Around 20% of the world believes in reincarnation, one of the oldest and most common spiritual beliefs in the world. With so many followers, and the many uncanny stories that hint at evidence for it, an open minded consideration is warranted of what the real-world implications would be if reincarnation really is a part of how reality actually works.
Much of the East, via Hinduism, Taoism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism follow the doctrine of reincarnation, while the West to a lesser degree has embraced it since the beliefs in metempsychosis by Ancient Greek philosophers like Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, and through the mystery traditions of Rosicrucianism, Gnosticism, and Kabballah.
As scientific materialism came in vogue and the West became increasingly atheistic, the idea of souls came to be seen as mumbo jumbo and woo-woo by the scientific mainstream. Since the consciousness shift of the 1960’s, New Ageism — largely inspired by Eastern religions- has increased in popularity, and with it, the belief in the transmigration of the soul has grown in popularity in the West since.
According to data released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2009 survey), not only do a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, but a quarter of American Christians believe in it.
If reincarnation were to be definitively proven true, what would the implications be on our understanding science and mathematics, on evolution and psychology, on the purpose of life and existence itself?
Tibetan Buddhists have a unique way of choosing a new Dalai Lama upon his death- according to their tradition, they seek out his reincarnation so that the same soul in a new body can reside over the position again. Monks engage in an elaborate process to locate the child, approach them, and subject him to tests to verify that he is indeed the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.
Maybe you’re convinced that the Dalai Lama selection process is a legitimate undertaking, or perhaps you lean towards the belief that it’s all an elaborate superstition. From the scientific perspective, this process should warrant further research to decide definitively. Given Buddhism’s predisposition towards the belief of reincarnation, it could be argued that this process is an example of confirmation bias- that the monks are driven and informed by their belief system, thereby seeking out confirmation of those beliefs.
But what about the stories of Western children who supposedly remember past lives, oftentimes born into households with no belief or interest in reincarnation, no bias to confirm?
Countless stories of children recalling memories of past lives with uncanny accuracy have been reported. This phenomenon has been documented by shows like Life, Death and Reincarnation, The Ghost Inside My Child and Who Was I: My Past Lives, and by books like Old Souls and Return to Life.
The stories follow a similar pattern: A young child discusses details with their parents about a past life they remember, who go on to do research into the child’s claims, and then find shocking corroborating evidence.
For example, take the story of James Leininger, who at 2 years old began telling his parents that he had died from being shot down in an airplane. The toddler went on to reveal more details- the model of the plane, the name of the aircraft carrier, and the fact he was shot down by the Japanese at Iwo Jima. He even named his past incarnation’s best friend- a man named Jack Larson, who his parents sought out and found as an old man, who then confirmed that everything the child told them was true.
Whether or not you find the stories convincing enough to believe, they are so uncanny, and there are so many of them, that it at least warrants an agnostic open-mindedness and the willingness to explore the evidence and potential implications if reincarnation is indeed a real feature of the universe.
Why does getting to the bottom of this matter? Because if reincarnation is literally true, the implications for science, mathematics, philosophy, psychology will be groundbreaking. If experts in these fields are forced to accept the premise of a transcendent self and a non-physical dimension, the entire fields will undergo massive paradigm shifts. The implications on the human condition generations beyond that are hardly fathomable.
There are many belief systems in the world, with what seem like countless options regarding the nature of the universe and the soul. It might seem like too many to count, but really the possibilities of the nature of the soul can be distilled down into one of three options:
- There is no non-material animating force behind physical bodies (Materialism)
- There is an animating force, and it connects to a body one time
- There is an animating force, and it connects to bodies more than one time
That’s it. It’s either a soul animates a body 0 times, one time, or more than one time. These correspond to bodily death that leads to either annihilation, judgement, or reincarnation, respectively.
For the first option to be true, the universe would have to be a physical clockwork mechanism and our minds emergent from physical processes alone. It means we have no free will and came into existence at random.
For the second option to be true, the entire fate of the soul would be determined by our one physical life. Whether we waited an eternity for our big moment, or were created at conception with the body, we get one high stakes shot- and then eternity with the consequences.
For the third option to be true, there would need to be a non-physical part of reality (our souls) that continuously interacts with physical reality, and be evolutionary (since experience would be gained from each lifetime).
Skeptics should be open to the possibility that their own free will is not an illusion, and use it to consider the possibility that non-physical hidden variables may be a part of existence whether or not they can be directly physically sensed, meaning what we call the soul might just have something to do with physically hidden autonomous energy systems.
