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Integral Time and the Varieties of Post-Mortem Survival

Keywords: Aurobindo , Barbour , complex holism , complexity , death , Fechner , Gebser , integral , Morin , Nietzsche , reincarnation , soul , survival , time , Whitehead

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While the question of survival of bodily death is usually approached byfocusing on the mind/body relation (and often with the idea of the soul as a special kindof substance), this paper explores the issue in the context of our understanding of time.The argument of the paper is woven around the central intuition of time as an “everlivingpresent.” The development of this intuition allows for a more integral or “complexholistic”theory of time, the soul, and the question of survival. Following the introductorymatter, the first section proposes a re-interpretation of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternalrecurrence in terms of moments and lives as “eternally occurring.” The next section is atreatment of Julian Barbour’s neo-Machian model of instants of time as configurations inthe n-dimensional phase-space he calls “Platonia.” While rejecting his claim to have doneaway with time, I do find his model suggestive of the idea of moments and lives aseternally occurring. The following section begins with Fechner’s visionary ideas of thenature of the soul and its survival of bodily death, with particular attention to the notionof holonic inclusion and the central analogy of the transition from perception to memory.I turn next to Whitehead’s equally holonic notions of prehension and the concrescence ofactual occasions. From his epochal theory of time and certain ambiguities in hisreflections on the “divine antinomies,” we are brought to the threshold of a potentiallymore integral or “complex-holistic” theory of time and survival, which is treated in thelast section. This section draws from my earlier work on Hegel, Jung, and Edgar Morin,as well as from key insights of Jean Gebser, for an interpretation of Sri Aurobindo’sinspired but cryptic description of the “Supramental Time Vision.” This interpretationleads to an alternative understanding of reincarnation—and to the possibility of itsreconciliation with the once-only view of life and its corresponding version ofimmortality—along with the idea of a holonic scale of selves leading from individualpersonality as we normally experience it, through a kind of angelic self (a reinterpreted“Jivatma”), and ultimately to the Godhead as the Absolute Self. Of greater moment thansuch a speculative ontology, however, is the integral or complex-holistic way of thinkingand imagining that is called for by this kind of inquiry.


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