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As on 8 May 2013
Taken from: Wikipedia - Reincarnation research
Reincarnation research is a branch of parapsychology concerning reincarnation, specifically the study of "cases of the reincarnation type", that is, cases in which a young child "spontaneously makes remarks about a previous life he would have led before his birth", about a person with whom the child identifies himself.
No line of research has conclusively demonstrated the existence of reincarnation. The scientific community in general considers reincarnation research to be pseudoscientific. Some parapsychologists advocate developing protocols to guide, sort, compare, and evaluate cases studies.
Several researchers are examining cases of early childhood past life memories and birthmarks at the University of Virginia Division of Perceptual Studies in the School of Medicine. Two of the best known researchers at Virginia are the psychiatrists Jim B. Tucker (Bonner-Lowry Associate Professor of Personality Studies) and Ian Stevenson (Professor of psychiatry and head of the Division of Perceptual Studies until his retirement in 2002) and between them they have published many books and dozens of research papers in peer-reviewed journals.
Other people who have undertaken research on reincarnation include Satwant Pasricha, Antonia Mills, Godwin Samararatne, Erlendur Haraldsson and H. H. Jürgen Keil. Pasricha is the head of the Department of Clinical Psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India. In 2008, she wrote the book Can the Mind Survive Beyond Death?: Reincarnation Research. Mills is an anthropologist and professor of First Nation Studies at University of Northern British Columbia, specializing in First Nations peoples' reincarnation beliefs and cases. In 1994, she co-edited (with Richard Slobodin) Amerindian Rebirth: Reincarnation Belief Among North American Indians and Inuit. Haraldsson is Professor Emeritus of psychology at the Faculty of social science at the University of Iceland.
Mills, Haraldsson and Keil conducted independent replication studies of Stevenson's reincarnation research from 1987 to 1994 and subsequently continued independent research in the field.
Children's memoriesIan Stevenson, a Canadian biochemist and professor of psychiatry, investigated many reports of young children who claimed to remember a past life with events that occurred during a previous life, ultimately conducting more than 2,500 case studies over the course of his lifetime and publishing twelve books. Stevenson undertook reincarnation research throughout the world, including North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
According to Stevenson, childhood memories ostensibly related to reincarnation normally occur between the ages of three and seven years then fade shortly afterwards. He compared the memories with reports of people known to the deceased, attempting to do so before any contact between the child and the deceased's family had occurred.
Stevenson found that the vast majority of cases investigated involved people who had met some sort of violent or untimely death.
Corresponding birthmarksSome 35 percent of the subjects examined by Stevenson had birthmarks or birth defects. Stevenson reported that in the majority of these cases "the subject's marks or defects correspond to injuries or illness experienced by the deceased person who the subject remembers; and medical documents have confirmed this correspondence in more than forty cases". Many of the birthmarks are not just small discolourations. They are "often unusual in shape or size and are often puckered or raised rather than simply being flat. Some can be quite dramatic and unusual in appearance." Stevenson believed that the existence of birthmarks and deformities on children, when they occurred at the location of fatal wounds in the deceased, provided the best evidence for reincarnation, and he subsequently wrote Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects.
Psychological and cultural characteristicsErlendur Haraldsson and colleagues conducted several studies of the personality, abilities and psychological characteristics of children who claim memories of a previous life, comparing them with paired children who did not. The objective of these studies was to determine the role certain psychological characteristics the children might have as possible explanations for their past-life memories, such as, fantasy, suggestibility, social isolation, dissociation and attention seeking. In a study of 23 children pairs in Sri Lanka, those claiming memories of a previous life had greater verbal skills and better memory than their peers, performed much better in school, and were more socially active, but were not more suggestible. In a further study of 27 children pairs in Sri Lanka, one evaluation checklist revealed that the target children exhibited more behavioral problems, including oppositional traits, and obsessional and perfectionistic characteristics, and a dissociation instrument showed them to have dissociative tendencies such as rapid changes in personality and frequent daydreaming. In a later study of 30 children pairs from Lebanon, children claiming memories of a previous life tested higher for daydreaming, attention seeking and dissociation but not for suggestibility and social isolation. The level of dissociation was much lower than cases of multiple personality and was not clinically relevant. There was some evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms; eighty percent of the children spoke of memories of a violent death, mostly from accidents but also war-related deaths and murders. It is possible the repeated appearance of this imagery serves as a stressor.
