Shedding Light in the Darkness

The Science of Reincarnation


“For those who remember their past lives, rebirth is a clear experience. However, most ordinary beings forget their past lives as they go through the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth. The person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth.” – The Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, Sept. 24, 2011

Jim Tucker, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, has been studying reincarnation since the 1990s compiling 2,500 case files of those who report memories of past lives.

In his book “Return To Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children who Remember Past Lives,” he relays some astonishing accounts, like the story of James Leininger, who as a boy, remembered being a World War II fighter pilot. In an NPR interview Tucker described the boy’s experience.

As a 2-year-old he started having horrific nightmares four or five times a week – of being a plane crash. And then during the day, he talked about this plane crash and said that he had been a pilot, and that he had flown off of a boat. And his dad asked him the name of it, and he said Natoma. And he said he had been shot down by the Japanese; that he had been killed at Iwo Jima; and that he had a friend on the boat named Jack Larsen.

It turns out that there was an aircraft carrier called the USS Natoma Bay that was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. In fact, it was involved in Iwo Jima. And it lost one pilot there, a young man named James Huston. James Huston’s plane crashed exactly the way that James Leininger had described – hit in the engine, exploding into fire, crashing into the water and quickly sinking. And when that happened, the pilot of the plane next to his was named Jack Larsen.

His memories began fading, “by the time he was 5 or 6 or 7, which is typical. But it was certainly there, quite strong, for some time.”

Then there’s Ryan Hammons, who as a 4 year old, began directing imaginary movies, with shouts of “Action” often echoing from his room.

An article in the University of Virginia Magazine relayed how the movie play became a concern for Ryan’s parents when he began waking up in the middle of the night screaming and clutching his chest, saying he dreamed his heart exploded when he was in Hollywood. One night Ryan said “Mama, I think I used to be someone else.” He said he remembered a big white house and a swimming pool in Hollywood.

After the parents got some books on Hollywood from their local library, one day Ryan stopped at a black-and-white still of a group of men taken from a 1930s movie, Night After Night. “That guy’s me. I found me!” Ryan exclaimed.

According to Tucker’s research roughly 70 percent of the children say they died violent or unexpected deaths in their previous life. Males account for close to three-quarters of those deaths.

One out of five children who report a past life say they recall the intermission, the time between death and birth, although there is no consistent view of what that’s like. The median time between the death of a person and rebirth is about 16 months. Nearly 20 percent of the children studied have scarlike birthmarks or even unusual deformities that closely match marks or injuries the person whose life the child recalls received at or near his or her death.

“My impression of the children is that while a few make philosophical statements about life, most are just typical kids,” he says. “It might be a situation similar to not being any smarter on the first day of first grade than you were on the last day of kindergarten.”

“I think there are good reasons to think that consciousness can be considered a separate entity from physical reality,” says Tucker. “And in fact, some leading scientists in the past, like Max Planck, who’s the father of quantum theory, said that he viewed consciousness as fundamental and that matter was derived from it. So in that case, it would mean that consciousness would not necessarily be dependent on a physical brain in order to survive, and could continue after the physical brain and after the body dies. In these cases, it seems – at least, on the face of it – that a consciousness has then become attached to a new brain, and has shown up as past life memories.”

“I think these cases contribute to the body of evidence that consciousness – at least, in certain circumstances – can survive the death of the body; that life after death isn’t necessarily just a fantasy or something to be considered on faith, but it can also be approached in an analytic way, and the idea can be judged on its merits.”


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