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By the detachment of the soul from space-time, I understand the ability of the soul, after the death of the organism, to be reborn into anyone, anywhere and anytime. For example, the soul lived in a person who died in the distant future, and was transferred to some living organism from a distant galaxy, whose light never reached the Earth, many millions of years before this person was born, and after the death of that organism it was transferred, say ...in me or in you. At the same time, rebirths for the soul seem to be instantaneous, but there is only one soul in the entire universe and it is cyclically reborn into all living organisms that have ever lived in this universe.

My search for an answer only led me to the doctrine of reincarnation. But, as I understand it, reincarnation implies the binding of the soul to the flow of time, which immediately cancels the theory that there is only one soul in the universe. Perhaps I somehow misunderstood this concept.

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    If the soul "travels" and "transfers" then it is still tied to succession and hence time, it is just that its individual time is desynchronized with local times of its bodies. There are popular doctrines of a truly timeless soul manifesting through all of space and time as multiple individuals, this is called individuation rather than transmigration or reincarnation. Such is the doctrine of Atman-Brahman in Indian non-dualist philosophies like Advaita-Vedanta and its analogs in Buddhism, Taoism and the West (neo-Platonism, Schelling).
    – Conifold
    Oct 17, 2023 at 23:11
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    This hardly qualifies as philosophy. At best it's theological speculation.
    – armand
    Oct 18, 2023 at 0:12
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    It's far from an answer, much less a coherent doctrine, but your description reminds me of this short story. There's a link to the text version of this story in the description of the video
    – BThompson
    Oct 18, 2023 at 15:09
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    There is now; you just proposed it
    – keshlam
    Oct 19, 2023 at 5:24
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    Sounds like the premise of a sci-fi / fantasy novel more than something that happens in reality or things that we have any good reason to believe. That said, the same could probably be said of plenty of things that plenty of people actually believe.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 19, 2023 at 10:05

7 Answers 7

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There are multiple branches within the New Age movement that assume that time is not real. This is an extension of Idealism thinking, where the presumption is that the mental world is what is real, and the physical is a somewhat delusion-based shared illusion. And if matter is an illusion, so is space-time.

What these idealist new age thinkers presume is that there IS a logical time, as in a real series of state sequences. But that this logic sequence is not coupled to the time dimension in our material world. This is therefore a time-prime, which would be real, even though the physical worlds time is not real.

Once you have this framework: idealism, illusory time, and a higher level of time-prime, then the possibility of all souls being identical, just at different stages of maturity (per time prime) become a possible hypothesis.

I have read a variety of new age thinking and have encountered this concept there. I cannot recall the specific references where I would have seen this.

I checked a couple of major New Age references: Eckhard Tolle, Seth/Jane Roberts, the Ra material, and A Course in Miracles, and all hold by idealism and illusory time, but none of those argued for a single soul traversing all of us in sequence. You will have to dig deeper to find the advocates of this speculation.

Aside: There are a few theoretical physicists who have applied a similar principle to electrons. We cannot distinguish one electron from another, and if "the identity of indistinguishables" is correct, then they are plausibly all the SAME electron at different points in its history. Physics equations also all work just fine both backwards and forwards in time, and an electron traveling backwards in time looks like a positron to us. Under Block Time, the present is an illusion, with no particular relevance, so one electron could travel back and forth thru all of time, and appear repeatedly in our apparent present as quadrillions of indistinguishable electrons and postitrons. Here is a summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-electron_universe

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    "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." - Doctor Who
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 18, 2023 at 23:12
  • @Scott Rowe Ford Prefect, surely! Oct 19, 2023 at 12:23
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According to Wikipedia, this philosophy is called Open individualism – apparently named by Daniel Kolak, who claims that the idea dates back to the Bronze Age.

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  • @ChrisSunami I'm not sure that quoting from Wikipedia is useful. It says little more than the question does, and I think the article is rather dubious, honestly: I only linked it because I don't see much else online talking about this topic. If you'd like to elaborate on my answer in ways that don't say “[citation needed]” – or post your own answer, because that's rather a lot of effort to put into something published under another's name – please feel free, but I'd rather you didn't just copy-paste from Wikipedia.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:52
  • If you happen to have a copy of one of Daniel Kolak's books, I'd be fine with a quotation from that.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:55
  • Link only answers are discouraged on Stack Exchange, because the links often go dead. Typically the relevant part of the article is quoted. If the source isn't good enough to quote, then there's no point linking to it. Oct 18, 2023 at 20:56
  • The answer's short and contains links, but it's not link-only. The link to Wikipedia is a citation, because it might just be the title of a book (that I haven't read) as opposed to a name given to the philosophy. The only link that's doing any heavy lifting is the one that gives Daniel Kolak's academic affiliation, but that should be obvious from the URL even if the site goes down (and it isn't hugely relevant to the answer, except as far as it disambiguates) so I don't think that's a huge problem.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:01
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    This seems to be the only answer that actually answers OP's question
    – Mutoh
    Oct 19, 2023 at 15:18
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I'm not sure you're going to find any canonical literature about time-traveling, galaxy wandering reincarnation. In the Western philosophical tradition, you have essentially the Ancient Greeks and their soul-theories (SEP) and then the Scholastics like Augustine (SEP) and Aquinas (SEP) promoting their Christian theologies about the soul. By the time of Kierkegaard (SEP), literal interpretations of the soul were largely in the domain of theology as science was inexorably on a course to rejecting elan vital at the start of the 20th century.

