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Science’s Big Problem, Reincarnation’s Big Potential, and Buddhists’ Profound Embarrassment

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Abstract

Scientific materialism is the largely unquestioned basis for modern science’s understanding of life. It also holds enormous sway beyond science and thus has increasingly marginalized religious perspectives. Yet it is easy to find behavioral phenomena from the accepted literature that seriously challenge materialism. A number of these phenomena are very suggestive of reincarnation. The larger test for science’s paradigm, though, as well as for any potential general import from reincarnation, is the DNA (or genetics)-based model of heredity. If that conception-beget, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)-carried model can be confirmed at the individual level then in a very substantial way we would be confirmed as material-only creatures. In particular, can behavioral genetics and personal genomics confirm their DNA-based presumptions? During the last decade enormous efforts have been made to find the DNA origins for a number of health and behavioral tendencies. These efforts have been an “absolutely beyond belief” failure and it is here that the scientific vision faces its biggest challenge. The common pre-modern reincarnation understanding, on the other hand, fits well on a number of specific conundrums and offers a broad coherence across this unfolding missing heritability mystery. For people trying to make sense of a religious perspective or simply questioning materialism, you should be looking at the missing heritability problem.
religions
Article
Science’s Big Problem, Reincarnation’s Big Potential,
and Buddhists’ Profound Embarrassment
Ted Christopher
71 Azalea Rd., Rochester, NY 14620, USA; tchrist7@rochester.rr.com
Received: 20 July 2017; Accepted: 14 August 2017; Published: 19 August 2017
Abstract:
Scientific materialism is the largely unquestioned basis for modern science’s understanding
of life. It also holds enormous sway beyond science and thus has increasingly marginalized religious
perspectives. Yet it is easy to find behavioral phenomena from the accepted literature that seriously
challenge materialism. A number of these phenomena are very suggestive of reincarnation. The larger
test for science’s paradigm, though, as well as for any potential general import from reincarnation,
is the DNA (or genetics)-based model of heredity. If that conception-beget, DNA (deoxyribonucleic
acid)-carried model can be confirmed at the individual level then in a very substantial way we
would be confirmed as material-only creatures. In particular, can behavioral genetics and personal
genomics confirm their DNA-based presumptions? During the last decade enormous efforts have
been made to find the DNA origins for a number of health and behavioral tendencies. These efforts
have been an “absolutely beyond belief” failure and it is here that the scientific vision faces its
biggest challenge. The common pre-modern reincarnation understanding, on the other hand, fits well
on a number of specific conundrums and offers a broad coherence across this unfolding missing
heritability mystery. For people trying to make sense of a religious perspective or simply questioning
materialism, you should be looking at the missing heritability problem.
Keywords: scientific materialism; genetics; reincarnation; soul; religions; science; Buddhism
1. Introduction
Modern science’s understanding of life is a material-only (or physical-only) affair. Two recent
books, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History (Mukherjee 2016) and Sean Carroll’s
The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Carroll 2016) illustrate this
point. Mukherjee’s book—despite literary and philosophical excesses—makes and maintains the
point that “[i]nvoking special vital forces or inventing mystical fluids to explain life [is] unnecessary.
Biology [is] physics.” (Mukherjee 2016, p. 142) Carroll’s physics-centered perspective was even nicely
capped with an appendix providing a mathematical equation “Underlying You and Me” (Carroll
2016, pp. 435–41). Another interesting concise statement of materialism’s reasoning was given in a
recent Scientific American article in a quote of the physicist Richard Feynman that “[e]verything that
living things can do can be understood in terms of the jigglings and wigglings of atoms” (Fromme
and Spence 2017). These perspectives are regularly accompanied with idealisms about science and the
presumed open nature of scientific inquiry. Consequently, the materialist perspective has essentially
become the modern educated position. Alternative, and indeed religious, perspectives appear to be
rarely taken seriously in intellectual discourse.
However, in contradiction to the assumptions of materialism are a number of accepted but unusual
behavioral phenomena that have been largely ignored by the scientific community (likewise, of course,
there are sincere works on taboo topics which raise serious questions) (Christopher 2016;Christopher
2017). Such phenomena are a good place to begin an inquiry into the validity of materialism, and after
a brief look at taboo phenomena, that approach will be pursued here.
Religions 2017,8, 155; doi:10.3390/rel8080155 www.mdpi.com/journal/religions
Religions 2017,8, 155 2 of 21
The much larger point, though, is with regards to the ongoing search for our
individual-determining DNA (or genetic) specifics (our design-dedicated “jigglings and wigglings”).
In a long and appropriate (and “most helpful”) Amazon.com customer review of Mukherjee’s The Gene
it was stated that “[w]e used to think our future was in the stars. Now we know it’s in our genes.”
Missing, though, in that review—as well as Mukherjee’s book—is the fact that we have very little
variability in our DNA (available to potentially differentiate individuals) and that it has been scoured
extensively for the last decade to find essentially no DNA connections across large parts of our innate
differences. One of the centerpieces of Mukherjee’s book, as well as of genetics research in general,
is efforts to identify the DNA-basis for the susceptibility to develop schizophrenia. The May 2017 issue
of Scientific American in fact has a relevant review article in which the author concludes with regards to
such DNA connections that they “didn’t happen”; one researcher declares that such investigations “will
have no impact on resolving the biology of schizophrenia”, and another one saying that DNA might just
provide “a general unspecifiable genetic background” to the disease (Balter 2017). This situation—and
many analogous ones for other individual-distinguishing characteristics—represents an enormous
about-face from the logic of genetics and their foundational place within scientific materialism. This kind
of genetic failure underlies what one geneticist acknowledged was a “debate raging in human genetics”
(Mitchell 2012). How then are we to deal with the many confident DNA-based suppositions we have
encountered, such as Richard Dawkins’ statement that DNA “created [you], body and mind” (Dawkins
1976, p. 20)?
In addition to elaborating on the above problems facing science, this paper will also consider
some explanations available via the common pre-modern reincarnation understanding (in my other
works the word used is “transcendental”, reflecting phenomena that transcend one life). One key point
I make is that the missing heritability problem, i.e., the inability to find the DNA responsible for many
of our innate specifics, is consistent with a general influence from reincarnation, and as such could
help this transcendental belief move beyond what has been characterized as an “underdetermined”
status (Barua 2015).
Finally, some commentary on the associated possible significance to the religion-versus-science
standoff is offered. A particular critical focus is placed on Buddhism in the modern world and the
associated science-inspired detour it has experienced.
2. Findings
2.1. Science’s Little Problems: Taboo Phenomena
Scientific materialism’s dominance is so thorough that for the most part it isn’t even explicitly
acknowledged, and then when it is usually only as a formality. Occasionally when a taboo report—such
as a near-death experience (Alexander 2012)—gains sufficient popular attention then some scientists
and skeptics mount a vigorous counterattack.
One interesting testament to materialism’s position can be found with regards to Elizabeth L.
Mayer’s fine Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind
(Mayer 2007). Mayer’s writing stemmed her investigations into paranormal phenomena and its
collision with her “rational” background as a prominent psychoanalyst, whose work also included
positions in the psychiatry department at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco,
and also as an associate clinical professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.
This work was sparked by the amazing help Mayer had received while attempting to recover her
daughter’s harp which had been stolen in Oakland, California. In response to a friend’s suggestion,
the desperate Mayer had contacted a man in Arkansas who worked as a dowser. The initial response
to her phone call to the dowser went as follows:
“Give me a second,” he said. “I’ll let you know if it is still in Oakland.” He paused, then:
“Well, it’s still there. Send me a street map of Oakland and I’ll locate the harp for you.”
After overnighting the man a map she got a call back two days later. “Well, I got that harp
Religions 2017,8, 155 3 of 21
located,” he said, “It’s in the second house on the right on D—Street, just off L—Avenue”
(Mayer 2007, pp. 2–3).
Mayer then located that intersection and went on to place flyers offering a reward in the two-block
area surrounding the specified house. Three days later she got a phone call from a man who claimed
to have seen the missing harp in the possession of a neighbor. After some subsequent phone calls,
Mayer arranged for a meeting in which she was able to recover her daughter’s stolen harp.
Shortly thereafter Mayer had the thought that that experience “changes everything”, as chronicled
in the book that launched her fourteen-year investigation which uncovered numerous instances of
extraordinary knowing. These included several encounters with psychics and also a sustained look at
some of the astonishing happenings witnessed during the remote viewing investigations at Stanford
Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California.
The work at SRI had been initiated when a physicist Harold Puthoff’s inquiry into a grant proposal
on the possible “implications of quantum theory for life” somehow got into the hands of a New York
artist named Ingo Swann. Swann then contacted Puthoff and suggested as an alternative that Puthoff
investigate parapsychological phenomena.
In part due to simple curiosity Puthoff had then invited Swann out to SRI for a week during June
1972. A brief description by Dr. Puthoff of some of the events of that week went as follows:
Prior to Swann’s visit I arranged for access to a well-shielded magnetometer used in
a quark-detection experiment in the Physics Department at Stanford University. During
our visit to this laboratory, sprung as a surprise to Swann, [we asked him] to perturb
the operation of the magnetometer, located in a vault below the floor of the building
and shielded by mu-metal shielding, an aluminum container, copper shielding and
a superconducting shield. To the astonishment of Stanford physics professor Dr. Arthur
Hebard, whose experiments depended heavily on the magnetometer’s much vaunted
imperturbability to outside influence, Swann doubled the rate at which the magnetic field
in the magnetometer was decaying. Then in response to Hebard’s disbelieving subsequent
request, Swann stopped the field change altogether for a period of roughly forty-five
seconds. As if to add insult to injury, he then went on to “remote view” the interior of
the apparatus
. . .
by drawing a reasonable facsimile of its rather complex (and heretofore
unpublished) construction. It was this latter feat that impressed me perhaps even more
than the former, as it also eventually did representatives of the intelligence community [the
CIA eventually became quite interested in the remote viewing phenomena] (Mayer 2007,
pp. 105–6).
That visit sparked a sustained series of remote viewing experiments at SRI that resulted in a number of
observations that were “anything but ordinary and just blew [the scientists’] minds [away]” (Mayer
2007, p. 108). Unfortunately, despite their findings—that “[t]here was so much good data and it was so
damn compelling” (Mayer 2007, p. 108)—and despite the involvement of physicists no less, their work
was largely unappreciated and has simply faded away.
