Chrono-Transcendent Soul, The

A religious or philosophical belief that all beings share a single soul, which travels back and forth in time to inhabit each entity in turn.

Image from Bernd Helfert
The idea of an immaterial soul or spirit has been part of many belief systems since the start of recorded human history. Even after the first artificially intelligent entities were created, the idea of an insubstantial essence that can experience qualia subjectively persisted. In some belief systems only biological beings have true souls, while other thinking entities such as AIs and virtuals are soul-less zombies that only act as if they are conscious. In others even provolved animals are regarded as soulless.

But the great majority of belief systems which include the concept of a soul or spirit hold that all thinking beings possess some sort of immaterial component, usually defined as that part of the being which is aware of subjective experience. This immaterial soul is often described as immortal, existing after the thinking being has ceased to be physically active, and often as existing before the birth or creation of that entity as well. This extended existence poses certain questions about the number of available souls in the universe, since the number of thinking beings in the Terragen civilisation alone is very large and increasing all the time, and thanks to neurotechnology a particular individual mind can be copied if desired.

If every new instance of a copied mind requires a new soul to be installed, where does that soul come from? Some belief systems such as the One Soul movement and the Soul-Divisionists hold that the copied mind is bereft of a soul, or that it receives only a fraction of a soul which must be nurtured into wholeness. Other beliefs hold that there are an infinite, or nearly infinite, number of souls in the universe, and each new copy, intelligent agent, vec, provolve, human or transapient receives a new soul in the instant of its creation.

The idea that, instead of a multiplicity of souls, all thinking beings share a single soul, was first put forward in the early Interplanetary Age, and was particularly popular among early spiritually-inclined AIs. To be shared by every single conscious being, this single soul would need to travel back in time after the death or deactivation of any particular being to be incorporated into the mind of the next one. The single, universal soul therefore transcends time, a state known as chrono-transcendence.

This belief system parallels in some ways a concept put forwards by the Atomic Age theoretical physicist John Wheeler, who suggested (possibly in jest) that there was only one electron in the universe, passing backwards and forwards in time (when travelling backwards the electron would appear as a positron). Some believers in the chrono-transcendent soul say that when the soul travels back in time it appears as an anti-soul, an entity which might be dangerous to encounter.

Other ideas concerning the chrono-transcendent soul include the idea that an infinitely-extended Entity might travel only forward in time, yet still be capable of passing through every thinking being in the universe if the universe is cyclical and infinitely repeating. Even in a non-cyclical universe the possibility remains that an infinitely extended entity might be reincarnated in a future universe identical to this one which has emerged as a quantum fluctuation. In due course any particular soul would pass through every possible iteration of every possible universe and experience every possible lifetime within those iterations; this would require an infinite (or very large) number of available souls, rather than one, but over the lifespan of an eternal universe every soul would experience the same events as every other soul, although not necessarily in the same order.

If each eternally extended soul experiences all the events experienced by all of the others, why do they not remember any of those experiences? Some parascientific researches (particularly at the Millennium Institute of Zetetic Research) think that some memories are passed back and forth in time, and they have a certain number of apparently impressive cases of recovered memories (from both the past and the future) to support their case. But most mainstream analysis of these cases indicate that they are not statistically significant- in a civilisation as large as the Terragen Sphere many remarkable coincidences are certain to occur.

Many concepts of the survival of the immaterial soul in time and space see the eternal component as retaining few, or no memories of any former existence; this component is sometimes known as the subtle mind, or even the very subtle mind, or simply that the eternal component is by definition unknowable. Materialist philosophers tend to dismiss such concepts as unfalsifiable and not useful in any realistic sense, but some commentators point to vague statements made by various archai as possibly supporting the reality of immaterial and/or eternal components to consciousness.
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Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 30 April 2013.