The Aegean idyll of Chapter 9 staged the
fundamental inference of Metaphysics by Default: the existential passage of one
person to another. This transmigration obeys the rules set down by
complete mortality and the corporeal criteria of personal identity. It is understood
best in just those terms.
Yet it may be
tempting to read Metaphysics by Default as a re-interpretation of some historical
transmigration tradition. This would be a mistake. The scholars
of Dar al-Hikma, for example, bear no responsibility for
Metaphysics by Default: that responsibility lies squarely with this author.
This new philosophy does have kinship with transmigration traditions, but in most cases the kinship will prove to be
remote. So we should guard against the tendency to read ancient
authority into this modern idea.
In fact, some
popular transmigration concepts are entirely at odds with it.
We should note that karma,
as a rule of afterlife
cause-and-effect, or else as a ritual for afterlife betterment, is not a concept
supported by Metaphysics by Default.
Neither does this philosophy accommodate
the transfer of memories, personal qualities or social caste-status across
the passage, as some transmigration traditions still do. Those hypotheses
are incompatible with Metaphysics by Default.
But still, the
root idea of transmigration is here: one person is thought to transition to another, in meaningful sense, at some time following death. That root idea
equates transmigration with a passage of numerically one deceased person to
numerically one living person. It is a "one-to-one" relation.
Perhaps the adjective "unitary" is appropriate for this type of
In this much Metaphysics by Default has kinship with
transmigration traditions. But we are by no means restricted to
considering unitary passage alone. Other passage types are possible in
Metaphysics by Default, and we are free to elucidate them. I will extend
the idyll with this intent.
Let's consider the Aegean idyll
again. We begin the story as before, with Nicos and Casta as the only
inhabitants of their meadow cosmos. We know that Nicos will pass away, and
that Thanos will be born at a later time.
Now let's extend
this idyll by introducing another family. I'll add a second couple to the
story: the Roman farmer Magnus and his wife, Sidra. They take up
residence in their own home, living in tranquility much like
Nicos and Casta.
Aegean idyll with two
House of Nicos at left; house of
Magnus at right.
modified start the story progresses again to the death of Nicos. And here we
insert a new event: a month after the death of Nicos, Magnus also passes
away. Sidra performs the rituals in Magnus' honor, and both she and Casta
live on as widows. Another eight months go by, and Thanos is
illustrates the visible events of this modified Aegean idyll:
Considering now the metaphysical events which can be expected to occur in this version of the idyll:
Nicos still passes to Thanos. Their metaphysical relation is as
before. And what of Magnus? Magnus, like Nicos, has died before the
birth of Thanos. Magnus, like Nicos, has slipped into the state of mortal
amnesia defined in Chapter 9. When Thanos arrives, Nicos and Magnus are in
the same metaphysical condition with respect to his birth. And so both men can be expected to experience existential passage to Thanos, as illustrated below.
passage, of two persons into one, appears to constitute some sort of
"merger." And it may seem unorthodox, even by the western
world's liberal standards; for even among our younger transmigration traditions,
merged transmigration is nowhere an orthodox tenet.
All the same, the merger does follow from the
axioms of Metaphysics by Default just as readily as did the unitary passage set
forth in the original Aegean idyll.
As before no
"thing" transfers through the existential passage, either from Nicos
to Thanos, or else from Magnus to Thanos. The existential passage remains
purely subjective. And for this reason it would be incorrect to think that
merged passage would in some way "crowd" Thanos, or otherwise affect
him in any way. Thanos remains Thanos, regardless of who does or does not
experience existential passage to him. It is more correct to say that
Nicos and Magnus have experienced independent passages to the same
recipient. Objectively, from without, we see the temporal and functional conditions which lead us to infer this two-to-one merger; but the participants themselves must be
ignorant of the merger. The merger can only be known from
without, as an abstraction.
It follows that
two-to-one mergers hold no charmed position in the metaphysics. If
a two-to-one merger is possible, a three-to-one merger is also possible.
I'll modify the idyll again, so as to present just this case. Let's look again
at the timeline of the two-to-one merger:
Here we see again that Nicos and Magnus die before the birth of Thanos.
Now I will
modify Figure 11.4 so as to set up the three-to-one merger. Here Sidra will pass away as well, a month after Magnus' death. The timeline now
looks like this:
In Figure 11.5 three
persons pass away before the birth of Thanos: Nicos, Magnus and
Sidra. By previous reasoning all three now experience an
existential passage to Thanos. The result is a three-to-one merger.
mergers are also possible under this scheme: four-to-one, five-to-one,
six-to-one, and so forth. The critical element in all these merged
passages is the element of time. All who participate in a
merger must have passed away
the single recipient of
the passages is born, and after
all other births.
