Can science find the soul?

B. Alan Wallace is a former Buddhist monk who used to meditate for some 10 hours a day, studied with the Dalai Lama and now heads something called the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies.

There is a fascinating “interview”:http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/11/27/wallace/print.html with him on Salon.com that deals with the relationship between science and religion, Buddhist beliefs on the levels of consciousness, and all sorts of way out stuff.

Wallace (right) rejects the scientific notion that the mind is nothing more than the results of the brain’s activities. He says that the psyche can exist outside the body and reincarnate — bringing to mind the Judeo-Christian concept of the soul.

He also believes that if science opens its mind, Buddhist ideas about consciousness can be tested.

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He notes that one academic has studied children who have verifiable memories of past lives. Another has studied out-of-body and near-death experiences.

I interviewed Wallace a few months ago for a book project I’m working on. He’s a real sharp guy, very impressive. Give the interview a chance.

Here’s what he would like to see happen:

“Train very advanced contemplatives to tap into this substrate consciousness — this storehouse of memories from past lives, if it in fact exists — and do this in conjunction with neuroscientists and psychologists. If I had unlimited funds, I’d say this is one of the most important questions we can ask. Make this a 20-year research project, well funded, with all the skepticism of science. Make sure you have some hardcore atheists involved, but ones who are open-minded and not just knee-jerk dogmatists. And then put it to the test. In 20 years, I think you could come up with something that could repudiate or validate a startling, truly astonishing hypothesis that there is such a substrate consciousness.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.