mbd_map 19: A Dedication homepage homepage forum lectures 1: A Word of Encouragement 2: Dar al-Hikma 3: Proclus' Elements 4: Reversion in the Corporeal 5: Mathematical Recursion 6: Episodic Memory 7: Mortality 7 Supplement: Classical Mortality Arguments 8: Personal Identity 9: Existential Passage 10: Precedent at Dar al-Hikma 10 Supplement: Images of Dar al-Hikma 11: Passage Types 12: A Metaphysical Grammar 13: Merger Probability 14: Ex Nihilo Probability 15: Noetic Reduction 16: Summary of Mathematical Results 17: Application to Other Species 18: Potential Benefits 19: A Dedication appendices works cited

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A Word of Encouragement


Dar al-Hikma


Proclus' Elements


Reversion in the Corporeal


Mathematical Recursion


Episodic Memory




Classical Mortality Arguments


Personal Identity
1   2   3   4  


Existential Passage
1   2   3  


Precedent at Dar al-Hikma


Images of Dar al-Hikma


Passage Types


A Metaphysical Grammar


Merger Probability


Ex Nihilo Probability


Noetic Reduction


Summary of Mathematical Results


Application to Other Species
1   2   3   4  


Potential Benefits


A Dedication


Works Cited

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Chapter 11
Passage Types

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.[1]  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 passage.
       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.

Figure 11.1 Fig. 11.1
Aegean idyll with two families.
House of Nicos at left; house of Magnus at right.

From this 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 born.
       A timeline illustrates the visible events of this modified Aegean idyll:

Figure 11.2 Fig. 11.2
Two deaths

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.

Figure 11.3 Fig. 11.3
Merged passage

This 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.[2]   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:

Figure 11.4 Fig. 11.4
Two-to-one merged passage

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:

Figure 11.5 Fig. 11.5
Three-to-one merged passage

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.
       Higher-order 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 before the single recipient of the passages is born, and after all other births.[3]  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.
       Merged passage 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.
       Merged passages 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:

Figure 11.6 Fig. 11.6
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.
       Because Dacia 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 restores.
       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 completeness.
       Focusing on 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.

Figure 11.7 Fig. 11.7
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 like this:

Figure 11.8 Fig. 11.8
Two births

As illustrated, 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.
       Previously I 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,[4] and dreams emerge (as REM sleep) by the eighth month.[5]  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:

Figure 11.9 Fig. 11.9
Split passage

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 passage."
       As illustrated, 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.
       Split 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 split.
       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,[6] 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 Magnus and/or 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 be common.
       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.[7]
       In brief, 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 metaphysical grammar.

next    Chapter 12:  A Metaphysical Grammar

Chapter 11 Endnotes

[1] 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 recorded time.
        The longstanding intransigence of human nature presents a hard problem for advocates of karma doctrines.
[2] For an introduction to a wide range of transmigration traditions, see Sullivan, Death, Afterlife, and the Soul, especially Chapter 16, "Transmigration," and Chapter 17, "Reincarnation."  See also Kaplan, Concepts of Transmigration: Perspectives on Reincarnation; Head and Cranston, Reincarnation in World Thought.
[3] 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."
[4] 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.
[5] Malcolm I. Levene and Richard J. Lilford, senior eds., Fetal and Neonatal Neurology and Neurosurgery, 2nd edition (Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1995) 41-42, 167.
[6] For a recent debate on the nature of space and time, see Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time (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.
[7] 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 more 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?)
        Well, subjective 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:

Figure 11.10 Fig. 11.10
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 passage.
        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.
Copyright © 1999

Wayne Stewart
Last update 4/19/11