“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
-Carl Sagan, acclaimed astrophysicist & father of modern skepticism, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)
A Question I’ve Long Pondered:
Why am I born who I am?
Come on, it’s not like I don’t know how babies are made, but I’m asking this from a deeper level—why am I born as a male human being, in this country, to these parents? Why not in Zimbabwe, or Syria, or even North Korea? Why not an elephant for that matter, a soaring blue jay, or an advanced alien race, at the other end of the Milky Way?
Who is the “I” in this case I treasure so deeply? Because to me, this identity has to be something more than simply the symbols that my parents assigned since arriving to this world.
In other words: why am I me and why are you you?
And why are we both alive right now, as intelligent beings on a beautiful planet among billions of others in this galaxy?
Unfortunately, we as a humanity are at the mercy of a paradoxical existence: As much as we come to know our bodies, identifying with it as we are told, we can never shift outside of ourselves, and look directly into our soul. As such, it wasn’t long before I was made to forget this question that others would consider so strange, knowing simply:
“My name is Mark. This is me! I come from a Roman Catholic family. And I am only seven years old.”
Oh but I hated Sunday school! And that’s putting it lightly. My twin and I would devise all sorts of ways to escape this religious instruction, and it is no wonder I was not prepared in the least for my first communion . . .
Trapped in the Confessional
“Confess to me your sins,” ordered the priest, his voice low and grim, his own eyes blockaded by a thick black curtain. Alas, now it was only me and him, at the part of the ceremony I found the most worrisome—I couldn’t escape this time!
And I felt scared. I felt trapped and lonely in that little confessional.
Still, I managed to squeak out a few honest words: “I fight with my brother.”
And then . . . the old man said nothing. Seeing his shadow slowly nod, he simply closed up his wooden hatch to leave me in confusion for a half-minute, before opening it up again with that same shallow demand:
“Confess to me your sins.”
Now my little heart was beginning to start! “Umm . . . I fight with my brother,” I whispered once more, my mind searching frantically for any other awful sin. “And . . . umm . . . I once screamed . . . at my mother.”
But still nothing! The priest closed the hatch on me yet another time, only to return again requesting my confession. And what was I saying wrong?! It must have been something! Because if this man was in contact with God, and God could read my mind, then that old guy in the sky must have been telling him my deepest darkest secrets!
Desperately, I rattled my budding brain for any answers, any hint of wrong doing, spilling out all of my most treacherous deeds of my young life on Earth.
Although the memory now fades me, this cycle of sin must have carried itself out at least a dozen times. And the man of God never once bothered to let me know that I can, in fact, leave. No “Go in peace.” No “You are forgiven.” And no “What the hell are you still doing in here?!”—which I still would have appreciated. Finally, after being asked for yet another confession, I simply wasn’t taking it anymore!! I decided to think for myself for a change, and broke myself out of that tiny little box they stranded me in.
As I stepped into the light, I immediately saw my Nonna with a look of terrible worry, and my twin brother holding her tight, now with tears streaming from his eyes, thinking he had lost me.
Now this is something I will always remember.
Yet once they met my gaze, I saw smiles unlike any other, and fires flicking on again within the windows to the soul. And soon enough, I felt a familial embrace, a love unconditional of any of my many seven-year-old sins. I then knew that this love was so much purer than anything they could ever teach me in Sunday school . . . or anything I could ever read in a book, for that matter.
So in the end, I guess it was worth it—if only for this epiphany. But from that point on, I was done with those people.
To Be Born Again
“Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? I think I would say that the universe has a purpose. It’s not somehow just there by chance. Some people, I think, take the view that the universe is just there, and we happen somehow by accident to find ourselves in this thing. But I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe. I think that there is something much deeper about it.
“. . . I don’t know if it’s fair to say what happens after one dies, but it’s a plausible picture that you could be somebody else, and that somebody else could be somebody that lived in the past, not in the future.”
-Roger Penrose, University of Oxford cosmologist, A Brief History of Time (1991)
It’s not like I was non-spiritual; I always believed in something more. I just didn’t think these practices had anything to do with actual spirituality. Yet for some strange reason, I couldn’t find many others who thought the same way.
Most of all, I didn’t like those telling me what to believe or what to think or what to feel. I don’t want to believe things because people tell me they are true, or because I want them to be true. I want to believe things because there is reason—there is provable evidence! We are living in the scientific age.
