by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
|How about a trip out on a limb, today?
The Hard Science of Reincarnation
All over the world, scholars studying reincarnation are making findings even skeptics have difficulty explaining.
Let me preface this by saying: I don't believe in this stuff.
Nevertheless, just like with out-of-body experiences, hauntings, UFOs, cryptids, and other phenomena considered "fringe," something is going on. Some of it is hoax, some false perception, and a lot of attention-seeking behavior is involved; but even discounting those things, there's something there that, if it doesn't tell us anything about the world outside, can shed some light on how the mind works.
The trap is falling into the belief in these things wholeheartedly, finding "evidence" that supports said belief, and discounting that which does not. That's the worst kind of bias, and it's the sort of thing that divorces people from reality. For instance, the phenomenon of sleep paralysis is fairly well documented and partially understood. But it often tracks neatly with descriptions of alien abduction. Having experienced sleep paralysis myself, I can absolutely understand how some people can be convinced they were teleported up to the mothership and experimented upon.
It's also been established that certain frequencies of sound waves, too low to be perceived by our ears, can induce fear and hallucination. Hence, ghost stories.
While I'm absolutely on the side of science when it comes to these things, part of science is admitting that we don't know everything. Another part is trying to fix that. It's an ongoing process, hopefully one that never ends.
But the history of science is littered with the dashed hopes of people who wanted a thing to be true, a thing that turned out to not be the case. And I think "reincarnation" is going to end up being one of those things.
You'll notice I'm not quoting much from the article today. It's an interesting article, if a bit credulous, though it includes some of the skepticism involved. But one of the things it focuses on is my own former university's research into these phenomena, in a department I've known about since I started going there lo these many years ago. This was right around the time Ghostbusters came out, and afterwards, it was probably embarrassing for a major state university to have a Parapsychology Department, so I suspect that's why they ended up changing the name.
It's this quote from a skeptic, from the linked article, that I find most appealing:
“There could only be two possibilities. One is that there is something genuinely paranormal happening, and if that is true, that would be amazing,” he told me. “Or, alternatively—which is more the line that I do favor—it tells us something very interesting about human psychology. So either way, it's worth taking seriously.”
While I object to the characterization of "only two possibilities," I certainly can't think of others right now.
As for reincarnation itself, we know this: on a purely physical level, of course we're recycled. Whatever they do with your body after you kick it, those atoms don't just poof from existence; they get incorporated into the environment, perhaps even into other living things. You've almost certainly eaten carbon atoms that were once in the body of an ancestor of yours; you've definitely breathed air that has spent some time in other living beings. (People who fart in elevators cannot be trusted. Just saying.)
That's so obvious as to be trivial, which is why we don't think about it much.
What reincarnation purports to be, though, is a kind of continuation of consciousness, or at least of the memories that are incorporated into consciousness. And we don't understand consciousness, or even the way memories are formed and stored, so there's no way to say with certainty "this is utter bullshit." And yet, it's probably utter bullshit, or at least something else is going on that we don't fully understand.
Given consciousness's utter inability to conceive of its own nonexistence, the belief persists. So I'm all for the research. Just let's not be too trusting of our own conclusions about it.