To a religiously minded person, death is the greatest mystery: the ultimate barrier between Life and Truth, this life and the afterlife, the mundane and either the diabolical or the divine.
To an irreligious person, death is just a thing.
You know, a thing.
A slow dip from biology to non-biology, from man to no man but many worms. From living breath to the smell of the grave; from here to nowhere.
This inquest of a thing is for the irreligious person in each of us.
The original questions
That's a fascinating subject. In most cases they are buried: away to the churchyard, down, and then sod on you. But what if you don't want that, or are not allowed it? Say you're an infidel in a religious land, or just plain contrarian.
Well, you could give your body to science, or to medicine. What do they do with the parts that are left over? Are they buried? “And now we give to rest the remains of Randolph Carter, minus his heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, bladder, genitalia and most of the big muscles on his strong, sinewy arms… May those parts of him that remain rest in peace.”
Or are the remaining remains thrown away? “Gee, Bob-Joe. Them hospital throwaways can have shiny things innem — sweet mother of all that is holey! We've got a leg in here!”
Or cremated? And what is it like, anyway, to work at a crematorium? “Me? Work? Oh, just in the, um, waste disposal business, I think. Details? Um, oh, I… I burn dead people. Are you satisfied? What about the kids? You want some juicy stories?”
Do crematoriums charge you by unit, or by weight? Or are you not supposed to ask? And is there a book somewhere about these things? (Mary Roach, Stiff, apparently.) Please tell me if there is; I am much too well-behaved to pester a professional. Besides, they might get angry and conk me over the head with a shovel. “Gee, a curious guy, you say? Never seen noffink here. Now sorry, must go back to shovelling them coals into the oven.”
And the ovens… What do they run with? Coal sounds rather medieval. Could you wish for birch logs, just for that good ol' traditional Nordic cremation? And is there a law against having your own cremation done privately? “In this my final will, I lay this burthen on my were-brothers Bobred and Joethelstan: that they should, when I am dead, gather a pile of wood no less than ten feet high, and on that pile lay me —”
What are the laws on handling dead people like? I should consult the legal grimoires on this. Can you donate your skull to a friend? And if you can, who handles getting the icky surface stuff off it? “What are you doing in there, Frankie?” “Just fulfilling the will of an old friend… Say, give me a spoon!”
How about a leg? Say you want to be buried, but want to give your aunt your leg, encased in plastic. Can you do that, or will the undertaker walk in and say: “Give me the leg, ma'am. And don't mess with us, we're experts in disposing of dead people!”
How about art? There seem to be no protests against bone galleries and catacombs exhibiting the bones of people that are long dead. Say you want to freeze your body in carbonite and put it up in the National Gallery. Object 42, titled “He watched too much Star Wars”. Is that legal or not? Can they sue your agent? Whose property is your body when you die? If it's not buried, does your significant other inherit it? And can it be sold? If not, why? I could cut off my hair and sell it. I could give away a kidney and I could conceivably cut off my genitalia, nail them to a Playboy and become a millionaire artist celebrity.
But what about my body, my whole dead body? It's not mine anymore — I'm dead, I have no self and no possessions. Well, I could come back and possess my own body. Then I'd have a possession. But if I don't — whose property am I? The wife? As said in the will? Do I revert to a church or to the state? Who can claim me, and to what purpose? “As his last will was ambiguous on the matter, we are hereby gathered here to dispose by orderly auction of the remains of the late John Q. Public — and we have ten dollars from the seedy-looking gentleman in black! Keep them offers coming! You don't want him going for ten dollars to that necrophiliac-looking man in black, do you? Twenty dollars from the widow!”
Ah, necrophilia. I knew I would get to it eventually. If you're an adult, you can give Bob your consent and have sex, and it's all nice and legal. Likewise Bob can sodomize a meat grinder without committing a criminal act. An act of self-mutilation, maybe, but that's not criminal.
I hope it isn't. Is there a book on the subject?
Anyway, back to necrophilia. Sex with consent is legal, and sex with the unliving is legal. Is bonking your corpse illegal if you write down your consent before dying? “I want in death what I did not have in life — I am free to all who come!”
That was a terrible pun. I'm sorry about that.
“He said it would be okay, constable! Stop hitting me!”
“Well, let's hear him about it! Do you want me to stop hitting this man, Mr. Poor Dead Guy? Huh? No? Then it's Kick-a-rama Time!”