But this leads me to another point: You can still believe in God and evolution at the same time—the vastness of the cosmos—the Big Bang—science! Despite the many religious atheists who perpetuate such hollow arguments. At the same time, however, God is just a word. Like my name, it is a collection of indirect symbols. And to me, it is foolish to declare with any certainty that “God does not exist,” with one’s all-knowing intellect and bodily senses, when “God” can be ascribed to any number of subjective abstractions.
Thus it is up to you to assign it meaning, and search inward for that more primordial feeling—something deeper.
Only then can a statement be made on its validity, even if one arrives at an absurdist notion that this “God” we have sought for ages, complete with meaning for our very existence, is beyond the intellect itself; beyond churches and holy men; beyond words and written symbols. And as much as we push and squirm and tug on this human leash, God waits for us, lying out of reach.
So despite my failed fling in organized religion, I was a child brought up by science, within a family of physicists and engineers. And during my own journey, I found that science was not only compatible with this brand of spirituality I sought so deeply, it was complimentary!
As our instruments expand, and we inevitably delve deeper, I feel that this will be the case more than ever. Quantum mechanics has endowed humanity with an increasing humility with what our eyes alone can tell us, steering us away from a philosophy of harsh objectivism and into a more “quantum worldview,” prioritizing the subjective observer. (We just need more scientists to be fearlessly open-minded about phenomena of consciousness!)
“The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.”
-Dr. Bernard d’Espagnat, French theoretical physicist, “The Quantum Theory and Reality,” Scientific American (1979)
It wasn’t until age thirteen when I asked my Hindu friend about reincarnation. He proceeded to tell me about the cycle of Saṃsāra, the continuity of the Ātman, the unity of the Brahman, and the quest for liberation. He backed this up with examples of young children born everyday with an inner knowing unexplainable by any other means.
And if this were true, then we are indeed part of an entity much greater than just the body—just one single ego. So even if the religion itself is brimming with its own silly dogmas, I thought this made a whole lot more sense intuitively than the typical Christian notion of an eternal afterlife, governed by a disconnected divinity.
Thus, I told him that I believed too, but I didn’t dare tell this to any of my white friends. I was afraid they would think me to be weird, or something.
By age seventeen, I began reading up on Zen Buddhism. This is a form of the religion that focuses less on scripture, and more on internal meditation. Likewise, I found logic in an ideology urging us to stop looking up, and start looking within. I learned that Buddhists too believe in reincarnation, but with less of an emphasis on the transient self, and more on the Universe as a whole.
For me, these Eastern philosophies represented a purer form of cosmic spirituality. For as much wisdom there is to be found in the teachings of Christ, they have been unquestionably corrupted by power, fear, and the politics of the time.
It also didn’t help that there were “Christians” I saw who weren’t very Christ-like at all. In fact, they were saying that we could go to Hell for eternity, simply for thinking differently—or even being born different! Now how could anyone ever believe such an abomination?
And how could they ever call themselves Christian?? Did they forget who and what it is all about? (Alas, the Bible is not an autobiography . . . )
“Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians—you are not like him.”
-Bara Dada, Indian philosopher, The Christ of the Indian Road (1925)
By age twenty-one, I ceased to believe in fate altogether. For I discovered that there is almost certainly no preset destiny governed by an extrinsic God; rather, we create our own reality, out of the infinite possibilities available to our multi-dimensional entity.
Still, never once did I think to call myself an atheist—I still felt something—even if I arrived at a definition of divinity quite divergent from traditional Abrahamic theology. Personally, this definition seemed to enhance individual freedom rather than limiting it with unfounded fear and dogma. (Ironically, thinking in this sense could have at one point had me “excommunicated” by those foolish men!)
Because to me, spirituality should not be about externalizing our power; we don’t need any books to tell us what is right, nor other men to use as communion with the divine.
More bluntly—we don’t need any self-righteous charlatans who arbitrarily push on us what is “sin.”
Nor any indirect symbolism to feel what is within, and always has been.
So at some point, it all clicked: It had become apparent to me that there has been a long line of elites who fear the way of human progress, sapping the power from the people, and rendering the natural world inert and mechanical—all while forbidding easy access to our higher being.
With this came a clear means to control the masses, endorse violent agendas, and decimate an otherwise heavenly planet, brimming with divine life.
“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware that this Nature that he has been destroying is this God he’s worshiping.”
