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The dread of reincarnation

11 November 2011

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.

"Oh no. Not again.."

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.

'Heinakroon the octopus' - yes, i like it!

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!

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    11 November 2011 14:15

    So I think reincarnation is valid in a way. All the atoms that make up your body (and mind) do in fact end up in something else after you die. So you could be a tree, or a battleship, or even an octopus! Yes, that would be pretty cool.


    • 11 November 2011 14:49

      Ah, the battle of the atoms.. Yes, be careful you don’t end up fighting over a bunch of carbon atoms with some embalmed Egyptian cat or a long dead pirate..


  2. 11 November 2011 14:34

    My kid keeps asking me what a ‘soul’ is. It comes up a lot on SpongeBob, apparently. Now I can tell him it is a “fatty lump of neurons.” That should clear it up nicely. Thanks for your help!


  3. 11 November 2011 14:37

    My boss is Buddhist which is good because I think he only hired me so he could have good karma. I keep telling him I want to come back in my next life as a rock star. But now I am changing it to octopus because I won’t have to brush my teeth. Your blog is helpful in so many ways.


  4. Elizabeth permalink
    11 November 2011 15:07

    Just hope you don’t come back as a female octopus. They are so diligent in their care of their young that once the eggs hatch, they no longer have the strength to go find food so they die. So sad really 😦


  5. 11 November 2011 17:40

    Well I lost my way a little in the middle there but I’m pretty sure my brain worked it out in the end… Reincarnation… I had this dream that I was a slug and then someone trod on me and I was mega pissed about it. I wonder if that was a memory. Because I would be mega pissed if someone trod on me so it makes sense and is totally plausible.


  6. Jonas permalink
    11 November 2011 23:28

    Flytta hem för tusan! Jag har bara Simon Singh att prata med just nu…



  7. 18 November 2011 21:01

    I, too, am an atheist. But I’m not an educated man so my philosophies are entirely self-taught from scratch. After a lengthy lifetime of enquiry I find that I can’t dismiss Reincarnation out of hand, although I can offer no explanations as to the how/why/etc of it.

    “Infinitely?” Given that (according to modern science) this planet is as doomed as the rest of our solar system when the sun become a huge red fireball so large it even engulfs our own earthly orbit, we reincarnated … things … would have a problem. Where to from here?

    At the risk of offending you by advertising on your website (I’m posting on these topics on one of my other blogs) may I post a link?—

    —the above will get you into a light-hearted ball park. Latest was on telepathy, next will be (soon) on reincarnation.

    If I may make a recommendation, the late Dr Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia has made a lifetime scientific study of the subject. I must emphasise ‘scientific’ (over 2500 cases recorded and investigated). His 1960s book has recently been updated and reissued—

    “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation”

    —not overly cheap but for an open mind well worth the effort. There are other universities quietly studying—scientifically—the subject, and others in the ‘crackpot’ range.


    • 18 November 2011 22:28

      Well, ‘infinitely’ is obviously an exaggeration. Even if we assume we can reincarnate on other planets, the universe will end sooner or later, thus terminating the whole chain (or weave, or whatever). It does FEEL infinite, though!


  8. 26 November 2011 19:30

    What Is Our Earth Life Experience For?

    Earth is a place where everyone gets an opportunity to see themselves for who they truly are. Who do we become when society isn’t looking?

    The society we came from before we were born into earth society, is an immortal society. Earth is a place where we are given a chance to see if we are evolving in a positive or negative direction. When we look around at the world we live in and it is not too difficult to see which direction many of us are going in.

    Earth is a place where we are not allowed to know much (as the old term goes, blind on earth), unless we are prepared to do the work… we then, will no longer have to come to earth again, once we have developed these characteristic traits necessary to live in an immortal society; therefore, the earth experience is no longer required.

    Religion is man’s primitive way to explain their existence and the fact, that our society still has these primitive beliefs should be a hint to those who are astute about where we are as a society.

    Read article in its entirety…



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