Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Ian Stevenson

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Ian Stevenson
Born(1918-10-31)October 31, 1918
Montreal, Canada
DiedFebruary 8, 2007(2007-02-08) (aged 88)
Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
Cause of deathPneumonia
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
InfluencedBruce Greyson, Jim B. Tucker, Satwant Pasricha, Robert Almeder, Carol Bowman
Spouse(s)Octavia Reynolds (m. 1947)
Margaret Pertzoff (m. 1985)
ParentsIan and Ruth Stevenson
Ian Pretyman Stevenson (October 31, 1918 – February 8, 2007) was a Canadian psychiatrist. He worked for the University of Virginia School of Medicine for 50 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]
Stevenson was the founder and director of the university's Division of Perceptual Studies, which investigates the paranormal, and became known internationally for his research into reincarnation, the idea that emotions, memories, and even physical injuries in the form of birthmarks, can be transferred from one life to another.[2] He traveled extensively over a period of 40 years investigating 3,000 cases of children claiming to remember past lives.[3]
Stevenson's position was that certain phobias, philias, unusual abilities and illnesses could not be explained by heredity or the environment, and that personality transfer provided a third type of explanation, though he was never able to suggest what kind of physical process might be involved.[4] He helped to found the Society for Scientific Exploration in 1982, and was the author of around 300 papers and 14 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), which reported 200 cases of birthmarks that he believed corresponded with a wound on the deceased person whose life the child purported to recall. He wrote a shorter version of the same research for the general reader, Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (1997).[5]
Reaction to his work was mixed. The New York Times wrote that his supporters saw him as a misunderstood genius, but most scientists ignored his work, regarding him as earnest but gullible.[6] His life and work became the subject of two supportive books, Old Souls (1999) by Tom Shroder, a Washington Post journalist, and Life Before Life (2005) by Jim B. Tucker, a psychiatrist and colleague at the University of Virginia. Critics raised a number of issues, including that the children he interviewed or their parents had deceived him; that interviewing children without suggesting material to them is difficult; that the difficulties were compounded by Stevenson working through translators who believed what the children were saying; and that his conclusions were undermined by confirmation bias, where cases not supportive of his hypothesis did not count against it.[7]



[edit] Personal life and education

Stevenson was born in Ottawa, one of three children. 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.[8] His mother, Ruth, had an interest in theosophy, and Stevenson attributed his interest in the paranormal to his mother's library on the subject. As a child he was often bedridden with bronchitis, a condition that continued into adulthood.[9] Emily Williams Kelly, a colleague of his at the University of Virginia, wrote that the illness led to a lifelong reading habit, which saw him read 3,535 books between 1935 and 2003, according to a list he kept.[1]
He studied medicine at St. Andrews University from 1937 to 1939, but had to complete his studies in Canada because of the outbreak of the Second World War.[10] He graduated from McGill University with a BSc in 1942 and an MD 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."[11]

[edit] Career and research interests

[edit] Early career

Stevenson met Aldous Huxley (above) in the 1950s and tried LSD, which he said made him feel that he could never be angry again.[1]
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.[9] 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 an American citizen in 1949.[12]
Kelly writes that Stevenson became dissatisfied with the reductionism he encountered in biochemistry, and wanted to study the whole person instead.[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.[13] 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 LSD and mescaline, one of the first academics to do so. Kelly writes that he tried LSD himself, describing three days of "perfect serenity" and writing that at the time he felt he could "never be angry again," though he also wrote: "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.[14] He wrote that their response prepared him for the rejection he experienced over his work on the paranormal.[9]

[edit] Reincarnation research

[edit] Early work

Stevenson came to believe that behaviorism and psychoanalysis were unable to explain the formation of personality, and that neither environment nor heredity could account for certain phenomena. In 1958 and 1959 he wrote several book reviews about the paranormal and parapsychology, and articles about psychosomatic illness and extrasensory perception for Harper's.[15] Jim Tucker writes that in 1958 the American Society for Psychical Research announced a competition, in honor of the philosopher William James (1842–1910), 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 winning entry, "The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations" (1960), reviewed 44 published cases of people, mostly children, who claimed to remember past lives.[16]
The paper 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 Tucker, Stevenson found 25 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.[16] Chester Carlson (1906–1968), the inventor of xerography, also offered financial help. Tucker writes that this allowed Stevenson to step down as chair of the psychiatry department and set up the Division of Personality Studies within the department – later renamed the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS).[17] When Carlson died in 1968 he left $1 million 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.[18]