For those inclined to mysticism, Eastern religions or New Ageism and already convinced of the merits of the soul and reincarnation, remember that this universe is also mathematical and scientific, so we can’t truly know the nature of the soul and reincarnation if humanity does not discover a Grand Unified Theory precisely explaining the mathematical nature of the soul and how it scientifically interacts with spacetime.
Why You Should Not Assume the Universe is Physical
If you’re simply too convinced that only physicality counts as real existence to consider the possibility of a non-physical component, then Hempel’s Dilemma will thoroughly deconstruct why conviction of physicalism is logically absurd.
20th century philosopher and logician Carl Hempel famously articulated the following dilemma facing those who assume that only the “physical” can count as real:
- No one can define “physical” in any strict sense because science still has incomplete data on the nature of the physical universe, and there are many strange phenomena still unexplainable according to current models. Because our current models are incomplete, physicalism is still an unproven hypothesis, so assuming it is true is a faith position.
- If you accept that current models of science cannot prove physicalism, then you could take the position that future science will eventually prove physicalism. This is a hypothesis at best, so assuming science will one day prove physicalism without it having been proven yet is a dogmatic faith position.
Long story short: Science doesn’t currently know enough to prove that only the physical exists, and even if it theoretically could prove that in the future, unquestioningly assuming that it will is dogma and bad science.
The logic of Hempel’s Dilemma reveals something astounding- it’s an irrational faith position to be closed minded to the idea of non-physical reality. You may not yet be convinced to fully accept non-physical reality, but to be logically and scientifically consistent, you have to be open to the possibility.
According to Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” a study on how science advances, science does not continuously advance linearly- instead, groupthink determines the assumptions of the establishment at any given time, (like the “fact” the Earth is flat or the “fact” the Earth is the center of the universe, or the “fact” that the universe is only physical). Always, a radical, out-of-the-box thinker proposes a new model which challenge the assumptions of the establishment, and always, they are derided as quacks at best, and dangerous at worst.
What happens is that these radical new models, after years of groupthink ridicule, finally make a breakthrough, and a paradigm shift happens quickly, creating a new set of assumptions for the next generation of scientists.
So if you know for a “fact” that the universe is only physical, that mind doesn’t exist, and that the universe is defined by randomness and meaninglessness, you just may be on the wrong side of history.
“Inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you — and all other conscious beings as such — are all in all. “ ~ Erwin Schrödinger
In 1929, the Astronomer Edwin Hubble made an astounding observation: galaxies are moving apart from each other, meaning the universe is expanding. Since the universe expands going forward in time, if we conceive of rewinding the process, it contracts as you look backwards in time, until there’s nowhere left to contract into. Everything in the universe started from a single point- the Singularity.
Really think about that. You, me, every thing…everything, came from one single “thing”- a single point. Think of this point as an existing entity with a physical radius of 0, or “r=0,” if you can.
Does this mean everything came from nothing? Impossible.
Logically, existence by definition exists and therefore existence cannot not exist.
Even if nonexistence existed (see how ridiculous that sounds?), it would be an eternal nothingness anyway because there’d be no reason for nothing to become something unless that something was already inherently possible in that void state, in which case the void wouldn’t truly be “nothing,” it would just be a different type of something.
“Before anything else the One must exist eternally” ~Giordano Bruno
Rather, it would be more accurate to say that at the Big Bang, ‘Physical Something’ emerged from ‘Nonphysical Something.’ The universe merely transformed. As soon as you can wrap your head around the idea of a nonphysical part of reality independent of and interdependent with the physical aspect, then it only makes sense that as the source, the nonphysical singularity never actually goes away, it is the eternally permeating void.
What about evolution? Since Charles Darwin’s ingenious insights on that fateful trip to South America aboard the HMS Beagle, science underwent a radical and powerful upgrade in understanding the nature of the origins of life. The idea that species evolve traits over aeons, continuously transforming into new species, is one of the most important ideas of all time.
While evolution itself is unquestionably a proven fact, our assumptions about how it works are interpreted through the lens of the current paradigm. Assuming the physicalist, ‘clockwork’ model of the universe casts a particular physicalist interpretation of Darwinian gene proliferation- with an emphasis on chance, physical DNA code and randomness.
But if biological life is proven to contain a non-physical animating component, it would cause an earth-shattering paradigm shift in the field of evolutionary biology. Now, there would be a new variable to consider -the animating force- when considering living beings and the nature of evolution itself.
If reincarnation is true, it means that a non-physical being physically animates a body from a particular species, and there is a feedback loop between mental and physical outputs and inputs. In other words, living bodies are remotely controlled by the mind, but the body also feeds back into the mind by interacting with the environment- like learning something new or gaining wisdom through experience.
