Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 5

Chapter 26: How Stands the Case for the Reality of Survival as Reincarnation

1. Mediumistic communications from minds surviving discarnate, vs. memories in a reincarnated mind | 2. Reincarnation as "possession" | 3. Reincarnation and illusion of memory | 4. Extrasensory perceptions, vs. memories of an earlier life | 5. What would be the best possible evidence of reincarnation

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          THE DISTINCTIONS formulated in Secs. 2, 3, and 4 of Chapt. XIV make it possible to give to the expression "survival after death" a meaning which is precise but involves no assumption as to whether the life-after-death one has in view is life discarnate, or life reincarnate. In the present chapter, however, what we are concerned with is survival specifically as reincarnation of the mind, or of some part of the mind, of a deceased person in another human body. The question before us is therefore whether the facts we have reviewed, which seem to evidence reincarnation, admit of alternative interpretations perhaps more plausible.

1. Mediumistic communications from minds surviving discarnate, vs. memories in a reincarnated mind

If the possibility of life at all after death is assumed, then the most obvious of the alternative interpretations of the facts which suggest reincarnation is the one Spiritualists would ordinarily adopt; namely, that the person, through whose organs of expression true statements are uttered concerning the past life on earth of a deceased person, is not a reincarnation of the mind of the deceased, but is a medium through whose temporarily borrowed lips or hand the surviving discarnate mind of the deceased speaks or writes, mentioning facts of its past life it remembers, that are adequate to identify him.

This hypothesis concerning the source of true communications of past facts recommends itself especially when, as for instance in the case of Mrs. Piper, the true communications received appear to emanate from several quite different persons who were contemporaries of one another. On the other hand, the reincarnation hypothesis remains as plausible as the Spiritualistic when, as in the Bridey Murphy case, virtually only one personality manifests itself through the entranced organism, and does so steadily throughout a prolonged series of experiments; or, if several personalities appear, they present themselves as a series of incarnations of the same entity, memory including experiences of discarnate existence during the intervals between the several incarnations. In the Bridey Murphy case, there seemed to be memory of a brief and painful life as a sick baby in New Amsterdam at some time before the birth of Bridey; but because of its brevity, of the distress attaching to it, and of the unlikelihood that it could have contained memories of verifiable details, Bernstein did not push the attempt to explore it. There is no evidence, then, that this brief life as a sick baby actually occurred, nor that the scanty account of it Virginia gave represented a memory of some episode rather than only an invention to satisfy the hypnotist's demand for regression to a time before Bridey's birth.

2. Reincarnation as "possession"

The best case on record of reincarnation as "possession" is that of the Watseka Wonder described in Sec. 4 of Chapt. XVII. In that case, the mind of a definitely identified person, Mary Roff deceased at age 18 some 12 years before, did to all intents and purposes reincarnate in the body not of a neonate but of a 13 year old girl, Lurancy Vennum, displacing altogether the latter's personality for a period of some 14 weeks.

Reincarnation in the sense this would illustrate is very rare, and is anyway not reincarnation as ordinarily conceived, which is not thus episodic but lasts through the whole time between the birth and death of the body concerned; and in which what is reincarnated is not a developed mind and therefore can be supposed to be only a set of latent aptitudes brought from one or more previous lives.

It should, however, be noted that aside from this, reincarnation in the "possession" sense illustrated by the Watseka Wonder case differs from the cases of direct control of a medium's body by the surviving mind of a deceased person only in two respects, which are a matter of degree rather than of kind.

One is that, in the mediumistic cases, the "possession," i.e., the direct control, is but momentary - usually a matter of minutes rather than of even as long as an hour - whereas Mary Roff's possession or "direct control" of Luraney's body endured for more than three months.

The other difference is that the body Mary Roff "controlled" was not in trance like that of a medium used for communication by the surviving mind of a deceased person, but was as aware of and active upon its physical environment as that of a normal person. It is true that some mediums or automatists do not go into trance while giving communications purporting to emanate from the surviving mind of a deceased person. But in this case this means that they remain aware that they are functioning as an intermediary, while so functioning. That is, only a part of their organism is being "possessed" - only their organs of speech or of writing. Their body does not, even for the duration of the sťance, proceed to behave and to occupy itself as it would if the "possessing" personality were controlling the whole body instead of only its organs of speech or its hand. In the Watseka case, on the other hand, the Mary Roff personality possessed the whole of Lurancy's body which, during 14 weeks, then did occupy itself and respond to its environment as Mary Roff's own body would have, had it been still alive and occupied by the mind of Mary Roff.

