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Tags afterlife , paranormal , parapsychology , reincarnation

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Old 10th July 2010, 05:47 AM   #1
Illiadus
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What Evidence Would Be Sufficient To Prove Reincarnation?

Greetings fellow skeptics,

My hope for this thread is to have as many people as possible state what criteria would satisfy their need for evidence to accept reincarnation as real. The purpose is to find a common ground, the smallest common denominator, if you will, of what is to be considered objective repeatable evidence in the field of reincarnation research, which is a rapidly growing enterprise.

These criteria, summed up, could then be used to debunk past life research, which, like UFOs and Bigfoots, presumably fall outside of the $1M challenge.

Just to get you started, there are three basic types of reincarnation research today:
- Kids with moles (Ian Stevenson)
- Hypnosis (Brian Weiss)
- Facial comparisions (Walter Semkiw)

Someone has to pick Walter.


Thank you!
Thomas the New Guy


NOTE: I've removed a potentially insulting joke about India and belief in reincarnation from this post, which is refered to by the earliest posters. I apologize for the confusion. It's my first day here, if that counts for anything.

Last edited by Illiadus; 10th July 2010 at 07:12 AM.
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Old 10th July 2010, 05:51 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Illiadus View Post
Should you bother? Well, there's a billion reincarnationists in India.
With nukes.
Wouldn't a belief in reincarnation be an excellent reason not to use nuclear weapons? If you believe you're going off to heaven/72 virgins/whatever, who cares if the planet you leave behind is a smouldering crater? If I believed in reincarnation, the last thing I'd want is to have to spend my next life traipsing through a radioactive wasteland.
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Old 10th July 2010, 05:57 AM   #3
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On a brief look at the three 'researchers' you list none of them appear to hold any great credibility.
On the assumption that reincarnation is the transferrance of a soul that previously resided in a being (now dead) to a new being (alive), the first thing that you need is evidence for the existence of a soul. Until you have that everything else is just evidence that weird stuff happens sometimes.
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:00 AM   #4
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I'll try again:

If reincarnation was a real phenomenon, what evidence would prove its existence?
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:00 AM   #5
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The moles and the faces are fruitless approaches. There is no way either of those could ever be considered evidence for reincarnation, as there is a far simpler, more realistic explanation - people have moles, and some people look like some other people.

The hypnosis thing could theoretically be used to provide evidence for reincarnation. The person under hypnosis would have to demonstrate knowledge that was verifiably possessed by his supposed earlier incarnation and that the person could not have acquired by any mundane means.

The latter condition is the problem, of course. I'm not aware of there being a situation in the past few decades where there has been verifiable information of a past event, but we can be absolutely certain that the people we are studying have never had access to said information. Certainly it's never been the case in any reincarnation studies that I know of.

The basic idea is, reincarnation can be accepted as a phenomenon if it can predict events with more accuracy than the accepted theories. The accepted theories predict that a human will not display accurate information if he has never acquired that information - in this life. If this prediction can be shown to be false, then we can talk about reincarnation.

All of that has very little to do with convincing Hindus, of course. If we want to convince them, we don't need to provide proper tests debunking reincarnation - we need to teach them why such tests are necessary.
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:16 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Illiadus View Post
I'll try again:

If reincarnation was a real phenomenon, what evidence would prove its existence?
Oh, so we're to just ignore your casual racism? Gotcha.
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:38 AM   #7
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Are you calling me a racist, Sledge?

Which part was racist? That people in India believe in reincarnation or that they have nuclear weapons?
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:40 AM   #8
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Yes. Yes I am. Oh, and editing your post after someone has referred to part of it is generally regarded as impolite at best.
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:44 AM   #9
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I'm sorry, is this for real? I've offended you with a comment, but you're also offended that I removed the offensive comment so that it can't hurt anyone else's feelings?

Am I getting that right?
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:48 AM   #10
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No, you're not getting that right. I asked you a question about something you said. Rather than respond to that, you've edited the comment out of your post. That is generally regarded as disingenuous.
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:50 AM   #11
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Are you a troll?

You're not here to answer the question. Why are you here?
What do you want? I don't get it.
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:56 AM   #12
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What Evidence Would Be Sufficient To Prove Reincarnation?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Greetings fellow skeptics,

My hope for this thread is to have as many people as possible state what criteria would satisfy their need for evidence to accept reincarnation as real. The purpose is to find a common ground, the smallest common denominator, if you will, of what is to be considered objective repeatable evidence in the field of reincarnation research, which is a rapidly growing enterprise.

