You (imaginary readers) must all think I've gone off the deep end... consorting with Buddhists and philosophizing. However, these are ideas I've held for a long time. My discussion with my family has merely given me a new context and a deeper understanding. The Buddha my brother in-law (Dave) presents was not a magical thinker, but more of an early scientist. Now this picture that he paints could, admittedly, be a minority interpretation of Buddha's words. For our purposes, though, it doesn't matter. In the event that Buddhism is all bullshit, we can just give Dave the credit for being wise.
Let's start with re-incarnation. I don't like using the word. To me, and to many others, it has a magical connotation. And for those of you who know me, you know how if feel about mystical thinking. But let's give Dave the benefit of the doubt, and suppose Buddha had a scientific reasoning. The idea is that, when we die, the stuff that makes us up doesn't just disappear. It decomposes in the ground, or is scattered into the ocean. It's not to hard to imagine the atoms that once made me up will become part of new life. Now this doesn't mean I get to be a cat in the future. The reason people jump to that, is because they think of themselves as a single entity.
Picture a wave. What makes a wave any different from the ocean? Nothing really. There is merely a natural event happening that we can see, and we've named it a wave. A striking parallel can be made to the life of a human being. For a short time, atoms from our environment come together in a natural process to form what we call a human. It continues along as nature has instructed until it dies. The atoms that made up that human become part of the environment again. Just like a wave merging back with the ocean. Another interesting parallel is that like waves, humans aren't even made of the same stuff at point B as they were at point A. And even though the stuff that makes us up changes all the time, we are still labeled as the same entity.
It may be difficult to understand, but it eventually brings you to the conclusion that we are all connected. The Earth and everything on it is just a cluster of atoms interacting and forming complex processes.
And if you truly want your mind blown, think of the universe as the ocean and the galaxy as the wave. The galaxy will have formed and died without much consequence to the rest of the universe. But it does matter. This galaxy is part of the universe and the natural processes it goes through makes an impact. For example, take this quote from Lawrence Kauss:
"The amazing thing is that every atom in your body, came from a star that exploded. And the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic think I know about physics. You are all stardust. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded..."
What Kauss is saying is that the only thing we know that is capable of creating the heavier atoms that make us up are stars. The heat inside of stars can fuse lighter atoms together. And the
extreme conditions of supernova are capable of creating still heavier atoms. If stars hadn't created Carbon and Oxygen and then spread those atoms across the universe when they exploded, we wouldn't be here. A star is just one of the many waves that came before us.
I know the metaphor is woefully poetic, but it allows you to see the universe in a new perspective. Everything is just a cluster of particles and their natural interactions.
"We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."
- Carl Sagan
As always, I welcome your comments and challenges.