Thinking About Religion
Volume 8 (2008)

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Past Lives and Post-Mortem Survival

P. Eddy Wilson
Shaw University


In this essay I reexamine the phenomenon of past life reports (PLRs). Past life reporters claim that they have first person knowledge of life in a different body. Many of the past life reports documented by Ian Stevenson are surprisingly detailed. Some of these past lives met with violent, premature ends. When these past life reports can be corroborated by the testimony of contemporaries, they are regarded by some as proof of the immortality of the soul. I suggest this conclusion is based on a misunderstanding of past life reports, and I offer an alternate explanation.


Past life reports are autobiographical narratives like reports of near death experiences.  In the case of a near death experience the narrator claims that he or she has undergone an out-of-body experience.  In the case of a past life report the reporter claims that he or she has a memory of a previous life.  Ostensibly the memory is a memory of a different body.  I identify this memory as a past life memory (Mpl).

Suppose I say I remember watching ants on the sidewalk at age three.  I am reporting that I am the same person as the three year old in virtue of our psychological and physical profile. Assuming that there is an uninterrupted causal connection between the two subjects, the underlying identity claim seems uncontroversial.   If I begin making claims about a prenatal memory, that is, a memory that predates my birth, you may have serious reservations about my credibility.   

I refer to reports of prenatal memories as past life reports.  The past life report gives a subject’s autobiographical viewpoint, and the person who offers the past life report is the reporter.  Unlike ordinary autobiographical reports the subject of the past life report is deceased.  In past life reports the memory criterion for identity is a sufficient condition for verifying personal identity. When I recollect watching ants on the sidewalk, I say that I watched them with my very own eyes.  In a past life report the reporter recollects the experience of a different body.  The reporter maintains that the subject of the memory is embodied, but the remembered body is deceased.

On the one hand, some past life reports are mere journalistic fantasies for tabloids: “Boy claims he was a Confederate Soldier.”  “Girl claims she lived during the French Revolution.”  On the other hand, many past life reporters are convinced that they remember a previous life.   Some individuals believe their reports to be evidence of post-mortem survival.  What do past life reports evince?

I.  Old Souls and Past Life Memories

With his book, Old Souls, the journalist Tom Schroder popularized the notion of past life reports.  Schroder admits he was skeptical about past life reports, but he encountered Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist who had done extensive studies on the subject.  By following Stevenson on some of his international travels to track down past life reports Schroder got first hand exposure to a scientific investigation that had been going on for several decades.  To keep an unbiased view Schroder read works like Paul Edward’s book, Reincarnation.  After globe trotting with Stevenson, Schroder was convinced that past life reports offered evidence of reincarnation.  He said, “I didn’t believe any of the questions raised by Edwards’ logic could overwhelm solid evidence of genuine previous life memories.”[1]

Schroder was confronted by both the logical arguments against reincarnation and the compelling empirical data of Stevenson’s case studies. Edwards questions the logic of reincarnation. Consider his population density argument:

  1. Souls are thought to exist indefinitely, unless they are absorbed into Nirvana.

  2. The number of souls available for transmigration would remain constant, if it did not diminish.

  3. However, the world population has been continuously expanding for several centuries.

  4. Conclusion: The demand for souls exceeds the number of souls available for transmigration, if souls are not created. [2]

Edwards may have reasoned well, but in Schroder’s view Edward’s logical argumentation seemed to gloss over the obvious. By comparison Schroder found the empirical data of Stevenson’s reports far more compelling. Schroder’s personal investigation took an extraordinary turn, when he was invited to accompany Stevenson on interviews with some adult subjects. These were follow-up interviews for cases previously logged. Much of Stevenson’s work was done with children. Stevenson was attempting to determine if adults previously interviewed as children retained their childhood memories of past lives.

Stevenson engaged in past life research for more than thirty years. By 1987 Stevenson had investigated 725 cases of past life reports. Most of these recorded cases occurred in Sri Lanka or India. Only ten of one hundred forty-nine cases involving children, that is 6.7 percent, were registered in the United States.[3] To gather data Stevenson would find and interview the reporter, and to safeguard the results another researcher would also record the interview by note taking.[4] Reports of individuals who read about a past life, had a vivid dream, or underwent hypnosis were dismissed as offering weak or faulty evidence.[5] In addition, Stevenson dismissed past life reports of individuals in an altered state of consciousness. In his summary work, Children who Remember Previous Lives, Stevenson selects twelve past life reports from children as representative cases. Consider three of the twelve cases.

