When Socrates(470-399BC) was standing trial for capital crimes, he spent time with his groupies musing about what death would be like. He hoped that one of three things would happen – he would be sent to spend eternity with Homer or Pythagoras or Diogenes or any of the other philosophers who had died before him and he would engage in lively gabfests with them (Socrates loved talking).
If he couldn’t get that, Socrates hoped he would fall into a deep, restful, dreamless sleep, the kind of sleep one drifts off to after smoking plantation-fresh, dew-moist Kodaikanal weed. Into a world devoid of anything except kaleidoscopic designs.
And if he were deprived of even sleep, Socrates wished he would be permitted to recline on a plush meadow looking up at the star-filled sky above while a beautiful boy with golden locks stimulated him for eternity. (Socrates was a flaming pederast and pedophile, but then so were most members of the ancient Greek elite).
I like that. Not the pederasty bit, but the fact that Socrates thought simple thoughts about simple pleasures just before he died. He wasn’t concerned about all the BS like heaven and hell and soul.
Not that Socrates didn’t believe in Heaven and Hell and Soul. He did. In fact the concept of an entity called soul which inhabits the human body and leaves it upon death and goes on living for eternity, has been recorded since at least 3200BC during the first Egyptian dynasty.
It’s just that at the point of death Socrates, like most of us, was ‘unencumbered’ by extraneous crappy issues like was he going to heaven or hell and where would his soul be going after he was dead?
Crap generation officially began with the advent of organized religion in the form of Christianity, Jesus and his Holy Ghost dad. It was Christianity which put an official stamp on the mind fuck called “soul”, the part of us that is supposed to live on after death. The mind fuck part being that you’ll not feel soul unless you are already dead.
Hinduism too has a parallel concept of soul – Atma and if you want to know more about the Atma, Hinduism advises you to “find it in yourself” or go ask a “wise master” (a.k.a guru). I am a Hindu and I dare say I have looked and haven’t been able to find Atma in myself so far in my 65 years. About going to a wise guru, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a ditch with one of those phoney monkeys. I have first-hand knowledge of gurus. It was a guru who brainwashed and drove my mother from our home into a convent, when I was 12. He is lucky he is dead because if he had been alive, I would have gone over to India and strangled the son of a bitch with my own bare hands.
The 18th Century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, believed that humans are capable only of posteriori knowledge – ie : knowledge gained empirically, through experimentation and observation. Kant concluded that the soul is a noumenon, something that is beyond human sensory ability or perception, an entity that cannot be proven to exist through experimentation and therefore he believed that proving or denying the existence of soul is a futile exercise.
The soul is therefore like the shape shifting alien, married to a unicorn, which live down in my basement.
Research from interviews with hospice caregivers suggests that the most common last words spoken by dying patients are usually “Mom, are you there?”, “Fido, are you there?” , “Water, please” or simply “Sorry”. The words that are rarely spoken are “God”, “soul”, “pray”, “mercy”, “heaven” and “hell”.
So, why would I give a fuck about my soul if I was taking my last breath? Am I missing something here? Why can’t we keep it simple, like Socrates did?
I know what I am going to be saying just before I die. I have been memorizing it, like Neil Armstrong did for his “small step, giant leap” line. Since I believe soul exists just as much as I believe that the married shape-shifting alien in my basement just fathered a tiny fire-breathing dragon with the unicorn, my dying words are going to be short and simple…..