A short piece of science fiction by Peter Burton
Scientist: Captain, you must look at this.
Captain: What are you showing me?
S: The first analysis is through from the latest earth we’ve found.
C: Tell me, what is it you lot do again?
S: My team is from the Department of Pantheological Ontology, and we’ve been charged with measuring Soul Units. They’re the basic unit of life force. One life equals one Soul Unit You may have heard them called Units of Consciousness. Basically, we’re looking to see how life and consciousness inhabit these new earths on a global scale, as a totality of being. For example, here we have looked at the total number of Soul Units – the living entities – on Earth-03.
C: Get on with it. What are you showing me?
S: This line here, you see can see it’s flat. Completely flat. Horizontal as it goes from left to right.
C: I know how a graph works.
S: Yes, of course, Captain. Well, from left to right, along the x-axis, is time. The scale I’m showing you is two years.
C: So the number of Soul Units, that is the number life forms, is staying constant over time. That can’t be right. That would mean nothing was dying or being born. You’ve made a mistake.
S: Not likely. I’ve had the data triple-checked independently.
C: And you’ve recalibrated the instruments?
C: You understand that I have my doubts about whether these measurements can be true.
S: There is another explanation.
C: Go on.
S: When the life and death rate is considered for all living things, they match. Exactly. One in, one out. That is, when something dies something is born.
C: So, there is a limit for the number of living organisms on this earth?
S: Yes, but also a minimum. It’s as if there is an exact number of souls that cannot be destroyed, only recycled. Like energy.
C: You’re talking reincarnation here, right?
C: Are there humanoids on this planet? Intelligent life?
S: Yes. Human’s actually, but they’re still pre-civilisation. It’s essentially Earth but tens of thousands of years ago.
C: What’s the resolution of your measurements? What the simplest life form with a Soul Unit.
S: Bacteria, Captain. Viruses have no measurable Soul Unit. No consciousness.
C: So a human could be reincarnated as a bacterium, a single-celled organism? Is that what you’re telling me?
S: It’s almost inevitable given the numbers. Humans, and the rest of intelligent life, comprise an almost non-existent proportion of the Soul Units when compared to bacteria. You’re far more likely to end up as a bacterial cell in a human than an actual human.
C: Are you telling me each bacterial cell is equivalent to a human in terms of Soul Unit measurement?
S: On this earth, yes. They each have an independent life force of the same magnitude. But this doesn’t mean everything has the same level of awareness.
C: Doesn’t it?
S: Actually, I’m not sure, to be honest.
C: So what you’re telling me is that here, on Earth-03, every soul is destined for an eternity as a bacterium with the odd blip as something else.
S: That’s correct.
C: This earth is messed up.
S: That’s correct too.
C: What about our earth? The Earth.
S: I don’t know. That information has been classified. Even from you, I’m afraid, Captain.
C: Look into it.
S: I’ll try.
C: So now you’re saying every planet that has life is not just Earth-like, it is Earth?
S: Yes, in a way they are, Captain. The geography is certainly the same, as is the proximity to a star the same magnitude and age as our sun. They are in different stages of development, though, different eras if you like, but we have yet to find one that is pre-human. And any we find with a developed culture show differences in forms of governance, religion, science. But they are broadly similar in essence. The most significant difference, in my opinion, is the variation in terms of Soul Unit measurements.
C: So what’s the deal with the latest earth?
S: The Soul Unit measurements are off the scale.
C: Teaming with life then, is it?
S: No more than any other Earth.
C: So what gives?
S: I’ve made you some maps of the Soul Unit measurements so you can visualise where on each earth the individual Soul Units are. For a comparison take a look at Earth-14. Here, humans are the only organism with Soul Units, when we zoom into a country you can see that each dot represents a living human. But if we take, say Earth-03 again, where all life forms have a Soul Unit then you can see, because of the prevalence of bacteria, there is a good coating of Soul Units pretty much everywhere. But there are gaps, at the poles, areas on mountain peaks, deserts. If they were more advanced you would find gaps in sterile facilities, nuclear reactors, even in jam jars. Now, with this latest earth, Earth-18, there are no gaps, even at the molecular level. Every atom of everything – cats, dogs, rocks, handbags, tables, grains of sand, you name it – has its own Soul Unit measurement.
