There is an unshakable belief by most humans, irrespective of religion or cultural background, that they have a soul or some essence of themselves which is immortal. The question of spiritual immortality has usually been approached from the point of view of what happens to us after we die. But the same question can be asked in a different form: if there is a spirit and it is immortal, where were we before we were born? Though most of the lay literature has been focused on life after death, there is a small but growing popular literature (1,2,3), as well as websites (4), on pre -life memories, usually by small children. This literature is all based on anecdotal stories and thus disregarded by scientists.
A paper has recently appeared, however, in Child Development (5) by a Boston University team which tried to study a child’s conception of the pre-life from which he/she came. Their aim was to find out where beliefs of an immortal soul come from, whether it is hard-wired in our biological make-up or learned through religious teachings, cultural influences such as books and movies, or simply intuition. Their reasoning was that by asking very young children about their pre-life, there would be fewer cultural and religious forces which would have influenced them (especially since Catholicism, the religion of one group, teaches that life begins at conception).
They interviewed 283 children, ages 5-12, from two groups, one from an indigenous Shuar village in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador which has no concept of a pre-life, and the other from an urban area near Quito, Equador (Catholic). They showed the children drawings of a baby, a young woman, and the same woman pregnant. They then asked the children a series of questions about their concepts of the baby’s abilities, thoughts and emotions during three periods: as a live baby, as a baby in the womb, and before conception.