Monday, November 28, 2011

Reincarnation Theory

The most common theme in all of the world's religions is that death is not the end of existence. This is not universal, and a few religions actually do teach that death is the end. Many religions describe a second world for the departed. Another common idea is that the dead are reborn as new people, an idea called reincarnation. Various religions describe various reasons why this should happen, and how it would work, usually positing that you have a soul that is moved from body to body. The Dalai Lama wasfamously asked by Carl Sagan if given proof, would he cease to believe in reincarnation, which is a major component of his religion. He answered that yes, proof was proof and believing untrue things was like lying to yourself. He added that it would prove very difficult to disprove reincarnation. I bring this up because about a week ago I was reading an article about a psychologist in the 1960s who hypnotized a large number of people in California and asked them if they could remember of past life. To her great surprise, many reported that they could, describing the food, clothing, and customers of a 30 to 70 year life. She then compared the reports to actual historical records, finding them to be accurate about 85% of the time. The new page community, whose religion teaches reincarnation, immediately jumped on this study as proof of reincarnation. The most commonly reported past life was World War II era Chinese, suggesting a period of less than 10 years between lives. Assuming that all of this true, it makes sense to my understanding of history. America and China were allies in the war, and to a Chinese person of this time, their ally, "Meiguo," as they called America, was far from their enemies, rich beyond all their wildest dreams, and powerful. If dead people reincarnated and had a choice as to where they would be reborn, America would be a tempting choice for a dead Chinese person. China would have been their first choice, but they would probably be afraid to return to where their enemies still had a major presence. Again if true, I would expect the former Chinese to be absolutely contemptuous of their old enemy, the Japanese, terrified of overhead airplanes (which in their past life would have been Japanese and actively attempting to kill them), and affectionate to their former home, China. Reincarnation religions don't have many teaching about how cultural traits carry over between lives, other than that memories are outright erased, but Chinese culture teaches an importance to family, and stresses scholarship as a means to get ahead in the world. These habits might remain. Of course, there was an immediate criticism of the study, which found a massive methodology hole large enough to drive a truck through. It is well established that we subconsciously remember way more of what we read than we consciously remember, up to all of it, and that hypnotized people are ridiculously suggestible. A person who had read a history book that year would have access to very detailed accounts of all the aspects given in the report. Also, subjects often described dates in their supposed past lives as "Such-and-such BC," a nomenclature not used until some 400-500 years after the fact. During the BC/AD switch-over, the most common calendar was the AUC, or "After the founding of the city." The city being Rome, the most famous city at the time. It is pretty clear that in their altered state, the subjects made stuff up, and the stuff they made up was accurate because the subject had studied history. It was a tempting idea because the only people with knowledge of what people experience in death are dead themselves, and they are in no condition to report back to the living. It is even possible that the dead have no existence at all, and that deeply frightens people.

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