Searching For The Science Behind Reincarnation (2023)

Say a child has memories of being a Hollywood extra in the 1930s. Is it just an active imagination, or actual evidence of reincarnation? Jim Tucker, a psychologist at the University of Virginia studies hundreds of cases like this and joins NPR's Rachel Martin to share his research on the science behind reincarnation.

Searching For The Science Behind Reincarnation

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(Video) Did a Doctor Discover Proof of Past Lives


We're going to spend the next few minutes talking about a controversial theory, about living and dying and living again; reincarnation. It's long been a central tenet of certain spiritual traditions, but it's not an experience that's been rigorously tested by many scientists. Enter Jim Tucker. He's a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, and he is doing exactly that - testing claims of reincarnation, especially those made by children. Dr. Tucker joins us from the Virginia Foundation, to talk about the science behind this phenomenon. Thanks so much for being with us.

DR. JIM TUCKER: Thanks very much for having me.

MARTIN: When did you first begin to get interested in this, in the idea of reincarnation as a ripe subject for scientific inquiry?

(Video) The Proof Is Out There: Inexplicable Evidence of Reincarnation (Season 1) | History

TUCKER: Well, I got interested in it in the late '90s, but this work has actually been going on at the University of Virginia for 50 years. Over the decades, we've now studied over 2,500 cases of children who report memories of past lives. And what we try to do is to determine exactly what they have said and what's happened, and then see if it matches the life of somebody who lived and died before. Once I got involved, I began to focus on American cases. And I have explained some of the cases in this new book that I have out and really, some of the American ones are quite compelling.

MARTIN: Let's talk about a few of those. You mentioned your recent book. It's called "Return To Life." And you chronicle the stories of many children, including one that got a lot of national attention. It was the story of James Leininger. He was a boy who remembered being a World War II fighter pilot. Can you walk us through that case?

TUCKER: Sure. So James is the son of a Christian couple in Louisiana. And when he was little, he loved his toy planes. But also around the time of his second birthday, 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. Well, 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.

MARTIN: And how old was James when he was making these claims?

TUCKER: Well, it started when he was 2 - and a very young 2.

MARTIN: That's amazing.

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TUCKER: Like with most of these cases, it faded away by the time he was 5 or 6 or 7, which is typical. But it was certainly there, quite strong, for some time.

MARTIN: And how do you know that these kids aren't echoing things they have heard their parents talk about or making up stories, using their imagination, articulating dreams they may have had?

TUCKER: Yeah. Well, certainly with the imagination part - if we had never been able to verify that what the child said matched somebody who died, then you could certainly just mark it down as being fantasy. But in cases like James', the previous person, James Huston, was so obscure - I mean, he was a pilot who was killed 50 years before; and he was from Pennsylvania, and James was in Louisiana - I mean, it seems absolutely impossible that he could have somehow gained this information as a 2-year-old through some sort of normal means. In fact, it took his dad a couple of years - well, really more than a couple of years; three or four years - to be able to track it all down and see that in fact, that what James was saying all did fit for this pilot who was killed.

MARTIN: So break down the science for me - because there will be a lot of people who hear this who think, there's just no way.

TUCKER: Well, I think it's very difficult to just map these cases onto a materialist understanding of reality. I mean, if physical matter, if the physical world is all there is, then I don't know how you can accept these cases and believe in them. But I think there are good reasons to think that consciousness can be considered a separate entity from physical reality. 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.

MARTIN: This may be a dumb question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. So does that mean - does a consciousness need to inhabit a body?

(Video) Reincarnation is scientific

TUCKER: Well, we don't know, of course. But in a case like James Leininger - I mean, it was 50 years between lives. Now, who's to say he didn't inhabit another body in the meantime? But my guess would be no. Now, in this world, it may need to be in a physical body in order to be expressed; but it may well be that our brains are conduits for consciousness, but it is actually being created somewhere else.

