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Ian did express similar views in Reincarnation and Biology (1997a) and its synopsis Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (1997b). After drawing attention, in Chapter 26 in particular, to the inadequacy of genetics, Darwinian natural selection, and environmental influences to explain all aspects of human personality, he went on to emphasize that ‘‘I do not propose reincarnation as replacing these factors. I regard it as a third factor that may fill some of the gaps in the knowledge we presently have about human personality and... about the human body also’’ (1997b: 180–181). In addition, in Chapters 2 and 3 he described various other psychosomatic phenomena that seem related to birthmarks and birth defects in cases of the reincarnation type. Nevertheless, he made little progress toward providing a theory that can link these cases and current scientific knowledge. In particular, his attempt to present a unifying concept in this book by introducing the ‘‘psychophore’’ as the vehicle for reincarnation was of only of marginal value in providing a bridge to conventional science.
98 S. J. Edelstein I have no illusions that more emphasis on an integrative approach would necessarily have led to better acceptance, particularly since I have only some tentative hypotheses on how such integration might be achieved. Reincarnation from any perspective is a difficult concept, and even the Buddha himself left us utterances on the subject at various times in his life that were not always consistent. Attempting such a global synthesis would inevitably carry problems of its own, as can be seen in the wake of Rupert Sheldrake’s A New Science of Life (1981). This work advanced the hypothesis that the specific size and shape of living organisms are determined by ‘‘morphogenic fields’’ that are molded by the form and behavior of past organisms of the same species through direct connection (‘‘morphic resonance’’) across both space and time. Ian sent me this book when it was published, as he viewed it as indirect support for his work, but its general impact on the scientific community was totally negative. The book did obtain a review in Nature, but it was roundly criticized under the title ‘‘A book for burning?’’ Sheldrake’s position was to replace mechanisms of biology, rather than seeking concepts that could extend the principles of biology in new directions. Body plan development has benefitted from spectacular progress in recent years due to the understanding of homeobox genes, and no serious approach to morphogenesis can ignore these findings. In particular, with respect to birth defects involving fingers or toes, it would be important to compare the anomalies reported for transgenic mice carrying altered HoxD genes (e.g., Kmita et al., 2002).
Where reincarnation is concerned, the subject is also confronted with additional barriers related to the conflicts it generates with established religions and the validation it provides to quack ‘‘past-life’’ readers. The history of a subject without these handicaps, the alleged ‘‘memory of water’’ in an article published in Nature (in 1988) from the laboratory of Jacques Benveniste in France, demonstrated clearly that an exceptional hypothesis must bring exceptionally strong data in order to be supported. Since the data were not credible, the hypothesis was ridiculed.
It may well be said that Ian was ahead of his time, but the question now is ‘‘will his time ever come?’’ Traditional societies that are propitious for reincarnation research are modernizing rapidly in many parts of the world. The repeater-children phenomenon has continued in some forms among the Igbo, according to a report by Nzewi (2001), but for how long?
In conclusion, some 25 years ago I thought Ian’s work had the potential of triggering a major change in the scientific landscape. Such an upheaval has not happened, but perhaps his work will be rediscovered and placed in a new light at a later date. In any case, his lifetime of serious study of reincarnation demonstrates that intelligence, insight, meticulous work, and persistence are not sufficient to bring so hostile a subject in from the cold. It is not enough to demonstrate that reincarnation can exist: A new theoretical framework is also needed to show that reincarnation is possible.
The Quest for Acceptance 99 Note 1 For information on the belief in reincarnation in West Africa and the associated cases that Stevenson and I investigated, see Edelstein and Stevenson (1983) and Stevenson (1985, 1986, 1997a: chap. 20).
ReferencesA book for burning? (1981). Nature, 293, 245–246.
Davenas, E. et al., (1988). Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE. Nature, 333, 816–818.
Edelstein, S. J. (1986). The Sickled Cell: From Myths to Molecules. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Edelstein, S. J., & Stevenson, I. (1983). Sickle cell anaemia and reincarnation beliefs in Nigeria. The Lancet, 322, 1140.
Kmita, M., Fraudeau, N., Herault, Y., & Duboule, D. (2002). Serial mechanisms and duplications ´ suggest a mechanism for the collinearity of Hoxd genes in limbs. Nature, 420, 145–150.
Maddox, J., Randi, J., & Stewart, W. W. (1988). ‘‘Human-dilution’’ experiments a delusion. Nature, 334, 287–290.
Nzewi, E. (2001). Malevolent Ogbanje: Recurrent reincarnation or sickle cell disease? Social Science and Medicine, 52, 1403–1416.
Sheldrake, R. (1981). A New Science of Life. London: Blond & Briggs.
Stevenson, I. (1985). The belief in reincarnation among the Igbo of Nigeria. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 20, 13–30.
Stevenson, I. (1986). Characteristics of cases of the reincarnation type among the Igbo of Nigeria.
Journal of Asian and African Studies, 21, 204–216.
Stevenson, I. (1997a). Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Stevenson, I. (1997b). Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Journal of Scientiﬁc Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 102–103, 2008 0892-3310/08
When Ian passed away in February 2007, traditional-format obituaries honoring him, and his unique contribution to scientific understanding, were published in several major newspapers and elsewhere. A Google search will readily produce the most salient, historical specifics of Ian’s life and career from those several pieces. The fact that his passing was so prestigiously noted speaks volumes about the recognition his research has attracted from so many widespread audiences. Any dedicated reader of this journal needs no introduction to Ian or the focus of his work. What follows has been written almost entirely from a very different perspective than the above-noted obituaries; rather it is my best effort at a fitting eulogy for the most important teacher I’ve ever had.