But seriously. There seems to be a bit of an unclear situation here. Suicide is okay — hell, there are people I'd even recommend it to. But help a man to kill himself, and people act like you're a lunatic. We don't shun butchers, though they kill animals without asking if they want it. And soldiers! What about soldiers? They don't ask if the enemy wants to die — in most cases it's pretty clear the enemy doesn't want to die, and they shoot anyway! So why shouldn't it be allowed to kick the chair from under a friend that's asking for it? Could be euthanasia, but it could be just for kicks — pardon the pun — too: some people are bored to death.
Suppose you're terminally ill and want to go out with a bang, so you download a last message to Youtube and then let your best friend shoot you full of lead. He'd do it if he was a man — it was your will, his duty as a helping friend, and men want to shoot at living things anyway. Would the police come for your friend?
Sure they would. Policemen are prudes, just like the most of us. Why can't we talk rationally about things like this? Or, failing that, can't anyone recommend me a book on the subject?
I should have begun this piece with warning off the people that can't stomach things like this, and that's probably the only part of this stuff I haven't covered yet — eating.
Suppose your cut off your finger and eat it. That's not illegal, right? Gross, especially if you have dirty hands, but surely not illegal. Suppose you gouge out a few pounds of fat and fry a sack of french fries with it. Can you go out to the market and sell it? I mean, straight-out sell it as “French fries fried in human fat! Three platters for the price of two! Free veggies!” Is that illegal? Why aren't things like this taught in schools? It would keep the pupils awake.
For several days and nights running, I think.
Are there standards for human parts sold as food? Do you have to know if it's free of infections and contains only ten percent of fat? “Buy Humargarine — it's closer to you than you think!”
Suppose you arrange to buy human parts for science, but are forced to sell them as snacks instead because you've got no funding. It's health food — hey, it was healthy when it lived! Three time national boxing champion! What, if anything, are you exactly guilty of? You owned the body when the lab shut down. You're not poisoning anybody. What's the crime? Unforeseen reduction of a man into mince? Making Spam out of Sam? And what to do with the food? You can't experiment on Pickled Peter.
Does a policeman get training on subjects like these, or are they just supposed to arrest anyone that does things to dead bodies? I think this subject deserves a great deal of thinking and research.
Budgie did a go-go: a pet urnery
Recently found that in the wonderland of bureaucracy there is such a thing as a pair of forms, one of which begs for the permission to bury someone somewhere special, and the other which pleads for the permission to found an actual bone-yard.
The problem in founding a cemetery seems to be that you either need to own the spot, or then at least have a plan for renting or otherwise having the right to use it for the next 130 years.
“Hey, uncle. Mind if I use a corner of the yard for a while? Oh goody. Bye! See ya!”
Makes me wonder what kind of a rent-master evicts someone that's been keeping a graveyard on rented land. “You and your corpses… you have until the end of month to go, or I'll call the police!”
Apparently you can apply for a permission for a coffin-yard, an urnery, or a combination. Almost makes me want to buy a secluded, quiet square meter somewhere, and apply for an urn four-seater there.
Would there be any takers? “Now accepting submissions to the Smalltown Urnery — 4 spots available, each with a hollow cement shaft and a plug with a decorative garden gnome. The gnome's face can be customized to resemble the inmate for a small extra fee. Vacancies to be filled by time of death. The following rites provided free of charge: Cthulhoid (dis)interment, full moon howlings, reading the daily headlines, generic Christian rites. Prayers whined to distant uncaring stars for an extra 10e/mo. Act quick; only 4 spots available; only 50e/decade with an option to renew. Applicants can win great prizes.”
(Er, if you bury someone somewhere, what if you buy the plot only for a fixed time, and refuse to renew? “Here's youse uncle; we ain't keeping him if youse don't pay us. Sorry 'bout the mouldy coffin, miss; it gets like that in the ground. The leaky stuff, y'know.”)
The next question would be whether having the permission to have a graveyard means you can operate last rites of your choice there — the operator doesn't, by the law and form, need to be a formal religious group — and what kind of rites I would do.
Embalmings? (Do you need a licence for that? And, hey, would my university happen to have that as a night school thingie? “Honestly Mr. Constable, embalming night school! Why else would I be dragging around a corpse in the middle of the night?”)
Zoroastrian open-air exposure to the elements and the vultures?
