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Ian Stevenson
Born(1918-10-31)October 31, 1918
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedFebruary 8, 2007(2007-02-08) (aged 88)
CitizenshipCanadian by birth; American, naturalized 1949
EducationUniversity of St. Andrews (1937–1939)
BSc (McGill University, 1942)
MD (McGill University School of Medicine, 1943)
OccupationPsychiatrist, director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine
Known forReincarnation research, near death studies, medical history taking
Spouse(s)Octavia Reynolds (m. 1947)
Margaret Pertzoff (m. 1985)

Ian Pretyman Stevenson (October 31, 1918 – February 8, 2007) was a Canadian-born U.S. psychiatrist. He worked for the University of Virginia School of Medicine for fifty years, as chair of the department of psychiatry from 1957 to 1967, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry from 1967 to 2001, and Research Professor of Psychiatry from 2002 until his death.[1]

As founder and director of the university's Division of Perceptual Studies, which investigates the paranormal, Stevenson became known internationally for his research into reincarnation, the idea that emotions, memories, and even physical bodily features can be transferred from one life to another.[2] He traveled extensively over a period of forty years, investigating three thousand cases of children around the world who claimed to remember past lives.[3] His position was that certain phobias, philias, unusual abilities and illnesses could not be fully explained by heredity or the environment. He believed that reincarnation provided a third type of explanation.[4][5]

Stevenson helped to found the Society for Scientific Exploration in 1982 and was the author of around three hundred papers and fourteen books on reincarnation, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966) and European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003). His major work was the 2,268-page, two-volume Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (1997). This reported two hundred cases of birthmarks and birth defects that seemed to correspond in some way to a wound on the deceased person whose life the child recalled. He wrote a shorter version of the same research for the general reader, Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (1997).[6]

Reaction to his work was mixed. In his New York Times obituary, Margalit Fox wrote that Stevenson's supporters saw him as a misunderstood genius, but that most scientists had simply ignored his research and that his detractors regarded him as earnest but gullible.[7] His life and work became the subject of three supportive books, Old Souls: The Scientific Search for Proof of Past Lives (1999) by Tom Shroder, a Washington Post journalist, Life Before Life (2005) by Jim B. Tucker, a psychiatrist and colleague at the University of Virginia, and Science, the Self, and Survival after Death (2012), by Emily Williams Kelly. Critics, particularly the philosophers C.T.K. Chari (1909–1993) and Paul Edwards (1923–2004), raised a number of issues, including claims that the children or parents interviewed by Stevenson had deceived him, that he had asked them leading questions, that he had often worked through translators who believed what the interviewees were saying, and that his conclusions were undermined by confirmation bias, where cases not supportive of his hypothesis were not presented as counting against it.[8]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Scientific Evidence for Reincarnation by Dr Ian Stevenson
  • ✪ Reincarnation research by Ian Stevenson Children's past life memories
  • ✪ Reincarnation, Part One: The Research of Ian Stevenson, with Walter Semkiw
  • ✪ Stevenson Reincarnation Research 1/3
  • ✪ Reincarnation Evidence: Stevenson's Research