What this means is that if reincarnation is true, we have been reincarnating in a continuous, unbroken chain of bodies predating the evolution of Homo Sapiens- in fact, going all the way back to the origins of life on Earth. The reincarnation process would be absolutely integral to the evolutionary process of life itself.
That means that evolution would be as much about the soul as about the body. Software and hardware evolve in tandem. As the hardware improves, as a neocortex evolves, as group dynamics complexify, the animating element -the software- has more and more access to advanced modes of thinking. This then leads to the development of technology like genetic engineering, which further advances the process.
Furthermore, every biological species would be a sort of collective archetypal program that operates on individual souls. Any organism a soul animates would be a particular reducing valve of instincts and perceptions based on that species’ evolved traits.
In addition, there would likely be a non-physical mechanism for the determination of gene mutation. Rather than natural selection of random mutations, perhaps mutations are induced to occur at the subconscious level based on living experience (an evolutionary model proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck), where selective survival pressures are then tested, guiding and pushing the evolutionary process.
Evolution takes life from single celled amoebas all the way to beings that contemplate the meaning of existence, create artistic masterpieces, write complex mathematical formulae, invent technology, and even meditate, experience out of body experiences and lucid dream. If we continue evolving by way of advanced genetic engineering and technological integration, the power we may come to attain will be practically godlike in capacity compared to old humanity. The power to manipulate and understand the universe will grow exponentially with hardly fathomable implications on the condition of our species and the universe itself- all from the humble amoeba origins.
If reincarnation is real, then Homo Sapiens the 5th ape, at the edge of the evolutionary tree of life, is part of a lineage of evolving life going back all the way to single celled origins, and is now a bridge towards its semi-divine future- a succession of countless avatars that souls have been animating and will continue to animate between our origins in the primordial pools to our destiny in the stars.
So maybe the eternal, transcendent Singularity outside of spacetime transformed into the physical universe at the Big Bang, and creation is still ongoing via evolution. Maybe a soul is just a fragment of that eternal nonphysical source, imbuing ecosystems on living planets, evolving in tandem with biological life, feeding back the data and lessons of this cosmic arena into the program, growing in consciousness, evolving into us, and eventually, beyond.
STEM Meets Soul- the Grand Unified Theory
We often think of ‘spirituality’ and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects as fundamentally different things, but this separation is artificial if the soul actually does exist. Theoretical physicists are busy trying to complete the ever elusive “Grand Unified Theory” that universally explains the entirety of reality. But if you have the wrong assumptions, it will be doomed from the start. Many theoretical physicists working on the GUT surely have a lot to say about the compatibility of various particles, but what about the scientific and mathematical nature of how a soul docks to a body?
Let’s say at some point in the future enough evidence is compiled to convince the mainstream intellectual establishment that reincarnation is literally true. How would we start interpreting the world, how would STEM transform?
As previously mentioned, evolution would be recast as a feedback process between physical and non-physical evolutionary processes. The field of genetics would be given a new task- discover the nonphysical corollaries of DNA’s code.
Neuroscience will start to look at the brain no longer as a clockwork mechanism that ‘emerges’ an illusion of mind and free will, but now as a ‘signal receiver’ that feeds data into and out of remote minds.
Things like hypnosis, the placebo effect, out-of-body-experiences, past-life regression, and the like will all be taken significantly more seriously and receive larger research grants. In light of this research, we may scientifically develop more effective protocols to increase the power of the mind relative to the body.
Free will will play a much bigger role intellectually. We will come to discover the mechanisms of the mind-body feedback- like how physical factors like genes, hormone fluctuations and other physical stimuli affect our mental states, and in turn how our minds affect our body. (Perhaps a hormonal imbalance induces anxiety, but our free will engages in a breathing and visualization exercise to reduce anxiety, thereby counteracting the physical stimuli).
In addition, we can start to think of scientific reincarnation in a new intellectual light. For example why do we forget our past lives? If there is a common denominator between each incarnation that evolves, it clearly doesn’t completely ‘reset’ with each death, so why is all the accumulated data buried so far under our consciousness? Think evolution. In order to survive in the predator and prey reality of evolving ecosystems, physical, local awareness is of utmost importance. If any relatives of our distant ancestors did have the ability to look back across lifetimes, their sense of identity and will to live would be weakened, their ability to focus on physical survival in the here and now would put them at a disadvantage. The trait would have been deselected.
The soft sciences like psychology, sociology would be affected too. We would have to rethink everything about the psyche, and even about the implications of macro trends.
