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ToK Essay Titles May 2019

By ToKTutor, Oct 8 2018 05:02PM

Example for Question 5:


Knowledge about Reincarnation


The case of the 3-year-old James Leininger is celebrated amongst believers in reincarnation as providing strong evidence to support the conclusion that souls or the individual consciousness of dead people can live on in other bodies. What sort of ‘evidence’ is this? And in reality, don’t such conclusions go ‘beyond the evidence for them’? In Natural Science, experts deal in empirical evidence; that is, evidence generated by means of experiment or observation based on measurable facts or data: quantitative evidence. In Ethics and Human Science, experts deal more in evidence such as eye witness accounts or surveys and polls; that is, evidence generated through human sources based on subjective responses: qualitative evidence. Where does the ‘evidence’ for knowledge about reincarnation or other paranormal events fit? Leininger’s parents initially offered evidence of the boy’s fascination with war planes and recurring nightmares about plane crashes for the conclusion that he was the reincarnation of a WW2 fighter pilot. Clearly, such evidence is hardly measurable beyond an anecdotal interest in a child’s early development. Subsequently, they researched books about children who had lived ‘past lives’ and built up a profile of James’s own past life. This hints at the possibility of the confirmation bias – searching for data to support one’s already preconceived idea of a situation. This was reinforced by the fact that also in their book, Leininger’s parents explain how they took advice from a past life regression specialist to make sense of their son’s situation: keep reassuring the boy that he was indeed a reincarnated WW2 fighter pilot. Now, when you apply the skeptical dictum ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, you’re saying that you’re willing to accept strange conclusions like Leininger’s but that you want something more concrete than the qualitative evidence provided by the parents. How am I to KNOW that the soul of a WW2 fighter pilot has been reborn in this child? Presumably, the boy should know how to fly a WW2 plane, so let’s test this by putting him in a flight simulator. But this raises some serious philosophical issues like how and when do inanimate souls actually find the right body to reincarnate themselves? Or, to what extent do such souls retain their original memories and experiences? The strange thing about the Leininger case is that, as the parent’s later explained, after the short period in which James’s case had caught the public’s eye, James’s memories of ‘past life’ experiences seemed to disappear altogether…

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