-Dr. Hubert Reeves, Canadian astrophysicist, as quoted in The Way Of The Dragon (2014)
Human beings have more power than they know. It is only a matter of awareness; a function of self-realization! And with this comes the understanding that we are all part of something greater—a cycle of eternity—the same universal energy since our infinite singularity, bursting with unbounded potential. This is an energy that can never be destroyed, only transform and flow, as opposed to a worldview of Western religion, prioritizing such a shallow ego.
Indeed, the notion of a greater wholeness is certainly more sensible than a system of separation. It is evident to me that children do not come into this world with a completely blank slate.
For even at a young age, I knew there had to be something more to my identity than just four arbitrary symbols. Truthfully, “Mark” may be just one of many . . .
To Find Within
“There are three claims in the [parapsychology] field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study. . . . [which the third being] that young children sometimes report details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation.”
-Carl Sagan, acclaimed astrophysicist & father of modern skepticism, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)
“When I was your age, I used to change your diapers,” said Gus Taylor to his father, before he was even 2-years-old.
“Mama, I think I used to be somebody else,” remarked 5-year-old Ryan Hammons to his mother, after crying from vivid nightmares.
And even: “Mommy, where’s my other mother?” This is what a shocked mother on reddit professed her toddler told her when he was barely 2. “I died in a car accident. It was a purple car. She must wonder where I am. She must miss me very much. Do you know where she is?”
These are all examples of children who may be experiencing a phenomenon more than just an active imagination—past life memories, even of untimely deaths. But a case with especially far-reaching implications is one of 5-year-old Luke Ruehlman, who from a young age began telling his mother about a previous life as an African-American woman named Pam, complete with details of her death in a burnt-down Chicago hotel.
After some research, Luke’s family was able to determine that there was a Paxton Hotel in Chicago which burnt down in the 1980s, killing many residents including a 30-year-old woman named Pamela. To test the boy’s alleged memory, they laid out a photograph of the real Pamela alongside several similar-looking decoys, proceeding to ask Luke if he recognized anyone.
Surely, it would be challenging for any young Caucasian male to identify himself with an adult black woman. But Luke seemed to recognize something deeper, as if he had stared directly into his own soul, knowing internally:
“This is me! My name was Pam. My skin was a bit darker. I loved Stevie Wonder . . .
“And I died in a building fire.”
“I had to jump through the window.”
“I was only thirty years old.”
And yes, I understand there is reason to be quite dubious of these shows. However, as Luke’s mother alleges, they simply went on to spread a message of “love and unification,” without any monetary incentive, of a soul that knows no gender or ethnicity.
Indeed, the internet is filled with stories of young children pondering fragments of past life memory, from their former loved ones to the modes of their death to even choosing their own parents! Again, this is anecdotal stuff, but I’ve read so much of this from astonished mothers that there has to be something to it—especially when they recount specific details that they couldn’t have known in any other way, frequently linked with inexplicable fears and phobias. It is apparent to me that we should at least investigate.
Among countless examples, reddit user “smilingfemalemachine” writes, “My first memories are from before I was even born. I remember looking down at my parents in their early 20’s while they were walking into my grandparents home. My father was using a walker, and I remember feeling this overwhelming feeling of love and joy upon seeing them. And a feeling of helplessness seeing my father in that condition. I decided right then that they were going to be my parents, but it just wasn’t the right time yet.
“[The next memory] they were still in their early 20’s and my dad was fine and walker-free. I felt the same love and joy, and also really excited because I knew then that they were ready for me. . . . I was thinking about these memories and decided to talk to my mother. I asked her about when my dad used a walker, and she looked at me like she was shocked I even knew about it.”
Furthermore, user “StinkybuttMcPoopface,” an obvious authority on the subject, responds to this claim with her own metaphysical memories:
“When I was young I told my parents of my past lives and the time between incarnations. I personally don’t remember this, but from what my mom recorded I was insistent that I specifically chose them as my parents.
“I told her that I had chose them, but ‘something went wrong and I had to go back and wait’ until they tried again, then I came down for good. What I couldn’t have known or understood when I was so young was that my mom had been pregnant right before me, with another little girl, and she had miscarried. I also told her that I chose her because ‘I was the mama last time’ that it was my turn to be her daughter.
