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Review: Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson
A review of Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson.
Transmigration of souls
Do you believe in reincarnation?
I’m not sure.
Various religions, ancient and modern, have offered it as a possible explanation of what happens to us after we die. Buddhists believe it. Hindus believe it. In the past, the ancient Greeks believed it, and referred to it as Transmigration of Souls . Gnostic Christians may have believed it; the Druids certainly did.
The problem for the modern, rational mind is that belief in something is not enough. We want proof. “Show us the evidence,” we might say, before dismissing such claims as wishful thinking.
And this is natural enough, of course. Who wants to die? Wouldn’t we all like to hope that something of us survives into the future?
As Woody Allen said: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.”
As it happens there may well be quite serious evidence of reincarnation.
This lies in the work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia – he died in February 2007 – and of his associates in the Division of Perceptual Studies there who are continuing with his work.
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation
Dr. Stevenson’s began his work in 1961 and has published several books on the subject, the most famous being Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation first published in 1966.
His method was as follows. He would hear about cases where young children (typically from the ages of two to seven) were making claims about having memories of a previous life. He would then interview the children, taking meticulous notes, usually with witnesses around to verify the child’s statements.
After this he would turn from scientist into detective, and would begin to investigate the child’s claims, to see if there was any truth in them.
The cases he examined ranged from the moderately weak, to the very compelling.
Sometimes some of the children told remarkable tales about people and events which they almost certainly couldn’t have got by any other means than by reincarnation.
In a typical case, a boy in Beirut claimed that he had been a mechanic in his previous life who had died in a car accident. Witnesses say the boy provided the name of the driver, the location of the crash, the names of the mechanic's sisters and parents, cousins and friends, all of which turned out to match the life of a man who had died some years before.
Of course, none of this constitutes proof, and Dr Stevenson was too cautious to claim that his investigations were any more than “suggestive” of reincarnation.
On the other hand, almost nothing in science is based upon absolute proof. For instance, there is no “proof” that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. There is, however, overwhelming statistical evidence that it does.
As to what conclusions you might draw from his work, Dr. Stevenson has his own views on the subject.
"I think a rational person, if he wants, can believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence."
But we are left with a number of questions. For instance: if we are reincarnated beings, why is it that we don’t remember? Also, why is it generally only very young children who make these claims?
Actually that’s not quite true. I know lots of people who claim to be the reincarnation of this or that historical person. The difference is that very young children are the best evidence. There might be strong political reasons why an adult might make such a claim. On the other hand young children are generally less tainted by aspiration and the hope of political gain.
Also, maybe we are more psychically in tune when we are younger, less committed to a fixed view of who we are and who we might have been.
As to why most of us don’t remember, I think that is obvious.
It’s probably a survival technique. After all: who wants to remember their own death?