Can reincarnation be scientifically proven?


One quick note regarding the suspension of belief.

From the pragmatic perspective I sketched out above, it doesn’t really matter if one “believes” or one with-holds judgment and yet decides to act as if rebirth was true. Both options basically have the same ethical and soteriological outcome.

Since “belief” is a nebulous and difficult thing to quantify and is always perilous, I would say deciding to act ethically as if rebirth were true is the most important element of this doctrine, not exactly the “beliefs” themselves.


@lankaputra Just for efficiency, could you please take a look at Energy - Wikipedia and tell me what aspects of that are not clear to you? And as a hint of where to focus, please follow the link to Physical property - Wikipedia


All i get is something is conserved, and that thing is called energy. It doesn’t seem to say what it is ?


The definition is given first
“In physics, energy is the quantitative property that must be transferred to an object in order to perform work on, or to heat, the object.”
Don’t go on to the next sentence about conservation until you understand the definition.
If there are terms that you don’t understand in the definition, then tell me (or better, look up their definitions, try your best to understand them, and then tell me what you don’t understand.)
I’m sorry, but I can’t provide a complete physics course in this thread, and I’m not a great teacher in any case.
I’ll do my best to provide hints, but without any information about your background, I don’t know what gaps need to be filled, or what examples would make sense to you.
Hint: in both experiment and in theory, the significant thing is the energy difference between two states, not, in general, any sort of total energy.
Example 1. If energy is transferred to an object by doing work on it (a force is applied over a distance, e.g. an object falling in a gravitational field), then the increase in energy (in this case kinetic energy, (1/2) * mass * velocity ^2 ) is equal to the work done.
Example 2. If thermal energy is transferred to an object (e.g. by some part of it undergoing an exothermic chemical reaction), then there is an increase in heat. This can be measured indirectly by temperature, but then the calculation to get the heat change due to the temperature increase depends on properties of the material the object is made of. That one’s a lot hard to observe than the change in kinetic energy.

Final hint: energy is not something you can put in a bottle. There are not “particles” of energy (at least not in any theory of physics I have encountered). Energy is a property of states of physical systems, or more specifically a pair of states where the property of interest is the difference in energy of the two states.


I am sorry mam i must admit i had a nefarious intent in asking my question. :blush: I just have a hard time believing it when scientists say something is well-understood.

For example energy. It is a consequence of continuous time translation symmetry is it not ? (I am assuming concept of energy is useless without conservation) . Or in english " Laws of nature does not change over time". But even this long cherished scientific consensus is not beyond doubt.


I have a scientific background. I would say that one thing important to emphasize here, is science describes the material and physical world. Some parts of science describe energy and fairly subtle physical processes, but when it comes to things like consciousness, or even thought, the scientific method can only access that indirectly. Interestingly, scientists seem to have trouble even defining what consciousness is. Much of what the Buddha discussed cannot be tested scientifically and probably never will be able to be. I also don’t think it needs to be.


If only we had a tool that could discern something so subtle. :thinking: :wink:


I must admit I’m pretty pissed off about the subterfuge. I didn’t say anything about “beyond doubt”. I said well-understood. There is not anything in science that is beyond doubt. But there are degrees of certainty. Are you a climate-change or evolution denier also? Those are not beyond doubt. If you can’t discuss in good faith, I’m done.


I had a new-age friend who kept going on about “earth-energy”, but she couldn’t explain what it actually was.


@Whippet I was stuck in a car on a long drive with a guy who kept going on about his epiphany that money was just a form of energy. I mentioned that (fiat) money is created when banks loan out a percentage of their deposits, and that would violate conservation of energy. He got really annoyed, started yelling about “you scientists” who have co-opted “our word” (energy). I didn’t know the exact origin of the word, so I couldn’t respond at that time (probably wouldn’t have gone well anyway), but I did look it up later. (cf Historical Development of the Word “Energy” | Energy Fundamentals) The word (more precisely the Greek word that is the origin of the term in English) was coined by Aristotle in 3xx BC with the descriptive definition “Energy is a condition that describes the capacity to do work.”, and the word took on it’s modern scientific definition (the quantitative property that must be transferred to an object to perform work or heat the object) in the 19th century.

That is exactly the state of neuroscience - it is a field in infancy. That doesn’t mean at some point there won’t be a scientific definition of consciousness, and instruments capable of observing it. But those things are never going to provide an ethical framework by which we can live. I spent a lot of my life learning science and looking for meaning within it. I don’t regret what I learned, but I have stopped looking for meaning in it - it is not there.


No. There is a bleeding-edge physics hypothesis that relates continuous time translation symmetry to conservation of energy. Energy is not the “consequence” of continuous time translation symmetry. Energy is a term that is defined in Newtonion mechanics (which describes the world we experience through our senses) as “the quantitative property that must be transferred to an object to perform work or heat the object”. That has nothing to do with " continuous time translation symmetry".


