Can Reincarnation be Explained with Quantum Theory?
Posted on February 8th, 2024

 Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. PhD (in progress) 

Recently Dr Mahinda Pathirana of the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, made an attempt to explain reincarnation via quantum mechanics. He uses the Buddhist teachings, Milinda / Nagasena debate and some of the ideas of the 2nd Century Buddhist Philosopher Nagarjuna.  He is bringing Quantum entanglement to explain the method of transferring consciousness and how the birth of a consciousness in another body.  

A complex and philosophical question is why we are born into a particular body and life. Is it something random? or predetermined? According to the current understanding of quantum mechanics things happening in the universe are probabilistic rather than deterministic. We know that Brownian motion is a random motion. Is it possible for the universe to be deterministic at certain levels?  Remember Albert Einstein stated, God does not play dice”. Therefore, some people say nothing is “random” in the real world.

Those who agree with reincarnation try to highlight the connections between reincarnation and quantum mechanics and quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement explains how two subatomic particles can be intimately linked to each other even if separated by billions of light-years of space. These particles communicate faster than the speed of light. Neuro-experts point out quantum effects in neural processes. Quantum entanglement links everything in the Universe. Deepak Chopra says that quantum entanglement links everything in the Universe, and therefore it must create consciousness. But I must say that the scientific community does not regard Deepak Chopra to be a credible scientist and his theories lack empirical evidence and they are not supported by mainstream scientific research. Moreover, Art Hobson Prof of Physics, University of Arkansas specifies that quantum entanglement has nothing directly to do with consciousness.

Despite these skeptical ideas can we say consciousness operates on a quantum level? Some claim that consciousness is a manifestation of quantum processes in the brain. The British molecular biologist Francis Crick and neurophysiologist Christof Koch proposed that consciousness is generated by networks of neurons oscillating in synchrony. Crick and Koch (2005) indicated that the claustrum” which is a thin, irregular, sheet-like neuronal grey matter structure that lies beside the insular cortex, may be involved in the processing of consciousness.

Consciousness is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. However, so far, physicists have explained that quantum entanglement is a physical reality.

Quantum Theory and Consciousness

Consciousness implies awareness: subjective, phenomenal experience of the internal and external worlds. Consciousness creates the physical world moment by moment. Consciousness emerged as a property of complex biological computation during the course of evolution. Some suggest that consciousness is a quantum phenomenon. Connections between neurons alone cannot explain consciousness. Therefore, as an alternative theory some propose the quantum mind or quantum consciousness. Does the human brain use quantum computation? Can quantum theory help us to understand consciousness?

Quantum theory is characterized by the acknowledgment of a fundamental limitation in the classical physical ideas when applied to atomic phenomena. Niels Bohr’s philosophy of quantum mechanics helps us to understand physical realities.  We know that Bohr was inspired by Immanuel Kant. Kant stated that without any consciousness we would make no distinction. For Kant, consciousness results from differentiation.

Bohr believed that the discovery of quantum mechanics could and should inform philosophy about new ways of understanding human knowledge. It would replace causal-space-time description of classical physics in order to preserve objectivity. Einstein’s theory is also central to quantum mechanics.

Scientists use string theory to describe the fundamental forces and particles in the universe. Can string theory explain consciousness? String theory highlights that reality is made up of infinitesimal vibrating strings. As string theory describes everything consists of quantum strings. Some experts postulate that the idea of consciousness being directly related to the position and configuration of strings. They think that string theory and consciousness are two sides of the same coin.

Some Neurologists speculate that the functioning of the brain is quantum. Quantum fields have holographic nature (every component already contains all the information of the whole) This indicates the multidimensional nature of reality.

Consciousness is the sensory awareness of the body, the self, and the world.  Human consciousness arises from quantum fields. Still, we don’t have an accurate picture of quantum dimensions of reality. We cannot focus on consciousness from the perception of the physical senses. Consciousness goes far beyond the limitations of mechanistic materialism.

Having said that, we know that neurons alone cannot explain consciousness. Can we use quantum mechanics to explain the function of consciousness?  Quantum mechanics allows the calculation of properties and behavior of physical systems. Quantum physics suggests that two particles will respond simultaneously to an active agent, regardless of distance. There is a deeper connection between consciousness and quantum mechanics. The mathematics of quantum mechanics might show us how consciousness works. We as humans live in a fundamental nondeterministic world. Quantum interaction remains indeterministic. The universe operates according to deterministic laws of physics such as consciousness. Consciousness belongs to the subatomic world which is fundamentally inscrutable.

