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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 particles.

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 absolute precision.

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 procedure.

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 relevant phenomenon,

b) formulate the new theory,

c) use the theory to predict observations that we should be able to make if the theory is correct, and

d) look for these predicted observations.

Richard Feynman, Noble Laureate for Physics, describes this process in detail. He combines steps "a" and "b" and describes it as a three step process.

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.

A large amount of data has been accumulated by research workers around the world on matters relating to reincarnation.

 Spontaneous Recall of Past Lives:

 Most 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

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 subject.


Child prodigies and others who can use past life knowledge and experiences;

The 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.
 One of 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.

gathered in 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 Steiner says,
"Just 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".






Update: 01-09-2003

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