Sunday, April 13, 2014

Researchers develop new method for studying 'mental time travel'

old pocket watch time travel

Neuroscientists at Princeton University have developed a new way of tracking people's mental state as they think back to previous events -- a process that has been described as "mental time travel."

The findings, detailed in the Dec. 23 issue of Science, will aid efforts to learn more about how people mine the recesses of memory and could have a wide-ranging impact in the field of neuroscience, including studies of brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers showed nine participants a series of pictures and then asked them to recall what they had seen. By applying a computerized pattern-recognition program to brain scanning data, the researchers were able to show that the participants' brain state gradually aligned with their brain state from when they first studied the pictures. This supports the theory that memory retrieval is a form of mental time travel.

In addition, by measuring second-by-second changes in how well participants were recapturing their previous brain state, the researchers were able to predict what kind of item the subjects would recall next, several seconds before they actually remembered that item.

The study was conducted by Kenneth Norman, an assistant professor of psychology, and Sean Polyn, who earned his Ph.D in psychology from Princeton in 2005 and is a now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. Polyn and Norman collaborated with Jonathan Cohen, director of Princeton's Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior, and Vaidehi Natu, a researcher in Norman's lab.

"When you try to remember something that happened in the past, what you do is try to reinstate your mental context from that event," said Norman. "If you can get yourself into the mindset that you were in during the event you're trying to remember, that will allow you to remember specific details. The techniques that we used in this study allow us to visualize from moment to moment how well subjects are recapturing their mindset from the original event."

In the experiment, participants studied a total of 90 images in three categories -- celebrity faces, famous locations and common objects -- and then attempted to recall the images. Norman and his colleagues used Princeton's functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to capture the participants' brain activity patterns as they studied the images. They then trained a computer program to distinguish between the patterns of brain activity associated with studying faces, locations or objects.

The computer program was used to track participants' brain activity as they recalled the images to see how well it matched the patterns associated with the initial viewing of the images. The researchers found that patterns of brain activity for specific categories, such as faces, started to emerge approximately five seconds before subjects recalled items from that category -- suggesting that participants were bringing to mind the general properties of the images in order to cue for specific details.

"What we have learned over the years is that what you get out of memory depends on how you cue memory. If you have the perfect cue, you can remember things that you had no idea were floating around in your head," Norman said. "Our method gives us some ability to see what cues participants are using, which in turn gives us some ability to predict what participants will recall. We are hopeful that, in the long run, this kind of work will help psychologists develop better theories of how people strategically cue memory, and also will suggest ways of making these cues more effective.”

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Scientific Proof of Reincarnation Dr. Ian Stevenson's Life Work

Dr. Ian StevensonProbably the best known, if not most respected, collection of scientific data that appears to provide scientific proof that reincarnation is real, is the life's work of Dr. Ian Stevenson. Instead of relying on hypnosis to verify that an individual has had a previous life, he instead chose to collect thousands of cases of children who spontaneously (without hypnosis) remember a past life. Dr. Ian Stevenson uses this approach because spontaneous past life memories in a child can be investigated using strict scientific protocols. Hypnosis, while useful in researching into past lives, is less reliable from a purely scientific perspective. In order to collect his data, Dr. Stevenson methodically documents the child's statements of a previous life. Then he identifies the deceased person the child remembers being, and verifies the facts of the deceased person's life that match the child's memory. He even matches birthmarks and birth defects to wounds and scars on the deceased, verified by medical records. His strict methods systematically rule out all possible "normal" explanations for the child’s memories.

Dr. Stevenson has devoted the last forty years to the scientific documentation of past life memories of children from all over the world. He has over 3000 cases in his files. Many people, including skeptics and scholars, agree that these cases offer the best evidence yet for reincarnation.

Dr. Stevenson's credentials are impeccable. He is a medical doctor and had many scholarly papers to his credit before he began paranormal research. He is the former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, and now is Director of the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia.

In order to help the reader become familiar with Dr. Stevenson's work, a 1988 Omni Magazine Interview is reprinted below. Following the interview is a summary of one of Dr. Stevenson's most famous cases.

Omni Magazine Interview
with Dr. Ian Stevenson

By Meryle Secrest

This interview was published in 1988. It shows yet more of the many fascinating ideas and views that Dr. Ian Stevenson holds, as he draws from his fifty years of education and research into the foundations of human personality.

The idea that some children of ages three to five not only remember a previous existence, but can identify loved ones from it, strikes most Westerners as so bizarre that it compels disbelief. Perhaps this is why the world's foremost investigator of the phenomenon, Dr. Ian Stevenson, has attracted so little attention.

Since the late Sixties Dr. Ian Stevenson, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Director or the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia, has documented cases in India, Africa, the Near and Far East, Britain, the United States, and elsewhere in which young children have astonished their parents with precise details about the people they claim to have been. Some of these children have recognized former homes and neighborhoods as well as still-living friends and relatives. They have recalled events in their purported previous lives, including their often violent deaths. Sometimes their birthmarks resemble scars that correspond to wounds that led, they claim, to their deaths.

All this is the stuff of lurid fiction and pulp journalism, presumably unworthy of serious investigation. In this context Stevenson is considered unique: His studies are scrupulously objective and methodologically impeccable. The late Herbert S. Ripley, former chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Washington in Seattle, noted, "We are lucky to have someone of his ability and high integrity investigating this controversial area. Wrote Dr. Harold Lief in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases: "Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known as the Galileo of the twentieth century."

Born in Montreal on October 31, 1918, Ian Stevenson was the son of a Scottish lawyer, John Stevenson. A writer at heart, the elder Stevenson became chief correspondent in Ottawa for Times of London. His wife, Ruth Preston Stevenson, had an extensive library on psychic phenomena. But Stevenson cannot recall any incidents that triggered his interest in psychic matters. "Virtually nothing has happened to me of that nature," he says. "I wish it would; I sometimes wonder what my trouble is." Stevenson studied medicine at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and then transferred to McGill University in Montreal after the outbreak of World War II. His studies in internal medicine led to an interest in psychosomatic illness and then in psychiatry. Although he trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst, he now says, "I feel sure that Freud will one day be considered a figure of fun. After his first book, which was clinically based, he became involved in theoretical musings and practically lost interest in investigation. He ended up inventing an inverted cone of theory supported by a tiny base of data."

In 1957 Stevenson was appointed chief psychiatrist at the hospital of the University of Virginia, and today he heads the Division of Personality Studies. The author of many papers in professional psychiatric journals, Stevenson has written two standard texts on psychiatric interviewing and diagnosis. In 1964 he abandoned psychiatry to devote himself entirely to research into psychic phenomena and reincarnation. Buying time for his work took money. Luckily, Stevenson's first essay on past lives, "The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations," published in 1960, caught the eye of Chester Carlson, inventor of the Xerox machine. Carlson promptly took the first major step toward funding the studies that Stevenson has been conducting ever since. Such studies are exhaustive as well as expensive. Between 1966 and 1971, for instance, Stevenson logged an average of 55,000 miles a year, often making return visits and interviewing as many as 25 witnesses for a single case. He now has 2,500 such cases on file from all over the world, most still unexamined for lack of money and researchers. Carlson, who died in 1968, endowed a chair at the University of Virginia, along with bequeathing the funds that still support Stevenson's research.

Even decades ago, as he was finishing his first paper on memories of persons claiming previous lives, Stevenson saw the shortcomings of most evidence from adult cases. Focusing on the memories of very young children, he concluded that one might distinguish between "imaged" and "behavioral" memories. Although a child might have no conscious memories (imaged memories) from a former life, his interests, aptitudes, and phobias (behavioral memories) might have been formed by experiences he or she had forgotten. Perhaps reincarnation could explain features of the human personality that other theories have failed to elucidate.

Lately Stevenson has scrutinized evidence based on physical characteristics such as birthmarks and birth defects. This latest body of work, which will be published in several volumes over the next few years, Stevenson says, may tip the scales between evidence supporting reincarnation and evidence making any other conclusion difficult to sustain. All of Stevenson's books have been published by the University Press of Virginia, and all are in print. They include Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation; Cases of the Reincarnation Type (four volumes). Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy, and Telepathic Impressions. A Review and Report of Thirty-five New Cases.