Not unlike those remote viewing experiments, Elizabeth L. Mayer’s Extraordinary Knowing was
largely neglected. It probably didn’t help that she died shortly after its publication. It also didn’t
help that intellectuals could well be a notch up on the rigidity scale from the considerable rigidity
that confronts other adults. Extraordinary Knowing even opens with a prominent physicist, Freeman
Dyson, offerings his tentative conclusion that “ESP is real but belongs to a mental universe that is
too fluid and evanescent to fit within the rigid protocols of controlled scientific testing” (Mayer 2007,
p. xi). Similarly, is it realistic to expect that instances of scientific breakthroughs or genius would occur
under “controlled scientific testing” conditions? It is also worth noting that this is another testament to
materialism’s clout as it is apparently critical to have a scientist offer support for self-evident points.
Furthermore, there is a possible objection to Mayer’s repeated conclusion that these type of
phenomena “change[] everything”. In the modern intellectual and/or academic realms—which seem to
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have completely cut themselves off from such possibilities—this might be true. On the other hand
for people outside these realms the evidence can be quite strong. For example, I have had a number
of psychic experiences in my life. However, is it realistic to think that these rare events—blips if you
will—really amount to much significance? I do not think so and thus do not feel that they change
much of anything (and I also think that there are very few people who regularly experience psychic
phenomena). At the very least, though, Mayer ’s work argued convincingly for the existence of some
psychological phenomena that violate materialism.
Another challenging taboo point is with regards to investigations into possible cases of
reincarnation. In a 2013 blog entry for Scientific American the psychologist and self-identified skeptic
Jesse Bering reviewed Ian Stevenson’s reincarnation work (Bering 2013). That review, entitled “Ian
Stevenson’s Case for the Afterlife: Are We Skeptics Really Just Cynics?” conveyed the strength of Ian
Stevenson’s work and as well as Bering’s positive assessment. In it Bering wrote that:
when you actually read [the cases] firsthand, many are exceedingly difficult to explain
away by rational, non-paranormal means. Much of this is due to Ian Stevenson’s own
exhaustive efforts to disconfirm the paranormal account. “We can strive towards objectivity
by exposing as fully as possible all observations that tend to weaken our preferred
interpretation of the data,” he wrote. “If adversaries fire at us, let them use ammunition
that we have given them.” And if truth be told, he excelled at debunking the debunkers.
Bering also cited the support of one prominent scientist, the physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, who
found that Stevenson’s work provided “overwhelming” evidence for the existence of reincarnation.
A more recent and extraordinarily detailed case is chronicled in Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of
a World War II Fighter Pilot by Bruce and Andrea Leininger (with Ken Gross) (Leininger et al. 2009).
In Leininger’s book they chronicled their experiences with their son as he appeared to vividly recall
experiences as a World War II fighter pilot. The strength of their case was significantly boosted by the
fact that the father, Bruce, is a devout Catholic and went to amazing lengths to investigate the possible
reincarnation explanation in hopes of debunking it. That book earned a “spectacular” review comment
from Jim Tucker, Ian Stevenson’s successor at the University of Virginia.
One could argue that Jesse Bering’s points about Stevenson’s work are self-evident. Stevenson
really did go to extraordinary degrees to be critical and in particular to hedge against the reincarnation
explanation. I personally found it to be overdone in that regard and it can make for awkward reading.
It is also not clear that it would have been possible for Stevenson to have received approval from the
entrenched skeptic camps. The larger question here is again the “So What?” question. If individuals
with claimed memories from a previous life are exceedingly rare—Stevenson cited an approximate
1 in 500 occurrence rate from a unique study in India (Stevenson 2000)—and furthermore they could
have rather limited impacts on the affected individuals—should reincarnation’s potential influence be
considered that significant? The growing big picture-case for reincarnation, along with Ian Stevenson’s
conclusions, will be returned to later.
2.2. Science’s Little Problems: Unusual Accepted Phenomena
Here a number of very compelling and non-controversial examples will be considered that appear
to violate materialism and thus could be considered supernatural. These examples are in part taken
from an essay I wrote in the winter of 2017 (Christopher 2017) and which had also appeared in A Hole
in Science (Christopher 2016).
You can read in Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture about “the tremendous strides in understanding”
made by neuroscience into how our brains work, but for a sober assessment you might better read an
informed review article like that found in the March 2014 issue of Scientific American by Rafael Yuste
and George M. Church (Yuste and Church 2014). After a splashy title—“The New Century of the Brain:
Big science lights the way to an understanding of how the world’s most complex machine gives rise to
our thought and emotions” the article was very sober. The first paragraph read:
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Despite a century of sustained research, brain scientists remain ignorant of the workings of
the three pound organ that is the seat of all conscious activity. Many have tried to attack this
problem by examining the nervous systems of simpler organisms. In fact, almost 30 years
have passed since investigators mapped the connections among each of the 302 nerve
cells in the round worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Yet the worm-wiring diagram did not
yield an understanding of how these connections give rise to even rudimentary behaviors
such as feeding and sex. What was missing were data relating the activity of neurons to
specific behaviors.
The article went on to describe the extraordinary challenges facing neuroscience and then later closed
with the pleading conclusion:
[w]e need collaboration among academic disciplines. Building instruments to image
voltage in millions of neurons simultaneously throughout entire [human] brain regions
may be achieved only by a sustained effort of a large interdisciplinary team of researchers.
The technology could then be made available at a large-scale observatory-like facility
shared by the neuroscience community. We are passionate about retaining a focus on
new technology to record, control and decode the patterns of electrical spikes that are the
language of the brain. We believe that without these new tools, neuroscience will remain
bottlenecked and fail to detect the brain’s emergent properties that underlie a virtually
infinite range of behaviors. Enhancing the ability to understand and use the language of
spikes and neurons is the most productive way to derive a grand theory of how nature’s
most complex machine functions.
Existing serious challenges are found elsewhere, though. Some individuals can function very
well despite having very little brain tissue and such under-appreciated findings clearly challenge a
brain-only explanation for human consciousness and behavior. A condition called hydrocephalus
results in enlarged reservoirs or ventricles (holding cerebrospinal fluid) within the brain and thus
people with this condition can have other brain tissue displaced and/or destroyed. In a Science article
the neurologist John Lorber reported on hydrocephalus findings (Lewin 1980). Those findings had
been based on the brain scans of over 600 patients with the condition spina bifida (most of whom also
had hydrocephalus), and those patients had been categorized based on the fraction of their brain case
(or cranium) that was occupied by the enlarged ventricles. Of particular note were cases in which the
ventricles filled about “95 percent of the cranium”. Individuals falling into this category constituted
“less than 10 percent” of the patients. Among those in this category it was noted that “many” of
them were:
severely disabled, but half of them have IQ’s greater that 100. This group provide[d] some
of the most dramatic examples of apparent normal function against all odds.
Lorber described one particularly startling example:
[t]here is a young student at [Sheffield University] who has an IQ of 126, has gained a
first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially completely normal. And yet the
boy has virtually no brain.
Given such findings why then do not a significant fraction of unaffected individuals (with normal-sized
brains) function at extraordinary levels? What do such findings say about the evolutionary logic of
Homo sapiens’ growth in brain size? Readers can also juxtapose the above findings with Sam Harris’
assertion that “[t]here is no place for a soul inside your head” (Harris 2014, p. 205).
Additional neuroscience/materialism-challenging observations can be found in studies of
human memory performance. A Scientific American article, “Remembrance of All Things Past”,
by James McGaugh and Aurora LePort (McGaugh and LePort 2014) opens with an excerpt from an
e-mail received by McGaugh from a woman Jill Price:
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As I sit here trying to figure out where to begin explaining why I am writing you
. . .
I just
hope somehow you can help me. I am 34 years old, and since I was 11 I have had this
unbelievable ability to recall my past
. . .
I can take a date, between 1974 and today, and tell
you what day it falls on, what I was doing that day, and if anything of great importance
. . .
occurred on that day I can describe that to you as well. I do not look at calendars
beforehand, and I do not read 24 years of my journals either.
McGaugh and LePort then followed up by extensively testing Price’s recall. Her memory was
eventually proved faulty in only one instance—the day of the week of one of the previous 23 Easters
(and Price is Jewish). During this testing she “corrected the book of milestones for the date of the start
of the Iran hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in 1979.” On smaller matters Price:
correctly recalled that Bing Crosby died at a golf course in Spain on October 14, 1977.
When asked how she knew, she replied that when she was 11 years old, she heard the
announcement of Crosby’s death over the car radio when her mother was driving her to a
soccer game [note an apparent typo in the article since Price couldn’t have been 11 years
old in both 1974 and 1977].
In the Scientific American article, the researchers related that Jill Price demonstrated “an immediate
recall of the day of the week for any date in her life after she was about 11 years old”. Yet she also “has
trouble remembering which of her keys go into which lock” and “does not excel in memorizing facts
by rote”. Later in the article they describe similar memory abilities in about 50 people. Such memories
were found to be “highly organized in that they are associated with a particular day and date” and
that the process occurred “naturally and without exertion”. These extraordinary memories did not
appear to have a family history and thus do not lend support to a (remarkable) genetic explanation.
However, the larger point here—and a point skirted in the article—is that such effortless memories
seem highly implausible given the brain’s apparent biological basis for memory (i.e., it is supposed to
perform like a muscle). Readers can compare these findings with another comment by Sam Harris on
the limits of minds, “I don’t remember what I did on this date in 2011” (Harris 2014, p. 204). A related
point here is that this kind of memory function appears similar to those reported in some near-death
experiences (Holden et al. 2009, p. 306).
Another area where the scientific vision appears to be seriously challenged is with extraordinary
intellectual abilities. In Darold A. Treffert’s Islands of Genius (Treffert 2010) the following description is
given of a musical prodigy:
By age five Jay had composed five symphonies. His fifth symphony, which was 190 pages
and 1328 bars in length was professionally recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra
for Sony Records. On a 60 Minutes program in 2006 Jay’s parents stated that Jay began to
draw little cellos on paper at age two. Neither parent was particularly musically inclined,
and there were never any musical instruments, including a cello, in the home. At age three
Jay asked if he could have a cello of his own. The parents took him to a music store and to
their astonishment Jay picked up a miniature cello and began to play it. He had never seen
a real cello before that day. After that he began to draw miniature cellos and placed them
on music lines. That was the beginning of his composing.