Now, what would I be allowed to do, and would I need a religion for it — I don't recall from my civics lessons what the law exactly says on the things you can do to a corpse.
Well, I have the distinct impression that necrophilia is out; funny, since I think it could be arranged in perfectly tidy fashion with some variant of an organ donor card.
Really; I'm not joking. Or rather I'm joking, but also being perfectly serious. If you can give consent to intercourse, why the devil you couldn't give that in advance on the behalf of your corpse?
ORGAN DONOR ETC. My organs can be harvested for medical, scientific and cannibal use after my death, in that order. After that, as specified in the Mortuary Law of 2020, I can be released to uses of [ ] heterosexual [ ] homosexual [x] bisexual love until my burial. Signed with full consent, presence of mind and retching of relatives, etc. (signature)
I'm a liberal, you see. The cold, hard, icky kind of a liberal.
An old-time boat burial, or one on a pyre, would be a grand way to go. Though the ship set to the sea would probably be a biohazard, and to burn a pyre you would have to die outside the forest fire season.
Life is complicated; seems death is even more so.
Nah, scratch that. When I die, I want to be encased in a humongous block of transparent plastic in a befuddling swim-falling-like posture, unshaven and nude, and donated to the nearest department of mathematics. Preferably with a stipend “for the duration of the accompanying monument being on display in the premises. With a student representative lighting a candle in front of it every full moon, and every day a Fields medal is given. In the name of Euler, QED, AMEN!”
But — pet semataries. (Sorry, cemeteries. I don't think the King variety was in any way zoned or approved.)
Do you need a permission to found a pet cemetary? And if you do, is there a still different paper you need to fill, or is it classified as something less noble, such as a biowaste disposal spot? (I hope not.)
I've heard Finnish Lutheran clergymen — well, some of them — are benevolently fuzzy about the concept of pets in heaven, and anyway don't see much wrong with a cross on the grave of one.
Could you book a priest to perform — er, officiate? — at Rex's funeral? Probably not; he was an ungodly beast that coveted his neighbor's bone, and walked up and down the streets with genitalia in full view, drooling at every passing bitch. There's no salvation for such miscreants.
Wait a minute — if pets can get to heaven, do all pets get there? Even the angry poodle that bit its owner into itsy-bitsy little pieces? How bad and deadly can a pet be to its owner before it goes to Hell instead?
And if pets get to heaven, how about farm animals? Who feeds them? And what about the poo-poo? It would suck to be the angel of the Augean stables.
What about pythons — some are pets, some wild animals. Do only the pet snakes have a shot at eternal life? That's bloody wrong!
What about little Joey's pet ants?
What's ant heaven like anyway — or are ants a part of Joey's heaven, instead of having a slice of their own?
Priests should really consider the theological implications of their words before they say that of course Fluffy will be waiting up there.
Unless it's not Fluffy but a simulacrum, a shade to amuse the blessed — while Fluffy himself either burns in Hell (i.e. “Bad doggy! Here's an anti-gravity stick… fetch!”) or has altogether ceased to exist.
Wouldn't want to say that to poor Timmy, aged six. “Well Timmy, you'll be in heaven but once your doggy dies, it's gone forever. Pets have no souls. And dogs live a seventh of what humans do. Bless you! Anyway, Jesus will give you another in heaven. Now run along with that soulless little beast of yours, and fetch me your mother. Tell her Reverend Brutal has come.”
I've found that theology is immense fun, at least if you don't have to believe any of it. It's like freeform sudoku: you start with a few details and fill in the rest.
Come to think of it, thinking of farm animals and death: what the heck does a farmer do with all the dead cows? I mean a farmer that goes for milk, not flesh. Are there some pits in the woods I don't know of? Are they all ground to fertilizer or (yuck) animal feed? Is zoonecrophilia legal? (Hey, that's a new fetish — both totally harmless and utterly kinky.) Horses used to go, as I understand it, to the salami factory —
Ah, yes. Horse sausage. An icky thing to many, eating such a beautiful animal. I agree on horses being beautiful, graceful, nice animals, but I still somehow don't have any qualms about eating pieces of one.
Or pieces of cow. I am regularly seen rubbing my hands together and saying: “Mmm! There's nothing better than tasty dead cow chunks!”
And what, ugly and disgusting animals like pigs are okay to eat, but nice horsies are a no-no? What sick kind of a preference is that? If you were a cannibal, would you eat the ugly people first?