For example, consider the population of the world. The 1 billion milestone happened in 1804, but one billion people were added between 2000 and 2011 alone.
This means that, from the perspective of reincarnation, there were way more human bodies made available than anytime in the past. Would this mean that more people’s souls are first-time humans than ever before?
Technology and Engineering
If the reincarnating soul is literally real, then there is self-evidently a mind-matter interface going on, a mechanism whereby the mind attaches to a spacetime body. With the mainstream establishment fully on board, we could imagine mind-boggling new technologies in this field, especially if we take the long view of what humanity may be capable of within hundreds of years.
For example, if the soul-docking mechanism is ascertained, DNA could theoretically be reverse-engineered. Imagine creating an advanced android capable of attracting a soul incarnation, or a signal receiver to communicate with the dead!
21st century technology will more and more blur the lines between physical and digital reality. The internet of things will connect everything online via sensors, augmented reality implants will engage us within the blurred lines of the physical world and digital information, Digital telepathy will come about via brain-wave interfaces and virtual reality will more and more resemble the real world.
In similar fashion, could a late 21st century, post-transhumanist fully digitally integrated humanity begin making similar breakthroughs that blur the lines between the mental and the physical? Might the AR/VR digital interfaces advance to the point of interacting with our dream worlds or with non-incarnated beings?
Ambitious R&D programs would begin mainstreaming research into the soul- astral projection, near-death experiences, transcendental states, remote viewing, lucid dreams would be significantly researched.
If this seems far fetched now, consider that the U.S. government has declassified documents pertaining to Project Stargate, a research program on psychic phenomenon, and to this day the Monroe Institute conducts research and workshops on inducing OBE’s.
Mathematics does not err. The scientific revolution in fact took off because of a powerful idea- the mathematization of science. Empirical experimentation is one thing, but getting to the timeless mathematical laws of physics is what made science precise, and hence immensely more powerful.
So a Grand unified Theory must be able to account for the mathematics of the soul in order to evolve our conception of it from some abstract, mystical, unknowable entity to something whose existence and M.O. are precisely defined.
It’s actually not as hard as one might think.
Think about it, physics is by definition the study of the physical- it is the study of matter and energy within space and time. But pure mathematics? It’s already abstract. In other words, physics needs math, but math doesn’t need physics.
Consider a physical sphere, like a ball. It’s made of mathematical dimensions- circumference, radius, area, and so on. Each of these dimensions are spacetime dimensions- they are measuring “real” distances (every number is a positive number greater than zero and less than infinity.)
But pure math doesn’t need this limited spacetime reducing valve. To mathematics, 0, infinity, negative numbers, and complex numbers are all as real as each other, the entire mathematical edifice depends on completeness, whereas spacetime mathematics is always a subset of mathematics proper.
So now, imagine a sphere, but with complex rather than simple physical dimensions.
There are parts of math that simply don’t make their way into physical spacetime by definition. Does that mean they don’t literally exist, or that our physicalist paradigm has precluded us from even considering these hidden variables?
What’s fascinating about 0, infinity and complex numbers like ‘i’ is that, on an intuitive level, they are already hinting at the types of concepts that mystics have espoused since time immemorial- that the universe is infinite and interconnected, entails a nonphysical element, and comes from the void.
0 itself is a perfect analogy for the “nonphysical something” that preceded “physical something” before the Big Bang, and why “nonphysical something” is more accurate than the word “nothing.” Consider this: Every number is inherently the equivalent of whatever equation equals it- like 5 being the same as 3+2. This applies to 0 as well. While 0 is “nothing” it is also 1–1, 2–2, 3–3 and so on. In other words, infinite numbers and the entirety of mathematics is automatically implicit in 0. 0=something. In fact, 0 is everything.
It’s no coincidence then that our notion of zero comes from India, a nation of people whose culture and Hindu religion already predisposed them to contemplations on the beingness of void.
What do light, heat, sound and quantum particles have in common? They are all made of waves. Thoughts emit brainwaves and musical waves emotionally move us. The universe is teeming with waves on every plane of existence- a cosmic symphony of interacting vibrations.
Waves are also combinable, forming complex waves. The amount of potential frequencies is infinite, and the amount of combinations are a magnitude of infinity beyond that. 26 letter of the alphabet can write every novel conceivable, the 12 tones of an octave can produce any melody, the 4 letters of DNA can produce any life. In this way, simple, definable building blocks and laws can produce infinite outcomes.
