Reincarnation: Believing in second chances
One in ten Americans remembers living a past life; What evidence is there for reincarnation, beyond faith that memories are forever?
FROM THE PAGE: “… A. poll conducted for Sunday Morning shows about one in five Americans believes in reincarnation, and roughly one in ten remembers a past life.
Professor Prothero thinks they’re reacting in part to the positive spin the West puts on it: “In the Indian tradition, classically reincarnation was undesirable. It wasn’t something you wanted. I mean, the goal was to get out of this life. But in America we see reincarnation as this sort of great second opportunity. We say, ‘I’m gonna be, you know, an accountant. In the next life I can be an astronaut!'”
Michael Shermer, the founder of the Skeptics’ Society and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, is – no surprise – skeptical about reincarnation: “I don’t think there’s any chance that this is true.
“I think it’s a complete construction of our brains – projecting ourselves into a future state that doesn’t exist. It’s a way of dealing with the anxiety of losing loved ones, and losing our own lives, and coming to grips with our own mortality.”
But for psychiatrist Brian Weiss, reincarnation is more than a comforting thought. He studied Freud’s theory that recovering childhood memories helps resolve present-day problems. Then, 30 years ago, he says he discovered that the same is true of memories even further back, from a past life.
It all started with a patient deathly afraid of water …
“I told her when she was in this deep hypnotic state, go back to the time where your symptoms began, thinking she’d go back to early childhood,” Dr. Weiss said. “But she went back nearly 4,000 years into an ancient Near Eastern lifetime – different body, different face, different hair, drowning in a flood or tidal wave, her baby being torn from her arms by the force of the water. And her symptoms started getting better from that moment on.”
Since then, he’s used what he calls “Past Life Regression Therapy” on some 4,000 people.
“If you have a fear of heights and you were thrown off a castle wall in the 12th century, and your fear disappears in one time or two times, this is a fabulous thing, because your life is changing,” he said.
It’s not the sort of change psychiatrist Jim Tucker of the University of Virginia can believe in.
“I do not trust hypnosis as a tool for any memories because it’s so unreliable,” Dr. Tucker said. “Sometimes, it’s accurate, sometimes, it’s wildly inaccurate. They’re not intending to create fantasy, but that’s what the mind can do under hypnosis.”
But that’s not to say that he doesn’t believe in past lives. In fact, that’s his specialty.
Dr. Tucker focuses on children – young children – who, he says, have volunteered information about past lives, no hypnosis involved.
Why focus on kids? “Well, because they’re the ones that have the memories,” he said.
Take the Colorado toddler who claimed to be his dead grandfather – a man he never knew. Dr. Tucker says the child recalled obscure details of his grandfather’s life, even picked him out of class picture, saying, “That’s me.”
If that’s not spooky enough for you, try this:
“Many of the children describe lives that ended violently or ended early,” Dr. Tucker said. “Drownings, murders, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, snake bites.”