I am going to be talking about very young children because that is when these cases begin. Some of the interesting things that these young children say: "When I was big, I . . ." "You’re not my mother. I want to go to my real mother." "This house is too small. My house is much bigger." "Before I came to you, I lived near the sea." Let me tell you briefly about one case to give you a feel for this. A child in Lebanon, about 18 months old, is picking up the phone and calling into it, "Lela, Lela, Lela." When she could speak more, she spoke about a previous life as a middle-aged married woman who had children, one of whom was called Lela. This deceased woman had died not long before our subject here was born. She actually happened to die in Richmond, Virginia where she had come to have cardiac surgery. The little girl, when I first met her, was about 6 or 7-years old, still speaking fluently about the previous life. She was still attached, not only to the children of the deceased woman, but also to the husband of the deceased woman whom she used to call three or four times a day to ask about his health. She showed immense jealousy when he seemed to show some interest in a neighbor who had been a friend of the deceased woman and ultimately married that person. At the age of about 25 she was still unmarried and still very attached to the husband of the deceased woman. This case illustrates not only the statements that these children make, but also the unusual behavior and the involvement with the other family. That is a point that I will be emphasizing repeatedly during my remarks. It is a lesson for myself because when I first began studying these cases, I thought they would consist only of statements that the child made. All you would have to do was verify those and make sure that the child couldn’t have learned about the other person normally. But, there is much more to the cases than that as I subsequently discovered. The components of the "complete" case of reincarnation type is as follows: Prediction by a dying or elderly person about parents and/or circumstance desired for the next incarnation Announcing dream Birthmarks or birth defects corresponding to physical textures, e.g. wounds, cross-dressing, play Statements by the subject about persons, places and events of the previous life Unusual behavior corresponding to behavior shown by the presumed previous personality or conjecturable for him/her, e.g. phobias, philias, aversions, cross-dressing, play The behavior might include phobias and aversions such as the instrument, mode or sight of the death. Equally prominent are philias, especially for foods and intoxicants like alcohol and tobacco. Then there are disturbances in relationship between the child and the parent. The child wants to go to the other family often. One child, whose case I will mention in a little while, was so determined to go to the family where she claimed she belonged, that she actually fasted to the point of mal-nourishment and had to be admitted into the hospital. She went on a food strike. Sometimes there are unusually strong relationships that correspond to the relationships between the deceased person and the person to whom the child is attracted or perhaps repelled. Some of the children show vengefulness and inclinations to crime related features of a previous life. Some play in childhood corresponds to vocation of the deceased person. Where are the cases found most readily? Let me first clarify that we have almost no knowledge of the real incidence of these cases. So, what I am talking about here is where we can find the cases and what parts are reported. They are found most readily in Southeast Asia, especially in Shrilanka, Burma and the valley of India, West Africa, and Northwest North America among the tribes. But, they are also found in other countries, including Western Europe and North America. A book now is just about to go to press on the cases in Europe. These cases in Europe, to some extent, show features similar to those cases studied in Asia. The principle instrument of investigation is the interview. But, they must be interviews with qualified people which means first-hand informants. We try to set aside second-hand informants who will often narrate something they heard or imagined themselves. We allow the informants to talk freely at first and then come in with questions about details. The interview ultimately becomes somewhat scheduled–we have a checklist of items that we want to cover about details. The recording of the interview is rarely done with tape recorders. Most often we make notes because the interpreter translates for us and handwritten notes enables us to record many details that might be missed in a tape recording. Printed and written documents have become of special importance in recent years when we have given more attention to the cases with birthmarks and birth defects. We have sought the autopsy reports and have been successful in some 65 or 70 cases in obtaining those. That consumes an immense amount of time–one has to drink cups of coffee with the bureaucrats who have access to the records. It is all very worthwhile because an autopsy report in black and white made before the child’s impression was born in most cases we find a close correspondence between the post-mortem report and the birth marks and birth defects. More recently we have been concerned with psychological tests. These were first conducted by our colleague from Iceland, Dr. Harrelson, who did psychological testing in Shrilanka comparing the subjects with other children of the same age and general background. Dr. Tucker is now conducting this kind of program with American children. The interviews are rather informal. We declare one area as a "witness box" and ask everyone else to remain sound (which they usually do). We tell them that if they have something to say, we would be glad to listen to them later. Here is one picture of a man who had a prominent birthmark on his head. He remembers a previous life of a man who had been shot by communists and his body was thrown into a river. Here is a woman in Burma who remembers a previous life as a Japanese soldier. She was loaded with Japanese-like traits when she was a child. She gradually became more "Burma-fied." I want to say something about the alternative ways of analyzing the data. We can look at each individual case and consider alternative interpretations for them. We can also look at groups of cases–we have plenty of them now–so it is possible to make analyses of the cases within a country and then perform cross-cultural comparisons. What we found is that if you look at cases across all the cultures where we have worked, certain "universal" features stand out and other features seemed to be "culture bound." This is a list of the principle interpretations of cases of the reincarnation type: Fraud Fantasy Crypronesia (source amnesia) Paramnesia (crediting subject with more knowledge about previous life than he really has) Genetic memory If I were to coach a skeptic, I would tell him to focus on paramnesia–confusion and unconscious editing of the memories of the informants. If you could eliminate all of these false interpretations, you would get down to what we call paranormal processes: Extrasensory perception combined with development of a secondary personality Possession (imposition on the subject of memories of a discarnate person) Reincarnation This is a summary of the ways in which we would appraise cases with regard to their strength. The seven statements must directly correspond to events in the life of only one diseased person, so that requires a fair amount of specificity in the names given. Then the two families concerned must have no previous knowledge of each other. And ideally, the subject’s statements should be recorded before they are verified. Unfortunately, too often, parents under pressure from the child or influenced by their own curiosity, try to find the other family if the child has given enough indication. They then carry out their own verifications before we reach the case. After all these years we still have only 35 cases in which the subject’s statements were recorded before they were verifiable. We accept a case if we get to it fairly soon, preferably a few weeks or months so it’s relevant. These universal features occur in cases of the reincarnation type (factors found in every culture from which cases have been studied so far): Age of first speaking of previous life (two to five years) Age of discontinuance of spontaneous references to previous life (five to seven years) High frequency of violent death in concerned previous personalities High frequency of mention of mode of death in previous personality by subject of case As examples of features that are not universal, I would mention, most importantly, sex change. Many cases of claimed sex changes in Burma and Thailand–even 26% of the Burmese claimed to have been a purpose of the opposite sex in a previous life whereas in Lebanon, it is unknown. I thought for years that it was also unknown in Turkey, but our colleague, Dr. Collins, told me about a case of sex change type in Turkey. Now I want to come to the topic of birthmarks and birth defects. I’ll show you some examples, particularly of birthmarks. This is a photograph of a baker in South Central Turkey. We are still a little bit in touch with him. He remembered the previous life of a person shown on the next slide. This is a photograph of a notorious bandit, General Hayak (??), who in the 1930’s was highly successful in robbing highway travelers in that part of Turkey. He hid out in the woods and evaded the police for two to three years until, eventually his hiding place was betrayed. After a conventional shoot-out with the police, the police succeeded in setting fire to the house where he had sheltered. He decided that he would kill himself rather than be killed and possibly tortured by the police. So, he shot himself, putting the muzzle of the gun to his chin and then setting off the trigger with his toe. The subject was born with a birthmark–I thought he had only had one birthmark. I eventually met one of the policemen who had been at the shootout and it actually turned out that he had been the first person who kicked the door of the house open and gone in and seen the body. He described to me, with unnecessarily dramatic vividness, the bullet had gone through and lifted his skull right off the top of his head. I thought that this subject should have another birthmark. So, I went back to him and I asked him if he had another birthmark. He said that he did and showed me it on the top of his head. One of my ambitions is to have this man taken out to a medical center and studied by a MRI to see whether there is a track of defective tissue along this line. I have not been able to do that, yet, partly because the urologist never replied to my letter. The next slide shows a young boy from Thailand, if you remember the previous slide of the schoolteacher who had a sideline in gangster-ism and was shot as he was riding his bicycle to work. This boy had two impressive birthmarks, as the next slides show, on his head. The 2 birthmarks correspond to the wounds--enter and exit (large and irregular). I would also like to study him with a MRI. I did not have a medical record in this case. This is a young girl in India. She is the one I mentioned before who went on a food strike and would not eat until she was taken to the town where she said that she had lived. They took her to another town and she got very angry about that and said that they were lying and to take her to the right town where she belonged. Eventually they did take her to the right town and verified her statements about having fallen from a height. Apparently a few children were playing together above an open area in the house where there was a stairway and a well and a very low railing. Apparently the two children, in teasing each other and jostling each other, were so in position that one of them toppled over this low railing and landed about three meters below on a hard concrete floor. She was taken to a hospital and I did obtain that hospital record that showed that she was bleeding from the right ear. She died a few hours later. I presume she had a fracture of the base of the skull. The birthmark on our subject was on the right parietal side of the head, corresponding pretty well to the site where the child landed on her head on the pavement below. I have one last slide of a boy who had a birthmark on his chest. The birthmark was an area of decreased pigmentation–which is not uncommon among these cases. I got an autopsy report on this case and persuaded the pathologist, who helped me find the post-mortem report, to draw circles of the wounds in a shotgun killing. By the dispersion of the shotgun pellets, you can tell the distance of the gun from the victim.



