I have never been much of a religious man. My grand parents, parents and siblings weren’t either, so maybe it was an easy choice for us to just become atheists. There were no prayers and no regular church visits. My parents and my sister did have standard weddings, and my siblings were confirmed. It was more because of tradition than anything else. I chose not to be confirmed and it was nice not having to endure the schooling for it. When my dad died in 1997, we did get a proper burial for him – but it was actually against his wish. He always claimed it didn’t really matter.
He didn’t believe in anything after death. The big, black nothing. That’s what he always said.
Being a logically thinking individual that has always been a steadfast believer in science, I was always one of those that found all kinds of religion to be made up tales. But believers weren’t ridiculous to me. I could see how others found comfort and salvation this way, and I still do. Sometimes I even find the tales of the bible to be good stories worth telling. I absolutely love Prince of Egypt. It’s one of the greatest animated movies I’ve ever seen and I sometimes watch it again not just for the marvelous songs, but also to see Moses talk to god, gather his people and divide the waters. It’s an epic tale.
But to me, it’s still entirely made up.
Some religions go in different directions, whether it being spiritual practices or empowering oneself. To me, these still seem like rules made up by man, but there can be a lot of wise words to live by.
One of the most fascinating ideas is the central tenet of reincarnation. The idea that after death, we are reborn into the next life. Buddhism believe it to be a long cycle of suffering and rebirth, unless you manage to improve yourself and reach a state of non-self and emptiness.
There is also the concept of karma. Good intentions lead to good karma and bad intentions to bad karma and future suffering. This affects not only the current life but also the next life. Death transfers the soul (or consciousness) to a newly born human being, or an animal or a plant, depending on the karma of the previous life. There can even be an end to it – an eternal existence, the ultimate spiritual goal.
I can’t claim to be an expert in Buddhism or Hinduism, but that should be the gist of it.
Reincarnation has also been referred to by people not belonging to a religion advocating it. There are those that believe they have lived previous lives and can even remember details from them. Rebirth with some memory intact – even across hundreds of years. Perhaps you’ve heard some of these tales.
My scientific version
During that past few years, I have devised my own theory of how reincarnation might perhaps work in a strictly scientific world. The idea I have can probably never be proved and I also realize it may have some problems, which I’ll also get into. Take it for what it is – an entertaining theory.
The main part of the theory is that there is indeed something that can be transferred from one life to another, but I don’t believe it’s a soul or anything else remotely magically sounding phenomenon. Instead, there’s a quantum end-part of our body that is the true self.
Imagine if you started detaching your body parts. I know it sounds gross, but bear with me. Think of it like peeling onions. If you cut off your arms and your legs, would you feel connected to those anymore? Of course not. Now they’re disconnected entities that doesn’t belong to you anymore. I believe that you could continue peeling your bodily onion, layer after layer and never feel becoming part of multiple entities all of a sudden. Even the brain could be peeled smaller in the same manner. You would lose language, logic, the sensation of sensing and more – but there would still be a sense of self in the remaining part.
It all goes back to the theory of what consciousness really is, at least the part that defines your point of view. Is it a consequence of several parts in the brain that create a whole self? If it is – and it might actually be – then this theory would already be dead in the water. Better put that aside for now.
But what if it turns out that there is in fact a final quantum point that defines your point of view? It could be an atom, a quark, or maybe even something we don’t know yet. Not that this necessarily leads into religion. It could just be something that although it is indeed scientifically explainable, we haven’t fathomed it yet. This quantum point would be what defines your point of view, and not that of your friend over there.
Now imagine if this quantum point is literally indestructible.
It makes it sound like there’s a “captain’s chair” on the bridge of the brain – and that may also be what I’m getting at. Back when you were born, the quantum point that defines your point of view sat in this chair completely by chance, and it will remain there until the day you die. If this is in fact how the lives of everything works, we can starting putting together details for a fascinating picture.
Maybe you have already been alive in the past before, and maybe you will be again. But it is not governed by any rules. It is completely random, like throwing dice. You could die and the quantum point could be dormant in the soil for thousands, millions, even billions of years, before getting a chance of dropping into a chair once again. And then it could be anything. A human. A worm. An octopus. The silicon-based Quar-Tu-Nasm on the planet H-29 in about three big bangs from now.
And this brings me to the second part of my theory that goes along with it. I believe that being able to sense and conceive time is only possible as a living entity. As soon as you’re dead, time no longer exists for the quantum point. Think about humans being anesthetized before an operation. My mother had an operation a few years ago in her abdomen, and she reported that she never felt any time passing by as she was under. She counted down and then she woke up again as if it had been the same instant. She was even wondering it they had been operating at all, but they had indeed, and for several hours.
This confirmation of a time jump may vary from person to person, but I still believe in it.
What it means for the quantum reincarnation theory is that going from one life to the next will be virtually instantaneous, regardless of how long it’s been in between. Whether it has been just a decade or billion of years, it will be like the blink of an eye.
But how big is the chance of becoming a new life form? Perhaps the planet will be scorched by the sun and be thrown out of the system, and the chance never occurs again? Well, it depends on the lifetime of the universe, if it loops or resets, or somehow evolve in another manner. If it turns out that the universe lasts forever and is constantly changing, then any infinitesimal chance may as well be the same as a 100% chance of it occurring again. It would be inevitable – just a question of when.
But alas, because it’s just the quantum point having new layers of life build around it, nothing would ever be transferred from one life to the next. There will be no remembering your past life as Abraham Lincoln. It would always feel like the first and only time.
I sometimes return to this theory and what can be deduced from it, but I’m actually not sure I believe in it anymore. I’ve started suspecting that the sensation of a point of view might indeed be a combination of many things in the brain. If this turns out to be true, then quantum reincarnation might be impossible. It would be like having a thousand, maybe a million chairs on the brain bridge, all of which would have to be occupied in a very specific combination to become you.
Any other ideas? What if consciousness is all based on memory alone?
A long while after having thought up the above theory, I discovered that the film critic Roger Ebert had thought of a similar theory once. It’s not entirely the same as mine, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless.