THERE HAS been a curious revival in recent times of the idea of reincarnation. It is probably due to the combined influence of Oriental philosophy, the belief in immortality, the decline of the doctrine of a physical resurrection, and the confusion produced by the philosophy of Descartes taken, in connection with the belief in immortality. The ideas in these various systems are not always, if ever, consistent with each other, but their use of a common language conceals their contradictions, and it is time to expose the illusions to which a half-baked philosophy gives rise.
There is perhaps no belief of man which shows more pliability and persistence than the belief in a future life. Man seems determined, "by hook or by crook," if I may adopt such a phrase, to believe in his survival after death. When he finds a set of facts which seem to make it impossible or improbable, he invents some conception by which he may still cling to it, and he does not always stop to think whether his new view is consistent with his knowledge and desires or not. He is satisfied if he can conjure up some means to delude his mind of despair. He is determined to hope against fact, and he will ignore facts to keep his hope alive. Hence when any philosophy comes along to disturb the equanimity of his faith he turns to some analogies, physical or otherwise, for the redemption of his ideals, and reimbodies his religion in a new system of doctrine. In doing so, however, he may forget how much truth he owes to the philosophies which have disturbed his faith, and in the effort to get away from them he entangles himself in the meshes of a worse doctrine.
It will be necessary to examine the meaning of reincarnation as a step in the criticism of doctrines embodied in the same term to-day, and which in fact have no clear affiliation with the ancient conception of it. I take Plato as the most explicit representative of it in Greek thought. With him the immortality of the soul and reincarnation were convertible terms. He was not the first to believe in a future life among his race. Socrates held it, and perhaps in a personal sense. But Plato understood better the general genius of his age, which was not characterized by as definite respect for personality of any kind as for the unity of nature. In the polytheistic stage of reflection there was no sense of the unity of things, and the anthropomorphic conception of the gods offended the early philosophers so much that the first step in their reform was the assertion of monotheism, which was, to the Greeks, but another phrase for the unity of nature, since the gods were but forces of nature capitalized. Men the unity of nature was once seized, the problem of change came before speculation, and in Heraclitus tended to destroy this unity and permanence. But his doctrine was quickly corrected by the observation of continuity of kind, resemblances of type in the order of birth and death. The unity of causation in the monotheistic or pantheistic idea was supplemented by the unity of type in the order of time, or the evolution of species. What attracted and fascinated the mind of Greek thinkers was the ever changing and yet ever renewing types of organic beings. Nothing perished without either leaving behind it a similar species to take its place or reappearing again in another form like that which had perished. The ever recurring reappearance of life in spite of change and death accorded with the idea that something was permanent, and they conceived the cause of it to be the imperishableness of certain realities, even though it was only of the type.
Plato seized this view of things to give it philosophic form and expression. He was an irreconcilable antagonist to the philosophy of Heraclitus, namely, the philosophy of change and destruction of all things. He found some things permanent, as he thought, and to secure this view he insisted that the unity of kind in objects and organic beings represented a substance that was permanent and indestructible. He thought that, if change were the sole law of phenomena, things should never show identity of kind in the course of succeeding events. Hence the fact that the same kind of things constantly reappeared was to him evidence that there was something persistent and that the philosophy of Heraclitus, or the phenomenalists, was false. He conceded that sensible things disappeared, that is, that the sensible individual vanished, but he held that the material out of which this individual was constituted reappeared in others.
The great strength of this claim rested upon a fundamental postulate of Greek thought. This was active and prevailed from the earliest period of speculation. The philosophers early conceived that the created orders of beings was composed of elements. The whole sensible world was conceived as constituted or made out of elementary matter. At first these elements were only four in number. In Democritus they were made innumerable, and Anaxagoras held to the same view, though he thought them different in kind while Democritus thought them the same in kind. But the idea of these thinkers was that all things were composed of these elements and that death was the dissolution of the organic or composite whole into its elements, which again entered into other complex organisms. Democritus could not easily explain the differences in things, because all his elements were exactly alike in kind. Anaxagoras had no perplexity on this point, because his elements, "homoiomeriae," were different in kind and carried with their transmigration from one being to another the qualities which determined alike their resemblances and differences. But the main point to be noticed is that
the fundamental assumption was that substance is imperishable and passes from generation to generation, constituting the matter out of which the individual
is made. The majority of the philosophers probably conceived the elements as atomic, and only the Eleatics as an all-pervasive substance metamorphosing itself into the variety of beings which we observe. But both the atomic and the Eleatic types of thought agreed that things were to be explained by the material that constituted their nature. That which appeared permanent in individuals was the matter which determined their resemblances, and other characteristics were evanescent.
We can easily perceive in this, the ancestry of Plato's doctrine of reincarnation of the soul. It was not a doctrine limited to the soul, but a universal law of the real world, whether material or spiritual. In fact the spiritual world for him and the Greeks, as we have already seen in a previous chapter, was only a fine kind of matter or ether. Reincarnation was then the law of all reality. All changes were simply the dissolution of the individual and the reappearance in other individuals of the elements or substance that had constituted previous individuals. With Plato the soul was not a phenomenal function of atomic elements, but was a kind of substance, and must persist according to the fundamental assumption of Greek thought. The individual, as he was sensibly perceived or known, was composed of "matter" or grosser physical reality, and this perished, but the essential characteristic, which consisted of the "universal" or common qualities of the species, did not perish. They were transmitted from one generation to another, and reappeared to make this resemblance and to illustrate the permanence of some substances at least. The soul was subject to constant reimbodiment simply as a law of nature and substance.
I have alluded to the broad general principles of Greek thought in order to represent the point of view from which Plato approached the doctrine of immortality which he conceived in the form of reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. With the Greek nothing perished in its
elements, but the organization perished. The substance of things remained permanent, but this substance changed its forms, so that the individual disappeared. As the soul was a substance like all others, it was supposed to change its form of manifestation and so lost its individuality. This conception enabled Plato to maintain that the soul, at death, survived in some other embodiment. But it lost its personal identity. There was no memory of its previous existence. He had his system of rewards and punishments which might serve for an intermediate state until another embodiment took place. But the fact is that this idea of an intermediate state by Plato was a mythical representation of his more philosophic doctrine of transmigration. The reward of the good was described as a life with the gods and the punishment of the wicked as a probation in another animal life. But when the mythical elements of this view were stripped off, its real character was that of the reappearance of the same qualities in subsequent generations that had appeared in the ancestors. There was no memory of the past existence. The effects of one's life might appear in a subsequent reincarnation, but the experiences which produced these effects could not be recalled. Hence Plato's doctrine of reincarnation was inconsistent with a personal immortality.
A personal immortality or future life implies the retention of memory, the same consciousness in general as in the material embodiment. How this is possible is not the question, but the conception of the term which shall define the issue. This is that personal survival shall involve a memory of the past earthly life. Unless this is involved in a doctrine of reincarnation it cannot be distinguished practically from annihilation or materialism. It succeeds only in disguising its import by using the word immortality, but not its meaning as understood since the introduction of Christian modes of thought. The distinction between Greek and Christian modes of thought on this point is radical, except in so far as the Epicurean conception can be converted into the Christian by showing that the ethereal organism, which it supposed, is not perishable at death as asserted. The development of materialism since that period has been toward the abandonment of this idea and the adoption of the more consistent view of previous Greek thought, which conceived all change as involving the loss of sensible qualities and the disappearance of the results of composition. Reembodiment meant the union with other elements in which the individual characteristics of the former embodiment do not recur. Hence modern materialism returned to that point of view which represented the most general conception characterizing Greek speculation, which was the permanence of substance, but the ephemeral character of its manifestations. Christian thought resented this view in application to the soul, and insisted that if immortality was to be distinguished at all from the metamorphoses of substance or the reembodiment of similar qualities in successive generations, it must be personal and represent the retention of at least the main general quality constituting the individual, namely, consciousness and memory.
Now there is nothing clearer than the fact that reincarnation implies that, in the various embodiments of the soul, it is the same soul that is reincarnated. The very conception of the doctrine implies this. But whatever identity exists in these transmigrations, the soul is not aware of the fact, unless we accept the statements of certain people regarding incidents supposed to prove it. We must distinguish, however, between two things in the doctrine. They are the identity of the soul in its different incarnations and the consciousness of identity. I can imagine, after the analogies of primary and secondary personalities associated with the same organism, that the soul might change its embodiment and lose its consciousness of identity. Hence the actual identity of the soul in its different incarnations might be a fact without implying or involving any personal consciousness of that identity. But it is important to remark that, if there be no consciousness of that identity, the reincarnation is no better than annihilation for us. It is personality that we want, if survival is to be in any way interesting to us, and not only personality, but we want a personal consciousness of this personal identity. This would be to us not only the evidence of this identity of subject, but also the only fact that interests us in the problem of survival. An identity of subject or substance without a retention of our memories would have neither interest nor moral importance for us. With Plato reincarnation frankly abandoned the consciousness of the past embodiment, and the only identity left was that of the substance which entered into the different reincarnations.
The fundamental question that arises is, "What evidence have we that any reincarnation whatever, whether personal or impersonal, takes place?" We must remember that Plato did not pretend to produce scientific evidence for his claims. He made his doctrine a corollary of the persistence of substance. As the Greek mind was possessed with the idea that substance was eternal, it could only assume that the soul was eternal the moment that it accepted its substantial nature. But it was confronted with the fact that this permanence of substance did not involve the permanence of its phenomenal modes or functions. Hence its reincarnation theories did not involve the persistence of personal identity. The "evidence" of the reincarnation was merely a deduction from the general theory of substance.
In modern times, however, there has been more of an attempt to produce evidence in support of the doctrine, though it has been colored by the influence of Christian conceptions after the Platonic was forgotten. The sense of the need of identity and survival, even though not personal, was reinforced by the skeptical tendency to deny the existence of a soul altogether; that is, by the materialistic theory, as a condition of believing in a soul at all. There has not been adequate consciousness, however, of the fact that, unless this soul retains a personal consciousness of its identity, the reincarnation doctrine was of no practical use. But concessions have been made to the demand for evidence in deference to the desire to maintain some doctrine of a future life.
This attempt to produce evidence takes three forms. (1) Some appeal to mental and physical characteristics which noticeably reproduce in some individual resemblances to some past historical person or persons. (2) Some appeal to the recognition of scenes and events which it can be proved they had not personally witnessed at the time of their occurrence. (3) Some appeal to their personal memories of a previous existence.
In regard to the first of these claims of evidence, I do not think any intelligent person would treat it seriously. The morphological resemblances in the human race are such that coincidental identities in different generations can have absolutely no significance for reincarnation theories. If they did we should expect to find certain other associated resemblances which we do not in fact find. Moreover, the fact of heredity is against the probability of securing any such evidence as would be necessary to prove the transmigration of souls. Then, again, the appeal to resemblances would prove too much. The striking resemblances between parents and children might be adduced to prove reincarnation of the parents in the children, but all doctrines of reincarnation require the previous death of the reincarnated soul. In the present assumption both generations are simultaneous. In other words, we cannot suppose that the parents are reincarnated in their children without abandoning that conception of the doctrine which has been the accepted one from time immemorial, and so altering the meaning of our terms as to make the theory absurd or useless, a mere statement of the observed resemblance of the two sets of individuals. In fact, we cannot look at such alleged evidence without rejecting it as absurd and unintelligent. It cannot be advanced by any one who understands the problem.
The second and third types of alleged evidence are more interesting. But I shall treat them as most probably illusions of memory. I shall not question, the existence of human experiences, which seem as real as those which constitute the largest part of our normal life. But I think that we can make it quite as clear that they are not what they appear to be.
We are all aware that our memory is liable to mistakes in its reproductions. These errors and illusions are very familiar to us in our ordinary experiences, and we scarcely need to be told of them to recognize the fact. But in extraordinary experiences we are likely to forget this law of mental action and to increase our illusions by adding one of interpretation to one of reproduction. The fact, however, that we are exposed to mnemonic illusions is one to make us pause in founding upon apparent memories of a past or of places that we have never experienced so vast a doctrine as that of reincarnation. I shall quote some illustrations of mnemonic illusion which will reinforce the contention here advanced.
I have a personal friend who is an officer in one of the large universities of this country and who was once engaged in conversation with a judge of the courts around a fireplace. They had come in from hearing a political speech, and entered into conversation about it and various reminiscences, when in the course of it, my friend remarked that be remembered the Harrison campaign. He went on to describe the processions, the songs, and doggerel poetry, and recalled incident after incident of that memorable campaign. The judge recognized the correctness and accuracy of the incidents, but remarked that he did not know his friend was so old as this recollection implied. His friend remarked, "Oh, yes. I am old enough to remember it." The judge asked him how old he was, and the friend replied that he was born in 1847. The judge thought he must be mistaken, and said so, but his friend replied that he was not, and that he could certainly remember his birthday. The judge then politely recalled the man's attention to the fact that the Harrison campaign had taken place in 1840. The friend's historical knowledge at once informed him that the judge was correct, and he went away completely at a loss to account for his memory. He felt personally confident that his memory was correct, but his other and historical knowledge showed that he was wrong. That night when he had retired, it all at once occurred to him that when his mother died, in 1855, he was sent, a child of eight years, to live with his uncles. The chief incident in the memories of these uncles, in a rural community, was their part in the Harrison campaign in 1840, and they used to entertain him and their neighbors with rehearsals of its scenes, processions, songs, poetry, banners, and all the paraphernalia of such occasions. All this had so possessed the infant imagination of my friend that it was a real thing to him, and all that his memory could reproduce was the mental pictures of what he had seen, and its association with the name of Harrison. As a child he did not, and perhaps could not, distinguish between the real and the reproduced incidents of that campaign. What had occurred, therefore, in the story to his friend, the judge, was the recollection of his actual experience dissociated from his actual historical knowledge. The supposition that he had existed before becomes preposterous in the light of such a simple explanation. I may reproduce two of my own experiences which resemble this one in their chief characteristics.
I was coming up-town on the Elevated Railway, and when I had arrived at the 33rd Street station, I happened to look across Broadway, and saw the sign "Microbe Killer" over a store. I at once remarked to myself that I had seen that same sign before, but that it had been moved from the north side of 34th Street to this place on Broadway since I saw it last. Then it occurred to me that I must be mistaken, because there were no stores (fifteen years ago) at the point pictured in my memory. But my feeling that I had so seen it was so strong that I resolved to look as the train moved onward. As we passed 34th Street I observed that no store was at the point recalled, and never had been. Only Dr. Taylor's old church was there, and no microbe store, as I afterward learned, had ever been on the street. I was very much puzzled to account for the phenomenon. But in a few moments I recalled that it was on Arch Street, Philadelphia, north side of the street, that 1 had seen the store and sign "Microbe Killer," and that, if it had moved around on Broad Street there, it would have represented an identical relation to that which had manifested itself in my
pseudo-recollection in New York City. The subliminal clue in the case was the association between Broad Street in Philadelphia and Broadway in New York. The identical element was the space-relations involved and the sign. Until the whole of the exact scenes was recalled, I had no means of discovering that the phenomenon was an illusion of memory, and I seemed to have had an experience at some previous time, which the recall of the true facts demonstrated was a mistake.
Another incident is quite as interesting, and it resembles those experiences about which people tell us, of having been at places at which it can be proved they have not been. I was in the train on the way to Kingston, N. Y., and in passing over the railway viaduct, which spans a deep gulch before entering the town, I noticed that I had been in that place before, and recalled that I had gone up this vale in a train and under the viaduct. I remarked to myself that I should recognize the railway station when I reached it. But when I arrived at the station it was not what I had remembered, and I was perplexed to account for the fact. A little later I asked a friend if a railway passed up the vale over which I had come, and he answered in the affirmative. I asked him then to name some places through which it went, as I recalled going to some place on the road, but could not remember the name. He mentioned several places, but I had either never heard of them before or was absolutely certain I had never been there, as there was no reason for my going to them. I knew that I had but once in my life been in that locality. An hour or so later, after having given up the attempt to reduce the perplexity, I recalled the fact that it was from Catskill, N. Y., twenty-four miles further north of Kingston, that I had passed up a narrow vale under a viaduct or bridge, and that the station, which I had remembered as in Kingston, had been seen from the Hudson Day Line Steamer on my way to Catskill. Hence it was on the river-bank that I had pictured it to myself in my memory when thinking of it as I passed over the railway viaduct on the way to Kingston. Here then again was an illusion of memory. I had, in fact, never before been near this viaduct, and had never gone up the vale over which it passed. The resemblance was sufficient to recall a past experience, but not enough of that past was recalled to establish its identity or to distinguish it from the present experience, and so the illusion arose from that disparity.
