by Serge Szmukler-Moncler, D.D.S, Ph.D.
The production during hypnosis of psychic material foreign to the subject (PMFS) is a feature known as past-life memory material. Mainstream scientific authors advocating the scientific materialism paradigm explains it as the result of cryptomnesia, confabulation, imagination or fantasy. During regression hypnosis, an intriguing observation, named ‘crossed past-life memory’, has been reported in which 2 persons relate each a story that involves shared past-life memory. Amazingly, each one provides its own perspective of the tale that appears to be matching and complementary. The aim of this paper is to report on 3 cases of crossed PMFS and claim that the theory endorsed by scientific materialism does not provide a straightforward explanation to the feature of crossed past-life memory material, especially when present-day strangers are involved. Subsequently, it is proposed to consider the pattern of crossed PMFS an anomalous observation to that theory.
Hypnosis is a phenomenon that recently attracted renewed scientific interest because a wide span of potential applications has been identified (Barnes et al. 2010, Domínguez-Ortega et al. 2010, Sohl et al. 2010). What stands behind the hypnotic phenomenon is still the focus of heated debates in the academic circles. One school of thinking asserts that hypnosis is a specific state of altered consciousness (Chertok 1983, Kosslyn et al. 2000). In this state, distinct areas of the brain are stimulated (Kosslyn et al. 2000, Raz et al. 2005), respiration (Van de Vusse et al. 2010) and cerebral activity (Abrahamsen et al. 2010) are modulated and partial amnesia can be suppressed (Chertok 1983). The other school of thinking is known as the social-cognitive school; it claims absence of any specific state of consciousness. According to the latter, hypnosis is the pure result of suggestion. In no way it involves an altered state of consciousness (Bernheim 1886, Spanos 1994, 1996, Barber 2000); what is perceived during the hypnotic trance is merely the result of a social role the hypnotized persons play. The patient undergoing hypnosis is trapped under the authority of a person he considers charismatic; he/she therefore responds to the perceived suggestions with the only aim to meet the expectations of the hypnotherapist (Spanos 1994, 1996, Sumner 2003, Caroll 2005).
Despite controversy over the significance of hypnosis, authors of both schools witnessed individuals producing psychic material foreign to the subject (PMFS) during the hypnotic trance (Drouot 1993, Goldberg 1988, Weiss 1988, Woolger 1987, Spanos 1994, 1996, Pyun & Kim 2009). The difference is that authors belonging to the non-state school reported occurrences in the 40-45% range (Spanos 1994, 1996, Pyun & Kim 2009) while a higher 70-80% frequency has been reported by state-school authors (Woolger 1987).
Interpretation of the past-life memory feature has been the source of conflicting theories; the literature identifies 3 main theories. The first one explains the presence of past-life memory material as the result of cryptomnesia, confabulation, imagination or fantasy (the A theory); this is specifically endorsed by authors pertaining to the scientific materialism school (Spanos 1996, Barber 2000, Carrol 2003, Sumner 2003). The second theory holds that PMFS is no pure fantasy; rather, it is an archetypical expression of psychological significance (Woolger 1987). According to the third theory, the PMFS voiced during hypnosis belongs to the person that experiences it (Woolger 1987, Weiss 1988, 1996). It sustains that people are born and born again over time; each time they are involved into a distinct personality. This approach is often (Goldberg 1988, Weiss 1988) but not necessarily (Woolger 1987) connected to a belief in reincarnation.
In the hypnotic state, patients producing PMFSs recount stories associated with characters of the past. These stories involve love and hate, war, murder, sexual misconduct and so on; in short, all positive and negative events that characterize present human behavior. In addition, patients receive unmistakable perception of clothing, furniture, objects and tools that are related to ancient times and distinct countries.
