After watching American Idol, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the premiere of a new TV series, The Past Life, was featured next. The name itself suggests that the series are based on the concept of reincarnation, the belief that after the death of the body, the soul returns to earth to inhabit another body. Inspired by “The Reincarnationist,” The Past Life TV series are focused on unraveling the mysteries involving past lives of their clients.
“In the series premiere, Kate and her partner, Price, attempt to help Noah (guest star CAYDEN BOYD), a teen suffering from regression episodes – repressed memories from a past life – in which Noah remembers a previous life’s kidnapping and murder. Together with Dr. Malachi Talmadge (series star RICHARD SCHIFF) and Dr. Rishi Karna (series star RAVI PATEL), Kate and Price work to track down the perpetrator of a crime committed 14 years earlier.”[i]
It is very refreshing that the entertainment media and television networks are increasingly exploring the concepts of extra-sensory perception, parallel worlds, time travel and reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation is common to many religious traditions and cultures. The most substantial and detailed collection of personal reports in proof of reincarnation have been published by Professor Ian Stevenson. As the Head of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, Stevenson dedicated forty years to extensive research into reincarnation. After investigating 3,000 childhood cases in Africa, Alaska, Europe, India and both North and South America, he concluded the possibility of past lives.
“He reported that the children he studied usually started to speak of their supposed past lives between the ages of two and four, then ceased to do so by seven or eight, with frequent mentions of having died a violent death, and what seemed to be clear memories of the manner of death.”[ii]
His strongest cases contained both testimony and physical evidence such as rare, unusual birthmarks or birth defects which he claimed matched the wounds recorded in the medical or post-mortem records for the individual identified as the past-life personality.[iii] In such cases, children’s behavior was suggestive of a link to their previous life. These children would also display emotions toward the members of the previous family strikingly consistent with the relationships they claimed to have in their past life. They also displayed phobias reflective of the manner of their death. Many children incorporated elements of their previous occupation into their fantasy games; while some children would repeatedly act out their claimed death. [iv]
One such case describes a boy in Beirut that claimed to be a 25-year-old mechanic who died after being hit by a speeding car. The boy gave the name of the driver, his parents, sisters, cousins as well as the location of the crash. After scrupulous investigation, it was verified that the details matched the life of a man who died years before the boy was born. The deceased man had no connection to the child’s family.[v]
Stevenson always made sure to investigate alternative explanations of the phenomena. For instance, that the child did not discover information in some other manner, that the witnesses were not lying and the possibilities of a coincidence. In most of the cases, “no alternative explanation seemed to suffice.”
Philosopher, Robert Almeder, endorsed Stevenson’s research. He felt that the evidence assembled by Stevenson argued strongly in favor of reincarnation. He even went so far as to suggest that it is irrational to deny the possibility of reincarnation.[vi]
However, there are those that consider Stevenson’s work as pseudoscience mainly because of the lack of any known physical mechanisms that could account for or explain personality transfer. According to his obituary, his greatest frustration was not that people dismissed his theories, but the fact that they dismissed them without even reading the evidence he had assembled.[vii] Of course, there are things that will never be altogether proven in terms of physical evidence. However, without an openness of mind the world may never have the opportunity to take full advantage of what this field has to offer.
On a last note, I would like to mention one interesting detail shared by Brad Pitt on the Oprah Show a couple of years ago. Brad was talking about his family life and shared some funny things about his children. However, I felt intrigued when Brad told Oprah that after watching Peter Pan his daughter, Shiloh, developed a peculiar personality and insisted on being called “John. “I’m John,” he explained, “It’s a Peter Pan thing.”
“She only wants to be called John. John or Peter. So it’s a Peter Pan thing. So we’ve got to call her John. ‘Shi, do you want …’ – ‘John. I’m John.’ And then I’ll say, ‘John, would you like some orange juice?’ And she goes, ‘No!’ So, you know, it’s just that kind of stuff that’s cute to parents, and it’s probably really obnoxious to other people.”
Of course, there is another explanation for her behavior though it is not as popular as the traditional clinical psychological interpretation. My impression is that the film Peter Pan activated a subconscious memory for Shiloh of being a boy in another life. That life had a very strong emotional impact on her and something in the movie rekindled this association. I sense that she died at a young age, and that Brad had some contact with her in that life.
Brad and Angie’s response is unique since most parents would be worried that their child is developing a male identity at a young age, which is actually not the case. To the contrary, their attitude may actually work toward: a) either activating intuitive awareness in the child or b) helping the child adjust and eventually release these memories in a healthy way.
Although sometimes these memories of a past lifetime can intrude for a long period of time, they usually eventually disappear of their own accord.
[ii] Professor Ian Stevenson, The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2007.
[iii] Stevenson, Ian (1992). Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons, paper presented at the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration, Princeton University, June 11–13, 1992.
[iv] Reincarnation. JIM B. TUCKER. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. Ed. Robert Kastenbaum. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. p705-710. 2 vols. p.707
[v] Shroder, Tom. Ian Stevenson; Sought To Document Memories Of Past Lives in Children, The Washington Post, February 11, 2007.
[vi Robert F. Almeder. Death and personal survival, Rowman and Littlefield, 1992, p.82.
[vii] Professor Ian Stevenson, The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2007.
Emily Williams Kelly. Ian Stevenson Obituary, University of Virginia Health System, February 2007.