We are glad to present an interview with Dr. Jim Tucker, a psychiatrist who is the Bonner- Lowry Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. Dr. Tucker is one of the leading researchers in the study of cases of persons who remember previous lives. His books Life Before Life and Return to Life focus on his studies of these cases and the studies of others.To order Dr. Jim Tucker’s books
1. What kind of evidence for survival of death is most convincing for you?
I think each area of survival research contributes intriguing evidence. The mediumship work from a hundred years ago appears to demonstrate that a few talented mediums had access to information they could not have obtained through normal means. The question that has remained unanswered, of course, is whether they obtained this information from deceased individuals, as they appeared to, or through some other paranormal means.
Some of the reports of near-death experiences also offer evidence of survival, at least survival of consciousness when the brain has largely stopped functioning. The evidence is particularly strong in cases in which the individual has been able to provide veridical details of events that occurred around the body, or even in other locations. The “Peak in Darien” cases, in which people during NDEs see deceased individuals in the Afterlife whom they hadn’t previously known had died, also offer strong evidence.
My own area of study, cases of young children who describe memories of previous lives, offers significant evidence for survival as well. At the very least, it strongly suggests that some young children have memories of a life from the past. As these memories are from the point of view of one deceased individual, and are often accompanied by the emotions that person experienced, the cases suggest that the previous individual survived death and then continued on in a new life.
2. How have you contributed to the study of survival of death?
Along with several colleagues in other countries, I am continuing Ian Stevenson’s work at the University of Virginia exploring the cases of young children who report memories of previous lives. I have published two books on the cases. The first, Life Before Life, was an overview of the research. The second one, Return to Life, contains the stories of recent American cases. These are not only free of the cultural factors that could influence cases from places with a general belief in reincarnation, but some of them also include well-documented details the child gave that turned out to be accurate for a deceased person unknown to either the child or the parents.
3. How close do you feel we are we in establishing without a doubt that there is life after death?
To some extent, the answer to that question lies in the eye of the beholder. Some people look at the evidence now accumulated and are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt; others are not. In my own mind, I would say we’ve established that something involving consciousness is going on that cannot be explained away, but I’m not convinced that survival is the only way to make sense of it.
As for mainstream science, I don’t think it will accept the possibility of life after death in the foreseeable future, and it may never accept it. For it to do so, a new paradigm would need to replace scientific materialism. If that happened and the new one allowed for the possibility of life after death, then scientists might assess the current evidence we have already accumulated and conclude that life after death does indeed occur.
4. Can you mention some of your current projects related to the topic of survival of death?
I’ve been focusing lately on American cases of children who report memories of previous lives, and I plan to continue that work. We have also been involved recently in a random sample survey of American parents, to see how many have children who report these memories or similar ones, such as memories of heaven or of being born.
In addition, we are continuing to work on compiling a database in which each case is coded on over 200 variables. Though we have already published a couple of papers using a partial dataset, we are still working to code all the cases previously studied, and we now have over 2,000 of them completed. This will allow continued analysis of this very interesting phenomenon.