[Please note: I no longer support the views expressed in this article. I think reincarnation is not a plausible concept but I have left the following for informational purposes.] The question whether reincarnation is real or not has caused great controversies and debates. It can be said without exaggeration that opinions differ greatly on this question, leading to heated discussions. On one side there are scientists who reject the question for lack of evidence. Some scientists even go so far to state that the idea of reincarnation is entirely unnecessary because it is not possible to be measured and tested according to scientific procedure. On the other side, we have mostly religiously minded people who accept the notion of reincarnation as part of their religious worldview. But who is right? Finding a definite answer to the question whether there is life after death or not is nearly impossible. But we can look at the evidence that various researchers present and evaluate whether it supports or dismisses the theory. Therefore, this article will present reincarnation stories and supposed reincarnation proof in order to help you form an opinion about the subject matter.
Table of contents
Feel free to skip one part by selecting the part that interests you the most.
Proof of reincarnation?
First of all, it makes sense to investigate the supposed life after death proof on a case-by-case basis. If we leave religious beliefs, misconceptions and personal biases aside, lots of scientific evidence can be found that suggests that there is more to the phenomenon of reincarnation than many want to admit. This evidence might not lead to the conclusion that reincarnation is undoubtedly true, but it indicates that it is a possibility.
Is Ian Stevenson presenting scientific evidence of reincarnation?
When researching for scientific data examining reincarnation, the work of the Canadian biochemist and professor of psychiatry Dr. Ian Stevenson strikes the eye immediately. In his books Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966) and Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (1987), Dr. Stevenson deals with twenty cases of young children who were able to describe previous lifetimes in greatest detail. Besides the child reincarnation stories, Dr. Stephenson’s work aimed at answering the question why a person could fluently speak a language that hasn’t been learned at all. Dr. Stevenson’s work is criticized but also celebrated, so let’s have a look at both sites and his work in general.
[Dr. Ian Stevenson] provides rigorous scientific reasoning to show how reincarnation is the only viable explanation that fits the facts of his study. […] Later research has even bolstered his case in favor of the existence of reincarnation.
Kevin Williams, The NDE and Reincarnation
During the more than 40 years of investigative research of the Paranormal, inter alia as the head of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, Stevenson’s work involved interviewing over 3,000 cases of children that were having memories about past lives. These memories were in some cases supposedly of greatest detail, such as previous names, the names of family and friends and the places these children had lived once. Stevenson’s research was being conducted with clinical detachment and great care not to jump to early conclusions. The psychologist carefully examines the alternative explanations that could speak to the disadvantage of reincarnation, such as fraud, cryptomnesia, extra-sensory perception and genetic “memory”. However, the alternatives were in the majority of cases not the best possible explanation for observed phenomena such as:
- A match of personality characteristics and skills of the child with those of the deceased
- A connection between illnesses and phobias of the child and the cause of death in the past life (e.g. vertigo and death from free fall)
- The congruousness of birthmarks (or congenital deformities) of the child with (fatal) wounds of the deceased
- The large amount of information the child recollected about the past life
- The identification of the child with its past life, such as caring about the well-being of the children of the departed
In his 1993 paper entitled “Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons”, Dr. Stevenson came to the conclusion that 35% of 895 cases of previous life memory recollection had birthmarks/birth defects that were said to correspond to wounds of the deceased person:
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. […] 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).
Dr. Ian Stevenson, Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons
Stevenson’s research findings are interesting, to say the least. The results of his study suggest that there exists a correlation between children with supposed past life regression (who have birthmarks or birth defects) and the wounds of the deceased person whose life the child remembers.
Prior to this, one major criticism with the concept of reincarnation was the possibility that parents had—knowingly or unknowingly—implanted information into their children, which they took for supposed memories of previous lives. With Stevenson’s research findings in mind, the possibility of false memories reduces drastically, as the statistic correlation between birthmarks of a child that has a past life regression of a deceased person which wounds reflect the birthmarks of the child should be ridiculously low.
For this reason, the findings of Dr. Stevenson have spurred the interest of many scientists from various fields. One of them is the physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, most commonly known for her groundbreaking theories she postulated on surface physics, who said about Dr. Stevenson’s work:
[…] the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur, at least occasionally, is so overwhelming, established by thousands of already documented cases of remembered lives, and strongly buttressed by the incidence of birthmarks […], that cumulatively the supporting evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science, whether physics, cosmology, or Darwinian evolution.
[…] in the hard sciences we are accustomed to accepting odds once they go into the millions and billions […]. And there is no logical reason to act otherwise in regard to the evidence for reincarnation […].
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 100–101, 2
However, Stevenson’s work is also being criticized, which shall be addressed in the following. One major criticism of his work is that some argue that a confirmation bias possibly affected the quality of the results. Critics argue that Stevenson was specifically looking for evidence that favored his theory, instead of establishing an unbiased view between supportive and dismissive evidence. Another criticism is that researchers accept that Stephenson provided evidence, but they argue that taking this evidence as proof of reincarnation is a little too far-fetched.
The two scientists H. H. Jürgen Keil and Jim B. Tucker came in their publication “Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives: Cases with Written Records Made before the Previous Personality Was Identified” in the Journal of Scientific Exploration to the conclusion that the socio-psychological hypothesis of exaggerated credit, which could be an explanation for the phenomenon of children remembering past live memories, failed to explain cases in which it was documented that the children did not receive information about the deceased person.
Such cases in addition, 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.
H. H. J. Keil, J. B. Tucker
Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives: Cases with Written Records Made before the Previous Personality Was Identified
The following is an attempt to answer the question: is reincarnation possible? This article has presented studies that are supportive of the theory of reincarnation. The evidence of reincarnation presented therein is conclusive and also accepted by other scientists.
The reincarnation evidence presented is astonishing, but not conclusive enough to skeptics of the theory of past life regression. Skeptics criticize the conclusion that is drawn from the evidence. To them, only one thing was proven: that children had birthmarks which resembled wounds of a deceased person. To draw the conclusion that this is a result of a life after death is therefore not acceptable to the skeptic’s fraction.
The initial question of this article cannot easily be answered. And attempting to answer the question if reincarnation is possible with a definite yes would not be credible. But what I can say after evaluating the cases presented is that for me personally the probability that reincarnation exists has drastically increased. After all, what are the odds that children happen to have birthmarks that resemble wounds of a deceased person, of whose life these kids have also detailed memories?
Furthermore, the criticism that supposed skeptics of the theory of reincarnation provide is in my opinion not at all conclusive. Mostly, the studies of Dr. Stevenson are rejected as pseudoscience, without even investigating the results in detail. Whether this happens because of the negative notion that is associated with the possibility of past lives or not, I am not so sure. Yet, for progress in science, it is necessary to investigate the results from an unbiased perspective, without being influenced by religious dogma or depreciating the information as fantasy, just because of one’s personal opinion.
Luckily, many hypotheses in this field of study have sparked the interest of the scientific community. One of which is the hypothesis that a non-physical part of a human being exists. Further research into these areas might help to piece the different insights together and form a theory out of many hypotheses that might answer the question once and for all.
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