Shamblinie Prema was born on October 16, 1962, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Her family home was Gonagela.  In infancy the child displayed an inexplicable aversion to water.  After the child was able to speak, she described in detail a family in Galtudawa, a village two kilometers away.  She claimed this was her family.   A girl named Hermaseelie Guneratne did live in the village until the age of eleven. On May 8, 1961, she drown in an accident while traveling to school.  When Shamblinie was finally allowed to visit the village, many details of her memories were confirmed.   The family of Hermaseelie remained skeptical and did not welcome her as their child. By the age of five her memories had faded away.[6]

Bongkuch Promsin was born in Don Kha, Thiland, on February 12, 1962.  By the time the child could speak he claimed that he came from a village nine kilometers away.  He identified himself as Chamrat, and he reported several objects that he owned as a child like a knife and a bike.  He also described in detail how he had been violently murdered by two men who took his personal possessions.  When his report was investigated, several of the details about Chamrat proved to be correct.

Finally, Susan Eastland was the second daughter born to the Eastland family living in the United States.  The first daughter named Winnie died in an auto accident in 1961.  In 1964 the mother was pregnant with a second child.  Prior to this birth there was an announcement dream where the first child announced to the mother that she would return.  During her early childhood Susan attached herself to a photo of the deceased child, and she claimed that this was her photo.  She accurately described events in the life of the first daughter, and she would draw the name of her dead sister without prompting.  Her mother had played a secret game with the first daughter that involved a household cookie jar.  The mother was surprised to find that Susan knew the details of the game without prompting.[7]

These past life reports were given in early childhood. Stevenson says, “A child who is going to remember a previous life has little more than three years in which to communicate his memories to other persons.” [8]  Many of the reports Stevenson investigated were from non-Western cultures.  In addition to a general belief in reincarnation Stevenson observes that these non-Western cultures hold the following beliefs: (1) they revere the dead; (2) they have strong family ties and revere their elders; (3) their concept of causality is different; (4) they believe spatially separated individuals may still communicate through dreams or telepathy; (5) they place less value on verbal skills; (6) their sense of time is different; and (7) their lifestyle is more relaxed.[9] 

When Stevenson and his research assistants investigate a past life report, they are interested in accurately recording the report.  Then they attempt to verify the details of the report.  The quality of the reports is contingent upon the confirmation of the details, and in some instances there is a high frequency of confirmation.  Consider a well documented past life report of a four year old Indian boy named Prabhu Khairti.  Indian government officials investigating the case found it to contain thirty six details.  Two could not be verified, five were false, and twenty nine were verified as true.[10]

 While some past life reports offer no clue about the death of the subject, many past life reports include details of the subject’s violent death.  The three cases above include reports of a violent death.  Stevenson says, “The prominence of violent death among the cases of all cultures in which I have investigated these cases seems to me one of the most important features of the data.”[11]   Stevenson calculated that 61% of the 725 past life reports he had investigated by 1987 included the description of a violent death.[12] 

II. Logical Reasoning about Past Life Reports

In an early lecture on past life reports Stevenson offers his own analysis of the possible causes of past life reports.  The lecture would be revised several times, and in this early lecture Stevenson concludes that reincarnation is the most plausible hypothesis for past life reports.[13]  Stevenson does not use the language of logic to discuss reincarnation, but he regards it as the best possible explanation for the data under investigation.[14] In the final section of the paper I shall suggest why a different explanation for past life reports may be a better explanation.   

