Reincarnation has long been a religious belief. It is the belief that the soul continues and the person will live again after being reborn into a new body. People who believe in reincarnation generally take it on faith that the phenomenon occurs. Science, however, is not far behind in the quest to prove the existence of reincarnated souls. Biological data has been extensively researched and offers the physical evidence as proof of the correlation between reincarnation and biology. It is the most compelling evidence so far and goes a long way in advancing the belief that the soul can be reborn into a new life.
In the Beginning One of the pioneers in the field of reincarnation and biology is Dr. Ian Stevenson. He is the founder of scientific research on reincarnation and is best known for his interviews and thorough case files of children all over the world who seem to recall past lives. These recollections are without hypnosis or apparent outside information on the deceased and the cases come from Alaska, Burma, India, South America, Lebanon and many other places. Dr. Stevenson has never claimed to have found “proof” of reincarnation; he stated that most of his cases “suggested” the reality of reincarnation.
He does, however, state that some of the cases seem to provide considerable evidence to support reincarnation as fact. Over the years he formulated a methodology for researching biologically based reincarnation cases which is still used today. (Stevenson, 1973, p. 2) Stevenson began his career in psychiatry in 1942 when he graduated with a B. S from St. Andrews University in Scotland and an M. D. from McGill University in Montreal in 1943. He practiced psychiatry for a number of years before publishing his first paper on reincarnation in 1960.
It was during this time that his research interests turned from psychiatry to reincarnation. His fields included: children who claimed to remember past lives, near death experiences and the survival of the human personality after death. That paper caught the attention of inventor, Chester Carlson, who then funded Stevenson’s first excursions to India and Sri Lanka for the purpose of reincarnation research. Much of his research documents cases of biological evidence of reincarnation. Dr. Stevenson is the foremost authority on children who claim to remember past lives.
While not all people believe in reincarnation, the evidence supports Dr. Stevenson’s theories. It is the physical evidence along with the medical reports and personal interviews that are the most compelling. Dr. Stevenson has researched over 2,600 cases regarding the intersecting of reincarnation and biology. Most of these cases were of children who had corresponding birth marks or birth defects that exactly matched the fatal wounds of the deceased they claimed to have been (hereafter known as the previous personality). (Stevenson, 1997, p. 9, 10)
Most of Dr. Stevenson’s cases are located in Asian countries, West Africa and tribes of the Pacific Northwest. He has noted possible reasons for this phenomenon, the main one being that people in the aforementioned countries are familiar with the concept of reincarnation and not afraid to discuss it, even if it is not their own beliefs. According to Dr. Stevenson, people in the western world are afraid of looking unstable or hysterical and do not try to find other explanations for the children’s claims and outbursts about previous lives. He believes many verifiable cases are overlooked in this manner.
The main aspect that seems to dominate the Western cases is family members reincarnating into the same family. Dr. Stevenson theorizes that it is the fact that Westerners can relate to a family member reincarnating but not a total stranger. The majority of cases he has investigated in the Western world are of family incarnations. Due to his methodologies, Dr. Stevenson prefers cases that involve more than one family and prefers the families not to have met before the interviews begin. This, of course, is not always possible and Dr. Stevenson incorporates this information into his study of the case.
The Methodology Although Dr. Stevenson created the methodology, he passed that information on to others in his field who use it today. Dr. J. Tucker was one of Dr. Stevenson’s students who followed him into this field. He has written several books on the subject of reincarnation himself, which will be listed at the end of this paper. Dr. Stevenson explains some of what he looks for in a case: “The cases of children who claim to remember previous lives have four features that occur so regularly that I have presumed to call them “universal”. These are: the early age of speaking bout the previous life (between the ages of 2 and 4); the later age of ceasing to speak about the previous life (usually between the ages of 5 and 8); a high incidence of violent death in the previous life; and frequent mention of the mode of death in the previous life. ” (Stevenson, 1997, 9)
Dr. Stevenson starts his investigation at the scene of the case. This was usually the child’s home and ideally, as mentioned, it was preferable the two families had never met. In some cases, the subject is still a young child but there are other cases where Dr. Stevenson did not begin tudying the case until the person was an adult. This can cause other issues, which will be discussed in another section. Once the site of the case is reached, the interviews begin. These encompass the child, its parents, and anyone else who can provide a firsthand account of the child’s statements or behaviors. Even the most minute piece of information is recorded and analyzed for it’s possible contribution to the case. (Stevenson, Once the interviews are finished, the child is examined for birthmarks or birth defects that correlate to the description of their death previously.
The birthmarks or birth defects are sketched, examined and photographed for Dr. Stevenson’s records. It is then time to as the family to produce any written documentation they may have regarding the birth marks or birth defects. Written documents “…such as identity cards. diaries or horoscopes, that may provide exact records of dates. ” (Stevenson, 1997, p. 10) These are especially important since they can place the birth mark or birth defect at the time of the child’s birth and not as something that occurred later in life.
Once Dr. Stevenson has finished with the child’s family, he goes to the family of the previous personality (if the case is solved) and conducts another series of interviews with the members of this family as well. Again, only firsthand accounts are accepted. It is especially important to determine any previous acquaintance between the two families or the possibility of a mutual acquaintance they of which they may have been previously unaware. This helps to exclude the possibility that the case has been contaminated by the child overhearing conversations regarding details of the deceased.
Again, documents are requested to provide confirmation of what the family has said. In the case of the deceased’s family, the documents are usually records of the death wounds or accident that caused the death of the individual. Dr. Stevenson automatically eliminated any cases where there might have been coercion, overheard conversations or preconceived ideas of a loved one returning. In at least 70 of the 2,600 cases investigated, Stevenson was able to review medical records, death certificates, coroner reports and interview people in both families to correlate the information provided by the child.