I overheard some people talking about reincarnation today, so I thought I’d write down what I thought about it. Mainly because I’m trying to write 1,500 new words every day as part of my grandiose plan to take over the world, and I figure blog posts should count as part of that, right?
The popular conception of reincarnation (as I understand it) is a closed system. When someone dies, their soul goes into a “soul pool,” where it waits to be re-used. Then when a new baby is born, a soul is plucked from the soul pool and plugged into the new body. It’s a nice theory, and I would even say there are enough mysterious phenomenon in the world to say it’s plausible, except for one mathematical complication: Human population has been growing quite rapidly.
According to Wikipedia, there were only 1 million people in the whole world in 70,000 BC. But lets theorize that the reincarnation phenomenon “began” in 0 AD. Wikipedia says that the world population was in the vicinity of 50 million then.
So let’s say we started with 50 million souls in the “soul pool” in 0 AD. Today, there are 7 billion people in the world (that’s 7,000 million). But our soul pool only had 50 million souls to start with. That’s a deficit of about 6,950 million souls when a new baby needs one in 2012. So it’s pretty clear that all of the 7 billion souls we see around us couldn’t be reincarnated souls. For me to fully believe in reincarnation, that discrepancy needs to have some kind of a plausible explanation. (Not necessarily a scientific one.)
There is the possibility that they don’t come from anywhere, and there is always a fixed number of souls in the soul pool. In that case, there could never be more than 50 million reincarnated souls, so the odds that any one person you see on the street is a reincarnated soul (as opposed to a “one-off” soul) is pretty low. This doesn’t make much sense based on my understanding of life, the universe, and everything. Particularly since, in the beginning, there were only two humans (huge controversial discussion of the origin of humanity deleted). Surely there are more than two people in the world at any given time who have “past lives.”
So if we make the assumption that every person in the world right now has a reincarnated soul, then we have to assume that the soul pool was pre-loaded with bajillions of individual souls in order to accommodate future population growth. This seems plausible, but how many started in the soul pool? Could it be an infinite number? It would probably have to be, considering that humanity could conceivably expand to other stars and galaxies and end up with a population of 500 billion trillion. (It also raises the question: When was the soul pool pre-loaded, since humans as we know them today didn’t really evolve until around 10,000 years ago.)
Another possibility I just thought of is that souls could come from animals, too. I have no knowledge of the world’s animal population, but I could make a broad assumption that the more humans there are, the less animals there are. In that case, souls could have “shifted” from the animal world to the human world. I suspect it’s not a zero-sum distribution of humans and animals though, so I don’t have a lot of confidence in this one.
The last possibility is, of course, reincarnation doesn’t happen, and there is an entirely different explanation for strange phenomenon like people remembering past lives under hypnosis and “old souls” and deja vu and so forth. (I think science has explained most of that stuff, but I have no way of judging the facts of those explanations.)
Even if reincarnation could be proven, it doesn’t seem like a very helpful process. Unless you can carry your physical brain with all of its imprints of memory and experience into your next life, the re-used soul is not much good to the new body. At best, depending on what you believe souls “do,” the new incarnation might have inclinations towards certain behaviors or talents. So like with me, for example, my past and future incarnations might tend to be introverted knowledge workers, but they aren’t going to know how to write .NET software.
Crap, that was only 700 words.