For several years Stevenson declined my request to interview him, explaining that his reluctance stemmed from previous experiences in which he had been tricked by the press and badly misrepresented. Finally, in the fall of 1987, he relented, just before leaving Virginia for Cambridge, England, and then India. Stevenson and his staff work in an old house on a Charlottesville street that long ago lost its residential status and is now filled with parking lots and apartment buildings. The interior is comfortable and modern without being in any way memorable, except for the souvenirs of Stevenson's travels, which line the walls: Indian and African masks, drums, fans, and swords. Now sixty-nine, Stevenson is a courtly and attentive listener with a reputation for being diffident. He is rather an intensely private person and, as might be gathered from the set of his jaw, secretly tenacious. Stevenson, it would appear, is much more concerned with painstakingly accumulating, clarifying, and classifying evidence than with drawing resounding conclusions.

Omni: Your newest book [in 1988], Children Who Remember Previous Lives, is a rare discussion of the evidence presented, it seems, after much questioning. How does this book differ from your previously published books, which were predominantly case histories?

Stevenson: It occurred to me that my case histories were not being widely read---to understate the matter--although Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation has now become a best seller as far as scientific books go, it has gone into seven languages and has probably sold fifty thousand copies, but that's over a twenty-year period. Judging from the mail, the readership was not among scientists but rather from the public at large. My paper "The Explanatory Value of the Idea of Reincarnation," published ten years ago, suggested that the study of these cases might illuminate problems in psychology and medicine.

I had become dissatisfied, you see, with the methods that had been developed in psychiatry for helping people. Orthodox theory conceives human personality as the product of a person's genetic material inherited from his ancestors through his parents, and the modifying influences of his prenatal and postnatal environment. But I found that some cases cannot be satisfactorily explained by genetics, environmental influences, or a combination of these. I am speaking of such things as early childhood phobias, about uncanny abilities that seem to develop spontaneously, of children convinced that they are the wrong sex, congenital deformities, differences between one-egg twins, and even such matters as irrational food preferences.

Omni: Is this work the only study of its kind in the United States?

Stevenson: Yes, and it's unique for the rest of the world. In India, however, scientists who have worked with me are now beginning to do independent research.

Omni: Do you wait for people to get in touch, or do you pursue cases?

Stevenson: It's sort of mixed now. I've got so much data I've been trying to withdraw from fieldwork myself. I want to write more so that not too many of my books will be posthumous.

Omni: When did you hit on the idea of dealing just with children?

Stevenson: It evolved in the late Sixties, probably after I went to India. Adults would write to me, and I eventually began to see that most of their cases were worthless. You can't really control the subconscious influences to which most adults are exposed. It's so much easier to be confident about the amount of information a small child might have learned, especially one living in an Asian village. I saw how fascinating and valuable these cases were.

Obviously children are too young to have absorbed a great deal of information, especially about deceased people in some distant town. In the better cases, they couldn't have known about them. In many of our cases in northwest North America and Burma, people in the same family or village are involved. So there's a likelihood that some adult or older child has talked about a deceased person and the child has absorbed the information, as our questioning makes clear. This is not, however, an issue in most cases I cite in India, many of which involve long distances, twenty-five to fifty kilometers or more, with no contact between the villages. Often the child has quite precise details.

Omni: You've found children with intense interests in subjects having no relation to anything in their family background or up-bringing. And you’ve directly linked the phobias and addictions of children to traumas that transpired in the lives of people these children claim to have been. Are you talking about aspects of their personalities that heredity does not explain?

Stevenson: That's right. It's easy to see environmental influences, say, with such composers as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, all of whose fathers were fine musicians. But what about George Frederic Handel? His family had no discernible interest in music; his father even sternly discouraged it. Or take the cases of Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer, and Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Both had to fight for their chosen callings from childhood onward. One can find endless examples that are difficult to explain given our current theories. But if one accepts the possibility of reincarnation, one can entertain the idea that these children are demonstrating strong likes, dislikes, skills, and even genius that are the logical results of previous experiences. I have found some children with skills that seem to be carried over from a previous life.

Omni: What about cases of childhood mental illness?

Stevenson: There again you will find cases of children acting as if they did not belong in their families. They treat parents and siblings with indifference, even hostility. This phenomenon is usually thought to have been caused by infantile trauma. Some theorists even try to explain it as the result of parents rejecting the child--before it has been born. Researchers look to the parents for the first cause. Comparatively little attention is given to the child, even though there is evidence that some children reject their parents before the parents have a chance to reject them. I suggest that such behavior could result from unhappy experiences in a previous life.

Omni: What about one's own child? Are there ways to introduce the subject?

Stevenson: I see no harm in asking a child if he remembers a previous life. I would be particularly interested if a child has a large birthmark or a congenital malformation. I've reported on a case of a child who claimed to have been his own paternal grandfather and had two pigmented moles in the same spots on his body that his grandfather did. It's said in such instances that genetics is responsible. But one wonders why the one grandchild in ten who had the moles claimed to remember his grandfather's life. Or take congenital malformations: Children born with deformed limbs--or even without fingers, toes, and hands--have claimed to remember being murdered and state that the murderer had removed these fingers, toes, or hands during the killing. In such situations the approach would be to ask the child to explain the birth defect. But I don't approve of pumping children if they don't want to talk.

Omni: Do the child's parents often "ruin" a case before you arrive?

Stevenson: All too often we reach the scene after the subject and his family have met the family about whom he's been talking. We sometimes have to pare away a great deal of extraneous information. I always prefer to record the child's account, but sometimes the boy or girl is too shy to talk, and I have to fall back on what parents say about his or her statements. My colleagues and I try to separate what the child said before meeting the other family from what he said later. Obviously the latter has much less value.

I cannot emphasize too strongly that a child who is going to remember a previous life has only about three years in which he will talk about it. Before the age of two or three he lacks the ability. After five, too much else will be happening in his life, and he will begin to forget.

Omni: How frequently do children claim to have memories of a past life?

Stevenson: We don't yet know the incidence of cases. All we know are those that come to us. One survey of a township in northern India found one case for every five hundred persons. This would almost certainly understate the matter, as many cases never go beyond the immediate family. Even in cultures where reincarnation is accepted, parents sometimes think such memories are harmful. They are often upset by what the child remembers. Parents would not be particularly pleased to have a murdered child, not to mention a murderer, reincarnate in their family.

Omni: What would predispose someone to remember a previous life?

Stevenson: Violent death is a factor in our cases. In more than seven hundred cases in six different cultures, sixty-one percent remembered having died violently. But are these cases actually representative? Those involving accidents, murders, and suicides are bound to get more attention than others in which the child remembers a quiet life. Children also tend to remember the final years or a previous life. Almost seventy five percent of our children appear to recall the way they died, and if death was violent, they remember it in vivid detail

Omni: You’ve stated that boys remember more often than girls.

Stevenson: Yes, but boys are presented to us more often than girls A girl may not be marriageable if she is the notorious subject of a case, so she may be kept in the background. In a series of one thousand ninety-five cases from around the world, sixty-two percent were male. I can't explain this, unless men are more likely to die violent deaths

Omni: Why do most Westerners ridicule the idea of reincarnation?

Stevenson: It's hard to find any single explanation. Some southern European Christians believed in reincarnation until the Council of Nice banned such beliefs in 553 A.D. In The Republic, Plato described souls about to be reborn as choosing their future lives. Schopenhauer took it seriously, and Voltaire's observation that it is no more surprising to be born twice than once is wellknown. Yet most scientists nowadays do not believe in survival after death. I suppose Darwinian ideas contributed to a sort of dethroning of the soul. Reincarnation may be particularly uncongenial because it's so much identified—mistakenly I think—with the Hindu and Buddhist ideas of being reborn as an animal.

Omni: What has it been like to swim against the tide?

Stevenson: Invigorating! (Laughs)

Omni: What criticism is most frequently leveled at your work?

Stevenson: That the cases occur most where people already believe in reincarnation. If a child seems to refer to a previous life, it's argued that his parents encourage him and may unwittingly feed the child information about a deceased person. I call this the sociopsychological interpretation of the cases. It is said that despite all my efforts, I have not eliminated the possibility that the subject of a case learned everything he knew through normal channels. Once a child comes to believe he or she was a particular person in a previous life, the argument goes, the other elements follow naturally. If you believe you had been stabbed to death in a previous life, you might have a phobia, for example, of knives.

While this is a valid argument for a small number of cases, especially those occurring in the same family or village, it's inapplicable for long-distance cases where a child shows a detailed knowledge about a family his parents have never heard of, let alone met. But my critics say I must have overlooked something, that the child must have learned about the deceased.

Omni: Why do all the cases seem to be in Asia? Couldn't critics find any in the West?