In our last example of Figure 11.5, Nicos, Magnus and Sidra have met this condition: a three-to-one merger is the inferred result. And in general, whenever the temporal
condition is satisfied by multiple participants, we can infer that a merger does occur.
is a property of Metaphysics by Default which only appears when we study
appropriate timeline examples. There are other
passage types, and we will need to consider them as well. Additional
examples will bring these passage types into view.
The next issue to address is a seemingly
paradoxical consequence of merged passage.
make sense within Metaphysics by Default when they are considered on a
case-by-case basis. Each merger obeys the rules and seems valid.
But taken as a whole, and over long periods of time, the mergers appear perhaps
to violate a commonsense population condition. The apparent
problem is one of population stability. By example:
The simplest existential passage is one-to-one;
unitary. In unitary passage one person passes
away and one person is born. The net change in population corresponding
to this passage is zero: one is subtracted, and one is added. ( -1 +
1 = 0 ) Were unitary passage the only type
possible, a population subjected to existential passages would remain stable
over time. Passages would entail no net loss or
gain in the number of persons comprising that population.
But if we add
merged passages the situation changes. In a
two-to-one merged passage, two persons pass away and one person is
born. It's a net loss of one person. ( -2 + 1 = -1
) In a three-to-one merger, three persons pass away and again one is
born. It's a net loss of two persons. ( -3 + 1 = -2
) Likewise a four-to-one merger corresponds to a net loss of three, a
five-to-one merger corresponds to a net loss of four, and so on.
Over time this
net loss would appear in some way to "shrink" the population.
This shrinkage is not a condition which we have heretofore placed on
populations, nor is it something we see universally in populations at
large. This apparent result is incongruous with reality.
But this result
is only apparent. It stems
from the choice of examples which have been used to illustrate the metaphysics
so far. A different example will resolve the problem.
I'll modify the Aegean idyll again.
Nicos, Casta and Thanos will remain as before. And this time Magnus
and Sidra will not pass away, but will live on; sharing the
idyllic meadow with
Casta and Thanos. Also Magnus and Sidra will bring a child into the
world: a daughter, Dacia. The timeline now looks like this:
Ex nihilo passage
In Figure 11.6 we see two events of metaphysical import. The first is
Nicos' passage to Thanos. This is a unitary passage. It entails no net change in the population.
The other event
is the birth of Dacia. Notice in Figure 11.6 that no passage points to
Dacia's birth. Nicos has by that time already passed to Thanos, and all of the other
persons continue to live. So at the time of Dacia's birth, no person
satisfies the conditions requisite for an existential passage to Dacia.
The result is that Dacia receives no existential passage. Of course Dacia cannot know this; but we can see, objectively, that this should be the case.
has not received an existential passage at birth, she is born "ex
nihilo," from nothing, in terms of her metaphysical condition.
This "ex nihilo passage" adds her afresh
to the metaphysical count. (Speaking more precisely, we can say that the
net population has increased by one, and this physical increase has been
reflected passively in Dacia's ex nihilo passage.)
Were Sidra to
bear twins into the idyll the
population would increase by two, and two ex nihilo
passages would be expected. Were she to bear triplets the population would
increase by three, and three ex nihilo passages
would be expected.
And so we can
see that ex nihilo passages provide the needed
counterbalance against merged passages. The population which a merged
passage diminishes, an ex nihilo passage
This version of the idyll resolves the spurious
"shrinkage problem." In the process,
it has demonstrated another property of Metaphysics by Default. Although
Metaphysics by Default is a transmigration philosophy, it does not posit that every person must be born as the transmigrated
continuance of some previous life. As Figure 11.6 illustrates, under the tenets of Metaphysics by Default persons can
sometimes be born without a metaphysical past — as truly new
lives. "Ex nihilo passage" is the
formal statement of this metaphysical condition, a condition which would seem to
be common under normal circumstances.
Figure 11.6 also hints at a different, and
remote, possibility. We should consider it, but only for the sake of
Magnus and Sidra this time: I'll modify the idyll again so that Magnus and
Sidra now live alone in the meadow as their cosmos' only inhabitants.
Aegean idyll with one
family, of Magnus' house
In this version of
the idyll Sidra bears twins: Dacia and Beatrice. Magnus passes away
before their birth, and Sidra lives on afterwards. The timeline now looks
Dacia and Beatrice begin life at exactly the same time. And we will assume that at
all points of fetal development they have matured together, as if within a synchronized ballet.
have indicated that existential passage would be expected to occur at birth. But speaking more precisely I think we should expect it earlier, during fetal development. Limbic brain structures reach their final positions about three
months into fetal development,
and dreams emerge (as REM sleep)
by the eighth month.
