It has been part of my routine this year to walk to the library, once a week, and sit in their café and read a book while I drink a coffee. I pick a book from their shelves, sometimes a new release or something from their displays of featured themes. Today I wandered past some fiction and pulled a book I had read more than thirty years ago. It’s one of those classics that I have in storage at home, because I have no room to display books now, but I keep them with the delusion that I will want to reread them one day.
I flipped through the chapters, finding bits that I had forgotten, remembering how it felt to be immersed in a fictional world, enjoying the skill of the author. I was reading to pass the time, with no intention of thinking too much while I ate my pastry. Then a line stood out on the page before my eyes, and I paused to really think about it.
“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.” — from A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
I exist in this body; I am not my body. In this sense, the body is the container for the soul. The Bible makes the analogy that the body is a temple in which the spirit resides. But the walls of these temples keep us isolated from one another, rather than joined on a spiritual plane.
I went looking on the Internet for similar philosophies, and came across this page which imagines the soul as existing in an extended fourth dimension. Our bodies are then projections into this 3-D world of the senses, like the shadow of a sphere is merely a circle when projected onto a wall. We all come from a higher plane of existence, but must interact with this world by experiencing it only at the points of intersection.
Back in high school, I thought a lot about the fourth dimension. I read about an imaginary object called a tesseract or hypercube, and was inspired by the book Flatland. I also read about vectors and how time can be treated as another dimension. I wrote two different papers on this theme for English class, one presenting the geometric theory and the other about Einstein’s space-time theory. The teacher admitted not fully understanding either one, but pointed out the fact that they contradicted each other; both papers got good grades for the research and writing.
I wasn’t really thinking about questions of consciousness back in those early days. My thought experiments were about how we would experience an extra dimension with our senses, using our three-dimensional bodies. Decades later, I now imagine having an out-of-body experience and looking down on this reality from a new perspective. Then I wonder whether all intelligent creatures could have this same special existence beyond their brains, or whether humans are measurably different in our self-awareness.
Whatever you call it — Soul, Spirit, Mind, or Consciousness — it is fundamentally a form of energy beyond the Body. Some days I feel like I almost understand some great mystery of our existence. Then I finish my coffee and remember that I have bills to pay and question everything. I walk back home and feed the cat, and I look into her eyes and feel her looking back at me. The cat is trapped inside her head as I am in mine, but we have made a connection across that extra dimension.