Monday, May 12, 2014

Life After Life

Here's a question for you to mull over: Whatever your view of global ontology, i.e. the ultimate nature of reality, what would it do to that view if you encountered very persuasive evidence that many young children - as young as two years of age - show signs of remembering having had a past life? Suppose further that the persons they remember being were real individuals and that the child "remembered" details of the person's life that would have been impossible for the child to have heard or learned in any other way.

I was extremely skeptical of such a possibility until I started reading the book Return to Life:Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives by Dr. James Tucker. Tucker is a psychiatrist on the faculty of University of Virginia (see his CV here) and has researched thousands of such cases. He talks about some of them in this book in such sober, non-sensationalistic tones that the cumulative effect is to cause one to think that whatever the explanation of these cases is, it's not fraud and it's not childhood fantasy.

One case he investigated was of a four year-old boy who showed signs at the age of twenty two months of remembering being a pilot named James who was shot down at Iwo Jima in WWII. By the time the boy was four his parents had documented that their son had stated the pilot's name, the kind of aircraft he flew, where the plane was hit, the ship it flew from, and the name of other men on the ship. He had recurring nightmares about being trapped in the burning plane as it crashed into the sea.

When Tucker met the parents they admitted to being highly skeptical about all this. The father had deep Christian religious beliefs that were at odds with such phenomena and judged them at first to be spurious. By the time they met with Tucker they were no longer so sure.

As Tucker pursued the case he found that all of the details, and more, checked out or were very close to the historical facts. Reading Tucker's description of his investigation was uncanny.

I subsequently came across a piece in last November's Scientific American by a skeptical materialist named Jesse Bering who examined the work of Dr. Tucker's mentor in this field, a man named Ian Stevenson who died in 2007. Bering had to admit that the phenomenon Stevenson studied was so widespread and so startling that, although he's not yet convinced, he finds it very difficult to discount the possibility that somehow the mind of deceased persons can inhabit, at least for a time, the body of a child.

It should be noted that as impressive as Stevenson's work was Tucker's is apparently even moreso.

Even though I'm not a materialist I find myself in much the same position as Bering. I'm reluctant to believe in what amounts to a kind of limited reincarnation, but I'm too impressed by the evidence to rule it out. I'd welcome any thoughts from anyone who has read Tucker's book.

Here's the link to the Sci Am article.