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In 1952, Virginia Tighe of Pueblo, Colorado, was hypnotized by local businessman Morey Bernstein. Allegedly, Virginia spoke in an Irish brogue and claimed she was Bridey Murphy, a 19th-century woman from Cork, Ireland. Bernstein says he encouraged past life regression and his subject cooperated. He hypnotized Tighe many times. While under hypnosis, she sang Irish songs and told Irish stories, always as Bridey Murphy. She gave a birth date as1798, described her childhood in a Protestant family in the city of Cork, her marriage to Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy, and her burial in Belfast in 1864. Bernstein's book, The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956), became a best-seller. (Tighe is called Ruth Simmons in the book.) Recordings of the hypnotic sessions were made and translated into more than a dozen languages. The recordings sold well. The reincarnation boom in American publishing had begun.
Newspapers sent reporters to Ireland to investigate. Was there a red-headed Bridey Murphy who lived in Ireland in the nineteenth century? No records were found that matched Tighe's claims for Bridey's birth, upbringing, marriage, or death. (One supporter of the story, Bill Barker, did find a record of a clerk named John M'Carthy working in Belfast between 1858-1862.) One newspaper, however, the Chicago American, found Bridie Murphey Corkell in Wisconsin in the 20th century. She lived in the house across the street from where Virginia Tighe grew up. What Virginia reported while hypnotized were not memories of a previous life but memories from her early childhood. Whatever else the hypnotic state is, it is a state where one's fantasies are energetically displayed. Many people were impressed with the details of Tighe's hypnotic memories, but the details were not evidence of past life regression, reincarnation, or channeling. They were evidence of a vivid imagination, a confused memory, fraud, or a combination of the three.
It is indicative of the typical lowering of the standards of critical thinking regarding the paranormal or the supernatural that defenders of fantastic confabulations and preposterous stories find easily accessible information to be incontrovertible proof of their veracity. For example, Tighe talks about kissing the Blarney stone and knew that the act requires the assistance of someone who holds you as you lean backwards and face up to kiss the stone. This is common knowledge and photos of this are available in hundreds of sources, yet this fact has been cited as strong evidence that Tighe really kissed the stone in a previous incarnation.* Yet, these same proponents of the strange and occult are not concerned that the kind of reincarnation they are considering contradicts everything we know about human consciousness and the brain, especially about how memory works.
Memories exist in neural connections in the brain. Brain traumas and diseases like Alzheimer's reveal that when these neural connections are destroyed, memories are destroyed. When the brain decays and dies memories will be destroyed. There is no logical reason for maintaining that there is a parallel entity (spirit or mind) that exists independently of the brain and which maintains memories that will be accessible to us only after we die or after this imagined parallel entity enters another body.
As Martin Gardner says, "Almost any hypnotic subject capable of going into a deep trance will babble about a previous incarnation if the hypnotist asks him to. He will babble just as freely about his future incarnations....In every case of this sort where there has been adequate checking on the subject's past, it has been found that the subject was weaving together long forgotten bits of information acquired during his early years" (Gardner 1957).
When you hear hoof beats think first of horses, not centaurs.
books and articles
Ducasse, C. J. 1960. "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today.” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 54 (January 1960): 3-22.
Ducasse, C. J. 2006. A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life after Death. Kessinger Publishing. Originally published in 1961. Chapter 25, of this book is titled "The Case of 'The Search for Bridey Murphy'."
Ready, W. B. "Bridey Murphy: An Irishman's View," Fantasy & Science Fiction 11, no.2, August, 1956, pp. 81-88.
A Case of Reincarnation -- Reexamined Joe Nickell (the case of Jenny Cockell)
BrideyMurphy.com (Her candle burned out long ago but the legend never did.)