Where’s the research on past lives? Proof positive or soundly credible? Rebirth May be the only “afterlife” theory that can be demonstrated.

One reason over 2 billion people in the world believe in rebirth[1], reincarnation or continuity of essence — different terms for similar ideas — is cultural and religious upbringing. The other, increasingly important reason, is ongoing contemporary research by notable scientists, doctors and researchers. Science has not been able to slam the door on past lives and rebirth, even though it is unlikely to be “provable” in the lab.

Unlike “other dimensions” or “heaven” or “permanent afterlife” — which has never been demonstrated in any scientific way, rebirth and reincarnation do have a substantial body of compelling research supporting the concept of past lives.

Difficult to Refute Some Cases

Notable researchers have documented too many cases of past lives — some puzzling, some confusing, but many hundreds irrefutable. Some, certainly, were proven fake or false, but the ones verified by researchers remain difficult to refute. Science certainly has no way to disprove past lives, even if we are a long way from empirically proving the continuity of rebirth.

Pioneers in this research, from Stevenson’s methodical work in 2001, to Tucker in 2005, to Haraldsson in 2006, to Edelmann and Bernet in 2007, and Lyons in 2013, all point to difficult to refute case studies. In Stevenson’s careful study of nearly 3,000 past life cases, 78.4% of cases were verifiable. In another published study, 35 percent of children who claimed to remember previous lives had birthmarks or defects in places where they claim they were wounded in previous life memories — facts that were later verified with postmortem documentation. 

Stevenson’s research into children and past lives:

 

 

The Murder Case Solved?

Dr. Stevenson famously reported in 1974, the case of Ravi Shankar Gupta, who recalled being murdered by a riverside. The description matched the murder case of a boy named Munna Prasad — which Stevenson verified.

These past life cases tend to arise when people start having memories of experiences that is not part of their current life history. Typically, children have excellent recall of these unusual experiences. For example, one boy described the experience of dying in battle in a World War II fighter plane. From the age of two he would get excited when he saw world war II airplanes. He started to remember vivid details —which Stevenson was able to corroborate with historical facts. More compelling, were verified memories not recorded in history books, but confirmed by still living witnesses.

Is this irrefutable? By sheer number of cases — albeit episodic memories — verified by Stevenson, Tucker, Haraldsson and the rest, it is difficult to refute or disprove, even if it’s not considered proof positive. In other words, the research is observational and persuasive.

Many researchers describe Stevenson’s research as “compelling” or “convincing” — even if it cannot be considered “proven.” By way of anecdote, it might be evidence sufficient for a court-of-law, but not for a research scientist in search of “undeniable science.”

An early 1992 documentary on Dr. Stevenson’s work and the Tibetan doctrine of Rebirth: “Stevenson Reincarnation Research”:

 

Cognitive Science and Variability

Since Past lives tend to rely on memory case studies, this generally falls in the research classification of Cognitive Science. Often, the lead researchers are notable psychiatrists — not in search of mental defects, but hunting for plausible cognitive rationale for the widely pervasive phenomenon of rebirth. It is always difficult to analyze memories, which can be subject to internal reinforcement. For this reason, scientists such as Stevenson, quickly discount cases without strictly verifiable uninfluenced memories. In other words, children, with memories of historical events that even adults have difficulty researching. Or physical marks, such as birthmarks on the neck of a child who died after chemo treatment — where the needle was atypically inserted in that exact position.

Are they proof positive? Some would say yes, at least until there’s a better explanation. Others would say maybe, but it’s certainly compelling. Sceptics would likely say no, regardless of the evidence.

What is clear — past lives are believed by 2 billion people. With good reason, according to research to date.

Or, as Dr. Stevenson wrote:

“Reincarnation, at least as I conceive it, does not nullify what we know about evolution and genetics. It suggests, however, that there may be two streams of evolution — the biological one and a personal one — and that during terrestrial lives these streams may interact.”

NOTES

 

[1] Source of calculation, see the About page>> 

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