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What do you think of reincarnation?

There have been documented cases of children talking about what seem to be past lives. They recall events and names that they had no way of knowing about, and that upon investigation are validated. Some people find the sheer accuracy in these cases to be compelling evidence of reincarnation, but what do you make of it?

Posted: January 24th 2009

Paula Kirby www

I’m a bit late with my answer to this one, but I agree with the other people who have replied before me. I’d just like to throw in another observation, though.

It’s not just children who claim to have had these experiences. Quite a few adults make the claims too. But what makes them even more suspicious in my mind is the fact that these “past lives” INVARIABLY occurred at times and places in history of which we have a vivid picture.

Nelson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Queen of Scots, Anne Boleyn, aristocrats guillotined in the French Revolution, ancient Egyptian princesses, kitchen maids at the court of Henry VIII, Viking warlords, little boys sent up Victorian chimneys, men who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar – alleged reincarnations nearly always involve this sort of thing: the kind of drama that is the stuff of history lessons and films and stories, and displays in museums. The kind of thing, in other words, that captures our imagination and with which we feel familiar. But such people and events are only the tiniest possible fraction of the whole of human history – why do we never hear of “reincarnations” from other times and places? Times and places of which we have no prior knowledge?

I have yet to hear of an alleged reincarnation of someone from a previously unknown tribe in 6th century Papua New Guinea. Or of someone who simply lived a normal life raising a family and trying to eke a living from the soil in 14th century Outer Mongolia. Which is odd, really, isn’t it, if reincarnation really happens, because the VAST majority of people who ever lived did so in very ordinary, unspectacular ways in very ordinary, unspectacular circumstances; and NOT in the societies of which we have reasonable knowledge.

My guess would be that these claims simply reflect stories that have caught the imagination – whether the people making the claims genuinely believe them to be true or not.

Posted: February 9th 2009

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Eric_PK

I’ve been a member of CSICOP (now CSI) and a reader of their magazine, Skeptical Inquirer, for quite a while now. They’ve done a numer of articles over the years on this.

Invariably, what you see in these cases is that the evidence isn’t there. These cases often occur in cultures where there is strong belief in reincarnation, and it’s therefore not surprising that such stories thrive there.

Posted: January 29th 2009

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flagellant www

As far as I know, all alleged cases of reincarnation that have been properly investigated, have been shown to have rational explanations. Thus, reincarnation has never been satisfactory demonstrated.

All we know about the nature of life shows that reincarnation is quite impossible; the very scarcity of alleged examples is, in itself, suspicious.

Rare natural phenomena have to be treated with suspicion but, if nearly everyone showed signs of reincarnation, we’d have to take it more seriously. Let’s look at an example: daily events, such as people being born with brown eyes can be taken seriously because, not only is it a daily occurrence, but there are many examples of it. 'Reincarnation’, does not fall into this category. Moreover, my recollection of seriously-investigated examples is that they are mostly hoaxes; the one or two that are not have had simple explanations. Further, most of those making the claim have had something to gain.

I wonder, though, if I am thinking of abduction by aliens here… But it doesn’t really matter, does it? The same judgements apply: both 'abduction by aliens’ and 'reincarnation’ are literally incredible; they’re total nonsense.

This isn’t even a question to which the rational-minded have to give the provisional answer 'We don’t know’. But, with due politeness, we can give the fairly standard reply to incredible claims: 'Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence.’

Alternatively, we can go back to the short answer: complete balderdash!

Posted: January 26th 2009

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brian thomson www

To say “they had no way of knowing about” names and events is debatable: how do you show that the kids were not taught what to say? How do you fully control the experimental conditions to remove the “human factors”? Kids are surprising, and can pick up all kinds of information from conversations, over time, even if it’s innocent.

The other question that comes up, in my opinion, is cui bono: who benefits from claims of reincarnation? Do those claiming that their children have “past memories” have other motives? I know this sounds cynical, but I often find that people claiming that they (or people they know) are “special” are doing so for their own reasons.

Besides: even if reincarnation was true, and it has happened to me: what does it mean to me, if I don’t know about it, or can’t learn anything from those past lives? This life I have needs all my attention as it is, without any need to speculate on past or future lives.

Posted: January 24th 2009

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