Jay says that the music just streams into his head at lightning speed, sometimes several
symphonies running simultaneously. “My unconscious directs my conscious mind at a
mile a minute,” he told the correspondent. (Treffert 2010, pp. 55–56)
Treffert’s book contains other examples that support his conclusion that prodigal behavior typically
involves “know[ing] things [that were] never learned”. Interested readers can look up descriptions of
the historical musical prodigy Blind Tom. Islands of Genius also considers acquired savant syndrome in
which the onset of savant behaviors follow a setback to the central nervous system. Thus, it would seem
then that a three-pound neural organ could acquire skill as a result of damage. These cases of prodigal
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and/or exceptional intellect offer big challenges to materialism, albeit challenges that are rarely if ever
acknowledged by scientists (for Treffert’s part he extrapolated an optimistic NOVA documentary on
the epigenome, “Ghost in Your Genes”, for a scientific-sounding prodigal explanation).
A final, non-controversial challenge to materialism can be found with the not too uncommon
transgender phenomena. Some individuals strongly identify with the opposite gender and this
identification can show up when they are very young. One transgender study found that among the
subset that have undergone sex-change efforts (or transitioned) many “knew that they had been born
into the wrong gender from childhood” (Landau 2009). Such an explanation would seem to require
some kind of DNA mutation, which resulted in an individual whose brain then felt committed to
identifying as the opposite gender and an associated agenda. It is worth noting here that from the
materialist perspective that behind the scenes here are merely programmed molecular interactions and
thus the perceived entities including self and free will are simply illusions. This is difficult to imagine.
From an article in the New York Time Magazine (Padawer 2012) a description of a 3-year-
old included:
he insisted on wearing gowns even after preschool dress-up time ended. He pretended to
have long flowing hair and drew pictures of girls with elaborate gowns and flowing tresses.
By age 4, he sometimes sobbed when he saw himself in the mirror wearing pants, saying
he felt ugly.
Such tendencies can present difficulties for parents, as one father put it, “I didn’t know
how to be the father of a girl inside a boy’s body”.
One eight-year-old’s self-assessment found in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree (Solomon
2012) contained:
“I’m a girl and I have a penis. They [her parents] thought I was a boy until I was six. I
dressed like a girl. I said, ‘I’m a girl.’ They didn’t understand for the longest time (Solomon
2012, p. 604).
The assessment went on look ahead (after considering possible ways to deal with their penis problem):
[w]hen I’m a mommy I’ll adopt my babies, but I’ll have boobies to feed then and I’ll wear a
bra, dresses, skirts, and high-heeled shoes (Solomon 2012, pp. 605–6).
Do such behaviors really make sense within an evolutionary framework, and in particular as a function
of DNA specifications?
Together with taboo examples like those considered earlier, I would argue that extraordinary
behavioral phenomena offer clear rebuts to materialism. At least around the behavioral edges there
are phenomena that do not make “jigglings and wigglings”-sense. These could again be exceptions to
the big picture, though I suppose.
2.3. Science’s Big Problem: Heritability
From the scientific perspective, human behavioral tendencies should follow some kind of
nature (DNA-linked) plus nurture (environmental exposure-linked) causal combination. In fact,
decades worth of studies appear to support the common intuition that the majority contributor to our
particular tendencies is nature. In a simple overview of the supporting logic here is Steven Pinker
on schizophrenia:
schizophrenia is highly concordant within pairs of identical twins [about 50% of the time
when one is affected so is the other twin], who share all of their DNA and most of their
environment, but far less concordant within pairs of fraternal twins, who share only half
of their [variable] DNA
. . .
and most of their environment. The trick question [“What is
the biggest predictor that a person will become schizophrenic?”] could be asked—and
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would have the same answer [“Having an identical twin who is schizophrenic.”]—for
virtually every cognitive and emotional disorder ever observed. Autism, dyslexia,
language impairment, learning disability, left-handedness, major depressions, bipolar
illness, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexual orientation, and many other conditions run
in families, are more concordant in identical than in fraternal twins, are better predicted by
people’s biological relatives than by their adoptive relatives, and are poorly predicted by
any measure of the environment (Pinker 2002, p. 46).
There are of course some environmental influences on our behaviors, though. The environment
does provide for items like language, trauma-based fears, and apparently shows some influence
towards family-based allegiances like political party affiliation (perhaps also involving fear)
(Alford et al. 2005).
However, many studies—including those involving monozygotic (identical) twins, dizygotic
(fraternal) twins, and also adoptees—have shown strong support for the nature component’s
contributions. Specifically, they have suggested that about half of the specifics of a person’s complex
behavioral traits (i.e., “whether they are smarter or duller, nicer or nastier, bolder or shyer”, etc.)
comes from their DNA (or genome). These findings also suggest that very little is contributed by
the home environment which is most apparent through the limited impact observed in adoptees.
The remaining mysterious contributor to one’s behavior is supposed to be based on an individual’s
unique experiences and this most tangibly provides a basis for the differences between identical twins.
An example of those differences can be found among male identical twins in which the concordance
of exclusive homosexuality is only about 20%–30% (Collins 2010, pp. 204–5). Thus, despite all the
certainty trumpeted about science’s vision of life there is some officially acknowledged mysteriousness
about individuality and this is reflected in a statement by Steven Pinker:
a simple way of remembering [the three laws of behavioral genetics] is this: identical twins
are 50 percent similar whether they grow up together or apart. Keep this in mind and
watch what happens to your favorite ideas about the effects of upbringing in childhood
(Pinker 2002, p. 381).
He also acknowledged that “something is happening here but we don’t know what it is” (Pinker 2002,
p. 380).
The critical testable question here is—can science identify a DNA basis for the other roughly
half-ish of who we are? Can behavioral genetics confirm its own title? In parallel can personal genomics
identify the DNA specifics behind our differing health trajectories and challenges? There is conclusive
inferential evidence pointing towards innate contributions, which from a scientific perspective implies
a DNA basis. On the other hand, there really are surprisingly large behavioral and health gaps between
identical twins, which raise serious questions about the DNA paradigm.
Contributing to geneticists’ optimism is the under-appreciated fact that the variable portion of
our DNA is merely a small subset of the complete DNA code. Roughly then one might argue that
we are all identical twins. However, not exactly, since the DNA codes of any two individuals differ
by about 3 million letters out of 3 billion genomic letters (or about 0.1%) (Schafer 2006;Kolata 2013;
Kingsley 2009). That small subset of variable DNA should then largely be the home of our innate
differences and thus support the expectations of personal genomics and behavioral genetics. In a
further crude sense then one could argue that the ongoing DNA searches are simply trying to identify
some additional Y-chromosomes; that is variations in the genome, which can result in significant
changes in the associated individuals (even if they are not visible in a mirror).
The minimally communicated problem facing genetics, though, is that despite searching for the
expected DNA connections for about a decade now and they have found almost nothing. In a rare
critical assessment of the situation, Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson of the Bioscience Resource
Project (Ithaca, New York) pointed out in 2010 that, with few exceptions (including genes for cystic
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fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease; and also some genetic contributions to instances of
breast cancer and Alzheimer’s):
according to the best available data, genetic predispositions (i.e., causes) have a negligible
role in heart disease, cancer, stroke, autoimmune diseases, obesity, autism, Parkinson’s
disease, schizophrenia and many other common mental and physical illnesses that are the
major killers in Western countries (Latham and Wilson 2010).
Those two authors went on to ask “[h]ow likely is it that a quantity of genetic variation that could only
be called enormous (i.e., more that 90%–95% of that for 80 human diseases) is all hiding in what until
now [circa 2010] had been considered genetically unlikely places?” They added that “[b]y all rights
then, reports of GWA [genome wide assessments] results should have filled the front pages of every
world newspaper for a week”. However, nothing like that happened.
That 2010 contrarian assessment had been preceded by an initial acknowledgement in 2008 by
geneticist David Goldstein that:
[a]fter doing comprehensive studies for common diseases, we can explain only a few
percent of the genetic component of most of these traits. For schizophrenia and bipolar
disorder, we get almost nothing; for Type 2 diabetes, 20 variants, but they explain only 2 to
3 percent of familial clustering, and so on (Wade 2008).
And further that:
[i]t’s an astounding thing that we have cracked open the human genome and can look at
the entire complement of common genetic variants, and what do we find? Almost nothing.
That is absolutely beyond belief (Wade 2008).
And finally in 2017, the same Goldstein added that the latest potential breakthrough in
the genetic origins of schizophrenia—arguably “account[ing] for only a trivial amount of
schizophrenia”—represents “the first time we have gotten what we wanted out of a GWA” (Balter
2017). He also reflected on the ongoing optimistic genetic reports by saying “[p]eople working in
the schizophrenia genetics field have greatly over-interpreted their results”. As an outsider who has
followed the reports from the genetics literature I think that his criticism is appropriate to many areas
of the field.
Given the circumstances—little variable DNA to consider and that years of genome research
has yielded virtually nothing—their ongoing failure really is a very big one for the scientific model.
The appropriate analogy here is not some long drawn out search for an esoteric, singular entity—like
physics’ Gibbs particle. A good analogy here is more akin to an extensive search through a small
haystack for a whole bunch of needles. That they haven’t found substantial DNA origins “(or needles)
appears to be an “absolutely beyond belief” failure for genetics.
2.4. Reincarnation’s Big Picture Potential
Ian Stevenson did extensive and impressive work investigating possible cases of reincarnation.
His conclusions about reincarnation are therefore very noteworthy. In his condensed 1997 book, Where
Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, Stevenson wrote that:
I do not propose reincarnation as a substitute for present or future knowledge of genetics
and environmental influences. I think of it as a third factor contributing to the formation
of human personality and of some physical features and abnormalities. I am, however,
convinced that it deserves attention for the additional explanatory value that it has for
numerous unsolved problems of psychology and medicine (Stevenson 1997, p. 186).
In particular, Stevenson wrote that those contributions could include:
Religions 2017,8, 155 10 of 21
some cognitive information about events of the previous life; a variety of likes, dislikes,
and other attitudes; and, in some cases, residues of physical injuries or other markings of
the previous body (Stevenson 1997, p. 182).
The last point refers to reincarnation’s possible contributions to birthmarks and birth defects and was
a significant focus of his research (and in large part the basis for the book’s title). In a later paper
Stevenson had written more fully that:
[s]everal disorders or abnormalities observed in medicine and psychology are not explicable
(or not fully explicable) by genetics and environmental influences, either alone or together.
