Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:September 2nd, 2009 09:59 EST
Eastern Reincarnation, Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, and Cosmology

Eastern Reincarnation, Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, and Cosmology

By Sean Beelzebul

Most people are familiar with the reincarnation theories of the East. In Hinduism an immortal substance called Atman, or self (similar to a soul in Western theology) transmigrates from body to body after death. The good or bad action (Sanskrit, Karma) that Atman accumulates in each life determines how and where it is reincarnated. At the end of the cycle, when the Brahmin has eliminated action, and has taken up austere non-action, they are said to achieve Moksha and are unified with Brahma; no more reincarnations are possible.

Buddhism shares a similar ideology. Only in this case, upon the eliminating of action (Karma) one can extinguish (Nirvana) and become free in this life. However, from redaction, to translation, from redaction to translation over the thousands of years since the Buddha`s death, many Buddhist texts indicate a very similar transmigration from entity to entity as the Hindus. Vajrayana Buddhists believe the Dali Lama is a reincarnation of the previous Dali Lama. I believe something is misunderstood in this ideology, Buddhists believe in Anatman or No-Self making this transmigration theory difficult to prove.

In Nietzsche`s continental 19th century philosophy it is stated several times that there is a cosmic law called the Eternal Recurrence. Unfortunately, Nietzsche`s Syphilis and Diphtheria drove him to insanity and then death before he could elaborate on what he meant. Many Nietzsche scholars indicate that the Eternal Recurrence was a model for the universe similar to one of Einstein`s three possible cosmological models; that it expands and contracts. This would indicate that upon death and the death of the universe we will live our lives over again, the same way, over and over.

In contemporary cosmology and astrophysics new theories have been developed which seem to invalidate both the reincarnation of the East and Eternal Recurrence of the West. However, the thesis and anti-thesis above are not completely invalidated. The new theories seem to synthesize the two beliefs into a new scientific possibility.

Dr. Martin Bojowald, of Pennsylvania State University is the leading Physicist of a new cosmological theory called the Big Bounce. This theory which would replace the Big Bang and the expanding and contracting (in a closed loop) universe, states that upon the ultimate expansion of the universe, it is probable that when the outer reaches of the mass reach an axis of a zero (a nearly perfect circle) all the particles bounce off one another and cause a contraction. However, when the contraction reaches a certain density (called the Planck density) there is a re-expansion. Yet, this re-expansion is of a completely new universe.

The same universe would be quite improbable. But, would similar universes be so improbable? Bojowald indicates that cosmic forgetfulness invalidates recollection of these past expansions and contractions. I pose the question, could the Buddhists and possibly even Nietzsche have really intended their cosmological models to be something more akin to the Big Bounce?