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Excuse if this is not the right place for posing this question: I am not an expert in any of these areas, just an idea that came to my mind which I wanted to discuss:

The lottery ticket hypothesis for neural networks is this: ( https://roberttlange.github.io/posts/2020/06/lottery-ticket-hypothesis/ )

The Lottery Ticket Hypothesis: A randomly-initialized, dense neural network contains a subnetwork that is initialised such that — when trained in isolation — it can match the test accuracy of the original network after training for at most the same number of iterations. - Frankle & Carbin (2019, p.2)

If reincarnation as studied by Ian Stevenson is possible, does the Lottery Ticket Hypothesis provide maybe a theoretical explanation of what is it there that incarnates?

So the idea is simple: (Dense Neural Network) -LTH-> (Sparse Neural Network / "essence of the Dense Neural Network") -Transformers / Retraining of the Sparse Neural Network-> Dense Neural Network.

Dense Neural Network -LTH-> Sparse Neural Network

Sparse Neural Network -Retraining-> Dense Neural Network

So basically this would translate to: One gets born with a sparse neural network and throughout the life it gets a dense neural network. Then the "LTH" gives a theoretical explanation of a network which hase nearly the same "capacity" as the previous dense neural network, but which is sparse (= smaller in size). The idea is, that these steps can be succesively applied one after the other so to say, to "train" a better network - spoken in terms of computer science / artificial intelligence.

Question: Does this theoretical idea from computer science / artificial intelligence maybe provide some theoretical justification for reincarnation if it exists?

To put it more direct: What do you think of this idea as a possible theoretical explanation?

Sorry if this question does offend your belief system, I did not mean to be offensive, and I am not sure either if reincarnation is real or not.

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  • It's an interesting model, and might be fun to explore in a work of fiction. As a "possible theoretical explanation", you need to nail down a little what it is you're trying to explain.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 16, 2022 at 13:07
  • @wizzwizz4: Thanks for your comment. I am trying to explain reincarnation, if it exists. Jul 16, 2022 at 13:15
  • Reincarnation is a hypothesis. What does the thing you're calling "reincarnation" look like? Sound like? Feel like?
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 16, 2022 at 13:16
  • @wizzwizz4: I am trying to explain one hypothesis with another hypothesis, I guess. :-) So "work of ficiton" maybe describes it best. But are you aware of the work of Ian Stevenson? Jul 16, 2022 at 13:18
  • @wizzwizz4 What does the square root of -1 look like, sound like and feel like? :-) Jul 16, 2022 at 13:21

1 Answer 1

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In Hindu thought there is an inner essence, a soul that literally transmigrates. They picture a causal connection, through a non-physical aspect of reality. So the accidental similarity of two networks, isn't relevant.

In Buddhist though, the core doctrine that anatta, essencelessness, is one of the Three Marks of Existence, has to be reconciled with rebirth. For Buddhists, who we are is constantly in flux, and the connection of someone who is reborn is one by 'causes and conditions', not the transmission of any unchanging core.

Different Buddhist schools elaborate the mechanisms differently. In Mahayana Yogacara philosophy, so Zen and Tibetan thought, this occurs through the realm of Alayavijnana, also called Eighth Consciousness, which can I think be productively compared to the 'memesphere' or noosphere, a coexisting realm with the sense-realms (physical reality), but that arises from the activity of minds.

I would argue rebirth in Buddhist thought aims at finding the 'Middle Way' between seeing everything we are as ending with death, which ignores how much of what we do has consequences and even aims outside of our lifespan, and transmigration of an unchanging soul, which denies meaning and significance to our experiences. There is a doctrinal emphasis in Buddhist thought on the contemplation of teachings, rather than faith in them (see for example the Kalama Sutra). So I would argue rebirth in Buddhist thought functions as a thought-experiment, which aims to draw attention to moral consequences of actions have significance even if they won't affect us, and even without awaiting judgement by deity/ies who know all our secrets.

So I would say no, it is a distraction and counterproductive to focus on precise details and mechanisms of rebirth, in the example you suggest, or by other means. 'The precise workings of karma' is declared one of the Acinteyya, the imponderables or indeterminate questions. It tends to focus on manipulating future benefits, rather than the spiritual development of recognising our actions have consequences beyond our own lives.

Relevant further introduction to Buddhist thought here: Does Buddhism espouse reincarnation?

And more background on rebirth in Buddhism here:

Critique and criticism and counter to that, of the Karma doctrine of Indian religions?

If my parents hadn't gotten married, who would I be?

Is it rationally possible to believe in a sensationless soul after death?

Are there specifically Buddhist arguments against the eternal return of the same?

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  • thanks for yor thoughtful answer. Jul 16, 2022 at 13:56
  • But if reincarnation is "empifrically real" in the sense of Ian Stevenson so it could be the case that it is possible to investigate it scientifically. I am not saying to focus on my networks example to get a better karma. It should just be a toy model for describing a certain thing. Jul 16, 2022 at 14:03
  • Thanks for mentioning Acinteyya, very interesting, since I have come to a similar conclusion. Jul 16, 2022 at 14:05
  • @mathoverflowUser: I am definitely interested in it as a thought-experiment, but I don't think it's useful for understanding Hindu/Buddhist thought. I'd put it with Teleportation Paradoxes & the Ship of Theseus, as part of investigating our intuitions about identity, & what constitutes it. There is a risk of trying to force the fit of this into the 'rebirth box', in a way that misrepresents theology, while also ignoring science.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 16, 2022 at 14:30

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