“I have vivid dreams and what I think are memories of the time between. I don’t remember the lives before, but I could swear that I know what the ‘waiting room’ area is like and some of the rules and workings of the time between. . . . Part of what I feel that I remember is absolutely watching those ‘below’ live their lives, choosing who you want to be born to, and watching them specifically live out normal daily routines until the time comes to go be conceived.”
And with this revelation, Mrs. Stinky Butt has single-handedly proved reincarnation!! Checkmate atheists. Post finished. Case closed. Now you can truly be ultra-spiritual. And you don’t have to be afraid of death, or whatever. You can thank me later, in our next life, when we are both cats.
Okay, fine . . . I guess I’ll be more serious about this. And I’ll begrudgingly put on my skeptic glasses, complete with a smug grin and dose of pomposity. How boring. I prefer a world of unadulterated wizardry!
But now I assure you there is more to this than just questionable internet evidence from female machines and poop faces. And some of it’s pretty cool! Let’s find out:
For one, we can look at the findings of Dr. Ian Stevenson, who began to research claims of “apparent memories of former incarnations” shortly after becoming the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Virginia in 1957. The first set of past life memories he analyzed was a group of 44 cases from children across the globe. Stevenson was extremely impressed with the consistencies of these claims, regardless of cultural upbringing, later concluding:
“These forty-four cases, when you put them together, it just seemed inescapable to me that there must be something there. . . . I couldn’t see how they could all be faked or they could all be a deception.“
At the very least, Stevenson believed that this topic—one with potentially astounding implications for humanity and beyond—warranted further study, despite the inevitable criticism from more rigid peers that would come with it. The driven psychiatrist ended up spending the next 47 years investigating reincarnational evidence firsthand, coming to understand that this phenomenon was something “much more common than anyone had previously known.”
And although many children claimed to be deceased family members or friends of family, there were others who told of being complete strangers in an entirely different location. Upon checking, the majority of these claims were verified by Stevenson, who found a name of the former incarnation whose life matched specific details of the given descriptions.
It is cases like these that are the most suggestive that this stuff is not just fantasy—this is something real, dormant, lying within.
In 1966, Stevenson published Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, analyzing past life memories of children from India to Lebanon to Brazil. Rather than attempting to “prove” reincarnation, each case was laid out in an objective, scientific manner, along with its specific strengths and weaknesses.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, these cases were “recorded in such full detail as to persuade the open mind that reincarnation is a tenable hypothesis to explain them.” And following several subsequent volumes published over the next few years, the Journal of the American Medical Association stated: “In regard to reincarnation he has painstakingly and unemotionally collected a detailed series of cases from India, cases in which the evidence is difficult to explain on any other grounds.”
Yet after some criticism from concentrating on cultures with a general belief in reincarnation, Stevenson began collecting volumes of data solely from America and Europe, usually within Christian families without a focus on former lives. He found that these too were highly suggestive of the validity of reincarnation, especially when there was an inter-life correlation found of interests, talents, defects and phobias arising from unprocessed past life traumas. Indeed, past life phenomena seemed to explain strange personality traits that no other branch of psychology could claim.
All this culminated with Dr. Stevenson’s most seminal work, Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects. Published in 1997 after decades of research, this 2,200 page volume documents 225 cases of children possessing often dramatic birthmarks and defects, along with detailed reports and photographs to match. Stevenson was determined in obtaining autopsies, police records, and eyewitness accounts, not only identifying an incarnation according to child testimony, but verifying almost invariably that the defects of the child corresponded perfectly with the wounds of the deceased body.
The statistical significance of this is astonishing:
“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 birth defects were nearly always of rare types. In cases in which a deceased person was identified the details of whose life unmistakably matched the child’s statements, a close correspondence was nearly always found between the birthmarks and/or birth defects on the child and the wound on the deceased person.
“In 43 of 49 cases in which a medical document (usually a postmortem report) was obtained, it confirmed the correspondence between wounds and birthmarks (or birth defects). . . . [reincarnation] seems required to account for at least some of the details of these cases, including the birthmarks and birth defects.”
Dr. Ian Stevenson, “Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons,” Journal of Scientific Exploration (1993)
Consider the case of Chanai Choomalaiwong, a boy from Thailand who claimed he used to be a teacher named Bua Kai who had been shot and killed while riding his bicycle to school. After begging his family to be taken to the village of his former incarnation, Chanai led his grandmother directly to the house of an older couple, whom the young boy recognized. The couple were the parents of Bua Kai Lawnak, a teacher who had been shot and killed on his way to school five years before Chanai was born.