These include phobia and philias observed in early infancy, unusual play in childhood,
homosexuality, gender identity disorder, a child’s idea of having parents other than its
own, differences in temperament manifested soon after birth, unusual birthmarks and their
correspondence with wounds on a deceased person, unusual birth defects, and differences
(physical and behavioral) between monozygotic twins. The hypothesis of previous lives
can contribute to the further understanding of these phenomena (Stevenson 2000).
Additionally, Stevenson went on to suggest in his 1997 book that “[w]e may, after all, be engaged in a
dual evolution—of our bodies and of our minds or souls”.
The scope of Stevenson’s take on reincarnations’ possible import, though, is still quite limited as
a possible “third factor”. Based on his studies we do not know how often it happens. Additionally,
although Stevenson cited a 63 percent figure for cases involving an apparent violent death of
the remembered individual, there are obviously events with many such deaths—as in any major
war—and is there any evidence that there was an associated follow-up surge of remembered lives?
These suggestive cases do appear to be very rare and unique, and I would argue that this limits
their inferential leverage. Furthermore, I think Stevenson’s over-reliance on investigating suggestive
cases had him shortchange readily available indirect support from noncontroversial phenomena;
for example with prodigies, the transgender phenomena, and also with the experiences of adopted
children. Careful consideration of such phenomena, including the associated parental experiences,
can offer some significant insights into possible reincarnation phenomena.
Moreover, since Stevenson’s work a much bigger potential role—and intersection with
biology—has come into view. That is genetics’ missing heritability problem. With this unfolding
problem—along with a sober assessment of the limits of environmental influences—the scope of
the “not explicable (or not fully explicable)” is much bigger. This large opening, along with some
additional possible behavioral support, represents a chance to advance the reincarnation research
front considerably. At the end of this article I will return to a critical assessment of the contemporary
reincarnation research situation.
Moving on, the coverage here on reincarnation begins with findings about the spiritual or religious
understandings of infants, followed by some general points on reincarnation theory. This will be
followed by a section on two potential reincarnation-based explanations and then another section
on theory.
One can certainly gain confidence in the possible existence of reincarnation by looking at some
individual cases and/or by examining relevant unusual behaviors. The substantial challenge, though,
for a reincarnation explanation is finding a larger fit for it among the phenomena of life. There you
have the opportunity of uncovering additional significance.
In Justin L. Barrett’s book, Born Believers—The Science of Children’s Religious Belief, he laid out some
of the growing evidence that young children tend to have an innate understanding of the existence
of souls/God/gods, that they are believers in what Barrett termed a “natural religion” (Barrett 2012).
Born Believers contains some striking examples including ones in which the positions of atheists were
rebutted by their young children. Barrett wrote that “[c]hildren are prone to be believe in supernatural
beings such as spirits, ghosts, angels, devils, and gods during the first four years of life” (Barrett 2012,
p. 3). Later he wrote that:
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[e]xactly why believing in souls or spirits that survive death is so natural for children (and
adults) is an area of active research and debate. A consensus has emerged that children are
born believers in some kind of afterlife, but not why this is so (Barrett 2012, p. 120).
These remarkable observations were simply placed by Barrett within the materialist vision,
though. Even as a practicing Christian, Barrett concluded that these are simply delusional tendencies
derived from evolution and experience—“biology plus ordinary environment” (Barrett 2012, p. 20).
It is a remarkable act of faith, though, to extrapolate our evolution-shaped genomes to provide a basis
for such beliefs. That act of faith appears to be symptomatic of what one scientist acknowledged was
the fact that “science is in many ways its own religion” (Adler 2013).
At the beginning of Born Believers’ scientific take on our innate spiritual beliefs, though, there is
also a traditional explanation offered. That explanation was confidently provided by an Indian man
Barrett had encountered on a train. In Barrett’s words that man had explained:
that on death, we go to be with God and are later reincarnated. As children had been with
God more recently, they could understand God better than adults can. They had not yet
forgotten or grown confused and distracted by the world. In a real sense, he explained,
children came into this world knowing God more purely and accurately than adults do
(Barrett 2012, p. 2).
That reincarnation perspective will be pursued here. First, it is noteworthy that these spiritual
beliefs appear to be general. As such they offer possible broad support for the reincarnation
hypothesis, in that while memories of a pervious embodied life are very rare, memories of the previous
disembodied experience could be the norm. Additionally, the reincarnation perspective appears to
have been a common pre-modern understanding as discussed in M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia of
Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, “[t]ransmigration, dating back to a remote antiquity, and
being spread all over the world, seems to be anthropologically innate, and to be the first form in which
the idea of immortality occurred to man” (Head and Cranston 1967, p. 170). Chris Carter, in Science and
the Afterlife Experience, also presented the broad historical background of the reincarnation belief (Carter
2012, pp. 18–20). Carter included a quote of Ian Stevenson who had written “nearly everyone outside
the range of orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Science—the last being a secular religion for
many people—believes in reincarnation”.
This belief can be divided into two components: the intuitive continuity of behavior/personality
component and the more puzzling cause-and-effect or karma component. Of these two aspects it has
been claimed that they were historically “in fact
. . .
virtually always conjoined” (Head and Cranston
1967, p. 10). Perhaps the apparent continuity of personalities across lives in small and relatively
undistracted groups helped to establish the continuity hypothesis. The karma belief might have gained
strength in parallel when observing individuals encountering their just deserts across lives. Perhaps
these beliefs could have been furthered by the insights of dedicated mystics. Another explanation for
the origin of these beliefs is that they were derived from reports of the previous lives by individuals
(Carter 2012, p. 20).
As an introductory synopsis of some of reincarnation’s potential explanatory power:
[one might] argue that in addition to offering a straightforward explanation for our natural
religion, a [reincarnation] perspective also provides traction on some scientific conundrums
including prodigies, transgender individuals, and the surprising variations in personality
found amongst a number of species; a simple explanation for the mysteries associated with
monozygotic twins; a backdrop for some controversial phenomena including near-death
experiences; and finally a consistent framework for the missing heritability problem.
In brief, the missing origins for a number of our innate specifics could be understood
as carryover from previous lives and with some standout behaviors—as found with
prodigious savants and prodigies—there could be some additional carryover consistent
Religions 2017,8, 155 12 of 21
with some of the remarkable descriptions of the intervening disembodied state (Christopher
2016, p. 9).
The continuity aspect of reincarnation would be consistent with individual cases of young children
experiencing the apparent recall of a previous life (Stevenson 1997;Tucker 2005;Leininger et al. 2009)
as well as exhibiting some consistent behaviors. Contributions from the karma aspect would also be
consistent with the unexpectedly large health differences found between identical twins and more
generally the disease susceptibility portion of the missing heritability problem. All together a number
of under-appreciated phenomena—including the big missing heritability problem—might help push
the reincarnation theory beyond what has been characterized by Ankur Barua as an “underdetermined”
status (Barua 2015).
Another suggested point here is that reincarnation’s import would likely overlap with, as well as
be complementary to, that of DNA. If as was commonly believed the incarnating soul is drawn to their
future parents, then the soul might tend to find some continuity in the DNA specifics produced by
conception—beyond the default codes for species and sex. This could include DNA-determined
unusual conditions as well as the general features of appearance. Of note here is that if such
a parental-draw dynamic roughly represented a draw between similar beings—analogous to the
assortative mating phenomena (Baron-Cohen 2012)—then that dynamic should produce its own crude
heredity pattern. For example, if an incarnating relatively aggressive soul were drawn to similarly
inclined future parents, then that dynamic should produce an apparent inheritance of the tendency to
be aggressive. This would be true even in the absence of any confirmed DNA basis for that tendency
(as is the case for aggression and more generally for behavioral genetics).
Another basic point is that the probability that the crapshoot that is conception could deliver
a variable DNA match for a soul’s overall trajectory is zero. If reincarnation were happening in a
big way then the conception’s DNA definition would have to be breached in many ways. This is a
general collision point between reincarnation and the scientific vision. Consequently, to the degree
that science can show that nature plus nurture roughly defines individuals, this would markedly
limit the possible import associated with reincarnation phenomena. Note the “roughly” here since
from a physical perspective there would also have to be some random contributions. For example,
scientists are not surprised that the physical features of monozygotic twins (like freckle patterns) are
not completely identical. In this way the efforts to confirm the expectations of behavioral genetics
and also in particular to account for the substantial differences found between monozygotic twins are
of interest.
Two possible explanations provided by reincarnation will next be considered next, followed by a
little more on the reincarnation framework.
2.5. Two Reincarnation Explanations
The first idea considered here is with regards to monozygotic twins. This necessitates a bit of
background. Such twins represent a number of mysteries. One such mystery is the cause of their
origin, the initial split or division of a single cell zygote (Segal 2005, p. 2). This process only happens
within some species.
Similar appearances aside, the realities of monozygotic twins represent a substantial challenge to
the sacred DNA “created [you] body and mind” logic. Despite being DNA replicas, identical twins
whether they were raised together or separately, have been observed to be on average more different
than alike personality-wise. Twin pairs can closely share the same environment or inhabit separate
ones (with whatever epigenetic implications), and yet they still appear to have comparably different
personalities. Note that this nurture-challenging finding is also consistent with the findings of adoption
studies. After reading about twin studies and/or having personal exposure to identical twins, it is
probably not a surprise to hear that one conjoined (attached) monozygotic twin said that “[w]e are two
completely separate individuals who are stuck to each other. We have different world views, we have
different lifestyles, we think very differently about issues” (Harris 2006, p. 1). This behavioral genetics
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mystery was the focus of Judith R. Harris’ No Two Alike (Harris 2006) and also received considerable
attention in Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (Pinker 2002, pp. 372–99).
On the other hand, monozygotic twins can still share remarkably specific behavioral tendencies
even when they were separated at birth. From small habits like “sitting out elections because they feel
insufficiently informed” (Pinker 1997, p. 20), to the big life-defining stuff—like becoming dedicated
volunteer firemen (Segal 2005, p. 14). Examples like these have been used to convey the power of
DNA’s influence, but when juxtaposed against twin differences they may simply add to the mystery.
The surprising health differences found between monozygotic twins were discussed in a review
article (Kolata 2006). The article opens by describing a healthy and active 92-year-old and her identical
twin. The other twin was “incontinent, she has had a hip replacement, and she has a degenerative
disorder that destroyed most of her vision
. . .
