I’ve never thought much of reincarnation because it seemed to undermine the purpose of faith: an afterlife.
We want to believe in an afterlife because it’s hard to imagine not existing again and because we’d like to reunite with our lost loved ones.
The idea that our spirit would keep returning to Earth with our memories wiped clean seemed to me to require an additional leap of logic than atheism without the benefits of theism.
I also dislike the notion that if we’re bad we reincarnate into a worse situation as this can lead to rationalized oppression as we see in India with the “untouchables.”
But in the past few months, I’ve started to really reconsider my views on reincarnation (or I should say “consider” because heretofore I put very little thought into the topic besides the aforementioned).
At this point, I’ve read hundreds of testimonials about children claiming to have remembered a past life!
This phenomenon is well documented throughout time and culture so there’s definitely something going on here beyond, “They’re all lying!”
Let’s take a look at some of the most famous reincarnation cases featured in the docu-series Surviving Death…
The documentary begins with Dr. Jim Tucker going to a single mother’s house (mathematically one parent is less credible than two) to ask some questions about her son Atlas who is supposedly the reincarnation of Jaylen Robinson.
Dr. Tucker asked the child to identify his previous mother by holding up two photos. Without hesitation, Atlas pointed to Mrs. Robinson. Dr. Tucker did this with four other subjects (father, home, playground, etc) whereby Atlas was able to point to 5-out-of-5 correctly, which if chosen randomly the odds of that would be 3%.
But the documentary glosses over the fact that Jaylen Robinson’s murder was covered in a 2005 New York Times article! In the documentary, the mother doesn’t mention if she had read it, but instead, claims to have eventually learned about Jaylen Robinson from an obituary.
What are the odds that a child recalls their previous life’s full name, which just so happened to be publicly available in a high-profile murder case?
The photos Dr. Tucker used in his identification experiment could’ve probably been found online, especially by a highly motivated person. Is the mother highly motivated? In some sense, yes. After all, she went through the effort to contact Dr. Tucker, and as an interesting side note, she named her son Atlas, which coincidentally is part of the name of one of the most popular fiction books and movies about reincarnation: Cloud Atlas.
The second case featured in the documentary is one with Dr. Mills (BA and Doctorate from Harvard) who has perhaps spent a little too much time on an Indian reserve.
She highlights the case of a young Native American man named Alex Stoney who claims to be the reincarnation of his grandfather Albert Tate (whenever someone claims to be a former member of their family the case’s verifiability drastically diminishes) who was the head chief of his clan (would being seen as the reincarnation of the former head chief make it easier for him to get the position later in life as an adult?). His tribe strongly believes in reincarnation. His Grandmother had a dream where her husband said he will be back. Alex was then born and looked a lot like his Grandfather. As a baby, Alex would look at his hands a lot, which meant to his Grandmother that he was the reincarnation of her husband because he had lost his fingers in a working accident. And Alex Stoney says, “When I was a toddler, I would meet people in the feast hall and Albert Tate knew everybody’s names and where they sat in the feast hall, and so I would lead those people to their names, to their seats.” But in the retelling of any story, this could merely be an exaggerated version of events where perhaps he had just led a few people to their seats.
The third case is of Ryan Hammons who Dr. Tucker says, “has the most verified statements of any the cases I’ve studied.”
At 4 or 5 years old, Ryan started having “violent nightmares.” One day he supposedly told his mother that he thinks he “used to be somebody else.” The mother described this period as if she was “living with an old person experiencing dementia mixed with grieving.”
His mother later read one of Dr. Tucker’s books and said to the father that maybe Ryan’s recalling a past life, but his father who is a police lieutenant and the son of a preacher rejected this theory. He encouraged her to write everything down Ryan said in the hope that they could at least figure out how to reduce his night terrors.
Some of the things Ryan said about his previous life was that he had three adopted sons, lived in Hollywood, had a sunglass collection, liked to watch surfers on the beach, bread was his favorite food, his favorite restaurant was in Chinatown, NY, and he had died at 61 years old.
To help Ryan emotionally process his thoughts, his mother checked out some books on Hollywood. She came across a photo from the old movie Night after Night whereby Ryan pointed to one of the actors and said, “Mama, that’s George. We did a picture together!” and then he pointed to an extra off to the side and said, “That’s me!”
The extra was unidentified.
She then contacted Dr. Tucker.
