Existence is Evidence of Immortality

By Amos Wollen, originally published at Substack.

Conditional on time being infinite in both directions, you, dear reader, have near certain anthropic evidence that you’ve been reincarnated an infinite number of times in the past, and will be reincarnated an infinite number of times in the future. Such was proved by Michael Huemer in his recent Nous article, Existence is Evidence of Immortality.

For the proof to work, you need three assumptions:

  1. You exist now.
  2. Time is infinite in both directions.
  3. There is a non-zero epistemic probability that some theory of personal identity is true on which you could be infinitely reincarnated.

From these, you get the fun result that—with probability 1.—you’ve been reincarnated an infinite number of times, and will be reincarnated an infinite number of times in the future.

Why? Here’s the quick an dirty version: if time is infinite in both directions, you exist now, but your existence isn’t repeated across infinite lifetimes, the probability you’d exist now would be 0, since—given infinite time—you’d either have already occurred in the past, with probability 1 (after which point you couldn’t occur again, given the assumption that you are non-repeatable), or you’d never occur at all. Either way, the probability you’d exist now would be 0. But you do exist now. Hence, you must’ve existed across infinite lifetimes.

Why think you exist now? Well, because you obviously exist now. You might worry that affirming “I exist now” commits one to this or that controversial theory of personal identity. But that’s not so at all: pick any theory of personal identity you like, and you’ll still get the result that you exist now. (Even reductionist, no-self Buddhist views on which there is no permanent, unchanging core of selfhood will have to say something about how you can affirm indexical like “I exist” in evidence-gathering, since sometimes our evidence is indexical. Whatever they say generally, they can say here.)

Why think time is infinite? Huemer’s argument is simple: (i) it’s intuitive that time is infinite, and (ii) there are no good reasons for thinking it’s finite. I’m not sure on (ii), but I share Huemer’s intuition about (i). Since intuitive seemings—like all seemings—give us prima facie justification for beliefs in the absence of counterevidence, then should there turn out to be no good argument for the finitude of the past, we are (or at least: I am) justified in thinking time is infinite. Why is it intuitive that time is infinite? Well, as Huemer writes:

[T]he idea of a beginning of time seems to me metaphysically impossible in a manner similar to that of an edge of space. For any location in space, it makes sense to ask what is, for example, one meter to the left of it (even if the answer is that nothing is there). If there were an edge of space, what would happen if you approached it and tried to gaze past the edge? When we try to imagine this, we find ourselves trying to imagine a place where there is no space, which is of course impossible. The idea of a bounded space is perfectly mathematically consistent; it simply does not seem that Space, that is, all of space, could have this structure.

Similarly, for any moment in time, it makes sense to ask what happened, say, one minute before (even if the answer is that nothing happened). If there were a beginning of time, it would have to somehow not make sense to ask what happened before that time. When we try to conceive of the beginning, we find ourselves trying to imagine time coming into existence. But time could not have come into existence, because a thing’s coming into existence implies a time when the thing does not exist, followed by a time when the thing exists. Of course there could not have been a time when time did not exist. Sometimes it is suggested that God, existing outside time, created time. But even God could not do this, because any act of creation – or any other action or event – presupposes a time at which the act or event may take place. One can identify, of course, a consistent mathematical structure containing a first time; it just does not seem that Time, that is, all of time, could have this structure.

Finally: why think there’s a non-zero epistemic probability that some theory of personal identity? Because there are a number of theories of personal identity—believed by smart philosophers, who give arguments to back them up—on which reincarnation makes sense. Examples include: the theory that we’re immaterial souls, the theory psychological continuity grounds personal identity over time, and the theory that persons are gappy spacetime worms. As long as you’re not 100% sure that all of these theories are false, which no one should ever be, you have to allow a non-zero epistemic probability that you could be reincarnated.

Putting the pieces together, there’s a decent argument for the view that you’ve been reincarnated infinitely many times, and will be reincarnated infinitely many times in the future.

This article was originally published at Substack and is partially reproduced here without the permission of the author, who is not affiliated with this website or its views.


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One Response to Existence is Evidence of Immortality

  1. I checked out some of the other articles by the author. He has interesting probabilistic approach. I think it is very common nowadays in general, because of machine learning and neural networks. It seems common sensical but question is how much you can weight on probabilities by limited amount of knowledge human possess. Like you never know if you have big enough data.

    It reminds me Mimamsa philoshopy, which analyses what is most meritorious in given situation and then takes corresponding action. In this case something like highly calculated gambling about nature of reality. Pascal wager makes a nice shortcut in this problem. I like also how Srila Prabhupada puts it in the way that if we like to gamble we should take to Krsna consciousness and see the result.

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