In Eastern philosophy souls are eternal, and do not die, but live again and again many times. Bernard Williams argues that living forever would get boring and we would eventually want death. Therefore, is amnesia necessary to reincarnation? In other words, does reincarnation only make sense if every time we die we lose our memories, so it doesn't feel like we are living forever?

  • 1
    I think what you mean is not "are you able?" but "are you willing?" (my answer to "are you able?" is no, starting with 100). I suspect that "self-evident" is not what you mean either, but I am not sure what that is.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 3:19
  • 2
    No, the problem is mostly with your English and self-styled terminology. From your comment I can try to guess that what you mean to ask is something like "Does reincarnation become acceptable due to the problem of boredom?" But if this is it then it is not obvious from the current wording of the post.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 3:56
  • 1
    @Conifold ,No ,I mean it ,is the concept of reincarnation amounts to be considered self-evident?.Every philosopher formulated or reformulated or edited terms and concepts .I am innately philosopher although not studying philosophy in the school or university or any philosophical organizations .All of you can help me editing my posts.
    – salah
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 4:39
  • 1
    I am trying to help you but I have to understand what you are getting at first, and so far I can not. As Not_Here told you, "amounts to be considered self-evident" is not a meaningful phrase in English. Is reincarnation "self-evident"? I am guessing most people would say no, but whatever the answer the boredom seems irrelevant to it. Is reincarnation psychologically acceptable? I guess boredom would be relevant to that, but it is far from "self-evident". You'll have to connect the dots or change the words.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 4:48
  • 1
    Memory is a part of of our brains, which is material and decays upon death. How many remember their early childhood of this lifetime? At the age of 67, I can assure you that most of my life that occurred 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago are, at the most, very spotty memories now. We 'lose' most of our memories of this life even before we die. What survives with the 'soul' are the impressions we make upon it with our daily mental activities. "'As one thinks, so one becomes' is a popular saying in this world, and it is quite true." - Astavakra Samhita 1.11 Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 14:18

4 Answers 4


If to reincarnate I must forget everything I know, in what sence it can be said that "I" am reincarnating? What is left of "me" if all my memories, ideas, feelings, etc., are gone?

If there is something as reincarnation, then, whether or not this is "necessary", total amnesia is the rule; nevermind whether it is possible or impossible to remeber former lives, the fact is that we do not remember them.

(There is, however, a way to make some sense of the idea of reincarnation, which is assumed by Kardekists: while we don't remember our past lives when we are incarnated, we do remember all of them when we are not. In other words, each of our "lives" is like a dream, in which we don't remember the dreams of the previous nights - and our non-incarnated state is like vigil, when we remember both dreams and our ordinary life.)


The question to start with, from a philosophical standpoint, is what exactly is reincarnation, and define it precisely. Particular people use the concept differently and mean entirely different things with it. After you have a clear concept defined you can say what qualities are necessary for it.

If staying in alignment with empiricism and verifiable propositions about the world one inhabits is important then the concept has to not only maintain logical consistency but must equally meet sufficient and necessary conditions of existence for the physical world.

If those constraints are not important to ones "philosophy" (or perspective), then the concept can take all manner of possible descriptions and explanations, which I would not be equipped to discuss.

The concept of reincarnation that I am familiar with from a 20th century vajrayana perspective is summed up this way by Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche:

Reincarnation takes place merely in terms of the continuum of mind [...] The continuum of the mind has the nature of cessation, the birth, then cessation, then birth, and so on. Something comes to life and then it ceases, then comething else is born and then it ceases. Consider, for instance, the mind of a young child, the mind of an adolescent, and the mind of an aged person. These three stages of a person's life are connected by the continuum of mind, but at each stage of a person's life, the mind is not similar [...] the mind of a child and the mind of that same person as an old man are not the same. Unlike an unchanging self, the mind of a child and an adult are the sameas a mere continuum but that is all.

Within the same "in-carnation" (the taking on of flesh) there is the birth and death of particular types of minds or personalities.

One is conscious of each new incarnation in this concept of the reincarnated and thus would not necessitate amnesia. If one has a concept of reincarnation that implies a physical dying and being born as a same self in a new body, there may be quite a few other things that would need to be explained before we even got to the issue of absence of memory of previous lives.


I don't see how reincarnation would always (and this is the tricky word here) require memory loss. Why (in accordance to the author's question) one should "in a way" "get tired" of living many lives for thousand and thousand of years? Is that the question you are trying to adress?

