Giving Up the Ghost: Are You Someone Else’s Afterlife?

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“I think that humans may have evolved from apes, because the simians openly imitate humans, as if conscious of a higher state, whereas the humans who act like apes are likely to deny it when criticized” – Charles Hoy Fort

Which one are you?

Which one are you?

I think you may be a ghost.  Don’t take it the wrong way.  It’s not a reflection on your character.  You’re actually quite charming.  You’re just not real.  Well, maybe you are real, but you certainly aren’t metaphysically necessary, that is, in the purely necessetarian sense that absolute volition is an illusion and that all action is predetermined by external or internal antecedents.  An amorphous blob of protoplasm would serve just as nicely.  Maybe this implicit denial of free will and devaluation of our presumed special dispensation in the universe offends you?  You could fall back on the slightly milder “hard determinism” and admit that the causal chain that resulted in our existence or that ephemeral mechanism we call consciousness (or lack thereof) could have been different given we may have misjudged the initial causes.  Equally unsatisfying?  Of course it is, since you could still be an amorphous blob of protoplasm blindly reacting to stimuli (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’ve dated a few, and admittedly they have some redeeming qualities, what with being relatively agreeable and soft to the touch).  In the interest of avoiding a descent into the nihilistic abyss or more practically, explaining why you forgot your anniversary, it pays to reject determinisms, and embrace their philosophical competitor, accidentalism.  Accidentalism, in particular what is referred to as philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce’s “tychism”,  suggests that while laws and causes may exist in nature, chance is an operative force with equal standing, and that events may succeed each other haphazardly.  Bad things happen to good people.  You found that lost doodad you weren’t looking for.  Boy bands get the girls.  Rather than assume the world is an exercise in insanity, it’s safer to assume that chance and luck can sometimes, if not always, precipitate action.  And this, my friend, is why I’m considering the distinct possibility that you may be a ghost.

If there is one thing we do unfailingly as humans it is die.  In fact we’re quite good at it.  We’ve been doing it in droves for countless millennia.  This accounts for why we tend to regard death from a teleological perspective (nature tends towards definite ends), and our end is our death, generally followed by some sort of afterlife depending on how you feel about leaving parties.  Our life is the cause of our death, and the hereafter the ultimate end towards which we orient our purpose.  Teleology is the grand narrative that explains everything that preceded it as necessary to the end, after the fact.  It’s a sort of weirdly time-independent determinism, where cause and effect are conflated into an opaque description of our existence.  Mostly we just don’t appreciate dying.  Or at least hope we are well thought of when it happens.  Once we’ve accepted our compulsion to explain our existence in reverse, it begs the question of how we can be sure that we are not the ultimate end of something else’s existence.  In short, you’re a ghost.

Father of Anomalistics Charles Fort was much less concerned with causality than he was with continuity, and speculated that if the difference between reality and unreality was merely an artifact of categorization, those phenomena that we find it difficult to explain might simply result from an error in our perspective and egocentric confidence in the teleological explanation of our own lives. “My suspicion is that we’ve got everything reversed; or that all things that have the sanction of scientists, or that are in agreement with their myths, are ghosts: and the things called “ghosts”, are, because they are not in agreement with the spooks of science, the more real things.  I now suspect that the spiritualists are reversedly right—that there is a ghost world—but that it is our existence—that when spirits die they become human beings” (Fort, 1974, p898).

References
Forts, Charles.  The Complete Books of Charles Fort.  New York: Dover, 1974.

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