While clouds scudded playfully across the face of the sun, there was this mysterious “circle of light” – that locals here at Bray's Point call both a sign that someone has died and is ascending to heaven, and that a reincarnation has taken place. Still, expert scientists such as Stephen Hawking think such talk of heaven and reincarnation is just pie in the sky and not real. In fact, Hawking is quoted in London’s “The Guardian” newspaper May 16 that “the notion of heaven is a fairy story.” Still, there are plenty of locals in this Pacific Northwest who say they believe in heaven. And, there's thousands who attend recent reincarnation events where they go into a state of hypnotism to help recall their past lives.
Hawking believes in science over God and is speaking out
Stephen Hawking, 69, has not had an easy life. He was diagnosed with A.L.S. at age 21, reports the London-based newspaper The Guardian May 16 in a report about the famous British physicist’s non-belief in an afterlife after being asked if he feared death.
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he told the newspaper.
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven of afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark," Hawking added.
British media analysts noted that Hawking – who many view as a genius in the mold of Albert Einstein – is now going beyond the comments he made about God and no afterlife in his 2010 book, “The Grand Design,” that The Guardian reported as “stirring up passions” with Hawking's views that “science can explain the universe’s origin without invoking God.”
“Hawking has far outlived most people who have A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, producing important cosmological research and writing books. His A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, has sold more than 9 million copies,” stated The Guardian interview with Hawking a day before this famous scientist is scheduled to address the question “Why are we here?” at the Google “Zeitgeist” meeting in London.
“In the talk,” according to The Guardian, “Hawking will argue that the tiny fluctuations in the very early universe became the seeds from which galaxies, stars, and ultimately human life emerged.”
"Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in," Hawking said.
Millions of Americans believe in past lives
On the day before Hawking open this can of worms about what happens after we die, a May 15 CBS News “Sunday Morning” poll showed that “about one in five Americans believes in reincarnation, and roughly one in ten remembers a past life.”
“One woman said she had an experience on the Titanic. Another subject regressed back to, I want to say, the mid-1800s, in England. Another woman said, I recognized that I was about to see Jesus deliver his Sermon on the Mount. For Dr. Brian Weiss, a firm believer in reincarnation, such stories are all in a day's work and hardly what you'd expect from a graduate of Yale's prestigious medical school,” CBS News reported.
As is the case in Pacific Northwest towns of Seattle, Portland and Eugene – where reincarnation events are growing in popularity – CBS News reported that “more than a thousand people gathered at a New York City conference center on a recent Sunday coming from around the world, in hopes of an out-of-this-world experience. At up to $139 a ticket, they seemed confident that through hypnosis they'd uncover lost memories and not just of this life, but of past lives as well.”
The concept of reincarnation goes back some 3,000 years to India and Greece. Although it's been largely rejected by Jewish and Christian traditions, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero told CBS News that “it's alive and well in pop culture today - with Americans fascinated by the idea they've lived before.”
"The skeptical part of me about the past life thing is that, just statistically, the odds are that in my past life, I was a Chinese peasant, right?" said Prothero. "But hardly anybody ever is a Chinese peasant. You know, everybody is Cleopatra or Mark Antony or Jesus, you know?"
Professor Prothero also told CBS News on “Sunday Morning” they're reacting in part "to the positive spin the West puts on it: In the Indian tradition, classically reincarnation was undesirable. It wasn't something you wanted. I mean, the goal was to get out of this life. But in America we see reincarnation as this sort of great second opportunity. We say, 'I'm gonna be, you know, an accountant. In the next life I can be an astronaut!'"
Kids remember past lives and experts say they’re not lying
Psychiatrist Brian Weiss told CBS News that “reincarnation is more than a comforting thought.”
Weiss said he studied Freud's theory “that recovering childhood memories helps resolve present-day problems. Then, 30 years ago, he says he discovered that the same is true of memories even further back, from a past life.”
"I told her when she was in this deep hypnotic state, go back to the time where your symptoms began, thinking she'd go back to early childhood," Dr. Weiss said. "But she went back nearly 4,000 years into an ancient Near Eastern lifetime - different body, different face, different hair, drowning in a flood or tidal wave, her baby being torn from her arms by the force of the water. And her symptoms started getting better from that moment on."
Since then, Weiss told CBS News that “he’s used what he calls ‘Past Life Regression Therapy’ on some 4,000 people.”
Also, CBS News found psychiatrist Jim Tucker of the University of Virginia who also believes in reincarnation, and “focuses on children - young children - who,” he says, “have volunteered information about past lives, no hypnosis involved.”
"Many of the children describe lives that ended violently or ended early. Drownings, murders, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, snake bites,” said Tucker while adding in his CBS News interview that “he’s verified their stories.”
In fact, Tucker showed CBS News “photos where children have birth marks supposedly corresponding to fatal wounds from their past lives.”