January 26, 2006

Survival of Bodily Death

An Esalen Invitational Conference May 4 to 9, 2003
How Reincarnation May Generate Complexity Frank Poletti
To address the how aspect of the evolutionary panentheistic worldview, Poletti described a synthetic idea that combines insights from the Indian seer Sri Aurobindo and the complexity theorist Terrence Deacon. Poletti started by indicating that Aurobindo thought that philosophies of reincarnation should be considered within the context of the larger evolutionary intent of the universe. For Aurobindo, the evolution and reincarnation of human souls should follow the same general laws and trends that inform the evolution of matter, life, and mind. It’s one universe; thus all its diverse manifestations should share in one general arc, even if it is difficult to spot it at first glance.
Next, Poletti drew upon the central idea that Terrence Deacon had presented recently during a CTR conference on evolutionary theory, namely that biological life created (or emerged) closures, shells, and boundaries, which then have the capacity to re-enter information and learning (stored in DNA) into the larger ecosystem of life. According to Deacon’s theory, this continuous process of "closure and re-entry" is the central mechanism that drives the rise of complexity from bacteria all the way up to humans. In other words, this process is the how at the heart of the rise of complex life forms. To make this idea a bit clearer, Poletti said that scientists know that in the early earth, DNA (which is a form of stored information and memory) somehow managed to get inside membranous enclosures called lipid sacs.
Scientists still do not know exactly how this was accomplished, but the very fact that we are here today is evidence that DNA-based cellular life must have started at some point in the early earth. Millions of years ago, a tiny bit of learning was stored as memory in a few strands of DNA. That then found a protective enclosure in a cell-like lipid structure. This total structure was then re-entered into the larger ecosystem of life with its learning and memory intact. This process of continuous re-entry of past learning stored in DNA was then repeated millions of times. According to complexity scientists like Deacon, this bare minimum process of enclosed learning and re-entry drove the rise of complex biological structures. This is the how that corresponds to the well-known what (or mere observed fact) of complexity that exists all around us.
Poletti then drew a broad analogy from Deacon’s biological theory of closure and re-entry to address the question of why the universe would invent a process like the reincarnation of souls. If (as Wilber’s essay on subtle energies suggests) the evolution of the universe can be viewed as a process by which Spirit creates ever-more complex gross forms so that It can descend or embody into them, then the question arises: Why would the universe invent reincarnation? What purpose does reincarnation serve with respect to the complexification of gross forms?
At this point, Poletti speculated that if something like a soul does indeed come back and get re-entered into the system of soul-life, then reincarnation might be viewed as a higher iteration of the same process that drove the rise of complex biological life forms. In other words, the evolving universe created the reincarnating soul to accelerate learning and memory from life-to-life and thereby drive the rise of complex intelligence that spans across lifetimes.

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