Saturday, August 29, 2009

Alleged reincarnation of a fighter pilot, revisited

Last night I posted about a young boy who allegedly exhibited knowledge, memories and other 'symptoms' of a US Navy fighter pilot killed during the invasion of Iwo Jima in World War II. I confessed that

A commenter on that post, Andrew C., pointed me to another Web site that casts doubt on the authenticity of the story, as it was reported on the ABC television network. Here's an extract from what they have to say.

Looks pretty conclusive from the way it was presented on ABC, yes? Actually no. The TV company, looking for ratings rather than the truth, didn’t tell the full story. In particular, they missed this rather important piece of the timeline, as reported by the Pittsburgh Daily Courier:

At 18 months old, his father, Bruce Leininger, took James to the Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas, where the toddler remained transfixed by World War II aircraft.

A few months later, the nightmares began.

(My bold. Note: this information came from the child’s mother.)

According to the ABC special, the child “was only watching kids' shows… and they weren't watching World War II documentaries or conversing about military history”. Really? Yet somehow they forgot to mention the WORLD WAR II AIR MUSEUM he had visited. Sheesh! Don’t you think that revealing this information might have made a slight difference to the story?

It gets worse:

Andrea's mother suggested she look into the work of counselor and therapist Carol Bowman, who believes that the dead sometimes can be reborn.

With guidance from Bowman, they began to encourage James to share his memories — and immediately, Andrea says, the nightmares started to become less frequent. James was also becoming more articulate about his apparent past, she said.

(My bold.)

I’d like to suggest a slightly different version of this story that is entirely consistent with the facts, but doesn’t require us to believe the extraordinary claim of reincarnation.

It starts when this child’s parents take him to a WWII air museum. Now, the article says this was the “Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas”, but I presume it meant to say the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas. And at this place they have on display a WWII Corsair (the plane James will later say he flew). According to the museum’s Corsair web page:

The famous gull-wing design of the F4U Corsair makes the plane one of the most distinctive fighters of World War II

This young boy, not unusually, is excited by the planes, and remembers the name of the distinctive Corsair he saw with the unusual gull-wing, plus many other details, including things his mother didn’t remember, such as these drop fuel tanks that are also displayed at the museum.

Naturally, this small boy was fascinated by warplanes and he remembered obscure details about them that his mother didn’t. Of course, he enjoyed showing off this knowledge to her, later.

However, although he was excited by the planes, the images of WWII battles also frightened him, and they soon began to give him nightmares about being trapped in a plane on fire.

This is when the real problem starts. The child’s grandmother, for no obvious rational reason I can think of, suggests he is remembering a past life. She brings in Carol Bowman (an author of several books on reincarnation), to “affirm” James' nightmares. (Bowman is said to have been influenced by Ian Stevenson – another reincarnation proponent who is known to ask leading questions of young children.) Bowman “encourages” James in his fantasies, also with leading questions. Unsurprisingly, the child cooperates in this fantasy building. After all, they’re telling him he was a real pilot.

. . .

Considering how his mother has apparently “forgotten” about the museum visit that started the whole thing off, I am disinclined to take either of James’ parents’ word for it that the child “remembered” these items exactly as claimed. This is hardly extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary claim.

There's more at the link.

So, without wishing to cast aspersions on the young man concerned, it appears that there may be factors not mentioned in the original report that may have affected his 'recollections' and warped his understanding of what was going on. I guess each person will have to make up his or her own mind: but I'm satisfied there are sufficient grounds to question the report.

Many thanks to Andrew C. for pointing me in the direction of the Skeptico post on this matter.



Becky said...

So if not a past life, an interesting study of how much a baby observes, absorbs, and retains? The age involved is what trips me up. Maybe the kid is some kind of genius; certainly could express himself well at 2.

Laser Jock said...

That sounds about right. My son is 3 now, but even when he was two he had developed a rather detailed fantasy world. Every day I'd come home and talk about my work and my students (I'm a professor). Soon he started talking about his "work," the equipment he had there, and his students. We've had to work hard to make sure he understands that these things are only in his imagination. With a little bit of encouragement, his "work" would have become as real to him as anything else. Kids are such sponges (particularly at that age) that they will remember intimate details of things that you don't. Imagination can be good thing, but it must be carefully directed. Thanks for the update.