Well if this isn't one to file under that Reddit post about creepy things kids say, I don't know what is. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know about UVA's Division of Perceptual Studies before this recent (really, really great) article by Don Harrison in Richmond Magazine. This is fascinating stuff about how brains work, and it seems like the people studying it are insatiably curious and pretty humble. Whatever your thoughts on parapsychology, you can enjoy that this is highly, highly eerie:
Take, for example, the case of James Leininger, a boy from Lafayette, Louisiana, fascinated with airplanes, who began having nightmares when he was 2 years old. “Airplane crash on fire,” James would cry out, an atypical comment for his age. Over the coming months, he would inform his parents, Bruce and Andrea, that he’d been a pilot, also named James, who flew planes off a boat and his plane had been shot down. When Bruce asked him who shot his plane, the boy, a bit exasperated, said, “the Japanese.” A few weeks later, he revealed that he had flown a Corsair plane, and remembered the name of the boat: “Natoma.” Shown a map, the youngster pointed to the waters surrounding Iwo Jima and stated that this was where he died. He added that “Jack Larsen” was there.
James’ father, a conservative Christian who struggled with the idea of reincarnation, was a little spooked. He did some research and discovered that there was indeed a USS Natoma Bay involved at the battle of Iwo Jima, and one of its Corsair pilots was lost in the mission, a man named James Huston. In the violence of the larger war, the crash was a nondescript event not widely reported or remembered.
“Huston’s plane had crashed in exactly the way it had been described by the boy,” says Tucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS). “It got hit in the engine, burst into flames, crashed in the water and quickly sank. The pilot of the plane next to his was named Jack Larsen.”
Another story from the article:
Like, for example, the conservative Oklahoma couple whose 5-year-old son, Ryan, was convinced he had lived in Hollywood, providing details of meeting stars like Marilyn Monroe and feeling genuinely lonely for his “other life.” One day, when he was 4, his mom checked out a big Hollywood picture book from the library and they perused it together. “Hey Mama, that’s George,” he said, pointing to a caption-less photo that featured actor George Raft. “We did a picture together,” he told his mom. Then Ryan pointed to the man standing next to Raft and jumped up and down. “That guy’s me. I found me.” The man Ryan was describing was a longtime talent agent, and the facts of his life matched eerily well with the boy’s memories.
Regarding DOPS' founder, Dr. Ian Stevenson:
“I cannot emphasize too strongly that a child who is going to remember a previous life has only about three years in which he will talk about it,” the professor told Omni Magazine in a rare 1988 interview. “Before the age of 2 or 3, he lacks the ability. After 5, too much else will be happening in his life, and he will begin to forget.”
And some of the impetus behind the work:
“We’re not just doing this to chase ghost stories,” says assistant professor Emily Kelly, who, in addition to her academic work, has been a longtime volunteer researcher at DOPS. “We want to make people understand the larger issues that we’re dealing with, and to look at the bigger picture, which is that of the relationship between consciousness and the brain. Does the brain cause the mind, or are they simply correlated and it’s not a causal connection? That’s a huge question.”
Happy Halloween, y'all.