Occasionally, an amazing pattern called ‘crossed past-life memories’ has been reported (Drouot 1993, Steiger 1983, Weiss 1996, Komianos 2009). It consists of the following: during a hypnotic session, a patient recounts a tale with PMFS in which the relationship of 2 characters is described from the perspective of one of them. In the course of another hypnotic session that may come either close to the first one or years afterwards, the same hypnotherapist or a distinct one collects from another person a similar story. Details are comparable but they are now provided from the perspective of the other character. For example, a person describes in a detailed way how he perceives himself being a Muslim knight beheading a crusader monk with a given sword on a given battlefield. Several years later, another person reports the perception of being a monk beheaded by a Muslim knight, in similar circumstances with comparable details.
The observation of crossed PMFS suits rather well theory number 3 in which the PMFS voiced during hypnosis belongs to the person. The people involved in crossed PMFSs have known each other in past-lives and they are remembering shared events. However, the feature of crossed PMFS might be challenging the A theory endorsed by authors supporting the scientific materialism paradigm. It calls for a sound explanation and it needs to be addressed on the theoretical level.
The aim of the present paper is therefore to report on 3 cases of crossed PMFS and question if the theory of cryptomnesia, confabulation, imagination or fantasy endorsed by the mainstream scientific community can accommodate this feature or it might be considered an anomalous observation to the theory.
Materials & Method
Case Report 1- A lady in her fifties was training at getting hypnotic trances with the indications of a commercially available prerecorded protocol (Drouot 1995). The aim of the recorded tape was to help retrieving a past-life memory related to a ‘spiritual life’. The following story came out over several sessions run during the summer of 1995. The lady perceived she was experiencing a series of PMFSs belonging to the life of a male monk during the 15th century. She mentioned that the earth surrounding of the abbey was red and she felt it was somewhere in Italy. She eventually got the name of this individual as Filippo di Siena. He originated from a noble family and was now in the second half of his life. His occupation was dedicated to perform the carpentry work required for the abbey. He arrived in this place following a given event that she could not retrieve. The lady described how the monk was satisfied of being in this serene place. The monk got older and as an old man the moment of death was recalled.
In spring 2002, the husband of the lady got involved in a hypnotic session led by a hypnotherapist unknown to the lady. The following story came out. The man perceived he was experiencing a PMFS belonging to the life of a 13-year old girl. She wore nice blue clothes and shoes; she was preparing for an important event. Next evening, she would be officially introduced into society during a ball. Her task was to show how elegant was her dancing. Her dance instructor, a mature man, was her partner at this occasion. Then, she regularly took part at balls. The name of the place came out to be Florence in Italian Tuscany. In one of the balls, she saw a 16-17 year old boy and she fell in love with him. She declared her love to the boy that she named Filippo. The latter was coming from a wealthier family than hers. After several years of remaining fiancés, at age of 17 the young lady revealed herself a flirting person. She liked seducing other men just to get reaction from her lover she loved but considered to be too compliant and serious. One day, the young man reacted in a tough way to a wooer; he required reparation of his honor in a duel. Involuntarily, he killed his duelist and was injured himself. Desperate, he escaped in the religious orders. When recording this event, the husband broke into tears as he recognized in Filippo his present wife and said during a deep emotional move: “Filipo, this is O…. (name of his wife)”. The hypnotic session carried on until the end of the life of the flirting lady that was murdered in her bed at the age of 46 by a jealous lover.
Case Report 2 – This report, taken from the literature, has been published by Weiss (1996) in his third book. He related how a lady, he called Elizabeth, in her 30s came for hypnotic therapy for grief and relationship problems. She was born and reared in rural Minnesota; she was living now in Miami. At the same time, Weiss was treating a Mexican man he called Pedro, also suffering from grief. He, too, underwent hypnotic therapy to seek solutions and healing. They were present-day strangers.
Among others, Elizabeth experienced a PMFS in Judea under Roman occupation. She remembered the stones of Jerusalem while living in a small town nearby, with the small dirt and rock roads. She described the houses, the inhabitants, the clothing and the customs. She remembered her father, named Eli, who worked as a potter. She supplied many more descriptions of details of the life in this small village. Her name was Miriam, and she was a happy girl. Progression to the next significant event in that tale led to her father’s premature death at the hands of Roman soldiers.