C: So everything is alive? Matter is alive?
S: To some degree, measurements are more intense in more complex items, life being the most complex and most intense. It’s called panpsychism: all matter, at every level, has an element of consciousness.
C: How is anything delineated? What does that mean for those that live down there?
S: Their civilisation is not very advanced as we would classify it; there are no cities or industry. The humans spend most of their time meditating while chewing psychedelic herbs.
C: That sounds pretty advanced to me.
S: I haven’t told you about Earth-17 yet, have I?
S: Earth-17 has no Soul Units?
C: So, no life?
S: It has plenty of life, just like any other earth. Everyone is getting on with their daily business as normal. However, they are essentially zombies. But functional ones; indistinguishable from us except they are aware of nothing. Their brains are just input-output processing machines.
C: Lucky them.
S: However, I did find one difference while studying their fairly advanced knowledge base and culture. They don’t ever talk about or study consciousness. I believe that because they lack first-person awareness there is no way to know that it can exist. It just doesn’t come up as a topic let alone a possibility.
C: As I said, lucky them.
C: What’s going on with all these earths?
S: Looks like some kind of trial and error, Captain. An experiment, perhaps.
C: It does seem like that.
S: The different earths resemble mutations. They each show a variation on the principle of how some kind of life force – consciousness – is distributed.
C: Is there a form of selection going on? Evolution?
S: We don’t know yet. Have you tried to land on any of the earths?
C: We have, but it’s not possible.
C: When we get close to each earth’s atmosphere, the planet disappears. At least for the vessel approaching it. We can observe them from a distance, but we can’t interact.
S: So they’re somewhere else? Another dimension?
C: Who knows? Maybe we’ve stumbled upon God’s workshop.
S: Or God’s playground.
C: It makes you wonder whether life is just a form of beta-testing, doesn’t it?
C: Don’t tell me, in this earth only the antennae of ants are conscious. No, it’s hotdogs. Only hotdogs feel.
S: I think that would be a blessing to the inhabitants on this earth, Captain. Although, I should really have said inhabitant. Singular.
C: Interesting Go on.
S: There’s one Soul Unit and it’s human. But this one Soul Unit is shared between all humans and it seems to have been the case as far we can measure back in time.
C: What do you mean, shared between them? Is it a global consciousness?
S: No. The whole population, at all times past and present, has the same Soul Unit. They share it, all at the same time and at every time, but it’s the same Soul Unit.
C: You’re going to have do better than that.
S: Ok. There’s one Soul Unit on this planet, one consciousness, one awareness. One person, if you prefer. And this Soul Unit, this person, is reincarnated upon death into another human. But reincarnation is time-independent on this earth. It doesn’t require a waiting room limbo or exact coordination of death and birth like Earth-03. The Soul Unit – the consciousness – can be reincarnated at any point in time. But because there is only one soul, it means there is only one life to live all the lives. Everything is experienced by one soul who is eventually reincarnated into every life – past, present and future. She is her own Mother, at some point; the torturer, his victim.
C: Do they realise this? Rather, does it realise this? If they do, then they must be a very virtuous people. Person. God, this is awkward. What I’m trying to say is that if I am you and you are me we’re not going to wrong each other, are we? We’re not going to cause each other any harm.
S: The single consciousness concept has come up numerous times in their culture, but it remains just that: a concept. One not taken very seriously.
C: Oh dear, that’s not going to be a pleasant realisation.
S: No, not considering what they’ve been doing to each other all this time.
C: Bad is it?
C: Anything else? Do they at least have democracy?
S: Yes, there are allusions to a form of it in some countries. Civilisation is relatively advanced compared to some of the earths. They’re in the nuclear age. Three main belief systems dominate religion: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Most people refer to their current year as 2019. The three most powerful nations are called America, Russia and China.
C: What strange names.
S: Here, have a look at a brief history of their earth I’ve generated.
C: This is horrendous. What were they thinking?
S: It’s a tough read, I know.
C: Do you remember when I asked you about what was going on with our earth?
S: Yes, Captain. I’m looking into it.
C: Don’t bother. Looking at this earth, and knowing what that poor bugger has had to go through, I rather not know.