Stevenson: Oh, absolutely. I am convinced that if child psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as pediatricians, family doctors, and parents, would listen to children and observe them with reincarnation in mind, they would make valuable discoveries Children often seem to express memories of previous lives in their play and sometimes in their drawings.

Omni: Scientists usually dismiss reincarnation as some sort of wishful thinking. Yet William James noted that our desire to believe in survival after death does not automatically negate its possibility. We do want to believe in it, don't we?

Stevenson: No, in fact we don’t. That's a misunderstanding concerning Hindus and Buddhists. They believe in it, but they don't particularly want to. Hindus see life in terms of a constant cycle of births in which we are doomed to struggle and suffer until we have reached perfection and can escape. Fear of death is almost universal; and some two thousand years ago Patanjali, an Indian sage, said it was due to our fear of having to undergo a postmortem review of our lives, to be judged and presumably be found wanting.

Omni: Your new book discusses some misconceptions about the idea of reincarnation. What is the most common?

Stevenson: The idea that reincarnation must include what Hindus call Karma, especially retributive Karma.

Omni: Retributive Karma being the idea that whatever bad you do in this life is paid for in the next by having the same amount of evil done to you?

Stevenson: Something like that. It can be more specific, so that if you put out someone's eyes, you will be blinded. There is no evidence for the idea of retributive Karma. The notion of a succession of lives with improvement in each, on the other hand, is precisely the view of the Druze, a Muslim sect of Lebanon, a people I’ve worked with a lot. They believe God sends us into different sorts of lives, perhaps as a fisherman, then a banker, then maybe a pirate. But in each life we should do the best we can, if a banker, one should be thoroughly honest—and rich! Whether pirate or peasant, it's all summed up at the day of judgment. But one life has nothing to do with the next. Your conduct could be vicious in one life, and in the next, you might be reborn into elegant circumstances.

Omni: In your new book you speak reprovingly of people easily persuaded by your evidence. Is your position that reincarnation can never really be demonstrated?

Stevenson: I don't think I rebuke anybody for being convinced by the evidence. All I say is that maybe they shouldn't believe on the basis of what's in that particular book, because the detailed case reports are in my other books. Essentially I say that the idea of reincarnation permits but doesn't compel belief. All the cases I've investigated so far have shortcomings. Even taken together, they do not offer anything like proof. But as the body of evidence accumulates, it's more likely that more and more people will see its relevance.

I'm not much of a missionary. Most of that was drained out of me on my first trip to India. I did have a certain zeal when I first went there. When I talked to Ramakrishna Swami in Chandigarh, he asked me what I was doing, and I replied with a certain enthusiasm. After a long silence he finally said, "We know that reincarnation is true, but it doesn't make any difference because here in India we have just as many rogues and villains as you have in the West" End of interview.

Omni: Many claims are made for the authenticity of previous lives based on memories supposedly recovered under hypnosis. You have pointed out why these are likely to be fraudulent.

Stevenson: In my experience, nearly all so-called previous personalities evoked through hypnotism are entirely imaginary and a result of the patient's eagerness to obey the hypnotist's suggestion. It is no secret that we are all highly suggestible under hypnosis. This kind of investigation can actually be dangerous. Some people have been terribly frightened by their supposed memories, and in other cases the previous personality evoked has refused to go away for a long time.

Omni: Yet there are some cases that might argue in its favor. You seem persuaded by the evidence for Bridey Murphy. [In 1952 a Colorado housewife claimed that under hypnosis she relived memories of a previous life as an Irish girl, Bridey Murphy, living in 1806.]

Stevenson: Yes, I think it is one of the few. We've discussed cases of children and adults who have been able to speak a tongue they could not possibly have learned; the term for this is xenoglossy. Although rare, they do occur. One that I published concerns the wife of a Methodist minister who, after having been hypnotized by her husband, began to speak German--not very well, but German nonetheless--and described the life of a teenage girl who may have lived in Germany in the late nineteenth century. So I'm not saying that hypnosis is never a useful tool, but I do deplore the commercial exploitation and misleading claims that are often made. A large part of what emerges under hypnosis is pure fantasy. Some of these "previous lives" have been traced back to historical novels.

There is another English case going back to the turn of the century that was studied by a Cambridge don, in which a young woman seemed to be describing the life of one Blanche Poynings, a person around the court of Richard II in the fourteenth century. She gave a lot of detail about the people concerned, including proper names and the sort of life she lived. The investigators kept on probing, and a little later they began asking her about sources of information. In her trancelike state the girl herself came out with a reference to a book, Countess Maud, published in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a classic Victorian novel all about a countess at the court of Richard II. The subject had modified it a little bit, but basically it was all in the novel, and it turned out that her aunt had a copy of the book. She didn't remember reading it, but she remembered turning the pages. So you have that kind of case.

Omni: Have you found evidence of conscious hoax?

Stevenson: There are a few. In a recent paper on seven cases of deception and self-deception, my colleagues and I describe hoaxes or informants who had deceived themselves about the strength of evidence. I may have been hoaxed in other cases without knowing it, but I think not often. The average villager in Asia and Africa doesn't have time to devise a hoax. He or she often begrudges us the time it takes to conduct an interview. There is no money to be made and no particular local renown to be had. Successful fraud takes the cooperation of numerous witnesses and a child drilled to perfection. It's not a serious problem for us, although gross self-deception can happen. For instance, I was shown two Alevi children in Turkey who were said to be the reincarnation of President Kennedy: These kinds of cases are uncommon and relatively easy to detect.

Cryptomnesia, or source amnesia, is another matter. A child could obtain some information normally and then forget it. It's a possibility I consider in every case, but it's not a satisfactory explanation for most long-distance cases, since too much information is needed to put together a believable set of previous-life memories. Sometimes, though, there may be paramnesia—a mixing up of memories. The Druze, who often have such a strong desire to trace a deceased person that they may be too anxious to find the child they're looking for, jump to conclusions on the basis of very slender evidence. You might call it unconscious wish fulfillment.

Omni: Do you see in reincarnation a glimpse of a larger purpose?

Stevenson: Well, yes, I do. My idea of God is that He is evolving. I don't believe in the watchmaker God, the original creator who built the watch and then lets it tick. I believe in a "Self-maker God" who is evolving and experimenting; so are we as parts of Him. Bodies wear out; souls may need periods for rest and reflection. Afterward one may start again with a new body.

Omni: Do you disagree with most bioscientists, who hold that what we call mind or soul is actually a part of brain activity?

Stevenson: The assumption that our minds are nothing but our brains appears to receive support when you consider the effect of injury, surgery, a high fever, or one or two drinks of whiskey on our mental processes. Some neuroscientists ac knowledge that they have only just begun to show how brain processes account for mental ones. But they claim to know that they or their successors will work it all out. They are sure there can be no other explanation, therefore they consider no other. We are not pledged to follow all the received opinions of neuroscientists, however. Recently, a small number of psychologists and philosophers have begun to ask whether mind can ever be fully explained in terms of brain functioning.

Omni: You've said that more girls remember boys' lives than the reverse.

Stevenson: That's right. The overall ratio is two to one. Of one hundred sex-change cases [cases in which the child recollects having been a different sex in a previous life], sixty-six will be females remembering previous lives as boys. I've discussed this in some Burmese cases. It may be culturally more acceptable in Burma to say that you, as a girl, were once a boy than the reverse. A boy would be teased mercilessly. It is easier to come up with statistics than to interpret them. In a culture in which to change one's sex is not acceptable, perhaps such cases are never reported even when they do occur.

Omni: The possibility of sex change puts the question of homosexuality and gender confusion in a new light, doesn't it?

Stevenson: Yes. When it was fashionable to ascribe all emotional disorders to the ineptitude of one's parents, cases of gender-identity confusion were blamed on parents. A biological explanation, such as Klinefelter's syndrome [a genetic condition in which a male is born with an extra X, or female, chromosome] can explain some but not all cases. Western psychiatrists and psychologists do not have a satisfactory explanation for this, whereas in Southeast Asian cultures, gender-identity confusion is considered one result of reincarnation and taken calmly. Reincarnation ought to be considered as a possible explanation at least some of the time.

Omni: Do you have a research staff?

Stevenson: Yes, we have two full-time assistants. So far most overseas cases have been investigated first by people on the spot. Obviously they have the immediate advantage over me in that they need no interpreters. On the other hand, not many Asians have been trained in science. Those who are trained have usually come to think of reincarnation as a superstition of their childhoods and one they'd rather forget. But a few Asian scientists have been extremely helpful. In contrast, I remember a Harvard-trained psychologist in Burma who could barely be polite to me. There he was, sitting up in Mandalay, surrounded by cases, and he had no interest in them.

