Friday, November 10, 2006

Life, the universe, and everything

Back to the comment box for questions: Amy asks who I was in a former life. That's a little disingenuous, because she knows perfectly well that I have some slightly weird ideas about this-life and beyond-this-life issues, and she's trying to expose me to the blogosphere as the loopy goofus that I am.

But you guys have seen plenty of goofiness here already, and you stuck around, so what the heck. Besides, I don't claim to have any particular sort of doctrine or truth, just my gut feeling, and I'm not going to impose my views on anyone else or imply that this has anything to do with anyone but me, or even suggest that this is much more than the product of an overactive imagination.

Many people seem to believe in reincarnation, that they have past lives they occasionally catch odd glimpses of. I can imagine that working, and I do get the sense about some people that they're "old souls," like they've been through this life business a few times and know their way around.

The only problem I have with this, oddly enough, is that it seems much too limited. If you imagine a soul or a life as a force that carries beyond the physical life-spans of its hosts, why limit yourself to a succession of human lives? Some people would go so far as to imagine that there's a sort of hierarchy of hosts, that you might have one life as a cockroach, and work your way up to a bunny rabbit, and with hard work and dedication end up as a presumably-superior homo sapiens (or fall back down again, if you screw up).

But even that falls short for me. Think of it this way: humans, as a species, perceive the world in a fairly limited way. Our eyes can only perceive part of the spectrum of light; our ears register a pathetically small range of sound; there are other forces of chemistry and magnetism that other species sense but that we don't, just because of the limitations of human perception. So, logically, we tend to think of our own existence within the limits of the possibilities given us by the human brain. If we go so far as to imagine a soul, and the possibility of reincarnation, we tend to think of simply reproducing the experiences we know, but in a slightly different time frame.

But why not think bigger than that? If you're going to imagine a soul or life-force that is independent from a physical body, why limit yourself to the patterns contained within a relatively recent species on one dinky planet in a nondescript solar system on the edge of a minor galaxy? Shouldn't the universe contain infinitely more interesting possibilities? I've always entertained the notion that my soul has had some sort of previous existence, but I don't think of that existence in the shape of a medieval French aristocrat, or a Roman courtesan. (People who talk about their previous lives generally portray them as much more exotic and interesting than the average peasant who would have made up the majority of the population... maybe it's just that those who don't think they have past lives had past lives that were too boring to be worth remembering.) I'd rather think of my soul as a universe-traveler, that has played at being a supernova, and the color blue, and an electron circling the nucleus of an atom, or any of an infinite number of things that are entirely beyond human experience and comprehension, and this time around it's chosen to see what humans are like.

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