WHY I BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION
A Short Treatise On The Nature Of Belief
William McLaughlin (aka Felix Culpa)
The heart of the question lies with the definition of the word "belief".
For most, a belief is an idea about reality, a definition of Truth. I submit
that such a definition is obsolete--pre-relativistic. Unless we assume that all
is known about everything, we must assume that all of our ideas are incomplete.
Therefore our knowledge of Truth is, of necessity, also incomplete.
Viewed this way, belief, as traditionally defined, is misguided. Unless or
until all is known, all beliefs are liable to be proven false as new knowledge
Physicists realized this in the earlier part of this century when they
proved that light was composed of waves. This was a problem because they also
proved that it was composed of particles (photons) and further proved that the
two concepts are mutually exclusive. They demonstrated that it had to be
composed of either waves or particles, but that if one was true, the other had
to be false.
This caused much consternation because physicists found it useful at some
times to regard light as being composed of particles (i.e such an assumption
enabled them to make correct predictions of experimental results--that is, to
learn more about Nature) and at other times, it was useful to regard it as
being composed of waves. Traditional logic demands that one or the other
assumption should be discarded, as each ruled out the other, but this would've
required discarding an assumption that was useful to them.
The solution? To assume that light is composed of waves when that
assumption is most useful, and to assume that it is composed of particles when
=that= assumption is most useful. The question of ultimate reality was left
to the philosophers. Scientists were more concerned with what works than
what best agreed with their sense of logic. If logic (in this case, assuming
that light was either waves or particles, but not both) proved to be less
useful than illogic (assuming that it is composed of waves =or= particles,
depending on what you're looking at), they would go with what was most useful:
the illogical assumption.
At this point, you might be wondering what all this has to do with
reincarnation. (remember...reincarnation? ) The reason for my long
digression was to illustrate that, properly understood, a belief isn't a
conclusion (based on observation) about the nature of Ultimate Reality, but
a way of looking at nature that proves more useful than any other =in a given
set of circumstances=. With this goes the assumption that, since our
understanding of the nature of Reality is incomplete, these assumptions are
tentative--to be discarded as soon as a more useful system of beliefs is found.
In light of this, I find discussions concerning the logical questions
concerning reincarnation (e.g. the problems concerning the number of souls in
relation to the increase in the human population) to be beside the point. With
the above definition of "belief", it is not so much important whether or not
reincarnation is logically valid as is the question of what belief is most
useful in doing whatever we choose to do with our life.
For me, I find that I'm much happier if free of fear of eternal oblivion
(or worse, of the eternal torture threatened by many of the world's religions).
Accepting a belief in reincarnation accomplishes this and has the added
advantage of offering rich and fertile fields for exploration into a past that
stretches across all cultures and all time.
Also, since fear has been a potent tool for those who would exploit us to
nefarious ends (most tyrants come to power by exploiting the fear of those who
can give them that power), any belief which lessens fear (and mortal fear is at
the root of all other fear) reduces the likelihood of my being exploited by
For me, such an assumption about the nature of reality allows for a
happier, freer life. Put in the terms outlined above, I believe in
reincarnation because, for my own subjective ends, it's most =useful=. After
all, isn't utility the most important criterion for accepting a model of
William B. McLaughlin
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