Past life regression (PLR) can be both an experimental technique and a form of therapy, but it has scientific credibility only if reincarnation is scientifically proven to exist. The existence of reincarnation is not yet a scientific truth. Recent studies indicate that reincarnation deserves to be recognized as a scientific hypothesis because it can be falsified or confirmed through scientific research. For this reason, the international field studies of Dr. Ian Stevenson are immensely important. Any idea that has clinical utility has clinical validity, but the clinical validity of PLR has not yet been convincingly demonstrated.
The most famous case of past life regression (PLR) is undoubtedly Bridey Murphy. It is a historical case. In the mid-20th century, Morey Bernstein, a Colorado businessman who had practiced hypnotism for ten years with hundreds of different people, decided to try to throw someone back to one or more past lives. He chose a woman named Virginia Tighe as his subject, knowing that she had the ability to enter a deep trance with ease. Between November 29, 1952, and August 29, 1953, Bernstein made six attempts to facilitate Virginia’s regression. During those sessions, he recalled a brief life when he was a baby who died. After that, the figure of Bridey Murphy emerged, more formally Bridget Kathleen Murphy.
After her first experience as Bridey, Virginia transformed into her alter ego every time she was invited to do so in a trance state. It offered a significant amount of information about Ireland, none of which had an explainable way of knowing as Virginia Tighe. She said she was born in Cork in 1798, the daughter of a Protestant lawyer named Duncan Murphy and his wife Kathleen. He had a brother named Duncan Blaine Murphy, who had married Aimee Strayne. Another brother had died in infancy. Bridey said that at age twenty she married in a Protestant ceremony to a Catholic, Brian Joseph McCarthy, the son of another Cork lawyer. Brian and Bridey moved to Belfast, where he attended school and eventually progressed to teach law at Queen’s University. They had no children and Bridey lived to be sixty-six.
In Ireland no record of any of these events has been identified. However, during her narration of her experiences as Bridey, Virginia mentioned the names of two Belfast shopkeepers, Farr’s and John Carrigan. It was possible to verify that two shopkeepers by those names were operating retail businesses in the city at the appropriate time. She said her address in Cork was The Meadows, and it was established that there is an area in that city called Mardike Meadows. Queen’s University in Belfast is, of course, a renowned educational establishment. Virginia used certain distinctive words that, in research, were used in Ireland in Bridey’s time, such as “abandoned” for “buried,” “linen” to mean a handkerchief, and “wash” for river or lake. Those who were convinced of the veracity of Virginia’s memories pointed out that it was unlikely that a girl born and raised in the United States, such as Virginia, would know these terms. Investigative reporters concluded that there was some evidence of “something”, yet to be explained. Credible hypnosis experts claim to have debunked this case, but the late Professor Ian Stevenson, who has investigated many cases of children remembering past lives, deemed it worthy of closer examination.
“Finding Carroll Beckwith” (Robert L. Snow, 1999, Finding Carroll Beckwith. Pennsylvania: Daybreak books) is an interesting case of past life regression. Carroll Beckwith was a minor portraitist who had lived and worked in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He had never done anything extraordinary that made him immortal as an artist. Captain Robert L. Snow is a commander in the homicide section of the Indianapolis Police Department. He discovered while under hypnosis that he was Carroll Beckwith in a previous life. Snow wanted to disprove the images he had experienced while under hypnosis as a form of cryptomnesia. Snow was already disenchanted with hypnotherapeutic procedures in child sexual abuse cases. The regression took place in 1992 and Captain Snow was able to find 28 details of his regression that could be proven or disproved.
Rather than refute the veracity of his images, Snow proved that most of the memories he had while hypnotized actually took place nearly 100 years earlier. While on vacation in New Orleans, Captain Snow walked into an art gallery on a dark side street where he came across the painting from his memory: The Hunchbacked Woman. He learned that Beckwith’s personal diaries and an unpublished autobiography existed in a local New York library. For a detective, that was definitive evidence to close or prove the case. From Beckwith’s diaries, he found that 26 points out of 28 matched the life of Carroll Beckwith. His memories include that Beckwith used a cane even though he was not disabled, he visited France, he drank wine (whiskey was the popular drink in the US), he did not like to paint portraits, he was upset by bad tapestries and the lighting at art exhibitions, he painted the portrait of a hunchbacked woman, the mother died of a blood clot, the wife Berth had no children, Berth used to play the piano or sing for her friends, etc. Captain Snow misunderstood the former personality’s wife’s name, but his frank admission adds to his credibility. Snow claims that he has more proof of the existence of his previous life than most murder cases and is convinced that he carries some of Carroll Beckwith’s memories. Parapsychologists could offer alternative explanations for even those seemingly true memories. Captain Snow simply concludes in his book: “I cannot accept that, with the billions of people who have inhabited the Earth, my case is unique, that mine would be the only case since John the Baptist, whom some say that Jesus describes in Matthew as the rebirth of Elijah. “
Extreme skeptics of past life regression might explain hypnotic past life memories as a “walking” phenomenon that has not been discussed in the scientific literature of parapsychology.