May the destroyers of our world rain their cosmic force upon you! Seriously speaking, this is a place from which I get to both curse and praise the world without actually affecting it in any physical way.


Sensible Spirituality

I just listed six different takes on the afterlife, although my primary concern was for the first, specifically the Chinese view. I don’t regret writing them, and am glad I did. However, I still haven’t written my feelings on how Chinese, and later most cultures, see spirits.
Until the 20th Century, nobody pretended that folk beliefs and spirits were anything truly defendable against. After all, if you can’t see an invisible troublemaker, you can’t tell if you’re seeing him making mischief or not, or if he’s walked away from you or not, or even if he’s cleaning up his messs. Or not. Also, most people hadn’t heard of the scientific method, and had no idea how to go about testing the validity of folk beliefs. If they did try, they didn’t know how to keep constants and a single independent variable, nor more importantly the bias they themselves held while conducting the trial. Thus, once they did learn such things, it wasn’t long before they stopped marvelling at the glittering towers of science and decided to dig up the earthy stories they grew up on.
Many superstitions were discredited. Others were convincingly proved false by the confirmation or rejection of others. There are still plenty to be tested. Regardless, people hold onto their beliefs in the face of hard, tangible proof. For example, people trust that pyramids were built by aliens, rather than thinking that Egyptians might have also had geniuses like Newton or Galileo or Einstein to direct such endeavours.1 Or far closer to home are horoscopes. Supposedly the motion of the heavenly bodies affects our lives and thus the combination of natural events, other persons and personal experiences which together is luck. So if we know how to read those bodies, we can predict and anticipate booms and slumps in our lives and take advantage of them accordingly. However, few people know (or care, even sadder) that if you cover the signs and read the advice in a horoscope, most people can’t tell the difference, even if the advice contradict. This is a particular technique of speaking. The writer lists circumstances almost any human being should be going through or feels they are going through and then gives the sensible2 solution to dealing with it.
And besides, we have discovered flocks of galaxies in the gaps between adjacent stars, but no one has said how they determine when I will next nearly-faint when I see the girl of my (one-sided) affection.
The point is, humans believe what they will, no matter what other people say, if they truly, honestly want to.
Which brings me to spirits. Humans believe they are not alone. In a world where at least ten billion people have lived their lives, this shouldn’t be an object of dispute. But then humanity would prefer to think that there are other collective entities that exist in the universe. Namely, aliens and spirits. Aliens come later. Spirits come now.
Spirits can take charge of a specific landmark. A stone, a brook, a pile of dirt, any of these are viable dwelling places. Alternatively, they can be part of an organism, anything from a redwood to a mayfly. Disregarding the actual abilities of their hosts, spirits of the world can interact with humans, often manipulating the physical to bring across surprisingly human desires. A tree may demand a dish of cooked rice every day, though it lacks jaws and may indeed be touted as a form of cannibal for doing so. Failure to comply, however, leads to misfortune that the immobile tree has caused whilst hard at work smashing water and carbon dioxide molecules into their atoms and subsequently reforming them into sugar as it then takes the energy released by the reaction.
The spirits may in fact take human form at times, though it is clear that they are not human themselves. So say the many fae who have been taken by men and birthed halfling children. Supposedly being foreign entities with different origins as ourselves, they should also have few similarities in our ways of thinking. But they can fight wars with as much vigour as ourselves at times.
This view might be false. Maybe all spirits are human, simply at one time or another, but we can all be labelled as a member of spiritkind. The pontianak is a famous one in Southeast Asia. The ghost of a newly-wedded bride, if I remember correctly, it resides in banana trees.3 Any disturbance made to the banana tree is asking for trouble, for the pontianak will then harass you in your daily life, preferably at nighttime, when you are more vulnerable. The only way to sate it is to undergo a complex ritual filled with delightful ceremonies (also preferably at nighttime), at which the pontianak returns to its tree, waiting for the next hapless victim to offend it.
Here is my point of contest. If all spirits might be considered human in a human body, and that many feared spirits were in fact humans when alive, why should we be afraid of them? We can be afraid of people, but if we learn of their lives and the many facets of the singular human gestalt, our fear may lessen or be accompanied by feelings of empathy, pity or maybe even admiration. There is no such thing in spirits. Spirits are filled with one thing, and that is an emotion. Be it anger, hatred, fear, longing or love, that is their only manifestation and they fulfil it in all their sightings.
I put this down to public relations. Frankly, hearing a ghost speaking of the old days when people made their own chaptehs, not like now where they’re all assembled in a factory by a few bored workers, is not a ghost who is likely to be remembered. But a ghost who goes on and on and on about the wrongs done to it in its life seems a tad more intriguing, even if a moment’s thought reveals that the average human life is filled with wrongs anyway and contains pleasures if only a moment’s thought is spared.
Humans are not people of one emotion. That is one-dimensional. All people display at least three dimensions of thought in their lives, for the sake of analogy. Heart, mind and soul, which only by coincidence number three, are the minimum that make up a person. Surely those pontianaks have sly thoughts that ambush them in the middle of an outrage of security that remind them that their victim is someone’s child, someone’s friend and maybe someone’s parent. Maybe they too wonder what happens to bad pontianaks who don’t lash out at every person who touches their banana leaves properly. Perhaps they mourn for their grooms who moved on without them or effectively died on their deathdays. In short, if you talk of a human spirit, that spirit will appear a human under a sufficiently long period of scrutiny.
I am aware our so-called ways of such scrutiny are little more than mumbo-jumbo at worst and near-actual experiences that straddle the line between imagination and reality at best. I am also aware that most conveniently, spirits are said to shy away from humans and thus would not savour an interview.
In group dynamics, there are a majority of people who nod and mumble when a leader or makeshift one goes and lead them, a minority who join that leader to rise to positions of power and another minority who reject that leadership and gambol off to do things their own way. I like to think I’m the third. I assume that most spirits fall in the first category, and possibly the second as well. So in our entire span of existence, I don’t see why it’s unreasonable that humanity should have spiritual encounters of the third kind.
Sadly, knowing people, they probably thought such encounters weren’t good tales. We, after all, are never as sensible as we’d like to be, whether in confirmed life or unproved death.