Some individuals reason that if the details of a sufficient number of past life reports can be confirmed, then all verifiable past life reports are instances of reincarnation.  The verification of details is assumed to be the necessary condition for the credibility of past life reports.  I call this the verifiable memory criterion.  On the strength of the verifiable memory criterion some reason that past life reports prove reincarnation.  That strikes me as a hasty generalization, and Schroder did not fall into that fallacy.  Schroder was troubled that the phenomenon of children remembering past lives was “purely a cultural creation.”[15]  If the case was one of fraud or enculturation, then Schroder was prepared to dismiss the case.  So, Schroder sought to verify the details of past life reports, and he was interested in a cross-cultural analysis of the cases.  Once Schroder dismissed the problem of enculturation, the case for him was simple. If the majority of details of several reports could be corroborated, then Schroder reasoned that these reports were genuine.  True past life memories Schroder took to be evidence of reincarnation.[16]  If a sufficient number of past life reports contained verifiable details, then if the cases were not attributable to enculturation, Schroder saw them as evidence of reincarnation. To maintain his objectivity Schroder read the careful reasoning of Paul Edwards and others that argue against reincarnation.

Paul Edwards relies upon deductive reasoning to attack the notion of reincarnation rather than inductive reasoning.  Edwards says, “To refute reincarnation it is quite sufficient to show that the extreme form of dualism is untenable.”[17]  He offers several arguments against the notion of dualism. For instance, Edwards argues a non-spatial astral body cannot invade a womb to embody itself.   Edwards dismisses as non-verifiable the notion that humans have an astral body, and he maintains that the mind is not distinct from the brain.  Edwards says,

If my mind is finished when my brain dies, then it cannot transmigrate to any other body.  Similarly, if God created a duplicate of my body containing a duplicate of my brain, my mind would not be able to make use of it since it stopped existing with the death of my original body.[18]

Schroder rejected Edwards’ logical inferences and concluded that past life reports offer evidence of reincarnation.  What remains unaddressed is a deep philosophical problem regarding verifiable memories. How does one explain the acquisition of  memories containing verifiable details?  In a philosophical explanation of a past life report the explanandum is simply a set of memories, and the explanans is the identification of the cause of the memory.  The explanation for verifiable memories in a past life report seems to require a causal explanation, since the remembered subject of the past life report is known to be deceased.  This calls for a close investigation into the nature and acquisition of memories.

Given the verifiable memory criterion it is possible to conclude that past life reports are reports of reincarnation?  Recall the three representative cases above.  Each subject claims, “I led a past life.”  The “I” of the report refers to the deceased subject.  That “I” looked, dressed, and talked as the deceased.   Most of the details given in the three past life reports were verified as true.  Therefore, past life reports are taken to be evidence of reincarnation. This inductive conclusion follows only if one is willing to make several unstated assumptions.  For instance, it is assumed that autobiographical memories are memories of one person and not two.  Likewise, it is assumed that no verifiable memories are memories caused by a person or source other than the subject of the memories.  Finally, it is assumed that the subject of memories is not necessarily a bodily subject.  Hence, substance dualism is assumed from the outset.

The reporter has verifiable memories.  The details within the memory are not fraudulent.  What cannot be verified is that the reporter and the remembered subject are identical.  What can be verified is that the body of the subject and the body of the reporter are not the same body.  How can they be the same subject but not the same body?  We conclude that it is the same subject, only if the person who has a subjective memory is the same person as the subject of this memory.  Hence, past life reports assume an unstated causal connection between the memory and its subject.  The subject is taken to be the cause of his or her own subjective memory. Suppose Mary reports, “I remember life as Susan.” Since Susan is the subject of Mary’s prenatal memories, and since Susan is the cause of these subjective memories; Mary is Susan.  The subject who recalls an autobiographical memory and the subject of the autobiographical memory are assumed to be the same subject. This is the autobiographical memory assumption. In this case memory alone is taken to be a sufficient condition for personal identity.  Having the same body is neither a necessary nor a sufficient for personal identity.   While this notion of personal identity may underlie some explanations of past life reports, it cannot be understood as a proof of reincarnation.[19]