Personal life and education

Stevenson was born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa, one of three children.[7] His father, John Stevenson, was a Scottish lawyer who was working in Ottawa as the Canadian correspondent for The Times of London or The New York Times.[9] His mother, Ruth, had an interest in theosophy and an extensive library on the subject, to which Stevenson attributed his own early interest in the paranormal. As a child he was often bedridden with bronchitis, a condition that continued into adulthood and engendered in him a lifelong love of books.[10] According to Emily Williams Kelly, a colleague of his at the University of Virginia, he maintained a list of the books he had read, which numbered 3,535 between 1935 and 2003.[1]

He studied medicine at St. Andrews University in Scotland from 1937 to 1939, but had to complete his studies in Canada because of the outbreak of the Second World War.[11] He graduated from McGill University with a B.S.c. in 1942 and an M.D. in 1943. He was married to Octavia Reynolds from 1947 until her death in 1983.[1] In 1985, he married Dr. Margaret Pertzoff (1926–2009), professor of history at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. She did not share his views on the paranormal, but tolerated them with what Stevenson called "benevolent silences."[12]

Early career

After graduating, Stevenson conducted research in biochemistry. His first residency was at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal (1944–1945), but his lung condition continued to bother him, and one of his professors at McGill advised him to move to Arizona for his health.[10] He took up a residency at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona (1945–1946). After that, he held a fellowship in internal medicine at the Alton Ochsner Medical Foundation in New Orleans, became a Denis Fellow in Biochemistry at Tulane University School of Medicine (1946–1947), and a Commonwealth Fund Fellow in Medicine at Cornell University Medical College and New York Hospital (1947–1949).[1] He became a U.S. citizen in 1949.[13]

Kelly writes that Stevenson became dissatisfied with the reductionism he encountered in biochemistry, and wanted to study the whole person.[1] He became interested in psychosomatic medicine, psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and in the late 1940s, worked at New York Hospital exploring psychosomatic illness and the effects of stress, and in particular why one person's response to stress might be asthma and another's high blood pressure.[14]

He taught at Louisiana State University School of Medicine from 1949 to 1957 as assistant, then associate, professor of psychiatry. In the 1950s, he met the English writer Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs, and studied the effects of L.S.D. and mescaline, one of the first academics to do so. Kelly writes that he tried L.S.D. himself, describing three days of "perfect serenity." He wrote that at the time he felt he could "never be angry again," but added, "As it happens that didn't work out, but the memory of it persisted as something to hope for."[1]

From 1951, he studied psychoanalysis at the New Orleans Psychoanalytic Institute and the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, graduating from the latter in 1958, a year after being appointed head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Virginia.[1] He argued against the orthodoxy within psychiatry and psychoanalysis at the time that the personality is more plastic in the early years; his paper on the subject, "Is the human personality more plastic in infancy and childhood?" (American Journal of Psychiatry, 1957), was not received well by his colleagues.[15] He wrote that their response prepared him for the rejection he experienced over his work on the paranormal.[10]

Reincarnation research

Early interest

Stevenson described as the leitmotif of his career his interest in why one person would develop one disease, and another something different.[14] He came to believe that neither environment nor heredity could account for certain fears, illnesses and special abilities, and that some form of personality or memory transfer might provide a third type of explanation. He acknowledged, however, the absence of evidence of a physical process by which a personality could survive death and transfer to another body, and he was careful not to commit himself fully to the position that reincarnation occurs.[16]

