Belief in reincarnation requires the belief that a human being has a soul or spirit that can be reincarnated. As many scientists do not believe in a soul, the concept is often dismissed out of hand. However, change the word soul to consciousness and a whole new range of scientists become far more interested in the research and study of reincarnation.
One such scientist, Dr. Ian Stevenson, a Professor of Psychiatry and expert in Neurology, dedicated most of his career to the question of: “is reincarnation real?”. During this time, he was able to scientifically prove over 3000 cases of reincarnation.
Scientific proof needs to follow rigid rules and procedures in order for it to be accepted by the scientific community as evidence. This means that each case had to meet with strict parameters and rules in order for them to be regarded as scientifically proven.
One of the major areas of study focused on birthmarks and defects. It was found that the majority of children with a birthmark or defect who claim to remember a past life had corresponding injuries in that past life that correlate with these marks on the body. In some cases, the body of the deceased person was able to be located and the scars, wounds and injuries on the body would exactly correspond with the birthmarks or other defects on the child.
Another part of the study showed that specific memories of these children corresponded exactly with events that occurred in a person who had died. These specific memories were attributed in a way to ensure that they were detailed and specific and therefore could not be generalized or attributed to another person. Dr. Stevenson concluded that the memories could not have been transmitted to the children by “normal” means and that some paranormal process must be responsible.
No matter how scientifically conclusive this and other evidence seems to be, there are however still major problems with defining reincarnation as real. The first problem is with the definition of a soul.
A soul can be defined as an incorporeal interpretation of the self that is unchanging and eternal and can exist independently of the body and brain or consciousness. As mentioned above, is it the soul or consciousness that is being transferred? Even in Buddhism where a central belief in reincarnation exists, there is an ambiguity as Buddhists do not believe that a soul exists.
Science also still has to solve the issue of how, when and where this transmission process occurs. Some religions believe that the soul is present from the moment of conception while others say it is from the moment of birth. How reincarnation might take place on the other hand is still open purely to speculation.
The scientific evidence collected to date, especially by Dr. Stevenson over 40 years of his career, cannot be ignored. However, the study has also opened the door to more questions that have no answers. Science obviously has a long way to go to definitively proving the existence of reincarnation. But for the time being, there are plausible scientific reasons to believe that reincarnation does take place.