3. Reincarnation and illusion of memory

If the possibility of survival after death is not, as in the two preceding sections it was, assumed ab initio, then the verified memories that purport to be memories of an earlier life on earth of the person who has them are likely to be dismissed by the critic as being really illusions of memory similar to those cited in Sec. 2 of Chapt. XXII, of a man whose memories of incidents in the Harrison presidential campaign really were memories only of the images of those incidents lie had formed as a child from descriptions of them by his uncles.

The difference would be only that the experient's verified memories, instead of being referred by him to an early part of his life, would be referred to an earlier life he imagined he had lived on earth; whereas the truth would be that the facts he really remembers are facts he learned in a normal manner during his present life and then forgot, but which the subconscious part of his mind retained, and which eventually emerged again into his consciousness in dramatized form as content of a so-called "progignomatic fantasy;" that is, of an imagination or day-dream which he does not realize to be this, of himself as living on earth a life anterior to his present one. The fantasy might be presenting itself spontaneously as an effect of repression of strong but unacknowledged impulses or cravings. Or it might be created under hypnosis, in compliance with the hypnotist's command to the subject to push back his consciousness to a time earlier than the birth or conception of his body.

Evidently, the acceptability or not in a given case, of this explanation of the fact that the incidents remembered and ascribed to an earlier life did really occur, though in the present life, turns on the probability or improbability or perhaps the certainty or impossibility - in the light of all we know about the person's contacts, his education, his available sources of information, etc. - that he should have learned normally during the course of his present life the past facts he now remembers but refers to an earlier life.

The probability that he did so learn them, however, depends in part on the "antecedent" improbability that the mind, or any part of the mind, of a deceased person survives after death; for if it does not, it could of course not remember anything. But in Part III it was shown that such survival is not antecedently either improbable or probable - the allegations to the contrary being based not on facts known, but only on gratuitous fideistic or scientistic assumptions.

4. Extrasensory perceptions, vs. memories of an earlier life

If one proceeds under the assumption that survival after death is not possible, and if it turns out to be highly improbable or impossible that some of the memories purportedly of an earlier life should really be memories of facts normally learned in the present life and then forgotten, then one might attempt to account for the correspondence of those purported memories to real facts by supposing that the person concerned ascertained those facts not normally but by extrasensory perception - by telepathy, perhaps, from the minds of persons who know them, or by clairvoyance or retrocognition. The probabilities or improbabilities of this, however, are the same no matter whether the survival to which this supposition would provide an alternative be survival as reincarnation, or survival in a discarnate state. It will be recalled that in Chapt. XIX, we examined Prof. E. R. Dodds' contention that the identificatory information alleged by believers in survival to emanate from the surviving discarnate spirits of deceased persons is really obtained through unconscious exercise of telepathy or/and clairvoyance by the mediums or automatists who communicate it; and we concluded that although some of the prima facie evidence for survival may with some plausibility be explained away in this manner, nevertheless certain others of the evidential items cannot be so accounted for without postulating for extrasensory perception a scope far outranging that for which there is independent evidences; nor without depending even then on certain additional and unplausible postulations.

These conclusions apply with equal force when the form of survival under consideration is not discarnate survival specifically but is survival as reincarnation, whether immediately after death or after survival in a discarnate state for some time.

5. What would be the best possible evidence of reincarnation

That the mind of a now living person is the same mind as that of a person whose body died some time before means, according to the analysis offered in Sec. 4 of Chapt. XIV, that the mind of the person who died has become the mind present in the now living person. If they are in this sense the same mind, then automatically the history of the later one includes the history of the earlier one. Such knowledge, however, as a mind has of its own history consists of such memories as it has of its past experiences.

At this point, we need to distinguish between memories and memory. Memory is the capacity of a mind to "remember" past events that were its own subjective experiences, and objective events or facts that it experienced, i.e., perceived. According to the analysis of the notion of "capacity" - or "ability" or "disposition" or "power" - given in Sec. 2 of Chapt. VI, a capacity is an abiding causal connection between any event of a given kind C and some event of a given other kind E, occurring in any state of affairs of a given kind S. And exercise of a capacity - e.g., of the capacity designated "memory" - is what occurs when an event of kind C occurring in a state of affairs of kind S causes in it an event of kind E. - e.g., awareness of an event experienced in the past.