  • That he did not fully commit himself to one position, see Almeder 1992, pp. 58–61.</ref> He argued only that his case studies could not, in his view, be explained by environment or heredity, and that "reincarnation is the best – even though not the only – explanation for the stronger cases we have investigated."[17] His position was not a religious one, but represented what Robert Almeder, professor emeritus of philosophy at Georgia State University, calls the minimalistic reincarnation hypothesis. Almeder states the hypothesis this way:

There is something essential to some human personalities ... which we cannot plausibly construe solely in terms of either brain states, or properties of brain states ... and, further, after biological death this non-reducible essential trait sometimes persists for some time, in some way, in some place, and for some reason or other, existing independently of the person's former brain and body. Moreover, after some time, some of these irreducible essential traits of human personality, for some reason or other, and by some mechanism or other, come to reside in other human bodies either some time during the gestation period, at birth, or shortly after birth.[18]

In 1958 and 1959, Stevenson contributed several articles and book reviews to Harper's about parapsychology, including psychosomatic illness and extrasensory perception, and in 1958, he submitted the winning entry to a competition organized by the American Society for Psychical Research, in honor of the philosopher William James (1842–1910). The prize was for the best essay on "paranormal mental phenomena and their relationship to the problem of survival of the human personality after bodily death." Stevenson's essay, "The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations" (1960), reviewed forty-four published cases of people, mostly children, who claimed to remember past lives. It caught the attention of Eileen J. Garrett (1893–1970), the founder of the Parapsychology Foundation, who gave Stevenson a grant to travel to India to interview a child who was claiming to have past-life memories. According to Jim Tucker, Stevenson found twenty-five other cases in just four weeks in India and was able to publish his first book on the subject in 1966, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation.[19]

Chester Carlson (1906–1968), the inventor of xerography, offered further financial help. Tucker writes that this allowed Stevenson to step down as chair of the psychiatry department and set up a separate division within the department, which he called the Division of Personality Studies, later renamed the Division of Perceptual Studies.[20] When Carlson died in 1968, he left $1,000,000 to the University of Virginia to continue Stevenson's work. The bequest caused controversy within the university because of the nature of the research, but the donation was accepted, and Stevenson became the first Carlson Professor of Psychiatry.[21]

Case studies


The bequest allowed Stevenson to travel extensively, sometimes as much as 55,000 miles a year, collecting around three thousand case studies based on interviews with children from Africa to Alaska.[1]

According to journalist Tom Shroder, "In interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents, Dr. 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, Dr. Stevenson concluded that no normal explanation sufficed."[22]

In some cases, a child in a "past life" case may have birthmarks or birth defects that in some way correspond to physical features of the "previous person" whose life the child seems to remember. Stevenson's Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (1997) examined two hundred cases of birth defects or birthmarks on children claiming past-life memories. These included children with malformed or missing fingers who said they recalled the lives of people who had lost fingers; a boy with birthmarks resembling entrance and exit wounds who said he recalled the life of someone who had been shot; and a child with a scar around her skull three centimetres wide who said she recalled the life of a man who had had skull surgery. In many of the cases, in Stevenson's view, the witness testimony or autopsy reports appeared to support the existence of the injuries on the deceased's body.[19]

In the case of the boy who said he recalled the life of someone who had been shot, the sister of the deceased told Stevenson that her brother had shot himself in the throat. The boy had shown Stevenson a birthmark on his throat. Stevenson suggested that he might also have a birthmark on the top of his head, representing the exit wound, and found one there underneath the boy's hair.[23]



The Journal of the American Medical Association referred to Stevenson's Cases of the Reincarnation Type (1975) as a "painstaking and unemotional" collection of cases that were "difficult to explain on any assumption other than reincarnation."[24] In September 1977, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease devoted most of one issue to Stevenson's research.[25] Writing in the journal, the psychiatrist Harold Lief described Stevenson as a methodical investigator and added, "Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known (I have said as much to him) as 'the Galileo of the 20th century'."[26] The issue proved popular: the journal's editor, the psychiatrist Eugene Brody, said he had received 300–400 requests for reprints.[24]

Despite this early interest, most scientists ignored Stevenson's work. According to his New York Times obituary, his detractors saw him as "earnest, dogged but ultimately misguided, led astray by gullibility, wishful thinking and a tendency to see science where others saw superstition."[7] Critics suggested that the children or their parents had deceived him, that he was too willing to believe them, and that he had asked them leading questions. In addition, critics said, the results were subject to confirmation bias, in that cases not supportive of the hypothesis were not presented as counting against it.[8] Leonard Angel, a philosopher of religion, told The New York Times that Stevenson did not follow proper standards. "[B]ut you do have to look carefully to see it; that's why he's been very persuasive to many people."[7]

Skeptics have written that Stevenson's evidence was anecdotal and by applying Occam's razor there are prosaic explanations for the cases without invoking the paranormal.[27] Science writer Terence Hines has written:

The major problem with Stevenson’s work is that the methods he used to investigate alleged cases of reincarnation are inadequate to rule out simple, imaginative storytelling on the part of the children claiming to be reincarnations of dead individuals. In the seemingly most impressive cases Stevenson (1975, 1977) has reported, the children claiming to be reincarnated knew friends and relatives of the dead individual. The children’s knowledge of facts about these individuals is, then, somewhat less than conclusive evidence for reincarnation.[28]