Well. Pets have cemeteries. Farm animals and meat animals have a pit somewhere, or an incinerator. (I guess your local slaughterhouse wouldn't be improved by a forest of white crosses in front of it.) Some people say dead animals are treated in awful fashion, and contrast them to humans; I like to do the opposite. Dead people are dead flesh: turn them to food and fertilizer.
The offense you feel at this is not rational: the dead person is gone. What is left is only the shell. It would be let down to the ground to rot, to be eaten by worms, or then put into an oven and burned to crisp, crackle-crackle, anyway. Is that better?
Besides, think of it as a final good deed. A final ecological bit of enrichment for Mother Nature — a lot more efficient than rooting a tree on your nutritious remains. Like George Carlin said, isn't it a pretty outdated, barbaric thing to gather all our dead people in one corner of the town?
And all for what — superstitious fear? A bit of waste to honor the fallen? Simple queasiness? Crud, I'm my dance of synapses. When that ceases I'm gone; and anyway a human body sloughes cells off so fast, in a variety of ways, that every seven years I'm a brand-new man, or so it is said. The last iteration won't have any special commemorative value. A human being is that which is in the mind; the body is, figuratively, and eventually also literally, just shit.
Which is not being morbid or gloomy, but just, if you believe it, upbeat in a ghastlily realistic way: you got to strive for the truth of things when you can, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
And a waist is a terrible thing to mind. G'night, all.
The final blasphemies
People seem to have an aversion towards graves. Sometimes greed for buried riches overwhelms that aversion; but generally speaking people don't want to go looking for dead people.
Greed motivates some of us; so does curiosity. The pharaohs of Egypt didn't get to sleep in peace; after the grave-robbers had, ahem, unearthed the subject, we were curious in a base and glorious way, because we knew so little about those thousands of years of the double crown and the royal hawk. (Well, glory can be another motive, all the way from “I happen to be the virile man that excavated the tomb of Seti the Shostak, you unwed lady with huge tracts of land!” to “You don't think I'm tough? Okay, get a shovel, we're going to visit my gramma.”)
Now, then, if you want to keep something safe — put it in a grave and don't tell anybody. Monuments are defaced, histories erased, legends altered; but amidst death, certain things can live forever. (As quoth in ye Nekro Noma Eikon of ye Mad Arabb Abd-ul-al-Azreed…)
Not telling anybody about your grave is obviously difficult if you're a pharaoh; people are sort of on the lookout for the spot where you'll lay down to rest. But, nowadays, common people are buried all the time. Wouldn't it be a splendidly morbid idea to go down with our equivalent of the tomb paintings — say a set of aluminium plates that detail our recent history from the Fall of A-Dolfu to the rise of the Ge-Or Ge-Pushu the Lesser? (And a thousand years later, a schism in the Mormon Church! Newly decrypted revelations deciphered from the Deformed Egyptian of the Silver Plates!)
That infoful burial would take more than a spot of planning, though. Grave plots aren't for forever nowadays; and the tending of graves is a tad undignified. Not on the level of having a hut on the yard grounds for all the bones that the seasons throw up, like in the old days; but still. Graves shouldn't have a pit where the coffin lies; but as the coffin rots a hole forms and the ground trickles down. Then the boneyard caretaker comes, cuts away the turf, shovels earth in the hole, and goes over it a couple of times with a sort of a plate-ended pneumatic drill. The result is a nice smooth plot, but one really doesn't want to see what's happened to the one beneath. (Not so in the old days; the English word “graveyard” meant originally “a garden of pits”.)
And then there's the possibility that a helpful governmental authority decides the stones take up too much space, and presto! your skull's in the Catacombs of Paris along with the contents of most of Paris's cemeteries until 1786. (And really, to quote Carlin, what kind of an idea is keeping all our dead in one part of the town? Really? Is there such commemorative value in the last generation of our cells?)
Even if a wholesale resurrection like that doesn't happen, grave plots are not eternal. It would make cemeteries kind of big and expensive to maintain after a while. Unless you found a real big piece of land, filled it starting from one end, and maintained, clipped and prettified only the fifty most recent years. Beyond that, let it all slowly become a jungle, let trees grow and eat their fill and let our old ones return to the nature from which they came.
A nice vision, certainly. In Hong Kong, on the other hand, or so I hear, a public grave is for six years. Then you're dug up, cremated, and handed back to the family if the family can be found.
“Did you say a package from your great-great-uncle?”
