Zen Physics


Zen Physics:
The Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation

by David Darling (1996)

I’m a dualist — can’t help it, always have been — no matter how eloquently Hofstadter tells me that I am a strange loop. And I just don’t buy the bit about reincarnation. I’ve studied reincarnation from every angle, and it has simply never made sense to me.

Until now, that is.

I opened Darling’s book prepared to defeat any and all of his arguments in support of reincarnation, but then he goes and blindsides me with this:

We are the products of our life stories. […] So, inevitably, a lot of what we remember is not what actually happened–whatever this may mean–but rather a kind of myth or confabulation that helps us sustain the impression that we know what is going on. […] We maintain a sense of continuity and so provide a basis for our feeling of personal identity at the cost of never knowing what is true. We are as much a myth as the stories we tell ourselves. (35-36)

This makes perfect sense from a Campbellian perspective, and from there Darling continues to chip away at every wall of incredulity. He goes on to show how the brain is a memory device, nothing more, and certainly not the source of consciousness as Hofstadter would contend. It is, in fact, a filter that limits our awareness of the singular consciousness that is the universe at large. Moreover, the brain seems to have a built-in storyteller that puts everything (i.e., the insignificant amount of data actually processed and stored by the brain) into a “single coherent narrative.” With a nod to Hua-Yen Buddhism and Indra’s Net of Gems, Darling advances into a discussion of Zen and quantum mechanics to show how upon death we will each undergo “secular reincarnation” into a new and previously unknown example of fragmented consciousness, each with a new story to tell.

If all the world’s a stage, then the universe must be a multiplex theater. Maybe God’s just a film buff. 205 pages.



Part I. You and Other Stories

  1. Our Greatest Fear
  2. The Soul is Dead, Long Live the Self
  3. Heads and Tales
  4. Remember Me?
  5. A Change of Mind
  6. Divided Opinions
  7. Being Someone and Becoming Someone Else
  8. You Again

Part II. Beyond the Frontiers of the Self

  1. Science and the Subjective
  2. Matters of Consciousness
  3. East World
  4. Now and Zen
  5. Transcendence
  6. I, Universe



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