III. Stevenson’s Causes of Past Life Reports

Stevenson understands that there is an implicit causal connection between the reporter and the memories in a past life reports.  He cites the nine following possible causes of past life memories: fraud, normal memories, racial memories, extrasensory perception, retrocognition, precognition, communication from a live mediator, possession, reincarnation.  A fraudulent past life report is simply a lie.  Even if details of the report are verified, they are intentionally deceptive, since the claim that the reporter was the subject of the past life report was false.  Normal memories would include cases where children hear adults recounting the details that are included in the report, and these become unintentional pseudo-memories.  Racial memories are memories that are passed along both socially and genetically like the migratory patterns known instinctively by birds. Extrasensory perception is simply the acquisition of memories by causation at a distance.  Retrocogniton occurs when the subject acquires the memories from some impersonal or transcendental source.  Plato’s account of a slave’s recollection in the Meno could count as a case of retrocognition.[20] Precognition supposes that the subject foresees the confirmation of what he or she cognizes.  The communication of memories from a mediator explains the source of the memories while it falsifies the identity claim.  Possession explains the memories as the effect of an alternate subject like a demon, spirit, angle, etc.  Finally, reincarnation takes the cause of the memories to be the same person or subject, though the memories are objectively associated with another person’s body.

For each of these explanations of past life reports I shall be interested in asking the following questions: (1) Does this explanation entail substance dualism? (2) Does this explanation identify a direct or indirect cause of the memories? (3) Are these memories recalled intentionally or unintentionally?  Some clarification of the last two questions may be in order.  I am the direct cause of my occurent memories. If I have blocked or conflated a memory, then another who reminds me of the experience may be the indirect cause of the memory.  If I am asked where my car key is located, and if I search my memory for an answer, I intend to remember where I placed my car key.  When I deliberately remember, an ulterior motive drives the recollection process; and the present subject causes the memory.   If I hear a radio announcer say that today is the twenty second of the month, and I remember I previously planed to attend an administrator’s meeting; then I unintentionally recall the memory.   When past life memories are unintentional, that is, when they are spontaneous memories, the possible cause of their recollection is not the ulterior motive of the present subject.  I offer the following chart to assist in the examination of Stevenson’s nine explanations for past life reports.


Ian Stevenson’s 9 explanations for past life reports

Substance dualism is a necessary or sufficient condition for the memory.

 The Subject is the direct or indirect cause of the reporter’s memory.

The memory is intentionally or unintentionally recalled.







Normal Memories



Intentional or unintentional


Racial Memories


Direct & impersonal

Intentional or unintentional


Extrasensory Perception















Communication from a live mediator











Necessary and Sufficient



The ninth explanation on the chart identifies the subject as a direct cause of unintentional memories in a past life report that is explained as a case of reincarnation. This explains the phenomenon of past life reports by reincarnation, but it does not prove reincarnation.  Rather it assumes that the necessary and sufficient condition for reincarnation, substance dualism, can be satisfied.  In addition, the chart identifies the subject as the indirect cause of intentional “memories” that are explained as a case of fraud, and substance dualism is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for that explanation.  To assume substance dualism in a proof of reincarnation is to commit the fallacy of circular reasoning.  What needs to be shown is that reincarnation is the best possible explanation of the nine explanations.  For the best explanation we must consider both the type of causation and the intentionality of recollection of past life memories.  The worst explanation is one where the subject is only the indirect cause of the memories and where the memories are intentionally recalled. 

VI. Better Explanations for Past life Reports

If we reject fraud as the worst possible explanation of past life memories, then that may give us insight into better possible explanations.  We should search for explanations where the reporter does not intentionally recall the memories, and we should search for explanations where the subject is the direct cause of the memory.  Of course, reincarnation is a possible explanation, but it entails that substance dualism is a necessary and sufficient condition for past life reports.  Three better possible explanations of past life memories remain: (3) racial memories; (4) extrasensory perception; and (8) possession. 

 In the racial memories explanation the subject can be the direct cause of the memory, but it becomes unclear how the integrity of the subject is maintained.  Isolating a single subject within the pool of racial memories is like isolating one voice within a mob of voices simultaneously shouting at a football game.  If the racial memories are acquired genetical, then this would account for only a small number of past life reports such as that of Susan Eastland.

In the case of possession the subject of the past life memories is the direct cause of the memories, and the reporter unintentionally recalls the memories.  Nonetheless, the past life report is flawed, since the personality causing the memories is distinct from the subject recalled.  The memories may be verifiable, but the reporter becomes the dupe in a fraudulent scheme serving the overt motives of the possessor.  This seems not to count as a better explanation.

