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No. 85: Jan-Feb 1993

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Three Views Of Mortality

The death of matter. Physicists have maintained for over a century that the Second Law of Thermodynamics guarantees that our universe with run down one day and that life must cease. This cold reductionist view is seconded by recent evidence that protons, long con sidered immortal, may after all decay. The consequences of proton decay are even more dismal than the dire predictions of thermodynamics:

"Perhaps the most disturbing piece of speculation to come out of theoretical physics recently is the prediction that the whole universe is in decay. Not only do living things die, species go extinct, and stars burn out, but the apparently immutable protons in the nucleus of every atom are slowly dissolving. Eventually -- in more than a quadrillion years -- nothing will be left of the universe but a dead mist of electrons, photons, and neutrinos."

(Flam, Faye; "Could Protons Be Mortal after All?" Science, 257:1862, 1992.)

The death of memory. With increasing entropy and decaying protons on their minds, it comes as no surprise that physicists likewise believe that when one dies, that's it. An afterlife is impossible. How do physicists conclude this? In a letter to the American Journal of Physics, J. Orear proffered an interesting sort of "proof":

"One such proof: human memory is stored in the circuitry of the brain and after death this circuitry completely decomposes."

But not all physicists were satisfied with this simplistic view. In a follow-on letter, J.B.T. McCaughan asked how Orear knew that memory is limited to the brain's neuron circuitry. Perhaps there is something that the reductionists are missing. McCaughan then states that Orear's assertion would be negated if people really did return from the dead. He refers to the numerous accounts in the Scriptures in which wit nesses attested that some individuals did indeed come back to life. (Yes, this is all printed in the American Journal of Physics!!) After all, concludes McCaughan, with respect to witnesses, "...so much in life depends on such evidence, even the credibility of phys icists themselves." (Orear, Jay; "Religion vs. Science," American Journal of Physics, 60:394, 1992. McCaughan, J.B.T.; "Scientific Faith," American Journal of Physics, 60:969, 1992.)

The death of death. Isn't it curious that in the same bimonthly harvest of anomalies that yielded the preceding two items we should also find some fascinating evidence for reincarnation?

"Almost nothing is known about why birthmarks occur in particular locations of the skin. The causes of most birth defects are also unknown. About 35% of children who claim to remember previous lives have birthmarks and/or birth defects that they (or adult informants) attribute to wounds on a person whose life the child remembers. The cases of 309 such children have been investigated. The birthmarks were usually areas of hairless, puckered skin; some were hypopigmented macules; others were hyperpigmented nevi. The birth defects were nearly always of rare types. In cases in which a deceased person was identified, the details of whose life unmistakenly matched the child's statements, a close correspondence was nearly always found between the birthmarks and/or birth defects on the child and the wounds on the deceased person. In 40 of the 46 cases in which a medical document (usually a postmortem report) was obtained, it confirmed the correspondence between wounds and birthmarks (or birth defects)."

(Stevenson, Ian; "Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons," abstract of a paper presented at the Princeton meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration, June 1992.)

From Science Frontiers #85, JAN-FEB 1993. � 1993-2000 William R. Corliss