“Not, not a package from…”
What do you do with that kind of an accumulated ancestry after a couple of generations anyway? Get a small room filled with jars of dust, and hope a toddler doesn't decide to go and taste a few? (Or an older one to hide his or her dirty magazines, cigarettes and the like in a jar only half full — ecch. “Pt… pt! Grains of sand in… pt!”)
I think the grave plots in Finnish cemeteries — the Lutheran ones, though everyone's welcome, even atheists (that's ecumenicism!) — are for 25 years or so; also free, if you're local. Outsiders obviously have to pay, and may anyway get a “gag grave” while the locals laugh into their beers. (Er, no.) After the quarter-century, you can renew, if you want to; if not, in a couple of years (with a minimum of four) there'll be a new tenant in. Used to be the plots were eternal; then for fifty years; now fifty years after that 25 years is the general rule. The matter's brought to the family's attention with some kind of a placard at the site. (“Your lease ends X.X.20XX. Please move out before that. Clean the site after you…”) One somewhat representative list of prices said: 25 years for a local, free; 25 years for an outsider, 350 euros; 50 years for a local, 350 euros.
How much is 50 years for an outsider, the list didn't say; maybe he or she will be considered a local by then.
I wonder if, after those 25 or 50 years, the exhumed Finns get cremated and shelved somewhere. Of the ten or so parish websites I went through, not one said a thing about that. I don't think they can put the new tenant atop the previous one; you'd have a coffin pyramid in a few generations. And doesn't seem very practical to make the pit deeper and pad it with the previous guy; see the previous about how the coffin might be all rotten and shattered. Ideally, I think, a cemetery of this kind should have a hidden cellar under it, under the whole cemetery; you could hit a lever, and the previous occupant would ratchet down one notch to give way to the next one. Then eventually you could take the lowermost and compact him or her somehow. (Egh, this sudden image of an immense cube of dead people, each pressed to a cube of five by five by five inches, the whole standing quiet, cubical and horrible in a big vault somewhere. “What's behind that big black door, Head Caretaker?” — “Shut up and haul the lawnmower. Let's get back to the surface and mow some. You don't wanna see the Cube of the Dead.”)
Now, what the above was to demonstrate was that unlike the ancient Egyptians, we can't leave messages for the curious (and the greedy) of the future quite so easily. (Maybe a nice spring-loaded jack-in-the-box for the gravedigger fifty years in the future?) One could, I suppose, be buried in some private and undisturbed place, but I gather the authorities have made that difficult, too. (Probably because no-one has any idea about just what dead people are — are they people, possessions, or what? Do they have human rights? Or owners? Best to hide them away before anyone starts to ask too many questions. “'ello. I 'ear death 'as visited this sad house. The deceased, may I buy 'im?”)
(The problem is, until the legal aspect of this is cleared, there's no hope of removing the ick associated with necrophilia. If there's no clear idea of what dead people are, it's pretty difficult to decide if it's okay to have sex with them or not. Are you doing something to something that is, in some aspect, still having a part of its human rights? Or are you, em, fondling a possession that might not belong to you? Should wills include not only the division of the possessions, but the person that now owns the deceased, too? Some Green organization should start asking questions about this; call it Project MErtilizer, maybe.)
So: get a permission to be buried in a remote place. Mark the place as a grave, just to keep the less curious away. Be sneaky about the full extent of your final resting place; possibly manufacture a back room (or a lower coffin!) behind the necrotically near-hermetic seal of your own dead presence. Then be buried there, and take with you something more permanent than a book or a CD. Maybe you could find a cave and decorate it with finger paintings of the important political figures of today. (“The figure 55-B was apparently not a popular one. The bulbous cheeks of his picture were pressed to the wall with paint-coated… nether cheeks.”)
(“The nose… I never wanted to be an archaeologist anyway.”)
Then the door closes; you are buried; and a few millennia later there's a tap at the door, and face peeking in, beholding with awe and hunger the images on the walls, and the pile of Playstation parts, and other heaps of priceless antique relics of genuine and oh-so-rare plastic, seldom seen in this world, and seldom preserved; and there are whispers in the deep silence.
“Can you see anything?”
“Yes… wonderful things!”
Pregnancy is a kind of miracle. Especially so in that it proves that a man and woman can conspire to force God to create a new soul.
— Robert Anton Wilson
Suppose I have a soul. I've been told I have one; I haven't seen it myself.
