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Give up your ghost!

In ages past people believed spirits were everywhere: rocks, trees, brooks, etc. Later most of these beliefs fell away but ghosts of dead humans often inhabited graveyards and large old houses. These ghosts are less common now but to replace them there are diffuse holy ghosts; everywhere but not visible. Today belief in diffuse holy ghosts is diminishing but one type of ghost is still common. Most people still believe in their own personal ghost; a ghostly spirit, like the ones found in graveyards, floating in their heads. This is the last ghost and the one most resistant to disbelief. Are you ready to give up your ghost?

People believe in life after death because it feels right on a gut level. But things that feel right can still be wrong. Anyone who has been deeply in love and later realized their choice of partner was stupid knows that even the strongest feelings can be wrong. If a strong feeling that love is eternal can be wrong, then a strong feeling that life is eternal can also be wrong.

Churches claim that this feeling comes directly from God but rainbows used to come directly from God before people understood about water drops and light. Simple explanations should be ruled out before God is given credit.

We cannot directly observe eternal life so this feeling does not come from experience. The truths we hear from authority rarely have this emotional intensity so it doesn't come from authority. Our instinctual feelings relate to basic behaviors like eating, sex, and aggression which evolved in lower animals and contribute to our physical survival. Belief in an afterlife does not fit this pattern and seems unlikely to have evolved in lower animals.

If the feeling that life is eternal doesn't come from God, experience, authority, or instinct where does it come from? It comes from a simple, natural, and false assumption about the nature of self.

In early childhood we form a concept of self as a thing inside us separate from our body. Things can change (as paper burns to smoke and ashes) or become hidden (as salt in water) but they never truly vanish. Because objects are eternal, thinking of self as object makes us assume that self is eternal. Since self appears to vanish in death we assume that it is really just hidden since, like any object, it cannot vanish. Ghosts, angels, heaven, hell, collective soul, reincarnation, etc. are all just theories about what has happened to the seemingly vanished self.

The original error lies in the assumption that self is an object. Self is not an object, self is an event. We do not so much exist as occur. Buckminster Fuller said "I seem to be a verb." Self is process just as fire is process. A candle flame consumes food (wax), consumes oxygen, adapts to its environment (bending in a breeze), changes its environment (burning it), gives off energy (light and heat), and it can reproduce itself without limit. It sits on a candle for hours yet its atoms are there less than a second. We live for decades yet our atoms (except for our bones) are in us for a few months at most. I am not the atoms that compose me, I am the event happening to those atoms.

To ask what happens to the self after death is like asking what happens to a candle flame after you blow it out. The flame doesn't change form or go somewhere else, it just ceases to happen. It can vanish completely because it is not an object. You can also vanish completely because you are not an object.

It is easy to have an initial bad feeling about this idea. You may feel deprived of eternal life and the hopeful images that go with it. It may seem depressing to think that nothingness follows death but cheer up; you won't be there to experience it. Fear of death is often fear of having an unpleasant afterlife.

Experiencing self as process can be deeply liberating, like gradually waking up from a long and confusing dream. Processes are less limited than objects; objects can only be what they are but processes change and create change without limit. The great Chicago fire began with a single spark. Billions of lives have been changed by the words of Jesus. The self as object may strive to touch others but the self as event constantly touches others in work, play, and communication.

Ask not whether you are the person you want to be but rather whether you are living your life the way you want it to be lived. It is easier to evaluate and change how you live than who you are. Understanding self as activity - you are what you do - gives you this world if you give up other worlds. By accepting time and space limits you free yourself from other limits. Objects are eternal, events are fragile; objects exist, events happen; objects resist change, events promote change.

Experiencing self as event focuses you on this place, this time, this life. You only happen once, so pay attention.

It's never too late to correct your original error. Live here now.

Give up your ghost.