My Soul Is a Black Hole
Posted by PintofStout on April 19, 2008
Language is a funny thing. Try thinking outside the bounds of language and one can find that thought, as well as communication, is limited by language. At the boundary of precise language there comes into play a new set of words that are blurry conglomerations of the even blurrier concepts on the other side of this boundary. These blurry concepts aren’t much more than feelings or hunches; one can feel pretty sure there is an “other” side of the boundary between the materialistic and the purely conceptual, but the things on this other side cannot be put to a form – at least not very easily.
The concept of a soul or a spirit is one such word that exists on the blurry conceptual side of this language boundary. Culture is perhaps the largest producer of these ambiguous words and the greatest influence on our individual conceptions around them. Our culture – itself a pretty conglomerated word – could consist of lots of factors from our personal tastes and the personal tastes of those around us to religious and social traditions. The culture of religion and religious teaching that has been ever-present in our history colors much of our language and the concepts behind ambiguous words.
The idea of a soul, especially, has its roots in religion. To a believer in these general religious concepts, the idea of a soul is akin to having an avatar for a person in the unseen spirit world where God, angels and demons dwell. This avatar is lifted to such great importance that the actual physical life of the holder of the avatar is held in less esteem. This avatar then becomes the ante in a high-stakes game of karmic poker. Behave poorly or outside the desired doctrine of a particular religion and that ante is lost forever.
Having rejected the common religious mythology of the soul, I am left with the phrase in the language, but now without an anchor.I hesitate to dismiss the term completely, though. (When first I rejected this…philosophy?…I was anxious to separate myself from all points of its doctrine – hostilely most of the time – but have become much more moderate since; the fear of accidental association gone, I suppose). I feel there is something the term can be describing that lies just beneath perception, something almost abstract. Like a black hole it is out of reach of our direct observation and can only be perceived indirectly from the things that may point to its existence.
Signs of Life
So what points to this abstract soul? If forced to try and articulate it, I’d say strong feelings, gut reactions, primal urges, and the overwhelming feeling of connectedness one can sometimes feels with their surroundings and other people. Mostly, it appears to be various psychological mechanisms that influence our actions and feelings behind the scenes. Stemming from all this we get our personalities, modes of thought, and lots of mystery. Psychological mechanisms are just one layer of this parfait. Psychology itself is just a description of the results of certain brain functions. The deep biological sources of those functions are somewhere one can look for the articulation of the soul.
Looking strictly to biology and cause and effect does little to placate the romantic portion of my personality, though. Saying that falling hopelessly in love is simply a chemical reaction just won’t due. Explaining the exhilarating feeling of standing on a high precipice and looking over miles of land below with psychology isn’t quite sufficient for my romantic whimsy. I’ll enlist the help of the talented Charles Bowden, whose books Blood Orchid and Blues For Cannibals have helped inspire this discussion, to illustrate this more articulately for me. From Blues for Cannibals:
“There is something beneath the style, concepts, and flutter of words. This something exists on the same plane as pain. And it is called pleasure. I am across from St. Mark’s in the East Village on a fall day. The sun is warm, the bistro doors are open, and here is a white plate of prosciutto, mozzarella, ripe tomato, foccacia, and a small bowl of olive oil with freshly torn basil leaves. The sidewalks pulse with people, and I taste the hog in the aged ham, feel the sun in the tomato, taste in the mild, tangy cheese the grass of some distant hillside. The grain lives in the bread as I dip and chew and dip again. The red of the tomato explodes on the plate. Everything I know or will ever learn is simply a twist on this plate of food. There is no concept on this plate, it is a plane from which the concepts come, and to which the concepts finally return.
I think Paul lived above the plate, analyzing it, or beneath the plate examining its molecular structure. And that I always want to eat the plate and not wonder why. I want to look deeply into the face and swallow the life but not fix or file the life. I live in flight from intellect and Paul lived in flight from what I am.
The salt and rose color and sharp taste of the prosciutto floods my mouth and I become a tongue flapping by the open door on the busy street. I don’t want to understand taste, I want to taste. I don’t want to understand art, ever. I want art to find that part of me beyond my thinking and understanding, to make me feel and by that feeling make me finally be. I want a world where everything is food, books are food, photographs are food, harbors are food, music is food, women are food. The night is food. The sunrise also.
And not food for thought but food for what thought keeps seeking and cannot seem to find.”
The soul – my soul anyway – is best pointed to when cognition and thought, which is heavily influenced by the culture around us and social “norms,” are bypassed to reveal pure emotion. When we can just absorb sensations from outside of us and react to them purely without passing them through the filter of thought that attaches social stigmas and random evaluations of the sensations to alter and dampen the response. Perhaps these pure emotions reach back to some primordial memory and finds connectedness with the accoutrements of our existence, recognizing them like old playmates that have grown up and come to visit the old neighborhood.
What is it that can absorb unfiltered sights, smells, tastes and react with a concentrated emotion that can be physically felt in the tissues of one’s body? That is the soul to me. I can’t observe it directly, but I can feel its existence when I am possessed of it. When my brain cedes control to it, I feel it and swim in it and ride it and let it carry me with the unimagined strength of a crashing, salty wave. A wave, yet still a small ripple in the whole unfathomable body.