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Your Preferences - Preliminary Results
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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

[Check out Post 1 if you haven't already.]

I was hoping to do a more science-based post, but I couldn't really find any research on the topic.... but I'm doing one anyway. What's life without a little whimsy?

Our campus Skeptical group has a fairly active Facebook group that discusses all kinds of things. One member posted the comic found here (Sorry, I can't post it. Plus this guy deserves the page it...).

The comic found at the link above had a very brief blog post which describes the actions of an Atheist group offering freshly baked cookies in exchange for one's soul. The comment was made on the skeptical facebook group that we should do the same. 

Everyone took to the idea.  A few of us discussed the nuances of how and why over lunch, and as a result a few changes were made. Our goal was not to alienate the devout, or offend anyone who holds that souls exist. Our goal is simply to make one question the concept. If one decides that they have a soul - then great; the point is they were actually confronted by the idea and devoted a few minutes of thought (at a minimum) to the topic. If someone takes offence to the idea then we had a second question. 

If the first question was:

Will you exchange your soul for this delicious cookie?


... then the back-up question was to be:

Will you exchange your aura for this delicious cookie?


It's not that we're trying to set up an equivocation between a soul and an aura (though, to my mind, both are ridiculous). What the intention is, is to ask people to follow through their assumptions to their logical conclusions. Though one of devout leanings way consider the exchange of their soul for a cookie to be damning, it is unlikely the same individual would view the act of exchanging their aura for a cookie an act of similar magnitude.

For a soul to exist we must accept some kind of crazy mind-body dualism - that is, the soul is something non-physical, non-tangible, beyond measure and beyond any real understanding. In short, it's a matter of faith. An aura does not require these things. Indeed, if my eyes perceived a certain band of wavelength, I could almost certainly see the heat radiating from your body; a heat which would vary over time, and correspond to different biological activity. This, generously speaking, might be considered an aura. 

Now if one were to enter into this agreement (for either their soul or their aura) a few implications are raised:

  1. By what manner can your soul/aura be transferred? Is signing a piece of paper enough?
  2. How much control or ownership do I have over my soul/aura. Am I even in a position to give it away?
  3. Assuming I can give it away, and signing a piece of paper is enough to transfer this incorporeal concept upon another... what happens to me without it?
  4. Assuming I can give it away, and signing a piece of paper is enough to transfer this incorporeal concept upon another... what happens to my soul/aura next? Is it bound to the paper contract? Is it bestowed upon the recipient of the contract? Does it evaporate, forever lost?

Given that the folks I was chatting to were hardened skeptics, AND were all student psychologist (earning their PhD's) a second conclusion was reached. 

When the time comes for us to sign our soul over for a delicious cookie, it's going to feel fucking weird. 

I can't help but think that my emotional state would reflect something between guilt, loss, betrayal, and bemusement. We're certainly enculturated to believe that we have souls, and that our soul is some unique thing belonging only to us, something that is somehow more us than our physical meat. Certainly I would feel strange signing it over. Then I think... what if I went to another stall and signed it over again for a second cookie? Would my emotional state be the same?

I suspect I would then think 'Suckers! You don't have my soul, those handsome cats at the first stall have it!'

But, then, you have to ask how was it transferred, can it be transferred, what happens to it now? and then I realized I probably wouldn't care after giving it a minute or two's thought. 

Which is exactly the point, right? It's kind of okay no matter what you believe, so long as you've given a moments consideration to what your beliefs actually mean. We want you to eat our cookies (they're going to be delicious), but we want you to actually question these things that are assumed. 

This is a conversation I had with a fellow at work:

Me: Hey, S, would you trade your soul for a cookie?

S: No way, it's worth way more than a cookie?

Me: Ok, fair enough. Would you trade your aura for a cookie?

S: Hmm, not sure. I don't want to trade something that I don't know what it is.

Me: An aura is a like a hippy life-power thing. Special people are supposed to be able to see it, and it tells you something about your energy.

S: Oh, I've heard of those. I didn't know they were real...

I think this is a good example because it really highlights the degree to which our culture can impose certain assumptions. I wish I did have a cookie and a contract on hand. I feel that, if I did, S would really give both ideas some thought...

As it stands - what are your thoughts?

First, would you sign a contract that exchanges your soul for a cookie?

Second, how would you feel about it (whether you signed it over or not); 

Third, what have I missed?






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You have missed the most important thing.

What kind of cookie?


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Ha! Probably choc-chip. Though I wouldn't sell my soul for anything less than white-chocolate and vanilla...


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They were my special Sour Cream Chocolate Chip cookies.

Everyone who took us up on the offer said it was worth it.

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I'm sorry, but this whole idea depresses me.

Personally, (1) OF COURSE I would sign away my soul for a cookie. Even if I believed in souls. For instance, I would sign away my Self for a cookie, and I (sort of) believe in my Self. The ridiculous part of the proposition isn't anything to do with souls, but, as you say, the conditions under which they might be transferred. I would gladly sign away my soul (even if I believed in it) because I can't imagine any form of a soul which could possibly be transferred by paper contract (same with Self).

And (2) I wouldn't feel even slightly weird about it. Well, no, that's not entirely true. I feel vaguely nervous signing any contract. I would be slightly apprehensive that you'd snuck a clause in which permitted you to send me junk mail for the rest of my life.

It's a funny idea, but the possibility that it would actually make anybody hesitate or think, I find depressing.

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Hey? I don't understand that last sentiment. 

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Ah, just me being grumpy. It would only make people think if there was some possibility, however slim, in their worldview that signing a contract could actually harm their soul...and I think that possibility is so totally ridiculous that it would be really sad if anyone actually held it.

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... sadder than Transubstantiation? Sadder than Reincarnation? According to some the act of looking at women with lust is enough to damn one's soul. 

To me, a contract wilfully entered into and knowingly signed seems like the reasonable way to think about a soul. 

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