[and] has dementia.” These twins had grown up together,
lived in the same city, but also had very different ambitions and personalities. This example leads to
the article’s main item, a discussion of the findings of a very large study of twins’ longevity. Using
standard procedure, that study had made comparisons between the longevity outcomes experienced
by fraternal and identical twins to infer the general DNA impact on longevity. This study, involving
10,251 twins, found that identical twins died only a little closer together than fraternal twins and in
particular that the deaths of monozygotic twins averaged “more than 10 years apart”. Consistent
with this, one of the studies author’s concluded that “[h]ow tall your parents are compared to the
average height explains 80 to 90 percent of how tall you are compared to the average person [but] only
3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person” follows from your parents longevity.
One final identical twin mystery considered here is the degree of closeness found between them.
Steven Pinker pointed out that “when separated at birth and reunited as adults,
. . .
[they] say they
feel like that have known each other all their lives” (Pinker 2002, p. 47). In one of my childhood
neighborhoods I cannot even remember the local twins being apart. Given that siblicide is common in
nature does this really make sense for twins (Tennesen 2006)?
These monozygotic mysteries can be approached from a reincarnation perspective. Such twins
could have been close before their current life; maybe as siblings, close friends, coworkers, or spouses.
Scenarios like these are consistent with some of the reports from investigations into cases suggestive of
reincarnation (Stevenson 1997, pp. 171–72). That earlier closeness could have brought them together
to be born as identical twins and further could have been the underlying cause of the initial split
of the single cell zygote. Behavioral continuity across lives could have resulted in their roughly
similar personalities, a crude similarity which appears to be found between those who are close.
Such continuity also could have contributed to their shared behavioral preferences. Their remarkable
closeness could have followed from their earlier connection, perhaps including shared experiences in
the disembodied realm. Altogether then from this perspective monozygotic twins are, superficially
replicas, but deeper down there are two separate beings with mostly separate backgrounds which
would then account for their otherwise surprising differences.
For a Western historical perspective on such an explanation consider the following from the 1600s
by Joseph Glanvill, Chaplain to King Charles II:
Every soul brings a kind of sense with it into the world, whereby it tastes and relisheth
what is suitable to its particular temper
. . .
What can we conclude but that the soul itself
is the immediate subject of all this variety and that it came prejudiced and prepossessed
into this body with some implicit notions that it had learned in another? To say that all this
[individual] variety proceeds primarily from the mere temper of our bodies is methinks
a very poor and unsatisfying account. For those that are the most alike in the temper,
air, and complexion of their bodies, are yet of a vastly differing genius
. . .
What then can
we conjecture is the cause of all this diversity, but that we had taken a great delight and
pleasure in some things like and analogous onto these in a former condition (Head and
Cranston 1967, p. 122).
Does any scientific literature even mention this intuitive quote?
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Another place reincarnation could provide some explanatory insight is with regards to the wide
range of personality found among animals. During the last decade or so, scientists have returned to
investigating the personalities of animals (for quite a while this was a taboo topic). In a review article
by Natalie Angier it was reported that:
[in] the burgeoning field of animal personality research, the effort to understand why
individual members of the same species can be so mulishly themselves, and so unlike
one another on a wide variety of behavioral measures. Scientists studying animals
from virtually every niche of the bestial kingdom have found evidence of distinctive
personalities—bundled sets of behaviors, quirks, preferences and pet peeves that remain
remarkably stable over time and across settings. They have found stylistic diversity in
chimpanzees, monkeys, barnacle geese, farm minks, blue tits and great tits, bighorn sheep,
dumpling squid, pumpkinseed sunfish, zebra finches, spotted hyenas, even spiders and
water spiders, to name but a few. They have identified hotheads and tiptoers, schmoozers
and loners, divas, dullards and fearless explorers, and they have learned that animals,
like us, often cling to the same personality for the bulk of their lives. The daredevil chicken
of today is the one out crossing the road tomorrow (Angier 2010).
Further she added, “[r]esearchers are delving into the source and significance of all these animal
spirits.” From a reincarnation perspective personality could be a relatively constant thread across
different embodied lives. The experiences of a soul then could have helped create and solidify their
personality—and then possibly change it. The alternative, i.e., of trying to materially manufacture a
variety of personalities—even in tiny animals—appears difficult. As a final note interested readers can
look up literature chronicling animistic beliefs for some possible insights there.
2.6. More on a Possible Reincarnation Framework
Earlier it was discussed how the two components—behavioral continuity and karma—of a
reincarnation belief might have been established. Observations of the apparent continuity of
personality, together with possibly more subtle observations of behavioral cause and effect, across
lives in small groups could have helped form this common belief.
One interesting career-related example from outside the reincarnation literature involves an
experience of Cornell University’s nutritional scientist T. Colin Campbell. Campbell has spent the
latter part of his career researching the under-appreciated possible health benefits associated with
a plant-based diet (Campbell and Campbell 2004). While on sabbatical in Oxford, England in 1985,
he came upon the writings of a London surgeon named George Macilwain who had researched and
practiced in the early 1800’s. Upon some subsequent genealogical research Campbell came to the
conclusion Macilwain was his great-great uncle. Campbell subsequently wrote that:
This discovery has been one of the more remarkable stories of my life. My wife Karen
says, “If there’s such a thing as reincarnation
. . .
”. I agree: if ever I lived a past life, it was
George Macilwain. He and I had similar careers; both of us became acutely aware of the
importance of diet in disease; and both of us became vegetarian. Some of his ideas, written
over 150 years ago, were so close to what I believed that I felt they could have come from
my own mouth (Campbell and Campbell 2004, p. 344).
The possible reincarnation connection here would be behavioral continuity that played out along
family lines as was commonly believed (Head and Cranston 1967, p. 173; Columbia University Press
2000, p. 2874). An underlying appreciation for a plant-based diet could have played itself out in a big
way in Campbell’s life. Looking beyond this, there is no apparent basis for a personality comparison
other than the inference that both individuals were able to endure being outsiders in the health world.
A general reincarnation explanation would have to be rather complicated, though. By contemplating
the realms of prodigies and transgender individuals one can get a sense of this. In the prodigy realm
Religions 2017,8, 155 15 of 21
somehow young children show up in amazingly focused adult modes and this can appear in families
without relevant backgrounds (Christopher 2016, pp. 4–5, 46–47). Given that many adults can
groove into quite focused existences—probably more commonly with males and their jobs—why
then wouldn’t prodigious children be more common? Some insight here and elsewhere might be
available by considering the Tibetan Book of the Dead (TBD), a book written in the 8th century by a
Buddhist religious teacher named Padmasambhava (Francesca and Trungpa 1992). The TBD contains
instructions to aid a dying or recently deceased person in dealing with the presumed tumultuous
intermediate state, and in particular at a minimum to obtain a good rebirth. The coauthor and late
Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa offered a modernized synopsis in his commentary:
[t]here is something which continues, there is the continuity of your positive relationship
with your friends and the [religious or spiritual] teaching, so work on that basic continuity,
which has nothing to do with the ego. When you die you will have all sorts of traumatic
experiences, of leaving the body, as well as your old memories coming back to you as
hallucinations. Whatever the visions and hallucinations may be, just relate to what is
happening rather than trying to run away. Keep there, just relate with that (Francesca and
Trungpa 1992, p. 40).
Another teacher, Tulku Thondup, characterized the existence between lives or “bardo” experience as
“like a dream journey, fabricated by our habitual mental impressions” (Thondup 2005, p. 10). Tibetan
Buddhist-based images would then have seemed to have framed many of the TBD’s descriptions.
Trungpa’s commentary emphasized an energy-oriented interpretation of the bardo experience, and
then as described in the TBD, a soul might tend to unwisely grasp at proverbial straws facing such
a helter-skelter energetic scenario. An exceptional rebirth outcome might then be explained as the
result of a soul’s exceptional grasping in which it inadvertently ended up catching a resonance (in a
physics-sense) and obtaining a hyper-focused rebirth. From this perspective then a very strong
tendency to obsess about one’s work might then produce an overly focused prodigal-type rebirth.
Analogously, it follows that a tendency to fantasy about the opposite gender (perhaps based on earlier
experiences as that gender), might then produce a transgender rebirth (in some form).
Another possible insight provided in the pre-modern TBD text is with regards to the remarkable
capacities of the soul which surface within the bardo. In that book it is stated repeatedly that the “mind
becomes nine times more clear” in the bardo and also that even if before dying the TBD was “heard
. . .
only once and the meaning not understood” then after death “it will be remembered with not even a
single word forgotten” (Francesca and Trungpa 1992, pp. 167–68). These capacities for memory and
clarity might then be hypothesized to surface on occasion within an embodied existence and thus
provide a basis for some extraordinary cognitive abilities, as for example with savants or perhaps
with those individuals who, despite reduced brain tissues, still exhibit normal functioning. As a final
input from the Tibetan Book of the Dead one can consider its description of an ultimate identity or soul.
The book describes an elemental duality between an active (or “luminosity”) component and also a
passive (or “emptiness”) component. Here is a sample description:
[t]hese two, your mind whose nature is emptiness without any substance whatever, and
your mind which is vibrant and luminous, are inseparable: this is the dharmakaya of the
buddha. This mind of yours is inseparable luminosity and emptiness in the form of a great
mass of light, it has no birth or death . . . (Francesca and Trungpa 1992, p. 87).
One might then hypothesize that this elemental identity contributes in some way to the missing “dark”
aspects of the inferable universe. It is also noteworthy that this element-like description of the soul
does not seem consistent with Buddhism’s no-self theories.
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3. Discussion
3.1. The Religion and Science Context
The standoff between science and religion is quite a one-sided stalemate. Since science—and
certainly its bedrock position of materialism—has achieved overwhelming acceptance within
intellectual and secular circles, the current impasse reflects at best a polite dismissal of religious
perspectives. As discussed in a Hole in Science (Christopher 2016, pp. 115–28) that polite dismissal is
pretty well characterized by the coverage of the New York Times. For many secular individuals it appears
that questioning materialism is not an option, and further consideration of religious perspectives is
even less likely.
One way to appreciate this skewed situation is to consider some of the highlights from the
contemporary front lines of science versus religious or alternative views of life. A sampling of these
highlights include Thomas Nagel’s philosophical Mind and Cosmos (Nagel 2012), Bernard Haisch’s
physics-oriented The God Theory (Haisch 2006), and Stephen C. Meyer’s intelligent design treatise
Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer 2013). Do any of these works, though, really present more than nuanced
critiques of materialism? How much would it matter if there was some other ingredient present to
explain consciousness—perhaps a novel particle? What meaning is provided by nodding our heads to
very speculative quantum-based reasoning so that we can ask ourselves “[w]hat greater purpose could
there be for each of us humans than that of creating God’s experience?” Additionally, if there was some
divine guidance which helped establish the current status of the biosphere—but that biosphere was
itself simply defined by the ongoing “jigglings and wigglings of atoms”—would that really matter?