I have made only one pilgrimage in my life. The year was 1991 when, in the middle of a very busy engineering project, I stole the last two days of a work-week to travel to and attend what was left of that year’s SSE meeting (my first) in Charlottesville, Virginia. My sole focus was to hear a scheduled address there by Ian. Over the previous several years, I had become a devoted fan of his research, and at long last had the opportunity personally to see and hear the man behind it.
It is very difficult to describe clearly and effectively the life-changing impact that the implications of his research have had on me. In the simplest terms, he gave me my first true ‘‘handle’’ on life, a tangible grasp on the intangible.
‘‘Handles’’ of that quality are not trivial things to engineers like me. It is little wonder that his work is often referred to as the ‘‘gold standard’’ of reincarnation research. Even in what is, for most people, the esoteric landscape of philosophy, here was something to really hold onto.
I am acutely aware that each of us must find his own path through the dogmas of organized religion, the abstractions of formal philosophy, and the wonderland of current physics and cosmology, but here, in the midst of it all, was a handle, the rational appeal of the concept of reincarnation, backed up by a repeating phenomenon ‘‘from the mouths of babes.’’ But it is a handle available only to those willing to listen, and willing to actively reinforce what they learn from Ian with the supporting perceptions of other researchers.
Initially, Ian was not easy to get close to. By the time I had belatedly discovered him, he was already attracting more attention, both positive and negative, than he could personally handle with his unusually busy schedule.
102 Remembering My Teacher 103
Still, he responded politely by mail, but with regrets that the one-on-one meeting which I had proposed would not be possible. I still smile when I am reminded of his statement therein: that if he accepted all such invitations, there would be no time left for the research that attracted his admirers in the first place. However, I am nothing if not persistent, and eventually I received his invitation to the SSE meeting to hear his address.
Nor, as our relationship grew and developed, did we agree on everything, especially the potential benefits of hypnotic past-life regression (and the stature of one of its leading proponents); but I believe that our related disagreement was primarily a matter of individual perception. Is hypnotic past-life regression a reasonably reliable research tool? Per Ian’s perception: Certainly not! – and I agree (generally). However, as a reasonably effective therapeutic tool, and from my engineer’s perspective, ‘‘If it works (and it really seems to, much of the time), use it!’’ We didn’t have to fully understand fire in order to use it to great effect – although, as my Dad taught me, ‘‘Fire is a good servant, but a cruel master.’’ Ian, rest in peace, old friend and revered teacher. You were granted the time to make your message abundantly clear. It is up to others to listen and understand.
It was an honor to know you, and I look forward to our next meeting.
Journal of Scientiﬁc Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 104–106, 2008 0892-3310/08
It is an honor to have been invited to write some comments on the life and work of the late Ian Stevenson, just as it has been a honor to have become familiar with the man and his immense, careful, and well-written work on the important issues of survival of bodily death in general (e.g., Stevenson, 1972, 1977b, 1982) and reincarnation in particular (e.g., Stevenson, 1966, 1974, 1975, 1997, 2000b, 2001). These are not topics that are at the forefront of Western thought and education, yet Ian Stevenson spent what he describes as ‘‘half a career in the paranormal’’ (Stevenson, 2006) meticulously investigating, and writing wonderfully clear, well-reasoned, and articulate studies of these phenomena. To me it seems that this work represents more than half a career – it represents a monumental achievement of bringing these topics into the arena of scientific investigation and placing them within the context of understanding the mechanisms that underlie the psychology of human beings. To Ian these studies seemed a logical progression from his research as a psychiatrist with a particular interest in psychosomatic illness. I find it fascinating that in his last article (Stevenson,
2006) he links his own chronic bronchial maladies to the study of psychosomatic illness, and then connects these personal concerns and professional issues with his magnum opus on birthmarks and birth defects and their relation to trauma or cause of death in a previous life (Stevenson, 1997). How fortunate that his sickly youth was spent reading the works of theosophists that his mother made available to him; one is left wondering what malady he may have carried from a previous life and whether his long life despite his bronchial condition will render him less impacted by such health concerns in a subsequent life.
However that may play itself out, I am very grateful that I had the good fortune of meeting Ian Stevenson and becoming aware of his work and participating in it. Our meeting took place in Vancouver in about 1984 when he was returning from a study of cases of the reincarnation type among the Gitksan Indians of northwest British Columbia in Canada. While in Vancouver, Ian was hoping to find some researchers who would be interested in carrying on his investigation into reincarnation in BC, and he enquired at the Department of Anthropology of the University of British Columbia about whether there were any faculty members or graduate students so inclined. He was given two names,
104 Pioneer of Reincarnation Research 105
one of which was mine. We met, and I was thereby introduced first to this kindly gentleman and then to his impressive research, which I had previously not known about at all. In my Ph.D. thesis I had noted the importance of reincarnation in the Beaver Indian world view, and to learn whether reincarnation was part of the experience of other native groups, I examined the 10 different culture areas in North America, choosing from each the group that had the best documentation about their spiritual views. I was curious because rebirth was one of the essential elements of Beaver Indian/Dune-za philosophy and experience, and yet my graduate studies in Anthropology had not prepared me to expect it as a part of Beaver Indian understanding of personality. Learning of Dr.
Stevenson’s careful case-by-case research, I was delighted to add such an investigation to the research project that I was planning to carry out during the summer of 1984 with the Beaver Indians, and to accept Dr. Stevenson’s proposal that I undertake similar research with the Gitksan First Nation peoples, with whom I had not previously worked.