[edit] Overview

Stevenson traveled extensively, sometimes as much as 55,000 miles a year, interviewing children from Africa to Alaska, and collecting 3,000 case studies.[1] Remi Cadoret wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry that typically the children would start talking about past-life memories (and often violent deaths) at the age of two to four, and would stop by the age of eight. The descriptions would be accompanied by unusual behavior such as phobias, and the children might have a birthmark or birth defect the same shape as wounds on the body of the deceased person whose life was purportedly being recalled.[19]
Stevenson's research is associated with what Robert Almeder, professor emeritus of philosophy at Georgia State University, calls the minimalist reincarnation hypothesis. Almeder describes this as the view that: "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."[20]
Tom Shroder wrote in The Washington Post that in scores of cases Stevenson could find no alternative explanation for the phenomena he recorded. One boy in Beirut described having been a mechanic who died after being hit by a car. According to Schroder, witnesses said the boy offered the name of the driver, the location of the accident, and the names of the dead man's sisters, parents and cousins. The details apparently matched the life of a man who had died before the boy was born, and who, Stevenson was told, was unconnected to the boy's family.[21]
Stevenson's Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (1997) examined 200 cases of birth defects or unusual birthmarks. These included children with malformed or missing fingers who said they recalled the lives of people who had lost fingers; a boy with two birthmarks on his head resembling entrance and exit wounds, who said he recalled the life of someone who was shot; and a child with a scar around her skull 3 cm wide, who said she recalled the life of a man who had had skull surgery. In many of the cases, in Stevenson's view, witness testimony or autopsy reports appeared to support the existence of the injuries on the deceased's body.[16] Stevenson concluded that "reincarnation is the best – even though not the only – explanation for the stronger cases we have investigated."[22] He nevertheless recognized what Shroder called a "glaring flaw" in his work, namely the lack of any evidence or suggestion as to how a personality could survive the death of one body and be carried over to another.[21]

[edit] Reception

In September 1977 the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease devoted most of one issue to Stevenson's research.[23] In the same issue psychiatrist Harold Lief described Stevenson as a methodical investigator, writing: "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'."[24] The journal's editor, psychiatrist Eugene Brody, said he received 300–400 requests from scientists for reprints.[25]
Despite this early interest, most scientists ignored his 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."[6] Critics raised a number of issues about his methodology and objectivity. They suggested that the children or their parents had deceived him; that Stevenson was too willing to believe them; that interviewing children without inadvertently suggesting material to them is difficult; that he was working through translators, which compounded the difficulties; that the translators believed the children, which undermined the objectivity of the research still further; and that the results were subject to confirmation bias, in that cases not supportive of the hypothesis did not count against it.[7] 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."[6]
Another criticism was that many of Stevenson's examples were gathered in cultures where people believed in reincarnation. Stevenson argued that it was precisely those cultures that listened to children's claims about past lives, which in the West would normally be dismissed without investigation.[3] To address the cultural concern, Stevenson wrote European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003), which presented 40 cases he had examined in Europe.[26]
Champe Ransom, a lawyer Stevenson hired as an assistant in the 1970s, became critical of his work in what came to be known as the Ransom report. In it, according to the philosopher Paul Edwards (1923–2004) of the New School of Social Research in New York, Ransom argued that Stevenson had asked the children leading questions, had filled in gaps in the narrative, that not enough time was spent interviewing the children, that too long a period had often elapsed between the claimed recall of a past life and the interview, and that in 90 percent of the cases, the families of the deceased and of the child had met each other before the interview. Edwards devoted a chapter to criticism of Stevenson in his book Reincarnation: A Critical Examination (1996), in which he argued that Stevenson's cases read better in summary, but when examined in detail they had "big holes." He asked which is more likely: that there are astral bodies that transfer themselves to newborns or embyros, or that the children interviewed or their parents were lying or mistaken.[27]
In support of Stevenson, Robert Almeder argued in Death and Personal Survival (1992) that Edwards had begged the question by stating in advance of examining Stevenson's work that the idea of consciousness existing without the brain in the interval between lives was incredible. Almeder's position is that we do not, in fact, know whether consciousness can exist without a brain. He argued that Edwards's "dogmatic materialism" had forced him to the view that Stevenson's case studies must be examples of fraud or delusional thinking.[28]