Only after extensive research by a Hollywood archivist were they able to identify the extra as Marty Martyn.
What’s amazing is that Ryan made what turned out to be 47 correct statements about Marty Martyn’s life before he was identified, such as the very specific details I listed before.
Overall, Ryan made over 200 statements about his past life. Some of the statements were as Dr. Tucker said, “little personal things impossible to check” (unverifiable) with 15 proving incorrect/implausible (6%) such as that his father died when he was a child (Martyn’s father died only 6 years before him) and that his heart exploded (Martyn’s official cause of death was a brain hemorrhage).
It’s interesting to note that Dr. Tucker originally thought Ryan was incorrect when he said he had died at 61 years old because his death certificate had him listed at 59 years old, but upon looking into census records, marriage licenses, and a passenger list, Dr. Tucker discovered Ryan was indeed correct and that the death certificate was wrong.
The last case of the documentary highlights James Leininger.
At 22 months, his father took him to a flight museum where he was so transfixed by WWII planes that his father had to eventually drag him out.
At 2 years old, James started having nightmares 3–5X a week where he’d kick and shout, “Airplane crash on fire. Little man can’t get out!”
He later nonchalantly told his mother, “Mama, before I was born, I was a pilot, and my airplane got shot in the engine and crashed in the water and that’s how I died.”
The grandmother remarked, “Maybe, he’s remembering a past life” to which the father responded, “I don’t know what it is, but that’s not it.”
James then said that in his previous life his plane took off from a boat called Natoma and he had a friend named Jack Larsen.
When his father said the boat sounded Japanese, his son replied indignantly, “No, it’s American!”
The father said he then did some research to try and rule out reincarnation, but upon contacting a Natoma Bay veteran he was told that there was indeed a pilot named Jack Larsen.
During this time, James would demonstrate what Dr. Tucker would later describe as, “post-traumatic play.” James would crash his toy planes into furniture to make the front propeller break off. He’d also obsessively draw WW2 naval-aerial battles in which all the propeller-driven planes were burning and crashing. He’d sometimes sign his drawings “James 3,” and when asked why he’d say it was because he was “the third James.”
In 2002, ABC News interviewed James where he said that during the Battle of Iwo Jima, his plane flew off a boat. He was then hit in the engine, caught on fire, and crashed into the ocean where he died.
At the time James supposedly didn’t know the identity of who he was, which one is inclined to believe because if he had known then it would’ve made sense to provide it during the interview to increase his case’s credibility. The interview never aired.
It was only after attending a Natoma Bay reunion several months later that the Leiningers learned about the only pilot from the ship who had died during the Battle of Iwo Jima: James M. Huston, Jr., therefore, making James Leininger “James 3.”
An eyewitness also saw Huston’s plane hit in the engine and crash exactly how James described it.
James later met with Huston’s sister Anne who became convinced that he was the reincarnation of her brother because she said he knew facts that only her brother would’ve known such as the existence of a painting that their mother had painted of her as a child.
The Leiningers’ eventually visited the supposed crash site of James Hudson where James broke down and cried for over 15 minutes. Afterward, James said he felt like a large weight was lifted off his shoulders.
In the end, I found the latter two cases particularly persuasive.
But here’s the best argument I could come up with against the theory of reincarnation…
What if 99% of reincarnation claims are honest, but they’re simply the victims of as skeptics assert suggestion, false memories, and/or confirmation bias?
And then for the 1% of cases supported by a lot of independently verified facts they’re just the consequence of good ol’ fashioned deceit, i.e. parents concocting a story for media attention and purposely omitting inconvenient facts?
But here’s the thing: I believe the Hammons and Leiningers came across as highly credible and genuinely emotional (if Ryan is lying then he must be the reincarnation of a Hollywood actor). Their stories have remained consistent over a long period of time and finding the actual names of Marty Martyn and Jack Larsen was so difficult that in both cases professional researchers had originally found the wrong name! If these families were lying then that might have been a moment when they started changing up their story to better reflect the details of the identified person because hucksters typically change up their stories when confronted with contradictory information.
For these cases to be the consequence of fraud would in my opinion not only require a sociopathic level of deceit, but an incomprehensible strategy. If the goal was to get money or fame then it doesn’t make sense that they’ve done so few interviews and generally maintain a low profile to this day.
In conclusion, due to the sheer number of testimonials and the power of a few cases, I now largely believe in reincarnation.