The invaders frequently tormented the early Christians who lived in Judea at that time. The soldiers tied the father around the ankles and dragged him behind a horse ridden by a soldier. The terrified daughter could hear the soldiers howling with laughter. Then, 2 of the Romans wrapped the free end of the rope around their chests and began prancing around, as if they were horses. Her father lurched forward, his head striking a large rock. He was mortally injured. The soldiers left him in the dusty road. The senselessness of it all added to her piercing anguish, added a bitter anger and hopelessness to her father’s violent demise. She rocked back and forth on the dusty blood-stained ground, her father’s large head cradled in her lap. He could no longer speak. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. She could hear gurgling in his chest every time he labored to breathe. Death was very close. The light in his eyes approached dusk, the end of his day. She softly whispered to him “I love you, father, I will always love you”, looking sadly into his eyes. His dimming eyes looked back and blinked in understanding as they closed for the last time. Her family and the other villagers gently took his body from her so that it could be prepared to be buried.
The girl did not live very long because she did not care about living. Her father’s death had affected her deeply, apparently leading to a profound depression and an early death.
Pedro also experienced a PMFS among others, where he felt the following: “I’m lying on the ground, gravely wounded….. There are soldiers nearby. They have pulled me over the ground and the rocks….. I’m dying!” he gasped. “My head and my side hurt badly” he muttered in a thin voice. “They are no longer interested in me”. The rest of this poor man’s story slowly emerged. When he stopped responding, the soldiers left. He could see them above him in their short leather uniforms and boots. His daughter came to him, wailing and sobbing, and she softly cradled his head in her lap. She rocked rhythmically, and he could feel the life ebbing from his shattered body. He tasted blood in his mouth. His strength was diminishing rapidly now. He tried to speak to his daughter but could not utter a word. A distant gurgling came from somewhere in the depths of his body.
“I love you, father,” he heard her say softly. He was too weak to answer. She was sobbing, completely unaware that he was now at peace, with the pain gone. She was focusing only on his body, a body that no longer held him, rocking slowly back and forth. It came out later that the name of the man was Eli, while some called him Elihu.
The hypnotherapist was amazed that the details of the two Judean lifetimes fitted together. Pedro’s and Elizabeth’s PMFSs meshed perfectly. Physical descriptions, events, and names were the same. In the story, they were involved in a father and daughter relationship.
Because Pedro and Elisabeth did not know each other, Weiss wished to bring them together to see what would come out. He arranged their next visits to be sequential and see each other during a short period of time in the waiting room. As nothing special happened the first time and no one asked about the other, the same strategy was applied once again. No more results emerged from this enterprise.
Sometime later however, they coincidentally met in Boston at the airport. He recognized her from their brief encounters in the waiting room of the hypnotherapist and they started chatting. They discussed their own experiences and discovered that they shared similar stories. Eventually, they get married in Mexico and had a daughter.
Case Report 3 – This case report has been published by Komianos (2009). A 41-year old mother of two came in for weight reduction. After several sessions, the lady, called Artemis in the paper, achieved a significant loss of weight over 2 months. Her sister called Dionne decided as well to try hypnotherapy since she was similarly overweight. The latter was 38 years old; she had one daughter and remained unemployed for more than 8 years. She suffered from insomnia, headaches, nightmares, allergies, phobias, gastritis and lack of “psychological balance”; she smoked and drank heavily. After a few sessions, she wanted to focus on her stormy relationship with her abusive father. Under hypnosis, she found herself at a younger age in her bedroom, where her father was harassing her and abused her; she cried a lot. Then, the hypnotherapist asked her to ‘go back to the time it all started’. A PMFS came out; she experienced herself as a young woman in a British port she named Southampton, where she was to be married with a brutal, selfish sailor. All this man wanted was her family’s money. He could not care less about her. Her fiancée demanded something from her. Because she did not obey him, he attacked her. She managed to escape out of the house and run towards the port. He chased her and threw her in the choppy sea. She dragged herself via some rocks back to the dock where she was beaten again. The fiancé went after her mother. After locating her, he sexually assaulted her and beat her violently. Then he returned back to his fiancée and in the midst of the quay he stabbed her with a knife till she was dead.
