[TL;DR at the bottom]
The soul builds upon the Terranic doctrine of the spirit in order to distinguish between entities of differing magical ability. It is inspired by the concepts of strange loops and tangled hierarchies as articulated by Douglas Hofstadter. Briefly, the soul arises through the tangled hierarchies of names. Souls are important for understanding our relationships with conscious and unconscious entities, serving to provide a context for morality.
The Soul’s Knot
To understand souls, it is important to understand spirits first. You can find my post on them here.
Souls are not just a stitch in the Great Tapestry. They are also a knot. Souls are a tangled hierarchy which are capable of modifying themselves.
Strange loops and tangled hierarchies are not my idea. I will allow Douglas Hofstadter explain what they are in relation to a theory of mind, which is most relevant to our discussion of souls and magic. For context, a tangled hierarchy is a type of strange loop. A visual example Hofstadter uses is M. C. Escher’s Drawing Hands:
A Tangled Hierarchy occurs when what you presume are clean hierarchical levels take you by surprise and fold back in a hierarchy-violating way. The surprise element is important; it is the reason I call Strange Loops “strange”. A simple tangle, like feedback, doesn’t involve violations of presumed level distinctions. An example is when you’re in a shower and you wash your left arm with your right, and then vice versa. There is no strangeness to this image. Escher [in Drawing Hands, 1948] didn’t choose to draw hands drawing hands for nothing!Douglas Hofstadter – Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, pg. 691
Events such as two arms washing each other happen all the time in the world, and we don’t notice them particularly. I say something to you, then you say something back to me. Paradox? No; our perceptions of each other didn’t involve a hierarchy to begin with, so there is no sense of strangeness.
On the other hand, where language does create strange loops is when it talks about itself, whether directly or indirectly. Here, something in the system jumps out and acts on the system, as if it were outside the system.
When a symbol modifies the system of symbols it is a part of, it is creating a tangled hierarchy. In many ways, humans feel as if we are self-programmed due to this process happening in our own minds. As Hofstadter explains:
Getting back to the symbol tangle, if we look only at it, and forget the neural tangle, then we seem to see a self-programmed object – in just the same way as we seem to see a self-drawn picture if we look at Drawing Hands [by M. C. Escher] and somehow fall for the illusion, by forgetting the existence of Escher. For the picture, this is unlikely – but for humans and the way they look at their minds, this is usually what happens. We feel self-programmed. Indeed, we couldn’t feel any other way, for we are shielded from the lower levels, the neural tangle.Douglas Hofstadter – Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, pg. 691-692
We must not forget the neural tangle is, of course, our brains and body. We feel self-programmed because it is difficult to know the workings of our own mind. Our environment, body, and nourishment are all important parts of our mind. We can’t see our neurons working in the background, so we forget their importance.
I am not a philosopher of the mind, so this all sounds great to me. I bring this up to illustrate how the soul works. The soul is a strange loop, much like the strange loop made in Escher’s Drawing Hands.
To be more specific, the soul is any entity which can create a tangled hierarchy with names (I use “names” to connect me to historical traditions of magic, but “symbols,” “sigils,” or “signs,” can work just as well to illustrate my point). Where humans are the lower, involate level (to use Hofstadter’s terminology), the name is at the higher level of the tangled hierarchy.
Take the example of an introduction, “I am Escher.” To make that statement, two names must be used, “I” and “Escher” both are refering to a human. “I” is the human’s name for itself and “Escher” is others name for the human. These two names are influencing each other. Suppose you knew Escher’s name before you met them and had some rough idea of what they looked like. In your mind, Escher had certain properties. But now, you’ve met “I” who has indeed verified they are Escher, but they don’t look anything like what you imagined. Now the question becomes, which name (“I” or “Escher”) is acting upon the other? If we can determine which name is acting on which, we can figure out what the hierarchy is.
Perhaps “Escher” is acting on “I.” Since others named the person Escher when they were born, the “I” has always been acted upon by “Escher.” But on the other hand, “I” always applies to the soul while “Escher” can be swapped out for something like “Bescher” or “Kescher” if the “I” is trying to change identity. Does that mean the “I” is acting on the “Escher?” If no one is around to call the soul by its name, than it seems like the “I” is higher in the hierarchy. Then again, if the soul is not referring to itself, than the “Escher” seems higher. Which is more important, other’s name for you, or your name for you? Which has a more fundamental influence over the other? If we use our knowledge of tangled hierarchies we can discover that these are the wrong questions. The right question is, “what is the inviolate level?” to which we can say, humans! It is human groups which are the originators of these tangled hierarchies. Just as how Escher drew Drawing Hands, humans are acting upon “I” and “Escher.”
