If you take the disbelief principle seriously – don’t believe in anything, have your own experiences – then extreme scepticism of those who have not experienced themselves as separate from the physical body is a perfectly legitimate attitude.
I once worked with a man who had been clinically dead on 3 occasions, each time through a different traumatic accident. He recalled nothing at all from any of his periods of physical “death” and so for him the matters was clear: there is nothing after death! He had after all experienced it. This is a logical conclusion to come to. Of course, if we start thinking about things more deeply, we realise that just because we are not aware of experiencing something it does not mean nothing happened. Science tells us that we all dream, yet some people do not recall any dreams ever, while others can fill pages of detail with their dreams. So even if we do not recall dreams, we are inclined to accept that we must dream because science tells us that our brain measurements show this. Just as scientific research that brought us an understanding of the universality of dreams, there are also studies that mean we do not need to rely solely on our own personal experiences to become open to the possibility of non-physical consciousness.
I readily admit that I am biased, as my ideas of the non-physical nature of consciousness are a result of my own experiences first and external study second. And I acknowledge that this will influence the way in which I read and interpret data. But to me the work of researchers like Charles Tart (The End of Materialism) and Victor Zammit (A Lawyer presents the evidence for the afterlife) is objectively compelling. While coming from quite different backgrounds (Tart is a psychologist and Zammit a lawyer) they both have forensic skills that they apply to compiling the data of many other researchers to strongly make the case that this data points to non-physical consciousness.
Because of the compelling nature of the data there are many summary accounts of it online and I do not intend to reproduce them here, but if you have not already seen the data I encourage you to have a look at the links below, or even go all out and read Tucker’s Life before Life: Children’s Memories of previous lives.
John Cleese Interviews Dr. Jim Tucker re: DOPS Research into Children's Past Life Memories
6 Extraordinary Cases Of Kids Who Remember Their Past Lives
The fact is though, that most of us do not recall our past lives, or if we do the memories are much more diffuse than those of the young children studied by Stevenson and Tucker. For most of us there are no specific names and actual street addresses. Instead we have inexplicable feelings, bodily sensations, movie like dreams, déjà vu experiences and moments of strange familiarity with people and places we have not encountered before. All of these experiences are much more readily dismissed as indicators of past lives on the basis of psychological explanations, than those of the children in the studies. And yet, much like the scientific studies into our dream lives, the implication of the studies by Stevenson and Tucker is precisely that we should not be dismissing our subtle and ambiguous experiences. If we follow the science, it invites the interpretation that past lives may be a significant part of what it means to be a consciousness in human form. If we are at least open to that possibility, it broadens our interpretive range by which we can understand the various subtle experiences and sensations I mentioned. And if we are not aware even of those experiences, a psychology based on the genuine acceptance of the possibility of past lives would still open entirely new avenues for understanding not only our individual character traits, but also our family and relationship dynamics. Because once we start to realise that we’ve all been here before, we can’t help but consider whether we have a shared history with those around us and how that may be affecting our relationships in the present. What if we are here to work things out with our family, our colleagues, our friends and neighbours and above all with ourselves? What if every encounter is an opportunity to rewrite old scripts and bring at least some more balance to any given relationship? What if we can come to understand that many of our natural tendencies, life experiences and circumstances have a basis in a past we have forgotten? And if we know that we will be coming back, how may that motivate us to think ahead in this life time, as well as relax a bit into the greater spaciousness we now have? This kind of awareness can open new avenues of understanding and acceptance, as well as a more expansive sense of being involved in a larger project of communal healing and reconciliation.
In some cases this can be a challenging prospect and it has been suggested to me that one of the reasons so many of us do not remember our past lives is because we would struggle in our relationships today if had a full memory of the past hurts we and those around us caused each other. Or perhaps we would find our current hardships even more challenging if we could recall a life of affluence and success. As it stands, much like repressed psychological material from this life time, whether we acknowledge these things or not they will still influence our behaviours and reactions to others.
There are many benefits from a healthy integration of the reality of our series of existences. This includes a reduction of prejudices and a deepening of our equanimity as we come to realise that we have experienced and identified with many cultures, skin colours and religions, have been men and women, have been perpetrators and victims of violence of all kinds, and that ultimately we are engaged in a process that is so much larger than our current ego-identity that we will naturally start to look at life and our purpose here in a new light. In one sense, nothing changes when we consider our past lives, as we still have to deal with our current life circumstances exactly as we find them. But in another sense, everything changes as we start to shift our focus to our immortal centre of consciousness and engage with life fully from there.
It all starts, however, with acceptance of the evidence, whether that consists of our own experiences or the accounts of many others. At this stage, despite an ideology of living in the era of science, there still seem to be deep psychological blocks to accepting the evidence of past lives at a broad public level. To me that is hard to understand, but I am curious. So if you have considered the cases assembled by Stevenson and Tucker and have found alternative explanations for them please leave a comment how you make sense of them.