Archive for June, 2019


Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

I first met the author of this book, James G. Matlock, when I was a Research Assistant for the late Ian Stevenson at the Division of Parapsychology (now Division of Perceptual Studies) of the University of Virginia. One of our first encounters was when he came to visit our offices sometime in 1985 or 1986 to talk to Dr. Stevenson. Since then, he has been a friend with whom I have had countless conversations about parapsychology over the years. From the beginning he had a special interest in reincarnation, but also on other topics I also acknowledge as my own: the history of parapsychology and the study of spontaneous cases in general.

James G. Matlock

James G. Matlock

Jim has been busy over the years. He worked at the American Society for Psychical Research and at the Rhine Research Center, and is a Research Fellow at the Parapsychology Foundation. In addition, he has a PhD in Anthropology from Southern Illinois University (Carbondale). A list of his  published articles about reincarnation, and other topics, appears here.

In addition, he is the co-author, with Erlendur Haraldsson, of I Saw A Light And Came Here: Children’s Experiences of Reincarnation (Hove, UK: White Crow Books, 2016).

Haraldsson Matlock I Saw a Light

The book Jim comments on here has been in his mind for many years, at least since the days I first met him. Signs of Reincarnation: Exploring Beliefs, Cases, and Theory (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) is a veritable textbook about the concept of reincarnation and research on the subject covering historical, anthropological, psychological, and parapsychological aspects. The book is also an overview of explanatory models. Including the author’s. Furthermore, Signs of Reincarnation is also a defense of the concept of survival of death, of the need to go beyond materialism to account for the best cases.

Matlock Signs of Reincarnation

In my view Signs of Reincarnation is the most comprehensive overview of the subject, and one that considers the topic in relation to other phenomena. It is, in fact, a handbook for the scientific and scholarly study of reincarnation. Furthermore, the book includes a Foreword by Jeffrey Mishlove and an Afterword by Michael Nahm about the implications of reincarnation cases for biology.

Table of Contents

Foreword: A Tale of Two Theories, by Jeffrey Mishlove

Preface

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Study of Reincarnation Signs
What is Reincarnation?
Challenge to Materialism

Chapter 2: The Belief in Reincarnation
Signs, Beliefs, and Customs in Animistic Cultures
A Brief History of the Belief in Rebirth, West and East
Karma, God, and the Individual in Rebirth Theory

Chapter 3: Research Methods and Interpretative Frames
Accounts of Past-Life Memory Recorded Before 1960
Ian Stevenson’s Field Research and Its Critics
Interpretive Frames for Reincarnation Cases

Chapter 4: Child Studies: The Principal Signs of Reincarnation
Involuntary Memory of Previous Lives
Behavioral Identification with the Previous Person
Birthmarks and Other Physical Signs

Chapter 5: Child Studies: Secondary Signs of Reincarnation
Signs of Discarnate Agency
Universal, Near-Universal, and Culture-Linked Patterns
The Psychological Impacts of Past-Life Memory

Chapter 6: Past-Life Recall in Adulthood and Third-Party Reports
Developmental Factors in Past-Life Memory Retrieval
Fantasy and Fact in Past Life Regression under Hypnosis
The Contributions of Shamans, Psychics, and Mediums

Chapter 7: The Process of Reincarnation
Beyond Materialism
Personal Identity and Postmortem Survival
Reincarnation and Life

Afterword: Implications of Reincarnation Cases for Biology, by Michael Nahm

Glossary of Specialized and Technical Terms

References

* * * * *

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

Signs of Reincarnation opens with the report of a “solved” (verified) American case of past-life memory involving a person not known to the child subject’s family, a rarity in the literature. I then discuss beliefs in and about reincarnation in different religions and thought traditions before turning to a systematic review of findings from over 2,500 investigated cases. I consider various ways the evidence may be interpreted but find that none are as satisfactory as reincarnation and move on to develop a theory of how it might work.

