How a Non-Physical Essence of a Person Can Live in Another Body

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Updated: May 15, 2023
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Reincarnation, also known as rebirth or past life, is the religious concept that a non-physical soul of a person starts a new life in a new body after the death of the previous one. Reincarnation is one of the central concepts of Asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. In recent decades, this seemingly ancient religious concept has started to attract attention from people in the Western World, more specifically in America. However, recent studies have shown that only a handful of Westerners believe in reincarnation.

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I’m going to focus on the question of “What are some of the best empirical evidence that the non-physical essence of a being can live in another body?” In my belief, I think that reincarnation is possible if there is adequate scientific evidence to back up the claim of if reincarnation is real or not. Unfortunately, only a handful of scientists have studied this topic and have brought up a variety of assumptions. Most of these sources go over childhood experiences because they provide the most convincing evidence regarding reincarnation. This is because children around the ages of 2 to 5 usually believe anything that they see or hear since their brain has not processed as much information yet.

Ian Stevenson was one of the top psychiatrists when it came to reincarnation and had worked at the University of Virginia for fifty years. In 1967, Ian Stevenson founded the Division of Personality Studies or DOPS, which was later renamed to Division of Perceptual Studies. Their objective is to scientifically investigate paranormal phenomena that current scientific assumptions about our consciousness and its relation to matter may be inconclusive (Flanagin, Jake, 2014). Stevenson died in 2007, aged 88, but the works he had written throughout the years live on. One of the works he wrote is called Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (1987). The book goes into detail about some of his research on reincarnation as well as his studies of cases where children claimed to have had past lives. However, most of the book does not go into reincarnation on its own.

Stevenson stated that people have memories of past lives in many different occurrences. He correctly believed that the most lacking pieces of evidence usually come from psychics or other people that “read” people’s previous lives. Stevenson goes over the different varieties of evidence for reincarnation, like Drugs & Illnesses, Déjà Vu, Dreams & Nightmares, and Past-Life Relapses through Hypnosis, to name a few. All of these occurrences provide almost no verification of paranormal activity like reincarnation (Stevenson, Ian, 1987). In an article by Akhil Gupta, Stevenson also states that a completely evolved case of reincarnation has five major stages. It starts with an older person predicting when they will be reborn while claiming the place and parents they will be reborn to in the new life.

What is common from there is that when the old person dies, one of their loved ones has a dream about the recently deceased old person announcing their rebirth. When the baby is eventually born, it will sometimes have birthmarks that match cuts and scars on the deceased person when they died. When the newly born child begins to learn how to talk, usually before they reach the age of five, they will begin to make claims about their supposed past life. As they are doing so, their claims are more detailed as their vocabulary and verbalization increase. The child will then begin to have behaviors such as anxiety that will seem unusual for their family (Gupta, Akhil, 2002).

In a potential excerpt from Stevenson’s book, one of the cases Stevenson worked on involved twins Gillian and Jennifer Pollock, who were born on October 4, 1958, in Hexham, Northumberland, England. They claimed to remember the lives of their older sisters Joanna and Jacqueline, who were fatally killed in a car accident the year before after the crazed driver who was driving them around at the time intentionally drove the vehicle into the pavement of the street in their hometown. Jacqueline was six years old, and Joanna was eleven when they died. Their father, John Pollock, was a particularly passionate believer in reincarnation and thought that his dead daughters could be reborn as twins, despite what the doctors said.

Soon after the twins were born, John’s wife began to be a believer when the couple noticed birthmarks on the younger sibling, Jennifer, that resembled scars and cuts that Jacqueline had received when she died. They also evaluated how the behavior of the twins coincided with the behavior between Joanna and Jacqueline, with Jennifer being more dependent on the older sibling, Gillian. Stevenson had done a blood test on the twins in 1978, which showed that they were indeed identical. Gillian, however, does not have birthmarks compared to Jennifer, which means that Jennifer got her birthmarks naturally through biological birth. But this alone does not discount the hypothesis of the precise locations of the marks on Jacqueline’s body compared to Jennifer’s birthmarks. For example, the birthmark near the root of Jennifer’s nose had a striking resemblance to a wound on Jacqueline’s forehead when she died (Stevenson, Ian, 1987).

