Thursday, January 27, 2011

Soul

In the previous two posts I referred to "soul-making." Clearly, by "soul" I mean something different than the airy-fairy immortal thing I was taught about in parochial school that is created entire at the first moment of conception and remains entire for eternity.

By soul I mean the ineffable essence of a self.

It is inextricably embedded in materiality, but is more than mere material.

A soul is first of all a genome, a unique fusion of the genomes of a father and mother, and therefore of a line of ancestors that reaches all the way back to the origin of life on Earth. I share genes with the hummingbird and gecko.

A soul is a body, exquisitely constructed in the womb as the genome expresses itself in bone and tissue.

A soul is an immune system, a way the body distinguishes self from non-self, thereby maintaining the integrity of the soul against forces of disintegration.

A soul is the body's awareness, a thing that grows from the faint spark of the fertilized egg to the reflective perceptions of maturity. Awareness can be cultivated, nourished. Awareness confers -- ah, here, here is the nub -- self-awareness.

A soul is an ever-growing storehouse of memories, utterly unique to each individual. These memories can reach across space and time far beyond a self's immediate environment. Education is soul-making. The Cat in the Hat is soul-making. War and Peace is soul-making. A scanning electron microscope image of an ant's eye and the Hubble Ultra-Deep-Field Photograph are soul-making.

And nature. There is no soul-making activity so rich in spontaneous possibility as immersion in the natural world. There is more to wonder at in a square-foot patch of weedy ground than in all the libraries on Earth.