My processual soul theory rejects Cartesian substance dualism as incompatible with the case data and embraces a process metaphysics position that holds that what survives is simply a stream of consciousness continuous with that of embodied life. Reincarnation is best thought of in terms of possession, I argue. Although it means letting go of the materialist idea that consciousness is generated by the brain, my model does not require the acceptance of any radically new concepts or the abandonment of well-established findings in mainstream psychology or biology.

What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?

When I was about six years old, I witnessed something that got me thinking about the possibility of postmortem survival. I was standing slightly apart from a group of two boys and a girl. She was in the middle, they on either side of her. She was talking about a ghost she had seen, and they were ridiculing her, telling her that there was no such thing as a ghost. “There is too!” she insisted over and over, the volume of her voice rising each time. My reaction, thinking to myself, was, she is so certain that there are ghosts, perhaps there are ghosts. How can we be sure that there are no ghosts, if some people see them?

From early in my childhood, I wanted to be a creative writer, and in college I majored in English and minored in psychology. This was the early 1970s, but B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning was still being taught in my experimental psychology classes. I wasn’t sure I accepted the Skinnerian perspective, though. I recall asking my mother shortly after my graduation in 1977 if children were born with personalities or acquired them as they grew up. She told me that each child was born with a different personality, and the personalities became stronger as the children aged. I was one of five children, so I figured she knew what she was talking about, and that was all I needed to let go of Skinner.

I started reading the New Age literature that was coming out in the 1970s and around 1980, picked up my first book on reincarnation. I had not previously thought much about it, but I had seen the theme of rebirth coming up repeatedly in short stories and novels, and was intrigued by the concept. It did not take me long to find Stevenson’s books, which led me into parapsychology and changed the direction of my life. I joined organizations and subscribed to journals. I started attending meetings of the Parapsychological Association, my first at Tufts in 1985. My first publication in the field, in 1986, was a review of D. Scott Rogo’s The Search for Yesterday: A Critical Examination of the Evidence for Reincarnation.

During the same period, I was finding it more difficult than I had imagined to make a living writing fiction and enrolled in library school, intending to specialize in archives. I undertook a survey of archival resources in parapsychology, the basis of a paper published in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1987. That survey also led to my first job in parapsychology, as Librarian and Archivist at the ASPR. When I left there I pursued doctoral studies in anthropology, but I returned to parapsychology later, as a staff member of the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Many of my early contributions to parapsychology concerned the history of the field, but I continued to read and write about survival topics, especially reincarnation. Gradually reincarnation took over as my core interest and has remained so. In 2016, field researcher Erlendur Haraldsson invited me to co-author I Saw a Light and Came Here: Children’s Experiences of Reincarnation. I have also written (at present count) eleven articles on reincarnation-related topics for the Psi Encyclopedia. For a list of my publications in parapsychology and anthropology, click here. In the fall of 2017, I sat with Jeffrey Mishlove for a series of twelve conversations about reincarnation research for his New Thinking Allowed video series on YouTube.

What motivated you to write this book?

For many years, I wanted to write a book about reincarnation, but the more I studied the topic, the more I came to feel that I was not yet ready to take it on. When I did think seriously about the project, I could not decide on a structure that would allow me to say all I wanted to say. That changed when Nancy Zingrone asked me to develop a semester-long Masters-level course on reincarnation for a new program in parapsychology at Atlantic University. I began working on course lectures with the idea of eventually publishing them as a book. When Atlantic cancelled its parapsychology program, and Nancy left the school, I went with her, but continued to develop my course and then to teach it online through the Alvarado Zingrone Institute for Research and Education (for information about the course click here). I did not teach the course in 2018, so as to have time to finish this book, which will serve as the course textbook going forward. I plan to resume offering the course this August.

Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

The semester-long lecture format gave me the structure I needed to explore all aspects of the reincarnation problem, from the many ways humanity has conceived of rebirth, to case studies and other research, to trying to understand the process without rejecting the findings of mainstream psychology and biology. Signs of Reincarnation is the first book to cover the topic systematically from all these angles, in a scholarly way. It lays out where we are now and provides a baseline for future work.

