Is Reincarnation a Scientific Fact?
20 November 2011
The question of what happens to us after death has been with us from the earliest times. Neolithic burial sites show that the rites involved with a person passing out of this life was believe to be going on to another kind of existence. From Hindu and Buddhist reincarnation beliefs to the Christian idea that the good are raised to another life in The Kingdom of Heaven while the souls of the not-so-good may, according to different branches of Christian belief, serve time in purgatory cleansing their souls before going on, or may descent into a dark abyss where they will be tortured throughout eternity.
What is the truth. Is there some kind of afterlife or is our physical death simply the end. My personal belief tends to the latter but after certain personal experiences I don't cling to that belief with any great certainty. As Hamlet says to his friend Horatio in Shakespeare's play, "There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamed of in your philosophies."
Horiatio's and mine too as it turns out because one great thing I have learned through growing older is how little we truly know and understand of the nature of this world we live in and of the characteristics that make us human. It seems Socrates was right all those years ago, the greatest thing we can nknow is that we know nothing.
A certain kind of "scientist" will always be eager to scoff and sneer at the notion that people engaged in researching a subject such as reincarnation should be described as a scientists. This only proves that certain kind of scientist does not truly understand the meaning of the word "science." All too often these people conflate science with mathematics, insisting the universe works according to a mathematical design and trying to reduce the human condition to a series of mathematical equations. We should pity them, their narrow minds run on railway tracks and they are always too ready to start a witch hunt against anything that challenges their mathematical certainties. (Anyone who wants to know the true value of mathematical certainties should try to make a living backing racehorses or playing the roulette wheel.)
So is there any chance reincarnation could be possible?
Dr. Ian Stevenson former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, and now Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. is a psychiatrist who has spent many years studying cases of young children who remember details of their past lives. Most of these children live in India, and some live in the Middle East. There have been very well documented cases in the USA and Europe but the nature of western culture is such that many examples are probably dismissed as the vivid imaginings of the childish mind. Not surprising really, what kind of parent would risk subjecting a young child to the rabid harassment of white - coated inquisitors or the rabid attention of the tabloid press?
Unlike many researchers in to the paranormal before him, Dr. Stevenson does not use hypnosis in his research, he is adamant that under hypnosis both adults and children are far too suggestible for anything they say to be treated as reliable evidence. Thus to maintain objectivity in his studies he and his team rely on interviews with fully conscious subjects, their family and friends and people with whom they might have been acquainted in the past life. What emerges from these investigations is then verified by documented evidence before it is accepted as a genuine case of reincarnation. (Dr. Ian Stevenson on You Tube)
Instead of relying on hypnosis to verify that an individual has had a previous life, the investigator instead chose to collect thousands of cases of children who spontaneously (without hypnosis) remember a past life. Dr. Ian Stevenson uses this approach because spontaneous past life memories in a child can be investigated using strict scientific protocols. Hypnosis, while useful in researching into past lives, is less reliable from a purely scientific perspective. In order to collect his data Dr. Stevenson methodically documents the child's statements of a previous life. Then he identifies the deceased person the child remembers being, and verifies the facts of the deceased person's life that match the child's memory. He even matches birthmarks and birth defects to wounds and scars on the deceased, confirmed by medical records. His strict controls systematically rule out all possible "rational" explanations for the child’s memories.
A reincarnation investigation might start with a child telling parents or family members from the moment he or she is able to speak coherently about her "other family", giving details such as previous name, the name of the village or town, the manner of death, and the names of her parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, etc.
Such children, to attract the attention of Dr. Stevenson or other researchers into the paranormal, must also show behaviour patters and the emotions that would fit with the past-life person. Some may feel themselves to be of a different religion (or in the case of Hindus, caste), or to be of a richer or poorer background than the biological family.
There are even documented cases of such children actually being able to speak almost fluently in the language the former person spoke (this is called "xenoglossy"), or may remember stories, songs or dances from the previous lifetime.