Omni: What's next for you?

Stevenson: I'm mainly working now on a massive study of birthmarks and birth defects. I published a few of them in Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation without much special mention or photographs. I now have about two hundred cases. I hope the first volume of thirty will be published this year. This first group contains cases from India, Burma, Turkey, Lebanon, and northwest North America. They'll all have photographs, and I've been able to match up about fifteen of them with postmortem reports. It's my most important book, and I've been writing it for about ten years. [Note: Stevenson’s truly massive study, Reincarnation and Biology, was finally published in 1997. Find more information in Carol’s Bookstore.]

Omni: Do birthmarks occur very often?

Stevenson: Some birthmarks are common. But it depends on what you call a birthmark. The average American has about fifteen. I'm talking about a raised, darkened mole, or what we call an elevated nevus. Some marks are simply areas of increased pigmentation; in other cases, the birthmark is three-dimensional, the area being partly or wholly elevated, depressed, or puckered. I have examined at least two hundred of this kind, and many of them cannot be distinguished, at least by me, from the scars of healed wounds.

In many cases I've had to rely on memories of surviving relatives and friends for information about the exact location of wounds or other marks on the previous personality in question. This has led to the sensible objection that relatives might have tailored their memories to fit the circumstances for a variety of reasons. I have been able to overcome this objection in about thirty cases by obtaining autopsy or other medical records. Such records provide the strongest evidence we have so far in favor of reincarnation.

Omni: You are also interested in the phenomena of precognition and telepathy, aren't you?

Stevenson: Precognition is just a clearer idea of a possible future. Imagine a person in a canoe paddling down a river. Around the corner are rapids he doesn't see. Someone on the cliff above, seeing the whole river, can see what's likely to happen to that person. At any point, of course, the canoeist might pull over to the bank. He doesn't have to go over the rapids.

What is interesting about precognition, telepathy, or any other form of paranormal communication is the number or people who believe they've had at least one experience: between ten and seventeen percent in the United Slates and Great Britain, according to some surveys. Most can be put down to coincidence, suppressed memories, or any number of plausible explanations. You can discount ninety-five percent of these cases; but for an impressive number there is no natural explanation. Present understanding of our brains leaves no room for these phenomena.

Omni: What prevented Hamlet from committing suicide was the suspicion that death might not be the end of things. Haven't you cited cases of children who have committed suicide?

Stevenson: That's rather rare. We haven't followed them, of course. Children who remember a previous life that ended in suicide sometimes still have the suicide habit. If things go wrong, they'll threaten to commit suicide. That we've had. We've had twenty-three cases involving fear of retribution for suicide in the previous life; and several had phobias about the instrument of suicide--that is, guns in some cases, poison in others. One person told me that her memories of suicide had deterred her from killing herself. The thought that nothing would be over or solved so one might as well face one's troubles is, in my view, a very effective deterrent.

Omni: In Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, Carl Jung wrote that as a boy he remembered in great detail being a very old man in the eighteenth century.

Stevenson: Children we have studied often act as if they had been transferred without warning from an adult's body into a baby's. When one of our Turkish children began to speak, almost the first thing he said was, "What am I doing here? I was at the port." Later on he described details in the life of a dockworker who had fallen asleep in the hold of a ship. A heavy oil drum had fallen on him and killed him instantly. Cases like this remind me or a woman who had a stroke while playing bridge. When she came around several days later, her first words were, "What's trumps?"

Omni: You briefly mentioned your new studies in chronological discrepancies. Are you talking about personalities that are reborn into new children before the end or the previous life?

Stevenson: There are a few of those. In Twenty Cases there’s the case of Jasbir, also a different kind of discrepancy story. He was about two and a half when he appeared to die of smallpox. When he revived he claimed that he was somebody totally different, a man who had just died and stumbled into the body. In his new personality Jasbir said that after death he had met a mahatma, or a sage, who had told him to take over this body.

There was also a case in Thailand in which a monk, Chaokhun Rajsuthajarn, claimed to have been born a day before the death of Nai Leng, the personality he remembered. These cases are extremely rare in Buddhist countries; Buddhists tend to regard them as suspect and even bogus because they do not harmonize with the Buddhist concept of rebirth. I studied this case with much care but couldn't find an explanation for the discrepancy.

Omni: Why do American children have so many less concrete and verifiable memories than Asian children do?

Stevenson: I have speculations and conjectures. First, Americans are nomadic. A fifth of all Americans move from one community to another each year, and a quarter move within the community, changing their neighborhood and environment. Some of the Asian children's memories are stimulated by their noticing slight environmental differences. If the difference is great, that stimulus may be missing.

Turning the question the other way around, why do certain Asian cultures have so many cases? To begin with, these cultures remember their dead more than we do and see them as still being actively involved in life; they also have stronger family ties. To them there is no such thing as random fate. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason often has to do with someone who wishes them well or ill. They also believe, much more than we do in the West, in telepathy. the paranormal, and that dreams foretell the future. They are not clock-watchers as we are; they have time to reflect on their lives. All these factors may have some bearing on this question and perhaps put them in closer touch with their past lives.

Omni: When you're dealing with Asian children, couldn't you be involved with people whose past lives did not get completed?

Stevenson: That's right. In dealing with people who died naturally rather than violently, we can distinguish several broad groups. In the first we might place people who were well one moment and dead the next, before they or anyone else had a chance to adjust to the idea. In the second category one might place those who died before the age of twelve of whatever natural causes; in the third there are those who died with unfinished business--mothers who left infants or young children, for instance One would also have to include people who had not been particularly young when they died but left life in the middle of some absorbing project. Any one of these people might have felt entitled to a longer life than they turned out to have.

Omni: Is the average space between death of one personality and that personality's rebirth in a new child about fifteen months?

Stevenson: Yes, but I think our figure comes mainly from Asian cases because, of our roughly one hundred Western cases, only fifteen to twenty have been verified, or, as we say, "solved." In my paper American Children who Claim to Remember Previous Lives" I analyzed seventy-nine cases. They are nowhere near as rich in detail as, say, the Indian cases. American children named few names, for instance, and we could match them up with a deceased person in only sixteen cases; and the person nearly always turned out to be a family member, thus making the case not significant for our purposes. Not a single child claimed to have been famous in a previous lifetime. The majority seemed to be ordinary, undistinguished people, just like the majority of our Asian children.

Omni: Even so, if the interval is fifteen months for each of us, doesn't that argue for a staggering number of lives relived?

Stevenson: Well, these cases of children who remember may be exceptional. They may become cases because they do remember, not because they are reborn. How many others may be reborn without remembering, or not reborn? The fifteen month average is perhaps true only for people who are murdered in India.

Omni: One of your American cases involved a person who remembered a life in which she had been scalped, which would argue for an enormous interval.

Stevenson: Yes, since the eighteenth century in that case. Our analyses have not shown that longer intervals between lives mean fewer memories. We do have to be prepared for the possibility that memories can fade in a world or discarnate minds, just as they can in our own. So we would rarely expect to be able to verify cases in which the interval was greater than twenty-five years. For most people it's possible the interval between death and rebirth is much longer than the cases we've studied so far. With only two thousand cases to go on, I'd hardly dare speculate about the billions of human beings since the beginning of the human race who have disappeared without a trace.

Omni: Would you speculate on why certain children show up in certain families?

Stevenson: If they are Muslims, they will say God did it. If they're Hindu or Buddhist, they'll attribute it to Karma. It might be that the purpose is to live and learn together. Someone who wants to evolve morally, for instance, should try to be reborn in a saint's family if he can. The most serious punishment I could imagine for a Mafia murderer would be to be reborn in a Mafia family, with their limited outlook on life. Why a person appears to be reborn in one family rather than another interests me passionately. It's a question for the next century.

Omni: Do you have children or your own?

Stevenson: Unfortunately not.

Omni: Isn't it often a disadvantage to remember a previous life?

Stevenson: Oh. I think so. These children become embroiled in divided loyalties. In many cases children have rejected their parents, saying they are not their real parents and have often started down the road toward their so-called real homes. In other cases, they insist on being reunited with their former husbands, wives, or children. One Indian boy was passionately attached to the woman he said had been his former mistress and was trying to get her back, causing himself and her real distress.

Omni: Might someone consider where and how one would like to be reborn?

Stevenson: I think an even more important question is. Who would want me as a baby?