So a fetus may perceive his or her first dreamlike
thoughts and sensations at some time between the first trimester's conclusion
and birth. That moment — the limbic system's first successful
recursive "somersault" — may correspond with the onset of personal
identity. But whenever the requisite psychological infolding does first occur, the
moment should count I think as the time of existential passage. This, rather than
the moment of birth itself.
Dacia and Beatrice mature in synchrony. They find
themselves in the same metaphysical condition at all times during
fetal development, relative to the deceased
Magnus. Both are identically positioned throughout fetal development to
receive — at any particular moment — Magnus' existential passage. And so we may think that both do receive
it, as illustrated:
In Figure 11.9, Magnus has
"split" his existential passage between Dacia and Beatrice. As
experienced by Magnus, the moment of mortal amnesia has resolved itself as
passage to Dacia — and, separately, as passage to Beatrice. I point
out again: no "thing" has been split. The passage is
entirely subjective, existential. As was the case with merged passage, we
only ascertain the event objectively, from without. Subjectively, all
the participants are ignorant of what has transpired. It is only from an objective
viewpoint that we can determine that Magnus' passage has been split between Dacia and
Beatrice. This is the condition we will speak of as a "split
one person has passed through the split passage to two others. This
split is one-to-two. Had Sidra born synchronized triplets, Magnus would
have passed to those triplets via a one-to-three split passage.
Synchronized quadruplets would have resulted in a one-to-four split
passage. And so on.
passages will not be treated at length. They require perfect
synchronization in the timings of conscious birth among the recipients.
Any imperfection in that synchronization would, by prior reasoning, force the
passage to that infant which emerged first; thereby eliminating the chance of a
Time, as an
entity, seems to be a continuous thing. Or if it is in some way discrete,
it must be discrete in a vanishingly fine manner. I am not competent to
judge theories of time's nature,
or to predict whether time is ultimately
continuous or discrete. But time's "fineness," if real, would
make split passages unlikely. In actual living twins, developmental timings cannot
approach the perfect synchronization posited in the split passage idyll of Figure 11.9.
Differences in timing must emerge, and eliminate the possibility of split
passage to those twins. The same would hold true of any infants,
regardless of filial relationship. That is to say, any children born to the house of
the house of Nicos would need, as a group, perfect synchronization of
conscious emergence in order to effect a split passage. And this could not
It is possible to conceive exotic time-gap terminals whose properties would relax the
requirement of perfect synchronization, but these exotics may be spurious.
We can contemplate these possibilities in an endnote.
then: while split passage remains a theoretical possibility, it seems
unlikely in the real world. Further consideration of this passage type
might be unprofitable at present.
All of the basic passage types have now
been presented. We pause to collect them together, bundling them into a
next Chapter 12: A Metaphysical Grammar
Chapter 11 Endnotes
Karma doctrines, like most afterlife philosophies, posit the preservation of personal merits and demerits
beyond the grave. These moral accountings are perhaps distinguished from other, less substantial personal qualities,
which the sparest karma doctrines may allow to pass away.
Yet to the
extent that the corporeal basis of personal identity argues against even such a spare continuance, Metaphysics by Default is prohibited from lending support to
these most minimal of karma doctrines. If a subject of karma's law vanishes, that person's merits and demerits
must lose their currency; like stock in a defunct business.
Karma encounters other difficulties elsewhere. One difficulty I might note here is just the historical record.
The problem in brief:
Let us suppose for the moment that the law of karma is real. If real, we should expect it to have left its mark on the history
of human nature. What would that mark be? Well, karma rewards virtuous persons, so that their souls in some way improve from life to life.
Virtue begets virtue: when meritorious traits are compounded over many
generations the cumulative improvement to human nature should be very great. Modern children
should therefore bless their parents with virtues far superior to those expressed by children of the ancient past. A comparison of recorded behaviors must
reveal this mark of karma's progress.
And yet we find no such mark.
While our own children may be paragons, all of our neighbors' children are
patent pagans. Which is to say, human nature has changed very little since the dawn of
The longstanding intransigence of human nature presents a hard problem for advocates of karma doctrines.
