Overview: Rebirth by Fire

Rebirth By Fire

Rebirth under fire is a story as old as mankind, and one buried in the evolutionary history of our adaptive evolution, yet we know very little about how it occurs and why. In this account of “rebirth by fire,” I look at (1) the nature of personal change, (2) the evolutionary forces that bring it about, and (3) how our conscious and unconscious processes facilitate personality change. I draw upon history, literature, and cognitive science to better understand the structure and function of the mind, and show how evolution and neuroscience can advance our knowledge.

The themes that capture and integrate the data of rebirth are examined in the manuscript, Rebirth by Fire: When Tragedy Strikes. They include (1) a discussion of the nature of the mind under stress, (2) why adversity is necessary for major personality change, (3) the history of references to rebirth, and (4) the influence of evolution and neural activity in the process. The presentation offers the first objective assessment of major personality change that occurs under severe environmental pressures. Its biological perspective is sure to be controversial.


The deep structures of the mind, carved out over many generations of natural selection, provide the individual with multiple strategies of survival. The most important strategy we can apply is one that overcomes the unexpected, the dangerous, and the life-threatening events that suddenly invade our lives. The great catastrophes that must be dealt with include the fear of death, extreme hardships, the loss of loved ones, disease, deteriorating health, and loss of physical and mental functions. Nothing short of radical change allows for coping and continued survival.

The irony is that the adversity we encounter is more likely to bring positive change than the softness of contentment. When the distressed mind looks into the mirror of self-annihilation, the shock reforms attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. New strength is acquired, and contentment, or at least acceptance, follows. The changes in personality under intense stress are often so persuasive and deep that they can be considered a “rebirth” of character.

Little is known about the specific processes of rebirth, and some deny that people undergo substantial transformation. We generally believe that there are genetic constraints or environmental supports that stabilize personality beyond any imposition of daily life. There is also the suspicion that individuals profess fundamental change only when it is to their advantage to do so. Rebirth by Fire makes it clear that the phenomenal shift in personality often does occur, that it can be separated from deception, and that it is of great importance in the survival of individuals under great urgency.

There is some evidence that rebirth shares physiological processes with manic-depressive illness and other cyclical changes in personality. Tragedy is often followed by depression and, over time, a movement toward a more positive and energetic state. The bipolar personality disorders and “rebirth” are not identical, in that manic-depressive episodes are often extreme, and are heavily loaded on genetic dimensions. Regardless, the normal and abnormal variations in emotional expression confirm the magnitude of individual change, and point us to common physiological mechanisms.

The stories of many prominent individuals show how powerful personality change can be under life-threatening challenges.

Rebirth by Fire assists the reader to come to terms with mortality and build new hope and opportunity in the midst of surrounding fire.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, please call Dr. Thiessen at 512-461-2385.

2 Responses to Overview: Rebirth by Fire

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