17 March 2017


Erlendur Haraldsson and James G Matlock. I Saw A Light and Came Here: Children’s Experiences and Reincarnation. White Crow Books, 2016.

To start on a positive note, this is a well-produced, well written book, with references and index and the authors are genuine scholars who have devoted much study to their subject, all of which makes a pleasant change from much of the self-published stuff on the market these days.
Both authors are - disciples is not too strong a word - of the late Ian Stevenson, himself the author of many books on alleged reincarnation memories, which means that they are perhaps not the most critical reviewers of the evidence.

The book is divided into two parts, in the first part Haraldsson assesses some of the evidence he has personally obtained, principally through studies of families among the Druze of Lebanon, and in Sri Lanka. Looking at this material, there is a major problem in many of the cases, in that the stories are related through hearsay, as families recall events that happened or are said to have happened before the investigators come on the scene. This is not helped by the fact that many of the stories are being narrated through interpreters. In the second half of the book, James Matlock seeks to place the stories in a wider perspective, but again most of the evidence is hearsay.

The authors claim that children who have past life memories have certain features in common in contrast to 'normal' children; they argue a lot, they brag and boast, are perfectionists, have obsessions, have phobias, are more stressed, show mood swings, experience nightmares, don’t eat well, too obsessed with neatness, day dream, talk too much, get lost in thought, are secretive, have temper tantrums, are self-conscious and easily embarrassed, are more schoolwork orientated, were more likely to disassociation etc. This list is so long that it could well encompass most children. It is interesting to note that similar lists in the west have been used as “evidence” for sexual abuse or even alien abduction.

The authors suggest that these might be symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which might be the case, but one does not have invoke past lives to account for this, when we recall that both Lebanon and Sri Lanka have been conflict zones, with civil wars, terrorism and ethno-religious tensions.

Some of the children from Sri Lanka come from religious minorities but express a desire to become Buddhist monks. Again this perhaps less surprising when he realised that the majority Buddhist community, often spurred on by Buddhist monks, have shown a less than tolerant attitude towards minorities and there has been often a policy of viewing Sri Lanka as a Buddhist state, this being one of the fuels of the decades long civil war with the Hindu/Tamil minority. It is therefore not all that surprising that children might want to fit into the beliefs and practices of the majority, dominant, culture.

In a more general sense I suspect that the authors underestimate the extent to which people, including children, are not isolated islands, but exist in a sea of communication ranging from local gossip to world news. Dramatic events make news and I suspect children take in much more than parents and other adults think they do.

I am not sure that even if children do remember past lives it would prove reincarnation. It would make a kind of biological sense that animals might have better survival chances if they could somehow have access to the experiences of other members of their species, but of course that does not explain how such a mechanism might work.

Proposing a surviving 'psychic factor' raises even more questions, for it to acquire, store and transmit information from and to the physical world, to say nothing of interacting with it to the extent of producing birth marks that mirror the previous persons injuries, then this psychic factor must be itself physical and have common interactions with the rest of the physical world. How did such psychic factors evolve in the first place and what has them; monkeys, lemurs, cats, gerbils, goldfish, cockroaches, nematode worms, bacteria.

Despite the authors’ best efforts; it is unlikely that this book will convince anyone who does not have a prior belief in reincarnation. -- Peter Rogerson.

1 comment:

thehedgehog said...

Interesting review. What is your definition of hearsay, though? Isn't it "information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor"--in other words, second-hand testimony? I have read this book also, and it seems to me that the authors went out of their way to use only first-hand testimony. Can we rightly call this hearsay? Or do we need a more sophisticated way to explain what the children say and how they behave?