Can we conclude that consciousness is based in the brain? Neuropsychologists believe that consciousness may arise from the complex interactions of neural networks in the brain. Conceivably Brain is a quantum processor.  Kodukula (2009) theorized that the conscious brain works like a projector.

Here I want to bring an illustration. Most likely you may have seen how Jimi Hendrix played his guitar. Where does that electronic melody come from? Did it come from his Fender Stratocaster guitar itself or from Jimi Hendrix’s fingers? That innovative, powerful, and expressive sound came from the combination of his fingers and Fender Stratocaster guitar. Consciousness too comes as a series of combinations. 

Hiroomi Umezawa – Physicist and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Wisconsin interpreted memory and other conscious phenomena as the result of the energy exchange of energy particles in the cerebral cortical field. Is there a quantum-level substance that can be transmitted between neurons, such as a neurotransmitter, which conveys consciousness-related information? Hameroff and team (2014) proposed that consciousness depends on biologically ‘orchestrated’ coherent quantum processes in collections of microtubules within brain neurons.

Javier García-Castro and Prasad Kodukula Siva state that a fundamental property of the entire universe and that conscious experience emerges by transformation from mind (‘‘jeeton’’) to matter (‘graviton’). Graviton is a postulated quantum that is thought to be the carrier of the gravitational field and jeeton is a quantum particle.  Kodukula (2019) hypothesized that the interaction between ‘jeeton’ and ‘graviton’ gives rise to consciousness. This model emphasizes that ‘mind’ is a consequence of ‘jeeton’ and the ‘matter’ is a consequence of ‘graviton’. Their entanglement gives rise to consciousness. However, it’s important to mention that jeeton / graviton theory is a hypothesis and still there is no empirical evidence to prove this fact.  

The Concept of Reincarnation and Quantum Physics

The concept of reincarnation cannot be explained through classical Newtonian physics. There is no empirical evidence to prove reincarnation using mathematics or cell biology. However, some experts use Quantum physics to explain the reincarnation process.

Can we use quantum physics to explain metaphysical theories of reincarnation?  Quantum physics, as a branch of science, primarily deals with the behavior of matter and energy at the smallest scales. We all agree that Quantum physics opens a totally new world view and provides a new understanding of spiritual philosophy. Quantum physics gives a new cosmovision. Newtonian physics was deterministic and Quantum science is probabilistic. Quantum science is holistic, acknowledging a multi-dimensional universe. Through Newtonian physics we can understand the objective world scientifically through the senses. But Quantum physics can explain things beyond our sensors.

According to quantum theory energy is not continuous but comes in discrete units and the elementary particles behave both like particles and like waves. Quantum physics has evidenced that one particle can be in more than one place at the same time. Subatomic particles communicate instantaneously and travel faster than the speed of light. At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty in definite places. Sometimes a particle acts like a particle, sometimes like a wave. Therefore, the quantum world evolves beyond the common parameters of the space-time characteristic of the macroscopic realm.

Can consciousness exist without or beyond the human brain? Can consciousness open to other dimensions? Human consciousness has multidimensional, holistic and holographic properties. Some physicists conclude that consciousness is primary and the creative basis for the material world. The entire humankind may be living in a universe of consciousness.  Consciousness is a great part of the cosmic ocean. consciousness cannot be reduced to matter.  Can we detect transmigration of consciousness using quantum physics? Perhaps reincarnation resides quantum definition of physical reality? Those who agree with reincarnation suggest that quantum memory remains after biological death and it transmigrate to another plains as a special type of consciousness and continues, through to another incarnation. This is universal interconnectedness. May be reincarnation is a quantum reality.

Can consciousness move to another reality after death? Jerzy Zbigniew Achimowicz of the Warsaw Medical Academy state that when a human being dies, the seat of mind, generates a quantum solitary electromagnetic wave packet and then reincarnation may happen if given seat of mind (consciousness) finds a brain of a newborn with similar genotype. (consciousness attaches to a new brain?)

