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Can reincarnation be scientifically proven?


#1

Bhonto!

How do you believe in reincarnation?

Can it be proven scientifically?

Thanks in advance for your discussion.

May you live healthy and happy always! :anjal:


#2

Intuitively, it makes sense to me.

Maybe.

According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed; nature creates new life from old life. Further, some theories suggest that we may live in a multiverse. Loosely connecting these dots, rebirth seems very possible.

I’m generally open-minded about beliefs. If a belief proves to have personal benefits, makes sense on an intuitive level, and doesn’t cause any harm, I’ll consider it.

I try to avoid the extremes of nihilism or dogmatism. I feel that denying everything, or clinging to what we “know”, leaves little room for new or seemingly counterintuitive information. Breakthroughs can only be realized with an open mind.

A talk with Bhikkhu Analāyo that may be of interest:


#3

I’m agnostic. I’ve had some odd memories and deja-vu type experiences which might be suggestive of previous lives, or might just be the result of an over-active imagination. :yum:

I doubt it. On the other hand I don’t see how it can be disproven.


#4

Maybe someone would correct me the the appropriate term is rebirth. Reincarnation is hinduism and refers to those joining god after lifetimes of self growth. Rebirth is ending Samara by self growth. Both can take lifetimes. God is a huge difference between the two events.

I do believe rebirth is real. I’m still learning about it myself. The best way I learn is to see it as living with less attachments instead of seeing it as an afterlife thing. When you see yourself coming back to attachment (can’t type fast so words are short) you are basically recycling on earth.

The idea is that there is no death. Our minds, the function of our life, is one continuos changing sense of identity. A continues result of karma without a soul or fixed person to experience it.

Since all things recycle and nothing disappears, which is scientific, why would we think life stops just because we don’t have Our bodies to experience it?

I can’t think of the right words. The Buddha did mention about a fire burning. When we aren’t living dharma we continue to put gas on the fire. The burning has no time frame. Once we stop putting gas on it, the fire ceases. Rebirth is the fire burning not the result or place after the fire goes out.

There is a sutta on this I’ll get later.

Sorry for the long reply. Love talking about Dharma.


#5

There’s the work of Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker. Ian Stevenson’s methods have been roundly criticised by most of the scientists who have investigated his findings (according to a BBC radio documentary I heard some years ago).

We tend to disprove things scientifically, rather than prove them. The “single life theory” may be possible to disprove scientifically. So how would we go about that? What has been suggested so far is that we would want a subject to come up with clear memories from a past life. I imagine the experiments would be rather unethical at present. It would probably entail isolating children from picking up any information regarding their pre-deceased selves. Maybe that could be carried out in the future once we start embedding monitoring technology into babies, toddlers and children. At least we could rule out if they got the information from another more traditional source.

But even if a child (or a Buddha or you or me) does successfully ‘recollect a past life’, who is to say if it was their own past life or someone else’s life and that they are seeing through the others eyes? Now this would be remarkable - actually putting yourself into the (echo of the) body of someone who lived in the past. But it does not suggest that you lived that actual life before. So I guess we would need to come up with something better than Ian Stevenson’s criteria.


#6

Thank you so much for your reply. I love this.


#7

Interesting. Thank you.


#8

Thanks for the correction. :slight_smile:


#9

:smile: Thanks for your reply. We’re similar in this stage.


#10

Thanks for your reply!

Your way of proving is highly theoretical. Is there any experimental science to back up?


#11

How do you believe anything?

Not with the state of the art science. Science involves measuring phenomenon, reproducing phenomenon under controlled conditions, and picking the least fantastic explanation to fit a phenomenon.

FWIW, Buddhists don’t believe in reincarntation ( same soul, new life ), they believe in rebirth ( no soul, one person’s unfinished karma & memories shaping a completely new life )


#12

Thanks for correction about reincarnation. :slight_smile:


#13

I find that the pragmatic wager type argument which one can find in Kalama sutta and others is the strongest and most reasonable argument.

While the argument from yogic perception and personal experience might convince some people, it is not one which would pass muster with most philosophers and it is ultimately not really “rational” in the classic sense of the term. However, that doesn’t mean that one couldn’t prove it scientifically, its just that there is not enough evidence at present to prove it (though there is some evidence, it is pretty weak, such as Stevenson and Tucker’s studies, etc).