Robert Baker wrote that many of the alleged past-life experiences investigated by Stevenson and other parapsychologists can be explained in terms of known psychological factors. Baker attributed the recalling of past lives to a mixture of cryptomnesia and confabulation.[29]

Ian Wilson argued that a large number of Stevenson's cases consisted of poor children remembering wealthy lives or belonging to a higher caste. He speculated that such cases may represent a scheme to obtain money from the family of the alleged former incarnation.[30]

The philosopher C. T. K. Chari of Madras Christian College in Chennai, a specialist in parapsychology, argued that Stevenson was naive and that the case studies were undermined by his lack of local knowledge. Chari wrote that many of the cases had come from societies, such as that of India, where people believed in reincarnation, and that the stories were simply cultural artifacts; he argued that, for children in many Asian countries, the recall of a past life is the equivalent of an imaginary playmate.[31] The philosopher Keith Augustine made a similar argument.[32] Stevenson responded that it was precisely those societies that listened to children's claims about past lives, which in Europe or North America would normally be dismissed without investigation.[33] To address the cultural concern, he wrote European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003), which presented forty cases he had examined in Europe.[34]

The philosopher Paul Edwards, editor-in-chief of Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Philosophy, became Stevenson's chief critic.[35] From 1986 onwards, he devoted several articles to Stevenson's work, and discussed Stevenson in his Reincarnation: A Critical Examination (1996).[36] He argued that Stevenson's views were "absurd nonsense" and that when examined in detail his case studies had "big holes" and "do not even begin to add up to a significant counterweight to the initial presumption against reincarnation."[37] Stevenson, Edwards wrote, "evidently lives in a cloud-cuckoo-land." [38]

Champe Ransom, whom Stevenson hired as an assistant in the 1970s, wrote an unpublished report about Stevenson's work, which Edwards cites in his Immortality (1992) and Reincarnation (1996). According to Ransom, Edwards wrote, Stevenson asked the children leading questions, filled in gaps in the narrative, did not spend enough time interviewing them, and left too long a period between the claimed recall and the interview; it was often years after the first mention of a recall that Stevenson learned about it. In only eleven of the 1,111 cases Ransom looked at had there been no contact between the families of the deceased and of the child before the interview; in addition, according to Ransom, seven of those eleven cases were seriously flawed. He also wrote that there were problems with the way Stevenson presented the cases, in that he would report his witnesses' conclusions, rather than the data upon which the conclusions rested. Weaknesses in cases would be reported in a separate part of his books, rather than during the discussion of the cases themselves. Ransom concluded that it all amounted to anecdotal evidence of the weakest kind.[39]

In Death and Personal Survival (1992), Almeder holds that Ransom was false in stating that there were only 11 cases with no prior contact between the two families concerned.. According to Almeder there were 23 such cases.[40]

Edwards cited the case of Corliss Chotkin, Jr., in Angoon, Alaska, described in Stevenson's Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966), as an example that relied entirely on the word of one woman, the niece of Victor Vincent, a fisherman.[41] (Victor Vincent was the person whose life Corliss Chotkin, Jr., seemed to remember.) Edwards wrote that, among the many weaknesses in the case, the family were religious believers in reincarnation, Chotkin had birthmarks that were said to have resembled scars that Vincent had but Stevenson had not seen Vincent's scars, and all the significant details relied on the niece. Edwards said that Stevenson offered no information about her, except that several people told him she had a tendency, as Stevenson put it, to embellish or invent stories. Edwards wrote that similar weaknesses could be found in all Stevenson's case studies.[42] In Stevenson's defense, Robert Almeder wrote in 1997 that the Chotkin case was one of Stevenson's weaker ones.[43]

Edwards charged that Stevenson referred to himself as a scientist but did not act like one. According to Edwards, he failed to respond to, or even mention, significant objections; the large bibliography in Stevenson's Children Who Remember Previous Lives (1987) does not include one paper or book from his opponents.[44]

Stevenson wrote an introduction to a book, Second Time Round (1975), in which Edward Ryall, an Englishman, told of what he believed to be his memories of a past life as John Fletcher, a man who was born in 1645 in Taunton, England, and died forty years later near his home in Westonzoyland, Somerset.[45][46] Stevenson investigated the case and discovered that some of the historical features from Ryall's book were accurate. Stevenson wrote, "I think it most probable that he has memories of a real previous life and that he is indeed John Fletcher reborn, as he believes himself to be".[46] In 1976, however, John Taylor discovered that none of the available church records at the Westonzoyland church from 1645 to 1685 had entries for births, marriages, or deaths for the name Fletcher. Since no trace of the name could be found, he concluded that no man called John Fletcher actually existed and that the supposed memories were a fantasy Ryall had developed over the years.[46] Stevenson later altered his opinion about the case. In his book European Cases of the Reincarnation Type, he wrote, "I can no longer believe that all of Edward Ryall's apparent memories derive from a previous life, because some of his details are clearly wrong," but he still suggested that Ryall acquired some information about 17th-century Somerset by paranormal means.[47]


