So, quite simply, there aren’t enough dead people for each of us living today to have had even one past life.
Technically, this need not rule out reincarnation. It could be that some of us have lived before while the rest of us are newcomers.
But that’s beside the point, because the idea that the living outnumber the dead is just plain wrong. It is an urban myth that has been around since the 1970s, and it is easily contradicted by both population studies and simple arithmetic.
In fact, the number of people who perished in the last century alone is enough to give each of us alive today at least one past life.
So, how many people have lived and died on Earth before us? How many past lives have there been altogether?
Studies of world population growth show that it has shot up exponentially in the last 2,000 years:
World population since 10,000BC
But in counting all the people who have ever existed, population is only one factor. Population statistics tell us how many people were alive at different points in time, but now how many different people lived during a period of time. Fertility and mortality rates affect this number a great deal.
We have to estimate the number of lives born over a given period from an estimate of the likely number of births per head of population. Today that figure is about 20 births per year for every 1,000 people, but in ancient history it was more like 80.
Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau (left) has produced a “semi-scientific” estimate of how many people have ever lived (up to the mid-2011) using historical population estimates plus certain assumptions about birth rates. 
His estimate – about 47 billion before 1AD, and 60 billion since, adding up to almost 107 billion.
That’s enough to give each of us alive today at least 14 past lives.
Though after checking Haub’s sums, I actually think this is an underestimate. I reproduced his calculations on a spreadsheet, year-by-year from 1 AD to 2011. By my calculations , in the last 2,000 years there would have been something approaching 86 billion births, not 60 billion. Add this to the 47 billion births BCE and we get about 133 billion in total.
That gives the 7 billion of us currently present something like 126 billion past lives to play with – an average of 18 past lives each. Most of them would be relatively recent – say, for example, 12 in the last 2,000 years, 3 going back to the time of the Agricultural Revolution (c.8000BC), and another 3 in the primordial past as early hunter-gatherers.
I had expected the estimated number of previous human births to be two or three times higher — closer to 350 billion — giving an average of 50 past lives each, not 18.
In terms of reincarnation, 18 past lives on average seems quite reasonable. A lot of believers would probably find that satisfactory. But I have been experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance. Something is not as I expected.
According to the Michael teachings, which I generally find to be accurate, souls evolve through five stages (infant, baby, young, mature and old souls). The souls making up the current world population of 7 billion have been estimated to be in the different stages in a bell-shaped curve, something like the following pattern:
The world at this time does indeed appear to be dominated by souls in the third stage of evolution — the stage of competitive action, progress and personal achievement.
Again, according to the Michael teachings:
- each stage is said to consist of seven discrete learning steps;
- a single step requires at least one entire lifetime’s experience.
In fact, by most accounts, it typically takes three or four lifetimes to progress through one learning step. Which means that each of the five soul ages typically involves something like 20-25 lives, and the entire sequence, from first incarnation to last, will take over 100 incarnations.
So if the world average is indeed in the young soul stage, then the average number of past lives ought to be more like 50, not 18.
So … why this discrepancy?
Logically, there are several possibilites.
- Reincarnation is a myth and all of this is nonsense. (I don’t agree!)
- Reincarnation is real, but current estimates for previous human births are wide of the mark. The true figure is closer to 350 billion. (That’s quite a jump, though I notice that the estimates for world population at the time of the Roman Empire have been upwardly revised a few times, from less than 100 million to 300 million. It remains to be seen if future discoveries will affect the calculations here.)
- Reincarnation is real, but the Michael teachings have it wrong in some way:
- The world population’s average isn’t in the young soul stage after all, but way earlier in the infant soul stage. (I have played with the spreadsheet, and the only pattern that would fit is if 70% of the current population (5 billion) are infant souls, 24% are baby souls, 3% are young souls, 1% are mature souls and 0.1% are old souls. OK, that fits our figures, but why doesn’t this feel more like a world dominated by 5 billion infant souls? Is it just because those uncivilised types don’t get much air-time on TV?… I’m inclined to stick with the bell-shaped curve.)
- The world population’s average is in the young soul stage, but the teachings are wrong about how many lives it takes to get there. (So 18, not 50, could be correct.)
- Reincarnation is real, the Michael teachings are correct, but there is something wrong with how I have applied them …
Picking up on the last point, one possibility is that many of the souls here today could have partly evolved in other forms before using the human species. Older souls, for example, may have started off on some other planet thousands of years ago before reincarnating as human beings.
An alternative possibility — the one which my friends in a discussion forum hold to be the true answer — is that any soul can, if it so chooses, incarnate into more than one body at the same time. In other words, reincarnation doesn’t have to be one life after another in sequence, but can involve simultaneous or concurrent incarnations. And there are a lot of concurrent incarnations at the present time.
In which case, the 7 billion alive right now could be incarnations of a considerably smaller number of actual souls — maybe 2 or 3 billion.
Playing once again with the old spreadsheet, I find that this can readily fit the data if we allow each soul to have an average of 2.6 simultaneous incarnations on the go at present.
It also means that each of us, on average, has 1 or more “concurrents” walking the Earth at this time!
The bottom line is, far from contradicting reincarnation, the world population data leaves plenty of room for it as a possibility — though not necessarily in a linear, one-at-a-time form.