Reincarnation Explained in the Buddhist Doctrine

As described by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu who is an American Buddhist monk and author, rebirth has always been a central teaching in the Buddhist tradition.  The Buddha did not believe in a transmigration of soul and replaced the soul by the theory of mind-continuum (Thupten Tenzlng – Karma and Rebirth in Buddhism). There is a causal link between a subtle form of consciousness present at the time of death and the first moment of consciousness in the next life (Finnigan, 2023).

According to Buddhist doctrine a thought moment occurs when a person dies. It is the mind set during death in the current existence and then grasping the next life. A dying person has exit consciousness. This consciousness is a form of transitory energy. Exit consciousness transforms into another level of consciousness and it can enter another womb when a matching one becomes available. Hence rebirth occurs. Three conditions are essential for conception: the union of mother and father, the mother in season, and the presence of a transformed level of exit consciousness.

The Buddhist concept denies the existence of an eternal soul.  Instead of an eternal soul, they believe in transforming consciousness which is not static. These processes are governed by the Karmic force or karmic retribution. Here the analogy is the flame of a dying candle can serve to light the flame of another. A flame is transferred from one candle to another. Hence consciousness is a continuous birth and death of mind-states. It is linking an individual to past and future existences. The person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person, nor another.

Milinda was the King of the Indo-Greek Kingdom who probably reigned from about 155 to 130 BCE. King Milinda had a debate with Bhikkhu Nagasena about rebirth.   

In the Milinda / Nagasena debate the king asked: 

“When someone is reborn, Venerable Nagasena, is he the same as the one who just died or is he another?” 

Ven Nagasena replied: “He is neither the same nor another.” 

“Give me an illustration!” 

 “Milk, once the milking is done, turns after sometimes into curds; from curds it turns into fresh butter; and from fresh butter into ghee. Would it now be correct to say that the milk is the same thing as the curds, or the fresh butter, or the ghee?

“No, it would not. But they have been produced because of it.”

All Buddhist schools agree that there is no enduring, substantial, or independently existing entity that continues from life to life. Instead, there is simply an apparent continuity of momentary consciousness from one lifetime to the next that is imbued with the impressions or traces of the actions one has done in the past. One moment gives rise to the next, in a continuity of causally connected conscious events, but nothing solid or substantial continues from one existence to the next. (Lekshe Tsomo – University of San Diego).

Ven Buddhaghosa – a 5th-century Indian Theravada Buddhist monk states that conception occurs immediately after death, that is, the continuity of consciousness enters a new state of existence without any interval in-between.

If we think consciousness is simply energy and it cannot be destroyed and it transforms. Can we say in Buddhist teaching rebirth occurs due to the transmigration of consciousness?  A living being starts a new life in a different physical body   form after each biological death.

The Buddhist notion of the mental continuum of an individual is difficult to explain via neuropsychology. I communicated with several world-renowned Psychologists and Psychiatrists.  I spoke with Professor Judith Herman of Harvard University, Professor Mary Seeman of University of Toronto, and Professor Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Many of these intellectuals expressed their doubt about the said process. Professor Zimbardo was explicit and stated, This process is Not possible in reality It can only be a religious belief with no scientific evidence”. However, Professor Daya Somasundaram- a senior professor of psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna expressed his thoughts thus.  

I feel that these beliefs and descriptions are metaphysical or subtle phenomena which are beyond current neuropsychological knowledge or theories. Most scientific and neuropsychological knowledge or speculations tend to confine themselves to very basic and objective, materialistic phenomena as the hard facts of life. They even have problems with admitting subjective phenomena such as consciousness. They would consider the Buddhist descriptions as mere speculations with no objective evidence. But some psychologists and others do go beyond the hard or materialistic views and frontiers to entertain such beliefs and descriptions”.

How Did Consciousness Evolve?

According to Salama, (2008) life began as lipid molecules originating in deep space and fell into the surface of the primordial ocean and then went into numerous changes and transformed into a cell then through the evaluation multicellular beings emerged. Cells have memory and it’s called cellular memory. Based on Darwinian evolution, the scientists surmise that consciousness would have occurred initially some 200 million years ago. They think that consciousness was built upon the mammalian neocortex. The core of human consciousness appears to be associated primarily with phylogenetically ancient structures mediating arousal and activated by primitive emotions (Denton et al., 2009).

