Old Souls

Old Souls

I just finished reading a couple books on Reincarnation which might be of interest.

The first was 20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Ian Stevenson, MD. Stevenson, who died in 2007, was THE reincarnation researcher for over 40 years. A Canadian psychiatrist, who started his medical career as a biochemist, he eventually became Professor of Psychiatry in the Department of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. His reincarnation research was generously funded by Chester Carlson, the inventor of electrophotography (Xerox).

Stevenson traveled far and wide to study over 4000 cases of possible reincarnation, many of them with face-to-face contact. He wrote widely on the subject, although his work never dented the veneer of the scientific community. The 20 Cases (in India, Ceylon, Brazil, Lebanon, and Alaska) book is relatively scientific and pretty dry. A slow but worthwhile read.

Tom Shroder, an East coast journalist, badgered Stevenson for many months to be allowed to look over his shoulder and write his book, Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives (1999). Stevenson was approaching 80 years of age when the two set off on investigations in Lebanon and India. Shroder brought Stevenson’s work to life yet remaining relatively neutral about the subject.

Prior to his own solo investigation of a case in Virginia discussed in the last chapter, Shroder told a story of his own earlier years which he related to his question about reincarnation. He recounted a time when he and a friend had finished college and were traveling around the Southwest. Tom was trying to figure out his future which he attached to one of two women to each of whom he pegged a current song.

One woman: “The safe retreat was Dylan, ‘Shelter from the Storm.’ The wild, dangerous one was one of those desperate Springsteen songs from Born to Run, ‘She’s the One.’”

Having talked to his friend about his dilemma for hours, they settled in a site at the end of a campground for the night. He finally ended his interminable back-and-forth debate as he screamed, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just going to wait for a sign.”

“Absolutely no more than sixty seconds later, we heard the faraway sound of a car engine moving through the night. It faded, then got louder. Then we saw the sweep of headlights through the trees. The headlights would disappear and then appear again as the road rose and dipped. Finally, we could see that it was a van, coming down the dirt path. Remember the campground was utterly deserted. But the van passed by the first circle, then second, then it turned in to ours and came around all the way to the end, stopping at the very next site. The side door of the van slid opened and the sound slapped us, the wailing voice, the grinding guitars, the pounding keyboard. Springsteen. ‘She’s the One.’”

“It played through the first three-quarters of the song, then it got to the point where he sings, ‘And you try just one more time to break on through ...’ -- then it just stopped, with that little electronic zip, like someone punched the off button. The lights went out, the door slammed shut, it was just us again. Perfect silence. We never heard another sound. Not voices. Not rustling. Nothing.”

The Rest of the Story

“The ‘sign’ was telling me to take the bold path, go for the dangerous woman, throw caution to the wind. And if someone had just described the scene to me, I would have thought the same thing. But standing there, in the middle of it, I never even considered that. It was instantly clear to me that this inexpressibly absurd coincidence was in no way a practical guide to which set of specific decisions I should make. It was too weird for that, at once too immense and too trivial. I had the intense certainty that the universe was laughing at me, at my self-involvement, and the oddest thing happened: The anxiety I felt simply vanished....”

A page or so of commentary intervene. Then, the story picks up with reflections from a journalist friend who is let in on the story many years later:

“The problem with the paranormal is that by definition it tends to be so far outside the norm as to be theoretically unmeasurable. So you can’t disprove that it’s there -- you can’t prove or disprove. So I can’t rule out the possibility that there was some connection between your thoughts and the van pulling up. I just don’t think it’s likely.”

Shroder laughs and says, “That’s it. That’s the connection between this and those reincarnation cases. I knew there was a connection, and I just couldn’t quite make it: The argument is exactly the same. I have a set of events that seem impossible to explain in any normal way. I have testimony, and a corroborating witness. You say, ‘There’s no way to do an experiment or disprove.’ I say it would definitely be worth looking for other cases where witnesses allege similar events, and try to establish how likely it is that they can be explained by fraud or delusion. It just so happens that in my own case, I don’t have to wonder if the witnesses are reliable, if they’re kidding themselves, or flat-out lying. Anyone else might have to wonder about that, but I don’t, because I know it happened.”

A couple paragraphs more intervene, then Shroder comes to his summation: “So, I think I’m reaching the same conclusion I reached the first time, that these children are less important for what they say about the specifics of what happens after we die, than for what they say about how the world works -- that it’s mysterious, that there are larger forces at work, that -- in some way -- we’re all connected by forces beyond our understanding, but definitely not irrelevant in our lives.”

For even more of the story by Dr. Stevenson's successor, take a look at

Life Before Life:
A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives

by Jim B. Tucker, MD
2005, St. Martin's Press


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