[Thanks to Robert Perry for posing this question - RM]
Recently, I've been watching some videos on YouTube on children's apparent memories of past lives. I like this one, on the work of Jim Tucker, author of Life Before Life (an excellent book), who has carried on the groundbreaking work of Ian Stevenson on children's past life memories at the University of Virginia. Also this one, a 1992 documentary on Stevenson's work. And finally, this one, about an American boy who has memories of being a World War II fighter pilot.
As I watch these, the question that comes up for me is: Why hasn't this phenomenon been known in the West for centuries? It's clear that children in the West have these memories. They aren't that uncommon. One of the videos offers an estimate of one in every 500 children. Indeed, the daughter of a friend of mine had apparent past-life memories. Presumably, these things have been happening forever. So why did it take one man, Ian Stevenson, to bring this phenomenon to light in 1960?
The same question arises about near-death experiences. Why didn't they come into public and professional awareness before the 1970s? Presumably, they have also been happening forever. I asked Dr. Jeffrey Long, author of Evidence of the Afterlife, what percentage of NDEs would have happened in the past, without benefit of medical intervention. His "wild guess" is that "around half of all NDEs happened as a result of modern medical intervention." Given that a 1992 Gallup poll estimated that 5% of Americans have had an NDE, this would give us a rough figure of one in 40 people in pre-modern times, which is still quite an impressive frequency. So why wasn't anyone talking about them?
And if you think that we've run out of such discoveries, there is the case of Raymond Moody's shared death experiences, which he has just written about in his 2010 book Glimpses of Eternity. These are where people in the room with a dying person seem to experientially share in that person's transition. This can include apparently passing through the stages of that person's death process-leaving the body, having a life review, passing through a tunnel, entering a celestial landscape-with the dying person. While it's easy to see these as a sub-category of near-death experiences-shared near-death experiences-they don't actually fit, since no one is near-death. One person is healthy and the other person actually dies. It's a new phenomenon, one that is quite impressive, and according to Moody, also quite prevalent. Yet it too has managed to fly under the radar until very recently.
I would also include in this the phenomenon I documented in my 2009 book Signs: A New Approach to Coincidence, Synchronicity, Guidance, Life Purpose, and God's Plan. This is what I call CMPEs (Conjunctions of Meaningfully Parallel Events) - extreme synchronicities in which two events happen to occur close together in time and share a long list of parallels, with the story told by these parallels providing commentary on a relevant situation in the person's life. We've just finished a pilot study which will soon be published in Psychiatric Annals, which documents the occurrence of CMPEs in the lives of the study's participants. This bolsters what I have seen evidence of for a long time, that CMPEs do happen to people all over, even if not to everyone. Yet you will be hard-pressed to find examples of this phenomenon in the literature on coincidence and synchronicity.
Why, you have to wonder, did these phenomena - and I'm sure we could cite many others - go undocumented for so long? In the case of NDEs at least, I don't think the answer is terribly mysterious. It is common to hear NDErs say that they were afraid to tell anyone what they experienced, or that they tried and soon clammed up due to harsh or dismissive reactions. Steve Volk's Fringe-ology tells of how Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came very close to breaking the story of near-death experiences several years before Raymond Moody did, in a planned (and already written) final chapter to her now-classic book On Death and Dying. Yet she chose not to, afraid that it would kill the chances of her book getting published. Volk puts it more strongly: "Her entire life's work would have been dismissed" (p. 32).
The fact is that our culture is uncomfortable with the paranormal. In centuries past, that discomfort, I am sure, came mostly from the religious establishment. Now, I think it comes largely from the scientific establishment.
It makes you wonder what would happen without that stigma there. How many more such phenomena would come to light? And what might be the benefits of widespread and well-funded research on all such phenomena? Analogous to the scandal of sexual abuse by priests, we might find that we have been sitting on something of far larger proportions than anyone has suspected, driven underground by our collective unwillingness to face it. We might have to revise our terminology to reflect the fact that the paranormal is, in fact, normal. And more than that, we might have to revise our whole picture of reality.