These are very common experiences, and if we understood the laws of reproduction and association properly, as they have been discussed in a previous chapter, we should not be tempted to regard the facts as evidence of any remarkable theory of the soul. Almost every one can produce similar experiences, and if a little attention is given to them they will be resolved into their elements, as I have indicated in the cases above. They are illustrations of the various laws of association and dissociation. Usually in our experience our memory recalls enough of the past to identify it unmistakably, even though some incidents belong to other times and places than those involved in the recollection. But often enough the reintegration or recall is too fragmentary to be sure of the identity, and an illusion arises. The resemblances between the past and the present may be recalled, and the differences, which would lead to a correct judgment of the case, become dissociated for the time, and unless they are finally recalled the illusion is not discoverable. There is that perpetual disintegration and reintegration of our memories which, in certain cases like those present, result in the complete confusion of them unless association can finally recall the dissociated elements.
Many persons report that they have a clear memory of having existed before the present life. I have had this statement made to me by persons of a highly intelligent character and who do not for a moment regard the experience as evidence of a past existence. They simply report that it has been a frequent experience. I have, in fact, been astonished at the frequency of the reported fact. But it also represents a type of illusion of memory. It is, too, a most interesting type. We cannot always trace it definitely to its cause, but there are many facts in human experience which point to a general view of the cause.
In the first place, we must note that all persons undergo an important change of personality between the ages of four and ten. Often it will be between four and seven. Our memories seldom extend back to a period preceding four years of age. When they do they usually represent some isolated or striking event that impressed itself on our minds. Usually, however, the life of that early period is forgotten. Our personal memory, and more particularly the sense of personality and personal identity, begins, sometimes very suddenly, at that period when we awaken to a consciousness of it, and ever afterward the stream of consciousness and memory is definitely fixed in that set of events. Our personality is thus our remembered series of experiences or the consciousness of our identity through a definite or indefinite period whose events have that one characteristic of determining that self. Now if at any time some event should occur which recalled enough of the experience previous to that which represents our present consciousness of personality to make us feel that it belonged to a time previous, and yet we could not recall any sense of personality corresponding to it, we might be excused for describing the facts as representing a previous existence. It would be a perfectly natural illusion. The resemblance of such a feeling to those which I have described in the experiences just previously narrated is clear. We should simply be recalling a part of a past which was not producible in sufficient clearness to locate it in the mental states lying on the margin of our change of personality. So far as memory is concerned, our first stage of life is an existence previous to the present one which self-consciousness recalls. A similar phenomenon might occur in any change of personality, but it is likely to be more frequent in that change which represents the rise to self-consciousness, which is the most important feature of our personality and personal identity. In fact, a sense of "I," or personal identity, will not occur until this self-consciousness arises. Any fact in memory, which does not affiliate with the period of self-consciousness, will appear outside of it as an unassimilated experience, and if it carries with it the sense of time, and possibly nothing else but the sense of time, antecedent to that represented in the normal and reproducible personality, it will naturally carry with it that of a previous existence, and in so far as the self-conscious personality is concerned it will be correct. But it will not serve as evidence of any existence prior to birth. It simply happens that the memory is not complete enough to recall all that is necessary to locate the fact rightly. The other elements which are necessary for identifying it have become dissociated, and the judgment of its meaning is exposed to illusion on that account.