In support of Stevenson, Almeder argued in Death and Personal Survival that Edwards had begged the question by stating in advance that the idea of consciousness existing without the brain in the interval between lives was incredible, and that Edwards's "dogmatic materialism" had forced him to the view that Stevenson's case studies must be examples of fraud or delusional thinking. According to Almeder, the possibility of fraud was indeed investigated in the cases Edwards mentioned.[40]

In an article published on Scientific American's website in 2013, favorably reviewing Stevenson's work, Jesse Bering, a professor of science communication, wrote, "Towards the end of her own storied life, the physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf—whose groundbreaking theories on surface physics earned her the prestigious Heyn Medal from the German Society for Material Sciences, surmised that Stevenson’s work had established that 'the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming … that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.' "[48]


Although Stevenson mainly focused on cases of children who seemed to remember past lives, he also studied two cases in which adults under hypnosis seemed to remember a past life and show rudimentary use of a language they had not learned in the present life. Stevenson called this phenomenon "xenoglossy."[49] The linguist Sarah Thomason, critiquing these cases, wrote that Stevenson is "unsophisticated about language" and that the cases are unconvincing.[50][51] Thomason concluded, "the linguistic evidence is too weak to provide support for the claims of xenoglossy."[52] William J. Samarin, a linguist from the University of Toronto, wrote that Stevenson corresponded with linguists in a selective and unprofessional manner. He said that Stevenson corresponded with one linguist in a period of six years "without raising any discussion about the kinds of thing that linguists would need to know."[53] Another linguist, William Frawley, wrote, "Stevenson does not consider enough linguistic evidence in these cases to warrant his metaphysics."[54]

Retirement, death and experiment

Child psychiatrist Jim Tucker continues Stevenson's work.[55]
Child psychiatrist Jim Tucker continues Stevenson's work.[55]

Stevenson stepped down as director of the Division of Perceptual Studies in 2002, although he continued to work as Research Professor of Psychiatry.[20] Bruce Greyson, editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, became director of the division. Jim Tucker, the department's associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, continued Stevenson's research with children, examined in Tucker's book, Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives (2005).[55] Stevenson died of pneumonia in February 2007 at his retirement home in Charlottesville, Virginia.[56] In his will he endowed the Stevenson Chair in the Philosophy and History of Science including Medicine, at McGill University Department of Social Studies of Medicine. The inaugural chairholder is Professor Annmarie Adams.

As one experiment to test for personal survival of bodily death, in the 1960s Stevenson set a combination lock using a secret word or phrase and placed it in a filing cabinet in the department, telling his colleagues he would try to pass the code to them after his death. Emily Williams Kelly told The New York Times: "Presumably, if someone had a vivid dream about him, in which there seemed to be a word or a phrase that kept being repeated—I don't quite know how it would work—if it seemed promising enough, we would try to open it using the combination suggested." The Morning News reported in October 2014 that the lock was still unopened.[57][7]


