is Now a Scientifically Acceptable Phenomenon
by Dr. Granville
Dharmawardena, University of Colombo
(Based on a Scientific paper presented at the
52nd Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of
Science, November 1996)
In the seventeenth century when Rene Descartes divided everything in the
universe into two realms as "Res Extensa" (matter) and "Res Cogitans"
(mind), gathering knowledge within the realm of Res Extensa was called
Science and the phenomenon of reincarnation got pushed into the other
realm Res Cogitans which was condemned to be not respectable and not up to
the dignity of Scientists to probe into. Science was considered the
respectable realm to study.
All important and respectable knowledge of the universe was thus
restricted to science which was restricted to the study of the aspects of
the universe that are measurable. Scientists accepted that the universe
consisted essentially of "objects" leading to the belief that the ultimate
realities of the universe are things and not beings. It was believed that
everything in nature could be explained in terms of interactions of matter
Science developed in this framework is known as "Classical Science".
Classical Science had great material success because it helped to develop
technology which brought about wealth and material benefits to mankind. It
helped the West to colonise the rest of the world and acquire economic
dominance and political influence.
The frame work of Classical Science was punctured by Henry Becquerel
exactly hundred years ago, in 1896, by the discovery of Radioactivity.
Albert Einstein cracked it at the beginning of this century by discovering
the theory of relativity. It was totally blasted by the advent of Quantum
Theory and the Uncertainty Principle. It is noteworthy that Einstein's
discovery falls entirely within the realm of Res Cogitans as it did not
involve any experiments or measurements.
In classical science scientists made idealised mental pictures of the
phenomena to be understood. Imagined mechanisms were usually presented to
make various phenomena and relationships between them understood. But as
Modern Science boosted man's knowledge transcending the limitations
imposed by the five senses and took us to murky areas of nature, profound
changes had to be introduced to procedures in science. Our ability to
understand everything by way of perceptible mental pictures diminished and
it became necessary to imagine models with components which behaved in
ways that had no counterparts at all in the world familiar to us.
Mechanisms involved in these models in most instances not only are
invisible but also consist of elements that operate in ways never known in
the world that we actually experience through our five senses.
For example a single electron can pass through two different holes on a
screen at the same time and still remain a single particle on the other
side. If we use some mechanism such as flashing a light on the electron to
observe through which hole it passes, then it will pass only through one
of the two holes. Mechanisms of such phenomena are beyond our imagination
at least at present. Mathematical models devoid of pictorial content which
are typical of modern science resulted from attempts to fit the concepts
of atoms and waves to the discoveries made at the end of the 19th century
which led to the quantum theory. Classical science usually stood for
absolute precision where as modern science stands for impossibility of
Modern science joined up the two realms, Res Extensa and Res Cogitans and
made us to understand that the universe cannot be broken up into two
independent arbitrary realms as Res Extensa and Res Cogitans. They are not
independent and cannot be studied completely independently. Within the
establishment of modern science some of the aspects of nature that did not
strictly adhere to the realm of Res Extensa, which were therefore earlier
condemned as unbecoming of scientists to talk about have become
respectable. Reincarnation falls into this category. Therefore scientists
now have the professional clearence to scientifically investigate
reincarnation. This paper does not distinguish between subtle differences
among reincarnation, rebirth and rebecoming.
If reincarnation is to be examined from an unbiased scientific point of
view, it is necessary first of all to find a way of bypassing such
unscientific barriers as religious bias. This can be done by considering
the standard procedure used at present for the acceptance of any modern
scientific theory and testing reincarnation by following the same
Geremy Hayward has described how one ventures to deal with a new theory.
He describes this procedure as a four step scientific process as follows;
a) study the
b) formulate the
c) use the theory
to predict observations that we should be able to make if the theory is
d) look for these
Richard Feynman, Noble Laureate for Physics, describes this process in
detail. He combines steps "a" and "b" and describes it as a three step
If the observations made in the last step do not agree with the
predictions of the earlier step the proposed theory is not acceptable. If
they agree the theory becomes acceptable. If more and more observations
show agreement the theory receives stronger scientific acceptance. Once a
theory becomes scientifically accepted by this test it remains so unless
someone finds reliable new data to prove its unacceptability.
Reincarnation is a very old belief and a large fraction of the world
population believes it. For example Rene Descartes' statement "What I have
said is sufficient to show clearly enough that the extinction of the mind
does not follow from the corruption of the body and also to give men the
hope of another life after death." in 1641 confirms his belief in
reincarnation. About 20 percent of those in the Western World whose
religions shun reincarnation nevertheless believe it. According to opinion
polls this percentage is rising.