Artemis, the sister, came in as the following appointment. The sibling had just time to exchange hello and the hypnotherapist proceeded with Artemis’s session. He asked her to “go to a specific event that is directly relevant to the problematic nature of her relationship with her father”. She experienced a PMFS where she found herself looking at two women. She identified herself as the eldest of the two. It seemed to her that it could be England. She saw that she was not happy and worried about many things; their clothes are old and odd. The younger woman was her daughter, a very slim and beautiful person. Somebody, a man, has hit her again and she was very sad. The mother advised her to leave him and go away. After some time, the mother cried in horror “I lost my child.” Some people were gathered around the body of the daughter, senseless at the port’s jetty. “My daughter is dead,” she cried in agony. She did not want to face it or believe it. The hypnotherapist asked her to move to the moment of her own death and she found herself calm.
The hypnotherapist asked her to regress back to the way she died. “I’m glad that he killed me” she said. He then asked her, “who killed you?”; she answered that is was a man, younger than her, her daughter’s fiancé. “Do you know this person in this life, have you ever met him?” he asked. She identified the violent fiancé of her daughter as her current father and her daughter as her younger sister Dionne.
The younger sister decided to abandon her lazy lifestyle and found work after 8 years of unemployment. She moved out of her father’s house where she had been living, playing the role of his housemaid. She lost weight, quitted drinking alcohol and decided to start her life from scratch. Changes for the older sister were not as radical, despite some non-spectacular improvements that happened in her life.
The reality of PMFS has been widely attested by a variety of researchers (Stevenson 1983, 2000, Weiss 1988, Spanos 1994, 1996, Tucker 2000, Keil & Tucker 2005, Pyud & Kim 2009); it cannot be put into question. On the other hand, crossed PMFS similar to those here reported have been scarcely described in the literature (Drouot 1993, Steiger 1983, Weiss 1996, Komianos 2009). Usually, accounts obtained under hypnosis cannot be verified; false memories can even be implanted during hypnosis (Bernheim 1886, Weitzenhoffer 1953, Rosen et al. 2004, Laney et al. 2005). But as hypnotherapists and regression therapists often put it, there is no therapeutic relevance to look after verification (Woolger 1987, Komianos 2009). Therefore, the present issue is not to historically verify if these stories took place or not; it is neither to prove nor disprove the reincarnation theory. The issue is to find out how this puzzling empirical observation independently made by several hypnotherapists can match the A theory endorsed by mainstream scientists. In other terms, the relevant question is the following: does this theory provide a relevant straightforward explanation of how a narrative, whatever real or not, provided by a person under hypnosis can be matching the narrative of another person obtained under hypnosis, from its complementary perspective?
Before further dealing with this matter, one must check how sound are these case reports and ask if they can be viewed as scientific empirical observations or they should be disregarded. The presently reported observations have been made by 3 distinct hypnotherapists, 2 of them at least have a peer recognized scientific background (Weiss 1988, Szmukler-Moncler et al. 2000, 2004, 2010); they have been performed at distinct times and places. If these case reports cannot receive consideration because of their puzzling content, then every medical case report that provides a new unexpected insight in medicine can be equivalently ignored, e.g. the out of body experience reported by a group of brain researchers following stimulation of a given spot of the brain and published in Nature in 2002 (Blanke et al. 2002) or dental implants deliberately placed through impacted teeth or residual roots (Szmukler-Moncler 2014a, 2014b).