Although no autopsy report was available for this case, Stevenson interviewed several witnesses who saw the body, including the widow of Bua Kai who stated that her husband had been shot from behind, due to entry and exit wounds near the back and front of his head. Oddly enough, Chanai was born with two birthmarks: a small, round one on the back of his head and a larger, more irregular one near the front.
Exceptionally, Stevenson was able to document eighteen of these cases with “double birthmarks,” in which a child was born with two birthmarks corresponding to entry and exit wounds of the previous personality. But a case does not necessarily need to include physical symptoms in order to be convincing of the validity of reincarnation.
Another instance involves a toddler in Sri Lanka who one day overheard her mother mentioning the name of a small town, Kataragama, that they had never been to. As if something triggered within, the young girl went on to say that she had drowned there when her “dumb” brother pushed her into the river, along with several other claims as recorded by Dr. Stevenson. These included having a bald father named “Herath” who sold flowers by the Buddhist stupa, while living near a place where people smashed coconuts to the ground.
After investigation, Stevenson was able to confirm that there was in fact a flower vendor in Kataragama, running a stall by the Buddhist stupa, whose two-year-old daughter drowned in the river while playing with her mentally challenged brother. The man also had a house next door to a Hindu Temple where devotees practiced a ritual of smashing coconuts to the ground.
Although the toddler misremembered a few statements (the man’s name was not Herath—that was the dead girl’s cousin), she ended up having 27 out of 30 specific claims verified by Dr. Stevenson. So unless there was some sort of imperfect conspiracy between families, these details could not have been acquired in any other way.
Stevenson’s research has garnered heavy praise—even managing to sway some hardcore skeptics—strongly aided by an endorsement by the father of modern skepticism, Carl Sagan. The renowned astrophysicist asserted that this field deserves “serious study,” for in many of these cases “young children report details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation.”
Professor of Science Communication and eminent skeptic Jesse Bering reluctantly agrees, confessing that “these 3000 accounts are in an entirely different kind of parapsychological ballpark. . . . when you actually read them firsthand, many are exceedingly difficult to explain away by rational, non-paranormal means. . . . careful reading of Stevenson’s work has, rather miraculously, managed to pry [my mind] open.”
UVA physics professor Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, known for her breakthroughs in surface physics, surmised of Stevenson’s work: “The statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming, established by thousands of already documented cases of remembered lives, and strongly buttressed by the incidence of birthmarks . . . that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science, whether physics, cosmology, or Darwinian evolution.”
And even PhD neuroscientist Sam Harris, consistently ranked as the second most influential skeptic and atheist figurehead in the world today, has listed three compilations of Stevenson’s evidence in his bestseller The End of Faith. “While there have been many frauds in the history of parapsychology, I believe that this field of study has been unfairly stigmatized,” he has written, to some degree of controversy. “If it is true that toddlers occasionally start speaking in ancient languages (as Ian Stevenson alleges), I would like to know about it.”
Of course, the psychiatrist’s most ardent followers were especially optimistic, comparing him to the likes of Darwin and Galileo:
“[Dr. Ian Stevenson] provides rigorous scientific reasoning to show how reincarnation is the only viable explanation that fits the facts of his study. He considers every possible alternative explanation for his twenty cases of young children who were spontaneously able to describe a previous lifetime as soon as they learned to talk.
“He was able to rule out each alternative explanation using one or more aspects of these cases. Later research has even bolstered his case in favor of the existence of reincarnation. His study is also completely reproducible which means that anybody who doubts the validity of this study is perfectly welcome to repeat it for themselves.
“I believe it is only a short matter of time before his discovery of the existence of reincarnation is finally realized by the scientific community and the world to be accepted as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time.“
-Kevin R. Williams, paranormal researcher, “Reincarnation Evidence of the Afterlife”
However, most scientists viewed Stevenson as earnest yet gullible, either ignoring his work entirely, or scouring it for holes and inconsistencies (which would *of course* debunk his entire body of evidence, logically speaking). Austrian philosopher Paul Edwards was his staunchest critic, attacking the work of the psychiatrist in his 1996 book Reincarnation: A Critical Examination to the point of declaring he must live in “a cloud-cuckoo-land” for believing in such “absurd nonsense.”
Edwards criticized Stevenson for asking leading questions, filling in gaps between narratives, and only having a small percentage of cases in which a child’s alleged former incarnation was of a family far away, which their current one couldn’t have contacted.