Omni: Can I ask where and as whom you would like to be reborn?

Stevenson: No. I think that's too personal.

Omni: You must have been somewhat curious about what previous lives you might have led, because you consulted eight sensitives, or mediums.

Stevenson: Consulted is too strong a word. Some gave me these "readings" spontaneously. It just sort of happened along the way. When I was visiting an Indian swami, I didn't ask him, he just blurted something out. I've forgotten what it was. I think he said something about a previous life in India. You could say they were picking up different lives; some had me in different places at the same time. I had two talk about eighteenth-century lives in the same period, and they were completely different. They're all totally unverifiable. There are people who charge money for this, and it's a ridiculous waste of everybody's time.

Omni: What advice do you have for those who have no memories of a previous life?

Stevenson: Some persons have said it is unfair to be reborn unless you can remember details of a previous life and profitably remember your mistakes. They forget that forgetting is essential to successful living in the present. If every time we walked, we were to remember how we stumbled, we would fall again. I've also had people envy children who remember previous lives, as if these children had special wisdom. In fact, it makes more sense to look upon them as suffering from an abnormality, almost a defect. The memories they have are often more of a handicap than a blessing; and they nearly all become happier as they grow older and forget their previous lives. To paraphrase Jesus Christ, sufficient unto one life is the evil thereof.

Omni: Has your work influenced your own attitudes toward life and death?

Stevenson: I think so. I wouldn't claim to be free of the fear of death, but it is probably less in me than other people. These children sometimes provide reassurances to adults. We’ve had two or three incidents of children going to, let's say, a woman who has lost her husband and is inconsolable and saying, "You shouldn’t be crying. Death isn’t the end. Look at me. I died and I'm here again."

Sweet Swarnlata
A Case from Dr. Ian Stevenson

This case is extracted from charts and commentary on pages 67 to 91 in Dr. Ian Stevenson’s classic book, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. This is the original long version written for the book by Carol Bowman called "Children's Past Lives", but due to space constraints a shorter, edited version appeared in the book. This is the original extract in its entirety.

Sweet Swarnlata's Story

The story of Swarnlata is characteristic of Stevenson's cases: the young girl's memories began when she was 3, she gave enough information to enable Stevenson to locate the family of the deceased person she remembered (the case was "solved"), and she gave more than 50 specific facts that were verified. But Swarnlata's case was also different from most because her memories did not fade. And this is a sweet case, characterized by love and happy memories rather than by violent death and struggles between castes and families, like in so many other cases.

Swarnlata Mishra was born to an intellectual and prosperous family in Pradesh in India in 1948. When she was just three years old and traveling with her father past the town of Katni more than 100 miles from her home, she suddenly pointed and asked the driver to turn down a road to "my house", and suggested they could get a better cup of tea there than they could on the road.

Soon after, she related more details of her life in Katni, all of which were written down by her father. She said her name was Biya Pathak, and that she had two sons. She gave details of the house: it was white with black doors fitted with iron bars; four rooms were stuccoed, but other parts were less finished; the front floor was of stone slabs. She located the house in Zhurkutia, a district of Katni; behind the house was a girl's school, in front was a railway line, and lime furnaces were visible from the house. She added that the family had a motor car (a very rare item in India in the 1950's, and especially before Swarnlata was born). Swarnlata said Biya died of a "pain in her throat", and was treated by Dr. S. C. Bhabrat in Jabalpur. She also remembered an incident at a wedding when she and a friend had difficulty finding a latrine.

In the spring of 1959, when Swarnlata was 10 years old, news of the case reached Professor Sri H. N. Banerjee, an Indian researcher of paranormal phenomenon and colleague of Stevenson. Banerjee took the notes her father made and traveled to Katni to determine if Swarnlata's memories could be verified.

Using nothing more than the description that Swarnlata had given, he found the house--despite the house having been enlarged and improved since 1939 when Biya died. It belonged to the Pathak's (a common name in India), a wealthy, prominent family, with extensive business interests. The lime furnaces were on land adjoining the property; the girls school was 100 yards behind the Pathak's property, but not visible from the front.

He interviewed the family and verified everything Swarnlata had said. Biya Pathak had died in 1939 leaving behind a grieving husband, two young sons, and many younger brothers. These Pathaks had never heard of the Mishra family, who lived a hundred miles away; the Mishra's had no knowledge of the Pathak family.

The next scene in this story sounds like a plot from Agatha Christie, but is all true, extracted from the Stevenson's tabulations in Swarnlata's published case. In the summer of 1959, Biya's husband, son, and eldest brother journeyed to the town of Chhatarpur, the town where Swarnlata now lived, to test Swarnlata's memory. They did not reveal their identities or purpose to others in the town, but enlisted nine townsmen to accompany them to the Mishar home, where they arrived unannounced.

Swarnlata immediately recognized her brother and called him "Babu", Biya's pet name for him. Stevenson gives only the barest facts, but I can imagine the emotions ran high at this point. Imagine how Babu felt to be recognized immediately by his dead sister reborn.

Ten-year-old Swarnlata went around the room looking at each man in turn; some she identified as men she knew from her town, some were strangers to her. Then she came to Sri Chintamini Pandey, Biya's husband. Swarnlata lowered her eyes, looked bashful--as Hindu wives do in the presence of their husbands--and spoke his name. Stevenson says nothing of Sri Pandey's reaction at finding his wife after twenty years

Swarnlata also correctly identified her son from her past life, Murli, who was 13 years old when Biya died. But Murli schemed to mislead her, and "for almost twenty-four hours insisted against her objections that he was not Murli, but someone else." Murli had also brought along a friend and tried to mislead Swarnlata once again by insisting he was Naresh, Biya's other son, who was about the same age as this friend. Swarnlata insisted just as strongly that he was a stranger.

Finally, Swarnlata reminded Sri Pandey that he had purloined 1200 rupees Biya kept in a box. Sri Pandey admitted to the truth of this private fact that only he and his wife had known.

Gold Fillings

A few weeks later, Swarnlata's father took her to Katni to visit the home and town where Biya lived and died.

Upon arriving she immediately noticed and remarked about the changes to the house. She asked about the parapet at the back of the house, a verandah, and the neem tree that used to grow in the compound; all had been removed since Biya's death. She identified Biya's room and the room in which she had died. She recognized one of Biya's brothers and correctly identified him as her second brother. She did the same for her third and fourth brother, the wife of the younger brother, the son of the second brother (calling him by his pet name "Baboo"), a close friend of the family's (correctly commenting that he was now wearing spectacles, which he in fact had acquired since Biya had died) and his wife (calling her by her pet name "Bhoujai"), Biya's sister-in-law--all with appropriate emotions of weeping and nervous laughter. She also correctly identified a former servant, an old betelnut seller, and the family cowherd (despite her youngest brother's attempt to test Swarnlata by insisting that the cowherd had died).

Later, Swarnlata was presented to a room full of strangers and asked whom she recognized. She correctly picked out her husband's cousin, the wife of Biya's brother-in-law, and a midwife--whom she identified not by her current name, but by a name she had used when Biya was alive. Biya's son Murli, in another test, introduced Swarnlata to a man he called a new friend, Bhola. Swarnlata insisted correctly that this man was actually Biya's second son, Naresh. In another test, Biya's youngest brother tried to trap Swarnlata by saying that Biya had lost her teeth; Swarnlata did not fall for this, and went on to say that Biya had gold fillings in her front teeth--a fact that the brothers had forgotten and were forced to confirm by consulting with their wives, who reminded them that what Swarnlata said was true.

This must have been a spectacle. Here was a ten-year-old stranger from far away--so far, in terms of Indian culture, that her dialect was distinctly different than that of the Pathaks--who acted confidently like an older sister of the household, was familiar with intimate names and family secrets, and remembered even marriage relationships, old servants, and friends. Just as amazing, her memory was frozen at the time of Biya's death; Swarnlata knew nothing about the Pathak family that had happened since 1939.

In the following years, Swarnlata visited the Pathak family at regular intervals. Stevenson investigated the case in 1961, witnessing one of these visits. He observed the loving relationship between Swarnlata and the other members of the family. They all accepted her as Biya reborn.

Swarnlata behaved appropriately reserved towards Biya's elders, but when alone with Biya's sons, she was relaxed and playful as a mother would be--behavior that would otherwise be totally inappropriate in India for a 10-year-old girl in the company of unrelated men in their mid-thirties.

