There are many people who quickly dismiss the veracity of concepts such as souls, reincarnation, rebirth, spirits. There are others who strongly hold to these beliefs and find great comfort in knowing there is a higher power, and more to our existence than simply this one lifetime. Even those who are the former, however, have wavered in their stance after learning about the late Professor Ian Stevenson's research.
Stevenson, a psychiatrist by training who died in 2007, was a professor at the University of Virginia. He conducted over 30 years of research and compiled around 3,000 cases of children who have memories of previous lives. One such study is that of James Leininger, a child born in Louisiana.
James loved toy planes as a young child. Around the age of two, he started having nightmares of dying in a plane crash. He told his parents he was a pilot in this nightmare, that his plane's name was Natoma, that he was shot by the Japanese at Iwo Jima, and he had a friend named Jack Larsen. Upon investigation, all of these facts were corroborated and found to be true. A man named James Huston died in the plane crash of USS Natoma Bay at Iwo Jima during World War II, and the pilot of the neighboring plane was Jack Larsen. There was no opportunity for James Leininger to have heard this story from his parents or on television. It was clearly his own memory.
Stevenson found many such cases, filling a 2,000 page publication entitled Reincarnation and Biology, with young children remembering stories of previous lives with precise, accurate details that have been found to be true. He found that these memories typically appeared around the age of two or three and disappeared by six or seven. It typically only occurred in children whose past lives encompassed extremely emotionally traumatizing events, such as James's plane crash. Oftentimes, the children were also accompanied by distinct birthmarks or birth defects that correlated with events from previous lives. For example, a young Burmese girl who was born without her lower right leg recounted the life of a girl who was run over by a train. A Turkish boy with congenital underdevelopment of his face experienced memories of a man who was shot at point-blank range.
The empirical data was overwhelming. The accuracy and truth of these children's claims proved that this was more than a mere coincidence. Many scientists agreed that Stevenson's evidence was not inferior to other branches of science. Reincarnation is certainly real.
Of course, the mechanism for such a process is still unknown. Memories are the work of neural pathways that are forged and triggered by the brain's electrical circuits. Without experiencing any of these memories in the current life, how are these neural pathways suddenly present in children? If the soul exists, how does it transfer these pathways from brain to brain? Any explanation to these questions would be a stark contradiction to any and everything we currently know about the human brain and consciousness. However, we cannot dismiss this research for the fear of being proven wrong, the fear of discovering that there is a great deal that we do not know. Stevenson's colleagues are still continuing his work at the University of Virginia. Perhaps, one day in the near future, we will stumble upon the answer to the question that lingers in everyone's minds: how does reincarnation work?