The book touches on and has relation to several fields, ranging from consciousness studies to anthropology to religious studies and philosophy. It is written for a college-level audience in the hopes of introducing students to this research before they are settled into their careers. I would like also to educate the larger academic community about the research, and I would like to see parapsychologists grapple with the ideas I present concerning postmortem survival and psi.

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Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

An important new study about physiological and medical aspects of mediumship has been published by Julie Beischel, Shawn Tassone  and Mark Boccuzzi. Here is the abstract:

Hematological and Psychophysiological Correlates of Anomalous Information Reception in Mediums: A Preliminary Exploration. Explore: Journal of Science & Healing, 2019; 15, 126-133.

Abstract

“Context: Modern research with mediums—individuals who regularly experience and report communication from the deceased—includes investigations of mediums’ accuracy, psychology, phenomenology, and electrophysiology and the therapeutic potential of mediumship readings for the bereaved. Anecdotal reports imply that chronic medical problems may be a serious concern for mediums.”

“Objective: The aim of this study was two-fold: (I) to systematically investigate the hematological and psychophysiological correlates of anomalous information reception (AIR, the reporting of accurate and specific information about the deceased in the absence of prior knowledge, feedback, or deceptive means) and (II) to compare the reported health issues of mediums and non-mediums.”

“Design: (I) A repeated-measures design in which mediums engaged in blinded mediumship readings and a control condition was used. (II) A parallel-groups design was used to compare mediums’ and non-mediums’ responses to an anonymous online survey regarding their health issues.”

“Participants: (I) Data was collected from five Windbridge Certified Research Mediums. (II) Survey responses from 125 mediums were compared to responses from 222 non-mediums.

Main Outcome Measures: (I) General physiological measures and 28 hematological elements were assessed. (II) Reports regarding autoimmune disease diagnoses and specific ailments by organ system were collected.”

“Results: Novel findings from this study included the following: (I) No significant hematological or physiological changes were seen in the mediums when pre- and post-condition comparisons were made for the counter-balanced sessions. (II) Compared to non-mediums, more mediums reported having at least one autoimmune disease (35.2% vs. 18.9%; p = 0.00076; z = 3.37; h = 0.4). Mediums also reported experiencing more health issues than did non-mediums (8.08 ± 5.38 vs. 5.09 ± 4.17 symptoms; p < 0.000001, g = 0.6). Specifically, more mediums than non-mediums (all p < 0.004) reported water retention (19.2% vs. 5.0%, z = 4.23, h = 0.5), bruising easily (20.0% vs. 9.0%, z = 2.93, h = 0.3), gastrointestinal issues (35.2% vs. 18.5%, z = 3.48, h = 0.4), headaches/migraines (26.4% vs. 11.3%, z = 3.63, h = 0.4), asthma (20.0% vs. 9.0%, z = 2.93, h = 0.3), food intolerances (28.0% vs. 9.9%, z = 4.37, h = 0.5), and sleep disturbances (40.8% vs. 14.9%, z = 5.41 h = 0.6). The proportions of participants reporting exophthalmos, chronic fatigue syndrome, and ankle sprains were not different.”

The authors summarize their results in the conclusion. They state that the mediums obtained “accurate and specific information about the deceased” and that there were no significant relationships with hematological and physiological variables. Furthermore:

“The findings from this study did demonstrate, however, that the mediums surveyed reported a significantly higher disease burden than non-mediums regarding specifically autoimmune disease, water retention, bruising easily, gastrointestinal issues, headaches/migraines, asthma, food intolerances, and sleep disturbances. These reports are in line with those of Assailly . . . who also found high levels of water retention, bruising easily . . . , and gastrointestinal issues in the mediums he examined though he did not compare his sample to a non-medium control group. The mediums in the current study also reported significant sleep disturbances and food intolerances whereas Assailly found that digestion issues and lack of sleep ‘appeared as negligible factors’ . . . In addition, although Assailly noted that the mediums in his study often reported exophthalmos (bulging eyes) and ‘complained of ‘twisting their ankles at every turn,’ these symptoms were not reported by the mediums in the current study.”