But to make me a full-blown reincarnationist I want more evidence!
First and foremost, most of the reincarnation cases involving medical professionals rely on a small cadre of doctors who’ve worked together: Dr. Stevenson, Dr. Tucker, and Dr. Mills. As Harold Lief said about Dr. Stevenson, “Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known as ‘the Galileo of the 20th century.”
You’d think with so much potential for scientific glory that there’d be more Ph.D.’s looking into reincarnation. One explanation is that there’s no there there or two that academia has become so hostile to freethought that even the potential of profound discoveries is squashed beneath a facade of liberal open-mindedness.
Secondly, out of the thousands of cases that have come forward, I’d like to see at least one major case pass a lie detector test.
Lie detectors will only become better and more accessible in the future so I think they could go a long way to increasing the credibility of reincarnation.
If Atlas, James, or Ryan (plus their parents) passed the above lie detector test then that would be enough to make me a full-blown reincarnationist, or I suppose I’d become one if a hypnotist sufficiently stroked my ego by making me believe I was Abraham Lincoln.
Over the course of my research, I was also surprised to learn about so many great rational minds who believed in reincarnation or at least said things that sounded like they did:
When I see nothing annihilated and not a drop of water wasted, I cannot suspect the annihilation of souls, or believe that He will suffer the daily waste of millions of minds ready made that now exist, and put Himself to the continual trouble of making new ones. Thus, finding myself to exist in the world, I believe I shall, in some shape or other, always exist; and, with all the inconveniences human life is liable to, I shall not object to a new edition of mine, hoping, however, that the errata of the last may be corrected. — Benjamin Franklin
I could well imagine that I might have lived in former centuries and there encountered questions I was not yet able to answer; that I had to be born again because I had not fulfilled the task that was given to me. — Carl Jung
I cannot think of permanent enmity between man and man, believing as I do in the theory of rebirth, I shall live in the hope that if not in this birth, in some other birth I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace. — Mahatma Gandhi
It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals… and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some strange new disguise. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is no more surprising to be born once than to be born twice: everything in nature is resurrection. — Francois Voltaire
So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see, Where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me. — General George S. Patton
As we mull over the credibility of reincarnation, I’d like to end by offering three reasons why I find reincarnation an empowering concept.
Many people die with regret. If I died today and then continued to exist for all of eternity as fundamentally “me” then no matter how blissful heaven is (a bit presumptuous, I know) then naturally if I’m “me” then I’d spend a lot of eternity lamenting over my one shot on Earth, which would seem to be a form of existential torcher.
I think the saddest event in life is the death of a child. I think it’d be comforting for a parent to believe their child’s spirit will return to Earth again so they can get a fair shot at the full breadth of human existence.
Secondly, there’s comfort in taking the long view of life. In our materialistic world, there’s a lot of pressure to be impatient for importance: 90 second abs! Get rick, quick! Life is short! But if we believed life was long then would we be more patient? And if we were more patient then would we be more productive, giving, and easygoing?
I adopted the theory of Reincarnation when I was twenty-six. Religion offered nothing to the point. Even work could not give me complete satisfaction. Work is futile if we cannot utilize the experience we collect in one life in the next. When I discovered Reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan I realized that there was a chance to work out my ideas. Time was no longer limited. I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock. Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives. Some are older souls than others, and so they know more. The discovery of Reincarnation put my mind at ease. If you preserve a record of this conversation, write it so that it puts men’s minds at ease. I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long view of life gives to us. — Henry Ford
And then finally, I think there’s a beauty to the idea that there’s nowhere to go, but here.
What if the point of existence isn’t to get to Heaven, but to build it?
Our ego thinks this journey is about “me,” but what if it’s designed more around we? What if the purpose of life isn’t so much about self-actualization as much as it’s about humanity’s actualization?
After all, humanity has never been healthier, wealthier, and more peaceful!
Each successive generation seems to get us closer to a “technological singularity,” except for the occasional detour, and so what if we’re also evolving toward a “spiritual singularity”?
In the end, we may all be spiritual relatives replaying existence over and over again as different characters, but with the same cast.
According to some testimonials, when we die our memories from our previous lives will come flooding back to us, and then as we reenter a new body they begin to fade away again while the essence of who we are and what we learned remains.
Live life as a role model because someday you may just be one for you; or as Nietzsche said, “Live so that thou mayest desire to live again — that is thy duty — for in any case thou wilt live again!”