Once it can be accepted that these case reports may belong to the corpus of empirical observations, the next step is to check if these matching stories are not the result of a bias; merely the result of individuals having disclosed their own PMFS to the fellow recounting the complementary PMFS. In 2 of them, the persons undergoing hypnosis were acquainted; they were wife/husband and sisters. But in one of them, the 2 individuals were present-day strangers and their respective stories have been recollected by the same hypnotherapist.
In the first case report, the wife indeed disclosed 6 years ago the content of her PMFS to her husband. Her content, however, was dealing with the second part of the life of the Italian monk; it did not provide any feeding material to the husband’s PMFS that dealt with the first part of it. The reason for the noble young man turning to ecclesiastic life was not indicated in the wife’s recall. In addition, when the husband first named Filippo, a very common Italian name, there was no indication that the Filippo of the beginning of the tale would be the Filippo di Siena he heard about such a long time ago. Also, the fact that the husband explicitly “recognized” in Filippo his present wife and burst into tears is confounding but factual.
In the second case report, Elizabeth and Pedro were strangers and did not have any opportunity to exchange information about their own accounts. The hypnotherapist could have been himself abused by an unconscious wish of getting a proof demonstrating the realm of reincarnation. However, the author (Weiss 1996) suggests that he got enough reliable recollected details, both on the objective level, e.g. description of the village surroundings, names and events, and on the subjective one, e.g. emotions as well as the words that have been exchanged during the dramatic events that led the father to die.
In the third case report (Komianos 2009), the 2 sisters were undergoing hypnosis treatment and generated various PMFSs. The hypnotherapist called them expressly not to exchange about their own experiences, but this request might not have been fulfilled. Yet, the day the crossed PMFSs were evidenced, the sisters did not have any opportunity to disclose their tales because appointments were consecutive. They only met during a short instant in the waiting room of the hypnotherapist and the first sister could not therefore orally communicate about her latest account. Thus, in all 3 cases, the bias of MPFS mutual disclose can safely be discarded.
After having established that these 3 crossed PMFSs cannot be rejected from being valid empirical observations, a comprehensive explanation in accordance with the paradigm of scientific materialism must be undertaken.
The accepted paradigm dealing with PMFS, i.e. the theory endorsed by mainstream scientists, states that cryptomnesia (in Greek, hidden memory), confabulation, imagination and fantasy provide a sustainable explanation of the PMFS feature. According to the cryptomnesia aspect, detailed and vivid elements of the tale are merely due to a forgotten book read in the past or a forgotten movie seen long time ago. They combine past experiences, knowledge, imagination and suggestion or guidance from the hypnotist rather than recall of a previous existence (Edwards 1996, Linse & Shermer 2002, Harris 2003, Carrol 2005, Cordòn 2005,). Once created, the memories are indistinguishable from memories based on events that occurred during the subject’s life (Carrol 2005, Cordòn 2005); they might even be more vivid than factual memories (Spanos 1994, Cordòn 2005). With confabulation, this theory understands that events that never really took place in reality are claimed to be remembered; the account is solely the result of mental sickness. With imagination or fantasy, the events that the patient seems to be recalled are in fact only a fantasy due to inventiveness of the human mind.
Cryptomnesia can indeed be the source of a past-life memory-like material; in certain cases, this hypothesis has been well received by authors that endorse distinct theories (Woolger 1987). In other cases however, abundance of precise details and coherence of the tale are confounding (Steiger 1983), especially when young 2-7 old year children are drawing the scenarios (Stevenson 1977, 1983, 2000, Bowman 1997, Tucker 2000).
Yet, the feature of crossed PMFS questions the A theory in the following way: what are the odds that 2 persons having read the same book or seen the same movie come under hypnosis and account for a similar matching PMFS scenario, each one from its own perspective, in a complementary way? What are the odds that a similar matching PMFS tale can be obtained by confabulation, imagination or fantasy? Can it be attributed to pure hazard and coincidental guessing, or chances of this happening can be statistically ruled out. The issue is even more critical when the 2 people involved in the scenario are strangers as they were in the second case report.
