Reincarnation is Now a Scientifically
by Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, University of
(Based on a Scientific paper presented at the 52nd Annual Sessions
of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, November 1996)
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.
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.
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.
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
a) study the relevant phenomenon,
b) formulate the new theory,
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.
Noble Laureate for Physics, describes this process in detail. He combines steps
"a" and "b" and describes it as a three step process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
A large amount of data has been accumulated by research
workers around the world on matters relating to reincarnation.
recall of past lives,
" past life therapy,
" child prodigies
and others who can make use of knowledge and experience
gathered in their
past lives are some of the aspects that have been subjected to much research and
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
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