The Generic subjective continuity theory is a horrifying one, considering it would entail that we shall experience every concious experience including the worst of tortures ie, burning alive, etc. Are there any refutations or counter arguments to this?

  • Why is it horrifying? It is only equivalent to accepting all possibilities have a 'realness' ; & we can only hope our good luck outweighs the bad.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 3, 2023 at 20:51
  • Indeed this may be very likely per its logical implication otherwise John Rawl would not design his famous veil of ignorance thought experiment from an equivalent generic perspective to emphasize the very real possibility of such horror. Thus the counter point/argument is perhaps nothing else but the move of Rawl's catgorical imperative of establishing an egalitarian or 'preferably' non-equal system to live in... Oct 3, 2023 at 23:19
  • Clark's "generic subjective continuity" and Stewart's "existential passage" do not entail that we will experience anything after death, see Robert. What they suggest is that "the stream of consciousness continues after death — devoid of the body’s former memories and personality traits." The parts that make us "we" dissolve (which they need to explain why we do not experience anything from the "streams" in prior bodies), and what continues is only a faceless "generic". And that someone will experience tortures we already know anyway.
    – Conifold
    Oct 4, 2023 at 3:46
  • -conifold, so basically it won't be us experiencing the tortures but some being? I find this idea better but from what I'm seeing on sites like YouTube, they make it seem as though it will be an experience that we will expereince. Oct 4, 2023 at 13:00
  • A superb question. It's not over until the fat lady sings? 🤔
    – Hudjefa
    Oct 19, 2023 at 3:32

4 Answers 4


The issue I have with these theories is that they appear to deny and affirm existential continuity at the same time, albeit referring to different things (which makes it confusing).

Imagine you (Brain A) lose all consciousness for several days. During this time, it is highly likely some consciousness re-starts somewhere (Brain B), which receives "passage" of your suspended stream of consciousness (Stream 1). Then, Brain A regains consciousness, possibly receiving passage itself or ex nihilo. Regardless, the stream that was "attached" to Brain A (Stream 1) has long since passed to Brain B so some other stream, let's call it Stream 2, now is associated with Brain A.

This is the part where it gets confusing (at least for me). Let's say Brain B occupies a body undergoing intense suffering, whereas the body for Brain A experiences the love and caring of friends and family upon awakening.

Before going unconscious, Brain A + Stream 1 were "you". Now, post all this existential passage stuff, which experience, Brain A or Brain B (if either) would be the correct one to place your future-directed concern (per Derek Parfit on survival and identity)?

Before reading about passage, most of us would expect that after losing consciousness we would awake happily still in Brain A and that poor Brain B has some other unfortunate "experiencer" associated with it.

One could argue with my example as requiring extended existential passage (or permeable identities) but that is missing the point - we can conceive a situation where the necessary conditions for consciousness are absent for an extended period of time, which would allow passage (permeable or not).

What is happening in this kind of theory is that we are giving ontic reality to individual streams of consciousness or subjectivity outside of the context of a particular body/substrate/identity. It's also not clear why the ex nihlo isn't the only type of passage (i.e., the true "things" are subjective intervals, not chains of intervals).

Even if we grant that passage takes place, the reliance on time as the basis for the passage mechanism is problematic given that "now" and "later" are relative to our own plane of simultaneity. Imagine that Brain A and Brain B are several light years apart and moving relative to one another. It then becomes challenging to decide who lost/regained consciousness before whom. One argument against my objection is an appeal to cosmic time or the existence of a preferred time foliation (e.g., Bohmian interpretation of Quantum Mechanics).

Regardless of the internal coherence of the concept of existential passage, it's not clear how it is anything but word play -- certainly not something that should comfort or scare us.


GSC does not in and of itself imply anything about living a life of horrors. It just assumes one will live lots of lives, and none of them are any more likely to be horrific than your current one.

A horrific worldview I have encountered among some New Age advocates, who have embraced a Virtue Ethic where Aesthetics is the highest virtue, and presume a force in the universe who assist us in the Aesthetic experience of diversity, where we experience all possible behaviors and events, from all possible sides. Under this worldview, our goal in this world is to experience everything, and this is a prerequisite to exiting the wheel of life.

There are some evidences against both GSC, and Maximal Experiential Aesthetes.
One is that we seem to lose awareness of any past lives, and if we have past lives we seem to change character between lives, so one has to find a new definition of "self" to say we live a past and future life sequence. MEA tend to adopt the Hindu conception of a higher self, rather than the Buddhist conception of not-self, to address this concern.

A second counter evidence is that there do seem to be some moral features to our universe per past life regression studies, and mystics, rather than the amorality of both GSC and MEA. For references, see Drs. Michael Newton and Brian Weiss, and almost any mystic -- see Ben Swett for a good example.

