Once again, my innitial reaction to the Question of the Week by @ecotrain was maybe not this time. Eventually, the more I thought about the topic, and the more posts of others I read, the more my own personal reply crystallized out, which I'm happy to share here. This week's question was If you could choose, what would you incarnate as in your next life?
Among The Most Common Answers
I have actually thought about this weird question quite a bit in my life. On occasion I even discussed it with others, who believe in reincarnation, and who don't think spending time on these matters is a waste of time. So when thinking about how to spend life in this ecosystem of ours, once my human body is being eaten up by fungi and nematodes, my favorite image was that of a raven in the grand canyon.
I've always loved big birds, whether they may be sea gulls, ravens, or birds of prey. It was the raven, however, that has always struck an interesting chord within me. Super intelligent, a bit mischievous, and a master of elaborate sounds, seeing this bird has always felt a bit like looking at myself. Also, the Grand Canyon (which is home to many ravens) is in fact such a complex system of canyons, that it would take years to explore it as a hiker, or even on horseback. When you have wings, however, it's a different story. So that's how this image emerged, and ever since I could not think of a better reply whenever this question came up.
Considering the Great Extinction
Moving a step further, let me take a look at my own life. I'm nowhere close to dying (though who can know when that piano may fall on one's head), so under normal circumstances I could assume to be around in my body for another half a century or so. Another fifty years??? Can you imagine what our world would look like at that point? Given the current prognoses, that may include massive heat-and cold spells, raging storms of magnitudes never before seen, an ever rising level of an acidic ocean of poisonous dead waters, and huge amounts of methane bubbling up from the permafrost, warming our atmosphere at a rate that dwarfs all our industrial output previously. All this would be accompanied by spectacular crop failures, as well as collapsing wild ecosystems, which make our failing industrial agriculture seem like a toddler's scraped knee.
Okay, I'm sorry for bringing up this whole horror scenario I get confronted with when reading environmental news. But, should this happen, I can assume ravens wouldn't be doing so well either, even in the Grand Canyon. Certainly, there are wild species who are anything but endangered. Coyotes, wood rats, raccoons, and yes, carrion birds are so good at adapting to our sprawling suburbs and landfills, that they are actually better off. But once the big piano falls (supposedly within the next half a century), even they will be heavily affected. The last few times this happened, the great majority (98%) of all species were lost.
Back to the Tardigrades
So assuming that I can manage to stay alive until the time when everyone else bites the dust, what would be left to reincarnate as? Well, let's see: there are a few swarthy comrades out there who seem to be able to survive the most adverse conditions: boiling heat or sub-zero cold? They are fine. Lack of air? Extreme pressure? Radiation? They're just chilling. All sorts of poisons and contaminants? Honestly, I don't know, I can only assume that there MUST be some things they don't like, but given their tenacious tendency, I bet they would survive any deadly substances.
What I'm talking about are the microscopic tardigrades, who are one of the few survivors of the previous great extinctions. So once we all kick the bucket, it is them that need to evolve into ... well, into everything else that eventually makes up the diversity of life we know. Coming back as a tardigrade is nothing bad. It simply means: now it's up to us to repopulate the world.
Cyber-evolution of Consciousness
Finally, there is another idea that may seem just as attractive to me as being a raven or even a tardigrade, provided that you could stretch the definition of life to include machines. What if we could start uploading our consciousness into the web? What if we managed to create cyborgs of human-machine hybrids? What if the internet itself reached singularity and started thinking and reacting like a sentient organism? Could any of these scenarios be considered life, meaning an option for reincarnation?
Maybe not in our current form, but I could totally see and accept that in the near future (in the next 50 years very probably) all this may be an option. And should the ecological world around us crumble, these machine-type lives may be what we could reincarnate into. Sure, it may seem all too future-horrific from our point of view, but once we're there it may all look differently. After all, once you realize you are alive, your form and abilities don't matter. And even if our current actions drag organic life completely down the drain, including our human selves, our electronic-mechanic creation would carry on our world. And depending on how far we bring it technologically, it may be much more powerful than a tardigrade.
Out of Our Hands
Ultimately, however, I believe that such a thing as reincarnation - should it exist at all - is completely out of our hands. We don't decide if we get to be born into a palace or the gutters, so we don't get to decide if we are born a raven, a tardigrade, or a piece of self-aware software. However, in the end we must perform our function to the best of our abilities, furthering that great plan - if there ever was one - of our individuals, our species, and our world as a whole.