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The doctrine of reincarnation has been circulating the globe for millennia; yet, not a shred of evidence exists to support it. Contrary to the claims of reincarnation researchers, memories of past lives, including knowledge of recondite things known only to specialist historians, do not support the doctrine of reincarnation (see the Case of Jasbir). Real memories of past lives - often referred to as "previous" lives by believers - are the result of a well-known phenomenon called "overshadowing" or, in extreme cases, "obsession" or "possession."
Overshadowing occurs when a discarnate personality, currently occupying a domain of consciousness close to the earth, "approaches" a psychically sensitive individual and impresses him or her with its thoughts, feelings, beliefs and memories. The individual will feel a sense of "ownership" over the memories and may interpret them as memories of a previous life - especially if the individual believes in reincarnation. This overshadowing phenomenon works both ways and the discarnate personality will have access to the individual's thoughts, feelings and memories and may, for its part, believe it has reincarnated in the body of its "host." By transference, the discarnate personality will impress - or reinforce - the host's mind with the conviction that he or she has lived a previous life on earth.
Dr. Ian Stevenson, psychiatrist and reincarnation researcher, spent much of his life investigating children with memories of past lives and found a case - the Case of Jasbir first published in Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation - that proves beyond doubt that discarnate personalities exist and can impress an individual with its thoughts, feelings, beliefs and memories. The significance of this case cannot be over-emphasized because it demonstrates that every other case investigated by Dr. Stevenson is really a case of overshadowing or obsession.
In Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, Dr. Stevenson records cases of individuals - mostly children - with birthmarks and defects correlating with memories of a previous life. For example, a child who has memories of being shot, stabbed or injured may have birthmarks or birth defects suggestive of the injury. It is thought by some that this strengthens the case for reincarnation. Actually, it does not; it strengthens the case for discarnate spirit influence, as we shall see. All Stevenson's research, if properly interpreted, points to that conclusion. But, if the case of Jasbir demonstrates that discarnate personalities exist and can impress an individual with their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and memories, it is not difficult to accept that a discarnate personality can impress an individual's physical body with marks and lesions of various kinds. Poltergeist attacks on children, for example, may produce scratches and bite marks, sometimes with traces of saliva. Possession of an individual by a discarnate personality can produce changes in the whole physiognomy of the individual. All this is well documented in the field of the paranormal and does not need to be discussed in detail here.
In the case of an unborn child the discarnate influence may operate via the mother as 'maternal impressions' i.e. emotional reactions realized in the fetus as physical reactions. In my book (referred to as Refuted for short) I record a number of well-documented cases in which an expectant mother has witnessed a violent incident, been traumatized by it, and her baby born with marks or defects closely correlating with the injuries seen. A discarnate personality, attempting to reincarnate, may attach itself to a pregnant woman and impress her 'emotional body' with memories of being fatally injured prior to its passing. Because the discarnate influence is divided between mother and child, these memories will not necessarily surface in the mother's conscious mind but remain below the threshold of consciousness inducing subtle, emotional reactions. These reactions or 'maternal impressions' may then manifest themselves in the fetus as marks or defects correlating with the injuries suffered by the obsessing personality.
At some stage after birth, the obsessing personality will focus its whole attention on the child and impress the latter's mind with its thoughts, feelings, beliefs and memories - memories that will, naturally, correlate with the child's birthmarks or defects. The child then reports memories of a past life to its parents and siblings who, in a reincarnationist culture, will interpret it as evidence of a previous life. The existence of correlated birthmarks or defects will serve to strengthen their belief. Indeed, the parents may regard it as 'proof' of reincarnation. However, as the child develops, the influence of the obsessing entity will gradually fade though identity problems may persist into adulthood. Dr. Stevenson investigated many such cases and found that past life memories in children - with or without correlated birthmarks and defects - were often associated with personality and behavioural disorders, underachievement and social maladjustment.
