Reincarnation: Hogwash or Real? - RiseEarth

Reincarnation: Hogwash or Real?


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Does consciousness survive death? See what scientific studies have to say about reincarnation

Reincarnation is not something you would often hear discussed over a coffee or meal. You may have heard someone jokingly blamed what he did in his past life to explain away a string of bad luck, or watched a movie that weaved rebirth into its plot so that the protagonists get to meet again. But other than that, hardly anyone really takes the idea of having a past life seriously. It is, after all, one of the mysteries in life that can neither be proven nor explained. Or is it?

What if there are researchers who actually take reincarnation seriously and attempt to verify the statements made by people who claimed to remember a past life in an objective and non-emotional fashion?

In this article, we’ll look at some of the findings made by these researchers over the years.

Research on Reincarnation

To date, some 2,600 cases have been investigated and documented. And in 64 to 80 percent of the cases, a deceased person matching the statements given by subjects who remembered a past life has been identified.

While it’s relatively easy to retrieve one’s biodata and family history with the Internet these days, it’s worthy to note that verified cases of reincarnation were recorded as early as 1960s, a time when the Internet is yet unborn.

What’s even more intriguing is, subjects in the studies who claimed to be a person who once lived were not adults.

Generally, the ages of the subjects were between two and four years old when they started making statements about a life that they were unlikely to know through ordinary means, like the names of people and places they’ve never met or been before.

And there are even more interesting facts when we analyze these young children and what they have said:

  • 78 percent of the children mentioned how they died in their past life and most of their claims were later found to match the deceased person whom they claimed to be (what scientists called the previous personality).
  • Many of them were born with birthmarks or birth defects that matched one or more wounds on the body of the previous personality. The birthmarks were not just small discoloration of the skin, but were often unusual in shape or size.
  • Slightly more than 60 percent of the previous personality died violently.
  • Many children also displayed behavior that corresponded to the behavior of the previous personality. For instance, a child may show intense fear of things related to the death of the previous personality even though the child had no such traumatic experience. An example is the fear of water which the subject later revealed that she was drowned in her previous life. Some may also share the same preferences as the deceased person that are either considered unusual for a young child or are inconsistent with the circumstances they were born in, such as a preference for alcohol, cigarette, or foods that were not consumed by the child’s family.
  • Past life memories that the children recounted were fragmented and usually centered around the time close to the death of the previous personality. These memories appeared not to be accessible to the children at all times.
  • In a number of cases, the children relentlessly begged to be brought back to their previous family, with some doing so for years.
  • Some subjects were able to recognize people, places and/or things from their past life when they were brought to the home of the previous personality.
  • Subjects can exhibit strong emotions towards characters in the life of the previous personality. For example, some showed great anger towards people whom they believed were responsible for their death in the previous life, while others displayed affection to people whom they claimed they were close to in the past.
  • Most of the children stopped talking about their past life when they reached the age of five to eight years old and they seemed to have completely forgotten about it after that. Behaviors supposedly associated with past life memories (phobias, unusual tastes, strong emotions etc.) also resolved or lessened in intensity as the subjects grew older.
Real Life Cases

In the book, Life Before Life: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives by Dr. Jim B. Tucker, one of the researchers involved in the study of reincarnation, several intriguing possible cases of rebirth were described and analyzed for their strengths and weaknesses.

Four cases made an impression in my mind. I’ll briefly described them below. Note that the names used in the book and here are neither the subjects nor the family members’ real names:
Sisters that Come Back as Twins

Gillian and Jennifer Pollock were born as identical twins one and a half years after their older sisters, Joanna and Jacqueline, were killed in a car accident. When both girls were three, her mother overheard them discussing details of the accident in several occasions. Jennifer has a birthmark that matched a scar on Jacqueline, the younger of the deceased girls. Gillian remembered how Jacqueline got the scar although Jennifer had not had an accident that produced the mark and no one had ever mentioned about Jacqueline’s scar. Both twins also seemed to be familiar with the neighborhood where their older sisters had once lived with their parents even though they were new to the estate.
The Lebanon Boy Who Remembers

At a young age, Nazih Al-Danaf from Lebanon started describing the past life of a man who lived ten miles away from where he was. He demanded his parents to bring him there and directed them to the place where a man called Fuad once lived. Nazih was able to answer questions about the details of Fuad’s life posed by the previous personality’s wife and brother. He was also able to name correctly the people he saw in photos, pointed out Fuad’s first house and mentioned the gift which Fuad gave to his brother, Sheikh. Apart from Sheikh’s wife, no one knew about the gift, which was a type of pistol not commonly found in Lebanon.
Story of a Sri Lankan Girl

When Gnanatilleka Baddewithana from Sri Lanka was two years old, she began saying she had another family in another place. Her story caught the attention of a journalist who wrote about her case in the papers. The story in turn led to the discovery of the previous personality, a boy called Tillekeratne, who died more than a year before Gnanatilleka was born. During a controlled recognition test, Gnanatilleka not only recognized the family members of Tillekeratne and pointed out those that Tillekeratne had not known, she also voluntarily contributed other details, like “The sister to whose house we go to sew clothes” when she was asked to identify one of Tillekeratne’s sisters. She even displayed the same emotion towards Tillekeratne’s brother who had not been on good terms with the previous personality.
The Aborted Fetus

Kendra Carter, a four and a half years old girl from Florida, immediately grew very attached to her swimming coach, Ginger, starting from her first lesson. She would appear very happy when she was with Ginger but quiet and withdrawn when she wasn’t. Later, she began to tell the story of how she was being removed from Ginger’s womb in an abortion. Her swimming coach confirmed that she did have an abortion nine years before Kendra was born. At one point, when Ginger stopped seeing Kendra, the young girl stopped talking for four and a half months, showed no interest in activities, ate little and slept a lot.
Criticisms

Like other research papers, studies on reincarnation are not without their criticisms.

Firstly, many of the cases documented are not first-hand reports of researchers. By the time a researcher heard about a story, sometimes years later, the case would have already developed to a certain extent.

Some forms of communication between the subject’s family and the previous personality’s family would have been established, and informal and uncontrolled recognition tests would have taken place. So researchers have to relied on interviews with family members, witnesses and the subjects, if they still retained their past-life memories, to reconstruct what have actually taken place.

In much fewer cases are researchers able to devise their own tests, such as in the case of Gnanatilleka, the Sri Lankan girl, to validate the claims personally.

As such, the possibilities of fraud and faulty memories were not completely ruled out by research authors, however small the chances may be.

Likewise, alternate explanations to reincarnation, like possession and acquiring information through extrasensory perception, were also considered in Dr. Tucker’s book, Life Before Life.

But even after taking all these factors into consideration, the most reasonable explanation researchers could give after looking at all the cases collected is, reincarnation, or the possibility of the consciousness surviving death, is probably not as “hogwash” as we thought it is.

Note: If your child repeatedly claimed to have memories of a previous life, and you’d like to participate in reincarnation research, you can get in touch with the Division of Perceptual Studies, a unit at the University of Virginia.

Source: The Conscious Life
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