For some time I had been quite enthusiastic about researching the evidence on reincarnation and paranormal claims because I considered it to be of great consequence to how I would live my daily life. After a few months, however, not having reached any conclusive end, I then pondered about the very significance of the possibility of the existence of a supraphysical soul.
For the sake of consideration, assume the standard idea of karma-based metempsychosis to correspond to reality. Its gravity should move one to make more ethical decisions (primarily in the sense of causing lesser harm to others) since one will have to suffer the consequences thereof, unless of course one entertains the idea that somehow because of previous merit one will be able to overcome and even escape the consequences that are attendant upon him for his actions. But what is this future state of the soul like? It features suffering to the extent of one’s previous actions coupled with other inheritances such as memory and idiosyncratic inclinations.
From this point of view, one chooses not to commit evil because of the consequences one will have to face in the future. One may liken it to suffering in the not-so-distant future, as in punishment faced after committing a theft. However, the suffering in the next-life is far different in that he will have a different personality and environment and the memory of his previous actions will more often than not be beyond his immediate conscious attention.
How is this different from the harm he causes in this life to another being? Unless we assume the extreme position of solipsism, the main difference is in memory and inclination. The experience of joy and suffering, be though it is coloured by these, is fundamentally the same (the debate on qualia notwithstanding).
My view, therefore, on this matter is that it is erroneous for one to contemplate only the consequences to be faced by one alone and not the consequences to be faced by the other. What one essentially is averse to is the sensation of pain. What holds his personality as he assumes himself to be is merely the elements of perception, memory and will acting in configurations whose patterns he identifies as his self. In other words, his future self may be likened to a different being having though his memory and will.
We perceive our selves to be different, distinct and detached from each other except what may become by way of communication. We are, however, as the various lakes on this sphere into which the sun casts its light. When one refers to one’s conscious experience (which is the light) and of his body and environment (which are the lakes), he need only remember that the source of the light is one, the illumined entities, many. Selfishness and selflessness therefore, not just in the sense of being interdependent and therefore in the extremes leading to each other, are the same.
I mean this very seriously even from a strictly physicalist point of view. Does the claim of the soul’s existence matter then? In relation to ethics at least, my answer is in the negative.
More posts by this author:
- American Morning
- The Method of Science
- Epistemological Anarchy
- Evidence for Reincarnation
- On the Possibility of Free Will