The Pathak brothers and Swarnlata observed the Hindu custom of Rakhi, in which brothers and sisters annually renew their devotion to each other by exchanging gifts. In fact the Pathak brothers were distressed and angry one year when Swarnlata missed the ceremony; they felt that because she had lived with them for 40 years and with the Mishras for only 10 years that they had a greater claim on her. As evidence of how strongly the Pathaks believed that Swarnlata was their Biya, they admitted that they had changed their views of reincarnation upon meeting Swarnlata and accepting her as Biya reborn (the Pathaks, because of their status and wealth, emulated Western ideas and had not believed in reincarnation before this happened). Swarnlata's father, Sri Mishra, also accepted the truth of Swarnlata's past identity: years later, when it came time for Swarnlata to marry he consulted with the Pathaks about the choice of a husband for her.

How did Swarnlata feel about all of this? Was it confusing for her to remember so completely the life of a grown woman? Stevenson visited her in later years and corresponded with her for ten years after this case was investigated. He reports that she grew up normally, received an advanced degree in botany, and got married. She said that sometimes, when she reminisced about her happy life in Katni, her eyes brimmed with tears and, for a moment, she wished she could return to the wealth and life of Biya. But her loyalty to the Mishra family was undivided and, except for the regular visits to Katni, she went about the business of growing into a beautiful young woman, accepting fully her station in this life.

In some ways Swarnlata is typical of Stevenson's cases: the amazing number of facts and people she remembered; the positive identification of the previous personality, the exchange of visits between the families, and the age at which she first had her memories. What is not typical, however, is the persistence of clear memories into her adulthood, the lack of a traumatic death, and the support and cooperation between the families (in most cases one or both of the families are reluctant to encourage the child or to bring the case to the outside world). This is a sweet case that illustrates what profoundly enriching human experience a past life memory can bring about.

But many of the cases in Stevenson's books are stories where love and miraculous reunions mix with conflict, violent death, and hostile emotions. The cases of Ravi Shankar [Chapter 6 inChildren's Past Lives] and Titu Singh illustrate the darker side of life that is often brought to the light when a child has a forceful past life memory.

Copyright 1997 by Carol Bowman and Steve Bowman
Reprinted with Permission

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Systematic use of black slaves in New Netherland began in 1626, when the first cargo of 11 Africans was unloaded by the Dutch West India Company.
The company had been founded in 1621, and it "operated both as a commercial company and as a military institution with quasi-statelike powers."[1] The company had tried its colonial experiment of New Netherland at first with agricultural laborers from Holland, but this plan went nowhere. Most of the Dutch who came to America sought to pile up money in the lucrative fur trade and then hurry back to the comforts of Holland to enjoy their wealth. So the company increasingly turned to slaves, which it already was importing in vast numbers to its Caribbean colonies.
From the 1630s to the 1650s, the WIC "was unquestionably the dominant European slave trader in Africa."[2] In 1644 alone, it bought 6,900 captives on the African coast. Most of these went to the company's colonies in the West Indies, but from its stations in Angola, the company imported slaves to New Netherland to clear the forests, lay roads, build houses and public buildings, and grow food. It was company-owned slave labor that laid the foundations of modern New York, built its fortifications, and made agriculture flourish in the colony so that later white immigrants had an incentive to turn from fur trapping to farming.
But private settlers still faced an acute shortage of agricultural labor that was retarding the colony. A company audit report noted that, "New Netherland would by slave labor be more extensively cultivated than it has hitherto been, because the agricultural laborers, who are conveyed thither at great expense to the colonists sooner or later apply themselves to trade, and neglect agriculture altogether."[3]
As a result, the West India Company relaxed its monopoly and allowed New Netherlanders to trade their produce to Angola and "to convey Negroes back home to be employed in the cultivation of their lands." The company was willing to forego profit for the sake of spreading slavery in New Netherlands and getting the colony settled. It even allowed private owners to exchange slaves they were dissatisfied with for company slaves.
But only a trickle of slaves flowed into New Netherland from Angola; the colonists found the Africans "proud and treacherous," and preferred to seek "seasoned" slaves from the West Indies, specifically Cura�ao. In addition to those they bought from the West Indies, Dutch settlers bought slaves seized by privateers from Spanish ships. The steady flow from various sources allowed the colony to stabilize and, by 1640, to expand its agricultural output. "Slavery helped to prepare the way for this transition by providing the labor which made farming attractive and profitable to the settlers. Slave labor was especially important in the agricultural development of the Hudson Valley, where an acute scarcity of free workers prevailed."[4]
Between 1636 and 1646 the price of able-bodied men in New Netherland rose about 300 percent. By 1660, slaves from Angola were selling for 300 guilders and those from Cura�ao for about 100 guilders more. By the time the British took over the colony in 1664, slaves sold in New Amsterdam for up to 600 guilders. This was still a discount of roughly 10 percent over what they would have brought in the plantation colonies, but the West India Company had been subsidizing slavery in New Netherland to promote its economic progress. The Hudson Valley, where the land was monopolized in huge patroon estates that discouraged free immigration, especially relied on slaves.
The purely economic status of slaves in New Netherland contrasted with the malignant and sometimes bizarre racism of the religious British citizens who followed the Dutch into the north Atlantic colonies. Free blacks in New Netherland were trusted to serve in the militias, and slaves, given arms, helped to defend the settlement during the desperate Indian war of 1641-44. They were even used to put down the Rensselaerswyck revolt of white tenants. Blacks and whites had coequal standing in the colonial courts, and free blacks were allowed to own property (Jews, however, were not). They intermarried freely with whites and in some cases owned white indentured servants.
Slaves who had worked diligently for the company for a certain length of time were granted a "half-freedom" that allowed them liberty in exchange for an annual tribute to the company and a promise to work at certain times on company projects such as fortifications or public works. Individual slaveowners, such as Director General Peter Stuyvesant, adopted this system as well, and it enabled them to be free of the cost and nuisance of owning slaves year-round that they could only use in certain seasons. For the slaves, half-freedom was better than none at all.
The British took over in 1664, and control of the colony passed to the Duke of York, who, with his cronies, held controlling interest in the Royal African Company. The change of name from New Netherland to New York brought a crucial shift in policy. Whereas the Dutch had used slavery as part of their colonial policy, the British used the colony as a market for slaves. "The Duke's representatives in New York -- governors, councilors, and customs officials -- were instructed to promote the importation of slaves by every possible means."[5]
From 1701 to 1726, officially, some 1,570 slaves were imported from the West Indies and another 802 from Africa. As it had under the Dutch, the colony continued to import relatively few slaves from Africa directly, except occasional cargoes of children under 13. The actual numbers were much higher, because smugglers made liberal use of the long, convoluted coast of Long Island. In some years illegal shipment of slaves on a single vessel outnumbered the official imports to the whole colony.
As a result, New York soon had had the largest colonial slave population north of Maryland. From about 2,000 in 1698, the number of the colony's black slaves swelled to more than 9,000 adults by 1746 and 13,000 by 1756. Between 1732 and 1754, black slaves accounted for more than 35 percent of the total immigration through the port of New York. And that doesn't count the many illegal cargoes of Africans unloaded all along the convoluted coast of Long Island to avoid the tariff duties on slaves. In 1756, slaves made up about 25 percent of the populations of Kings, Queens, Richmond, New York, and Westchester counties.
Slaveholding concentrated in New York City, where by 1691 competition from slave labor had driven white porters out of the market houses and where by 1737 free coopers were complaining of "great numbers of Negroes" working in their trade.
The slave trade became a cornerstone of the New York economy. As with Boston and Newport, profits of the great slave traders, or of smaller merchants who specialized in small lots of skilled or seasoned slaves, radiated through a network of port agents, lawyers, clerks, scriveners, dockworkers, sailmakers, and carpenters.
The Dutch legacy left its mark on New York slavery, even after the British occupation. The British at first handled slaves in New York on the same relatively humane terms the Dutch had set. The population already was racially mixed, and slavery in New York at first was passed down not exactly by race, but by matrilineal inheritance: the child of a male slave and a free woman was free, the child of a female slave and a free man was a slave. By the 18th century, through this policy, New York had numerous visibly white persons held as slaves.
But after 1682, as the number of slaves rose (in many places more rapidly than the white population) fears of insurrection mounted, restrictions were applied, and public controls began to be enacted. By that year, it had become illegal for more than four slaves to meet together on their own time; in 1702 the number was reduced to three, and to ensure enforcement each town was required to appoint a "Negro Whipper" to flog violators. In a place where slaves were dispersed in ones and twos among city households, this law, if enforced, would have effectively prohibited slaves from social or family life.
Local ordinances restricted times or distance of travel. Slave runaways were tracked down rigorously, and ones bound for French Canada were especially feared, as they might carry information about the condition and defenses of the colony. The penalty for this was death. Slaves did run off, especially young men, but they tended to gravitate to New York city, rather than Canada. There many of them sought to escape the colony by taking passage on ships, whose captains often were not overly scrupulous about the backgrounds of their sailors.
"Others skulked along the waterfront, where they were drawn into gangs of criminal slaves infesting the docks. The most notorious gang was the Geneva Club, named after the Geneva gin its members were fond of imbibing. There were also groups known as the Free Masons, the Smith Fly Boys, the Long Bridge Boys, and many others whose names have not been recorded. Slaves belonging to such gangs were extremely clannish and often engaged in murderous feuds. Only rarely, however, did they attack white persons. The very existence of such groups nevertheless caused the whites much anxiety. The authorities regarded them as a much greater threat to the public safety than the deadlier gangs of white hoodlums on the waterfront."[6]
In 1712, some slaves in New York City rose up in a crude rebellion that could have been much more deadly, had it been better planned. As it was, it was among the most serious slave resistances in American history, and sparked a vicious backlash by the authorities. The revolt was led by African-born slaves, who decided death was preferable to life in bondage. They managed to collect a cache of muskets and other weapons and hide it in an orchard on the edge of town. On the night of April 6, twenty-four of the conspirators gathered, armed themselves, and set fire to a nearby building. They then hid among trees, and when white citizens rushed up to put out the blaze, the slaves opened fire on them, killing five and wounding six.The surviving citizens sounded the alarm. Every able-bodied man was pressed into service, and appeals were made to governors of surrounding colonies. The militia pinned down the rebels in the woods of northern Manhattan. The leaders of the uprising committed suicide, and the rest, starving, surrendered.
The death toll in the 1712 uprising doesn't seem high, but in a New York county that, at that time probably numbered some 4,800 whites, it was shocking. In considering the psychological impact on the survivors, imagine some sort of attack on modern New York, with its 8 million people, that would leave casualties of 10,000 dead.

