Materialism and Reincarnation

In this article I argue that physical reincarnation is plausible on materialism, and it need not be incompatible with the notion of heaven.

Jordan Peterson has a couple interesting, unorthodox concepts of truth. Rationality Rules is a secular content maker and he attempts to debunk Peterson’s view here. I recommend a watch it’s very interesting. It’s also part of a series. The second video is here.

This article proceeds in 4 sections:

  1. Background
  2. Long-time atomic remixing
  3. Atomic intelligent design
  4. Conclusion

I. Background

Rationality Rules refers to a discussion between Peterson and Bret Weinstein on the nature of truth. At one point Weinstein is arguing for so-called scientific truth, contra Peterson’s Darwinian truth. See the videos for good definitions. Ironically, Perterson’s Darwinian truth seems subjective and postmodern in my view.

Rationality Rules and Weinstein argue, in part, that realist truth is superior to metaphorical truth because metaphorical truth allegedly violates the law of non-contradiction. While I currently hold to a realist epistemology, I don’t think their point is well-founded for at least three reasons:

  1. The concrete example of contradiction which they site is reconcilable. Weinstein claims heaven and reincarnation are irreconcilable. I argue otherwise below this list.
  2. Positing two contradicting metaphorical truths is no different than positing two contradicting non-metaphorical truths. The contradiction indicates the two concrete claims are not both true, but it does not dispose of the general practice of making truth claims, whether or not such claims are metaphorical in nature.
  3. For Peterson, A can be Darwinianly more true than B if A improves flourishing to a larger degree. So it’s not even the case that reincarnation and heaven need to be equally true in the Peterson-Darwinian sense to begin with. If either A or B dominates as more true then there is no contradiction to be found.

Why would I think reincarnation and heaven might be reconcilable? Two plausible mechanistic explanations include what I call:

  1. Long-time atomic remixing
  2. Atomic intelligent design

This greatly parallels evolution vs intelligent design discussions. I don’t mean to distract, but I do want to highlight something: Christians are allowed to believe either evolution or intelligent design. The issue is nonessential and neither view is heretical. A key notion in Christianity is that God created human life, but the mechanism is nonessential. Similarly, a key notion in Christianity is the Resurrection of the Dead. How might such a resurrection occur? The mechanisms are relatively speculative, but at least two possible mechanisms allow for reconciliation with the idea of reincarnation.

Here are 5 possible mechanisms for the Christian resurrection of the dead:

  1. Spiritual or non-bodily resurrection in some other plain of existence
  2. Metaphorical resurrection of some kind
  3. Long-time atomic remixing
  4. Atomic intelligent design
  5. Other

II. Long-Time Atomic Remixing

If life, including cognition, is purely material, and if there are infinitely many universes, then physical, material reincarnation will take place by atomic remixing. This can occur without intelligent interference over long periods of time, or it can occur with intelligent interference over comparatively shorter periods of time. This is true whether infinitely many universes come about by a multiverse of concurrent universes, or even by a single bouncing universe.

With a true infinite of universes, it is only a matter of time until the atoms which constitute a person’s body will eventually recollect into a variety of interesting shapes:

  1. The same brain with a different body. Be it human, animal, or non-living material.
  2. The same brain with the same body. This body might have the same knowledge, thoughts, memories, and memories of having existed in a past life, insofar as memories are parts of the brain state. Or it might have none of that.

An interesting thing about a true infinite of universes means that all possibilities identified in both 1 and 2 will happen, and they will each happen an infinite number of times.

III. Atomic Intelligent Design

Outside of the context of this discussion, I do believe in intelligent design as the best explanation for the existence of life, and I do think the intelligent designer is the Christian God. In the context of the discussion, it could be God or it could be some future humans, AI, aliens, or any kind of intelligent designer to which we refer.

The notion is that some entity becomes advanced enough to control the atomic structure of the universe. If that could be done then these entities could arrange atoms to replicate previously existing people, at the atomic level, and they could optionally modify them to some degree. As a side benefit, they could also prevent the universe from expanding into nothingness, prevent biological aging by atomic refactoring, and other crazy stuff.

IV. Conclusion

The opposition of reincarnation implies the rejection of the notion of an infinite number of universes. However, reincarnation is still possible even if there is one universe with finite time. Christian theology is hardly dubious of forwardly-infinite time, and I think good theology can see the Resurrection of the Dead as physical, admittedly with improved or glorified, rather than identical or zombie, bodies.

I think there can also be made some theological case for a resurrection on some other non-material or material-but-different plane of existence, or a mixed-plane resurrection. So I’m theologically agnostic on many of the details of the resurrection.

The notion of glorified bodies and the problem of bad copies does seem to favor atomic intelligent design on the Christian view, but even on a non-Christian view I think I have defended the idea of some kind of resurrection. I do believe in intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of life, and if it’s the best explanation of original life why not let it explain the resurrection as well? So that’s my preferred explanation but it works either way.

Notice that either resurrection story involves a radically different context for the resurrected person. With atomic remixing the person may exist in a life-friendly place, but that place may not be earth. It could be a re-evolved earth-like place at some point in it’s history, so technology might be at an earlier, similar, or later level compared to today. In the case of atomic intelligent design we would expect technology to be an extremely advanced level, and technological conveniences along many lines might exist.

People often talk of heaven as a physically pleasant place, and I think either story has some points along the lines of physical pleasance, but I do think atomic intelligent design wins out once again. I would note, however, that many of the Western notions of a physically pleasurable afterlife seem to be imported from Elysium and other extra-Christian sources.

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