That’s why wave mathematics will play a vital role in this Grand Unified Theory, and potentially explain the equations of the soul. It is worth looking into the Fourier Transform, which transforms complex wave patterns back and forth between their “spacetime domain” and the “frequency domain”. This may be the answer to that question that has eluded philosophy since Descartes- “how do mind and matter interact?”
It is considerations like these that future scientists will look into when studying the docking function of reincarnation, and the interaction between the physical and nonphysical in general.
If all this discussion of “nonphysical reality” seems too abstract to be real, think of a computer game. You can play a character, interact with the environment, and see the rendered spaces and colors. Yet, we are looking at what is being projected on the computer monitor. In reality, every aspect of the game world we are experiencing is in fact being rendered by the game code-the invisible 0’s and 1’s on the computer- the hidden variables.
The true “thing in itself” is what’s actually happening in the code, which just projects a perceivable visual representation on the screen. If you destroy the monitor, the game will still run, but not the other way around.
If a series of complex logical sequences can project entire worlds, then maybe that’s a hint for how reality itself works. Except, rather than the software being coded onto the hardware like with computers, the Universe might be a ‘software’ with eternal code, which, like the perceivable projections on the computer monitor, holographically project the physical spacetime experience we scientifically perceive.
Since souls themselves take up no space, we could think of a soul as a “node” of the universe. It is an autonomous zero-point singularity that inputs and outputs information in tandem with every other node, and subjectively experiences and creates “the game world” in the process.
We are all literally made of a piece of the universe itself, the Singularity fractally divided into each of us.
The Original Position
American philosopher John Rawls came up with an ingenious idea to define a just society. If you knew you could be anyone in society, rich or poor, purely by chance, but had no idea who you would become, how would you design society? Since there is a chance you may be the one to be born into poverty if you design a system with poverty in mind, it might worry you to take that chance, so you would design a system that no matter who you became you would be afforded a life of dignity. Why risk it? It’s an ingenious idea because it forces us to step out of our privilege and gain empathy for the less privileged.
Yet with reincarnation as widely accepted fact of reality, it would put everyone in that original position automatically since you’d know that one day you’ll be born again. You wont want to risk coming back in squalor, so you’ll be more likely to espouse fairer policies for all.
Of course, the astute reader may realize that India is a nation that has historically taken reincarnation as a fact, yet developed one of the most horrendous social systems in history- the caste system- designed to justify inborn social classes by rationalizing that one’s birth status is a result of previous lives’ karma, and so should be accepted and legitimized.
But remember these two key points:
- Reincarnation in the future should be looked at rationally, scientifically and mathematically, not just mystically, which in its vagueness gives room for countless misinterpretations.
- Nothing said here attempted to justify any one religion’s specific beliefs, since different religions have different schools of thought on the nature of reincarnation (since eternal Truth is objective, most if not all of these theological nuances are in fact wrong).
So while we may sooner than later prove THAT reincarnation is real, ascertaining the exact HOWS is a separate matter. There is no reason to believe (other than the proclamations of ancient prophets) that karma works as a punishing and rewarding force or even exists at all, as it is not a prerequisite for reincarnation broadly (reincarnation could exist without a moral force doling judgement, but rather as an unconscious evolutionary process.)
Therefore, India took a concept with validity (the transmigration of the soul) and overlaid a very flawed, political, human element to it- the rationalization of oppression based on an unverifiable narrative that one’s social position is cosmically preordained. In reality, it’s just like many other cultures who have taken good ideas and twisted them to serve selfish ends. Ironically, if we subtract karma from the scheme, we have no choice but to design society by Rawls’ original position.
The premises we have about our system will determine how we think about reality. For example, both Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation, yet have a radically different idea of what’s actually happening. Hindus believe that the soul (Atman) is an individuated spark of the Whole (Brahman) while Buddhists believe that the “self” doesn’t actually exist at all (Anatman) and is instead the One temporarily fooling itself into illusory individuality. While much is similar on the surface, a Hindu meditation strives more for cosmic reunification via integration of the Self while a Buddhist meditation strives for cosmic unification via annihilation of the “self’.
Understanding that there are many interpretations of the broad idea of reincarnation, our task as an advanced humanity is to approach it rationally and evolutionarily, to eschew all vague mysticism in exchange for precise understanding and control of reality as it actually is. Therefore, the final religion has not even been invented yet.
Mainstream science has not accepted reincarnation yet, but there is enough real world and logical evidence to justify its further research, because if it is indeed true, the implications on modern scientific thinking would be paradigm shifting. We would close the gap to a Grand Unified Theory, and develop unfathomable knowledge and power- physical and beyond.
And that’s the whole point- EVOLUTION