A memory, on the other hand, is the present awareness of an event or fact one experienced in the past, which occurs if something now causes exercise of one's capacity to remember that event or fact. Memory, then, is a capacity, not an occurrence; whereas a memory is an occurrence, not a capacity.

If now we ask how a given mind knows itself to be the same mind as one which existed earlier, the answer is as follows.

If a memory it has is of a subjective experience - e.g., of a thought, an emotion, an intention, a desire, etc., which it had - and it is a genuine memory of it, then the mind that has this memory is necessarily the same mind as the mind that had the subjective experience remembered; for nobody but oneself can remember his own subjective experiences. Another person could, at most, only remember such perceptible objective expressions, if any and whether candid or deceitful, as one gave to them; and anyway one gives no perceptible expression to many of them. This, however, brings up the question whether memory of any of one's subjective experiences can be illusory not genuine; and I submit that, if one distinguishes clearly between subjective experiences themselves, and such status - e.g., of "dream," or "hallucination," or "perception," or "sign of..." etc. - as one may ascribe to them, then it becomes evident that memory of one's subjective experiences, like presentness of them, cannot be illusory. For illusion is possible at all only where interpretation enters. And pastness of a subjective experience one remembers is not inferred but is just as direct an experience as is presentness of a subjective experience. Vacuousness of the supposition that one's memory of a subjective experience can be illusory (e.g., of a subjective experience one calls "pain," or "dizziness," or "fear," or "bitter taste," etc.) follows from the fact that any attempt one might make to prove either that it is or is not illusory would automatically presuppose that one does remember the subjective experience one designates by the particular one of those words one employed.

If, on the other hand, a memory is of some objective fact or event, then the only evidence there could be - which, however, would be adequate - that a mind whether incarnate or discarnate having that memory is the same mind as a certain mind that was incarnate at a given earlier time, would consist of the following three items together: (a) that the memories of objective facts or events the present mind has include memories of them which the earlier mind had; (b) that these included memories were veridical, i.e., are known to correspond to what those objective facts or events were; and (c) that those memories are known to be genuinely memories because the person having them is known not to have had opportunity to acquire his knowledge of those objective facts or events in any way other than personal observation of them.

Possession by a given mind of memories of subjective experiences of an earlier mind. or/and possession of memories of objective facts or events also remembered by that earlier mind, would thus mean that the earlier mind had eventually become the given mind and was thus an intrinsic early part of it.

This relation, however, is precisely the relation which, according to the accounts we have of the cases of Katsugoro, of Alexandrina Samona, and of Shanti Devi, did obtain between the whole of the memories each had, and the portion of these relating to a period anterior to the birth of their present body.

These cases, then - if the reports are accurate, which we have of them and of other cases where memory likewise spontaneously extends to a period earlier than the birth or conception of the present body - provide the best conceivable kind of evidence that the person having those memories is a reincarnation of one who had died earlier. Indeed, the account we have of each of these cases, if it is accurate, constitutes an account of what it means, to say that the mind of a given deceased person reincarnated in the body of a neonate who has now reached a certain age.

If, however, we wish to speak - as ordinarily - of reincarnation also in cases other than these; that is, in cases like that of each of the rest of us, where no such spontaneous memories of an earlier incarnation are possessed; then that which is supposed to be reincarnated in our body cannot be an earlier mind. It can be only the "seed" left by an earlier mind - a seed consisting of the set of what Prof. Broad would term its "supreme dispositions," and which we have described as the set of its basic aptitudes; that is, of its capacities to acquire under respectively appropriate circumstances various more determinate kinds of capacities.

It is conceivable, however, that one of those reincarnated basic aptitudes should be aptitude to regain, under appropriate stimulus, memories now latent that would satisfy requirements (a), (b), and (c) above, and would therefore be memories of an earlier incarnation. Moreover, the appropriate stimulus - or a sometimes adequate stimulus - for the regaining of them whether temporarily or enduringly, might consist of a demand to this effect made on a person under hypnosis by the hypnotist.

To have regained them in this manner would then mean that knowledge of the sameness of the mind of the deceased person and of the mind of the person who has been given that stimulus, has been temporarily or enduringly achieved, instead of having been spontaneous and native as in the cases of Katsugoro and of the other children cited.

Contents | Previous Chapter



Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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