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Reincarnation and the problem of an open mind

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Little five-year-old Ryan from rural Muskogee County, Oklahoma began having nightmares involving a past life.

Ryan claimed he had been a well-known actor who lived in Hollywood, had a sister who was a famous dancer, and once knew Rita Hayworth.

He said that he had been really rich, married multiple times, loved Chinatown and Chinese food, lived in a house with a swimming pool on “rocks” drive, owned some sort of agency that changed names, and provided a host of other details about this mysterious "previous life."

Ryan's father Kevin, a police officer with thirteen years experience, suggested that mother Cyndi keep track of Ryan’s past-life claims.

To be exact, over time Ryan's mother Cyndi documented 102 specific claims that he made.

Meanwhile, his nightmares continued to get worse. Ryan would turn white and gasp for air, struggling for every breath. He talked about things that seemed gibberish, like a meeting in a New York graveyard with someone he called "Senator Five."

His parents felt the need to do something to help Ryan.

“Do you know who I am yet?” Ryan demanded regularly.

Cyndi heard that if you could get books about the places where children claimed to experience in their past lives, the children often opened up and found some relief.

It might help stop the nightmares.

Cyndi was willing to try just about anything to make them stop.

So, she bought some books about Hollywood.

Flipping through one of them one night, Ryan got excited when he saw a still photograph from an old movie.

“You found me, Mama, you found me!”Ryan said excitedly.

“That’s me, and that’s George” he said, pointing to a picture of George Raft.

The movie from which the promotional photo was taken was titled Night After Night.

Claiming he had worked on the film, Ryan proceeded to describe the plot in detail.

He said Raft played a boxer who lived in a mansion and kept a closet full of guns. Ryan pointed at an unidentified extra shown in the photo, claiming that had once been him.

After his parents obtained and watched Night After Night, they were flabbergasted to realize that Ryan had accurately provided details of the plot before watching the movie.

But they were bitterly disappointed to discover the actor he claimed to have been in a past life had an uncredited role.

Desperate to help their child cope with his recurring nightmares, Kevin and Cyndi contacted Dr. Jim Tucker, medical director of The Child and Family Psychiatry Clinic and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. After interviewing Ryan, Dr. Tucker decided that he and his parents were credible in their claims and merited further investigation.

Tucker figured the best way to help Ryan with his nightmares would be to identify the man in the picture.

With his parents, Ryan looked through hundreds of head shots of actors from the 1930s.

An actor named Ralf Harolde seemed to resemble the man in the photo. However, Ryan wasn’t sure.

Seeking closure and relief from the nightmares, Kevin and Cyndi flew Ryan to Hollywood to trace the footsteps of Ralf Harolde.

But other than handling chopsticks like a seasoned pro in Fong’s Chinese restaurant, Ryan demonstrated no signs of familiarity in his tour of Harolde’s old stomping grounds.

He seemed particularly troubled to learn that Harolde didn’t have a sister.

When his mother said that Harolde’s wife’s name had been Mary, Ryan said, “Maybe that’s the wrong wife.”

Instead, Dr. Tucker suspected Harolde was the wrong guy. He believed that Ryan harbored the same suspicion.

Tucker enlisted the aid of professional film footage researcher Kate Coe, who went to the Academy Library archives and pored through every piece of information researchers could find on the movie Night After Night.

Finally, Coe identified actor Marty Martyn as the man in the picture with George Raft.

Tucker thoroughly researched the life of Martyn, then put Ryan to the test.

Without revealing the identity of Martyn, Tucker showed the boy “photo lineups” of pictures in groups of four.

Ryan easily identified Marty Martyn (born Marty Kolinsky) at various stages of his life, Senator “Five” (Ives of New York), Martyn’s former wife Margie, and other key figures from Martyn’s life that Ryan had referenced on his “list” of past life memories.

Dr. Tucker then asked Ryan’s father to read several names including John Johnson, Willie Wilson, and Robert Robertson.

Ryan correctly selected the name of the actor in the photo, Marty Martyn

After contacting the daughter of Marty Martyn and relaying Ryan’s list of memories from his previous life, Dr. Tucker was able to confirm that 90 of 102 specific references on his list which Ryan had made were verifiably accurate.

Ryan and his family traveled out to Hollywood once more to meet his “daughter”, now approximately the same age as his grandmother.

Seeing his "daughter" as a grown adult seemed to give Ryan closure. He no longer has nightmares and now acts much like any other child his age.

As a professed Christian, I readily admit that this sort of information falls outside my normal comfort zone in terms of experience.

But as someone who regularly chastises my atheist friends for being unwilling to challenge their personal system of beliefs with new information, it would be hypocritical for me to refuse to acknowledge that information such as this allegedly exists.

If I'm going to "practice what I preach", I have to investigate.

Dr. Tucker is a well known, accredited expert in his field. I must respect his application of scientific method to the problem of reincarnation. And I also respect his candor in an interview with David Ian Miller about his book Life before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives when he said,

What I say in the book is that after reviewing many of the strongest cases we have, the best explanation for them is that memories and emotions at times seem to be able to carry from one life to the next. So I think the evidence is there to support [reincarnation]. Now, if you are asking, Is it part of my personal belief system? Not particularly. I'm not a Buddhist or Hindu or anything like that. I'm open to the possibility, obviously, or I wouldn't be spending time on this research. But I'm not a zealot as far as pushing some sort of religious doctrine.

The problem with information such as this is that it falls outside of our comfort zone. We have no frame of reference, no personal experiences to draw upon that might corroborate such beliefs.

I can’t say I’ve experienced a previous life.

I have no memories or experiences comparable to that Ryan claimed to have.

But by the same token, I cannot automatically dismiss the evidence in support of Ryan, especially in light of the fact it was so thoroughly documented, and obtained using the scientific method.

[Source: The Unexplained television show on the Biography Channel]

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