Perhaps the most widely respected questioning of scientific materialism comes from the so-called
“hard problem” of consciousness, which asks how consciousness could have a physics-only basis?
However, how much significance does this abstract question have (beyond keeping some philosophers
occupied)? An alternative hard problem is explaining the differences between the two elderly identical
twins previously described—in particular one healthy and the other very unhealthy—and then try
to explain it. If this were a rare occurrence you could write it off as simply a result of random events.
However, it isn’t; it is symptomatic of the unfolding DNA deficit. Explanations based on the heavily
leveraged linchpin of the scientific understanding of life, deoxyribonucleic acid, are striking out in a
big way. Here is a hard problem that matters, even if philosophers have ignored it.
The fundamental questions that drive many of our deeper yearnings seem to pertain to
two questions—“Who am I?” and “What is going to happen to me?”—and of course generalizing these
to others. Unless one directly tackles scientific materialism the answers to those questions are very
limited. If religions and the religious want to gain a foothold in the scientific era, what else can they
effectively do?
As a relative outsider I view the deeper perspectives offered by religions as characterized by
two modern heretical concepts. The first is the concept of a higher power (or powers). The second is
the concept of a soul. One can think of these as representing top-down and bottom-up deeper aspects
of reality, respectively. I think objectively arguing for the first of these is very difficult, although the
innate aspect of this belief does offer a foothold. I think that arguing for the existence of a soul, on the
other hand, is not difficult. To get started on the second argument—and also indirectly the first—it is
probably best to argue against the bio-robotic vision of life.
3.2. Modern Buddhism: Science-ification as a Dead-End
One way of maintaining a religious perspective in the Science Era is to simply go with the flow
and try creating bridges to science. At least in the West, Buddhism appears to have largely gone that
route. This movement has a quite a history as pointed out in Donald Lopez’s academic treatment,
The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life (Lopez 2012) and also indirectly in a contemporary
context in a Tricycle magazine article, “10 Misconceptions about Buddhism” (Buswell and Lopez 2013).
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In A Hole in Science I started with references to the latter and then added some personal observations
(Christopher 2016, pp. 131–42).
Let me begin my brief commentary here by offering a quote from another recent Tricycle article.
In that article the author pointed out that he and many other modern Buddhists experience “profound
embarrassment” over Buddhism’s rebirth belief, but satisfaction over Buddhism’s apparent “resonance
with quantum physics, cutting edge neuroscience, and modern rationality” (Spellmeyer 2015). I think
this aptly characterizes the cutting edge, modern intellectual wannabe-ism that has arguably become
fundamental to the appeal of westernized Buddhism (along with enlightened wannabe-ism). The recent
history of that movement—including the plunger-ing of quantum speculation, the prominent usage of
a fake Einstein quote, and lately an imagined scientific endorsement for the efficacy of mindfulness
meditation via neuroscience—has in fact furthered the decline of sincere Buddhist practice, as well as
I would argue serious secular variants.
I consider here a recent statement from this science-ification of Buddhism. In a November
2014 Scientific American article, “mind of the meditator”, by Mathieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz, and
Richard J. Davidson
the neuroscientific efforts to characterize apparent brain changes associated with
meditation (in particular mindfulness, focused attention, and compassion and loving kindness) were
described (Richard et al. 2014). The article opened with an acknowledgement of the Dalai Lama’s
foundational contributions to these efforts. The confident article worked its way up to proclaiming:
[a]bout 15 years of research have done more than show that meditation produces significant
changes in both the function and structure of the brains of experienced [10,000 h or more]
practitioners. These studies are now starting to demonstrate that contemplative practices
may have a substantive impact on biological processes critical for physical health.
And additionally that:
[t]he ability to cultivate compassion and other positive qualities lays the foundation for an
ethical framework unattached to any philosophy or religion, which could have a profoundly
beneficial effect on all aspects of human societies.
The support for these glowing proclamations was, however, overstated. The article is only loosely
quantitative and the one graph that purports to show enhancement in neural features derived from
meditation shows small effects with significant overlap between the measurements of experienced
meditators and those of controls. The authors also failed to respond to a published follow-up letter
from a meditator regarding the possibility that selection bias distorted their results. Furthermore, how
many lay people have a chance of joining the 10,000 h club (and thus the likelihood of selection bias)?
Even more seriously, though, why didn’t the authors point out that similar and often secularly
packaged meditation has been quite widely available in the West for at least 40 years? If such meditation
was as self-help productive as presented in Richard et al.’s article then why didn’t it sell itself—akin to
an effective dieting routine—without the need for neuro-scientific re-packing? Any sober assessment
of contemporary meditation movements would emphasize that these have largely been secular and
that sustained involvement has been a big challenge.
In turns out that the contemporary participatory status of Buddhism, as well as derivative
meditational efforts, is pretty well represented in the vicinity of Rochester, New York. Southeast of
Rochester in Ithaca, New York is Namgyal Monastery which is the “North American Seat” of the
Dalai Lama. As I have personally observed, they offer Tibetan Buddhist programs which are open to
the public that are taught by very qualified Tibetan monks. These programs are presented in a very
friendly atmosphere and are not expensive. Ithaca certainly appears to be a potentially supportive
community as it contains Ithaca College, Cornell University, and also a sizable alternative community.
Also in terms of a potential link between Buddhism and science, Cornell University happens to be
one of our top universities in terms of their National Science Foundation (NSF) funding support.
However, in fact—over at least the last decade or so—when Namgyal runs one of their monthly
Religions 2017,8, 155 18 of 21
weekend teaching programs (which open with a free Friday evening session) they end up e-advertising
until the opening Friday in order to try to fill their venue. That venue, up until a recent move to a new
facility, was a modest-sized living room, in a modest-sized house. Despite—or perhaps in part due
to—the science-ification efforts of Buddhists like the Dalai Lama, those lonely programs offer a pretty
good feel for the status of the religion of Buddhism in the modern world.
For a complementary feel on the status of serious secular meditation today one can travel 60 miles
west of Ithaca to Springwater, New York. Springwater is home to the Springwater Retreat Center
which got its completely secular start 35 years ago when Toni Packer left the Rochester Zen Center
and dropped all adherence to Buddhism (she apparently didn’t need to read Sam Harris’ Waking Up
which purportedly “start[ed] the conversation” about meditation sans religion). Despite Springwater ’s
cutting-edge secular history (at one point in the eighties Toni Packer even labored through some early
relevant neural literature) their (inexpensive and friendly) retreats appear to enjoy a comparable lack
of participation as Namgyal’s programs. One might then wonder if the latest secular re-packaging of
meditation—mindfulness or whatever—will simply pan out as another superficial trendy episode.
Beneath the limited appeal of sustained involvement with meditation is the minimally discussed
rarity of significant enlightenment or transformational experiences: a succinct, well-grounded
assessment of that likelihood was given at the end of the Zen classic, Zen Teaching of Huang Po,
by John Blofeld (Blofeld 1958). In it the Zen teacher Huang Po commented that:
Ah be diligent. Be diligent! Of a thousand or ten thousand attempting to enter by this [Zen
enlightenment] Gate, only three or perhaps five pass through. If you are heedless of my
warnings, calamity is sure to follow. Therefore it is written, “Exert your strength in THIS
life to attain! Or else incur long aeons of further [karmic] gain!” (Blofeld 1958, p. 132).
Even in a much less distracted era, a practice very much focused on this life in a Zen monastery saw
very limited success. By comparison, how many modern Western meditational outfits—nominally
Buddhist or derivative—do not grossly oversell the return on meditation?
The traditional appeal of Buddhist practice—certainly for lay people—was to make better use of
one’s life within an interconnected sequence of lives. Thus, a key commitment was to the betterment
of “all beings”. Without looking for an objective basis for that traditional Buddhist perspective—as
with other religious perspectives—I doubt that it will last long.
4. Conclusions
For additional context here I review some of the challenges facing reincarnation research.
The established research vehicle, of course, involves investigating cases of children who claim to
remember a previous life. A good presentation of the status and limitations of this approach is
provided in the final chapter of Jim Tucker’s Life Before Life (Tucker 2005). There Tucker pointed out
that “I would say that the best explanation for the strongest cases is that memories, emotions, and
even physical injuries can sometimes carry over from one life to the next” (Tucker 2005, p. 211). Tucker
also pointed out that “we must remember that what is true about the children who reported past-life
memories may not be true for the rest of us” (Tucker 2005, p. 213) and further that “these cases do not
answer the question of whether reincarnation is universal” (Tucker 2005, p. 214).
Tucker went on to point out the complexity of possible contributions from karma and thus
the limitations associated with checking on them based only on an examination of the previous
personality’s (notable) actions (Tucker 2005, p. 221). Nonetheless he did find that their database of
cases supported one possible karma-consistent connection. He wrote that:
[s]aintliness in the previous personality showed a very strong correlation with the economic
status of the subject and a significant correlation with the social status of the subject.
This means that the more saintly the previous personality was considered to have been,
the higher the economic status and social status that the child is likely to have. Saintliness
did not correlate with the caste of the subject in the cases in India, and none of the other
Religions 2017,8, 155 19 of 21
characteristics of the previous personality correlated with the circumstances of the subject
(Tucker 2005, p. 222).
The limitation here—and more generally for the case-based approach—is that there is a very small
data set of admittedly unusual cases. They certainly do not want follow behavioral genetics’ earlier
lead with its history of false positives and in particular being “full of reports that have not stood up to
rigorous replication” (Horgan 2015).
The main point being made herein is that there is an alternative broad avenue to investigating the
reincarnation hypothesis. If the reincarnation phenomena were general and significant then it should
effectively throw a proverbial wrench into the logic of genetics. Actual DNA support should then be
markedly short of geneticists’ expectations. Thus, who we are and what happens to us should present
large conundrums to science. This is in fact what has been unfolding on a large scale and it offers a
potential broad argument for reincarnation. On the other hand, if the ambitions of personal genomics
are in large part met then that would markedly eliminate possible karmic influences on our health
(which is a big part of what happens to us). In parallel behavioral genetics is in an under-appreciated
showdown with the possible continuity contributions from reincarnation. It is significant here that the
genetic searches are not limited to small numbers. The current genetics effort investigating the roots of
schizophrenia and other mental disorders involves “more than 800 collaborators from 38 countries and
samples more than 900,000 subjects” (Balter 2017). They are obtaining statistically significant results,
they just happen to correspond to null findings. It is also noteworthy that this genetic deficit appears to
be conceptually consistent with the intuition offered by the (Nobel laureate) physicist Eugene Wigner
with regards to a possible conflict or contradiction at the intersection of the “laws of heredity and of
physics” (Wigner 1960).
