FINDING MY RELIGION / Psychiatrist Jim B.

Tucker studies past-life memories of children

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Psychiatrist Jim B. Tucker studies past-life memories of children
- David Ian Miller, Special to SF Gate
Monday, June 12, 2006

No one knows for sure what happens to us after death. But Dr. Jim Tucker is trying to find
Tucker is medical director of the Child and Family Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Virginia. He also works at the university's Division of
Perceptual Studies, which scientifically investigates paranormal phenomena such as near-death experiences, ghosts and reincarnation.
His book "Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives" (St. Martin's Press, 2005) tries to verify
statements from children who claim to have had past-life experiences. The work continues the research of Dr. Ian Stevenson, who began
studying children's apparent past-life recollections 45 years ago at the University of Virginia.
It's controversial terrain for a scientist, but Tucker takes his work quite seriously. The book has been heralded as "a first-rate piece of research"
by Harvard biologist Michael Levin, and Booklist described it as "powerful grounds for credulous speculation." I spoke with him recently by
phone from his office in Charlottesville, Va.
How did you get interested in this subject?
I got interested after I was remarried. I was trained at UVA in child psychiatry and wasn't feeling particularly fulfilled by that work. My wife
was open to a lot of alternative things like psychic phenomena and New Age ideas, and that got me curious about them, too.
I think when I started looking at things, I became open to the possibility that we're more than just our physical bodies, that there is more to the
world than just the physical universe. That's basically why I'm doing the work. Because I'm open to it, I want to see what I can learn about it.
What are some of the signs that might indicate to you that a child has had memories of a prior life?
The most obvious sign is when the child starts talking about it. The child will say, "I used to be big, and I'd do such and such thing," or
sometimes they'll say, "In my last life I ..."
They actually use that language?
Occasionally, yes. Sometimes they will say something like, "Oh, the last time I had a wife," or whatever. There is one case here in
Charlottesville -- the only thing the child ever said to the mom about it was -- one day they were driving down the road, and the little boy says,
"In my last life I drove a big truck." Of course, that was completely unverifiable. But you know, you get statements like that, and then in the
cases that are useful to investigate, you get a lot of specific details.
Many of them, three-quarters of them, will talk about the way that they died. And usually what they say will focus on things that happened
near the end of the previous life -- not exclusively, but they will usually talk about people they knew at the end. So if they are describing a life
as an adult, they will be much more likely to talk about a spouse or children than about parents and that sort of thing.
And you investigate whether the people these children claim to have been actually existed?
Yeah. We look at whether there are any behaviors or birthmarks that link to the "deceased" person, and if we identify a previous person whose
life seems to match that description, we get the details of that life as carefully as possible to see just how well things match up.
I'm sure you encounter plenty of skeptics. How do you respond to the criticism that these memories of past lives are simply fantasies?
If it's a case where the statements aren't verified, then it may well be just fantasy -- like the boy who said, "I used to drive a big truck." If you
have got one where the children have made numerous statements about another life that is quite some distance away, including proper names
and everything else, and it all checks out, then unless you are going to say, "It's all one heck of a coincidence," you can't really just blame all of
that on fantasy.