If we replace “Left Hand” and “Right Hand” in the diagram above with “I” and “Escher” we can see the relationship between M.C. Escher and his drawn hands is similar to the relationship between humans and our names for ourselves. The names might appear to be in a hierarchical paradox until we realise they were both developed by a human group.
In Terranic doctrine, this emergent, strange loop of self-identity is the soul. It is represented as a knot in the Great Tapestry.
I want to emphasize that I am not (consciously) challenging Hofstadter or any theory of mind; its for this reason I use the word “soul” instead of “mind.” I am simply using his work as inspiration for a theological idea, nothing more (and nothing less). I am not doing scientific work here. The reason I use scientific inspiriation is to provide me, first of all, with a foundation and, second of all, to earn a sort of allowance for my thinking in the modern discourse. In the same way that Kauffman in Reinventing the Sacred, uses scientific principles to justify why he can be allowed to explore beyond the restrictions of reductionism, I use my limited science education to justify why I can explore spirituality in a serious way.
Our understanding of this can be deepened when we think about advocacy. Take the example of a gamer. Greta meets a new World of Warcraft raid party and tells them she’s trustworthy and will attend the raid on schedule. To make our illustration clear lets imagine Greta’s raid party has never seen her face; to them, she’s primarily a name, though her body behind a keyboard is assumed. When Greta makes her claim, she is her name. Now, Greta’s name already exists in a system of ideas held by others. According her party, the name might be “trustworthy”, “untrustworthy”, or “unknown” at the point of making the promise. However, according to Greta, Greta deserves to be seen as “trustworthy.” Greta the user is talking about “Greta” the player, even though both are represented by “Greta” to all the other members of the raid party. Greta is talking about Greta.
Greta’s ability would seem simple to most humans, but it is a power most entities we know of don’t possess. With possibly a few exceptions, only humans can talk about their own names. We readily, and regularly, create strange loops with tangled hierarchies of names. We do this not just as individuals, but as groups. It would be improbable for these strange loops to emerge if only one human existed. What’s the point of defining an “I” or a “Greta” if you’re the only human on earth? Not much. The presence of your name assumes that there will be others to hear it.
But humans go a step farther than identification. The ability to talk about yourself gives you a unique power; you can advocate for something.
Suppose that Greta wants to take the stance that, as a woman, she deserves better representation of women in video games. What has she done? Suddenly her hobby expands into a larger expression of her role in the gaming community. No longer is she just another player, she is now a woman player. Her gender becomes relevant to her gaming and her username. Notice how her hobby itself may not change; she could keep up the same schedule of game-time every week. But now her game-time is relevant to being a woman and future shifts in industry practices. If she’s a good player (and a popular streamer) it changes her advocacy even further. By taking a name “Greta” and pairing it with another name “woman”, she’s changed both. Which changes which first? Does “Greta’s” reputation as a good WoW player change how “women” are viewed as WoW players? Or does “women’s” reputation of being excluded from gaming change how “Greta” is viewed as a WoW player? Which is primary? Neither! It’s a strange loop! The names change each other. Greta’s advocacy for a cause not only changes the cause, but herself as well.
Just as with our “I” and “Escher” example, the inviolate level of “Greta” and “Woman” are humans. Greta, the matrix of body and name, is a part of humanity, and therefore contributes to this strange loop of tangled hierarchies as do the rest of the humans which engage with her names. Humanity is primary to these strange loops of names changing themselves.
So then what is Greta? What does the strange loop enclose? Beneath the layers of “Greta” and “Woman” and “Trustworthy”, what do we find? We find a soul.
A soul is any spirit which can advocate for itself and/or others. Terranic symbolism represents this as a halo.
The soul does not exist in the body, nor is it a possessed thing. It is a shared, fleeting thing, recognized by others. To notice a soul is to know or be known. It can be changed by others just as much as you can change it yourself. It is something in contention; something assumed, noticed, or proclaimed. It is not primary in any way, and is perilously impermanent. A soul is a flicker, fading and growing according to the fuel given to it. A soul can be destroyed or denied, whether through violence or rhetoric. It is fragile, beautiful, and powerful.
The power of the soul becomes apparant when applied to magic; if a name is used to modify the system of names that is used to modify it, we are witnessing a higher level magical act. “Greta” saying she is a “woman” does exactly that. She is using two names to manipulate each other in a hierarchy defying way. This power will be explored more in depth when I write my doctrinal post on sorcery. But for the time being, I encourage you to recognize that most of what matters to you matters because someone advocated for it. Whether you care about unions, religious congregations, police officers, the queer community, or animal rights, you do so because someone advocated for it. That someone is a soul.
Spirits, by contrast, do not have this power. Spirits cannot conduct magic on their own names, though they may still possess a name. As a result, spirits cannot advocate for themselves, and are placed at a disadvantage against soul-possessing humanity, who exert enormous power over the planet. It is for this reason that spirits require special magical and ethical consideration. As souls, we must exercise responsibility to them.