Deader than Dead

On the average, I tend to assume most people are too busy being alive to bother about abstract notions like ghosts and the spiritual world. However, it seems as if the exact opposite is true, and what I once heard from our Pastor Jeremy was also true: That people are very concerned about spirituality, but not about God.
This being the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, it is plausible that have given in to the crowd for once in my way of thinking. However, I don’t feel that has happened. Anyway, they’ve gone and made a detour somewhere else so we now have two differing views on the same subject.
Like today. Chee Siong was sharing a recount by a schoolmate who could supposedly see ghosts. During CID lesson she saw1 a ghost following one of the teachers, and began talking to it. Apparently, it was doing ghostly deeds, looking for someone it knew when it was supposedly alive. Since she was on the topic, the schoolmate then asked the ghost please not to haunt anyone, and the spectral fellow agreed. She apparently also has a reputation for her third eye.
About three weeks before that, Kelvin and Yuejun also got on the topic while eating at McDonald’s. They went through basic stuff, like how spirits live in a world practically invisible to our eyes, except for the select few who could be seen who also happened to be the select few who had major communication problems. Communication with people, that is, and not other spirits. I can only speculate about how they joke, scold, tease, cry and jolly one another.
And now the background information is past, and I can begin the real thing.
People have a few beliefs of life after death, healthy in that it shows how varied we are, unhealthy in that they are not necessarily inclusive of one another.
The first is the afterlife, where based on our deeds on earth2 we are judged and then sorted into differing afterlives to spend, suffer or enjoy indefinite eternity. The Greeks have these three together, named Hades, Tartarus and the Plains of Elysium respectively. Alternatively, there is reincarnation, but that’s for later. The Chinese afterlife also has this, people are transformed into fairies and are from thereon part of the celestial hierarchy until they commit some minor error and are flung back to earth for punishment. The Catholics have this in the form of Purgatory, Hell and Heaven. Purgatory is where all souls must suffer for their sins by going through a limbo. Sounds like a boring sitting session magnified a few thousand times. Once they have paid their toll, may they then ascend to heaven, or descend to hell if I’m right. Catholics may lessen or even redeem their dead by praying for their sins and beseeching the Mother Mary to forgive them because of her authority over Jesus.
The thing is, most of these belief systems deal primarily with afterlife forever. From living a life where we at best expect to live to a hundred to a life where a millennium and a day make little difference does not sound right. Even assuming that the afterlife is just like normal life and that we can pursue our interests just like before, and then keeping in mind Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem which proves that no matter what systems of knowledge we build, there will always be an area of unprovability, it sounds rather grating after the first few eons or so.
Christianity is a special case because the one criterion is acceptance of Jesus Christ as the global Redeemer of humanity’s inherent sin. All other ways go to hell, a cheerful evangelical message that has brought crowds flocking to churches over the years, mostly with sledgehammers. The Christian Heaven is a place where humanity shall be fulfilled by becoming one with Jesus by being part of the church while the church is wedded to Him, from henceforth we spend eternity praising Him in life. The Christian Hell is a place devoid of God’s love, filled with suffering and denoted as “eternal death” although the soul is obviously conscious enough to suffer.
The second is reincarnation. Though usually characterized by a succession of the soul through tiers of organisms, there have also been systems where inorganic matter joins the cycle. Everybody starts from dirt. However, if one pile of dust leads an especially puritan existence spent in devout worship of the Great Vague Oneness, in its next life3 it may then upgrade to a higher level of inorganicness or finally become alive. Presumably, they start at the bottom of the evolutionary tree/shrub/forest. But people had other systems then, always with mammals just below man, who topped the construction. Within humanity, one would then ascend society, rising from beggar to worker to official to ruler.4 Despite all this, the ultimate aim is not for a grain to one day become a president, but to escape the cycle altogether, and then entering a good old afterlife where we then spend eternity being One with everything else. We might try being Another, but then that might have been what caused the appearance of a divine Adversary in the first place.
