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Scientific Proof of the Soul's Existence
When people hear about the soul, the first thing they ask is, "Can you show me the soul?" or "What is the proof of the soul's existence?" For gaining awareness of any knowledge we need an appropriate instrument. For example, the ears cannot see a picture, nor can the eyes hear the sound of music. The soul is not made up of matter. It is beyond matter. Is it possible to perceive the soul? A Physicist, or an Electronics Engineer, cannot capture an electron with his fingers or hands, nor can he see it with his eyes; but he can see the light reflection coming from an electron on the CRT screen. This is the proof of existence of the electron. You cannot see X-rays with your eyes, but you can understand the presence of X-rays by seeing the effect it produces on a X-ray photograph sheet, when the X-rays are passed through a body. This is called 'inferential logic'. Using the same logic the presence of the soul in a living body can be easily proved. The following points may help us better understand the presence of the soul empirically.
Prof. Durckheim: Why does it appear to be so difficult to understand that one is different from the body? Srila Prabhupada: It is not difficult. You can experience it. It is only because of foolishness that people think differently; but everyone really knows, "I am not this body." This is very easy to experience. I am existing. I understand that I have existed in a baby's body, I have existed in a child's body, and also in a boy's body. I have existed in so many bodies, and now I am in an old man's body. Or, for example, say you have now put on a black coat. The next moment you may put on a white coat. But you are not that black or white coat; you have simply changed coats. If I call you "Mr. Black Coat," that is my foolishness. Similarly, in my lifetime I have changed bodies many times, but I am not any of these bodies. This is real knowledge.When a person dies we say, "He has passed away." Now who has passed away? The body of the person still lies there. The fact is that the source of life, the soul, has passed away from the body and therefore the person is now called dead.
Prof. Durckheim: Consider this. One of your students might say, "I am spirit," but he might not be able to experience it. Srila Prabhupada: How can he not experience it? He knows that he is the active principle. Everyone ultimately knows that they are not the body. Even a child knows it. We can observe this by examining the way we speak. We say, "This is my finger." We never say, "I finger." So what is that "I"? This is self-realization—"I am not this body."
We have an intuitive understanding that the real self, the T, is distinct from the body, mind and intelligence. We speak in terms of 'my hand', 'my head', 'my suitcase', etc. This indicates that these things - hand, head, suitcase - belong to somebody, an owner. The eyes, ears and brain are merely organs, through which we see, hear or think. These organs in themselves cannot do any activity. There are eyes, ears and brain even in a dead body. The activities have stopped because the driver, the soul, has left the body.
Awareness, Thinking, Feeling and Willing
Someone may argue, "But the soul can't be perceived in any way or measured with any instrument. Why should we believe in a hypothetical entity for which there is no evidence?" Actually, you can see the soul; it is just a matter of training, just as you must study in the university for many years to see how an atom exists. The soul is like a spiritual atom. The symptom of its presence is consciousness.There is consciousness in a living body. Just like the sun spreads heat and light all around, the soul spreads consciousness all around the body, from the tip of the toes and fingers to the top of the head. It is this consciousness that enables us to think, feel, move and so on. Thus, consciousness is the symptom of the soul. Consciousness is what distinguishes a dead body from a living one.By a combination of servomotors and microprocessor, you can easily make a robotic machine perform aratik ceremony for Lord Vishnu using incense sticks and a ghee lamp. You also perform aratik for the Lord everyday. What is the difference? You have loving feelings for the Lord in the heart, while a robot has no consciousness or awareness of itself or the Lord. When you appreciate a tape recorder for broadcasting a sweet music, it feels no emotions; but when you appreciate your friend who sings sweetly, you will find a smile on his/her face. This is consciousness - the ability to be aware of one's existence, to think, to feel and to will. As Thomas Huxley rightly said, "There is a third thing in the universe, to wit, consciousness, which I cannot see to be matter or force." Consciousness gives the proof of the soul.
Near Death Experience (NDE)
NDEs, as the name suggests, involve people who have a close call with death. Many people having NDEs also have Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) in which they report observing their physical body and events relating to it from a perspective outside the body during severe illness or physical trauma resulting in unconsciousness. A typical case might involve a person who is resuscitated from a heart attack and reports that he observed, from a point outside his body, the medical personnel endeavoring to revive him. At such times, according to standard medical opinion, the normal functioning of the brain, as indicated by certain brain waves, is impaired, and the patient should be unconscious, if indeed consciousness is a manifestation of the brain.
A real life NDE of a boy who had a brush with death can be presented as an example. Once a boy sitting in a rickshaw was relaxing carefree while a bullock cart carrying reinforced steel bars was ahead of the rickshaw. Owing to the dark night, the rickshaw driver did not notice one of the bars that was protruding. As he drove ahead, the rod entered right into the abdomen of the boy in the rickshaw who screamed and gasped for life as the rod pierced his stomach and came out from his back. He was rushed to the emergency ward and to the operation theatre. He was almost dead, while the nurses operated on his abdomen. When he recovered, he could recollect each and every instrument used by the nurses for operating on him, as well as the talks that went on between the doctor and the nurses. The greatly surprised hospital officials inquired from him as to how an unconscious person, whose brain waves were flat, could remember everything that had happened during the operation. In response the boy said that he was out of his body, at a point four feet above the body observing everything happening to his own material body. This is a classical example of an NDE case.
The book 'Into the Unknown' published by The Readers Digest' even gives evidences of People who had OBEs or Out-of-Body Experiences. Such people who could Perform OBE, were made to lie on a bed closing their eyes, go out of the body, observe the different types of objects like triangular prism, rectangular, circular plates, etc., kept on a loft, again return into the body and draw the objects that they saw on the loft on a sheet of paper. Such drawings perfectly matched with the objects kept high up on the loft that no one could observe from the ground level. This is called OBE or Out-of-Body Experience.There is enough research work in NDE and OBE presented by individuals with impeccable scientific credentials. For example, Dr. Michael B.Sabom, a cardiologist and professor at the Emory University Medical School, was openly skeptical of NDEs but changed his mind after investigating them
Past Life Memories
Rigorous, unbiased studies have been carried out by serious researchers on past-life memories. Ian Stevenson, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, has extensively investigated spontaneous reincarnation memories recounted by children. In such cases he has been able to positively corroborate what the child has claimed by thoroughly investigating details of the place and people they describe, including the dead person they claim to have been. Stevenson has assembled numerous accounts of over 3000 cases of reincarnation and verified them, always taking great care to screen out fabrications. His studies give convincing evidence that the conscious self can travel from one physical body to the next. Clearly, when one body dies, the contents of its brain are destroyed, and there is no physical process by which they can influence the contents of another brain. The logical interpretation is that the conscious self must be an entity distinct from the brain.