For an introduction to a wide range of transmigration traditions,
Death, Afterlife, and the Soul
especially Chapter 16, "Transmigration," and Chapter 17,
"Reincarnation." See also Kaplan,
Concepts of Transmigration: Perspectives on Reincarnation
; Head and
Reincarnation in World Thought
Or perhaps more precisely stated, "All of the persons who are thought to
transmigrate through a merger must have passed away before that moment when the
recipient of the passages first satisfies the criteria of personal
identity, and after all other personal identities have assembled their own satisfactory criteria."
For developmental details, see Frank H. Netter, M.D., The Ciba Collection of Medical Illustrations: Volume 1,
Nervous System: Part I, Anatomy and Physiology,
ed. Alister Brass, M.D., 3rd
printing (West Caldwell, NJ: CIBA-GEIGY, 1991) 131-38.
Malcolm I. Levene and Richard J. Lilford, senior eds.,
Fetal and Neonatal Neurology and Neurosurgery
edition (Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1995) 41-42, 167.
For a recent debate on the nature of space and time, see Stephen
Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). For a focused (and inconclusive) presentation on the discrete/continuous issue, see: Is Space-Time Discrete?
For Lee Smolin's lucid presentation of "loop quantum gravity", and experiments that could someday demonstrate a Planck-scale granularity of spacetime, see: Atoms of Space and Time
, in the January 2004 issue of Scientific American
The passage terminals described in this chapter are "point terminals."
Each metaphysical event is thought to occur at a vanishingly brief point in time, and the terminals are presented in such a way
as to reinforce that supposed instantaneity. Point terminals are simple, and probably not far from nature's actual truth.
However, if nature should by some unknown means extend the temporal
duration of terminals, the likelihood of split passage would thereby increase. This follows from the observation that "extended terminals" would overlap, so that
these overlapped terminals would be effectively synchronized, regardless of small imperfections in timing. Increased synchronization
would correspond with an increased likelihood of split passage.
Another exotic possibility which would also increase the likelihood of split passage
is "permeable identity." And what is this? Well, to start with, we can say that the personal identities of Metaphysics by Default are "hermetic": sealed off from metaphysical events. When
a personal identity begins its existence, it is removed from the passage equations. Under Metaphysics by Default, the living person is thought to be incapable of receiving
existential passages during life. And we have some reason to think that this is the case. For one thing, the stream of thought
persists unbroken throughout
life. Core subjectivity is conserved in the thalamocortical system, even during sleep, as per Chapter 9, note 3
. This baseline integrity of subjective experience
renders "New Pauls" unlikely. Moreover, we find that we ourselves perceive subjective experience as a deeply unified whole, as though it were hermetically sealed
against the outside world; sealed perhaps even against those body parts which are not located always in close proximity to the brain.
(Who does not feel
naively that eyes and ears are close to the soul, and that toes are farther away?)
experience is primary. At some level we are entitled to accept it just as it presents itself in the first instance.
If it feels hermetic, it may well be hermetic — allowing
no passage events during life.
However, it is conceivable, if unlikely, that subjective experience might not be sealed so tightly as
it thinks itself to be. Conceivably, personal identity could be "permeable," allowing passage events during life, even when subjective experience is
functioning normally. (Of course, the passage recipient would be ignorant of any such events, just as he or she would have been ignorant
of the existential passage which transpired at conscious birth.) For example: Should unfelt time-gaps be,
as William James suspected, "more
numerous than is usually thought," the flickering consciousness would at each inert gap be open to a
metaphysical event. The Aegean idyll can be modified to present one such hypothetical scenario:
Here is the
original timeline illustration, modified to show the sort of passage that would occur if personal identities were sufficiently permeable to be receptive to every death-induced beginning terminus:
An alternative and unlikely hypothesis: passage among permeable identities
Here Nicos passes to Casta at the time of his death. Under the permeable identity hypothesis, Casta is capable of receiving
existential passages at any time. As a result, Nicos passes to Casta immediately upon his death. Thanos perforce encounters an ex nihilo
Under this one-way version of the permeable identity hypothesis Nicos could now pass to any and all lives extant at the time of his
death. Everyone living at that time would be a recipient of his split passage.
Applying this change to large populations, we see that the likelihood of split passage would therein
skyrocket. As a result, persons would unknowingly receive existential passages throughout every minute of their lives.
But even this limited application of permeable identity seems excessive. We've no compelling reason to think that each individual identity must pass
to an astronomical number of recipients. Neither do we find continual, second-by-second passage receipt a strong intuition.
Yet if permeable identity were to prove real, Metaphysics by Default could accommodate it. What would change? The exposition of Chapters 9, 11 and 12 would
need a rewrite; and the math of Chapters 13-16 would have to be reformulated. Other chapters would remain much as they are.