MARTIN: So what are you trying to reveal or prove? What, to you, would constitute an important scientific development in this field?

TUCKER: Well, I don't know that I'm necessarily trying to prove anything, but I'm trying to sort of find out for myself what seems to be going on here. And 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.

MARTIN: You were clearly interested in this for a long time, and it's what motivates your work. But I wonder, as you have evaluated so many cases over the years, how has that informed your own understanding of an afterlife and what happens when we die? Has that changed at all for you?

TUCKER: Well, I've certainly become more persuaded that there is more than just the physical reality. I do think it's quite likely that if we do survive, that there's not just one experience that everyone has; that the afterlife may be as varied as life in this world.

MARTIN: That's Jim Tucker. He's a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, and the author of "Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children who Remember Past Lives." Thank you so much for talking with us.

(Video) Using Science To Study The 'Afterlife': Closer To An Answer | TODAY

TUCKER: Thanks very much for having me.

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What is a fact about reincarnation? ›

In most beliefs involving reincarnation, the soul is seen as immortal and the only thing that becomes perishable is the body. Upon death, the soul becomes transmigrated into a new infant (or animal) to live again. The term transmigration means passing of soul from one body to another after death.

What religion believes in reincarnation? ›

The major religions that hold a belief in reincarnation, however, are Asian religions, especially Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, all of which arose in India.

Is there a case of reincarnation? ›

Others seem to recognize people and places of his supposed previous life, and some of their assertions have been made under controlled conditions. The hypothesis of reincarnation is controversial. We can never say that it does not occur, or will obtain conclusive evidence that it happens.

What does the concept of reincarnation translate to? ›

the belief that a dead person's spirit returns to life in another body: Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. a person or animal in whose body a dead person's spirit returns to life: He believes he's a reincarnation of Julius Caesar.

What determines a person's reincarnation? ›

Once a living being dies, its atman will be reborn or reincarnated into a different body depending on its karma from its previous life. For example, if a person has good karma in a previous life, then their atman will be reborn or reincarnated into something better than they were previously.

Do Catholics believe in reincarnation? ›

The Catholic Church does not believe in reincarnation, which it regards as being incompatible with death.

How does karma lead to reincarnation? ›

Karma is attached to the idea of reincarnation. There is an ongoing cycle of birth and death, conditioned by karma, linking an individual to past and future existences (Kolenda 1964; Wadia 1965). In reincarnation, the spirit or soul survives death and is reborn into a new body, human or nonhuman.

Which is world's oldest religion? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

What religions have karma? ›

Karma is found within many forms of Indian religion including Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. In Sanskrit karma (Pali: kamma) means 'action'.

Does the Bible support reincarnation? ›

None of the Biblical passages support the idea of universal reincarnation.

What is the problem with reincarnation? ›

The problem with reincarnation is that explanation, however, is twofold: 1) we have, as of yet, no way to verify it prospectively in an objective manner; and 2) we have no mechanism to explain how reincarnation might occur.

Do people still believe in reincarnation? ›

Fewer than half of Americans believe in reincarnation, fate

Though the share of adults who believe in reincarnation – i.e., that “people will be reborn again and again in this world” – is much lower than the share who believe in heaven or hell, it is a view held by a substantial minority of the population (33%).

What are the three stages of reincarnation? ›

Rebirths occur in six realms of existence, namely three good realms (heavenly, demi-god, human) and three evil realms (animal, ghosts, hellish).

What is the root of reincarnation? ›

The noun reincarnation comes from the Latin roots re, meaning again, and incarnare, meaning to make flesh.

What did Buddha say about reincarnation? ›

The Buddha introduced the concept that there is no soul (self) tying the cycle of rebirths, in contrast to themes asserted by various Hindu and Jaina traditions, and this central concept in Buddhism is called anattā; Buddha also affirmed the idea that all compounded things are subject to dissolution at death or anicca.