Such facts as these make it practically impossible to secure evidence of such a doctrine as reincarnation. The question is wholly different in this respect from trying to prove survival by communication with the discarnate. In reincarnation we can rely upon only two general resources, the existence of identical characteristics in different generations and the recollection of this past and previous existence. The former has no credentials that can be respected seriously, and the latter cannot escape skeptical difficulties suggested by illusions of memory. But communication with the discarnate is different. Whether it be a fact or not, the conception of the problem is distinct from that of proving reincarnation. Proof of a future life involves an appeal to memory of the discarnate, but the trustworthiness of that memory is not regarded. What we assume in a discarnate spirit is that, if it exists, it can tell something of its past and earthly existence. We do not accept the statement of such facts on their own face value. They must have two characteristics before they have any scientific importance. (1) They must be supernormally acquired. (2) They must be verifiable as the past experiences of deceased persons. Perhaps a third condition might be added, namely, that of quantity of incidents illustrating personal identity to such an extent as to exclude skepticism of all sorts. But the first two characteristics are the primary ones. We do not accept the statements of the discarnate person, even after we have excluded fraud and other hypotheses to account for them. But we have to verify them as supernormal phenomena independently of the source through which they are revealed. But with reincarnation, we have no means of verifying, independently of the reporter, the facts supposed to have a bearing on the issue. If we had any means of establishing supernormal incidents in our memory of some previous past, the case might be different. But until this can be done no claim whatever can be made for reincarnation on such facts as are usually adduced to support it.
A further difficulty besides illusions of memory can be suggested in regard to the vision or perception of scenes which we seem to have seen before, but which it can be proved that we have not normally seen at all. We might contend that the identity in the case is due to some previous clairvoyant perception. For instance, suppose that in some clairvoyant dream, or similar subconscious mood, I had perceived any specific spot and its surroundings, I might afterwards have the sense of recollection if I saw either the same scene or some one like it, as in such instances as I have quoted. I could therefore not infer from this sense of identity that it involved a previous existence of my soul and its perception of the scene concerned. I do not indicate in this mention of clairvoyance that we have any reason to accept it as a fact. I only know that there are reported spontaneous experiences and experimental phenomena that are so classified and that are regarded as indications of clairvoyance by others. They may or may not be evidence of such a supernormal process. I do not care whether they are or are not. One thing is certain, that, if true, the facts in most cases have no evidence whatever of being the result of reincarnation. Many of the alleged clairvoyant phenomena, if treated as supernormal at all, instead of as casual coincidences or illusions, must be explained as some method of acquiring present knowledge, and do not refer to the past in any way. Hence if one admitted clairvoyance, it would stand as an objection to anything in the way of identity in scenes involving the past and present, at least during the life of the individual who has the experience. This is to say, that we should first have to tolerate the hypothesis of clairvoyance before we could even think of reincarnation, and this independently of the proof of clairvoyance. I do not think that clairvoyance has yet been proved to such an extent that we can use it preferably to illusions of memory and of identity between the past and present. These simpler hypotheses are sufficient to discredit the claims of reincarnation, and the suggestion of possible clairvoyance is to show the extent of the evidential difficulties that must stand in the way of proving what the reincarnationist assumes.
Thus far I have dealt with the historical view of reincarnation. But there is a conception of it in modern times, which is a mongrel sort of thing that can never state itself clearly for us. It is a general conception intended to stand for a future life and also to oppose certain well-defined views of this problem. This modern theory of reincarnation is not so much based on facts, as it is a speculative possibility designed to answer the crude objection of some materialists who also think that, if the "soul" exists hereafter, it must have a bodily organism. Both the materialist and his opponents of the reincarnationist type are the victims of an illusion due to ignorance of both philosophy and science. It all comes from the modern identification of the terms "soul" and "consciousness," and the assumption that consciousness, as a function, must have a subject for its basis. The latter assumption is true enough, but the former was an incident of the process which resulted in the primacy of materialism 'and the habit of using the term "soul" when the reasons for its existence had been discarded. Besides, the philosophy of Descartes came in to introduce perplexities into the problem.
