From guest blogger, Annalee.
It is important to make the following notes before proceeding. I will employ the term disembodied mind to avoid the theological or colloquial meaning of the word souls. In doing so, I am not committed to the concept of consciousness after bodily death as presented by Judeo-Christian perspectives. I acknowledge that Prasnnatma Das used the word soul in the context of the law of karma. When employing the term disembodied minds, I intend to use it within the same context; that is in terms of the law of karma as Das did. I will not seek to prove that disembodied minds actually exist. Rather I will work under the assumption that if consciousness after bodily death, under the law of karma, does exist, then disembodied minds necessarily exist. I will assume, without providing statistical back up, that the number of beings who have lived on Earth and who are no longer alive in a biological sense outweighs the current number of beings on Earth who are said to be alive in a biological sense. Additionally, I acknowledge that upon a disembodied mind entering into a living being on Earth, the term disembodied experience no longer applies as the experience of the disembodied mind is the experience of the living being it is inhabiting. However, in entertaining an important assumption of the law of karma, I will assume that, upon a disembodied mind entering a living being, the term disembodied experience does apply to the disembodied mind.
One perspective that provides a process for consciousness after bodily death is presented by Prasnnatma Das in A Hindu View of Life and Death. According to Das, death is the process whereby the soul is subjected to the law of karma after bodily death. Through the law of karma, the soul is implanted into another being and the soul experiences another life on Earth. The souls ability to experience pleasure while implanted in this other being is defined by the complexity of the being in which the soul is implanted; the factor of the beings’ complexity is contingent on the soul’s prior performance on earth. For those souls who performed past wrongs, they will be implanted into a being with a lessened capacity for pleasure. For those souls who perform great deeds, they will be implanted into a being with a greater capacity to experience pleasure.
At first glance, Das’ argument for consciousness after bodily death seems appealing because it does not seem to be subjected to the same type of criticism imposed on Judeo-Christian claims; it does not involve an omnipresent God and it does not necessarily promise anything to humans. However, the conception of consciousness after death as proposed by Das does present a logical problem. If there are currently less beings on Earth for souls to inhabit than there are souls needing a being to inhabit, then is it a requirement that a single being be inhabited by more than one disembodied mind? And can more than one disembodied mind inhabit a being?
As stated by Alan and Jesse Steinberg in Disembodied Minds and the Problem of Identification and Individuation, “One way in which the presence of more than one mind could be established …would be to provide some ground or principle for determining that disembodied experiences themselves are incompatible with one another in such a way that they cannot be had by only one mind.” Steinberg and Steinberg provide the following examples to illustrate a possibility where a disembodied state is incompatible or contradictory:
1) Feeling a pain and not feeling a pain simultaneously
2) Feeling a pain and feeling serene simultaneously
Steinberg and Steinberg argue (1) The state of being in pain does not equate to a mental state. The state of being in pain and not being in pain equates to the mental state of being in pain. The mental state of being in pain would only need to be had by a single disembodied mind. (2) The mental state of being in pain is a positive mental state. That is by being in pain one is feeling serene. Intuitively, it seems as though both states that would exclude the other. But as Steinberg and Steinberg point out there do occur times in which people experience pleasure and pain simultaneously and there doesn’t appear to be anything “intrinsic about the phenomenology of mental states” that rule out a simultaneous experience of both pain and pleasure; it doesn’t appear to rule out the possibility of more than one disembodied mind.
This is the point where you, the bloggers, come in. I feel that it is profound in terms of the philosophy of religion to demonstrate that some of the same incoherencies of Judeo-Christian doctrine can be demonstrated in eastern religion. With that said I am trying to capture this in my next paper. However, I am not committed to a specific thesis; it seems that the jury is still out. So, do you find Steinbergs’ claims about more than one disembodied mind inhabiting a single being to be compelling? Why or why not? And do you find that his argument has a serious implication for the law of karma if the number of beings who have lived on Earth and who no longer alive in biological sense outweighs the current number of beings on Earth who are said to be alive in a biological sense?