06/13/2006 10:18:39 PM

So that certainly seems to be a key factor. Is there anything in your own religious background that might have led you to be open to the idea of reincarnation? http://sfgate.FINDING MY RELIGION / Psychiatrist Jim B. Have you ever worked with adults who claimed past-life memories? Once in a blue moon. that she had a sword hanging near the cot where she slept and even that she had a pet snake that she fed milk to.nothing's absolute. so it doesn't seem to be a question of pathology on the child's part that causes them to have memories. It turned out that there was someone who lived in the section of the city that she had described. In other countries. the fact that he worked with a hammer. which is usually the age when people begin to speak about past-life memories. the fact that there was a pond at her house.Dr. and she gave a lot of details. I'm open to the to see if there are particular parents who are more likely to have these children. and we've tried to look at also do tests of the parents. But if you've got someone talking about an ordinary person who died 150 miles away. Now. the grandson's name. After spending so much time studying this.cgi?file=/g/a/2006/06/12/findrelig. Stevenson investigated her case. if you are asking. Is it part of my personal belief system? Not particularly. One of her aunts took notes on her statements before anyone tried to investigate. do you now personally believe in reincarnation? People often are unhappy with my inconclusive answer to that question. say. How do you find subjects to investigate? In the American cases. well. somebody whose life matched all of those details. One of our colleagues did psychological testing of some kids with these memories in Sri Lanka and Lebanon. there will be adults who contact us and say. But they don't particularly seem to be suggestible or to dissociate a lot or whatever. but the section of the city where she said she had lived. But I'm not a zealot as far as pushing some sort of religious doctrine. What I would like to do -. so we will get people who say." Why do you think some people have these kinds of memories. because the father was a well-to-do landowner and he apparently was not happy that the little girl was remembering the life of the blacksmith's wife. the best explanation for them is that memories and emotions at times seem to be able to carry from one life to the next. People start searching and come across Ian Stevenson and the work that's going on here at UVA.and not just the city. and then we've done a small study of psychological testing with the kids here. I've had this memory since childhood. They tend to be quite bright. and not others? That's a very good question. I'm not a Buddhist or Hindu or anything like that. Tucker studies past-life memories of children Page 2 But how do you know that the ideas the children have about past lives weren't suggested to them by someone else? Maybe they just heard stories that they are retelling? Those are questions that you have to look into when you're doing this research. Occasionally. or I wouldn't be spending time on this research. the parents find us. And they seem to be normal. She started talking [about a past life] when she was 3 years old. "When I was a child. She described living in a city of a couple hundred thousand people that was 25 miles away from where she lived -. the town where his father in that previous life lived. What's one of the more striking cases that you've come across? One that stands out is a little girl in India named Kum Kum Verma -. that she kept an iron safe at her house. and so they e-mail us. And this was a case where the families had no contact before the case was investigated. but occasionally they will persist. obviously. in the same village. we have people looking for subjects. If you have got a child who is talking about someone who died. So we are talking about ridiculously specific details.what I'm hoping to do in the future -." And usually the memories will leave by the time the child is 6 or 7. I remembered this. Have you encountered cases where people seemed to reincarnate after having died peacefully of old age in their beds? You certainly get some of those -.DTL&type=printable 06/13/2006 10:18:39 PM . They include things like her son's name. so often they will hear about a case and then alert us. So I think the evidence is there to support [reincarnation]. And you were able to verify these details? Yes. first of all. that becomes much less likely that they heard about the person from someone else. But one key feature that I mention is that 70 percent of these children will report dying violently or suddenly. "Oh. What I say in the book is that after reviewing many of the strongest cases we have. Often they do so on the Internet. then you really have to be concerned that they learned about it through normal means.

So one take-home message from that is that consciousness is not just a by-product of a physical brain but is actually a separate entity in the universe that has a big impact on things in the universe. And at least on a quantum level. Is it challenging to work in an area of research that some view as more science fiction than science? If I were looking to have some highly achievement-oriented academic success. If you are open to that possibility. rather than actual physical entities.FINDING MY RELIGION / Psychiatrist Jim B. it seems to be dependent on our observation of it. Bay Area writer and editor David Ian Miller has worked as a city hall reporter. this would not be the course that anyone would take. Quantum physicists talk about electrons. if you are truly going to consider the fact that consciousness is that separate entity in the universe. Finding My Religion wants to hear from you. His writing credits include Salon. It's going to continue after the brain dies. I grew up Southern Baptist. I've been surprised to find that some of my colleagues are just as open to it as I am. And no one in my family has ever had anything like that either.cgi?file=/g/a/2006/06/12/findrelig. do you think? I think they relate in the sense that the physical universe is not what it seems to be. Wired News and The New York Observer. But you never know who is going to be open to [this material]. it would be. in a quantum way. And there are people looking at the idea of I think you need to be open to the possibility that there may be more going on in life than we know about. Reincarnation is obviously not part of that tradition. Do you have any memories of past lives? No. yeah. then you have to consider the possibility that consciousness is not dependent on just being a by-product of a functioning brain. It's sort of my natural default to see whether it can be explained through normal means. from what we can tell from quantum mechanics.cgi?file=/g/a/2006/06/12/findrelig. Tucker studies past-life memories of children Page 3 Well. I don't go to a case assuming that it's a case of reincarnation. cable television executive and managing editor of a technology news site. basically until somebody looks. During his far-flung career in personal finance writer. So that there are various potentials. or events being potential. if you look at some of the strongest cases.DTL ©2006 SF Gate http://sfgate. I tend to be a fairly skeptical How do quantum theories relate to reincarnation.DTL&type=printable 06/13/2006 10:18:39 PM . consciousness can affect the physical brain. I'm afraid not. but being open to spirituality was certainly something that I grew up with. URL: http://sfgate. Your book references quantum physics. and then it sort of forces the universe to make a determination about which potential is going to be actualized. Even though I am spending a lot of time with these cases. Send comments on stories and suggestions for interview subjects to But to be fair and open-minded.