A special court convened by the governor made short work of the rebels. Of the twenty-seven slaves brought to trial for complicity in the plot, twenty-one were convicted and put to death. Since the law authorized any degree of punishment in such cases, some unlucky slaves were executed with all the refinements of calculated barbarity. New Yorkers were treated to a round of grisly spectacles as Negroes were burned alive, racked and broken on the wheel, and gibbeted alive in chains. In his report of the affair to England, Governor Hunter praised the judges for inventing 'the most exemplary punishments that could be possibly thought of.' "[7]
As in other Northern colonies, blacks in New York faced special, severe penalties for certain crimes. An example from Poughkeepsie illustrates one of them:
A young slave, about twenty years of age, ... fired his master's barn and outbuildings, and thus destroyed much grain, together with live-stock. He was detected by the smoke issuing from his pocket, (into which he had thrust some combustibles,) imprisoned, tried, and on his confession, condemned to be burned to death. He was fastened to a stake, and when the pile was fired, the dense crowd excluded the air, so that the flames kindled but slowly, and the dreadful screams of the victim were heard at a distance of three miles. His master, who had been fond of him, wept aloud, and called to the Sheriff to put him out of his misery. This officer then drew his sword; but the master, still crying like a child, exclaimed, "Oh, don't run him through!" The Sheriff then caused the crowd to separate, so as to cause a current of air; and when the flame burst out fiercely he called to the sufferer to "swallow the blaze;" which he did, and immediately he sunk dead.[8]
Free blacks lived in New York at risk of enslavement. The colonial courts ruled that if a white person claimed his black employee was a slave, the burden was on the black person to prove he was not. Blacks on the street who could give no plausible account of their movements or proof of their freedom often were picked up by the authorities and jailed on suspicion of being runaway slaves. Local authorities had all but unlimited power in such cases. A black man was arrested in New York City in 1773 simply "because he had curious marks on his back." In such cases the suspected fugitives were held in local jails while advertisements ran in the newspapers seeking their owners. If a claimant arrived, and reimbursed the sheriff for the cost of the detention and the ads, he took the black person away after a few legal formalities. There was little incentive for the sheriff to challenge the claim of ownership in such cases. Even if no claimant came forth, the authorities sometimes then sold the black person into slavery, to cover the cost of detaining and advertising him.

1. E.B. O'Callaghan and Berthold Fernow, eds., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, 15 vols., 1856-87.
2. Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p.76-7.
3. Board of Audit of the West India Company, May 27, 1647.
4. Edgar J. McManus, A History of Negro Slavery in New York, Syracuse University Press, 1966, p.7.
5. ibid., p.23.
6. ibid., p.105-6.
7. ibid., p.124.
8. William J. Allinson, Memoir of Quamino Buccau, A Pious Methodist, Philadelphia: Henry Longstreth, 1851, p.4.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

North and South: Different Cultures, Same Country

The Civil War that raged across the nation from 1861 to 1865 was the violent conclusion to decades of diversification. Gradually, throughout the beginning of the nineteenth century, the North and South followed different paths, developing into two distinct and very different regions.


The northern soil and climate favored smaller farmsteads rather than large plantations. Industry flourished, fueled by more abundant natural resources than in the South, and many large cities were established (New York was the largest city with more than 800,000 inhabitants). By 1860, one quarter of all Northerners lived in urban areas. Between 1800 and 1860, the percentage of laborers working in agricultural pursuits dropped drastically from 70% to only 40%. Slavery had died out, replaced in the cities and factories by immigrant labor from Europe. In fact an overwhelming majority of immigrants, seven out of every eight, settled in the North rather than the South. Transportation was easier in the North, which boasted more than two-thirds of the railroad tracks in the country and the economy was on an upswing.

Far more Northerners than Southerners belonged to the Whig/Republican political party and they were far more likely to have careers in business, medicine, or education. In fact, an engineer was six times as likely to be from the North as from the South. Northern children were slightly more prone to attend school than Southern children.


View of the South
In contrast to the factory, the plantation was a central feature of Southern life. (Library of Congress)
The fertile soil and warm climate of the South made it ideal for large-scale farms and crops like tobacco and cotton. Because agriculture was so profitable few Southerners saw a need for industrial development. Eighty percent of the labor force worked on the farm. Although two-thirds of Southerners owned no slaves at all, by 1860 the South's "peculiar institution" was inextricably tied to the region's economy and culture. In fact, there were almost as many blacks - but slaves and free - in the South as there were whites (4 million blacks and 5.5 million whites). There were no large cities aside from New Orleans, and most of the ones that did exist were located on rivers and coasts as shipping ports to send agricultural produce to European or Northern destinations.
Only one-tenth of Southerners lived in urban areas and transportation between cities was difficult, except by water.  Only 35% of the nation's train tracks were located in the South. Also, in 1860, the South's agricultural economy was beginning to stall while the Northern manufacturers were experiencing a boom.
A slightly smaller percentage of white Southerners were literate than their Northern counterparts, and Southern children tended to spend less time in school. As adults, Southern men tended to belong to the Democratic political party and gravitated toward military careers as well as agriculture.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Division of Perceptual Studies -University of Virginia School of Medicine

Types of Experiences We Study
The staff of the Division welcomes information about experiences of the types listed below. We are very careful to maintain confidentiality and routinely use pseudonyms when publishing Western cases that may be easily traced. The identity of persons reporting experiences to us will not be made public in any way without the express written permission of the person(s) involved. We would like to have first information about experiences sent to us via e-mail or by U.S. Mail, preferably typed (see lower left corner of this page for address). Please do not send cassettes with accounts recorded on tape or long manuscripts. The staff may request more details, and informants should be willing to cooperate in a further investigation of the experience reported. The small size of our staff, however, sometimes makes it impossible for us to investigate every experience brought to our attention.
(Please note, we cannot provide therapeutic or counseling services via email, telephone, or correspondence to individuals who are made anxious by unusual experiences.)