  • (1960). Medical History-Taking. Paul B. Hoeber.
  • (1966). Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1969). The Psychiatric Examination. Little, Brown.
  • (1970). Telepathic Impressions: A Review and Report of 35 New Cases. University Press of Virginia.
  • (1971). The Diagnostic Interview (2nd revised edition of Medical History-Taking). Harper & Row.
  • (1974). Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (second revised and enlarged edition). University of Virginia Press.
  • (1974). Xenoglossy: A Review and Report of A Case. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1975). Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Vol. I: Ten Cases in India. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1978). Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Vol. II: Ten Cases in Sri Lanka. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1980). Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Vol. III: Twelve Cases in Lebanon and Turkey. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1983). Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Vol. IV: Twelve Cases in Thailand and Burma. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1984). Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy. University of Virginia Press.
  • (1997). Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects. Volume 1: Birthmarks. Volume 2: Birth Defects and Other Anomalies. Praeger Publishers.
  • (1997). Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect. Praeger Publishers (a short, non-technical version of Reincarnation and Biology).
  • (2000). Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (revised edition).
  • (2003). European Cases of the Reincarnation Type. McFarland & Company.
Selected articles
  • (1949). "Why medicine is not a science", Harper's, April.
  • (1952). "Illness from the inside", Harper's, March.
  • (1952). "Why people change", Harper's, December.
  • (1954). "Psychosomatic medicine, Part I", Harper's, July.
  • (1954). "Psychosomatic medicine, Part II", Harper's, August.
  • (1957). "Tranquilizers and the mind", Harper's, July.
  • (1957). "Schizophrenia", Harper's, August.
  • (1957). "Is the human personality more plastic in infancy and childhood?", American Journal of Psychiatry, 114(2), pp. 152–161.
  • (1958). "Scientists with half-closed minds" Harper's, November.
  • (1959). "A Proposal for Studying Rapport which Increases Extrasensory Perception," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 53, pp. 66–68.
  • (1959). "The Uncomfortable Facts about Extrasensory Perception", Harper's, July.
  • (1960). "The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 54, pp. 51–71.
  • (1960). "The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations": Part II. Analysis of the Data and Suggestions for Further Investigations, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 54, pp. 95–117.
  • (1961). "An Example Illustrating the Criteria and Characteristics of Precognitive Dreams," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 55, pp. 98–103.
  • (1964). "The Blue Orchid of Table Mountain," Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 42, pp. 401–409.
  • (1968). "The Combination Lock Test for Survival," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 62, pp. 246–254.
  • (1970). "Characteristics of Cases of the Reincarnation Type in Turkey and their Comparison with Cases in Two other Cultures," International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 11, pp. 1–17.
  • (1970). "A Communicator Unknown to Medium and Sitters," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 64, pp. 53–65.
  • (1970). "Precognition of Disasters," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 64, pp. 187–210.
  • (1971). "The Substantiability of Spontaneous cases," Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association, No. 5, pp. 91–128.
  • (1972). "Are Poltergeists Living or Are They Dead?," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 66, pp. 233–252.
  • (1977). Stevenson, IAN (May 1977). "The Explanatory Value of the Idea of Reincarnation". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 164 (5): 305–326. doi:10.1097/00005053-197705000-00002. PMID 864444.
  • (1983). Stevenson, I. (Dec 1983). "American children who claim to remember previous lives". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 171 (12): 742–748. doi:10.1097/00005053-198312000-00006. PMID 6644283.
  • (1986). Stevenson, I. (1986). "Characteristics of Cases of the Reincarnation Type among the Igbo of Nigeria". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 21 (3–4): 204–216. doi:10.1177/002190968602100305. Archived from the original on 2013-02-01.
  • (1993). "Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons" (PDF). Journal of Scientific Exploration. 7 (4): 403–410.
  • with Emily Williams Cook and Bruce Greyson (1998). "Do Any Near-Death Experiences Provide Evidence for the Survival of Human Personality after Relevant Features and Illustrative Case Reports" (PDF). Journal of Scientific Exploration. 12 (3): 377–406.
  • (1999). Stevenson, I. (Apr 1999). "Past lives of twins". Lancet. 353 (9161): 1359–1360. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)74353-1. PMID 10218554.
  • (2000). Stevenson, I. (Apr 2000). "The phenomenon of claimed memories of previous lives: possible interpretations and importance". Medical Hypotheses. 54 (4): 652–659. doi:10.1054/mehy.1999.0920. PMID 10859660.
  • (2000). Stevenson, I. (1985). "The Belief in Reincarnation Among the Igbo of Nigeria". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 20 (1–2): 13–30. doi:10.1177/002190968502000102. Archived from the original on 2012-11-04.
  • (2001). Stevenson, I. (August 2001). "Ropelike birthmarks on children who claim to remember past lives". Psychological Reports. 89 (1): 142–144. doi:10.2466/pr0.2001.89.1.142. PMID 11729534.
  • with Satwant K. Pasricha; Jürgen Keil; and Jim B. Tucker (2005). "Some Bodily Malformations Attributed to Previous Lives" (PDF). Journal of Scientific Exploration. 19 (3): 159–183.
  • (2005). Foreword and afterword in Mary Rose Barrington and Zofia Weaver. A World in a Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowiecki. McFarland Press.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h [1]. (March 26, 2019)., University of Virginia School of Medicine.
  2. ^ Hopkins Tanne (British Medical Journal), April 2, 2007.
  3. ^ Woodhouse 1996, pp. 143–144.
    • Bache 2000, p. 34ff.
    • Also see "The Daily Telegraph". Archived from the original on March 31, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-16.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), February 12, 2007.
  4. ^ Stevenson, I (2000). "The phenomenon of claimed memories of previous lives: Possible interpretations and importance". Medical Hypotheses. 54 (4): 652–9. doi:10.1054/mehy.1999.0920. PMID 10859660.
