Tuesday, July 12, 2005

You are a God

A more whimsical - though very attractive - answer to the Big Question of locative consciousness is provided by the neat religion that Patrick and I invented last year. I guess you might classify it as a form of pantheism. The core idea is that there is only one 'pure ego' or subject of conscious experience - let's call him 'God'. God is sequentially reincarnated as every conscious being that ever lived (including future times). He lives one human life, dies, pauses in limbo for a while to "think deep thoughts" (as Paul Studmann would say!), and then is reborn as the next person. Of course, he loses all his memories and divine powers while human. But he regains them again after each death, and so spends his time in limbo reflecting upon his experiences, fitting the new things he's learnt into his general knowledge structures, and so forth.

For an interesting twist, we might stipulate that God lacks omniscience, instead beginning existence as a 'blank slate', and learning everything he knows from his human lives. I cannot imagine any other theological position which gives more value, dignity, and sheer importance to human lives. Can you?

It might even serve to make sense of Christianity. Having children inherit the blame for their ancestor's Original Sin might actually make sense if they are all the same person/ego. It would just be God punishing himself for his own shortcomings. A little odd still, for sure, but at least no longer grossly unjust. And Jesus? Well, he is the one time God decided to retain his divinity whilst incarnate. Sound good? And it would make more sense of the atonement of crucifixion, as God died for his own sins, and so that he himself might be forgiven. None of this 'whipping boy'-style injustice. There would be some theological costs too, admittedly. The notion of salvation no longer makes much sense, since there are no souls besides God in any case. But at least this allows you to avoid the argument from hell. So I encourage all Christians to convert to my denomination! (I personally would leave all of that out of my own religion, of course. I'm merely suggesting that the potential is there to make the core idea more compatible with Christianity, if you're really into that kinda thing.)

Another interesting implication of this view is that it gives the strongest possible answer to the Why Be Moral? question. Indeed, the Golden Rule takes on a whole new meaning: whatever you "do unto others" will be "done unto you" in your other lives! Utilitarianism is looking pretty good right now... and wouldn't it make those who put forward the "separateness of persons" objection look silly! (Though the rationality of my mocking them right now is questionable. Either the mockery is unjustified or else, if I'm right, then I'm really just mocking another incarnation of myself! Oh dear.)

Anyway, back to the main point: I was wanting to answer the question, why am 'I' the subject of Richard Chappell's conscious experiences, rather than someone else's? I gave my sensible answer in the previous post. But my whimsical theological answer is that there is no "rather" about it! I am the subject of all experiences. It just happens to be Richard Chappell's "turn" at the moment. I was you a few incarnations ago. (Alternatively: you will be me in a few reincarcations' time.) We are all the same one conscious ego. We are, each of us, God.


  1. You do realise that this is very close to the truth? All you are missing is that this god is SIMULTANEOUSLY every individual self, AND a self beyond all time and space.
    Quite clever this god.
    The reason you don't easily know this truth from experience is because the way the sense of individual self is created requires a brain structure in space/time which has to grow into fruition from a largely blank start.

    I quite like a variation on this idea ... that god made this universe by splitting self into the energy forms which make it up. At the same time splitting the ONE consciousness into these forms. The higher forms of life that later evolve are the means by which the original God hoped to play a game of 'hide and seek' throughout the life of the universe, the aim of which is for conscious beings to realise their original identity again and thus recreate god.

    In other words it could all go wrong! If this God created beings with free will, they may lose the plot or prefer their own ends .. resulting in no more god! Just leaving us individuals and the universe until it reaches entropic death and unchanging infinite space.

    Fortunately, free will is something of an ilusion.
    Never fear, god is here.

    I just though i would say that.

    David L ( GOD)

  2. I am intrigued by your religion, Richard, but before I sign up I need to know more about the nature of time, causality, and morality.

    One concern is that your theology may entail a kind of partial predestination. I am God now. Out of the 6 billion people in the world, my best guess is that about half of them have already been God. Every aspect of my life that influenced the 3 billion people who already lived must already have been determined before I was born. With respect to all of those actions, I have no free will and my consciousness is merely epiphenomenal. This theological position fails to flatter me with value, dignity, etc.

    Sequential God-lives create a similar problem with respect to morality. Whatever you "do unto others" either will be "done unto you" in your future lives or will already have been "done unto you" in your past lives. It is not clear that morality/rationality says that you should care about making your past life better, and, depending on how your theology deals with the problem of causality and partial predestination, it may not even be possible.

    If you don't give me good reason to care about the lives of people who have already had their conscious experiences earlier in the sequence of God, then that can create some serious problems for morality. The first solution I thought of was to give everyone else half the weight that I give myself in the utilitarian calculus, since there is a 50% chance that their lives are already a part of my past (as God). This solution wouldn't be so bad (it's more ambitious than what anyone, even Singer, actually does), but it does not seem to hold up to scrutiny. One thing is that, since God's sequential order probably roughly follows our time on earth, I should give less weight to those who were born before me (since they were probably God before me) and more weight to those who were born after me (since they have probably not yet been God). I don't feel entirely comfortable with this.

    There is a greater problem - many actions involve more than 2 people. If there will be many observers of my action, then the probability is high that at least one of them has already lived and observed my action, in which case my action is already predetermined. Say I am President Bush considering whether to declare war on Iraq. Since millions (perhaps billions) of people will know whether I declared war, the probability is over .9999999 that this decision is already determined, so I might as well just have some fun and go for a jog instead of agonizing over making the right decision.

    If you're going to make this sequential reincarnation thing work, you're going to have to do some fancy philosophical footwork to support your theology, maybe making God-time different from physical time, maybe resolving the predestination problem, maybe arguing for caring about your past in the same way you care about your future. If I like what I see I might come on board, but otherwise this religion could be splitting up into sects before it's even gotten off the ground.

  3. yes a theory a chinese frend and I invented (so it must be true) is pretty similar to the david L one.

    But it focused a boit more on how the god could grow a little through the attachment with the universe a little like budhism.

  4. I've responded to the temporal worries here.

    "this decision is already determined, so I might as well just have some fun and go for a jog instead of agonizing over making the right decision."

    Ah, the good old fatalist fallacy. It overlooks the importance of causation. Whether or not you agonize will influence whether you make the right decision. Cf. the following argument (based on the assumption that I really enjoy free-fall):

    (1) Either I will die tomorrow, or I will not.
    (2) If I will not die tomorrow, then I should jump off a cliff (fun and safe!)
    (3) If I will die tomorrow, then I should jump off a cliff (so I at least have some fun before I die).
    (4) Therefore, I should jump off a cliff (tomorrow).

    I explain what is wrong with such reasoning here.

  5. I think that the fatalist argument is only clearly a fallacy within certain frameworks for understanding the world (including the correct framework). Some worldviews have a harder time shaking it, like Calvinists on predestination (where God decides before you're born if you're going to heaven or hell). There seems to be a similar problem in your theology, where, to use your example in your new post, there is a sense in which Sue has already been hit before Biff decides whether to hit her (indeed, before he's even born). I think that your solution, that this sense is not the one that matters, can deal with the fatalist problem, though it creates some problems of its own (which I discuss in the comments there).

  6. Strange! I had that feeling too! I wondered if I am the locus of consciousness...at times I fear that I am the only one who really exists!


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