Stevenson's investigations into past life memories in children are a valuable contribution to paranormal research if understood as discarnate spirit intrusions, but not if they are treated as evidence for reincarnation. Stevenson seriously erred by "skewing" his explanations to support his belief in reincarnation - a belief that seems to have been an obsession. Having analyzed a sample of his cases in some detail, I found that Stevenson can be criticized under the following headings: (1) theory (2) methodology (3) sources (4) representation of facts (5) language (6) arbitrariness. Taken as a whole, they show a pattern of bias unacceptable in any field of scientific enquiry. I summarize them as follows:
(1) His research has no theoretical basis
Instead of employing a coherent model of consciousness, Stevenson draws on local beliefs and superstitions to buttress his explanations. The more popular an idea, the more convinced Stevenson becomes of its reality. This is evidenced by his propensity to quote individuals - especially subjects' relatives - whenever they support the doctrine of reincarnation.
(2) His research methodology is flawed
When interviewing subjects, Stevenson's questions are couched in the language of reincarnationism. From an investigative point of view this is fatal because the project becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In many instances, his leading questions would be deemed inadmissible in any serious survey of public opinion. By and large, his questions are designed to get the answers he wants.
(3) He misleads with his sources
For example, in a paper entitled Reincarnation: Field Studies and Theoretical Issues Stevenson cites John McTaggart's Human Immortality and Pre-existence as supporting the doctrine of reincarnation but ignores McTaggart's better known work The Unreality of Time which is clearly incompatible with any doctrine based on the concept of real time. A close study of McTaggart's work on immortality reveals that it does not support the doctrine of reincarnation.
(4) He misrepresents the facts to support his belief in reincarnation
In the case of Jasbir, Stevenson treats Jasbir's apparent death synonymously with his actual death even though Jasbir never died. He arbitrarily calls spirit intrusion 'reincarnation,' and although Jasbir could not have been a reincarnation of Sobha Ram - they were contemporaries of one another - Stevenson, nevertheless, treats it as a case suggestive of reincarnation.
(5) He uses language in a misleading manner
For example, throughout his investigations of Jasbir, Stevenson confuses the terms 'actual' and 'apparent,' uses the term 'suggestive' synonymously with the stronger term 'indicative', and makes no distinction between ex ante and ex post thereby confusing intentions with actualities. For example, he treats a discarnate personality's desire to reincarnate as a de facto reincarnation. His misleading use of language and confusion of ideas enables him to draw conclusions which are not supported by the facts.
(6) His dismissal of spirit intrusion is unwarranted
Stevenson arbitrarily dismisses the phenomenon of discarnate spirit influence because it obviously undermines his whole thesis. In particular he fails to draw a distinction between obsession and possession and misses golden opportunities to probe the nature of the phenomenon he is investigating. An important question he never put to parents is: "Does your child ever suffer from lapses of consciousness?"
Those who are emotionally attached to the idea of reincarnating on earth (or some other planet) and are frustrated with the inability of reincarnation researchers - such as Dr. Ian Stevenson - to establish watertight cases of reincarnation frequently use the argument of last resort, namely, that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence therefore it's OK to believe in reincarnation. This is much like saying that since no one can refute unicorns it's OK believing in unicorns. What might conceivably exist may exist and what might conceivably happen may happen. In other words: "You can't prove a negative."
In Refuted I call this 'The Principle of Irrefutability' and discuss how this principle is used by believers to deny that reincarnation can be refuted and - in extreme cases - even criticized. Unfortunately for believers in reincarnation, the refutation of reincarnation as set out in Refuted has little to do with arguments about evidence but plenty to do with logic and mathematics. Beginning with four fundamental postulates (see The Four Postulates) it's possible, by a process of logical deduction, to prove that the human self does not incarnate more than once, that is to say, it does not reincarnate. Significantly, it is not necessary to discuss the multitudinous beliefs about reincarnation - an impossibly difficult task - in order to establish this result. Indeed, it can be established without mentioning the word "reincarnation" at all.