The other point I stress here is that there are other phenomena that challenge scientific materialism
and simultaneously provide some support for reincarnation (Christopher 2016). As an outsider in a
materialist/physics-based essay contest my simple essay, “Question the Big Picture and Expand the
Horizon”, drew quite a bit of praise by simply listing out some of these phenomena (Christopher 2017).
One engineering professor conveyed to me that “in terms of logical constructs, your ‘counter-examples’
are a very powerful way of starting the thinking/questioning process that surrounds the whole
materialist/scientism viewpoint. Well done” (Parker 2017). I am surprised that others trying to
challenge materialism, and/or investigate reincarnation, are not looking into such examples, including
those in the prodigy and transgender literature. Why in a huge book entitled Irreducible Mind would
John Lorber’s stunning minimal-brain observation show up only as two sentences in a footnote on
page 263? I have passed the Science article describing Lorber ’s work (Lewin 1980) on to a number of
scientific/technical individuals and have usually elicited emphatic dumbfounded responses.
One additional concluding point here is that simple behavioral continuity does not appear
capable of describing some exceptional tendencies. Thus, I suggest that the rebirth process can be
volatile and that this might be consistent with the common dread of death, and also some of the
traditional post-death practices. As a concrete example, I do not think that reincarnation implies that
Albert Einstein was preceded and/or followed by another Einstein.
It is not difficult to question scientific materialism, even in a big way. The associated mysteries
are well worth our attention. One possible explanation is that there is some kind of non-material
continuity happening between sequential lives. Along those lines, pre-modern beliefs in reincarnation
could offer a number of specific explanations. Serious consideration of the reincarnation perspective
appears to be overdue. Perhaps the results of simple observations long ago can provide some helpful
insights into life and its challenges.
Acknowledgments:
The author gratefully acknowledges the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County.
Several significant books were obtained there and the library also provided a good work space. The author also
gratefully acknowledges the editing work of Cindi Rittenhouse. Beyond this the efforts and funding came solely
from the author.
Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest.
Religions 2017,8, 155 20 of 21
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©
2017 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
... I move on to consider a premodern sequential life-based explanation for the missing heritability problem. As reported in previous works, a life-after-life explanation would place the requisite memory demands associated with the missing heritability on the incarnating souls (as opposed to DNA) (Christopher, 2017a(Christopher, , 2017b. This approach might offer explanations for the enormous variance found in the personalities of animals (Angier, 2010;Christopher, 2017aChristopher, , 2017b. ...
... As reported in previous works, a life-after-life explanation would place the requisite memory demands associated with the missing heritability on the incarnating souls (as opposed to DNA) (Christopher, 2017a(Christopher, , 2017b. This approach might offer explanations for the enormous variance found in the personalities of animals (Angier, 2010;Christopher, 2017aChristopher, , 2017b. ...
... Another simple insight might be with regards to surprising innate phobias (Stevenson, 1997(Stevenson, , 2000, and also perhaps with instinctive phobias. Furthermore, an underlying dynamic of souls' being drawn to their parents-to-be, along with a tendency to maintain behavioral inclinations, might allow for a gross fit to the missing heritability problem for behavioral tendencies, and perhaps also with disease tendencies (Christopher, 2017a). In a simple example, a number of problematic behaviors like excessive drinking of alcohol and also smoking appear to be heritable (such that "more than 50 percent of the overall risk for alcoholism is attributable to" genetic factors) (Nurenburger & Bierut, 2007). ...
... Under-appreciated challenges to this belief have been apparent, though, in particular in the behavioral realm. Some simple examples can be found including observations of the innate differences between monozygotic (identical) twins, prodigious intellectual abilities, and the transgender phenomena (Christopher, 2017a;Christopher, 2017b). ...
... Any such possible resolution would seem likely to include some kind of significant reassessment of the workings of natural selection, which are typically described as "simplicity itself" (Orr, 2009 For those wondering about religious perspectives, I can not imagine a more significant mystery. In other works I have explored the possible fit of a reincarnation-based process for this situation (Christopher, 2017a;Christopher, 2017b). ...
... 5). To further streng-18 An argument along similar lines has recently been advanced, based on the latest developments in DNA research (Christopher, 2017). 19 Interestingly, significant parallels are to be found between Martinus' arguments (and his idealistic, cosmopsychistic metaphysics) and the arguments and panpsychistic views of the Indian monk and mystic Swami Vivekananda (see Maharaj, 2020). ...
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The Danish thinker and mystic Martinus presented a comprehensive metaphysical system that explores and explains a wide range of topics, from the nature of consciousness and reality to an objective ethics and the structure of a just and fair society. Although a mystic, his argumentative justification for this system is not based on transcendent experiences but instead on rational arguments and methods and is thus broadly philosophical. This paper argues that since his views stand almost entirely untreated in contemporary philosophical research, it is of interest to examine them further, partly in the context of the history of ideas, but not least, given their unconventional nature, to provide fresh perspectives on the complex problems faced by contemporary philosophy. For example, the problem of decombination: To circumvent the difficult problem of consciousness, which challenges materialism, the position of cosmopsychism claims that the consciousness of the subject is constituted in a cosmic consciousness. How, then, to explain the differentiation or “decombination” of this cosmic consciousness into individual minds? Martinus has a triunic conception of the subject, and a theoretical metaphysical model based on this concept seems to be able to handle the decombination problem. It could be of explanatory benefit to examine other philosophical topics, both theoretical and practical, in light of Martinus’ views. Thus, this paper aims to introduce the views of Martinus into contemporary philosophical debates and argue the value of its further examination.
... Commonly believed within that sequential life paradigm was that there is a draw experienced by the incarnating soul to its parents-to-be. If such a draw were roughly between similar beings-analogous to the assortative mating phenomena (Baron-Cohen 2012)-then that dynamic could produce its own crude heredity pattern (Christopher 2017a;Christopher 2017b). For example, if an incarnating relatively reserved soul were drawn to similarly-inclined future parents, then that rebirth dynamic could produce an apparent inheritance for the tendency to be reserved. ...
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Traditional religions posit a nonmaterial, spiritual aspect of life. Science rejects that possibility and given the contemporary intellectual hegemony enjoyed by science, that has greatly deflated support for religious perspectives. This paper introduces the countervailing position, that the extraordinary claims associated with the scientific vision have always been a stretch—beginning with a reliance on DNA for exceptional behaviors. That stretch is now unfolding in a broad failure as huge efforts to identify the DNA (or genetic) origins for disease and behavioral tendencies (in the realms of personal genomics and behavioral genetics, respectively) have been an “absolutely beyond belief” failure. This paper will discuss this unfolding heritability crisis, and then indirectly further it with consideration of challenges posed by some unusual behaviors including taboo and accepted paradoxes. A basic point herein is that objectively challenging science’s bedrock position of materialism—which has been an immense obstacle in the path of finding meaningful support for religious perspectives—is not difficult. A final point touched on here is that science’s physics-only based model of evolution never made sense as a possible vehicle for dualistic or transcendent phenomena, and thus the unfolding failure of genetics further deserves the attention of those investigating religious perspectives.
... Previous work by the author has introduced the somewhat novel notion that science's molecular-only vision of life is easily rebutted via some accepted, albeit exceptional behaviors [1,2]. The larger point made in those works is that the general problem facing the scientific model is with regards to the general expectations placed on DNA as a vehicle for inheritance. ...
... The aim of this paper is to nudge further that DNA puzzlement. As I previously suggested, there are a number of accepted behavioral conundrums that are very diffi cult to explain with the modern vision of life [10,11]. Whether in the form of prodigies who appear to hit the pavement running in adult-focused and sometimes learned ways, or in the form of transgender kids who appear to come equipped with the opposite sex's agenda and as noted via extensive testing, "trans girls see themselves as girls and trans boys see themselves as boys, suggesting transgender identities are held at lower levels of conscious awareness" [12]. ...
... As I previously suggested, there are a number of accepted behavioral conundrums that are very difficult to explain with the modern vision of life [10][11]. Whether in the form of prodigies who appear to hit the pavement running in adult-focused and sometimes learned ways, or in the form of transgender kids who appear to come equipped with the opposite sex's agenda and as noted via extensive testing, "trans girls see themselves as girls and trans boys see themselves as boys, suggesting transgender identities are held at lower levels of conscious awareness" [12]. ...