Ironically, Edward’s critique was subsequently critiqued by another philosopher, Dr. Robert Almeder, Professor Emeritus at Georgia State University. In his book “Beyond Death: Evidence for Life After Death,” he called the cynicism of Edwards “an enduring monument of ad hominems, false charges of fallacy, straw men, illegitimate generalizations and sloppy scholarship.”
Rejecting rigid scientism while defending reincarnational research, Almeder pondered if the only reason Edwards was attacking Dr. Stevenson so vigorously is because he felt threatened over his own stubborn “dogmatic materialism.” In other words, because Edwards was so irreversibly entrenched in his view that consciousness cannot exist without the brain, he was forced to assert that every single one of the approximately 3,000 cases examined by Stevenson must be either fraud or delusion.
While initially highly skeptical himself, the important thing is that Almeder was willing to change his views once he recognized it was legitimate science. “The more I read the more I realized that this was important and it was good research,” he affirms. “And I couldn’t think of any alternative explanation as plausible for the data except for that some people reincarnate.”
In fact, the open-minded philosopher of mind found the body of data so strong and so compelling that he was left with a bold conclusion: “It’s irrational to disbelieve it.” Then by deeper implications, “human beings are more than their bodies” and “human personality cannot be adequately understood in terms of the existing paradigm, which works on a purely materialistic basis.”
Unfortunately, as Stevenson stated, and rightfully so, “sometimes the wish not to believe is stronger than the wish to believe.”
“Stevenson’s discoveries served to sway more than a few skeptics. More often than not, Stevenson could identify an actual figure that once lived based solely on the statements given by the child.
“Some cases were much stronger than others, but I must say, when you actually read them firsthand, many are exceedingly difficult to explain away by rational, non-paranormal means. . . . Reincarnation and Biology contained 225 case reports of children who remembered previous lives and who also had physical anomalies that matched those previous lives, details that could in some cases be confirmed by the dead person’s autopsy record and photos.
“. . . Stevenson himself was convinced that, once the precise mechanisms underlying his observations were known, it would bring about ‘a conceptual revolution that will make the Copernican revolution seem trivial in comparison.‘ It’s hard to argue with that, assuming it ever does happen. . . . I can say that a fair assessment and a careful reading of Stevenson’s work has, rather miraculously, managed to pry [my mind] open.”
-Jesse Bering, scientist & skeptic, “Ian Stevenson’s Case for the Afterlife: Are We ‘Skeptics’ Really Just Cynics,” Scientific American (Nov 2013)
This phenomenon is what University of Cambridge Professor Brian Josephson calls “pathological disbelief,” in response to his own criticism from the orthodoxy for exploring consciousness, practicing transcendental meditation, and attempting to reconcile conflicts between science and religion. “People just don’t appreciate anything that comes from a different line of thinking,” explains the Nobel Prize-winning physicist. “And I think that’s very bad for science, because often advances occur when two different disciplines are joined together.”
So whether you agree with Edwards or with Almeder is up to you. I would, however, recommend that you explore the body of evidence for past life phenomena thoroughly before making a conclusion—from the work of Stevenson to that of several others I will get to in later parts, which are in my view even more impressive. It is not conducive to pre-determinedly dismiss this all as “absurd nonsense,” labeling those as crazy simply for attempting to explore beyond the self-imposed limits of mainstream science.
A 1999 New York Times piece details the work of Dr. Stevenson, who with the release of his book Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence For Past Lives at the age of 80, finally started getting the respect he deserved after years of mockery from colleagues terrified of an open mind. The article explains how Tom Shroder of The Washington Post traveled with the psychiatrist on evidence-gathering trips to review his work firsthand, discovering a startling consistency of claims from children around the globe, providing specific details about actual figures they couldn’t have otherwise known.
This comes along with a deep personal connection to the life of the previous personality, utterly transcendent of bodily identity. “Some are tormented, struggling with torn loyalties between two families,” mentioned Stevenson to the Times. “They often want to go back to the other family, and reject their parents. Very often the child is placated by meeting the previous personality’s family.”
One particular subject they analyzed was a Lebanese girl named Suzanne, who recalled her life as another woman who died months before she was born. By age 2, Suzanne knew the names of 13 of the woman’s family members, and could even recite parts of the eulogy delivered at her funeral.
