Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Latest on Reincarnation Research

On 26 November 2010, Icelandic psychologist Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson was the keynote speaker at a symposium on reincarnation research in Leiden University. He presented some recent cases he studied and discussed the theory choices suggested by his findings.

Testimonies suggestive of reincarnation are mainly of two types: children below 7 spontaneously claiming past life memories, and adults taken back to earlier stages of their lives (and pre-lives) in a semi-hypnotic state. Haraldsson's research focused on the children's testimonies. Sometimes these are startlingly accurate in describing someone's life and, once the deceased person is identified and the child taken to his life setting, in recognizing places and people.

There are five possible explanations. Two of these are non-paranormal: coincidence and fraud. Three are paranormal: possession by the ghost of the deceased, telepathic retrocognition, and reincarnation.

Since there exist cases where a child recollects the life of someone who died after the child was born, and some where multiple children recollected a single person's life, I am inclined to vote against the reincarnation hypothesis. A transmission of memories either through telepathy or through ghost possession, though to a lesser degree still paranormal, seem more plausible and fit the data better. More likely, those testimonies are similar to what Jim Morrison described in An American Prayer in a recollection of a childhood event where he witnessed a truckload of Amerindian workers dying in a traffic accident: "The souls or the ghosts of these Indians had entered my head... and stayed there." Or in the musical version, Peace Frog: "Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind."

As the child grows up, its mind develops better defences and chases the ghost along with the recollections out. That should explain why by age 10, those children have generally forgotten their "past-life" memories. But we can safely conclude on the worn-out yet highly apt remark: in this promising field, more research is urgently called for.


CHAKRAM said...

Koenraad Sir,
sounds too fictional and too mythical.But, if it stands to rationality and science.. then the world may agree.

Varun N. Achar said...

In Indian thought (on which I am by no means an expert) I find the concept of reincarnation quite different from the common perception: whereas commonly "souls" are viewed as quanta which must remain both distinct and complete, wherefore the need for each soul to "reincarnate" into exactly one unit of life, in Indian mysticism one finds the concept of "aṃśa". The difference in the latter concept seems to be that consciousness does not necessarily exist in quanta, but can be divided and integrated, perhaps arbitrarily. For instance, both Vāsudeva and Vyāsa are supposed to be mutually-contemporary "aṃśa"s of the same reservoir, viz. Hari.

Thus, it is plausible that on the death of a certain individual, his soul does not necessarily remain with the same identity but its consciousness content gets distributed into distinct new souls, each of which might have contributions from other old souls. The instances you cite of recollections of individuals deceased after the birth of the subject suggest that residual consciousness from a soul whose body has recently expired might even be integrated with a soul already engaged in life.

Of course, all this is highly imaginative; just my personal inclination of belief.

B.N.Gururaj said...

Apart from the mumbo jumbo of para psychology, I definitely find one justification for concept of rebirth. Under semitic religions, a person takes only one birth, leads some kind of life and dies. Thereafter, he waits interminably for the day of judgment, either to be sent on an eternal heavenly holiday, or be condemned to eternal hell. When compared to the length of eternity, the life span of human beings is too short and the amount of sins them commit are probably, far less. For such transgressions, merits done, it is unfair to either send a person to eternal hell, or undeserved eternal heaven.

Karma Siddhanta, which is at the root of the notion of rebirth proclaims that a person can change his destiny by consciously engaging in performing meritorious deeds and thereby secure good life hearafter. Better still, perform meritorious acts without the desire for fruits thereof (as advised in Gita), and avoid rebirths altogether by attaining Moksha. Thus, under the Hindu Karma siddantha, there is an opportunity for an Atman to correct itself and realise its true blissful nature rather than languish in eternal hell, or waste away in eternal heaven.

Whether or not one finds proof for rebirths, it would seem to me that rebirth under Karma theory is more equitable than semitic notion of single birth and eternal reward or punishment. Therefore, for what it is worth, I vote in favour of rebirth, reincarnation and Karma.

Karthik rajan said...

Three words have to be understood clearly: Rebirth, Reincarnation, Resurrection.
Rebirth is the birth of the same soul in different life forms. Some staunch Shaivites believe that the soul takes 1 crore births starting from the lowest life form (eg. : Amoeba) and progresses in each birth to a higher intelligent life form until it finally takes the form of a human. In each birth it either leads a full life (comfortable or troublesome) , or, is cut short depending on its ‘karma’ (similar to action-reaction theory in science). On reaching the human form it has two choices, either be condemned to the same cycle of rebirths, or, be united with the paramaathma (also called god) and hence reach the free-from-birth stage. They believe that by devoting themselves to lord shiva they can reach this stage. The concept of rebirth is very much in sync. with the science law called ‘law of conservation of energy’ , which says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but changes from one form to another , e.g light energy, heat energy , ……and even matter (thro the process called nuclear fusion and fission). Who put all this energy into this ‘universe’ in the first place, is a billion dollar question which may remain unanswered for a long time.