Hence the phenomenon of reincarnation is already known and therefore the
steps "a" and "b" are already there. In examining the scientific
acceptability of reincarnation therefore one has only to go through the
last two steps of the above scientific process. If this is done
successfully the scientific acceptability of reincarnation is proved in
the way any other theory of modern science is proved.
Reincarnation may be defined as the re-embodiment of an immaterial part of
a person after a short or a long interval after death, in a new body
whence it proceeds to lead a new life in the new body more or less
unconscious of its past existences, but containing within itself the
"essence" of the results of its past lives, which experience goes to make
up its new character or personality. Thus, infancy brings to earth not a
blank scroll for the beginning of a new earthly record, but it is
inscribed with ancestral histories, some like the present scene, most of
them unlike it and stretching back into the remote past.
Reincarnation is an issue of utmost importance, one that promises to touch
the ordinary man, woman and child in a profound and far reaching way.
Crime statistics show that convictions are much lower among those who
believe in reincarnation than among the others. If scientifically
accepted, reincarnation will have a stake in defining human identity in
the 21st century.
There are two possible scenarios, No-Reincarnation scenario and
Reincarnation scenario that can be considered. Human being is composed of
the body and an immaterial part. The body which is the material part is
well understood because it fell within the Classical Science realm of Res
Extensa and was extensively studied by scientists. The immaterial part has
not been studied by scientists because it fell within the Classical
Science realm of Res Cogitans.
In the No-Reincarnation scenario death is something like the Event Horizon
of a black hole. Crossing the event horizon is a one way journey and after
crossing it nothing can come back, not even light. Here the body
disintegrates after death and the immaterial part either annihilates or
gets into a scientifically unknown state and remains there for ever, ie.
each individual is borne, lives one life time and at the end of it passes
the event horizon of death to a state of no return.
In the Reincarnation scenario death is not an event horizon because only
the body, the material part, disintegrates and goes into a state of no
return. The immaterial part enters into a scientifically unknown state and
reappears, after a period.
The above description of the phenomenon of reincarnation constitute steps
"a" and "b" of the scientific process. The next step of the scientific
process is looking for observations that can be predicted assuming the
existence of this phenomenon, observations that have a reasonable chance
of being practically examined.
Abilities of individuals to carry memories of past events differ widely
from individual to individual. Some people can remember events and
experiences of long past whereas some easily forget things within a few
years. Most people vividly remember special events such as tragic
happenings for a very long time, even up to death. Under hypnosis people
recollect events which they had completely forgotten. Some people have the
exceptional ability to recall knowledge and experiences gathered long ago
and use them when necessary. For example a friend of mine who had been
discussing Advanced Level Physics with me when he was studying for the GCE
AL exam long time ago, but never did any science there after escaped
injury in the Central bank bomb blast by instantaneously recalling his
memories discussing AL Physics. But others who had studied Physics more
recently lost their eyes because that memory didn't flash back to their
rescue at the time of impending disaster. As soon as my friend saw the
flash of the bomb blast from his window , AL Physics flashed back to his
mind and prompted to him that the shock wave comes a little while after
the flash. Instantaneously he threw himself back flat on the floor before
the shock wave blasted the window glasses.
If reincarnation as defined earlier is true it should be possible to
extend some of the above human capabilities, which result from immaterial
aspects of the human being, beyond birth to the previous life and even
beyond to earlier lives. Some people should be able to remember events in
their past lives. Hypnosis must enhance this ability. Some must be able to
make use of knowledge and experiences of past lives.
With these predictions we can move on to the last stage of the scientific
process, to look for these predicted observations.
large amount of data has been accumulated by research workers around the
world on matters relating to reincarnation.
Spontaneous Recall of Past Lives:
promising evidence bearing on reincarnation comes from the spontaneous
recall of past lives, especially by children. Often a child begins
fumbling at the age of two, or sometimes even less, to communicate his/her
memories of a previous life. A large number of such cases have been
investigated all over the world. For example Dr. Ian Stevenson, Carlson
Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia (the USA), has
investigated over 2000 such cases which are documented and published.
There are several other researchers who have carried out such
investigations on children who spontaneously recall past lives. Many of
these researchers belong to religions that do not accept reincarnation.
