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The problem of reincarnation remains a rather controversial one in American society. Reincarnation implies a doctrine or a metaphysical belief in the rebirth of a living being or of some parts of this living being in a new body.
Voltaire once said: “It is no more surprising to be born twice than it is to be born once” (Hales 275). Whether this statement is based on concrete facts and findings, or is it a mere author’s assumption the scientists try to find out.
According to Gallup poll investigation, nearly one in four Americans believed in reincarnation (1982), in 1980 London Times argued that “29 percent of the British population surveyed expressed a belief in reincarnation” (Hales 276). Though the emerging popularity is not yet a sign of the reincarnation existence, it encourages the scientists to study this problem.
As it often happens, the more researches are conducted the more debatable questions appear. The same thing is with the problem under consideration. In the present work we will study the two approaches to it, namely, Robert Almeder’s reincarnation theory and Steven D. Hales’ approach to the same problem. Although both professors of philosophy aim at revealing the truth about reincarnation, their views on the problem are quite different and contradict one another.
A specialist in the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of science, Almeder argues that one should believe in reincarnation on the scientific grounds rather than on religious ones. The author claims that reincarnation is the best way to explain scientifically certain forms of human behavior which cannot be understood in terms of one of the existing theories of human personalities.
Almeder’s argument is based on the study of the cases presented by Ian Stevenson. Aldemer agrees with a Canadian-American psychiatrist in his assumption that as reincarnation serves as a sufficient explanation of certain patterns of human behavior, the fact of its existence is not doubtful anymore.
The author explores a large body of data that did not acquire specific investigation before. The cases concern the people who have memories of things they shouldn’t know. These facts have the following common features:
- The person who claims to have lived the life of someone else is usually a young one;
- The description of the events he or she gives coincides with the information that can be received only from the person who really lived that life;
- People with certain memories can demonstrate the skills that are typical only for people who lived the lives described;
- The person’s memory claims may be of two types: those that can be verified with the help of the available information and those which are verifiable but not in terms of known or existing information.
The author excludes any possibility of fraud and claims that the facts got from the stories of the people are carefully investigated and confirmed.
Two cases, the Bishen Chand and Swarnlata ones are presented by the author as those that have the characteristics mentioned above. Almender believes that they are the evidence of reincarnation. But we should admit that both cases happened in India where there is a widespread belief in reincarnation that affects much their value as evidence.
Meanwhile, Almender resorts to the criteria of reincarnation offered by one more expert, A. J. Ayer, and argues that the cases he has presented correspond to these criteria.
Almender finds it unreasonable to explain the phenomena of the memories described by some other fact than reincarnation. He concludes that “it is unreasonable to reject belief in reincarnation”. “Until somebody comes up with the appropriate alternative explanation, the evidence for reincarnation appears to be quite strong…” – he states (Hales 288).
Professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University, Steven D. Hales, finds an alternative explanation to the cases that Almender studied. But first of all, Hales argues that Almender’s approach is not theoretically based. Hales claims that there is no theory offered by Almender either on what exactly reincarnation is or how it works. The absence of the theoretical basis for Almender’s understanding the problem of reincarnation, as Hales sees it, is the main drawback of Almender’s work. Going by Arthur Eddington, Hales states: “… one should never believe any experiment until it is confirmed by theory” (Hales 293).
The data that Almender presents are considered to be inconsistent with the usual scientific picture of the world, according to Hales. Moreover, Hales finds Almender’s argument a simple modus ponens. If there is some evidence to it, we should believe in reincarnation. It is the first premise that Hales considerers to be false. As for the second premise, Hales does not even try to clear it out from Almender’s theory. The evidence of the reincarnation provided by Almender Hales finds anecdotal and the one that cannot be called scientifically accepted data. Hales goes on to state that Almender’s theory provides no evidence that a spirit would survive after one’s body dies, there is no evidence that the body or spirit can survive death.
To demonstrate the importance of the theoretical basis for Almender’s research Hales presents the ET hypothesis, where E stands for some experimental data or evidence genuinely inconsistent with some theory T.
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The most probable things that one might conclude in this case is that theory T is either false or incomplete, or, that E is the result of inadequate data collection. If there is a situation when T is an absolutely correct theory, the evidence might be faulty because of the reasons the researcher fails to understand or is unable to discover. When, on the contrary, the theory is wrong, the data may not be enough to justify the rejection of a theory. Therefore, “without a theoretical explanation of the cases Almender presents, it is more rational to believe either that there must be something amiss with the data, or that there will ultimately be a materialist explanation of it, than it is to believe that materialism about mind is mistaken” (Hales 294).
Instead, Hales suggests some alternative views on the problem of memories of people. In response to Almeder’s explanations Hales supposes that it is not reincarnation that explains the human memories, but intelligent, technologically advanced extra-terrestrials who observe humans, monitor their lives and interfere with them.
One more suggestion that Hales makes is that some people possess psychic powers that make them picked up by people who are sensitive to these powers. Native American Spirit Guides could give memories to people.
Also, Hales assumes that there is a collection of shared memories and some people can tune into it. Of course, these are mere author’s assumptions to which there is no evidence found.
But there is also no evidence for the existence of souls. As long as this problem exists one should remain skeptical about Almeder’s theory. Only when both high-quality evidence to Almeder’s approach and to the studies of the like-minded survivalists along with the theory that explains it are presented one will be empowered to believe in reincarnation, otherwise, no unsubstantiated statements concerning this problem should be made.
Hales, Steven D., and Scott C. Lowe. Delight in Thinking: An Introduction to Philosophy Reader. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages,2006.