Combined with a good refutation of materialist reductionism and emergentism though, the pragmatic argument seems pretty strong to me. There is no way to truly know what happens after death, but one has to believe something. Even choosing a radical skeptical position is making a choice. Since we are in this position (this assumes that one rejects modern materialist positions which hold consciousness is reduced to matter as unsatisfactory), then one should choose the view that could lead to the least amount of suffering for oneself and others in the sum of all possible worlds. In this sense, the wager argument presented by the Buddha in Kalama etc is a good pragmatic argument (similar to Jamesian pragmatism) for accepting rebirth. This “wager” looks like this:

The best option is having rebirth as a working hypothesis or a kind of hypothetical imperative, live as if rebirth was true and even if it isn’t, its still a good view to live by (one lives peacefully, blamelessly, praised by others, less fear of death etc) , if it is however, one has chosen rightly.


#14

The problem with wager arguments is that you can give similar and equally compelling (or uncompelling) arguments for believing in, and acting on, the theories of post-mortem existence, punishment and reward proposed by several other religions too.


#15

Well, I think that the Buddhist rebirth view is much more morally consistent than say, the Hindu view which says that there is a special class of people who can kill living beings (Bhagavad gita etc). And Monotheistic views cannot reasonably answer the problem of inconsistent revelations or multiple gods. But the Buddhist view is on more consistent and stronger foundations.

It’s based on a global attitude of non-harming and not causing suffering and applies this to all beings, across all possible worlds. So while the other views all make use of special pleading (only those who believe in my god have rewards, some people like kattiyas etc are exempt from certain moral laws), the Buddhist view does not. In that sense, it is more consistent and rational, and thus more compelling than others which can be shown to have morally repugnant conclusions (good people going to hell because they did not believe in x god, one is allowed to kill one’s relatives if one is part of the warrior caste, etc).

So I still think its best rational option. Note that this doesn’t seek to promote all of Buddhism, just the Buddhist view of rebirth, which is quite a simple one compared to others. One could presumably see the logic of this and accept the view, but not be a Buddhist.


#16

I don’t think that’s correct. There is nothing more or less plausible about Christian, Islamic or other heavens and hells in comparison to Buddhist heavens and hells. All of these speculations and conceptions are faith-based.


#17

They are less plausible because they contain special pleading, “only my god’s followers will go to heaven”.

The Buddhist view is just based on simple non-harming and reduction of suffering. If one accepts moral realism, that there are good and bad actions, then this should apply to everyone and belief in a specific god should not matter. And of course, their view also relies on further arguments to establish the existence of a god, and to establish their revelations are correct, arguments which can be shown to be irrational. The Buddhist does not rely on these, just on a simple wager regarding moral realism and its results.


#18

Not all versions of Christianity promote the same conception of the qualifications for eternal bliss. Not all Christians believe God reserves eternal reward for those who adhere to his cult.

But more importantly, the fact that you find one teaching about the moral dynamics of post-mortem existence to be morally preferable to others does not provide any evidence for thinking that the universe functions according to your moral preferences.

It might be psychologically natural, in one sense, for human beings to wish that the kind will receive future rewards and the mean will receive future punishments, but to project those preferences onto the universe might just be wishful thinking.


#19

Not all versions of Christianity promote the same conception of the qualifications for eternal bliss. Not all Christians believe God reserves eternal reward for those who adhere to his cult.

This is good, and if they hold a more neutral view, then they would be in accord with the Buddhist view.

But more importantly, the fact that you find one teaching about the moral dynamics of post-mortem existence to be morally preferable to others does not provide any evidence for thinking that the universe functions according to your moral preferences.

Since this is a pragmatic argument for holding the view of rebirth, it is not supposed to prove that rebirth is true, that is not what a pragmatic arguments set out to do. Rather, they promote certain views as being the most useful and helpful, and see this as being good. So its not the same kind of argument as other rationalistic or empirical arguments that try to establish the truth of something independently.

So while I agree with what you are saying regarding wishful thinking, I disagree that pragmatic arguments are just purely wishful thinking. When one has no rational reasons to believe one idea over another (in this case ideas about the afterlife), then I think that pragmatic arguments are useful for helping one choose one’s views. After all, one has to believe something, and even choosing to be a kind of skeptic is making a choice to believe something about this issue. So the question is, what is the most useful thing to believe in this case. This is were wager arguments like the Buddha’s come in.


#20

I don’t think people can really “choose” what view to have. You might think, as a result of some kind of Pascalian or Jamesian argument that it would be good for you to adopt a certain belief. But if that belief does not accord with your instinctual sense of what is real and what isn’t, then attempting to put it on like a suit of clothes will be futile.

Anyway, I try to avoid these kinds of worries, and follow the instructions to relinquish craving and overcome fear, including with regard to possible future states of being.