If it is, then a ready answer is it depends on your personal choice to experience reality. Why would you give up on the possibility of experiencing newer and newer environments (in more and more lives) if you had the choice to do so? Why would it matter if you live 1000 or 10 000 or even 1 000 000lives if you can get something new from every experience? In the context you are asking your question I see the a priory assumption (assumptions aren't always the truth-this is why I bold it) you're thinking over time you will get "used to" living all your lives and get "bored" from the experience, that is why you need to have the "erasing mechanism" to make it every time look like something new. At least this is what this question "sounds like". Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

But then I will argue it's precisely this a priory premise which is the "weak link" in your argument. If you can get some new experience from every life you live would then there be a reason to even want to forget it? I underline new and choice precisely because this "boredom" your question implies come if the consciousness by its own free will chooses there is no reason why it should live more since it has "too many lives". But what if it does not chooses so? Why should one always assume there isn't anything new to be learned after a certain number of lives and if every consciousness (no matter how different one consciousness can be from any other) lives that number of lives it should always "get bored" from living and then once again a priory assume this is precisely the reason why reincarnation always (again repeating the same fallacy) implies memory erase?

The way I see it there are two consecutive fallacies following the same pattern here. First you assume the consciousness can't make any worth of every extra life after a certain number of them had passed and then you repeat the same mistake by again assuming the consciousness is unable to "channel" its memory and experience in any direction other than getting "bored" of living and therefore it's almost like the consciousness itself wants its memory erased so it can continue living on every new life without getting "bored". But what if the consciousness is "smart enough" to make new experiences every new life? What if it learns how to develop newer and newer skills and character traits to give it even more things worth remembering and experiencing every new life even if the number of lives can be infinite? Can you understand my point? Is it relevant to your question?

My point is there is no reason why we can a priory prestate the number of experiences any consciousness can have and/or the "level" it can achieve living its lived or simply just existing in any way and in any form possible. I can argue any consciousness can find virtually unlimited ways to proceed in its own existence and that the ways any consciousness can choose to develop is not bound or to put it in another words-the consciousness can have infinite number of choices for paths it can take and these paths can lead to an infinite number of possible experiences it can have. Then, how can you argue that every single consciousness can "get bored" by simply living long enough? How can it get bored if there are infinite number of possibilities for it? An infinite choice can make up for an infinite time. My argument is that you prestate your argument too much on a priory premises. And these just might not turn out to be true if we assume an infinity of possible choices, paths and experiences any consciousness can get.

There is the issue of infinity in the natural sciences, philosophy and mathematics. In any of these fields the inclusion of claims based on infinity can "offset" almost any other argument based on a finite number of possibilities. For example, there is the problems the notion of cardinality posts in mathematics. It can be directly linked to the answer I provide here if we assume the cardinality of the set of all possible experiences any consciousness can have through time is greater than the cardinality of the experiences it can possibly have when the two are compared to each other and therefore there can't be one-to-one correspondence between the two. This in turn means your a priory premise can be denied by my a priory premise that the two sets aren't equivalent and therefore no matter how many lives you live there will always be more choices you can make. What if both the sets of the possible choices and of possible lives then are infinite?

In the picture I draw no matter how many lives you live and no matter how much experiences you have there will always be "room" for more. Then why getting "bored" with existing? If there is an infinity of possible experiences, paths that can lead to them and choices any consciousness can make there is no reason to assume it can ever get bored-only that there is more "room" for growth, and even more-an infinitely more room for growth. Then, in this context the consciousnesses which choose to grow rather than get "bored" or "tired" of existing would have literally infinite number of ways to expand and grow even more. Then the amnesia of living too many lives wouldn't really be an issue here-it would simply be a product of a conscious choice made by the consciousness itself. But this choice wouldn't imply every single consciousness has to make the same choice and take the same path. There may be some consciousnesses which choose to expand, not tire. And then they wouldn't "really need" to forget everything but can build on these experiences in an ever increasing fashion. Actually so much increasing that they themselves can eventually reach an infinite state of possible choices and new experiences. Then, how does amnesia "fits in" this paradigm?