Living cells constitute a new class of matter. Cells literally construct themselves. Through consciousness we create the physical world. We cannot explain consciousness through mainstream science.  Living things are Kantian wholes where the parts exist for and by means of the whole. The link between the lifeworld and the quantum world should already be broadly evident. Quantum mechanics points to the end result of what consciousness does. Is there a quantum mind, resides in the space between quantum events?

Can Consciousness Continue After Death?

Consciousness is the most important function of the organism. According to William James, consciousness is not a static thing but a process. Neuroscientists believe that consciousness is generated by the brain. They highlight that consciousness must be the product of neural activity. Substantial interconnections among the brainstem, subcortical structures, and the neocortex are essential integrating components of human consciousness.

Different levels of consciousness are distinguished: 1. hyperalertness, 2. alertness (normal state of wakefulness), 3. somnolence or lethargy, 4. obtundation with tendency to fall asleep, 5. stupor, 6. coma and its subtypes, like akinetic mutism, apallic syndrome or persistent vegative state, locked-in syndrome, delirium, and catatonia.

Following a coma, some patients may “awaken” without voluntary interaction or communication with the environment. The patients who are in “persistent vegetative state” show some degree of consciousness–a condition called “minimally conscious state”. Using neuroimaging techniques Neurologists are able to measure the fading consciousness in the human brain.

Is there an irreversible loss of consciousness? There may be consciousness in the dying brain. The brain is assumed to be hypoactive during cardiac arrest. Gang Xu and team analyzed electroencephalogram and electrocardiogram signals in four comatose dying patients before and after the withdrawal of ventilatory support. Two of the four patients exhibited a rapid and marked surge of gamma power, surge of cross-frequency coupling of gamma waves with slower oscillations and increased interhemispheric functional and directed connectivity in gamma bands.

These data demonstrate that the dying brain can still be active. Some researchers have found a surge in brain activity at the time of death. The question remains; is there a survival of consciousness after death? Dr. Sam Parnia a British associate Professor of Medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center is of the view that human consciousness does not become annihilated after death. What happens to this consciousness? Does it enter a living fetus? 

Dr. Robert Lanza is a scientist and author, and a professor at Wake Forest University coined the phrase ‘biocentrism’ which is a theory that the consciousness is released into the universe through sub-atomic particles According to this notion    consciousness would not necessarily be dependent on a physical brain in order to survive. Therefore, consciousness is more than an abstract concept.  

Consciousness in a Human Fetus

The emergence of consciousness or the mind can be regarded as defining human viability. Development of the embryo begins at Stage one when sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together, they form a zygote. The zygote is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being. The fetus may be having a consciousness, and it reacts to pain and other stimulations.

The fetus reacts to nociceptive stimulations through different motor, autonomic, vegetative, hormonal, and metabolic changes relatively early in the gestation period.  The fetus may be aware of the body. But the fetus is almost continuously asleep and unconscious partially due to endogenous sedation.

The newborn infant can be awake, exhibit sensory awareness, and process memorized mental representations. However, Falsaperla and team (2022) state that neuroanatomical point of view, it is rather unlikely that the infant can be seen as a conscious human before 24 weeks of gestational age. (This hypothesis assumes that consciousness is mainly localized in the cortex, consciousness cannot emerge before 24 gestational weeks when the thalamocortical connections from the sense organs are established).

Concluding Thoughts

Is there a mechanism within quantum physics that can be used to validate or explain the notion of reincarnation?  Quantum physics indicates the possibility of higher-dimensional spacetimes.  The quantum effects are evident in photosynthesis and during the process remarkable efficiency of energy is transferred.  

Dr. Maher Abdelsamie proposed 5 dimension aka Meta-Dimension which is believed to mediate the entanglement between quantum particles regardless of their physical separation in the conventional three-dimensional space. Using Meta-Dimension, we can explain the nature of consciousness. The mind set during death or in other words exit consciousness can be redefined as a complex network of entangled quantum states. Can the exit consciousness remain after death and go to another realm?

However, reincarnation is a metaphysical concept. It falls outside the scope of quantum physics and mainstream science. There is currently no scientific evidence to support the idea that quantum mechanics can explain reincarnation.


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