What are the levels of reincarnation? ›

The six levels that make up the possible range of existence within saṃsāra. These are the realms of the gods (deva), the demi-gods (asura), humans (manuṣa), animals (tiryak), hungry ghosts (preta) and hell denizens (naraka).

How does the cycle of reincarnation? ›

Lacking proper knowledge, each soul is stuck in a cycle of reincarnation called samsara, in which each is born into a variety of physical bodies, including that of plants and animals. From body to body, and species to species, each soul lives one lifetime after the next, all the while ignorant of its Divine nature.

When was karma created? ›

The idea of Karma first appears in the oldest Hindu text the Rigveda (before c. 1500 BCE) with a limited meaning of ritual action which it continues to hold in the early ritual dominant scriptures until its philosophical scope is extended in the later Upanishads (c. 800-300 BCE).

What religions do not believe in reincarnation? ›

Further, the Islam as well as the most dominant religion of the world, Christianity, having its origin in the west, have largely denied reincarnation, though some sub-sects still show interest in it. Also many mystic and esoteric schools like theosophical society have their unique description on rebirth.

What is a purgatory state? ›

plural purgatories. : an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification. specifically : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God's grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven.

What do Catholics believe happens when a person dies? ›

Catholics see death as a change rather than an ending. physical bodies will die (they are buried or cremated) but we will receive a spiritual resurrection body and have the possibility of eternal life with God. their own actions. There will be a final judgment when the whole of creation will be judged.

Where is our karma stored? ›

Vedanta says that all your Karma is stored in the Jiva, the individual soul, or the aspect of the soul conditioned by Karma. Vedanta describes three types of Karma: that which you have chosen to process during this particular birth, that which is stored for later births, and the new Karma you generate every moment of ...

Is karma created by God? ›

God created the law of karma, and God will not violate it. God does, however, give courage and strength if asked.

Who is the oldest known God? ›

Inanna is among the oldest deities whose names are recorded in ancient Sumer. She is listed among the earliest seven divine powers: Anu, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna, Utu, and Inanna.

What is the world's first God? ›

Who is Brahma? Brahma is the first god in the Hindu triumvirate, or trimurti. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Vishnu and Shiva.

Is the Quran older than the Bible? ›

Knowing that versions written in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament does predate the Quran, Christians reason the Quran as being derived directly or indirectly from the earlier materials. Muslims understand the Quran to be knowledge from an omnipotent God.

What is the opposite of karma? ›

Karma means action and that the future depends on you and your actions. The opposite of karma is inaction and a belief that destiny has predetermined your present and future with no way of changing it.

What religion believes in the afterlife? ›

The sacred texts in Christianity, Judaism and Islam talk of an afterlife - so for followers of these faiths life after death has been promised by God. For Buddhists, belief in reincarnation is based on the tradition that the Buddha remembered his past lives when he reached enlightenment.

What religion believes in one God? ›

The three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam readily fit the definition of monotheism, which is to worship one god while denying the existence of other gods. But, the relationship of the three religions is closer than that: They claim to worship the same god.

What does God do with your past? ›

In verse 12, God says, "For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." This is where God changes the past of all who commit their lives to Him. He forgives our sins and forgets them! Don't we wish we could forget them!

Does Bible mention dinosaurs? ›

There are later descriptions of creatures in the Bible that could be referring to dinosaurs. One example is the behemoth of Job 40:15-19. Even in fairly modern history there are reports of creatures which seem to fit the description of dinosaurs.

What does the Holy Bible say about cremation? ›

In 2 Kings 23:16-20, Josiah took the bones out of the tomb, burned them on the altar, and “defiled it.” However, nowhere in the Old Testament does the Bible command the deceased cannot be burned, nor are there any judgments attached to those that have been cremated.

Is reincarnation a spiritual belief? ›

Hinduism dates back to early India, and is the third largest religion in the world, following Christianity and Islam. Hindus believe one's soul doesn't die when the body dies but is reborn as animal or human through a continuous rebirth process called reincarnation.

