Thursday, October 17, 2013

Higgs boson vs Rebirth

I've recently attended a talk on "Investigating Effects of Past Life on Present Life". The speakers include Ajahn Brahm and Peter Mack. Ajahn Brahm in particular had mentioned that the Higgs boson which recently had a Nobel Prize to its name have less evidence for it than rebirth, he has a Physics degree. 
For the uninitiated, Higgs boson is the last entry in the Standard Model of particle physics, the particle that explains how the rest of the fundamental particles acquire their mass. The Standard Model is used to build up subatomic particles, which leads to atoms, molecules, cells, living beings, the earth, and everything in the universe (not counting dark matter and dark energy). 
Rebirth is saying that after death, if one still have ignorance and craving, there would be a birth again, depending on the kamma (actions) of the individual, the form of the rebirth maybe in human or in other realms (most obvious to us, animal realms). So after death, the kamma and ignorance (including memories, some personalities) are transferred from one body to another. 
Well, seeing that I have a Physics degree too and I'm a Buddhist too, I decided to investigate this.
From these two websites, the way to find Higgs, an elementary particle is to find the evidence of the things it decays into. If there are events above and beyond the known background noise, then above a certain threshold (which is 5 sigma, or one in a million chance that this is due to the background noise) then the discovery can be claimed. The fact that two different detectors did it without sharing data to each other makes it all the more certain that this is not a fluke, it's real. The way that they know how to find these events is also to gather a lot of data, throw out the useless ones that doesn't fit into the model for detection, and then choose the ones that gives the signal. In a sense, even through it is just two different laboratory announcing the same discovery, the discovery was made by at least a thousand events on each energy levels (or a few hundred events above the background noise) selected among many more collisions events per second, running 24 hours daily in the LHC back in 2012. This paper detailed how some events are only predicted and expected to be observed to have about 100 or less events per energy level for the distribution. Regardless of the actual no. of events, the statistical analysis would confidently suggests that the Higgs is very unlikely to be a fluke and thus verified.

Now let's see the evidences for rebirth.
It would be instructive to see a case for rebirth first.
James, a little boy in an American Christian family knows a lot about planes have nightmares about crashing in planes. He said that he was fighting the Japanese in World War Two in a boat called Natoma, as in a previous life where his name was James. There was no normal way for the boy to learn about planes as he was looking at children programmes. Investigation by the skeptical parents and Carol Bowman eventually revealed that there was a pilot named James in the mission in world war two, the plane crashed, and the pilot died. They eventually found previous life James' sister and information no one else could have known were shared. They also had a closing burial for the previous James in the middle of the sea where the boy James broke down and cried.
This paper by Ian Stevenson on cases on reported rebirth by American children gave an indication on how the cases for rebirth are investigated. It is mainly through interviews, and cases are considered solved only if there are verifiable names or details about the previous lives that could be found in the real world but would not be possible for the child to learn in any normal way possible (abnormal way would include telepathy, the hypothesis about rebirth is that the knowledge came from memory of the past life). Not only they have to provide the verifiable details many of them are around 20+ details, those details has to confirm with what is found in reality for the cases to be solved.

The paper, published in 1983 said that there was over 2000 cases of such types around the world, assuming half of them are from India, which has 77% of solved cases, it means 770 cases of solid rebirth data to support the theory of rebirth. However, we need to think if we only need one data to show that the worldview of "there is no rebirth" to be false and untenable or do we need more? Typically, more is better, as statistics can be used to determine if the case is by chance or a fluke. However, it is hard to imagine how one can fluke a solid case of rebirth where according to this: and various other sources, there are cases where the family is not a believer of rebirth, there are cases where the children and family do not stand to gain by giving such data to the researchers and there are cases where it is impossible to explain the particular knowledge to be gained by the children other than rebirth. The knowledge can be the habits of the previous lives, the exact hiding place for a secret stash of cash, the shortcuts and knowledge of roads far from the main street, the knowledge of how things were arranged when they were alive in the previous life, and most of all, the emotional connection that cannot be faked between the previous family and the new child.

Criticism of such research can be that rebirth cases are mainly by one person: Ian stevenson, what if he decided to fake all his data? this website shows a lists of past life researchers: Jürgen Keil, Ian Stevenson, Jim B. Tucker, Satwant K. Pasricha, Erlendur Haraldsson, Majd Abu-Izzeddin, Titus Rivas, Antonia Mills, and many others. This list itself has more support than Higgs boson in terms of no. of independent observation of data of rebirth.

