A Meditation On Past Lives (by Cenobyte)

The following entry is the fruit of an acting contributor, Cenobyte, who is busy being awesome, because she's helping out here while I edit documents on the outside.

I wish I could believe more wholeheartedly in past lives. It would probably contribute to a vast and improbable healing process, not to mention save me money in vacations. In a past life, I could have lived in Ireland; I could have been to all the places I most want to go, which is why, I suppose, I most want to go to them. I could have been nobody in particular in any number of famous or mundane places. Karl the dung-shoveller in some small German village. Pao, who was terrible at painting on rice paper. Or maybe I did needlepoint just as well as any other girl my age when I was Prudence. As John, I went to school, learned to read, fed some chickens, and later married and had children of my own, but always I harboured a secret love for the red-haired boy up the street. You just never know.

This is how I can learn sailing, then, from my past lives' experience. I will clamber aboard the nearest sloop, lash myself to the capstan, and start issuing oaths about the state of the jib sail, and no one would think it was strange, because I would be wearing a shirt that says: “It's okay; I'm reliving a past life”. I could get work in Eastern Europe in a mine, my face blackened by coal dust, my lungs crackling with silicosis, and I could tell people to mind the stopes and drifts. I could go to court and argue that my novel was not, in fact, a plagiarism, but was a documented case of cryptomnesia, because it's just not possible that someone like me could have been someone like O. Henry in a past life. And I'd make a good case, too.

But I don't. Believe wholeheartedly in past lives. It's a problem for me. Because if it's possible for one soul to be recaptured, or partly recaptured, in another iteration in another lifetime somewhere else somewhere on the world, then where do the souls who aren't recaptured stay while the lucky bastards who get to live again muddle through (again) and try to figure out all the things they were already on the verge of figuring out when their lives were cut short by war, famine, pestilence, ennui, or tragic gasoline fight accident? And what about all those souls or soul fragments that simply have never existed? The whole there are more people on this planet now than there ever have been, in the whole of history argument – where did all these new souls come from? And how can there be two people claiming to be Henry Becksbridge of Hampton-on-Wye (not that there would be; I don't think even old Henry would want to be a reincarnation of himself), or two Napoleons, or two Jimis Hendrix? Is a soul just a collection of loosely bound molecules, each one carrying a piece, like genetic markers, of the entirety of its existence, from the time it was pulled from the vacuum of space? Does that then mean that everything created carries a piece of everything else created? And if a soul can't break apart, if a soul is rather some ethereal psychic projection, outside of the laws of three-to-four dimensional physics, if a soul is a continuation of our lives in a different quantum state, then why would any part of it return, to return to its vassal state confined in a sarcophagus of carbon?

And if that's the case, if you really can live your live over and over and over (because it is your life, regardless of whose memory you're living it in), then there really is nothing new under the sun, and every advance of science and/or technology is just a marvellous accident. Because learning is just remembering, but possibly remembering forward, and damnit, all I want is to be able to lie back in the swinging chair and dream of an Ireland I have known, not one I have to read about and visit, huddled in touristy bed-and-breakfast inns, eating packaged cereal and commenting on how lovely the china is. These experiences should be mine, I say selfishly, mine to write about and mine to remember and mine to miss terribly, especially in the early autumn, when the fog rolls through the valley and sticks to the trees and roads and river berms.

Yes, ultimately it percolates down to petty jealousy, that the places they write about are theirs, and not mine, and though every word they write brings their worlds closer to me, I still see it through the spotlessly clean picture window, and not out in the yard where the sun and rain can touch my face. Not that I'm complaining, of course. I'd rather be angry that I'm inside looking out, than not to realise at all that there's even a window in the room.

Nick Bostrom: Humanity's Biggest Problems Aren't What You Think They Are

#805: Touch Typing