The third is that we live on only one plane out of myriads, greatly extending our universe beyond physical boundaries and parallel universes to spiritual realms as well.5 When we die, we merely discard our physical shell for freedom of movement as a spirit. This spirit then ascends to the next plane, either physical as well or spiritual, to live another life followed by another death followed by another transmigration and so on. Whether there is any choice in the matter is unknown, but there has been no real limit set on the number of planes that exist. In other words, one leads an existence6 of lives and deaths and transmigrations that lasts forever. There are books that are found on this. They read like game manuals,.
The fourth is that there is no afterlife. When we die, it’s all over.
The fifth, subset of the fourth, is that we live on in our descendants’ genes, and later recognized, memes. By spreading our genetic code far throughout the gene pool, we can ensure effective immortality by having bits and pieces of ourselves live on in other people. It may not be all of us, and probably won’t offer decent after-dinner conversation, but it part of us, and that makes it us. The concept of memes follows this, except that the unit in question is an idea and not a gene. As V famously said, “Ideas are bulletproof.” But then, they’re just as prone being left behind as genes are. From another view, if we divide ourselves into pieces, and somehow ensure those pieces are put back together at later dates, by which we can further extend our lifespan, that is also called living forever. However, this heavily demands an understanding of the theory of emergence, which is nowhere as simple as it appears.
The final theory, the most speculative of all, the one that demands evidence but cannot receive it, is that our lives are only the cores of our existences, and that our existence lasts as long as the universe. Take it like this: We are made of atoms, or quarks, or some other arbitrary indivisible unit of matter. Although there are a great many atoms in our body, there is a far larger number of atoms in all the universe, compared to which we make up essentially zero. This is not a worry. In fact, it means when we die, we can rest knowing that one day, there will be one of our atoms floating around in a supernova, flying on the solar wind, locked up in frozen helium, sitting in a cube of sugar or slushing in an ocean. That, in itself, is a form of existing. And if you consider that the soul cannot be explained by the physical workings of the body, the soul is although linked to the body does not originate from the body itself, then it can be said that the being, while not experiencing sensation after death, nonetheless endures as long as its atoms still exist. And since matter equals energy based on E=mc2, then somewhere in the future, we will power our children’s engines.
Theories 1-3 require the existence of a Deity or a pantheon of them. Theory 4 is both a reason to shoot yourself now and not to, remaining equally bleak in both prospects. Theories 5 and 6 are similar but not precisely identical views on this, but imply that we ourselves can create something approaching that if we went about things the right way.
By right, each theory deserves a full shelf in a philosophy library to itself. But then, I don’t have the time or the philosophical stamina to carry on such theories and ensure their integrity at the same time. Even if I threw integrity into a lake7 I would still lack enough time.
But they are interesting introductions, and if I find someone to dispute any of them with, I can honestly say that will be the first intellectually stimulating exchange I’ve ever had.

Touched on: Religion, afterlife, Godel, spiritual succession, life, death, deconstructionism, emergence

1Believed she saw. I’m not inclined to believe that.
2Not the planet Earth, but some entire plane we dwell in for now
3That is, wind disturbs and destroys the pattern the components creat, collapsing a mound of soil in a thin film of dust, for instance
4That isn’t to say parallel universes and spiritual realms aren’t combined sometimes though.
5This just may explain the divine right of kings, but I leave that to a terrible tendency of people to follow someone who uses a chunk of metal to raise his height by a foot.
6For life loses its connotations and meanings under such heavy philosophical barrage
7Most likely losing stamina at the same time because I know that what I’m writing may be rubbish due to faulty reasoning.