Furthermore, if one assumes the position stated above, then if the consciousness chooses to grow and not tire it can literally reach an infinite state of mind where its possibilities in its new lives are infinite and it can do pretty much anything it wants. Curiously, there is the saying Ayam Atma Brahma in Hinduism which can describe the path to achieving such a state. It literally mean "the Soul is equal to God" and if we put it in the case made so far it makes perfect sense. In this context the more the consciousness chooses the more it can choose and the more it remembers, the more it can remember. The more it continues to choose newer and newer options for its development the more it can further choose until a moment comes when it can be equal to God him/herself. And there its capability to evolve further are in truth unlimited.

But then such a choice does not imply forgetting its own reincarnations and getting "bored" or "tired" out of its previous lives but rather accepting them in their entirety, learning from its mistakes and building on them with the full memory of what had happened. Such a state then will mean the acquiring of the full repository of previous lives' knowledge and building on it until virtually infinity understanding is achieved. And such understanding would then give an unlimited amount of choices, paths to follow and ultimately experiences to the consciousness until it can merge with a truly infinite being-possibly its Creator! Then, this paradigm would constitute a legitimate counterpoint to the a priory statements this question is premised upon.

  • Ecclesiastes 1:9 "What has been is what will be,and what has been done is what will be done ,and there is no thing new under the sun .Infinity found only in mathematics not in the cosmos.the universe is finite and even God the Absolute is finite.
    – salah
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 6:06
  • @salah , I bet there're many people who would firmly disagree with you. We don't know the end of the universe. As far as we know it can have no boundaries-e.g. be infinite. And how can you put a boundary or limit or any condition on God, anyway? Why would you even consider there is any finiteness in God? If the Soul IS God as some branches of Hinduism state and if God/Brahma is indeed infinite, then why can't a single human Soul become infinite, too, if it's pious enough to become one in itself? Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 12:11
  • ,this subject ,Infinity,needs a new post.Infinity of God ,Infinity of the cosmos.
    – salah
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 15:22
  • If you so wish, then @saleh , why don't you ask a new question about the infinity of God and/or his/her/it (I use these words because no one can be certain of the gender of God) creation where we can tackle the issue. It's obvious that this post is already long enough to put any more information in it and it discusses the issues put by your question. If you wish to discuss the finiteness/infiniteness of God it has to be put in a context of its own not as a part of a question about reincarnation. At least, this is what I think about the issue. Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 15:52
  • ,OK.soon I will set a new post .
    – salah
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 16:35

Reincarnation is applicable not to selected persons only. It is applicable to each and every creature. But this fact becomes evident very rarely. Refer : Reincarnation [Please note: Reincarnation is not the Ultimate Truth]

Almost all people don't like to / can't "look into" themselves to know exactly who they are. Many factors distort their path. Actually the person who says truly, that he had a past life, is from self-evidence.

Bernard Williams argues that living forever would get boring and we would eventually want death.

This boring is seen in almost all people; but with unfulfilled / suppressed desires. This boring may be because of many reasons. When one gets a healthy body their boring will disappear. Similarly, when one lives in a completely pleasant environment or when one gets interesting things, good friends, good partners etc. this boring will disappear. Almost all people go behind material things like these. [Read about Smasana-vairagya] Such persons are not raised to the highest state... or they can't be considered as persons who knew about their former life. In other words, the enlightened realizes that he (the soul) was present (never absent) before he got his present body. This happens only when their entire personalities have been purified by strict moral discipline. {"Certainly never at any time did I not exist, nor you, nor all these kings and certainly never shall we cease to exist in the future"--says the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2 Verse 12)}

Were 'persons' like Sankara, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekanada, Ramana Maharshi realized themselves after a luxurious life...? You can give many exceptions. But how can we generalize that this exceptions are true? How did their relinquishment happen before 'tasting' their life to its maximum level?

How could they teach the same ancient ideas (The Eternal Truth) the Upanishads declared, without any impression of their past life...? This shows their lives had continuity.

Loss of memories happens to everybody/every body always. Since it is common to all, they should be ignored while dealing reincarnation. If this title--'reincarnated' is given only to selected persons, isn't it regaining memory? :) ... if you can direct your thought to that direction...? (I have already declared my opinion in the first line.)

So, Reincarnation is not a matter/product of amnesia.

In other words, does reincarnation only make sense if every time we die we lose our memories, so it doesn't feel like we are living forever?

When we rely upon our sense organs and intellect for perception and comprehension we can say so. But when the Inner Eye opens, the truth will be revealed.

Please read these comments on Reincarnation.

You must log in to answer this question.

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