Reincarnation: is it possible? | Daily News

Reincarnation: is it possible?

Reincarnation is a popular belief among many people, and it is a fundamental basis for many religions. The general idea of reincarnation is the belief that when a person dies he is reborn again. Is there a life after death? The clinical evidence for reincarnation is subjective and arguable. Belief in reincarnation has ancient roots.

In the last decade of the 18th century, many scholars in the Western World began to speculate on reincarnation. Father Leadbeater and Madam Helena Blavatsky of the Theosophical society saw reincarnation as a form of evolution and their writings and speeches made a profound impact on the Western World about life after death. Numerous universities in the West started gathering data on this subject. Comprehensive research on reincarnation started mainly after the World War 2. The Western researchers explained the reincarnation in terms of para-psychological phenomenon. Among the researchers, Dr Ian Stevenson was prominent.

Reincarnation has captured the imagination of a significant number of people in the West. A large number of Westerners are interested in reincarnation and a number of movies like “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud” (Directed by J . Lee Thompson, starring Michael Sarrazin and Jenifer O’Neal ) , Heaven Can Wait (starring Warren Beatty & Julie Christie) , Birth( Nicole Kidman) ,Ghost (Patrick Swayze & Demi Moore ) and Darren Aronofsky’s movie The Fountain captured mass popularity. According to a survey done in the USA nearly 60% of Americans believe reincarnation is possible.

Ian Stevenson was the former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia who devoted many years to the scientific documentation of past life memories of children from all over the world (Dr Stevenson investigated 16 cases from Sri Lanka) and had over 3000 cases. Ian Stevenson published his research article titled The Explanatory Value of the Idea of Reincarnation, which made a huge impact on the scientific community. His book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation that was published in 1974 became a best seller. Dr. Ian Stevenson’s case works provide rigorous scientific reasoning to explain reincarnation. His methodology was unique and Stevenson evaluated the spontaneous narrations of the children who spoke of their previous lives, then interviews, often repeated, with the subject and with several or many other informants for both families. However, these methods led critics to question the credibility of his research technique. Some have criticized Ian Stevenson for being confirmation bias.

Some children show enormous talent in language, memory and skills. These children could not acquire aptitude within their relatively short life years. There are many reports of Child prodigies and their cognitive talents. Mozart played a symphony at the age of seven, Carl Friedrich Gauss made his first inventive mathematical discoveries while still a teenager, John von Neumann was able to divide two 8-digit numbers in his head at the age of six, Alexander Pope was a child prodigy as a poet, the famous Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan mastered advanced trigonometry by the age of 12. Have these people had certain exposure before?

The term Déjà vu experience was coined by Emile Boirac to explain the uncanny feeling of having already seen or experienced something that is being experienced for the first time. One could explain déjà vu experiences by claiming that they were memories of past lives. Experiential evidence show that certain people find familiar in unfamiliar places, proverbial in meeting unknown people for the first time in their lives and so forth. Medical experts argue Déjà vu experiences are evident in epilepsy.

Neurophysiologists point out that the déjà vu feeling is triggered by a neurochemical action in the brain that is not connected to any actual experience in the past.

Theories opposed to reincarnation (Selective thinking and False Memory Syndrome)

Some disbelievers of reincarnation explain that claims of evidence for reincarnation originate from selective thinking – a process that one focuses on favorable evidence in order to justify a belief, ignoring unfavorable evidence and sometimes following the psychological phenomena of false memories. In false memory syndrome, person’s identity and relationships are affected by memories, which are factually incorrect but are strongly believed. False memory syndrome may account for the memory construction process, which leads people to “remember living a past life. Confabulation is defined as the spontaneous production of false memories: either memories for events, which never occurred, or memories of actual events that are displaced in space or time. These memories may be elaborate and detailed. Confabulation is a form of memory disorder that may occur in patients who have sustained damage to both the basal forebrain and the frontal lobes, as after an aneurysm of the anterior communicating artery.

Children suffering from dissociative disorders (hysteria) sometimes give vivid descriptions under hypnotic trances and these expressions are misinterpreted as the evidence of past lives by inexperienced hypnotherapists who have no clinical background. A typical case was analyzed by Professor Carlo Fonseka (Rebirth or Hysteria Island news paper 4th of January 2010) of a 14 year old girl with fainting attacks. Many reincarnation stories reported in countries like Sri Lanka and India have much to do with disassociation. In addition, some newspapers too fabricate and exaggerate stories in order to capture the attention of the readers who lack rational thinking. In the past few decades, some Sri Lankan newspapers reported reincarnations of the popular artist Rukmani Devi, film actor Vijaya Kumaratunge and President Ranasinghe Premadasa. These stories were found to be bogus and inflated.

A number of modern researches identified a possible link between psychological trauma and a belief in reincarnation. Jonathan R. T Davidson from the Dept. of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham USA has extensively studied the beliefs in karma and reincarnation among survivors of violent trauma in the general US population.

According to Davidson, personal experience of trauma may be associated with greater acceptance, as well as certain demographic and health-associated variables.

The importance of holding belief in reincarnation, which may represent an important way of coping following violent trauma,

Certain psychologists openly argued that past life memories are merely a result of collective unconscious. According to them when exceptional numbers of children recall people and places which is not connected to their present life people believe these memories are linked to their past lives.

These psychologists disagree with the reincarnation phenomena. To explain this they introduce Carl Jung’s famous expression collective unconscious. 

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