The survivor would say they remembered suddenly feeling an irresistible desire to follow, that it seemed entirely the right and natural thing to do until, just as suddenly, the desire was gone.

But once someone had been taken, it was as though they no longer existed.

Imagine now a smart phone app called “PysClick” that claimed to allow you to text with a loved one who had been taken. Anyone could install it. You would tap the icon, enter your loved one’s name, “connecting…” would appear on the screen but that was the extent of its function. It had bad reviews online too. “It sucks! Waste of time! Uninstall!”



Yet for all the millions who gave it 1 star a handful claimed it was awesome; an elite who claimed they had the gift of using it. And they would offer to act as middlemen,  conduits or mediums between you and your lost one – for a fee. “Give me some money,” they’d say, “Tell me what you want to ask and I’ll tell you their answer.” You’d pose the question then they’d tap away, shielding the phone’s screen from view.

“Should I marry again after my wife’s death?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“Your wife wants you to be happy, follow your heart. Fifty dollar.”

No one would believe it for a moment – it would have to be a fraud.

For no credible whisper had ever been heard from someone taken; certainly no one had ever come back.

And some conduits had definitely been exposed as frauds, employing the common tricks of the magician. For example, using a hidden earpiece relaying information from a remote accomplice who could dig up a few personal details on their mark and family online during the interview.

And how did the conduit arrange for your loved one to be so readily available on the other side of the wall at a moment’s notice? Billions of people had been taken, yet up pops your dearly departed on demand. That’s impressive admin. Perhaps when they passed over, people gained greater powers and had the ability to foresee your attempt to make contact, though they seemed to lack the power to be there when you use the app. One would expect them more likely to contact you directly rather than through someone who will charge you.

And the conduits made a good living off their fees which raised the issue of the provenance for their claims that could never be corroborated.

So how could anyone believe it?

Perhaps if they’d been inculcated from before they could even talk with fables of a guy who had actually come back, they would be more open to this groundless hope.

Perhaps if that society were scientifically illiterate and avoided condemning such old stories for fear of offending, they wouldn’t feel so foolish grasping at such a thin straw.

Perhaps if they were bereaved, shattered by the pain of loss with a need to communicate more powerful than the natural doubt, they would seek comfort in this deception.

I get that.

What I don’t get is how a conduit could continue in this fraud, lying to people about their dead loved ones to take their money.

Actually scratch that. I don’t get muggers and rapists but they get locked up, so that’s fine.

Conduits are free to conduct their business and submit tax returns.

That I don’t get.


I know

How do we know that something is the case?

Using “the case” avoids associations that arise with “true” but truth is the point. How do I know that something is true? More precisely, how can I hold an idea in my head that represents a situation outside my head accurately?

It’s raining…

An obvious starter but there’s scope. Perhaps I hear what I think is rain but it’s the radio or it’s 2053 and I’ve subscribed to the rain forest channel in RealDef so the walls present that environment. Perhaps my definition of rain is not the same as the Meteorological Office but if I know what I mean by rain and that’s what I think it is, that’s good enough for me to know it is. In any case I can test what I think I know with further examination and come to know if it’s raining to the degree I care. I can define that what’s happening now as raining and if you agree, we can share that truth.

They loves you…

Using a singular “they” over s/he. There are clear cases, the billions ignorant of you don’t, and where it’s unclear. Like for rain there are tests to the degree you care and perhaps you have a clear case where you’d say it’s true. But it wasn’t always and it will come to an end so it is transient. However, at the end, for those where it matters to you, you’ll know won’t you?

God loves you…

in the absence of tests. “God is with us today,” said a mother to her son as a bus pulled up as they arrived at the stop. And many know, to the degree they care, that there’s a god and he loves them. And many share the truth.


You want to hold a representation of the world in your head? You wish to arrange your neurons and synapses such a way? Or do what with your soul, if you own such a gizmo, that it holds that representation? Will you then relate to that internal representation in order to “know” the external situation?

You know nothing of rain, of their love nor of a god. You are shuffling old scripts to make new.

You know nothing.

Say “rain” when you are wet, “love” when you feel it. But “God”? What is that nonsense word you are babbling?

(the “you” is probably not you)