[edit] Case study

Edwards cites the case of Corliss Chotkin in Angoon, Alaska, an example that relied entirely on the word of one woman. Victor Vincent, a fisherman, reportedly told his niece that he would be reborn as her son. According to the niece (as reported by Stevenson), Vincent said: "I hope I don't stutter then as much as I do now. Your son will have these scars." She said he showed her two scars caused by surgery, one on the bridge of his nose and one on his back. He died in 1946 and 18 months later the niece gave birth to a boy, Corliss Chotkin. The boy had birthmarks in the same places as Vincent's scars, according to the niece. Stevenson heard of the case 14 years later, and in 1962 arrived in Alaska to interview the family.[29]
By this time, Edwards wrote, the birthmarks had moved, but Stevenson was impressed by the resemblance of one of them to a surgical scar, and by the accompanying smaller marks that he believed resembled scars left by stitches. In addition, according to the niece, Chotkin did indeed have Vincent's stutter, they were both left-handed, both combed their hair in the same way, both liked boats, and both were religious. On several occasions when he was two and three years old – again, according to the niece – Chotkin had recognized Vincent's son, stepdaughter and wife, and when he saw them had said, "There is William, my son," "There's my Susie," and of the wife, "That's the old lady," which was how Vincent had reportedly referred to his wife. The niece also said that one of her aunts had had a dream that Vincent was coming to live in the niece's home, and the niece was sure she had not told the aunt about Vincent's prediction that he would return. The aunt was 90 by the time Stevenson spoke to her, and could not remember having had any such dream. The niece also said that Chotkin had known of two events in Vincent's life that he could not otherwise have known about. The boy was a teenager by the time Stevenson interviewed him, and had no memory of having spoken about such things.[29]
Among the many weaknesses in the case, Edwards noted that the family were religious and believed in reincarnation, that Stevenson had not seen Vincent's scars, and that all the significant statements about the case originated with the niece, about whom Stevenson offered no information, except that several people told him she had a tendency, as he put it, to embellish or invent stories. Edwards wrote that similar criticism could be made of all Stevenson's case studies.[29]

[edit] Retirement, death and experiment

The child psychiatrist Jim Tucker continues Stevenson's research.[30]
Stevenson stepped down as director of the Division of Perceptual Studies in 2002, though he continued to work as Research Professor of Psychiatry.[17] He died of pneumonia at his retirement home in Charlottesville, Virginia in February 2007.[21] Bruce Greyson, editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, became director of the division, while Jim Tucker, the department's associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, has continued Stevenson's research with children, examined in his book, Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives (2005).[30]
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 Times reported that, as of February 2007, the lock remains unopened.[6]

[edit] Works

  • (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

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kelly 2007.
  2. ^ Hopkins Tanne (British Medical Journal), April 2, 2007.
  3. ^ a b The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2007.
  4. ^ Stevenson, April 2000; Stevenson 1977.
  5. ^ For his having been on the founding committee of the Society for Scientific Exploration, see Stevenson 2006, p. 19.
  6. ^ a b c d Fox (The New York Times), February 18, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Carroll, July 7, 2009.
  8. ^ For the London Times, see Fox (The New York Times), February 18, 2007.
  9. ^ a b c Stevenson 2006, pp. 13–14.
  10. ^ Pandarakalam (British Medical Journal), April 2, 2007.
  11. ^ Stevenson 2006, p. 20.
  12. ^ World Who's in Science 1968, p. 1609.
  13. ^ Stevenson 1989.
  14. ^ For the paper, see Stevenson 1957, pp. 152–161.
  15. ^ Stevenson 2006, p. 13; "Ian Stevenson", Harper's.
  16. ^ a b c Tucker 2007, pp. 543–552.
  17. ^ a b "History and description", Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia.
  18. ^ Stevenson 2006, pp. 17–18.
  19. ^ Cadoret, April 2005, pp. 823–824.
  20. ^ Almeder 1997, p. 502.
  21. ^ a b c Shroder, February 11, 2007.
  22. ^ Tucker 2005, p. 211.
  23. ^ Brody, September 1977.
  24. ^ Lief, September 1977.
  25. ^ Edwards 1996, p. 253.
  26. ^ Cadoret 2005.
  27. ^ Edwards 1996, p. 256; p. 275 for the Ransom report.
    • Also see McClelland 2010, p. 144.
  28. ^ Almeder 1992, pp. 34ff, 60.
  29. ^ a b c Edwards 1996, pp. 136–138.
    • Stevenson 1966, p. 259ff.
  30. ^ a b "Division Staff", Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia.

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

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