Out-of-the-Box Characters

The traditional plot model–setting, setup, lots of rising action all culminating in a story’s climax and resolution—is not too different from how many of us see our lives; we are the protagonists of our own narrative.


Modernist writers like Virginia Woolf and Ezra Pound, and postmodern writers including Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Beatniks showed the world that clean and linear narratives are not always the most accurate depictions of life as we experience it.


Life from cradle to grave and all the rising and falling action in between may very well be an absurdly boxed-in view of who we are. These days, scientific inquiry may be shedding light on an idea that’s traditionally reserved for science fiction–the possibility that something we call consciousness can experience multiple lives.


Jim Tucker, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, has been rigorously testing for evidence that we carry remnants of past lives with us. He believes reincarnation is a real possibility.


In a recent interview with NPR, Tucker describes one compelling case he’s uncovered in his research:


“So James is the son of a Christian couple in Louisiana. And when he was little, he loved his toy planes. But also around the time of his second birthday, started having horrific nightmares four or five times a week – of being a plane crash. And then during the day, he talked about this plane crash and said that he had been a pilot, and that he had flown off of a boat. And his dad asked him the name of it, and he said Natoma. And he said he had been shot down by the Japanese; that he had been killed at Iwo Jima; and that he had a friend on the boat named Jack Larsen.


“Well, it turns out that there was an aircraft carrier called the USS Natoma Bay that was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. In fact, it was involved in Iwo Jima. And it lost one pilot there, a young man named James Huston. James Huston’s plane crashed exactly the way that James Leininger had described – hit in the engine, exploding into fire, crashing into the water and quickly sinking. And when that happened, the pilot of the plane next to his was named Jack Larsen.”


Tucker said that though these cases are very rare, they are far from isolated. As with James, who was 2 years old when he had his nightmares, these potential memories from past lives, recounted by very young children, begin to fade around age 5.


This is not a science … not yet, anyway. Many neurologists will likely point out that though the brain is an amazing entity with amazing power, it is also a rather cobbled-together organ. Many parts of it work in amazing harmony together, yet not in a very efficient way, burning 15 to 20 percent of our daily calories with its functioning – far more than any other known animal. The brain is prone to confusion, selective memory and selective meaning.


Hemingway wrote in a style known as “Iceberg Theory” in which underlying themes revealed themselves without explicit discussion. Is it possible we are characters playing out life experiences that were developed “below the surface” over multiple lives?


Perhaps in the future reincarnation and the establishment of consciousness as an independent entity will prove to be just other examples of what history has repeatedly shown– today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s fact.


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