The original and proper meaning of the term "soul" was that it was the subject of consciousness, the substance of which consciousness was a functional activity. It was not the name for the consciousness itself, but of that which the existence of consciousness implied, if it was not a function of the brain. But materialism dispensed with the necessity of supposing the existence of any other subject than the brain. Materialism also assumed that consciousness was a phenomenal activity, a function, a mode of something, and this something it made the body. Consciousness thus required an embodiment in this theory as well as in its antagonistic theory. It conceived the body as a necessity for its occurrence, and if that theory of the relation of consciousness to the organism be the true one, there can be no doubt about the assumption that any survival of personal consciousness would require an embodiment, either a new one or the resurrection of the old one. Hence the doctrine fixed the assumption of the need of embodiment for mental activity. Consequently the term "soul" had to be abandoned in scientific and philosophic usage or be used synonymously with consciousness. In the latter sense it would carry with it the implication which all schools of thought maintained regarding consciousness, and hence survival would suggest a body of some kind as necessary for the soul. Hence the temptation to think and speak of some form of "reincarnation" when they wished to believe in a future life. But this was not the way to meet the materialist. The proper mode of attack, that usually taken by philosophy and now taken by psychic research in its peculiar way, was to show that consciousness was not a function of the organism, and leave the speculative question of its embodiment aside for the time. If we could show that consciousness survived death, we could assume one of three alternatives as possible, namely, (1) that it might be a stream of functional action in the absolute; (2) that it might be a phenomenal action of a Leibnitzian monad, or point of force; and (3) that it might be a function of a "spiritual" body, an ethereal substance or organism, after the Epicurean conception. No one of these would require the idea of reincarnation or of incarnation of any kind as a necessity understood in material science. Consequently the modern doctrine of reincarnation, if distinguishable from the ancient and Oriental conception at all, is synonymous with ideas which it is supposed to antagonize and has no importance in the discussion of reincarnation historically understood. Clear thinking and a knowledge of philosophical doctrine would prevent using the term at all unless we intended to revive the Platonic and Oriental ideas. But these have no interest for any who insist that a future life, if it is to be rationally conceived, must involve the survival of personal identity. Any other conception is a social fad which serves as an illusion masked under the form of philosophic language. It has the associations of a future life without the reality, and one can appear intelligent without saying that he is either a materialist or a spiritualist. Any use of the term to denote survival of personal consciousness in another subject than the brain might as well call itself by the historical name and not wince at an unfortunate term because it does not like materialism and feels that spiritualism or spiritism is not respectable. Clear thinking will place us between these two alternatives and prevent our reinstating reincarnation ideas unless we mean frankly to adopt the ancient doctrine, which is practically convertible with materialism, but more unintelligible.
The reincarnation doctrine is not the most rational view that we can take of the cosmic order as an ideal one. I do not mean to say it is not true. For all that I care in the present discussion it may be true. I am only contending that, if true, it does not represent a rational order of things. Our moral standards place personality above an impersonal order and sequence. We base our ethics on personality as the superior ideal, and this personality involves continuity of consciousness and memory. If this continuity is interrupted, we cannot exact the same kind of responsibility as we demand in our individual and social ethics. No theory of reward and punishment whatever can be rationally applied to another existence for our conduct here. We require continuity of personality between the two worlds to assume or conceive a rational connection of action and consequence between them. The traditional reincarnation theory eliminates that connection, and hence the Platonic system of rewards and punishments was an inconsistency in the doctrine. The only rational order of responsibility is one in which the continuity of consciousness is involved, if that responsibility extends beyond the present social system. If then we limit moral ideals to our present earthly condition, we may well render a reincarnation doctrine consistent on this point, but we shall not make it any the more rational as an ideal system. If personal identity in the present system be the rational condition of things, and if we must necessarily think of personality as the highest conception that we can form of an end to attain, we must naturally assume that a rational order would favor that development which did not cut off the opportunities of progress for personality at the point of death. Reincarnation ideas, with their elimination of memory from the next and succeeding states, would only leave us where materialism leaves us, in so far as our ideals are concerned, and whatever we might say of its truth, we would have to reject it as irrational.
It is the uncritical poetic view that charms and deludes most people in this question. The idea of reincarnation offers a sensible or sensuous picture for the fancy in talking of a future life. I have known many to quote as if it were a philosophic argument the beautiful lines of Wordsworth.
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar."
I would not refuse a fascination to such language, but I would not be tempted to transfigure it as a philosophy. I am willing to indulge a literary imagination and a poetic reverie without insisting upon its scientific basis. That might have been apparent in the very next lines, by which Wordsworth gives another color to his
"Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home."
Pantheism is not inconsistent with surviving personality any more than it is inconsistent with present personality, and we have only to remember the poet's sympathies to see that it would be converting the effects of reverie into scientific dogma to treat his lines as any intellectual support for preexistence. That doctrine must run the gauntlet we have assigned it. Illusions of memory and of philosophic speculation founded on a misunderstanding of the problem are the standing difficulty in the way of either its truth or its rationality.
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