In a scientific blog by American Psychologist Jesse Bering, another case that Stevenson worked on involved a little girl overhearing her mother mentioning a small village named Kataragama in Sri Lanka. The little girl told her mother that she remembered her father named Herath, who sold flowers near a Buddhist stupa and that she lived in a house that had a glass skylight window on the roof with dogs in the backyard feasting on meat. She also remembered that she was drowned by her mentally challenged brother in a nearby river. Stevenson was able to connect the dots with this information about the dead girl the toddler was referring to. Although there were only a few inaccuracies with the story, like the fact that the father’s name was not Herath but rather the dead girl’s cousin.

Otherwise, 90% of the statements made by the toddler were indeed verified (Bering, Jesse, 2013). One more case in Beirut, Lebanon, involved a middle-class girl named Suzanne who claimed to remember a woman who had died of heart surgery thousands of miles away in the United States. Her parents told Stevenson that when she was 16 months old, she pulled a phone off its hook while saying “Hello, Leila?” repeatedly into it. Suzanne then claimed that she was Leila’s mom. When Suzanne had reached the age of two years old, she then remembered the rest of this woman’s 13 loved ones. Suzanne then began to plead with her parents to take her to her “real home.” Eventually, Stevenson found the family that Suzanne had been describing (Shroder, Tom, 1999).

Most of Stevenson’s research, however, has many errors and flaws and lacks experimental confirmation. He incorrectly believed that controlled experimentation was impossible with the amount of informal research required. According to Professor Leonard Angel of Douglas College from British Columbia, it is possible to do both a practical and controlled experiment on reincarnation. But despite this, the evidence remains inconclusive because of the lack of research. Researchers studying the subject could conduct two experiments that are used to find the similarities between a living person’s memory of a past life and the details of a deceased person’s life.

The first experiment involves having person X remember the events in the life of person Y. For example, person X remembers being married to a supermodel from France; person Y was married to a French supermodel. It is easier to guarantee the case if both X & Y are a co-living pair or they lived around the same amount of time for a number of years. The second experiment involves having person S remember when and how person T died shortly before person S was born. For example, person S remembers that in his previous life died of cancer, while person T had died of cancer sometime before person S was born.

Following these experiments, all that researchers have to do from there is be certain that the similarities linking co-living pair cases and in-between pair cases are strong enough (Angel, Leonard, 2015). Even though there is indeed a way to scientifically test, there is a probability of someone being alive around the same time as the other, and then remembering the other person’s life after they die is extremely rare.

According to Tony Walter, everyday conversation can be challenging to record that evidence. But reincarnation comes up every once in a while in regular conversation in Britain, for example. Couples will use the idea of reincarnation in conversation to claim that they were once together in a previous life or future life in order for them to believe that they are true soulmates as a playful fantasy. The Reincarnation International magazine is a British magazine that is one of the only sources dedicated to the study of reincarnation and was first published in 1994.

The average article offers a personal story or case history to help further prove the existence of reincarnation, whether it’s inside England or overseas (Walter, Tony, 2001). Children who have past-life experiences often have nightmares and phobias of something specific, which can often lead to PTSD. This is mainly because the supposed past life had died in a violent way. When a past life dies in a violent manner, like if they had drowned, for example, the present life of a child could end up having nightmares and a phobia of water as a result.

For example, in an interview between Dr. Jim Tucker and the National Public Radio’s Rachel Martin, Tucker went over the case of two-year-old James Leininger, who reported having violent nightmares about dying in a plane crash as a fighter pilot in World War Two. Leininger had remembered being on the USS Natoma Bay and being stationed in the Pacific. As well as a friend he once knew on the carrier named Jack Larsen and that he had been shot down over Iwo Jima. As it turns out, The Natoma carrier had only one casualty named James Huston, that had died in a plane crash that matched Leininger’s description. Huston’s story was so obscure that James’s father took four years to finally compromise the information, probably because James was echoing information from elsewhere (Flanagin, Jake, 2014).

Science is not in the business of whether or not something exists; it is meant to provide some of the most legitimate evidence for an otherwise paranormal explanation. This is no different for the scientific studying of Reincarnation. Some of the information in these cases of children claiming to remember a previous life is too vague and inconclusive. For example, the case involving the Indian little girl remembering her original father’s name as Herath. That case comes from a country where Reincarnation is part of their culture and religion in India, where they are stronger believers in Reincarnation than most other people around the world. That is why we should not jump on the possibility right away of whether someone has been reincarnated or not.