“The only way to account normally for what people were telling us was to hypothesize some massive multi-sided conspiracy, either conscious fraud or some unconscious communal coordination among people from different families and communities with no obvious motive or clear means to cooperate in a deception.”
Yet I don’t know many toddlers such as Suzanne who are able to fabricate such fine details, and recall all this verifiable information with the exception being if it is from her own actual memory, whether or not the parents had fed her information they probably couldn’t have known in the first place, and were in on this “massive conspiracy.”
Because that’s what scientific skepticism is all about, right? We have to say with unyielding certainty that our preconceived dogmas must be correct, and that this kind of stuff is impossible, so the only logical answer is a massive conspiracy of sociopathic toddlers for God-knows-what reason.
To me personally, you might be better off subscribing to the theories of Planet X, chemtrails, and a squirrel-run Illuminati. Now allow me while I adjust my glasses.
“When you read the case studies [of Dr. Stevenson], there’s a kind of force that is really enticing. What I did is I read them all the way through and put down the book and said ‘This must be wrong.’ But the more I read the more I realized that this was important and it was good research and I couldn’t think of any alternative explanation as plausible for the data except for that some people reincarnate.
“Some people have said after reading the data that it’s not unreasonable to believe [in reincarnation]. And Stevenson says that, because this is the best fit on the data. My reaction is stronger—my claim is that it’s irrational to disbelieve it. A lot of people thought that over the top, but I meant it in a simple way: If you have a very commanding argument that you can’t refute, not accept the argument is to act irrationally.
“. . . [Stevenson’s] work is revolutionary is that he’s the first one to take children seriously, and without being overly aggressive about it, he takes each alternative explanation of the cases that are strong, and shows why they don’t seem to work very well.”
-Dr. Robert Almeder, Professor of Philosophy (GSU), “Reincarnational Evidence in Ian Stevenson’s Research” (2013)
Because as Dr. Almeder asserts, “If you have a very commanding argument that you can’t refute, then to not accept the argument is to act irrationally.”
The same goes to any other phenomenon with scientific evidence, as much as anti-intellectuals turn a blind eye to that of global warming, and Christian fundamentalists scour for holes in evolutionary theory. So to those out there who like to call yourselves “rationalists,” I urge you to forget everything you know. Then, consider what might be the most rational conclusion, whatever that may be.
Although several societies around the globe have long considered it a fact that people are reborn, Western research into reincarnation is still very much ongoing. Most notably, Dr. Jim B. Tucker has followed in Stevenson’s footsteps at UVA, publishing Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives in 2005, which presents an objective overview of over four decades of reincarnation research at UVA’s Division of Perceptual Studies.
Michael Levin, director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University, has called Tucker’s book a “first-rate piece of research” because there was no way to debunk such findings. Like Stevenson, Tucker approaches each case critically and objectively, making sure to rule out any sort of “rational” explanation before conceding the likely validity of these memories:
“In the case of [the Turkish boy] his family had no idea if a person matching his description had actually lived, and it was only with great effort that Jürgen Keil was able to confirm the existence of such a person.
“This not only rules out the possibility of falsely credited information, but the search required to confirm the statements also appears to eliminate the possibility that [the boy] somehow learned about the previous personality by overhearing people talking about him. This makes the task of explaining the case through normal means a difficult one.
“Such cases lend credence to the validity of children’s memories of previous lives in general since they demonstrate that some children do make numerous statements about deceased individuals that are later confirmed to be accurate, and they cast significant doubt on the ability of the socio-psychological hypothesis to accurately explain this phenomenon.”
-Dr. Jim Tucker & Jürgen Keil, “Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives: Cases with Written Records Made Before the Previous Personality Was Identified” (2005)
The Professor of Psychiatry is finding largely the same patterns as Stevenson, from toddlers remembering past lives to even “life between lives.” And even if he is still quite skeptical about reincarnation—investigating every case for fraud or faulty memory—he still sees it as the most logical explanation for the data taken as a whole. The young children examined by Tucker are said to display above-average IQs, an earnest disposition, and no signs of any mental or emotional disorders.
In his most recent book Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives, Tucker further argues that discoveries in quantum science may provide clues to the existence of reincarnation. He emphasizes, however, that we cannot look at this phenomenon from a “materialist understanding” of the world. Rather, we have to see from a different perspective, one in which consciousness might be an essential substance to this Universe—an ultimate reality!
We will explore this scientific paradigm shift in part 2, coming soon.