As a parent, what would you do if your 4-year-old son started telling you about memories that can’t possibly be his own? These are memories that he says are from “when he was older.”
A past life? Reincarnation? Psychic connections?
A recent episode of Invisibilia about one of these stories got me looking back at some investigating I had done on my own years ago. The topic is interesting whether or not you believe that we have had past lives. It gets you into psychology and religion and maybe the paranormal.
An article on “Children Who Seemingly Remember Past Lives” from psychologytoday.com addresses why some children recount apparent past-life memories with such vividness. In many of these cases, the person from the past being spoken of could be identified through the specificity of information from the child. Here’s a look at two very impressive (and recent) instances.
The stories border on being creepy movie plots. For example, a 2-and-a-half-year-old girl who is very upset because she can’t find “her” children. She describes the past life “her” as someone who lost her life in a car accident.
In Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives, a book published by Jim Tucker, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia, he compiled hundreds of case that fit this pattern.
Some doctors and scientists who study this are hesitant to refer to this as children experiencing “past lives” because that crosses into reincarnation which crosses over to religion.
These cases are not the result of “past life regression” which is a technique that uses hypnosis to recover what practitioners believe are memories of past lives or incarnations. I question those results of stories gained under hypnosis and the practice is widely dismissed and considered unscientific by medical practitioners. These experts generally regard claims of recovered memories of past lives as fantasies or delusions or a type of confabulation (in psychology, a memory error).
Ironically, though past-life regression is often considered a spiritual experience and advocates belive in reincarnation, those religious traditions that incorporate reincarnation generally do not include the idea of repressed memories of past lives.
Tucker believes parents need to know that these statements from children don’t indicate psychological problems. And though children may be troubled by these memories at an early age, such memories appear to fade by the time children are 6 or 7.
Another book by Tucker along with Ian Stevenson, Life Before Life: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives, examines a collection of 2,500 cases that investigators have carefully studied since Stevenson began the work more than forty years ago.
Children usually begin talking about a past life at the age of two or three and may talk about a previous family or the way they died in a previous life. Their statements have often been found to be accurate for one particular deceased individual, and some children have recognized members of the previous family.
Further eeriness comes when some children have birthmarks or defects that matched wounds on the body of the deceased person.
There doesn’t seem to be permanent problems from these memories. When the kids studied got older, they embraced their present life and identity.
Another Psychology Today article on children and past lives asks readers if they believe in reincarnation. This points to the separation between those who believe that the children are seeing into a life they once lived, and those who believe that the children have somehow tapped into the past or someone else’s memories.
His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama has said “When science doesn’t find something, there are two possibilities: The not finding of something that doesn’t exist, and the case of even though something exists, it can’t be found. They are different. For instance, about past and future lives and not being able to prove them scientifically, it is just that scientists cannot find them, but that doesn’t prove that they don’t exist.”
Where do I stand in this debate? I had my own story of a possible past life experience that happened when I was a college student. At least, that was the explanation I was given by others who heard my story. So, I am open to the idea. That experience mad eme research past lives, reincarnation, and past life regression, but I’m still unsure.
10 Mysterious Kids Who Remember Their Past Lives (video)
Tales Told by Children Remembering Their Past Lives
Children’s Past Lives: How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child by Carol Bowman
Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives by Tom Shroder