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Reincarnation research

Reincarnation research

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Reincarnation research is a branch of parapsychology
Parapsychology
The term parapsychology was coined in or around 1889 by philosopher Max Dessoir, and originates from para meaning "alongside", and psychology. The term was adopted by J.B. Rhine in the 1930s as a replacement for the term psychical research...

. Psychiatrist
Psychiatrist
A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy...

 Ian Stevenson
Ian Stevenson
Ian Pretyman Stevenson, MD, 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...

, from the University of Virginia
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is a public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, founded by Thomas Jefferson...

, investigated many reports of young children who claimed to remember a past life. He conducted more than 2,500 case studies
Case study
A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find...

 over a period of 40 years and published twelve books, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation is a book written by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson on the phenomena of what he calls spontaneous recall of information about previous lives by young children. The book focuses on twenty cases investigated by the author...

and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect
Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect
Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect is a 1997 book by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, published by Praeger. The book is about birthmarks and birth defects ostensibly associated with reincarnation...

. Stevenson retired in 2002, and psychiatrist Jim B. Tucker took over his work and wrote Life Before Life
Life Before Life
Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives is a 2005 book written by psychiatrist Jim B. Tucker, which presents an overview of more than 40 years of reincarnation research at the University of Virginia Division of Personality Studies, into children's...

. No line of research has conclusively demonstrated the existence of reincarnation. Skeptics and the scientific community in general consider reincarnation research to be pseudoscientific.

University of Virginia


Several researchers are examining cases of early childhood past life memories and birthmarks at the University of Virginia
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is a public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, founded by Thomas Jefferson...

 Division of Perceptual Studies in the School of Medicine. Two of the best known researchers at Virginia are the psychiatrists Jim B. Tucker and Ian Stevenson
Ian Stevenson
Ian Pretyman Stevenson, MD, 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...

 and between them they have published many books and dozens of research papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Children's memories



Ian Stevenson, a Canadian biochemist
Biochemist
Biochemists are scientists who are trained in biochemistry. Typical biochemists study chemical processes and chemical transformations in living organisms. The prefix of "bio" in "biochemist" can be understood as a fusion of "biological chemist."-Role:...

 and professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 of psychiatry
Psychiatry
Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the study and treatment of mental disorders. These mental disorders include various affective, behavioural, cognitive and perceptual abnormalities...

, 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
Case study
A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find...

 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
Reincarnation and Biology
Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects is a 1997 two-part monograph written by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson and published by Praeger...

(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
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is a scholarly journal on psychopathology.Founded in 1874, it is the world's oldest independent scientific monthly in the field of human behavior. Articles cover theory, etiology, therapy, social impact of illness, and research methods.Editors:*1874-1881:...

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
European Cases of the Reincarnation Type
European Cases of the Reincarnation Type is a 2003 book by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, who conducted research into claims of reincarnation. The work focuses on different reincarnation research case studies in a Western setting...

(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
Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

 by skeptics
Scientific skepticism
Scientific skepticism is the practice of questioning the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence or reproducibility, as part of a methodological norm pursuing "the extension of certified knowledge". For example, Robert K...

. 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. In The Demon-Haunted World
The Demon-Haunted World
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, which was first published in 1995.The book is intended to explain the scientific method to laypeople, and to encourage people to learn critical or skeptical thinking...

(1996), Sagan wrote that claims about reincarnation may have some experimental support, however dubious and inconclusive. He said "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. 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. Skeptic Sam Harris
Sam Harris (author)
Sam Harris is an American author, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Stanford University, before receiving a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA...

 said of Stevenson "either he is a victim of truly elaborate fraud, or something interesting is going on."

Stevenson's research was the subject of Tom Shroder
Tom Shroder
Tom Shroder is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor, who worked for the Washington Post for many years. Shroder is co-author of Fire on the Horizon: the Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster and author of Old Souls: Scientific Evidence From Children Who Remember Previous Lives...

's Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives
Old Souls
Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence For Past Lives is a non-fiction book by journalist Tom Shroder. An editor at the Washington Post, Shroder traveled extensively with psychiatrist Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, who conducted past life and reincarnation research in Lebanon, India and...

(1999) and Jim B. Tucker's Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives
Life Before Life
Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives is a 2005 book written by psychiatrist Jim B. Tucker, which presents an overview of more than 40 years of reincarnation research at the University of Virginia Division of Personality Studies, into children's...

(2005). Psychiatrist Jim Tucker took over Stevenson's work on his retirement in 2002.

See also

  • Spiritism
    Spiritism
    Spiritism is a loose corpus of religious faiths having in common the general belief in the survival of a spirit after death. In a stricter sense, it is the religion, beliefs and practices of the people affiliated to the International Spiritist Union, based on the works of Allan Kardec and others...

  • Society for Psychical Research
    Society for Psychical Research
    The Society for Psychical Research is a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom. Its stated purpose is to understand "events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area" and to "examine allegedly paranormal phenomena...

  • Xenoglossy
    Xenoglossy
    Xenoglossy , also written xenoglossia , is the putative paranormal phenomenon in which a person is able to speak or write a language he or she supposedly could not have acquired by natural means...

  • List of parapsychology topics

External links