Antonia Mills reported an on-going longitudinal study of Hindu and Muslim children who reported memories of a previous life, both with and without a shift in religion, from Hindu to Muslim or vice versa. The objective is to evaluate the later effect of the children's experience as young adults, how it impacts their attitude toward efforts at Hindu—Muslim reconciliation, their integration in their communities, and whether they score higher on dissociative and psychic experience scales than those who have no such memories. These cases of a shift in religion are very rare. Reincarnation is accepted as a reality by Hindus, yet most of the reported cases entail someone who died violently and came back quickly. Muslims do not formally accept reincarnation as a possibility, yet they report about as many cases of children remembering a life in the "other" religion as do the Hindus.
Independent replicationIn further research, Antonia Mills, an anthropologist specializing in First Nations studies, published studies of reincarnation cases among First Nations peoples, including cases involving birthmarks. In a summary of her work, Mills concluded that the numerous cases of the reincarnation type require an explanation for which reincarnation appears to be the most compelling. However, it is impossible to eliminate other possible sources of the child's knowledge. Cryptomnesia or amnesia as the source of the information may be present in some cases but are unlikely to account for most of them. Other paranormal means of communication such as extrasensory perception (ESP) may account for some elements of some cases, but the evidence for telepathic or other types of ESP indicate that they alone could not account for the level of knowledge and the personal characteristics shown in these cases. Mills suggested three criteria be used as guidelines to evaluate whether reported cases of reincarnation are indicative of more than cultural construction and wishful thinking:
ReviewsOld Souls: Scientific Evidence From Children Who Remember Previous Lives is a non-fiction book by journalist Tom Shroder. An editor at the Washington Post, Shroder traveled extensively with Ian Stevenson, as he conducted past life and reincarnation research in Lebanon, India and the American South. While Stevenson wrote extensively on his reincarnation studies, his work earned limited circulation outside academia. At the outset, Shroder sees his role not only as observer, but also as skeptic. But as his journey with Stevenson progresses, Shroder finds it increasingly difficult to reject the possibility of past lives.
Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives is a 2005 book written by psychiatrist Jim B. Tucker, which presents an overview of more than 40 years of reincarnation research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Life Before Life has been translated into ten languages and the foreword to the book is written by Ian Stevenson. Psychiatrist Jim Tucker took over Stevenson's work on his retirement in 2002.
Paul Edwards, a philosopher and skeptic, has analyzed many of accounts of reincarnation, and called them anecdotal, while also suggesting that claims of evidence for reincarnation originate from selective thinking and from the false memories that often result from one's own belief system and basic fears, and thus cannot be counted as empirical evidence.
Research protocolsIn 2000, Jim Tucker demonstrated the way in which the University of Virginia has used the ‘strength-of-case scale’ (SOCS) to sort and classify about 800 cases. The SOCS uses four criteria to evaluate a reincarnation case: (1) whether it involves birthmarks/defects that correspond to the supposed previous life; (2) the strength of the statements made about the previous life; (3) the relevant behaviours exhibited, as they relate to the previous life; and (4) an evaluation of a possible connection between the child reporting a previous life and the supposed previous life.
Antonia Mills used the SOCS scale to re-evaluate the case of Ajendra Singh Chauhan, then assessing what the score would have been had Ajendra’s father not suspected that his son's statements represented a case of reincarnation and had not asked him questions. Ajendra made 12 statements spontaneously without questioning and a further 15 statements in response to his father's questions. The Ajendra case would have had a SOCS score of 0 and would not have been "solved", had the father not asked questions. As a result of the father's questions, the case was solved and most of Ajendra's statements were verified with a total SOCS score of 31, ranking high on the SOCS scale. This result shows how important parental questioning can be in eliciting the information necessary for solving a case. The case demonstrated the importance of having a written record of the child’s statements before the case is solved, to prevent possible cultural elaboration. In this case, after-the-fact embroidery was checked and was found less accurate, as it has been found in other cases, than the child’s initial statements.