When these cases occur word will get around about the child's statements and in the small, close knit communities of rural India and the middle eastern countries, someone in another village will recognize a story about the a person they knew in the past, who died years before. The past-life family is contacted, and arrangements are made for a visit. This is all rather vague and informal so where does Ian Stevenson's claim to have carried out his research with scientific rigor come in.
Most of the time Dr. Stevenson only hears of the cases and thus is only able to contact families after a good deal of informal research has been done, but in a few cases he has been able to be there when the first meeting took place. Dr. Stevenson always takes very careful notes and has other people observing and taking notes as well, to safeguard against him making mistakes and to make sure the reporting is accurate and fair.
In a large number of these cases (at least 250 very strong ones, and thousands of lesser cases), the child will make as many as 40 specific statements about her past life, and most of these turn out to be true. In one specific case of a first meeting which is used as an example of Dr. Stevenson's methods, the child, a girl in India was able to point out her former relatives even though people were deliberately trying to to trick her; and she behaved toward them they way one would expect a young child to be with very familiar people. Emotionally too, the girl behaved as one would expect, including reacting to some people she liked and others she was not so keen on . She was able to give personal, intimate details that only the past-life person could possibly have known, like where a container of jewelry was hidden in the house, or a secret she had told only one person, an intimate confidante. (The reincarnate child need not have died as a child in fact most are recalling lives as adults. The fact that they are party to things known only by husbands or wives defies any explanation other than reincarnation or some kind of psychic ability.) It would be pointless to link to all Stevenson's documented cases that are available online but here's a worthwhile resource.Twenty cases suggesting reincarnation - Google e-book
Another very convincing proof that a subject knew somebody in a past life Dr. Stevenson is knowledge of physical birthmarks or birth defects. Some of the children who have memories of a past life have strange birthmarks, distinguishing features or physical deformities or in some cases things which relate to the way the previous incarnation died.. In a few cases Dr. Stevenson has been able to look up the autopsy records of the previous person, and match up the photographs showing how they died, with the child's birthmarks. In several cases, a child remembered being shot and killed in a previous life, and remembered enough details that Dr. Stevenson could track down the autopsy records for the past-life person. The autopsy records showed where the bullet entered and exited--and the child had little round birthmarks matching the autopsy.
In a similar case, a boy who had past-life memories had a splotchy birthmark on his chest that looked like scars--when he gave the name of the past-life person, Dr. Stevenson tracked down the name, found the autopsy report, and saw that the previous-life person had been killed by a shotgun blast to the chest. The pattern of the holes in the autopsy looked very much like the boy's birthmarks.
During his original research into various cases involving children's memories of past lives, Dr. Stevenson had noted with interest the fact that children displaying psychological sings they remembered previous lives frequently bore lasting birthmarks which supposedly related to the death they suffered in a previous life. Stevenson's research into birthmarks and congenital defects has been of particular importance for the demonstration of reincarnation, since it furnishes objective and graphic physical proof of reincarnation, superior to the - often fragmentary - memories and reports of the children and adults questioned, which even if verified afterwards cannot be assigned the same value in scientific terms.
Continuing the objective examination of scientific rigor in this research, in 35% of cases investigated, children who died an unnatural death were affected in the new life by related phobias. If, for example, they had drowned in a past life then they frequently developed a phobia about swimming or jumping into water. If they died in a road accident they would often be unduly nervous about traveling in cars or on buses.
Another frequently observed unusual form of behaviour, which Dr. Stevenson called philias, concerns children who express the wish to eat different kinds of food or to wear clothes that were different from those of their culture. If a child had developed an alcohol, tobacco or drug addiction as an adult in a previous incarnation he may express a need for these substances and develop cravings at an early age. In similar vein, many study subjects with past-life memories show abilities or talents that they had in their previous being.
Until now all these human oddities have been a mystery to conventional psychiatrists, particularly Freudians - after all, the parents could not be blamed for their children's behavior in these cases. At long last research into reincarnation is shedding some light on the subject. In the past, doctors blamed such peculiarities on a lack or a surplus of certain hormones, but increasingly as more researchers follow the trail blazed by Dr Stevenson, there will have to be some rethinking of the conventional wisdom.
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