NPJ Book Review: Zen Physics, The Science of Death, The Logic of Reincarnation by David Darling

Some filtered thoughts. David Darling, astrophysicist, begins this elegant and thoughtful work (1996) with the following:

“Your death became a future fact at the moment a particular sperm cell from your father united with a particular ovum inside your mother. At that instance your personal hourglass was upturned and the sands of your life began to fall. Now no matter how hard you try to stay vigorous in body and mind, it will not affect the final outcome. No amount of progress to combat the effects of aging, through drugs, through surgery, or other means, can do more than briefly postpone the inevitable. Your body is destined progressively to wear out and ultimately to fail. And then what?”

Core to this work is the role of (Zen) consciousness. Are we more than a temporary aggregation of chemicals and cells? Darling describes in detail the deterioration of the physical body. He walks the readers through science of inevitable decay. He addresses our evolution that has led the brain to achieve a significant self-centeredness for survival. As such the brain (the self) began to see itself as an agent. We evolved into both objects and objectivers. Humanity, particularly from a Western philosophical tradition leaned toward a materialistic view of existence.

The author moves beyond the arguments of evolutionary biologists and states – “the brain does not give rise to consciousness,” the brain being an organ of thought and memory. The author shares a point that is often overlooked – “there is absolutely no reason why you should have to be conscious.”

 The biology of the brain doesn’t stipulate that it be conscious. The divide between neural events and consciousness, brain and mind is a different story. For the author, “consciousness is not the product of the brain, …in other words, “to try to explain consciousness in terms of the mechanisms of thought, the activities of neurons, is to miss the whole point about consciousness.”  Darling’s approach is from an eastern philosophical, Zen perpective.

The work has an intriguing appeal for those caught in the meaning of life and death and meaninglessness. The author suggests the arguments that consciousness arose from human evolution of the brain does not answer why, let alone how.  He notes that death is like a “spring cleaning” of the brain. Our current self will be replaced. The self is that which is tied to our body and mind is an illusion.  Consciousness itself doesn’t die. And within that consciousness is the concept of rebirth and reincarnation. Our physical death is just the death of the current self. “We are part of an endless, unfolding process.” The challenge for those seeking to affirm their belief such as in resurrection will be disappointed. Still, beliefs will remain unchanged. People can tolerate only much reality, but as Darling points out, research suggests there is no oblivion…only the continuing non-material consciousness. “Death is where the individual and cosmos meet.”