Thursday, August 26, 2010

The siren song of pseudoscience

Many freethinkers are accustomed to opposition in the form of bigoted homophobes, scientifically ignorant creationists, etc. But every so often, irrationality comes in a really attractive package that seems to beg you to pick it up, if only for a moment.

I've been having many conversations lately with someone about past-life regression. As you might guess, I think the whole thing is nonsense. Interestingly enough, many Hindu groups seem to agree with me on this. While they certainly believe in reincarnation, they generally don't consider it worthwhile to investigate the events of past lives. So while the idea of reincarnation has its roots in Hinduism, past-life regression seems to be mostly a New Age thing.

Of course, there are several people out there who bill themselves as "regression therapists" and will, for a fee, take you through some of your past lives. You can find the source of your problems and maybe even your long-lost soulmate!

Now, I totally understand the appeal of this stuff. It absolves us of responsibility for things in this life. If someone's your soulmate and you're meant to be with them, why would you want to do something so mundane as work on your relationship or (gasp!) show some consideration to your partner? If your problems can be traced to past lives, then you don't have to be honest with yourself about how you've contributed to the situation in this life.

It shouldn't surprise you that high-profile cases of so-called regression that have been closely examined have been debunked, such as Bridey Murphy and the Bloxham tapes. While the concept is appealing, generally cases can be attributed to factors in this life. Don't give these charlatans your money. If you want some feelgood treatment, book a massage instead.

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