Jonathan Edelmann and William Bernet say that the SOCS is an important tool for studying reincarnation. But an ideal research protocol would have the sort of evidence and employ the research methods able to “give substantive weight to a reincarnation hypothesis, even for those who have physicalism as a metaphysical bias and are therefore highly sceptical of reincarnation case studies”. Edelmann and Bernet go on to say:
Antonia Mills and Steven Lynn noted a number of methodological issues in reincarnation research:
- The need for independent replication of Stevenson and his associates' work. A number of replications have been carried out by independent researchers, for example Mills, Haraldsson and Keil, who augmented Stevenson's work with methods such as (1) video-recording children who visit the village and home of a previous personality for the first time, and (2) assessing the psychological characteristics of children who appear to remember and act on the basis of experiences from a previous life.
- Interviewer effects. An interviewer's communications may cause young children to incorporate misinformation into their accounts and repeat it as actual experience. Thus, researchers' and others' expectations, communications and suggestions may shape a child's past-life report. It would therefore be worthwhile to study the role of investigator effects in studies of children's past-life memory reports.
- Difficulties with probability assessments. It is difficult to assess whether a child's statements regarding a past life exceed chance probability. Each case is unique and needs its own assessment of probabilities. For example, how does one verify the correctness of a detailed statement (e.g., how many people had two water buffaloes in the village decades earlier) or how much weight does one give to incorrect or invalid statements (e.g., statements that are self-contradictory)? Stevenson assessed the chance probability to be very low of having one or more birthmarks on the same regions of the body as the injuries to the previous personality, for example with bullet entry and exit wounds and the corresponding birthmarks. However, the assessment of birthmarks is very complex and collaboration with geneticists would be useful. Also, when a case is "solved" on the basis of corresponding bodily markings, the accuracy of the child's statements needs to be evaluated, noting whether socializers imparted knowledge to the child consistent with the reincarnation interpretation.
Antonia Mills and Steven Lynn discussed three explanations that have been offered by various researchers for spontaneous childhood past-life experiences:
- The reincarnation hypothesis, which holds that the reported experiences are veridical.
- The ESP hypothesis, which holds that the reported experiences are transmitted telepathically or through extrasensory perception.
- The sociocognitive hypothesis, which holds that the experiences are a cultural construction and interpretation of behavior.
A fourth explanation, that the experiences are the result of deliberately fraudulent or unconsciously motivated self-deception driven by a need for notoriety, self-aggrandizement or confirmation of a belief in reincarnation, was felt by Mills and Lynn to be neither a satisfactory nor plausible explanation for many of the most impressive and thoroughly investigated cases.
Stevenson never claimed that he had proved the existence of reincarnation, and cautiously referred to his cases as being "of the reincarnation type" or "suggestive of reincarnation". He concluded that "reincarnation is the best — even though not the only — explanation for the stronger cases we have investigated". Jim Tucker recognizes that this may seem to be an "astounding statement," that "memories, emotions and physical injuries can sometimes carry over from one life to the next". However, he argues that this is no more astounding than many currently accepted ideas in physics seemed to be when they were originally proposed.
Research on reincarnation has received a mixed response. His methodology was criticized for providing no conclusive evidence for the existence of past lives. In a book review criticizing one of Stevensons' books, the reviewer raised the concern that many of Stevenson's examples were gathered in cultures with pre-existing belief in reincarnation. In order to address this type of concern, Stevenson wrote European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003) which presented 40 cases he examined in Europe. Stevenson's obituary in the New York Times stated: "Spurned by most academic scientists, Dr. Stevenson was to his supporters a misunderstood genius, bravely pushing the boundaries of science. To his detractors, he was earnest, dogged but ultimately misguided, led astray by gullibility, wishful thinking and a tendency to see science where others saw superstition".
Deducing from this research the conclusion that reincarnation is a proven fact has been listed as an example of pseudoscience.
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