The dread of reincarnation
I’m not a religious man. In fact, I’m an atheist. Perhaps not in a “Ban all religions and Richard Dawkins is a super-star and I want to have his babies”-kind of way but I get seriously annoyed when religion tries to interfere with our personal freedom or right to education. Anyway, I don’t believe in gods, which by definition makes me an atheist.
I’ve also got a rather practical view on the world, which pretty much rule out me believing in fairies, pixies, unicorns and other mythical creatures unless provided with some kind of scientifically verifiable proof.
However, there is something that has been nagging at the back of my mind for years: “What if this life isn’t it? Imagine if – horror of horrors – when we die we get reborn and start over again?”
This is a truly spine-chilling thought. I’ve already been alive for more than 15,000 days, and I’ve statistically got another 15,000 days to go. That is another 15,000 mornings of getting dressed, shaving, making breakfast, brushing my teeth and walking the dog. Man, I get exhausted just thinking about it!
Now, imagine if the concept of reincarnation was true. There you are, you’ve finally lived through a whole life and looking forward to get some rest at the end of it, only to find that no sooner have you kicked the bucket you’re poured into another body and have to start over again. That’s another 30,000 days of boring routine.
And after that life, another life. And then another. And another. Forever and ever. Groundhog day, anyone?
This is assuming that you’re even reborn as a human. There are several theories that claim that you might come back as a snail or a weevil, and then what do you do? (Although to be fair, at least those lives would be short.)
There are of course several arguments against the existence of reincarnation. One of them is that the number of human beings isn’t consistent, and if our minds were indeed to jump from one body to another, what would happen if there aren’t enough minds to go around? Or enough bodies?
It’s a nice though, and I wish that would disprove reincarnation, but unfortunately it doesn’t. If minds somehow are able to go from body to body, it would indicate that they’re outside the control of space-time. This would further suggest that normal causality would have to be disregarded, and that one mind could occupy several bodies “simultaneously”. In fact, perhaps we’re all just one single mind that time-loops through all existing bodies in the past, future and present.
Another argument against reincarnation is the dubious concept of the “soul”. You might have noticed that I’ve avoided the use of the word soul in my reasoning above, replacing it with the word “mind”. But that doesn’t really counter the argument. What is this “mind/soul” that can wander from one body to another when the brain dies?
Being empirical, the brain is just a fatty lump of neurons firing electrical impulses in a complex network. If the brain dies, the impulses stop being fired and our conscienceness fades away. But having studied biology, I know that what might look simple and chaotic on one level can be complex and ordered on another. Chemically, we’re just sacks of organic compounds performing oxidation/reduction reactions. Biologically, however, we’re part of several billion year old progression of genes travelling through time.
So, I don’t dare to be arrogant enough to presume that the presence of some kind of mind outside our physical space-time continuum is completely out of the question. It just might be true, which is bad enough.
This leaves me stuck with the horrible suspicion that this life isn’t it. That it’s just one in an infinitely long chain of lives stretching out before me like a perfect mathematical line. And it’s not like I could even jump off by ending my life* – I’d just start over again. And again.
But, with a little luck, I might come back as an octopus. Octopuses are really cool. Also, they don’t live forever and don’t have to brush their teeth. Yes, ‘Heinakroon the octopus’ – that would be awesome!
* Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal. And not just because it might be an exercise in futility. I’m really quite an optimistic person – a glass half-full kind of guy. No, really, I am! :) See? I’m using smileys and everything!