How did I get it? Was it the moment I popped out of my mother's ladyparts, or before? Surely not when a sperm met an egg? Is there something in the sperm and something else in the egg that come together and make a soul like they make a body? Or is the developing body an airfield for the soul, and the soul a plane from some ethereal realm?
Do souls pre-exist? Do they come to us new, still with a whiff of plastic packaging, never before used, no traces of previous owners? That's a possibility. But how do souls come into being — does some nebulous Hera wave a hand, making souls out of nothing at all? Is a soul conscious, or consciousness — do they have repressed memories of their creation? Are they created whenever needed, or are there piles, vats of souls waiting, in some metaphysical sense, somewhere in the skies? Do they sleep and dream together? Do they whisper, excitedly, over their corporeal futures? Is this where soulmates start?
Do souls live again? Is my soul pre-used, re-used, dry-washed with most of the wrinkles removed? But world population has increased for almost all of time. For most generations, the souls of the previous one haven't been enough. Again, piles and fanes full of souls, or new creation whenever required? (Imagine an hourglass with souls for sand. The upper bulb is Heaven, the lower Earth. Generation by generation more souls are required below, until…?)
Is there a difference between people with used souls, and people with new ones?
Maybe a pre-used one makes you a better person, better used to the vagaries of the world, more understanding and compassionate, comfortable in flesh, an old hand in an old world.
Maybe a pre-used one makes you a stick-in-the-mud, unwilling to go forward because you were comfortable back in time; maybe you have fought against time and fate once already, and your soul is corroded and decayed.
One soul with multiple bodies is called reincarnation. Is reincarnation subject to the arrow of time? Could some of your previous lives be in the future? Or in the present — a thousand lives from now you will be your own soulmate, and that is why you are so in sync.
Can you remember your past lives? Speak ancient Egyptian and feel a different sex between your thighs? Know how a potter's wheel works, and how Alexander of Macedon used to smile and sweep his hair? Feel your anger at Hittite scum, feel your fingers throttling a youth over sexual jealousy? Remember as you stood, tall and without doubt, robed in black and iron, and pronounced death and torture to those who violated propriety?
Would you want to remember if you had been a very different person, a seller of hatred and pain, a prophet of anguish and injustice? Would you want to know that had been you, and the deepest, most meaningful part of you was that dead monster?
Did Hitler's soul go out of circulation, or is there a wistful man out there somewhere, a man who feels his hands clench at the sight of uniforms, who shivers when an orator stands up? Is he guilty or clean? What would you say to him, if you knew?
Do animals have souls? Some models of reincarnation say you could come back as a dog, or a cow. Let us say you did. What would it be to recall a dog's life? Do dogs remember like we humans do? Is this where zoophilia comes from?
If animal souls are just human souls getting their karma, and since there are a lot of more animals than there are people, which fraction of animals do have human souls? Are they different from the mere brute beasts? Is there a special clan of dogs that have human souls, given that property at some canine dawn? If you knew, should you treat these dogs any different from mere pure dogs? Should you leave the TV on for them?
Do animals have animal souls, then? Cats, surely, but dogs and horses and frogs — do all animals have souls? Are they all the same, or do smaller, less emotionally able animals have “smaller” souls? Are they different in any way except degree, if even that, from human souls? Could one be reborn as a human? Or as a different animal? If you follow a soul back through reincarnations, what does it start as? Are newly made souls those of bacteria and tardigrades, which through life after life become those of snails, dogs, humans, maybe something greater after that — angels, demons, gods?
Two million years ago, was my soul a gibbon named Gus?
If a human soul is that ineffable human-ness of humans, what is an animal soul? What is the ineffable horseness of horses? If a soul is the explanation for why humans are self-aware, conscious, whatever you want to call it, what do animal souls give to animals?
Maybe animals do not have souls. But then again, dogs care for their puppies, mother chimps for their babies. Animals aren't heartless psychopaths; pets and wild animals alike can express concern, love, self-awareness. If those are not the tuggings of a soul, then are our moments of elevated humanity anything different?
If there was a soulless human being, an s-zombie, would it talk? Walk? Desire? Love? Would it feign those things? Be just a talking monkey, a mechanical Turk? How would you know?
Can you hurt your soul? You can't scrape it like a knee, but if you do something bad, can you wound your soul? Can you do so much evil that your soul is slashed off and separates from you? Can you get your soul back? Or any soul? Does a soul have internal structure? Can your soul split in two? Can you mod your soul? Is a soul a jewel or a flower, or a block of unworked marble?
