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
- Our Greatest Fear
- The Soul is Dead, Long Live the Self
- Heads and Tales
- Remember Me?
- A Change of Mind
- Divided Opinions
- Being Someone and Becoming Someone Else
- You Again
Part II. Beyond the Frontiers of the Self
- Science and the Subjective
- Matters of Consciousness
- East World
- Now and Zen
- I, Universe
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