Throughout the last fifty years, there have been nearly 3,000 reported cases of Reincarnation in five decades of scientific study and in several cultures. In the majority of those cases, the child’s explanation of his claimed past life matched the description of the dead person and/or how they died. But despite this, no case should always be considered a case of Reincarnation without examining normal scientific explanations. Some examples of these possible normal explanations include paramnesia or a condition that involves confusion about the differences between fact and fiction, and Cryptomnesia, which is when a forgotten memory re-emerges without being remembered and is believed to be a new one (Pasricha, Satwant, 2011).

To further add to my argument, children who claim a previous life also have some psychological effects on the mind and their personal behavior, for example. Icelandic Professor Erlendur Haraldsson had done two studies in Sri Lanka to study the psychological effects of what Past-Life memories can have on Children. In the first study, he found that the children had a higher IQ along with improvements in their short-term memory. And as mentioned in Gupta’s article, the children also experienced behavioral problems such as being more introverted, anxious, and perfectionist. In the second study, there were no signs of higher intelligence, but the same behavioral problems emerged. But this time, they were found to have more dissociative disorders than the children in the first study (Haraldsson, Erlendur, 2003).

Despite the studies done by Haraldsson, there are still challenges when it comes to studying this phenomenon for scientists and doctors since Reincarnation is a mythical notion. For example, a case involving an unnamed 12-year-old Muslim boy who visited India on vacation and began to have memories of a past life. When the boy, along with his family, was visiting a city, he claimed to remember the city that he had supposedly lived many years in, and he remembered the house he once lived in. Locals even confirmed that a family lived in that house thirty years ago.

After that experience, the boy started to have anxiety attacks and recurring dreams about his previous life. It became a challenge for scientists to wrap their heads around it when they inspected the boy’s current mental state and his mental history. They found no diagnosis, concluding that the anxiety he experienced was due to the past-life memories he had. Eventually, they conducted a psychotherapeutic play treatment to explore the child’s fears and treat their anxiety along with some prescriptions (Gadit, Amin, 2009).

In conclusion, the scientific evidence that has been provided of whether or not reincarnation exists is not strong enough to back up the claim. Children claiming that they remembered past life, I do not think, is enough to be legitimate evidence for reincarnation. Eventually, when they start to grow a little older, they will usually forget about their experience. And about what I had touched on with the case of the Pollock twins, birthmarks are still not enough evidence for reincarnation because the newborn children could have gotten those birthmarks naturally when the blood vessels don’t form properly during birth.

In some cases, children do remember the names of the deceased person’s loved ones. This might seem like the most convincing evidence regarding reincarnation in the case of children remembering past lives. But most of those children are between the ages of 2 to 5, which means that it is just simply child’s play or something they got from a dream. And in cases where children have extreme anxiety as a result of having nightmares of a past life, it could just be certain drugs that alter the brain’s neurotransmitters to cause the nightmares children to have.

More specifically, in the case of James Leininger, it could have been the result of watching World War 2 documentaries with his dad. We still have a lot to learn about reincarnation just because of the lack of scientific testing done on it. If reincarnation is deemed real, then there is a possibility that there is indeed life after death. But unfortunately, due to geographic and religious differences among people, the question regarding the reality of reincarnation remains uncertain. Whether or not you believe reincarnation is a real phenomenon is entirely your decision from this point onward.


  1. Angel, L. (2015). Is there adequate empirical evidence for reincarnation? An analysis of Ian Stevenson’s work. The myth of an afterlife: the case against life after death (pp. 575-583). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  2. Bering, J. (2013). Ian Stevenson’s case for the afterlife: Are we ‘skeptics’ really just cynics? Retrieved from
  3. Flanagin, J. (2014, February 10). There is a paranormal activity at the University of Virginia. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  4. Gadit, A. (2009). Myth of reincarnation: A challenge for mental health profession. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35(2), 91-91.
  5. Gupta, A. (2002). Reliving Childhood? The Temporality of Childhood and Narratives of Reincarnation. Ethnos, 67(1), 33-55.
  6. Haraldsson, E. (2003). Children who speak of past-life experiences: Is there a psychological explanation? 76, 55-67.
  7. Pasricha, S. (2011). Relevance of para-psychology in psychiatric practice. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 53(1), 4-8.
  • Schroder, T. (1999). Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Reincarnation. Calgary Herald, pp. Calgary Herald, 1999-08-28.
  • Stevenson, I. (1987). Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
  • Walter, T. (2001). Reincarnation, Modernity and Identity. Sociology, 35(1), 21-38.
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How a Non-Physical Essence of a person can live in another body. (2023, Mar 18). Retrieved from