These children speak volubly, accurately
and with unswerving conviction about their previous lives and the
histories related have been verified. In most cases these children voice
their past life memories between the ages of two and five. They being
small are free of memories crowded with information of their current
lives. They often use phrases such as "when I was big" and often grumble
about their small bodies and even speak resentfully of not being of the
same sex as before. Often they yearn for the lost company of a husband,
wife, son or a daughter. They hanker for the food, clothing, life style or
sometimes even alcohol, drugs and tobacco of a former existence. They
suffer phobias that can be linked directly to their unexpected deaths in
their past lives ie. fear of knives, water, motor vehicles etc. The strong
identification felt by the subjects with the former personalities, the
powerful emotional attachment expressed by them towards surviving past
life relatives and friends, and the spontaneity of these usually help to
confirm the validity of such cases and exclude the possibility of fraud.
Past life therapy is based
on the premise that some people carry in their subconscious mind memories
of unpleasant events of their past lives and these subconscious memories
adversely affect them in their present lives. By hypnosis they can be
regressed beyond their birth to their previous lives or even to earlier
lives. Many ailments, all types phobias and even certain physical ailments
can be cured by such hypnotic regression. Past life therapy has now become
a standard western medical treatment for such ailments. The first highly
publicised case of hypnotic regression to past life was that of Bridey
Murphy in 1952 in the USA when this subject was still in its infancy.
Several books have been written on this subject by medical practitioners
who carry out such treatment. The interest of most of them is curing the
patients and only a few are interested in checking the information given
about past lives. But a large number has been checked and documented. When
regressed to past lives people often speak in languages they had spoken in
their past lives and completely unknown to them in their current lives.
For example an Australian girl may speak in an ancient Egyptian language
unknown in Australia or write in Egyptian stanzas inscribed in an ancient
Egyptian temple which she had frequented in her past life. They would
describe the setting in the past life in detail. Raymond Moody, MD. who is
a past life therapist got himself regressed and recalled nine of his
former lives. He has written a book giving his experiences on this
Child prodigies and
others who can use past life knowledge and experiences;
Roman philosopher, Cicero, maintained that the speed with which children
grasp innumerable facts is strong proof of men knowing most things before
birth. Since then the belief that genius is flowering of past life
experience held ground. Exceptional precautious talent of certain children
to pick up knowledge can be explained only by reincarnation. For example a
six year old child who had never played a musical instrument suddenly
playing near masterpieces on a piano or a three year old child mentally
following his father's calculations on his employees pay sheet and
spotting mistakes and later becoming one of the greatest mathematicians of
the century cannot be explained by any other way. The latest such person
reported is a four year old American girl who speaks three languages,
programs the home computer and reads Shakespere instead of trying to read
children's books. She has learned Japanese language entirely from books.
the best reported cases of people who can make use of knowledge gathered
in a past life is Jetsunma, a girl from a ghetto house in Brooklyn in the
USA beset with alcoholism, violence and abuse. Her mother is a Jewish
grocery store cashier and the step-father an Italian truck driver, both of
whom were alcoholics who mercilessly hammer the child daily. When the
mother was in a win situation she was dragged to the mother's church and
when the step-father was in the win situation she was dragged to his
church. When Jetsunma was 17 police advised her to leave home because it
was too dangerous to live together with the parents. She left home, got
married and produced a couple of children. Once she was freed of the
trauma of having to live with her parents, she acquired the capability to
teach Tibetan Buddhism at a very high level and built up a clientele. She
had never had any exposure to Buddhism. She did not know anything about
Tibet. She or her clients did not know that what she was teaching was
Buddhism. They had named it "Center for Discovery and New Life". Later she
met a Tibetan monk, visited Tibet and found that she is the reincarnate of
a former Tibetan monk. It was the knowledge that she had gathered in her
past life as a Tibetan monk that she was teaching. Anyone visiting
Washington can visit her Centre and meet her.
their past lives are some of the aspects that have been subjected to much
research and investigation.
The observations made on the
above areas agree with the predictions made in the third stage of the
scientific process thereby successfully completing the four step test for
scientific acceptability. No scientifically acceptable data that can go to
prove the scientific unacceptability of reincarnation have appeared in
scientific literature so far.
On the basis of
these tests it is concluded that the scientific acceptability of the
phenomenon of reincarnation is proven at least on three counts in terms of
the accepted principles of modern science.
A science minded person often
finds it difficult to accept reincarnation because he/she had failed to
perceive a reincarnation mechanism that is intelligible within the
outdated Decartes' classical science frame work. But Modern Science,
specifically Quantum Mechanics, has compelled us to accept unintelligible
mechanisms of natural phenomena like the behaviour of electrons and we do
not hesitate to accept them. Likewise with the data available we are
compelled to accept reincarnation as a reality.
Austrian Scientist Rudolf
as an age was once ready to receive the Copernican theory of the universe,
so is our age ready for the idea of reincarnation to be brought into the
general consciousness of humanity".