Is your body just a workbench for a beautiful sculpture, the world just a set of tools for working on your soul?
If souls come from a great stream of reincarnation, then it probably follows that your soul is not related to those of your parents, or your children. (But what if family after family copies those of the past?) You share your blood; but your souls are strangers. You live together, entangling your bodies and souls; and as you die, a bond remains between those souls. Life after life, more and more souls are tied together: here parents, there siblings, friends, workmates, lovers.
When a body dies and a soul leaves, does the soul retain a sense of time and self? Does it shuffle into a heaven, timorous or elated? Does it retain the shape of its body, or does it become young again, or altogether formless? Does it fly through an unspeaking, deterministic universe to yet another incarnation, or are there gods, demons, angels, other souls it converses with? Is it helplessly drawn to rebirth as a sloth, or is there a great tribunal of souls, where it must answer for its evil?
Does such a tribunal judge evil, and mete out punishment, as mortal courts do? Or does great good outweigh moderate evil? Is reincarnation about doing away with the evil, or doing more good than evil? And can you say, it was not me, the real me, but just my body, in another country, and besides the sack of meat is now dead?
You can take a stick or a probe to a person's head, and by injuring their brain change their personality: sometimes to better, but most often to worse. Is there a soul, in a futile rage, wrenching at controls which no longer work, as the golem of a body goes out of control, the words on its forehead mutilated by mortal hands?
If there is no reincarnation but just one single life and then afterlife, does the soul miss its body? Does it get a new, heavenly one? Is that just a spiffier coat, or something very different? Maybe something with wings and horns and glowing eyes? Mortal bodies decay, yes, but we also grow more comfortable in them. Would you feel uncomfortable in a heavenly body? Would you feel naked without a body?
If there's a clearing at the end of the path where all souls end up in, a City of Heaven, what is it like? Not only does it have the French and the Italians and the Chinese in it, with different customs. Do they retain their languages, too, or is spoken language a body thing? Do they retain their cuisine in some spectral form, or is this one of the things that souls in Heaven never get to do again? Is there sex in Heaven — what does sex between souls mean? Do they have genitals, hands, faces? Just a floating me-ness? A hologram of what used to be? Can it be wounded? Killed? Fitted with earrings? Is that an act upon the soul, or just scribbling over the hologram?
Is the form of your soul you as you died? Or you in the full bloom of your young adulthood? What if you died as a child — do souls grow up? Are there souls that never were in flesh? Are they nobler, or bratty children? What about transgender people — are they the flesh they had, or the the flesh they identified with? Can you look like (be?) whatever you want, or just what you really were?
Is the part of you that likes to eat just in the body? Do souls feel hunger? If they do, do they get over it?
The City of Heaven — millions and millions, and nations isn't the problem: time is. People of today, people of tomorrow, people from the beginning of time, all dumped into the same giant city either as they come, or after some great apocalypse all at once. Are they segregated into enclaves where people have the same experiences, same norms and customs, or sprawled pell-mell here and there? What if your new neighbors are intolerably rude, sexist ancients, or horribly licentious, flirtatious futurians? What if they speak of music you've never heard, books you've never read, guest-rights you have no idea of? Do you scream and move to the company of your century and your nation?
Is there some culture that the City of Heaven has on its own, or is it a melting-pot of every culture that ever existed? Is it okay to move into cultures you never knew as a body? Can your appearance, whatever hologram or soul-aspect it might be, change to fit your new self-identification? Do you, over the centuries and millennia, pass through culture after culture and emerge as a… what?
Is there crime in Heaven? Are there police-angels? Prisons? Can a soul die — are there murders or executions, deadly accidents, resurrections from those? If you can't die, or stay dead, and always heal perfectly, what kind of new bloodsports and suicide-hobbies would you invent?
What about the lesser forms of inconsiderateness — what about those who are rude, greedy, liars, glory hounds? Nobody is perfect, down here, so how different would people need to be for Heaven to be a place of perfect people? Would that be a process of subtraction, or addition? If you lose your morning sleepiness and taste for wieners, your tendency to lose your shit over matters of nomenclature and your appreciation of taut abs, and a thousand other body-things and imperfections, is the soul, the essence of you, all that much “you” anymore?
If you have a soul, you should find out what that means.