is Now a Scientifically Acceptable Phenomenon
by Dr. Granville
(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
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
the new theory,
c) use the
theory to predict observations that we should be able to make if the theory is
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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".