What is it called when you break the cycle of reincarnation? ›

Samsara and moksha

Moksha is the only way to break free from the continuous cycle of birth and death. While good karma, spiritual practice, and devotion to the divine can help liberate us from the cycles of rebirth, ultimately, we must work towards achieving moksha.

What is the benefit of reincarnation? ›

On the other hand, there are many ways that reincarnation helps people understand phenomenon, fears, anxieties, and find comfort in accepting death and their lives. The comfort in the belief comes within details in the theory of reincarnation and spiritual connections.

What religion has no afterlife? ›

Agnostics think that it is impossible to know whether there is a God or life after death. Atheists believe that there is no God and no life after death and that death is the cessation of the existence of the individual. Agnostics & atheists have reported having near-death experiences.

How soon after death do you go to heaven? ›

We enter heaven immediately upon our death, or our souls sleep until the second coming of Christ and the accompanying resurrection. Most have chosen to believe what the Bible appears to overwhelmingly propose: our souls (spirits) penetrate heaven immediately after we take our final breath.

What religions believe in souls? ›

The destiny of the soul – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Most believe it will do so consciously (rather than in a sleep-like state). At the point of death, God will determine the soul's ultimate fate — eternal punishment or eternal happiness.

How do you know you have an old soul? ›

Signs you have an old soul
  1. Material possessions don't matter much to you. ...
  2. You focus on meaningful connections. ...
  3. You need a lot of time alone. ...
  4. You have high empathy. ...
  5. You spend a lot of time thinking about how to make a difference.
17 Nov 2020

How long is it between death and rebirth? ›

The period between death and rebirth lasts 49 days and involves three bardos. The first is the moment of death itself. The consciousness of the newly deceased becomes aware of and accepts the fact that it has recently died, and it reflects upon its past life. In the second bardo, it encounters frightening apparitions.

What are the 6 realms of existence? ›

The six realms, are as follows. There is the realm of heaven, human, animal, fighting demon, hungry ghost, and hell. Prior to Shakyamuni Buddha, people in India believed in these realms literally.

Who creates reincarnation? ›

Some authorities believe that Pythagoras was Pherecydes' pupil, others that Pythagoras took up the idea of reincarnation from the doctrine of Orphism, a Thracian religion, or brought the teaching from India.

Does Dalai Lama believe in reincarnation? ›

According to Lamaistic belief, when a Dalai Lama dies, his spirit is reincarnated in the body of his successor, born at the moment of his death.

Which religion believes in reincarnation? ›

The major religions that hold a belief in reincarnation, however, are Asian religions, especially Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, all of which arose in India.

Did Buddha believe karma? ›

The Buddha defined karma as intention; whether the intention manifested itself in physical, vocal or mental form, it was the intention alone which had a moral character: good, bad or neutral [...]

How is reincarnation important? ›

Reincarnation forms one of the foundations of religious mysticism. It is a basic tenet of both Hinduism and Buddhism, which teach that the soul of every person and plant is eternal and returns, after death, in another form (Drury, 1985.

Is reincarnation in the Bible? ›

None of the Biblical passages support the idea of universal reincarnation.

Which religion is the oldest? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

How does karma affect reincarnation? ›

Karma is attached to the idea of reincarnation. There is an ongoing cycle of birth and death, conditioned by karma, linking an individual to past and future existences (Kolenda 1964; Wadia 1965). In reincarnation, the spirit or soul survives death and is reborn into a new body, human or nonhuman.

What idea is karma based on? ›

The word karma is rooted Hinduism, but its understanding is derived from Buddhism (a branch of Hindu theology). In Hinduism, it is largely believed that the soul, purusha, survives death and is reborn into a new body, inheriting karma from a past life.

What is a reincarnated human? ›

Reincarnation is the religious or philosophical belief that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body that may be human, animal or spiritual depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions.


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