Ian Stevenson's Reincarnation Research

Ian Stevenson's Reincarnation Research

Ian Pretyman Stevenson, MD, (October 31, 1918–February 8, 2007) was a Canadian biochemist and professor of psychiatry. Until his retirement in 2002, he was head of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, which investigates the paranormal.

Stevenson considered that the concept of reincarnation might supplement those of heredity and environment in helping modern medicine to understand aspects of human behavior and development. He traveled extensively over a period of 40 years to investigate 3,000 childhood cases that suggested to him the possibility of past lives. Stevenson saw reincarnation as the survival of the personality after death, although he never suggested a physical process by which a personality might survive death. Stevenson was the author of several books, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1974), Children Who Remember Previous Lives (1987), Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (1997), Reincarnation and Biology (1997), and European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003).

There has been a mixed reaction to Stevenson's work. Critics have questioned his research methods and conclusions, and his work has been described by some as pseudoscience. Others have, however, stated that his work was conducted with appropriate scientific rigor. Stevenson's research was the subject of Tom Shroder's Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives (1999)[1] and Jim B. Tucker's Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives (2005).

Reincarnation research

Children's memories

Ian Stevenson, a Canadian biochemist and professor of psychiatry, investigated many reports of young children who claimed to remember a past life with events that occurred during a previous life, ultimately conducting more than 2,500 case studies over the course of his lifetime and publishing twelve books. Stevenson undertook reincarnation research throughout the world, including North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

According to Stevenson, childhood memories ostensibly related to reincarnation normally occur between the ages of three and seven years then fade shortly afterwards. He compared the memories with reports of people known to the deceased, attempting to do so before any contact between the child and the deceased's family had occurred.

Many of Stevenson's subjects displayed skills and interests which seem to represent a continuation of skills and interests developed in the claimed previous life. Stevenson found that the vast majority of cases investigated involved people who had met some sort of violent or untimely death.

In a fairly typical case, a boy in Beirut spoke of being a 25-year-old mechanic, thrown to his death from a speeding car on a beach road. According to multiple witnesses, the boy provided the name of the driver, the exact location of the crash, the names of the mechanic's sisters and parents and cousins, and the people he went hunting with — all of which turned out to match the life of a man who had died several years before the boy was born, and who had no apparent connection to the boy's family.

Another case involved an Indian boy, Gopal, who at the age of three started talking about his previous life in the city of Mathura, 160 miles from his home in Delhi. He claimed that he had owned a medical company called Sukh Shancharak, lived in a large house with many servants, and that his brother had shot him after a quarrel. Subsequent investigations revealed that one of the owners of Sukh Shancharak had shot his brother some eight years before Gopal's birth. The deceased man was named Shaktipal Shara. Gopal was subsequently invited to Mathura by Shaktipal's family, where the young child recognised various people and places known to Shaktipal. The family was particularly impressed by Gopal's mention of Shaktipal's attempts to borrow money, and how this had led to the shooting — information that was known only to the family.

In interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents, Ian Stevenson searched for alternate ways to account for the testimony: that the child came upon the information in some normal way, that the witnesses were engaged in fraud or self-delusion, that the correlations were the result of coincidence or misunderstanding. But in scores of cases, Stevenson concluded that no normal explanation sufficed.

Corresponding birthmarks

Some 35 percent of the subjects examined by Stevenson had birthmarks or birth defects. Stevenson reported that in the majority of these cases "the subject's marks or defects correspond to injuries or illness experienced by the deceased person who the subject remembers; and medical documents have confirmed this correspondence in more than forty cases". Many of the birthmarks are not just small discolourations. They are "often unusual in shape or size and are often puckered or raised rather than simply being flat. Some can be quite dramatic and unusual in appearance." Stevenson believed that the existence of birth marks and deformities on children, when they occurred at the location of fatal wounds in the deceased, provided the best evidence for reincarnation. Stevenson's major work in the area of birthmarks is Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (Praeger, 1997), at 2,268 pages.

Stevenson's conclusions and reception

Stevenson never claimed that he had proved the existence of reincarnation, and cautiously referred to his cases as being "of the reincarnation type" or "suggestive of reincarnation". He concluded that "reincarnation is the best — even though not the only — explanation for the stronger cases we have investigated".

Stevenson's work has received a mixed response. In 1977, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease devoted most of one issue to Stevenson's work and the journal's editor described Stevenson as "a methodical, careful, even cautious investigator." His methodology was criticized for providing no conclusive evidence for the existence of past lives. In a book review criticizing one of Stevensons' books, the reviewer raised the concern that many of Stevenson's examples were gathered in cultures with pre-existing belief in reincarnation. In order to address this type of concern, Stevenson wrote European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003) which presented 40 cases he examined in Europe. Stevenson's obituary in the New York Times stated:

Spurned by most academic scientists, Dr. Stevenson was to his supporters a misunderstood genius, bravely pushing the boundaries of science. To his detractors, he was earnest, dogged but ultimately misguided, led astray by gullibility, wishful thinking and a tendency to see science where others saw superstition.

Deducing from this research the conclusion that reincarnation is a proven fact has been listed as an example of pseudoscience by skeptics. Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke felt that Stevenson's work fell short of providing proof of reincarnation (which they both viewed as unlikely). Nevertheless, they felt that further research was warranted.[dubious – discuss] In The Demon-Haunted World (1996) in the context of discussing the limits of scepticism[dubious – discuss], Sagan wrote that claims about reincarnation may have some experimental support, however dubious and inconclusive. Arguing that 1% of "Pseudoscience" claims may prove of merit by saying "at the time of writing, there are three claims in the ESP field that deserve serious study", the third being "young children sometimes report details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation." Sagan further stated he picked the three examples not because he thought them valid, but as examples of contentions that might be true. Clarke observed that Stevenson had produced a number of studies that were "hard to explain" conventionally, then noted that accepting reincarnation raised the question of the means for personality transfer. Skeptic Sam Harris said of Stevenson "either he is a victim of truly elaborate fraud, or something interesting is going on."

To date no physical process by which a personality could survive death and travel to another body has been identified, which researchers such as Stevenson and Tucker recognize as a limitation.

Stevenson's research was the subject of Tom Shroder's Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives (1999) and Jim B. Tucker's Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives (2005). Psychiatrist Jim Tucker took over Stevenson's work on his retirement in 2002.

Proof of rebirth / some people call it reincarnation on youtube