Full-text available
Thesis
The most widespread metaphysical position in academic philosophy today is apparently physicalism, the view that all phenomena, including consciousness, are reducible to physical things, states, or events. Metaphysical materialism – the more general view that the physical is ontologically primary and indeed the only thing that exists metaphysically independently – is even more widespread. Linked to physicalism is reductive naturalism, the view that any phenomenon is in principle explanatorily reducible to conditions that lie within the subject matter of the natural sciences. However, several objections can be raised against these positions. One is that they are not themselves scientific results and cannot be verified using the methods of empirical science, and must therefore be seen as metaphysical assumptions. A second is that due to their apparent incompatibility with a view of downward causation – causal influence by the mental on the physical, that is, on neural processes – these positions do not seem compatible with genuine free will. Third, given these positions, objective ethics seems difficult to substantiate; fourth, they might be too restrictive a way of explaining the structures of reality. Finally, they show a lack of explanatory power, both when it comes to explaining the intrinsic properties of matter, and (most importantly) the nature and even the existence of consciousness. Because the objections to physicalism and its fellows are numerous and persistent, in recent years otherwise controversial views have seen an increase in interest. Among these is panpsychism (e.g., Brüntrup & Jaskolla, Goff, Seager), the view that consciousness is ubiquitous and fundamental (or at least not reducible to the physical). Panpsychism is often explicated through the attribution of consciousness to the elementary physical entities, with macro-consciousnesses (e.g., human consciousness) constituted in these, that is, seen as combinations of these micro-consciousnesses. This is known as constitutive micropsychism. However, this view faces the difficult combination problem: how can we explain how these micro-consciousnesses are combined into one macro-consciousness, given that the discrete perspectives intrinsically linked to individual consciousnesses must be taken into account? In response to this problem, the view of cosmopsychism – the notion that the whole cosmos possesses consciousness – has been introduced and defended, often in the form of constitutive cosmopsychism (e.g., Nagasawa & Wager), according to which the individual subjects’ consciousnesses are constituted in the cosmic consciousness. However, this position is confronted with the question of how this differentiation of the one, cosmic consciousness into the individual consciousnesses is to be explained. This is the so-called decombination problem – a modern variant of absolute idealism’s traditional problem of the one and the many. Some suggestions attempting to address this problem have been put forward (Shani & Keppler, Albahari, Maharaj), but these models either have not yet been developed in full or face significant counterarguments, and the debate on the decombination problem is thus far from settled. Therefore, there is good reason to explore new alternatives in the attempt to gain new perspectives on, and develop solutions to, this difficult problem. This is the subject of the present dissertation – here, a metaphysical model is developed which, it is argued, handles or avoids all of the problems just identified: physicalism’s problem of consciousness, constitutive micropsychism’s combination problem and – the main focus of the dissertation – constitutive cosmopsychism’s decombination problem. This is possible because this model is one of non-constitutive cosmopsychism and absolute idealism (and furthermore, it is located within a naturalistic framework, broadly understood). The model is developed through a synthesizing approach, where key elements from existing models are combined. Methodologically, the approach is one of weighted methodological pluralism (Klausen), where all traditional philosophical methods are initially accepted, but where the actual weighted distribution is a matter of assessment based on the research goal in question and the subject of the study. Due to the transempirical nature of the subject of the present work, the scientific theories (but not their empirical bases) are thus considered less weighty than rational insight and factors such as consistency, coherence, systematization, philosophical assessment, and (not least) explanatory power. The question of how to obtain (metaphysical) knowledge is a major theme in the debate on ‘metametaphysics.’ Another is the subject matter of metaphysics. The present work is one of metaphysics as traditionally conceived, and there are strong arguments substantiating the relevance and value of practicing metaphysics in this way (e.g., Lowe). Thus, this work subscribes to a (neo-) Aristotelian rather than a Quinean conception of metaphysics, holding, that is, that metaphysics is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and not just existence questions – a view that has seen an increase in support in contemporary philosophy (e.g., Tahko). The model developed in the present dissertation is one of metaphysical idealism. This is a rarely defended position in contemporary philosophy, but the position possesses significant potential in terms of explanatory power, especially in the case of absolute idealism. The starting point in this work is Timothy Sprigge's absolute idealistic metaphysical system, with further development through the inclusion of elements from the metaphysics of Danish thinker and mystic Martinus. This may seem to be a controversial choice, but it is not unfounded: Martinus justifies his views through rational and not transcendent arguments, and the views of mystics have been included in the cosmopsychism debate (Albahari, Maharaj) in the last few years. Furthermore, Martinus' metaphysics has a significant number of features in common with Sprigge's system, which, seen in the synthesizing context of the present work, makes this particular metaphysics a natural choice: to wit, this metaphysics contains elements that strengthen that system precisely with regard to the decombination problem. In addition, a review of the relevant research history shows that Martinus' work – which, taken as a whole, constitutes a very comprehensive and consistent metaphysics – has so far received almost no treatment in academic philosophy (standing completely unexamined in international debates), and this despite its fresh perspective on a wide range of philosophical questions. The present dissertation is anthological and includes four articles. The first of these, Toward a Broader Conception of “Liberal Naturalism”: Widening the Perspective (forthcoming, 2021), argues for a conception of naturalism that is not only broader than reductive naturalism, but also broader than regular, liberal naturalism (e.g., De Caro, Macarthur). A key point in this article is the detachment of the concept of naturalism from any particular metaphysics. Usually, naturalism is understood as linked to physicalism, or at least to metaphysical materialism, but detachment from these positions is not unheard of in contemporary philosophy (e.g., Chalmers, Rosenberg, Hutto), yielding a naturalism that emphasizes the existence of laws of nature. The article follows this line of thought, arguing, based on the notion of nature as a concept of ontological totality, that the basic criterion of being “naturalistic” is not a matter of attachment to any particular metaphysics, but is instead a matter of the presence of fundamental principles and laws or regularities that govern or describe the concrete behavior of the world. This concept of naturalism allows for variants of (for example) idealism, including absolute idealism, to be categorized as naturalistic in so far as this criterion is met (though it does not allow for metaphysical views that include entities that are autonomous with respect to these principles or laws, such as a theistic god). Given the positive connotations of ‘naturalistic’, this concept of naturalism is of value with regard to legitimizing philosophical inquiry into unconventional alternatives to physicalism and materialism – exactly the sort of project in which this dissertation is engaged. The second article, Absolut idealisme – et glemt potentiale? (‘Absolute idealism – a forgotten potential?’) (2018), advocates the view that absolute idealism (referring not just to Hegel, but more precisely to variants along the lines of Bradley and Sprigge) remains relevant and is of value, not only in the context of the history of ideas, but also when it comes to developing theses and contributions to contemporary academic debates in philosophy. Moore’s and Russell's influential rejections of idealism in the early 20th century seem to be significantly less well-founded than is usually assumed (Mander), especially regarding absolute idealism. John Foster and Timothy Sprigge have presented the most significant contemporary contributions when it comes to comprehensive idealistic metaphysical theses, with Sprigge's panpsychistic absolute idealistic metaphysical system arguably occupying a stronger position than Foster's “canonical phenomenalism.” In this article, Sprigge’s system is developed further by incorporating elements from Foster’s thesis (and from Martinus' metaphysics), and the key features of the resulting metaphysical model are outlined – this model shows, at least prima facie, improved explanatory power regarding key criticisms of Sprigge's original metaphysics, including the question of personal identity and the problem of the one and the many. In addition, the model can be characterized as naturalistic (in the above sense). The third article, The Metaphysics of Martinus: Exploring New Territory (unpublished at the time of this writing), presents the main features of Martinus' metaphysical system. This system is extraordinarily comprehensive, covering a range of topics − from the nature of consciousness to the principles of an objective ethics to the nature of a good and just society. A key feature is a triadic conception of the subject and, due to the panpsychistic nature of Martinus’ metaphysics, of the whole of reality. This is the triune principle. Analytically conceived, the subject, or living being, as well as the whole of reality itself, consist of three parts: that which experiences (called the 'I' or 'X1'), the faculty of creating and experiencing ('X2'), and that which is experienced ('matter' or 'X3'). Martinus' system can be interpreted as a form of absolute idealism, with everything in existence being part of the one underlying, transempirical something that is, and with our entire world of experience being the appearance for us of this something in the form of the manifestation of living beings. Reality in its entirety consists of the Godhead, and every living being thus forms part of it. The individual being has eternal existence, and through innumerable incarnations it gradually develops intellectually and ethically. Ethics thus plays an existentially crucial role as it is the only way through which to end suffering and achieve an existence of bliss and unconditional happiness – this is achieved by every being eventually, and thus, ultimately, “all is very good.” Even though Martinus explicitly refers to transcendent experiences as the epistemic foundation of his views, he justifies the views solely by rational arguments, that is, philosophically (in a broad sense). His views stand unexamined in academic philosophy, but, the article argues, they are worth further investigation, not merely in the context of the history of ideas, but also for their potential contribution to the debates of contemporary philosophy. For example, the cosmopsychism debate, where Martinus' particular triadic conception of the subject provides the contours of a solution to the decombination problem. The fourth and final article, Non-Constitutive Cosmopsychism: Countering the Decombination Problem (2021), unfolds the theoretical metaphysical model toward which the previous articles have paved the way. Due to its idealistic and non-constitutive cosmopsychistic form, this model, it is argued, is able to avoid or deal with key problems that plague materialism, panpsychism, and constitutive cosmopsychism (that is, the problem of consciousness, the combination problem, and the decombination problem, respectively). Martinus’ triune principle is presented both metaphorically and conceptually, and this triadic conception of the subject forms a cornerstone of the model. Analytically, the subject is perceived as consisting of three components: an experiencing, substantive component; an experience- and interaction-constituting and -organizing metaphysical structure (the EICO structure); and a sphere of experience, holding the concrete content of experience. The model is one of quantitative substance monism, that is, it posits a single, undivided (and noumenal or transempirical) substance (which does experience, but, unlike many other cosmopsychistic models, does not consist of consciousness per se). But due to the presence of the metaphysical EICO structure, the model includes the existence of individual perspectives or spheres of experience − and thus individual subjects − as well as an absolute subject. This is illustrated by the following image, which is intended as a metaphor: a bright light shines in the center of a sphere that is opaque but evenly perforated all over with small holes; the central light thus streams through the holes. In this metaphor, the light represents the one, noumenal substance; the perforated sphere the EICO structure; and the light rays the individual subjects. As unity is found at the substantive level and the actual differentiation is at the level of perspective or experience, the model avoids the decombination problem. In other words: the model is non-constitutive in the specific sense that individual consciousnesses are not constituted in a cosmic consciousness, as is the case in the constitutive cosmopsychistic models. Even though the metaphysical EICO structure is merely postulated, the model is arguably better off than emergent panpsychism (where consciousness is postulated to emerge from the physical), as the present model is not faced with the problem of downward causation. Thus, the model arguably shows greater explanatory power than the metaphysics with which it is compared. The aims of the present dissertation are thus threefold: to defend a broad liberal naturalism which is compatible with (e.g.) metaphysical idealism; to introduce Martinus’ metaphysics into (international) academic philosophy; and, in order to deal with the problem of decombination, to develop the main features of an absolute idealistic and cosmopsychistic theoretical model – a model that also constitutes a theoretical metaphysical model for the fundamental nature of reality as such. As for the implications of the dissertation’s results, they can be assessed on three levels: the strength of the arguments themselves, the de facto position of the results given the philosophical climate of today, and the philosophical implications under the hypothetical premise that the results are accepted. The mainstream currents in contemporary academic philosophy being what they are, a model of an absolute idealistic and cosmopsychistic nature must be seen as quite controversial and unlikely to gain any significant support. The main argument for the model is a strengthened explanatory power, and the assessment of the strength of this argument depends on how explanatory power is weighted against postulating empirically unsupported premises such as the EICO structure. If the model is accepted, however, the implications are significant − for theoretical questions, such as the nature of consciousness; ethical questions; and existential questions, for instance, those relating to continued existence after death and the meaning of life itself.
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