On our short list the one remaining explanation for past life reports is telepathy.  I shall assume that we can give an account of telepathy that does not entail substance dualism. Are there reasons to think that this better explains past life reports?  I suggest two reasons.  The first is that the state of mind of the subject may condition the transmission of autobiographical memories.  The second is that the minds of some reporters may be more attuned to special telepathic communication of subjects than heretofore believed.

The telepathy explanation requires that we accept the notion of causation at a distance.  In a case of causation at a distance a direct sensory connection between a cause and an effect may be absent, yet the effect follows from the cause.  A number of recent psychological studies have compiled scientific evidence for the notion of causation at a distance.   For instance, one study demonstrated that a subject staring at another person could make the targeted person aware of this extraordinary attention, even though the target of attention was carefully shielded from the subject.[21]  In Distant Mental Influence, William Braud says,

Under certain conditions, it is possible for one person to effectively influence the bodily and mental activities of another person who is situated at a distance and shielded from all conventional sensory, informational, and energetic influences.[22]

Recall the high incident rate of violent deaths for subjects of past life reports.  In those instances the subject of a past life report is in a highly excited state of mind at death.  The subject’s alpha brain waves, that is, the brain waves connecting the conscious and subconscious mind may be unusually intense due to this excitation.[23]  So, the subject radiates an unusually strong set of brain waves.  If we assume causation at a distance, this excitation becomes the occasion for communicating a subjective point of view. 

In Stevenson’s studies most past life reporters were children.  A sense of subjective identity is something that develops late in the life of some children.  The philosopher George Herbert Mead observed, “Before a child can have a private perspective and a mind, it must first have the perspective of the community. It is a ‘we’ before it is an ‘I’”.[24] James Shreeve says,

Scientists are . . . discovering that a sense of self is not a discrete part of the mind that resides in a particular location, like the carburetor in a car, or that matures all at once, like a flower blooming.  It may involve various regions and circuits in the brain, depending on what specific sense one is talking about, and the circuits may develop at different times..[25]

Both the psychological and physiological development of some children may make them susceptible to the subjective view of another. In other words, subjective memories of another could become shared memories at this physiological and psychological stage of development.  Unlike false memories that are the product of suggestion, these are genuine memories of a subject, and the reporter comes to share the subject’s point of view.[26]  Thus, two subjects lay claim to one autobiographical memory.

In his recent work, Life before Life, Jim Tucker argues that ESP cannot account for the phenomenon of past life reports.  Like Stevenson Tucker was a medical doctor researching the phenomenon of past life reports.  Tucker believes paranormal knowledge is insufficient to account for the evidence.  He says, “The knowledge that the children express about the previous live comes from the vantage point of one individual, the previous personality.”  He argued that ordinary ESP would not yield a unified viewpoint, and extraordinary ESP, that is, superpsi would provide an excess of information to the individual.[27]  The modified ESP account identifies the point of view as one that emanates from the subject and is received by the reporter. 

A recent scientific finding may aid us in making an argument by analogy.  When the tin for electromagnetic relays is not mixed with lead, it tends to form tin whiskers; and tin whiskers can create interference and electromagnetic arcing spontaneously.[28]  The interference and arcing can corrupt the system.   I suggest that the physically and socially immature brains of some children may provide an ideal environment for receiving unusually strong brain waves of another subject.  Without the mature social skills to differentiate one subjective view from that of another the child may adopt the foreign viewpoint as his or her own subjective viewpoint. The child whose subjective point of view is not yet fully formed may experience this subjective viewpoint as his or her own memories.

V. Some Objections Considered

Here three of the most common objections to the theory are offered. 

Objection 1:  Few people remember their past life.  Why?

Answer: This is a greater problem for the traditional view of Stevenson than the telepathic theory.  The traditional view must explain why so few people remember their past lives, since it theorizes that all people are reincarnated.  Not only does the absence of data pose a problem for this theory, but the possibility that all souls in each generation are reincarnated poses a logistical problem.  The modified telepathy view sees a past life report as an exceptional state of affairs, and it can explain an absence of past life memories as an ordinary state of affairs.

Objection 2: Past life reports do prove reincarnation.  Furthermore, you have not stated the reason why we should believe that your explanation is a better explanation.