These criteria, summed up, could then be used to debunk past life research, which, like UFOs and Bigfoots, presumably fall outside of the $1M challenge.

Just to get you started, there are three basic types of reincarnation research today:
- Kids with moles (Ian Stevenson)
- Hypnosis (Brian Weiss)
- Facial comparisions (Walter Semkiw)

Someone has to pick Walter.


Thank you!
Thomas the New Guy
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:59 AM   #13
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I think Mirrorglass summed it up pretty well - to begin with it needs to be demonstrated that a phenomenon exists.

If reincarnation was real, what effects would be detectable which are not explicable by alternative hypotheses? It depends on what precisely one means by reincarnation, though I guess a universal one would be possession of information which could not have been learned in this lifetime, yet can be verified as accurate (which of course makes it tricky to find, as one condition usually precludes the other).
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Old 10th July 2010, 06:59 AM   #14
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Let's see: I ask you a question, you refuse to answer and edit your post to remove what I was questioning, and I'm the troll? I think I have a pictue of you somewhere... ah, here it is:

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Old 10th July 2010, 07:10 AM   #15
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Jack, thank you for answering the question.

In your opinion, what would constitute that a phenomenon exists that in Stevenson's words "suggests reincarnation" and thus needs to be explained?

If you let your imagination run wild, could anything make you go: "I need to find out if that is a sign of reincarnation"?
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Old 10th July 2010, 07:14 AM   #16
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Sledge, I apologize both for the joke, which I now understand was inappropriate, and for making changes in the post. It's my first time here and I won't make the same mistake from now on.

Do you think we can get along?
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Old 10th July 2010, 07:23 AM   #17
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I would accept reincarnation as real if Illiadus and Sledge are reincarnated as each other...
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Old 10th July 2010, 07:38 AM   #18
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I think reincarnation would be incredibly hard to prove to a skeptic because there's no way for to properly blind a test.

If I take all my secrets to the grave and somebody else is born who claims to be me, how could they prove it? I can't confirm that they know super-secret information if I'm dead. If the secrets are known by any other people, then they're not truly secret, and that information could be passed on to a reincarnation claimant by mundane means.

If an enthusiast exclaims, "That's something only Stan would know!" that person is lying. How does he/she know something that "only" Stan would know?

I guess the "smallest threshhold" for me would be a very young child who was born already knowing all kinds of information that they wouldn't possibly have the time to acquire by natural means. A three-year old, say, who could do taxes and calculus, and talk about politics and pop culture across the decades with the experience of somebody who'd truly been there.

Nobody's studying those children because they don't exist. Most reincarnation claimants seem to only possess the very common knowledge of their alleged past lives, easily accessed through books or the internet.
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Old 10th July 2010, 07:47 AM   #19
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Thank you, Countess, for your post.

Would a hypnotized three-year old with the type of knowledge you mention be acceptable as evidence? Or would it have to be spontaneous?
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Old 10th July 2010, 08:03 AM   #20
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Either, as long as the hynotized three-year old could have an extended conversation, and answer questions from a variety of people about a wide variety of topics.

It can't be a rehearsed speech or a conversation limited to a few talking points which the child could have been forced to memorize.
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Old 10th July 2010, 08:15 AM   #21
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100 years ago, claims of reincarnation would be easier to prove because information was localized. If a man from New York claimed to have intimate knowledge about someone in Saigon who had died previous to the New Yorker's birth, it would take extensive research over a long period of time, and probably a few personal trips.
In today's information-rich society, not much is private and incredible amounts of what used to be considered private knowledge can be found out by someone with just a bit of internet know-how.
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Old 10th July 2010, 08:48 AM   #22
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Thank you, Czar, for your insightful answer.

Since the trend of information availability seems irreversible, do you think the Semkiwian approach stands a better chance?

In case you're unfamiliar with it, Walter Semkiw proposes that you can take an entire group of people and find a corresponding group of people who lived, let's say a hundred years earlier, and they each look like their dead counterpart, have the same personality traits, the same talents, et c.

His own findings are not convincing to me, but if such evidence surfaced, what would you make of it? What level of correspondence would be evidential, for yourself, if any?

Would seeing someone with your face, whose friends and family resembled yours and who lived the life you'd imagine yourself living in that era convince you or not?

Could it be tested scientifically? How?

I direct these questions to you, but also to anyone interested in answering them, of course.
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Old 10th July 2010, 08:52 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Illiadus View Post
I'll try again:

If reincarnation was a real phenomenon, what evidence would prove its existence?
People actually getting better. Assuming that the point of reincarnation is to learn life's lessons shouldn't we see some who have done this?
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:03 AM   #24
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Thank you, Tsig.