The second stage of the refutation involves a mathematical analysis of karma, and this leads directly to the Impossibility Theorem.
But first, a few words about the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism and similar credos. Devotees are taught that the detached personality can, through meditation, right-living and general renunciation of the world, take control of karma, become detached from it and eventually eliminate it, thus freeing itself from the cycle of rebirths. But there is a problem here because the character traits that underlie the personality's willingness to engage in such activities are themselves an integral part of the karmic load. By detaching itself from karma the personality detaches itself from the willingness to control it - an inherently self-contradictory state of mind like desiring to be desireless. This means that the conscious personality cannot eliminate karma. In fact, karma eliminates the personality.
In Refuted, I prove that karma is the product of chance and can only be eliminated by chance. Briefly stated the Impossibility Theorem says that the probability of everyone eliminating karma and achieving liberation from the cycle of rebirths is zero. Hence, there is at least one individual - there could be billions in practice - who will reincarnate an infinite number of times. Since this is impossible, reincarnation cannot be a fact of nature. The incoherence of karma can be expressed in a different way. As the personality develops by learning new lessons in each incarnation, the chances of attaining liberation should increase. In fact it can be proven to decrease. In other words, the more spiritually evolved personalities become the less likely they are to attain liberation. Obviously, this is the reverse of what should happen, but it is a consequence of karma.
Now, discarnate spirit entities masquerading as "spirit guides" who find they cannot sell the idea of karma to their listeners because it has Eastern connotations unacceptable to Western ears, or because it's a fundamentally nasty doctrine, use the word "lessons" instead. Forget about karma; we're all here to learn lessons and grow spiritually. Reincarnation is a matter of choice.
So we are told. The question we need to ask is this: can reincarnation happen without karma? In the minds of those who say yes, the purpose of reincarnation is to facilitate the evolution of the self through earthly experiences and the learning of lessons. In the absence of an impersonal force such as karma, this learning process would need to be under the control of an over-arching entity capable of perceiving the process as a whole and performing an evolutionary function equivalent to karma i.e. gathering the experiences and lessons of previous incarnations for the ultimate benefit of the personality in the present and future incarnations. This entity – the eternal self – would then perceive all its incarnations simultaneously because to an eternal being all events are simultaneous. (Proposition D, Refuted). These incarnations would be simultaneous physical expressions of the self.
However, simultaneous physical expressions of the self would, by definition, be a denial of individuality. One might just as well assert that all the incarnations of contemporaneous human beings on earth are the physical expressions of one self – an obvious falsehood. Thus, unless one rejects the notion of individuality – and no rationally minded person will do that - the process of learning from one incarnation to another cannot be under the control of an eternal entity. We conclude that reincarnation must be under the control of an impersonal force such as karma.
All this is to say that reincarnation must be a law-governed process. If this were not the case there would be no ethical relationship between actions and consequences. For example, a mass murderer might be rewarded with a huge fortune in the next incarnation. Hence, reincarnation cannot happen without karma. But, to fully understand this, one need only ask the following sorts of questions: why is a child murdered and what lessons are learned? Why did Fred Smith die in a terrorist attack and what lessons were learned? We are immediately back to karma because the lesson learned by a murdered child is not to murder; and the lesson learned by a terrorist victim is not to be a terrorist perpetrator.
One should always question the veracity of spirit entities claiming to be "spirit guides" because there's plenty of evidence to suggest they're a mendacious bunch. However, those not convinced should read Joe Fisher's exposé: The Siren Call of Hungary Ghosts. Joe records how "spirit guides" gave him detailed information about his previous lives on earth, and he discovered after careful investigation - he was an investigative journalist - that he had been sold a pack of lies. Joe Fisher's obsessive belief in reincarnation arguably led to his tragic death. But having said all this, if one chooses not believe in karma for whatever reason - that's fine. Karma doesn't exist anyway. But then the doctrine of reincarnation must be abandoned because karma is the motive force for reincarnation, and reincarnation cannot happen without a motive force.
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