Answer:  There are different ways of proving a theory.  One may offer a deductive proof, or one may offer a scientific proof.  The author has maintained that if a deductive proof were offered for reincarnation, then it would assume the bodily transfer of the person.  Since bodily transfer is to be proven rather than assumed the argument is a circular argument.  This proof takes the following form:

(1) X is a person who has verifiable past life memories.

(2) If a person has verifiable past life memories, then the person is reincarnated.

(3) Thus, X is a reincarnated person. 

Formally the argument is a valid deduction.  One who reasons in this way concludes that a past life reporter is a reincarnated person.  This follows only if reincarnation is assumed in the consequent of the second premises.   I have maintained that in its present form the second premise is unsound.  By simple logical addition I would restate the second premise to read:  If a person has verifiable past life memories, then the person is reincarnated or the person is X.  I take all eight of the remaining explanations to be possible substitution instances for the variable X.  The objector would replace the second premise with the following premises: A person has verifiable past life memories if and only if the person is reincarnated.  I take the objector’s replacement of premise two to be question begging.  

Of course, it is possible to assert that the proof is a strict scientific proof.  A hypothesis is offered, the data is analyzed in light of the hypothesis, and the conclusion is drawn from the hypothesis.  The author has attempted to demonstrate that the data confirms only that two subjects share the same subjective point of view.  Transference of a non-bodily entity from one body to another is nonverifiable.  The alternate explanation relies upon verifiable data to explain the causal connection.  In that sense it distinguishes itself by two theoretical traits – it is a simpler theory that does not refer to metaphysical entities, and the theory does refer to the verifiable data of recent scientific experiments.

Objection 3: Some Buddhists adopt a view of reincarnation where the essential self is reincarnated but not the person per se.  In this view there is no transmigration of the soul, since there is no discrete soul that simply reincarnates itself. Why would this not be consistent with the data?

Answer:  This objection can easily be misunderstood.  You describe a belief that I shall call a no-soul form of reincarnation. Some Buddhists do believe that reincarnation is simply the transmigration of the soul.  For instance, the Dali Lama may refer to himself as “the present body”, since he believes that he is simply one incarnation of a series of incarnation.  If we suppose that some Buddhists do believe in a no-soul form of reincarnation, how would this relate to the theory of reincarnation?

The no-soul reincarnation view fails to explain past life reports.  Past life reports require that a set of memories be shared by two subjects and that one of the two subjects be deceased.  On the no-soul view the personality of the individual is a non-transferable quality.  While past life reports could not confirm the no-soul view of reincarnation, they would not necessarily contradict the no-soul view of reincarnation.  Like the traditional reincarnation views the no-soul view of reincarnation makes reference to a nonverifiable metaphysical substance.  


Do past life reports provide evidence to prove reincarnation? No. The evidence provided by past life reports are the details of a narrative that can be confirmed or denied.  When they are confirmed, a causal explanation is sought for the details.   Reincarnation is better understood as one of several possible explanations of past life reports.  Does reincarnation explain past life reports? Yes, but it entails substance dualism. Without proof of substance dualism one concludes that past life reports proves reincarnation by circular reasoning.  An alternate explanation that does not entail substance dualism is a modified view of telepathy, where the subject’s excitation and the reporter’s immaturity become the occasion for a shared subjective viewpoint. 


[1] Tom Schroder,Old Souls (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), p. 89. Hereafter cited as Schroder.

[2] Here the author is paraphrasing an argument of Edwards. See Paul Edwards, Reincarnation (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1996), p. 227. Edwards also examines the logic of the notion that transmigration requires an astral body. He reasons that transference from one host to another host requires that the astral body have spatial and temporal coordinates. Yet, the astral body defies spatial-temporal analysis. If the astral body is nowhere between incarnations, then it is not a spatial-temporal entity; hence, it is nothing; and if the astral body is nothing, it cannot inhabit a spatial-temporal entity. Hereafter cited as Edwards.

[3] See Ian Stevenson, Children who Remember Previous Lives (Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1987). Hereafter cited as Stevenson, Children. In the Appendix the author offers data on 149 cases involving children. Ten cases occur in the United States, while the majority occurs throughout the world. The majority of cases recorded by Stevenson happened in Sri Lanka or India.

[4] Stevenson, Children, p. 129.

[5] Stevenson, Children, p. 39-51.