In addition, many books has been published for the public over the years on this type of research: this website lists 10 books.

Looking at the evidences part, I would say that rebirth has a stronger case for it if only because the evidences and research for it has been around longer than the Higgs, and there are many more independent researchers on the same topic.

The main difference between these two is obviously public opinion which is largely shaped by opinions of scientists and certain religions. in this website for example, the author had looked at evidences for rebirth, even in early Christianity, yet reject it because of philosophical grounds (that if rebirth and kamma are true, there would be no beginning and no end, obviously the author has not come across the 4 Noble Truths) and attachment to certain words in the current Bible. The bias in public opinion is not only fueled by attachments to current forms of certain religion (the YOLO, you only live once, meme popular nowadays can also count as part of a belief system) it is also fueled by scientific dogmatism. Ajahn brahm also mentioned this, the video has actually been removed from the official TEDx website. In this video, it says that the worldview of most people are that science has explained everything we know about the world and the rest is just details to be filled in. This is a belief system. He said that there are 10 dogmas we take for granted from this belief system, none of them stand up very well under close observation.
  1. Nature is mechanical, we are machines,
  2. Nature is unconscious, we are just an illusion of consciousness since we are made up of atoms, 
  3. Laws of Nature are fixed and the same,
  4. The total amount of energy and matter is always the same,
  5. There are no purposes in nature, evolution, etc...
  6. Biological heredity is material,
  7. Memories are stored in the brain, via connections,
  8. Mind is inside our heads,
  9. Psychic phenomena like telepathy are impossible, 
  10. Mechanistic medicine is the only one that really works, the others maybe placebo effect etc..
These are the default worldview of "educated" people. The speaker, a scientists says that we overlook data that suggests that the constants of nature change (measurements of these changes over time and are averaged out, even these changes over the years, but it's a constant! So nobody bothered to investigate why.), or that our minds extends out of our brains (we can feel if people stare at us from behind). 
Alan Wallace in his book Hidden Dimensions, argued that currently the investigation of science is limited by these scientific dogma, not allowing proper research into phenomenons produced by the mind and insisting on unsuitable scientific method to investigate such a different phenomena. In the science of contemplation, he says, one should not demand that all datas to be objective, but subjective, personal experiences of an individual should be a valid data point as a foundation to begin research into the phenomena of the mind. When we investigate biology, we don't use the language of particle physics. 
I believe that due to this widespread delusion that scientific dogmatism is scientific method, support and acceptance for rebirth is not there even when the data in this field has been established for so long. Contrasting it with the science which has Albert Einstein, produced quantum physics, the basis of our electronic appliances, atom bombs, Physics has it easy to have the Higgs receiving so much more recognition by the public even before the scientists themselves are completely sure they have discovered it. 
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their book The Grand Design said that a good model is
  1. elegant
  2. contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements
  3. Agrees with and explains all existing observations
  4. Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.
In this sense, comparing two competing hypothesis of "there is rebirth" and "there's no rebirth, all evidences are coincidences or a conspiracy or anything else", we can see the hypothesis that satisfies the criterias above. 
  1. Rebirth, having a simple, well defined way of how it happens (via kamma) and transmission of kamma and ignorance (includes memory here) from one body to another seems much more elegant compared to having to utilize all sorts of different explanations depending on the weakness of a particular case of rebirth. 
  2. Rebirth contains far less arbitrary or adjustable elements (when combined with kamma) to explain why a person is borned poor or rich compared to the simple luck element which is just a summary of many different complicated variables suggested by the no rebirth theory. Besides, having to use different explanations to refute each individual cases, the no rebirth theory would have much more adjustable elements compared to rebirth theory.
  3. Rebirth theory can explain all data suggesting rebirth, no rebirth theory would have a very hard time to explain most of them, in some cases, it is impossible to explain the case without assuming rebirth or very performed telepathy/ miracle. The alternative explanations to rebirth is also not as elegant or they have more adjustable elements.
  4. The alternative hypothesis of no rebirth cannot predict any possible thing to verify or falsify. In contrast, there is this prediction system amongst the Tulkus in Tibet where a great master would leave a prediction letter of where to find his or her next life after his passing away.
Thus having read all these, I hope that you would leave behind your scientific dogmatism, use an open and critical mind to investigate the links above, especially on evidences of rebirth to see if you're really unbiased, really scientific, what's your honest conclusion?

For me, it's as Ajahn Brahm said, rebirth has already been proven. To avoid this to be a dogma, please do your own research and read up. I did mine. Here's another case to get you started:

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