If you can't find anything like what you're looking for in the three SEP articles, I would guess it's not a thesis in the Western canon by any major thinker. Of course, considering I reject 'soul' as an instance of explanatory fictionalism, I'm the least able to claim any certainty on the matter. What you suggest to my ear sounds more like Scientology than classical notions of soul in historical philosophy.

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The idea of a soul and of transmigration has their origin in earlier time and within cultures, which did not know about concepts like spacetime and the fact that time is an observer dependent concept: Time depends on the system of chosen coordinates. Likewise these cultures did not have the physical concept of proper time.

If these cultures reflected on time at all, then they used a global time with a unique direction of time.

From a philosophical point of view, it does not seem helpful to pile up on top of the religious concepts of soul and transmigration another further speculation of time travel. But I agree that time, soul and transmigration can make an interesting plot for science fiction.

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The concept of "soul" does not really fall into the purview of (modern) philosophy. It is part of religions and other belief systems; and also handled very differently in different religions (e.g., Christianity vs. Buddhism). Every religion has different mechanisms involving souls, and none of them has any relationships hinging on real world features like galaxies, time travel and so on and forth.

So your question as it stands now makes little sense in a Philosophy forum. At the very least you have to add a qualification about which religion you are speaking; a possible answer could then be given from a believer or scholar of that religion, if at all.

That said, if you want to read more about how ancients interpreted the concept of a soul, there is a page about Ancient Theories of the Soul on SEP. Generally, if you want to talk about something (like souls) that is separate from our usual reality, it would fall under the umbrella of Dualism (which is by far not a clear-cut case, there is, as usual in Philosophy, not a single accepted answer - and even the questions are not always well-defined or easy to understand).

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As with the others, I don't recall such a doctrine with regards to reincarnation. I have read quite a bit of Buddhist/Hindu philosophy. Both have a concept called Samsara (in Pali) or the cycle of existence over each of your lives. However, as @Jo Wehler pointed out, ancients were very much presentists and would have seen Samsara playing out in a universal time.

Your proposal presupposes eternalism so that, regardless of when you die, the full scope of the relative past, present, and future are available for the "next life". Imagine a 4 dimensional block universe, and your current life is a "thread" traced out within it.

Putting aside presentist objections, another objection might be that your proposal implies the possibility of you living the same life over and over again (eternal Groundhog Day). From the standpoint of metaphysics, I don't think that is an issue, but from a teleological or religious/spiritual perspective, one would question the value or purpose of repeating a prior life, making all the same choices and experiencing all the same experiences again.

However, you could limit the relevance of this probabilistically. Assume there are an uncountably infinite number of lives in the universe and the probability you will jump to a particular one is given by some continuous density over the (continuum) of possible next lives, then the probability that you repeat your life is 0. Of course, having probability zero doesn't mean its impossible, but practically impossible.

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  • What do you mean by "high dimensional density" and what by "practically impossible"?"
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 18, 2023 at 4:58
  • @JoWehler are you familiar with the probability theory of continuous distributions?
    – Annika
    Oct 18, 2023 at 5:12
  • Yes, I am familiar with.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 18, 2023 at 5:39
  • @JoWehler actually, I don't think "high dimensional" is really needed (who knows :). But if you understand continuous probability density functions over a domain (e.g., uniform distribution over [0,1]) then that is what I'm referring to. By "practically impossible" I'm saying that while an event (repeating a life) is not ruled out, it is overwhelmed (in a precise mathematical way) by all the other possibilities. See link on probability zero events to get more details.
    – Annika
    Oct 18, 2023 at 14:20
  • Now I understand what you mean and that you have cancelled "high dimensional". Thanks :-)
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 18, 2023 at 14:58
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The closest mainstream philosophy is called Panentheism, which is described as "all things exist within God, but God is more than all things." As a part of that belief, it's considered that one soul is manifested in all things.

In panentheism, the universal spirit is present everywhere, which at the same time "transcends" all things created. While pantheism asserts that "all is God", panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe. Some versions of panentheism suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifestation of God. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God,[2] like in the Kabbalah concept of tzimtzum. Much of Hindu thought is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism

The idea of God as the soul of the world stresses the intimacy and direct nature of God’s relationship to the world https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/

However, that's an atemporal view, where we might consider the single soul as being an ocean whose water might be held in any number of vessels simultaneously. That's a bit different from what you're implying, which is non-chronological, but not atemporal, a single soul passing through all the different vessels in sequence.

That's a concept I've encountered previously in science fiction, but not in mainstream philosophy.

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