[6] Stevenson, Children, p. 62-63.

[7] Stevenson, Children, p. 81.

[8] Stevenson, Children, p. 107.

[9] Stevenson, Children, p. 167.

[10] Stevenson, “The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations” (Fulham, Great Britan: T. W. Pegg & Sons Ltd., 1961), p. 19.  Hereafter ctied as Stevenson, Evidence.

[11] Stevenson, Children, p. 161.

[12] In the absence of a generalized account it may be helpful to suggest one, though this account is fictional.  Mary was a healthy child born to a family in India.  Soon after she began to speak she talked about a past life in a nearby village.  She gives her surname and identifies her siblings.  She may not have traveled to the village previously, but in her reports she identifies some of the prominent landmarks of the village and her home.  She reports that she died a sudden, violent death during a storm when she came into contact with a fallen electrical wire.   Some of the landmarks she identifies are missing, and this may be attributed to the natural disaster.  When the child is taken to the village, the family she named is found.  They confirm that they did have a daughter named Susan who was electrocuted in an accident. However they are reluctant to believe that the girl from the neighboring village is their daughter. Mary, the reporter makes no distinction between herself and the subject of the report, Susan. When Mary speaks of the experience of the remembered subject she uses the first person singular pronoun, I.  Mary recalls living as Susan, but Susan is deceased.  So, Mary is taken to be the reincarnation of Susan.

[13] Stevenson, Evidence, p. 34.  Stevenson says “I do not think the data provide anything like proof of reincarnation. “  He adds, “A large number of cases in which the recall of true memories is a plausible hypothesis should make the [reincarnation] hypothesis worthy of attention.” P. 35

[14] Stevenson, Evidence, p.34.  See also Stevenson, Children, p. 217.  There he offers the following reply to the question, “Is reincarnation a universal experience?” “I regard it as completely unanswerable now and in the foreseeable future.” P. 217

[15] Schroder, p. 148.

[16] Reincarnation is seen as the transference of an incorporeal person from one body to another body.  

[17] Paul Edwards, Reincarnation (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1996), p. 15. Hereafter cited as Edwards.

[18] Edwards, p. 281.

[19] Here I take reincarnation to be the incarnation of a subjective point of view in a body other than the body wherein the point of view originated. 

[20] Plato, Collected Dialogues, p. 365.

[21] William Braud, Distant Mental Influence (Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 2003), p. 163.  Hereafter cited as William Braud.

[22] William Braud, p. xxxi.

[23] Anna Wise, Awakening the Mind (New York, New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2002), p. 10.

[24] George Herbert Mead in Classical American Philosophy (New York, New York: Oxford University Press), p. 421.

[25] James Shreeve, “Beyond the Brain”, National Geographic (March, 2005):

[26] On false memories see Daniel L. Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory (New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), pp. 112-137.  Schacter says, Recollections of early experience are extremely malleable, more so than many would have believed less than a decade ago.  When suggestive techniques such as hypnosis and guided imagery are used to hunt for memories from vulnerable periods of childhood, they comprise a potentially dangerous recipe for producing false memories.” P. 129.

[27] Jim Tucker, Life Before Life (New York, New York: Saint Martin Press, 2005), p. 45.

[28] “Basic Info on Tin Whiskers” at


  • Braud, William. Distant Mental Influence.  Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.  2003.

  • Edwards, Paul.  Reincarnation. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1996.

  • Patterson, R. W. K.  Philosophy and the Belief in a Life After Death. New York: Saint Martin Press, 1995.

  • Penelhum, Terence. Survival and Disembodied Existence. New York, New York: Humanities Press, 1970.

  • Schacter, Daniel L.  The Seven Sins of Memory New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Press, 2001.

  • Schroder, Tom.  Old Souls.  New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

  • Stevenson, Ian.  “The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations.”  Fulham, U.K:T. W. Pegg & Sons Ltd. 1961.

  • Stevenson, Ian.  Children Who Remember Previous Lives.  Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1987.

  • Tucker, Jim Life Before Life.  New York, New York: Saint Martin Press, 2005.

  • Wise, Anna.  Awakening the Mind.  New York: Putnam Penguin, Inc. 2002.

Thinking About Religion, Volume 8
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