2) Is there such a thing as a soul, which is not physical, and therefore can exist after life in this world ends?
So here’s some thoughts:
I consider life meaningless. I don’t, however, ascribe to an ‘accident’ theory. It simply seems a progression. The answer to an equation if you will. Bunch of Stuff A + Bunch of Stuff B = Life happens, much in the same way that 1 + 2 = 3. There’s no accident there, but neither is there a sentient creator in the way many would think. In addition, I’ve long thought that to ascribe meaning to one’s life is the height of human arrogance. It separates us from our environment: ‘I am here on Earth to do X’. It places us in direct opposition to our surroundings – both our physical and social ones. Kant-like, it creates the self-other dichotomy for us to work through.
I once dated a proto-minister for the United Church. She was very involved in the church, and quite religious. We used to have discussions along this subject. She took incredible comfort knowing that she had purpose to her life. In direct opposition, I’ve always taken great comfort in the complete inconsequentialness of my life. Consider the alternative: Should my life have meaning, there is pressure to accomplish something. There is purpose, there is drive. There must be consequences for failing to live up to this meaning. However, my life has no purpose beyond the act of living itself. Should I do nothing with my life, I have not squandered an opportunity; indeed, some might argue that what contemporary Western Culture terms squandering one’s life is actually living in much greater harmony with one’s surrounds : embracing one’s minor part in the Great Equation, as opposed to forcing one’s will upon the Other – striving forward and so on and so forth.
The soul question has troubled me much more. The idea of a spirit (in the Animist sense) has always appealed to me. I recognise that much animism is nothing more than anthropomorphising our surroundings. I’m certainly guilty of anthropomorphising my computer/cats/friends. If the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, could not the soul simply the whole made up of the various chemical parts that is the human body? Love, which is often used as the argument for the soul, really nothing more than the combination of pheromones, hormones, memories and dreams, all of which could be reduced to chemical reactions internal and external to a body? Jellyfish, which as far as I know, do not even possess a brain, exhibit intelligence when gathered in large enough groups: hunting patterns and strategies begin to emerge from the mass. The whole in that case is much greater than the sum of the parts. Where is this ‘brain’? I don’t know. But certainly the soul could be something similar than that. Of course, it would mean that all creatures have souls, which for some reason that has always escaped me, religions appear dead set against. Also, it would indicate that upon the body’s death, the sould would die too. Of course, little bits of us live on in memories, smells, objects, etc. In the digital age, where in theory, a picture of me could last forever, would that frozen image capture enough of me for someone to project a ‘soul’ for me, that for them would still be real? Sure. Looking at pictures of my Grandfather brings back floods of memories, good and bad, that generate in my head, a complete picture of him as I remember him. That is different of course, then who he was, but could be construed as his soul living on.