I agree that moral advancement should be part of reincarnation if such a thing exists, but must we not first identify two people as being incarnations made by the same "energy" (woo alert) and then see if that incarnating entity has improved morally in whatever way we agree upon to measure such improvment?

Can we know if something's improved if we don't know its previous state?
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:06 AM   #25
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As people have suggested, people coming up with information that tells us things about the world that we don't already know. The research would also be carried out in a much more rigorous and honest manner than anything I have seen so far. Finally, we really do need a hint of some sort of mechanism by which this could have happen. Unfortunately nothing we know about the world gives us a sniff that such a thing could exist but rather deny such a thing.
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:15 AM   #26
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A three-year old in a sweet little lispy voice providing the Swiss bank account number in which we find the trillion dollars he stole in his previous life time.
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:19 AM   #27
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Thank you, Sideroxylon, for your sapotaceous answer.

I'm curious to know if you feel that the type of evidence you describe would force us to assume there must be a mechanism hitherto undetected, or do you lean more towards rejecting even such evidence should it prove impossible to reconcile with our current models of the universe (in physics, et c)?
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:30 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Illiadus View Post
Sledge, I apologize both for the joke, which I now understand was inappropriate, and for making changes in the post. It's my first time here and I won't make the same mistake from now on.

Do you think we can get along?
*grumble grumble*
Yeah, I suppose so. Hate when people admit they were wrong, takes all the fun out of it.

I can't think of a specific piece of evidence to prove reincarnation. Someone consistently providing verifiable information that they couldn't have known any other way would at least make me more interested in the matter, but I really don't know what such evidence would be or how you'd rule out all forms of cheating.
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:42 AM   #29
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Thanks, Sledge.

Man, you can ride my tail anytime!
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:44 AM   #30
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The first thing you need to consider is that reincarnation is impossible. That sets the bar for evidence rather high.

You'd need a huge number of cases where the evidence is completely documented and untainted and reincarnation is the simplest explanation.

So the physical similarities stuff is a complete non-starter. Some people look like other people. It happens. Get over it.

That leaves memories. You have to establish that these memories are accurate, that the reporting of the memories is accurate, and that there is no plausible mechanism for the subject to have acquired the information. Telling us where the money (or the body) is buried, for example.

And even that needs to be weight statistically, because sometimes that will happen.
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:46 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Illiadus View Post
Thank you, Sideroxylon, for your sapotaceous answer.

I'm curious to know if you feel that the type of evidence you describe would force us to assume there must be a mechanism hitherto undetected, or do you lean more towards rejecting even such evidence should it prove impossible to reconcile with our current models of the universe (in physics, et c)?
Good evidence would have to be repeated and extraordinary. People being able to help archaeologists with specific information that led to or was backed by physical evidence like artifacts or settlements would be nice. If there was such promise you might then consider giving terminally ill patients information and instructions about how to confirm their rebirth should it occur.

Really though this is an idea that has much going against it. The whole idea of spirits is a dead paradigm, better explained by consciousness arising out of brains. Such apparent anomalies would have a hard time being recognized* but I don't think such an argument could be made for the kinds of evidence we have seen to date. The research so far seems to be interpretation loaded with wishful thinking.

ETA: * To fully answer your question, I do think certain rigorously obtained evidence could have science reevaluating what we "know".
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:48 AM   #32
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To everyone:

Gord in Toronto mentions a three-year old in a sweet little lispy voice providing the Swiss bank account number in which we find the trillion dollars he stole in his previous life time as a way of validating reincarnation, but at the same time the cases where that very type of anomalous information surfaces are rejected by skeptics as unreliable.

When we hear about a little boy supposedly remembering the name of a pilot he flew with in his past life, we assume the parents are making it up, putting some frills on it or just remembering it the wrong way.

Would any of us believe in the hypothetical boy who knew the bank account number, or would we calculate the odds and conclude that stranger things have happened?

Anyone?
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:51 AM   #33
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The problem with the boy remembering pilot details, IIRC, was that the kid had an interest in aircraft and the planes he supposedly remembered from "his" time on a WWII carrier turned out to be a type that weren't on that carrier.
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Old 10th July 2010, 09:53 AM   #34
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Interesting question, Illiadus!

I like this sort of discussion very much.

You said the magic word yourself in your question. The evidence must be objective. Above all else, the evidence must be objective & falsifiable.

Hypnotism, for example, is most certainly not objective. It is a highly subjective process that has been shown capable of creating false memories. Therefore, hypnotism results should not even be considered as proof of reincarnation.