 **experiencer acquires verifiable information that they could not have obtained by any normal means
Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives
IS interview Burma
Dr. Ian Stevenson interviewing a subject in a village in Myanmar
In many parts of the world, some young children, usually between the ages of 2 and 5, speak about a previous life they claim to have lived. At the same time they often show behavior, such as a phobia, that is unusual in their family and/or not explained by any current life events but that seems concordant with the child's statements about a previous life. In many cases of this type the child's statements have been shown to correspond accurately to facts in the life and death of a deceased person; in many of these cases the families concerned have had no contact before the case developed. Some of the children have birthmarks and birth defects that correspond to wounds or other marks on the deceased person whose life a child remembers. In numerous cases postmortem reports have confirmed these correspondences. Older children may retain these apparent memories, but generally they seem to fade around the age of 7 .
The Division staff have been investigating these cases since 1961 and have published numerous articles and booksabout them. There is also a list of books on reincarnation which includes one book about Dr. Stevenson's work by an editor at the Washington Post. The young subjects of these cases have been found most readily in certain parts of the world, such as South Asia. They are, however, also found in other areas of the world, and the Division has studied many cases in Europe and North America. We are interested in hearing about cases with any of the elements discussed here. See Contacting Us.  If you are a parent seeking advice about your child who seems to remember a previous life then see Advice to Parents.
Types of Statements a Child Might Make in This Kind of Case
Statements made by a child who seems to be remembering a previous life can be quite varied. The following is not an exhaustive list by any means. It is designed to give an idea of the kinds of things a parent or caregiver might hear, and in our Western culture, tend to dismiss as fantasy. It is also true that a child might say one or more of these things and not be remembering a previous life. It is probably best not to pump a child for information, nor to try and prevent him or her from saying such things.
  • "You're not my mommy/daddy."
  • "I have another mommy/daddy."
  • "When I was big, I ...(used to have blue eyes/had a car, etc.)."
  • "That happened before I was in mommy's tummy."
  • "I have a wife/husband/children."
  • "I used to...(drive a truck/live in another town, etc.)"
  • "I died ... (in a car accident/after I fell, etc.)"
  • "Remember when I ...(lived in that other house/was your daddy, etc.)"
Watch a video of Dr. Jim Tucker describing the research being done here at DOPS.  View the Video
List of Experience Types
Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)
Local Image
A near-death experience, or NDE, is a common pattern of events that many persons experience when they are seriously ill or come close to death. Although NDEs vary from one person to another, they often include such features as the following:
  • feeling very comfortable and free of pain
  • a sensation of leaving the body, sometimes being able to see the physical body while floating above it
  • the mind functioning more clearly and more rapidly than usual
  • a sensation of being drawn into a tunnel or darkness
  • a brilliant light, sometimes at the end of the tunnel
  • a sense of overwhelming peace, well-being, or absolute, unconditional love
  • a sense of having access to unlimited knowledge
  • a "life review," or recall of important events in the past
  • preview of future events yet to come
  • encounters with deceased loved ones, or with other beings that may be identified as religious figures
While these features are commonly reported, many NDEs differ from this pattern and include other elements. For example, some near-death experiences may be frightening or distressing rather than peaceful. We are interested in hearing about all kinds of near-death and similar experiences, and in studying their effect upon persons who have them. See Contacting Us
The causes of NDEs are complex and not fully known. While many medical and psychological explanations have been offered, they remain speculative and often fall short of explaining the entire phenomenon. Numerous articles and a book about various aspects of NDEs have been written by members of our staff. There is also a list of recommended books by other authors.
Veridical NDEs
We are particularly interested in studying NDEs that may bear on the question of whether the mind can function outside the physical body, and on whether we may survive bodily death. One such type of experience is the so-calledveridical NDE, in which experiencers acquire verifiable information that they could not have obtained by any normal means. For example, some experiencers report seeing events going on at some distant location, such as another room of the hospital; or an experiencer might meet a deceased loved one who then communicates verifiable information the experiencer had not known. Other kinds of NDEs that may bear on the mind/body question include those in which mental functioning seems to be enhanced despite physiological evidence that the brain is impaired. If you would like to share an NDE of this type, or any type, with us see Contacting Us
List of Experience Types
Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs)
Local Image
Many persons have the experience of seeming to be located in space away from their physical body. One survey showed that 15% of those questioned have had such an experience at least once during their lifetime. Some persons having this experience report that from a position above their body they could look down on it and observe its condition. This experience occurs in more than 65% of persons who come close to death and survive.
The experience of being out of the body also occurs to many persons who are not near death. Some are fatigued or mildly ill, but others are in good health.
Although many of these experiences do not suggest any paranormal process, two features that sometimes occur do suggest such a process. First, some persons report that while they were "out of the body" they went some other place, sometimes a distant one, outside the range of their normal senses, and there observed (and later reported) events, such as a conversation between two persons, that they could not have learned about normally. Second, in a small number of cases, the person who reports having been out of his or her body may be perceived by another person at the place where the first person said he or she had gone. These latter cases are called "reciprocal."
A small number of persons claim to be able to have an out of the body experience voluntarily. Such persons may be suitable for experiments which might demonstrate a paranormal process.
On our Recommended Books page there is a list of books about out-of-body experiences.
If you would like to share an OBE of this type, or any type, with us see Contacting Us
List of Experience Types
Apparitions and After-Death Communications
Local Image
The kinds of apparitions we are particularly interested in are often referred to as "crisis apparitions." "Crisis apparition" is a term that we use to describe a wide range of experiences occurring at or near the time that a distant loved one or acquaintance was dying, involved in an accident, or experiencing some other unexpected event. For example, many people have reported that they have seen a lifelike apparition of a friend or relative at about the time that that person was dying or involved in an accident, although the person experiencing the apparition had had no normal way of knowing about this event at the time. Similarly, other people have reported having had a vivid dream, hearing a loved one's voice, or feeling an unusual physical sensation or emotion at a time coinciding with an unexpected death or other event.
These kinds of experiences were intensively studied by scientists during the late 19th century, and hundreds of cases were reported. Unfortunately, in recent decades most parapsychologists have shown little interest in studying such phenomena, and not many contemporary experiences of this kind have been reported. We believe, however, that they may be just as common now as they were 100 years ago, although we rarely hear about them, perhaps because most people who have an experience of this kind tell few other persons about it. We have learned about a few such cases in recent years, and we would like very much to learn about others. See Contacting Us.
We would also be interested in learning about after-death communications in which verifiable information is communicated that could not have been obtained otherwise.
For those interested in further reading on these topics see the Apparitions and Hauntings and the After-Death Communications sections of our Recommended Books page.
List of Experience Types 
 Deathbed Visions
As the term implies, "deathbed visions" are those visions or other experiences that a dying person may have in the minutes, hours, or days before his or her death. (Near-death experiences, in contrast, are experiences that occur to an ill or injured person who ultimately recovers.) Family members or hospital personnel may report that a dying person, previously weak or even comatose, suddenly revived, sat up, stared at a corner of the room, and called out the name of a deceased loved one. In other instances dying persons have described seeing or hearing other persons not physically present (and usually deceased), or other beings, at their bedside. In rarer cases, a bystander has had such a vision, either alone or simultaneously with the dying person.
There has been very little systematic research on this phenomenon, but conversations with hospice nurses and other persons suggest to us that such deathbed visions may be more common than we now recognize. Furthermore, the little research that has been done suggests that such visions may not be related to the hallucinations that drugs, fever, and certain illnesses can produce, and that drugs and fever may even inhibit rather than generate them.We would be happy to hear about any cases of this type that you know of. See Contacting Us.
There are a few books that have been written on the subject. See the Deathbed Visions section on our Recommended Books page.
Psychophysiological Studies of Altered States of Consciousness and Psi
The term "psi" as used here denotes various kinds of anomalous interactions, not presently explainable in conventional scientific terms, between human individuals and their environments. Our ongoing research in this area emphasizes the intensive study of individuals who have been carefully selected for possession of various extra-ordinary psychological skills, including in particular advanced meditators, those who can voluntarily control their Out-of-Body experiences, trance mediums, and gifted psi subjects who demonstrate such phenomena as accurate remote viewing and the ability to voluntarily effect observable changes in the physical environment via mental processes. if you feel you possess the any or all of abilities described here, please see Contacting Us and provide a brief description of your experiences.
Under the direction of Dr. Edward Kelly (psychologist & neuroscientist) and Dr. Ross Dunseath (electrical engineer), DOPS has established a state-of-the-art EEG research facility.  This facility, known as The Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Laboratory, includes an electromagnetically and acoustically shielded chamber, a high-quality commercial EEG data-acquisition system, and extensive software resources for analysis and modeling of multichannel physiological data. These new resources available to DOPS will enable us to resume, at higher intensity, a multifaceted program of research on ASCs and psi that was originally conceived and partially implemented through the Department of Electrical Engineering at Duke University in North Carolina. The general background of this program is described fully in the book Irreducible Mind (2007), of which Dr. Kelly was lead author.