Mainstream authors suggest that past-life memory-like material is the result of hypnotherapist suggestion (Spanos 1994, 1996, Carrol 2005). This means that the present crossed MPFS could have been induced by an unconscious suggestion of the hypnotherapist. In the present 3 cases of crossed MPFS, 2 of them were indeed conducted by the same hypnotherapist. In the first case report however, indications of a recorded tape led to the wife’s MPFS while a hypnotherapist unknown to the wife conducted the husband’s one several years later.
In fact, it is also possible to question the power attributed to hypnotherapists in suggesting their patients to imagine furniture and items like weapons of a precise shape, clothes with a specific cut? When the hypnotherapist suggests “go to the root of your problem” (Weiss 1988) or some other similar vague order (Komianos 2009) while dealing with anorexia, bulimia or any other phobia, does he/she induce also going to a given time and place? Noteworthy, Weiss (1988) stated that he used this formulation the first time he was confronted to a PMFS. At that time, he did not believe that a patient could generate any past-life memory material. Subsequently, he could not have been suggesting anything related to a previous time or place.
Still, one may accept that pure coincidence stays behind complementary MPFS accounts if this solves a single and isolated case. However, albeit rarely reported in the literature (Drouot 1993, Steiger 1983, Weiss 1996, Komianos 2009), such cases are more numerous than the 3 hereto reported. This makes the odds of coincidence even more remote and chance alone might not be enough to explain, in a sound and acceptable way, the reality of mirroring PMFSs, each one providing its own matching perspective. Thus, one can state that the A theory does not provide a sound and straightforward satisfactory explanation to the empirical observation of crossed PMFS.
According to science philosophers Kuhn (1962) and Laszlò (2007), when a given theory, e.g. Newton’s gravity, is validated by repeated observations it can then be established as an accepted paradigm. All further empirical observations are interpreted following the established paradigm. With time however, as the field evolves, new observations can surface. For some of them, the established paradigm is able to provide a straightforward interpretation. For others however, the acknowledged paradigm accepted by mainstream scientists is no longer able to provide an unambiguous explanation that fits smoothly into the paradigm. The latter is called an anomalous observation (Kuhn 1962, Laszlò 2007).
A single anomalous experimental observation has not the capacity to bring down any established paradigm. The reason is that scientists are not easily distracted by anomalies from continued explorations of the promise of a generally still satisfactory paradigm (Kuhn 1962). The established paradigm will reach a crisis phase only when anomalous observations become eventually more numerous and more serious. Crisis will happen only when the modifications necessary to incorporate the anomalous observations produce a certain amount of paradigm destruction (Kuhn 1962).
Enforcement of the above mentioned concept can make crossed PMFS an anomalous experimental observation to the A theory endorsed by mainstream scientists (Spanos 1994, 1996, Caroll 2003,Sumner 2003, Cordon 2005).
From a methodological point of view, going after alternate theories is required only when a sufficient number of anomalous experimental observations are pushing the A theory into crisis (Kuhn 1962). Professionals dealing on a daily basis with PMFS might have other relevant anomalous observations to oppose to the A theory. In this case, they should be gathered until possibly driving the accepted paradigm into the crisis phase described by Kuhn (1962). Nevertheless, before reaching this no-return point, exchange theories may start growing and getting sophisticated at resolving the issues the old theory might finally reveal unable to solve (Laszlò 2007).
Three cases of crossed PMFS have been here reported. Due to their abundance of details, to the fact that it happened to today-strangers and to the fact that distinct hypnotherapists have reported them, one can assert that the theory of mainstream scientists advocating cryptomnesia, confabulation, imagination or fantasy does not provide a straightforward interpretation. Therefore, crossed PMFS may constitute an anomalous observation to that theory with respect to the approach of science philosophers Kuhn (1962) and Laszlò (2007).
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