Similarly, personal accounts of "impossible memories" from children and/or adults should not be taken as proof, because of the highly subjective nature of memory and the collection methods of this sort of data.

Physical attributes such as birthmarks in the same location as known wounds of the supposed reincarnated person, or a facial resemblence are too easily accounted for by natural explanations should not be considered as meaningful.

As with everything, many pieces of bad evidence do not equal one piece of good evidence. A man with who claims he was hung as a criminal in a past life, who has a birthmark that looks like a ropeburn on his neck, who is terribly uncomfortable around policemen, and has recalled many accurate details of a past time both under hypnosis and while awake, has not proved his claim. There are better, natural explanations for all his evidences. He has not proved it one bit more than if I simply said I believed I was reincarnated because I love medieval history. His story is a lot more interesting, however.

It is much easier to describe faulty evidence for reincarnation than to imagine what sort of evidence would be sound enough to prove it. Since all evidence worth considering is based on the feelings or knowledge the the person making the claim, what would be required is for them to come forth with some sort of falsifiable statement about there past life. That would be very difficult if not impossible to do. The statement would have to be specific and unique enough to exclude the possibility of a chance "hit" or guess.

I see that I have spent more time talking about bad evidence than the valid sort here. Perhaps that is understandable in this case. Part of the big problem with proving reincaration is that there are so many "flavors" of it. Everyone that believes in it has a subjective idea of how it works and what its purpose is, but these are metaphysical concepts. before we can determine the truth, it would have to be studied. Before we can study it, it would have to be proven at the most basic premise: that a human conciousness can be transfered, perhaps many years later, from one body to another. That is a tall order.

Regards, Canis
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Old 10th July 2010, 10:02 AM   #35
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Sideroxylon, I hesitate to mention this, because I'm not a believer in reincarnation and I'm certainly not defending the existing evidence, on the contrary, but a man named Arthur Flowerdew, who claimed a past life in the ancient city of Petra, actually went to Jordan with an archeological expert who claimed that Flowerdew "filled in details... consistent with known archeological and historical facts" and supposedly identified the locations of many landmarks that had yet to be excavated.

So, obviously, that type of evidence is not going to convince the world of reincarnation. Judging by this and your first post, I can't help but wonder if you're really familiar with the accumulated evidence that's generally held up by believers in reincarnation?

Either way, thank you for your contribution and I hope I didn't offend you.
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Old 10th July 2010, 10:04 AM   #36
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  • existence of something that "survives" death, like "soul" or something
  • that "something" needs to be able to carry on most if not all memories (this could mean to prove that it's not the brain that stores information, or at least, not the only one - like a RAID setup )
  • 2 kinds of life: virgin (i.e. non-reincarnated) and reincarnated
  • mechanism for reincarnation
  • ...

Nah, there's just no way...
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Old 10th July 2010, 10:06 AM   #37
Illiadus
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PixyMisa, as I say in the opening post, I'm looking for what to tell reincarnation researchers who'll say: "Whatever we do, you skeptics aren't going to accept it as evidence, so we might as well not listen to you."

What I need to know is what you think would prove reincarnation, but if you say that nothing would prove it to you, whether or not it exists, then of course that's a belief and I respect your belief, I just can't use it to argue with.
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Old 10th July 2010, 10:07 AM   #38
laca
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Originally Posted by Illiadus View Post
To everyone:

Gord in Toronto mentions a three-year old in a sweet little lispy voice providing the Swiss bank account number in which we find the trillion dollars he stole in his previous life time as a way of validating reincarnation, but at the same time the cases where that very type of anomalous information surfaces are rejected by skeptics as unreliable.

When we hear about a little boy supposedly remembering the name of a pilot he flew with in his past life, we assume the parents are making it up, putting some frills on it or just remembering it the wrong way.

Would any of us believe in the hypothetical boy who knew the bank account number, or would we calculate the odds and conclude that stranger things have happened?

Anyone?
Well it would certainly raise a few eyebrows and warrant some serious investigation.
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Old 10th July 2010, 10:09 AM   #39
Illiadus
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Damn it Iaca, you had me going there. You'd have laughed if you'd seen me leaning curious into the computer screen.

Seriously, though, you sound like you could define some criteria if you wanted to.
You don't have to. Just saying.
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Old 10th July 2010, 10:11 AM   #40
laca
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Illiadus, you sound more and more like the guy who goes to the doctor and starts with "I have this friend who won't go to the doctor with this-and-that".

I might be wrong.
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