If we all have lived previous lifetimes, there is, of course, the question as to why most fail to remember anything of their prehistory. Where is the explicit memory — the autobiographical memory that weaves together the episodic and semantic?
Amnesia would seem to make sense as a survival strategy. For some eleven to fourteen years, after all, the human infant (optimally) develops in the “second womb” of the home, where biological and social needs can be met through the phantom umbilical cord of the caretaker (maternal/paternal) bond. Considering that the developing body-brain is instinctually aimed at biological and psychological survival and growth within the present physical and social spheres, recalling previous existences or even the major portion of one’s present life would serve to hinder more than help, and may even constitute a direct threat to proper development as a biological organism.
As a consequence the amnesic process develops, operating in a fashion akin to the mechanism that allows us to hone in on the person across the table and the conversation we’re having with her and screen out other conversations and chatter in the crowded restaurant. Similarly, our brains focus on our immediate needs and screen out all that is irrelevant to that end during periods of neurological pruning, where frequently-accessed associations are solidified while the neglected are snipped away. This mechanism kicks in several times throughout our development. According to Joseph Chilton Pearce, after the scissor-happy session at age eleven, some eighty percent of the neural mass we had at the point of vaginal exit has been relegated to the neurological trash-bin for lack of use.
There are those that seem to retain such memories, however, at least for a time.
Cases of the Reincarnation Type, or CORT, have been amassed by the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine. It was originally headed by the late Dr. Ian Stevenson, with the torch passed to Dr. Jim Tucker upon his 2002 retirement. Rather than regression hypnosis, they rely on unprompted reports of young children on the lives they left behind when they left their last vessel of flesh.
Analysis of these cases reveals that these children begin speaking about their previous life as soon as they can speak, with the average age standing at 35 months. With further development of communication skills, more details emerge. Some children seem to retain memories regardless as to their state of mind. Others only seem capable of doing so in a relaxed state, amnesia apparently setting in once they snap out of it.
In many cases, the children’s stories match the life of the deceased individual they claim to be with incredible accuracy, and far before being introduced to the family of the dead.
Most stop speaking of their memories altogether at an average of 72 months, though others manage to hold onto their memories longer, perhaps all the way to adulthood. The more convincing cases of past lives recalled later in life, with or without hypnosis, however, seem to imply that explicit memories are somehow stored unconsciously and are potentially retrievable.
Why is it that some remember whereas most, it would seem, do not? In his work 20 Cases of Reincarnation, Stevenson divided the some 40% of the cases in which the individual died of natural death into four groups: those who died within a day or so of presumed health; those who died under twelve years of age, those with unfinished business as well as those who had what he referred to as “continuing business,” as they were in the middle of pursuing an ambition when they died.
If the abruptness of their deaths is seen as the fuel behind their capacity to recollect, as implied given the themes among natural death cases, additional emotional charge would clearly be delivered when it was violence that ushered in the aforementioned abruptness, as it appears to be in the remaining 61% of Stevenson’s case files.
All their cases, then, appear to involve an abrupt expiration which would likely leave one feeling as if they died “in medias res,” lives incomplete. This suggests that to one degree or another they may be stuck in the “denial” phase of DABADA, unable to accept their own premature deaths and to adapt to their current lives in any healthy and productive manner.
Despite remembering previous lives, despite the fact that the median time between death and rebirth in the cases on file is 15-16 months and rarely exceeds three years, the majority of children who recall former lives evidently draw a blank with respect to this intermission betwixt incarnations. This is not just for their lack of mentioning it, either, as some of the children behave as if they were living their former life one moment and then suddenly woke up in an infant’s body.
This appears similar to how our consciousness operates in terms of dreams. We may remember a dream immediately upon awakening, but it slowly fades from our grasp the longer we are awake — though leaving in its departure our capacity to recall events of the previous day.
Just as some individuals possess varying degrees of dream recall, however, there are those that do indeed recall experiences of the intra-life interim. Tucker teamed up with Poonam Sharma to publish a paper dealing with 276 such cases out of 1200 cases transcribed into their database entitled “Cases of the Reincarnation Type With Memories from the Intermission.” It referred to these cases in shorthand as CORT-I and provided three characteristic stages found in CORT-I, though not every stage makes an appearance in every case: the transitional, stable and return stages. They also and organized them into four subcategories: funeral memories, subsequent worldly disembodied experiences, otherworldly experiences and memories of rebirth.
They also show that subjects in CORT-I cases are more likely to remember their former names as well as the names of others from that life, make more accurate statements regarding that life, bear behavioral correspondences with the former individual as well as birthmarks or defects corresponding with their death wounds and, to top it all off, the location of rebirth is closer to the former death site than the average CORT case.
Their conclusion was that CORT-I only differed from CORT in that the subject had a particularly good memory. It is clear this is the case not only with respect to explicit memory but also includes the implicit, as well as the perhaps-synonymous morphological memory.