Morality of Souls and Spirits
Souls and spirits are the basic moral units of Terranism. When a Terran approaches a moral problem, they will assume that the entity of their consideration is fundamentally a spirit, but they will have to determine if that entity is a soul. The result of their investigation will indicate how they should act.
Dogs are spirits. A dog can learn the names a human teaches it, and can even communicate its own names for things to humans. But a dog cannot negotiate its own name. It cannot argue for why it should have a different name, or change its identity. So while a dog has basic magical abilities, as long as it can’t advocate for itself, it remains a spirit, not a soul. How then, should we treat a dog? If it can’t tell us directly, we must do the work ourselves; trying to learn the dog’s limited language and discussing amongst ourselves how best to interpret and react to it. As souls, it is our responsibility to do so.
Determining if a spirit is also a soul will require the spirit in question to give evidence that they are a soul. They will do this through advocacy. The spirit will assert that they, or their cause, deserve attention. An honest Terran will not require the spirit to prove its soul, for such a thing cannot be done. The soul is shared, there is no essential piece of it. Therefore, it cannot be proven, only accepted or denied; like a promise or love.
With this understanding, consent is paramount. Where a spirit might be aware of itself and what it wants, without the ability to advocate for itself, it cannot consent. A soul on the other hand has the capacity to concent, because it is defined by the ability to advocate for itself. Souls can argue why they deserve to get what they want and can likewise decline what they don’t want before experiencing it. The ability to decline something before experiencing it is the foundation of consent. If an entity cannot do this, it could be because it is a spirit, or because it is being forced. In the former case, a Terran must exercise moral responsibility. In the latter case, a Terran must not keep their forceful actions secret, and be judged as to whether they are justified or not. If a Terran feels compelled to keep their force secret, they may be doing evil and must confess.
Terranic morality is founded in consent between souls, and responsibility over spirits.
The Soul-Filled Internet
The internet is filled with souls.
Because of the soul’s shared nature, humanity has discovered that you don’t need to see bodies in order to notice souls. To surf the web is to find myriad souls which are disembodied and multifarious. While a body can be assumed in most cases, interaction with the body is not necessary for a soul. We see advocacy plastered across the internet with little more than usernames associated with it and yet we still feel a connection to the souls through the words. Whether or not the response is positive or negative, their voices are heard and value is created.
It is unecessary to sense a physical body in order to recognize a soul. Souls deserve moral consideration because of the value they create. In the physical plane, we are well aquainted with moral principles on how to treat other souls. Its easy to imagine moral responses to physical contact. But on the digital plane? If you can’t touch a soul but they create value, how do you respond morally to them? How do you morally respond to values which you find repugnant? While these problems have been thought about for millenia, the internet makes them urgent.
Terranism asserts that the hallowed soul is a tool for navigating this uncharted territory. If we recognize that a soul is shared, we adapt our moral framework. If we accept that a soul can only be acknowledged, accepted or denied, we will be able to navigate the chaotic internet discourse. If we see the soul as connected with the spirit, we will recognize how digital information can translate directly into physical realities. In accordance with its role as a religion, Terranism seeks to explore this new moral space.
The Soul’s Role in Terranism
Religion has long used the myth of souls to found moral frameworks. It is a foundational view of humanity that fills others with the potential to be persons. By engaging with the myth of souls, a person can approach a stranger and allow the opportunity for them to be a person too. That is this myth’s core function, to connect persons with respect. Without this myth other humans become empty automatons, void of moral concern.
For future reference, the reason Terranism redefines the soul as a strange loop is to illustrate how the soul is a shared entity, rather than a isolated one. To have a soul is to recognize other souls. It is not a doctrinal position to assert the soul exists in a scientific, or vitalist way. The Terranic definition of the soul is not founded in data or scientific inquiry; it is a myth. The vitalist soul, by contrast, makes this kind of scientific assertion; that following sufficient study the soul can be isolated. Terranism does not make such a claim. The soul is ephemeral; it vanishes the moments humans stop generating it. The soul exists only insofar as it is observed; as a strange loop this is its nature.
Terranic doctrine asserts the soul-myth is valuable. Terranism recognizes the soul-myth as a proven and time honored tool. By engaging with it we can approach other humans and acknowledge them as people, persons, and agents. This understanding motivates the re-definition of the soul as articulated above, and its very inclusion in Terranic doctrine.
TL;DR – The soul is a strange loop of names that arises when a spirit advocates for themself to others. Terransim recognizes the soul as a proven myth which gives persons the tools to connect and respect each other.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid – Douglas Hofstadter
Flesh in the Age of Reason – Roy Porter
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World – Werner Herzog