Isn’t there a more fundamental derivation for energy ? This definition seems to me, more mystical than scientific.

I came across this in a reddit post:

continuous transformation to a physical system correspond to a certain associated quantity (called a “charge”) that “generates” the transformation. If a transformation is a symmetry, then the corresponding “charge” is conserved, which is Noether’s theorem.
Now, energy is defined as being the “charge” to time translation.


@lankaputra Physicists are always searching for more fundamental derivations. That will never end. But that’s theory. Newtonian mechanics was invented to described experimental observations (like the trajectories of cannonballs and planets). The concept of energy is part of that invention, but it describes a property that pervades the world we live in. Is the world we live in mystical? Yes, wonderfully so.


Why would you assume that? The laws of thermodynamics are scientific laws (cf. What Is a Scientific or Natural Law?). First you start with defining your observable quantities, then you make observations about those quantities. If you observe conservation of a particular quantity, then you are justified to formulate a conservation law about it. Then someone makes an observation under special circumstances where that quantity is not conserved. Is your law now useless? In mathematics, it would be - one counterexample show the statement is false. But this is science, not mathematics. Laws are not discarded when they are found to be violated under special circumstances, they are amended with conditions of validity. (cf. Conservation of mass - Wikipedia)


I think this is where I have ended up as well. Its interesting, but science doesn’t go nearly as far as most people think it does. I think there’s a tendency in our society to be enamored with science and how fast it is advancing, but the truth is it is still extremely limited in terms of contributions to us spiritually or psychologically.


IMO it is possible to patch up the whole eternal creator god (or Brahma oneness underlying the universe) idea to make it at least consistent and coherent (of course, ideas like beings having to burn in hell for eternity, by definition not a very benign thing, or that only adherents to a particular narrow credo go to heaven, all have to be chucked out). There are even various work-arounds to the whole “problem of evil” issue.

That’s not an issue Buddhism has to deal with (given the lack of a creator). Though the rather unique but delicate middle path that Buddhism treads between simple annihilationism and eternalism isn’t without its own problems. Rebirth then, I think, must arise as a property of the universe we live in (not resulting from there being a Brahma/Creator and associated souls; in some respects reincarnation mechanics are easier in an eternalist system, e.g. Vedanta).

Rebirth mechanics is rather a faith-based thing too at this point. I don’t think current physics rules it out. For example, ideas like panpsychism, panexperientialism, cosmopsychism (all examining the idea the conscious or experience is a fundamental property of all matter) are being seriously considered by serious people these days (though whether this is just a fad is another question)! Physics is weird and I don’t think we have anything near a comprehensive fundamental understanding yet.

Buddhism also has its own credo in a sense (right view and unshakeable faith in the triple gem being a prerequisite and precursor to full enlightenment; though, I suppose this is described as perhaps first arising from a direct experiential realization, resulting in stream entry, and then resulting perfect faith). But, playing devil’s advocate, maybe that can happen in other faiths also: adherent has some mystical experience of oneness, which then results in unshakeable faith in that oneness?


That is exactly how rebirth reveals its logical status: it’s an axiom, not a claim or a hypothesis. Rebirth is assumed, not deduced. You can’t prove it, you can’t disprove it - it’s just a necessary pillar for the traditional dhamma-building to stand on.


In the end, all views - including views about future states of existence or non-existence - are fetters:

Now, one who is cleansed
has no theorized view
about states of becoming
or not, anywhere
in the world.
Having abandoned conceit & illusion,
by what means would he go?
He isn’t involved,
for one who’s involved
enters into disputes
over doctrines.
But how—in connection with what—
would you argue
with one uninvolved?
He has nothing
embraced or rejected,
has sloughed off every view
right here—every one.

Sutta Nipata 4.3

Abandoning what he’d embraced,
not clinging,
he doesn’t make himself dependent
even in connection with knowledge;
doesn’t follow a faction
among those who are split;
doesn’t fall back
on any view whatsoever.
One who isn’t inclined
toward either side
—becoming or not-,
here or beyond—
who has no entrenchment
when considering what’s grasped among doctrines,
hasn’t the least
theorized perception
with regard to what’s seen, heard, or sensed.
By whom, with what,
should he be pigeonholed
here in the world?
—this brahman
who hasn’t adopted views.
They don’t theorize, don’t yearn,
don’t adhere even to doctrines.

Sutta Nipata 4.5


I can add my everyday-speech blue collar translation/summation of the Heart Sutra to this:

Śāriputra, none of these dharmas can hit for shit.
-Āryāvalokiteśvarabodhisattva (paraphrase)


I really like the opening of this sutta.

There are some who dispute
    corrupted at heart,
and those who dispute
    their hearts set on truth,
but a sage doesn’t enter
a dispute that’s arisen,
which is why he has no rigidity
        anywhere at all.