  5. ^ Stevenson, I (1977). "The explanatory value of the idea of reincarnation". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 164 (5): 305–26. doi:10.1097/00005053-197705000-00002. PMID 864444.
  6. ^ For his having been on the founding committee of the Society for Scientific Exploration, see "Stevenson 2006" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2006. Retrieved September 1, 2016., p. 19.
  7. ^ a b c d e Fox (The New York Times), February 18, 2007.
  8. ^ a b , Carroll 2009, article on his website The Skeptic's Dictionary.
  9. ^ For the London Times, see Fox (The New York Times), February 18, 2007.
  10. ^ a b c "Stevenson 2006" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2006. Retrieved September 1, 2016., pp. 13–14.
  11. ^ Pandarakalam (British Medical Journal), April 2, 2007.
  12. ^ "Stevenson 2006" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2006. Retrieved September 1, 2016., p. 20.
  13. ^ World Who's in Science 1968, p. 1609.
  14. ^ a b "Stevenson 1989" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2012-11-15.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link).
  15. ^ For the paper, see Stevenson 1957, pp. 152–161.
  16. ^ For his failure to suggest a mechanism, see Shroder, February 11, 2007.
  17. ^ Tucker 2005, p. 211.
  18. ^ Almeder 1997 Archived 2009-12-29 at the Wayback Machine, p. 502.
    • Also see Almeder 1992, p. 35, discussing Paul Edwards's criticism of Stevenson that the idea of an "astral body" existing in the interval between lives is incredible: "[W]e cannot, without begging the question against the case studies, argue that we know consciousness cannot exist with a brain. We know nothing of the sort. ... Moreover, the argument for reincarnation implies nothing specific about the nature of an 'astral body,' where it goes during the period between incarnations, how the astral body reincarnates, why it reincarnates, how frequently it reincarnates, whether everybody reincarnates, and what the point of it all is. As a matter of fact, given the cases involved, one need never mention the expression astral body. The argument implies only that some core elements of human personality occasionally survive bodily corruption (and hence cannot be identified with the physical body) and reincarnate."
  19. ^ a b For Stevenon's work in Harper's, see "Stevenson 2006" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2006. Retrieved September 1, 2016., p. 13; "Ian Stevenson", Harper's.
  20. ^ a b "History and description", Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia.
  21. ^ "Stevenson 2006" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2006. Retrieved September 1, 2016., pp. 17–18.
  22. ^ Shroder, Tom (February 11, 2007). "Ian Stevenson; Sought To Document Memories Of Past Lives in Children". Washington Post. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  23. ^ Kelly; Kelly (2007). "p. 234, citing Stevenson". Reincarnation and Biology. 1: 728–745.
  24. ^ a b Edwards 1996, p. 253.
  25. ^ Brody, September 1977.
  26. ^ Lief, September 1977.
  27. ^ Rockley, Richard. (2002). "Book Review: Children who Remember Previous Lives". SkepticReport. Retrieved 2014-10-11.
  28. ^ Hines 2003, p. 109.
  29. ^ Robert Baker. (1996). Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-576-8
  30. ^ Ian Wilson. (1981). Mind Out of Time: Reincarnation Investigated. Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-02968-4
  31. ^ C.T.K. Chari, "Reincarnation Research: Method and Interpretation," cited in Edwards 1996, p. 261.
    • Also see Ian Stevenson (1986), "Reply to C.T.K. Chari," Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 53, pp. 474–475.
  32. ^ Keith Augustine. (1997). The Case Against Immortality. Skeptic Magazine. Volume 5. Number 2.
  33. ^ "The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2007". Archived from the original on March 31, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-16..
  34. ^ Cadoret 2005.
  35. ^ That Edwards was Stevenson's "most formidable critic," see Bache 2000, p. 35.
  36. ^ Paul Edwards (1986), "The Case Against Reincarnation: Part 1," Free Inquiry, 6, Fall, pp. 24–34.
    • ____________ (1986/7), "The Case Against Reincarnation: Part 2," Free Inquiry, 7, Winter, pp. 38–43.
    • ____________ (1987a), "The Case Against Reincarnation: Part 3," Free Inquiry, 7, Spring, pp. 38–49.
    • ____________ (1987b), "The Case Against Reincarnation: Part 4," Free Inquiry, 7, Summer, pp. 46–53.
    • ____________ (ed.) (1992), "Introduction," Immortality. MacMillan.
    • ____________ (1996), Reincarnation: A Critical Examination. Prometheus Books.
  37. ^ Edwards 1996, pp. 140, 256 (see chapter 16, pp. 253–278).
  38. ^ Edwards 1996, p. 268.
  39. ^ Edwards 1992, pp. 13–14; Edwards 1996, p. 275; McClelland 2010, p. 144.
  40. ^ a b Almeder 1992, pp. 34ff, 60.
  41. ^ Stevenson 1966, p. 259ff.
  42. ^ Edwards 1996, pp. 136–138; Stevenson 1966, pp. 259–269.
  43. ^ Almeder 1997 Archived 2009-12-29 at the Wayback Machine, pp. 510, 519.
    • Also see Woodhouse 1996, p. 144: "[The paradigm war over reincarnation] has pitted Robert Almeder, a nationally distinguished philosopher of science, against Paul Edwards, general editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy."
  44. ^ Edwards 1992, p. 11.
  45. ^ Ian Stevenson. (1974). Introduction in Edward Ryall. Second Time Round. Neville Spearman. pp. 9–31
  46. ^ a b c John Taylor. (1980). Science and the Supernatural: An Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena Including Psychic Healing, Clairvoyance, Telepathy, and Precognition by a Distinguished Physicist and Mathematician. Temple Smith. pp. 127-130. ISBN 0-85117-191-5
  47. ^ Ian Stevenson. (2003). European Cases of the Reincarnation Type. McFarland. pp. 230-231. ISBN 978-0-7864-4249-2
  48. ^ Bering, Jesse. "Ian Stevenson's Case for the Afterlife: Are We 'Skeptics' Really Just Cynics?". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  49. ^ Matlock, James G. "Ian Stevenson." The term was coined in the early 1900s by C. Richet.
  50. ^ Sarah Thomason. (1984). Do You Remember Your Previous Life’s Language in Your Present Incarnation?. American Speech 59: 340-350.
  51. ^ Sarah Thomason. (1986-87). Past Tongues Remembered?. Skeptical Inquirer 11: 367-75.
  52. ^ Sarah Thomason. Xenoglossy in Gordon Stein. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-021-5
  53. ^ Samarin, William J (1976). "Xenoglossy: A Review and Report of a Case by Ian Stevenson". Language. 52 (1): 270–274. doi:10.2307/413229. JSTOR 413229.
  54. ^ Frawley, William (1985). "Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy by Ian Stevenson". Language. 61 (3): 739. doi:10.2307/414443. JSTOR 414443.
  55. ^ a b "Division Staff". Archived from the original on December 23, 2002. Retrieved September 1, 2016., Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia.
  56. ^ Shroder2007
  57. ^ "The Combination Lock Test".


Further reading

Ian Stevenson/reincarnation
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