Reincarnation is the birth taken by the paramaathma (the supreme soul or supreme energy) with a specific purpose but out of its free will, like lord ram, lord Krishna and other ‘avathaars’ mentioned in the ‘dasaavathaaram’.

Resurrection is bringing back to life a dead body by re-injecting the same soul. The semitic religions have wrongly adopted this concept from the Egyptians who believed in resurrection and hence built large tombs (pyramids) to safeguard the mummified bodies of their pharaohs. This concept is completely devoid of logic, because as of now, a dead body cannot be preserved 100%, i.e, the rotting cannot be prevented at all. Rotting is an irreversible process. Once a body begins to rot it means that it can no longer perform normal functions like a healthy body, which is as good as remaining brain dead. So what purpose can a soul serve by re-entering into such a body? No wonder that Michael Jackson had ridiculed this idea in his musical ‘The Thriller’ where he shows half rotten bodies limping back to life from their tombs and performing moon walking along with him with gay abandon.

I think what you have written is about rebirth. A snippet published in the newspaper ‘deccan chronicle’ mentions that some scientists are of the view that , the dreams which humans encounter could hold information about their previous lives or about the next birth. Scientists have also discovered that all brain activity is caused by electrical pulses generated in the neurons. Since such electrical pulses can be captured and studied by electrical instruments (like EEP : electro encephalogram), the key really is to map the brain activity by using more and more sophisticated electrical instruments by which the thoughts can be ‘seen’, recorded and analysed. This might give a good understanding about rebirth.


B.N.Gururaj said...

In para 2, in think what Mr.Karthirajan means is 'incarnation' or Avatar, not reincarnation. The description more appropriately fits avatar of supreme deity taking human or other lower form of life. The term reincarnation is used in the context of a birth of a person who is known to have had an earlier recognisable life.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Thanks for reporting on this! I am a big fan of Erlendur Haraldsson's work. Personally I have close to zero interest in "proving" reincarnation, but the important thing (to my mind) is the gathering of data about personal reports of beliefs and experiences concerning reincarnation across cultures. Haraldsson is currently looking at case studies from Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Iceland. Survey data shows that high levels of belief in reincarnation is prevalent throughout Europe, the United States and also in sub-Saharan Africa. This strongly suggests that there is something to reincarnation belief that is unlearned, or at least independent of culture.

Giacomo Benedetti said...

Apart from the strange cases mentioned by Dr. Elst, where maybe ghost possession cannot be excluded, reincarnation or rebirth seems the most logical explanation for many cases of past life memories. Here I've found a rich list of articles by Haraldsson and others on these cases:
On youtube, you can find some interesting videos, like that about the Scottish Cameron (
or also an impressive case of spontaneous memory in an adult ( or many experiments with hypnotic regression (

Karthik rajan said...

Yes, I agree with Mr Gururaj. Rebirth, Incarnation and Re-incarnation have to be understood. The ‘set’ theory in mathematics may help us out.
1) Birth of all life forms are rebirths.
2) some rebirths are incarnations of the supreme soul, as mentioned in dasaavathaaram.
3) some incarnations in human form are re-incarnations.
Very difficult to prove, but this line of thought finds place in some Hollywood films. In the film ‘The Mummy Returns’, the heroine is shown as the reincarnation of Princess Nefertiti. Her mission in this birth is to save planet earth from the brutal onslaught of the ‘dark underworld’ (whatever it means !! ). Nefertiti herself fails to stop her father’s assassination thereby helping the ‘dark underworld’ to go underground and preserve itself for a future attack. The heroine has ‘visions’ of the sequence of events that takes place in Nefertiti’s life and resolves to stop it at all cost.


omK said...

The Worst bad luck
to be born indian
believing in reincarnation
and considering it as an imperfection

Each time a farmer crossed the border with his donkey, the customs officer arrested him, searching the bags for illegal goods but never found one single evidence.
At the end of his life the customs officer asked the farmer what kind of goods he was transporting. The farmer said: donkeys!

omK said...

hypnotic regression. Indeed!

अश्वमित्रः said...

Jim Morrison cited by an indologist. I love it. That line is one of Jim's best, a nice pentameter.