If you think reincarnation is not a belief held by atheists, then you are forgetting one very large exception: Buddhists. Most Buddhists are atheists, but one of the core beliefs of Buddhism is reincarnation.
At the University of Virginia there was a doctor of psychiatry (Dr. Ian Stevenson–he died in February 2007) who had been collecting cases of possible memories of previous lives since the 1950s. He accumulated over 3700 cases. In the cases, the memories almost always emerged in children between the ages 2 and 5 and by age 8 the “memories” were completely forgotten. In his research he examined the children, their parents, the families of the “previous personality”, and police and medical records to try to corroborate the stories. By his own admission, he did not have a firm belief in reincarnation but he said that “a rational person, if he wants, can believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence”. You can learn more about Dr. Stevenson and his research from the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies.
What I want to propose for consideration was inspired by something Carl Sagan wrote in his book “The Demon-Haunted World”:
At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any way other than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true.
Here’s my wild speculation: Perhaps, what we call reincarnation is simply phenomenon number 2 above: that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them. Perhaps a dying person can somehow project his memories onto a fetus (which would definitely be in “sensory deprivation”) and/or maybe human minds form some kind of mesh-network that allows memories to be transferred, perhaps unconsciously, from one person to another. I’m introducing the mesh-network idea to try to explain how the memories “travel” because if this projection is possible it seems to be geographically and temporally limited. In many of the seemingly credible reincarnation cases, there is close proximity between the previous personality and the newly “reincarnated” personality in both time and space–the previous life was not too far away and not too long ago. Maybe the memories are projected to one person, lie dormant for a time, are later projected to another, and so forth (Could they be projected to multiple people simultaneously? Nah…too weird). However, now that the human race is much more mobile, perhaps the “memory carriers”could transport the “past lives” to anywhere in the world. Maybe that’s why I like authentic Chinese food so much–or maybe it’s just because it’s so darn tasty.Filed under Metaphysics | Comment (0)