  • "where we experience all possible behaviors and events, from all possible sides. Under this worldview, our goal in this world is to experience everything, and this is a prerequisite to exiting the wheel of life." Do they have any evidence for such a bold claim Or is it just mere speculation? Oct 13, 2023 at 23:23
  • @Rayyankhan If most philosophers were honest about it, most of them hold by a worldview based on more of an intuitive “this feels right” than any more solid justification. It is actually very difficult to justify a worldview. Your original link did not do so, or even try. The comments included a link to an effort to justify a GSC worldview, but the comments on THAT noted that the justification’s first premise was that one’s perception can never end, and this appears to be false from what we know of the world. So justifications are often far less than they claim for themselves.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2023 at 0:23
  • I don’t believe any of the “we should experience everything” aesthetes I have encountered provided justification, but to be fair to them I did not encounter them in a forum of formal philosophical thinking.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2023 at 0:26
  • does this give more validity to hinduism? I mean secular arguments accepting it are rasing doubts for me about heaven and hell now. Oct 14, 2023 at 11:16
  • @Rayyankhan -- I am a religious empiricist. I try to apply empirical testing to spiritual dualist worldviews. There is relatively strong evidence for reincarnation. There is weaker evidence for an oversoul. Both support a "more" Hindu worldview than say Abrahamic, Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian. There is also evidence for moral realism, and weaker evidence for moral conflict in this world, and for a complex spiritual universe which includes lost souls and possession -- which does not fit well with the ordered universe of Hinduism. I think all formal religions fail falsification testing.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:33

The theory you mention is unsubstantiated speculation. As far as we know, conscious experience is enabled or caused by activities in brains. With few exceptions, there seems to be a one-to-one correspondence between brains and conscious selves. Since I became aware as a very young child, I have had the sensation of being me, and all that time I have had my particular body and brain. At no point have I ever hopped into a different body and brain. That experience seems to tell us that our sense of self is somehow linked to our functioning brain. When we die, our brain ceases to function- the essential support mechanism for our sense of self no longer operates, so the most reasonable conclusion is that our sense of self stops. Our consciousness is simply gone for ever.

There is no credible evidence or mechanism for the survival of the conscious self beyond the death of the brain. The idea that the consciousness of a dead person exists again in a person born subsequently ignores all of what seems to be the progressive development of a new sense of self from birth onwards. It also overlooks the fact that the death rate is lower than the birth rate, so if humans depended on the re-use of the conscious spirits of the dead, there wouldn't be enough to go round.

  • Have you applied falsification checks against your assertions here? There are lots of credible evidences of child past life recall, of NDE’s, and OBE’s. Additionally there is significant credible evidence of telepathy, and of non-local information being available to spiritualists. And some credible evidences of possession. Your blanket assertion appears to just be uninformed dogma. The problem of numbers for reincarnation is an interesting one that does have several possible solutions.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2023 at 0:34
  • @dcleve, yes. I find none of the sort of evidence you cite to be in the least credible. If and when credible evidence emerges, with a testable theory of how it all works, I will happily change my position. Oct 14, 2023 at 5:31
  • So -- no effort to question your own views, nor explore well supported refutations when they are pointed out to you. Not applying science to your worldview then. OK, thanks for clarifying.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:23
  • @Dcleve why do you have to be obnoxious? I have explained my position, which differs from yours. I do make very sustained efforts to understand science and consider refutations. If NDEs and OBEs, for example, are proven it will be a huge revolution in science and we will all get to hear about it because it will be headline news. Clearly whatever evidence there is hasn't reached that level of credibility, so I'm not inclined to take it too seriously. Oct 14, 2023 at 15:54
  • Marco -- the purpose of comments is to allow posters to refine their answer when it is in error. You have just conceded that your first sentence in the second paragraph makes a categorical claim that you do not actually know to be true, and you have not investigated it. BTW, your presumption that paradigms in science automatically follow the evidence was refuted decisively by Kuhn over a half century ago.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2023 at 17:02

I'm Wayne Stewart, author of Metaphysics by Default, the essay introducing existential passage, which parallels Clark's GSC concept.


William James' unfelt time-gap is a subjective continuity across an objective discontinuity, at limits. Existential passage is understood to be functionally the same.

...the broken edges of the sentient life may meet and merge over the gap, much as the feelings of space of the opposite margins of the 'blind spot' meet and merge over that objective interruption to the sensitiveness of the eye... To expect the consciousness to feel the interruptions of its objective continuity as gaps, would be like expecting the eye to feel a gap of silence because it does not hear, or the ear to feel a gap of darkness because it does not see. So much for the gaps that are unfelt.

-William James, The Principles of Psychology

Wherever nature assembles the conditions for a phenomenon, we trust nature to deliver the phenomenon, yes? And this is true of any continuity, yes?

It seems a counterargument to existential passage or Clark's GSC should reason out some continuity disqualification for the subjectivity phenomenon. 24 years after essay publication, and 133 years after James' Principles, no such disqualification has been established, to the best of my knowledge.

Metaphysics by Default, Chapter 9 - Existential Passage


Existential passage assumes invariant temporal order, and this order is implicit in quantum mechanics' non-local correlation. Moreover, "primitive ontologies" work to formalize invariant temporal order in the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Some papers on progress toward QM/GR primitive ontology:

Builder, G., 1958. The constancy of the velocity of light. Australian Journal of Physics, 11(4), pp.457-480.

Valentini, A., 2005. Hidden variables and the large-scale structure of spacetime. Einstein, relativity and absolute simultaneity, pp.125-155.

Tumulka, R., 2021. A relativistic grw flash process with interaction. Do Wave Functions Jump? Perspectives of the Work of Giancarlo Ghirardi, pp.321-347.

And a backgrounder video on non-locality:

Brian Greene: Bell's Theorem and the Non-locality of the Universe

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .