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«JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION A Publication of the Society for Scienti¢c Exploration Volume 22, Number 1 2008 Page Editorial 1 Editorial Peter ...»

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I was impressed by how much the Beaver Indians had to tell me when I pursued the topic with them a la Stevenson, and even more impressed that ` a week’s work with the Gitksan produced information about 33 fascinating cases of reincarnation replete with the characteristics that Stevenson had found in cases throughout the world: birthmarks relating to wounds or markings; recognitions and statements from small children made from the point of view of the previous person; similarities of temperament, skills, and talents; and philias and phobias explicable on the basis of the previous life but not the current one. It was a real pleasure to write up this research (Mills, 1988), following the admirable example of Ian’s measured evaluation of the features of cases. You can imagine my delight when, after that, Ian asked me if I would be interested in undertaking a replication study of his research in India. The answer was a definite ‘‘Yes.’’ At about the same time Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson undertook a similar study in Sri Lanka, and Dr. Jürgen Keil conducted one in Turkey. We wrote our respective articles, and then I was delighted when Ian offered me a research assistant position at the Division of Personality Studies (DOPS), combined with a lectureship in the Anthropology Department at the University of Virginia.

Moving to Charlottesville and into an office at the Division of which Ian was the Director, I was ever more impressed by his complete integrity, his perseverance and dedication to documenting and presenting the data, and his thoughtful gentleness. The files contained the data from the cases, but so did Ian’s mind. He meticulously presented data on so many aspects of the cases; for example, his assessment of gender dysphoria (e.g., Stevenson, 1977a: 317–318, 1977c, 2000a: 654–655) introduced a fascinating explication of gender orientation at odds with physiology, a topic explored more recently by a number of indigenous and non-indigenous North American scholars. It was a real pleasure to attend the weekly Tuesday luncheon meetings in which Ian or another scholar would present their current research, with Ian always acting as the genteel and insightful host. When Ian eventually retired from his position as Director of DOPS, the University of Virginia Medical School newspaper noted that it took at least three people to replace him: Dr. Bruce Greyson, as the foremost 106 A. Mills researcher of near-death experiences; Dr. Emily Williams Kelly, in a variety of topics related to the question or survival after death, as well as a fellow appreciator of F. W. H. Myers; and Dr. Jim Tucker, a child psychiatrist who continues the investigation of children said to remember previous lives. Indeed, in large part because of Ian Stevenson the Division has attracted a larger cohort of researchers, including Dr. Carlos Alvarado, Dr. Nancy Zingrone, Dr. Edward F. Kelly, Dr. Michael Grosso, and Dr. Ross Dunseath, and it has thus become one of the important focal points for parapsychological research and intellectual interchange.

The legacy of Ian Stevenson to the understanding of the dynamics of psychology is huge and not yet fully realized. What he has afforded the intellectual, academic, and professional psychiatric world will slowly and inevitably unfold and unfurl and reach out beyond academe to influence the understanding of personality by the larger culture and public. That is already happening not only through the book of Tom Schroder (1999) but also through the networks and web sites of lay people like Carol Bowman, who was influenced by the work of Ian Stevenson in her personal understanding of the experiences of her own children. I am confident that his work will permeate more deeply into the views of Western lay people as well as psychiatric and psychological practice. I hope that his vision of the role of reincarnation in understanding personality will inspire more research carried out with the care that he exercised in his investigations, and that the legacy of his work will lead to new understandings.


Mills, A. (1988). A preliminary investigation of reincarnation among the Beaver and Gitksan Indians.

Anthropologica, 30, 23–59.

Shroder, T. (1999). Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives. Simon & Schuster.

Stevenson, I. (1966). Cultural patterns in cases suggestive of reincarnation among the Tlingit Indians of southeastern Alaska. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 60, 229–243.

Stevenson, I. (1972). Are poltergeists living or are they dead? Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 66, 233–252.

Stevenson, I. (1974). Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (rev. ed.). Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Stevenson, I. (1975). The belief and cases related to reincarnation among the Haida. Journal of Anthropological Research, 31, 361–375.

Stevenson, I. (1977a). The explanatory value of the idea of reincarnation. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 164, 305–326.

Stevenson, I. (1977b). Research into the evidence of man’s survival after death. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 165, 152–170.

Stevenson, I. (1977c). The Southeast Asian interpretation of gender dysphoria: An illustrative case report. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 165, 201–208.

Stevenson, I. (1982). The contribution of apparitions to the evidence for survival. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 76, 341–358.

Stevenson, I. (1997). Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Stevenson, I. (2000a). The phenomenon of claimed memories of previous lives: Possible interpretations and importance. Medical Hypotheses, 54, 652–659.

Stevenson, I. (2000b). Unusual play in young children who claim to remember previous lives. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 557–570.

Stevenson, I. (2001). Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (rev. ed.).

Jefferson, NC: McFarland. (Original work published in 1987).

Stevenson, I. (2006). Half a career with the paranormal. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 20, 13–21.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 107–109, 2008 0892-3310/08 Ian Stevenson: Reminiscences and Observations

–  –  –

If the reader will forgive a tired clichØ, Ian Stevenson and I go way back. In 1971 Ian gave me my first job in parapsychology, a Research Associate position at what was then called the Division of Parapsychology at the University of Virginia Medical Center. In addition to Ian, my colleagues were Rex Stanford, later to become a major player in parapsychology, and J. G. Pratt, who was already a distinguished parapsychologist based on his pioneering ESP research with J. B. Rhine. Although the mission of the Division was research on the question of survival of death, neither Stanford, Pratt, nor I were primarily engaged in survival research during our years there. Although Ian later tightened the reins, he deserves great credit for allowing a broader research agenda in order to support parapsychologists who otherwise had little or no opportunity to continue in the field.

The focus of my research at the Division was out-of-body experiences (OBEs). Although this topic can be related to survival, my experiments were not designed to assess the externalization hypothesis but rather to explore the psychological correlates of the experience and its relation to ESP. In fact, while I was there I published a paper based on the premise that nothing leaves the body during an OBE (Palmer, 1978), although my theory did not preclude externalization outright.

One of the survival-related tasks to which I was assigned was screening mediums for possible extended research at the Division. I was to go to various places and pose as an ordinary visitor, not revealing that I was a researcher. One of my targets was a Spiritualist camp in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I was by far the youngest visitor there and I suspect that aroused suspicion; at any rate, they were very guarded with me and I got no useful information. I was also sent to Chicago and London. The Chicago trip yielded one medium who impressed me (Deon Frye), and we subsequently invited her to Virginia for a taped session.

We did not find good evidence for ESP, but we noticed a marked change in her face when she entered trance. I was also a co-author with Ian of a paper describing a rating scale to be used for testing the ‘‘authenticity’’ of spontaneous case reports (Stevenson et al., 1977). Authenticity is ‘‘the degree to which the information recorded about a case corresponds to the case as it actually happened’’ (Stevenson et al., 1977: 274).

107108 J. Palmer

After I left the Division, most of my contacts with Ian concerned the American Society for Psychical Research. Both of us were members of their Board and also past presidents. During the 1990s, we participated in an unsuccessful attempt to change the leadership and direction of the organization.

The latter stages of this effort involved a lawsuit, which Ian largely paid for out of his own pocket.

Ian projected a calm, stately, gentlemanly demeanor that one is tempted to compare to the stereotype of the British upper class during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This of course was the heyday of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and of prominent psychical researchers such as F. W. H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, and Eleanor Sidgwick. Ian saw himself as very much in the mold of these early pioneers, especially in the importance they placed on the survival question and their appeal to well-documented spontaneous cases as evidence for survival. Thus, this perception was also the reality;

during his professional career, Ian was the paramount personification of the classical SPR tradition, more so than the SPR itself at this time.

Although Ian delved into many areas of spontaneous case research (Alvarado et al., 2007), his primary research interest was reincarnation or, as he more objectively defined it, research on children who remember previous lives. He was careful to qualify his findings as only ‘‘suggestive’’ of reincarnation (e.g., Stevenson, 1974), although he would often make strong arguments in favor of the reincarnation interpretation of individual cases. His methods were in the best tradition of the SPR, featuring extensive documentation of the validity of the child’s statements and an exhaustive analysis of alternate interpretations. During his career he exhibited the patience to collect over 2500 cases (Stevenson, 2001), which have provided fertile ground for correlational research to uncover patterns in his sample. Ian did some analyses of this type himself (e.g., Stevenson, 2001), and this research hopefully will be carried on by his successors.

In my opinion, Ian’s most important intellectual contribution to survival research was the emphasis he placed on evidence for survival other than statements of fact (e.g., verbal memories in reincarnation cases). Because such classic examples of ESP are frequently demonstrated in non-survival contexts, the so-called super-psi hypothesis (ESP from sources other than the deceased) provides a very parsimonious alternate explanation. However, in his reincarnation cases Ian reported other kinds of evidence that have much fewer analogues in non-survival contexts. The most noteworthy of these are the demonstrations of precocious skills (e.g., playing musical instruments) and the presence of birthmarks (Stevenson, 1997). Although this type of evidence does not conclusively prove survival, it does increase the likelihood that we do survive death, and that is the most we can expect scientific research on the topic to achieve. Still, that is no mean achievement and a legacy of which any investigator or scholar could be proud.

Reminiscences and Observations 109


Alvarado, C. S., Zingrone, N. L., Haraldsson, E., & Palmer, J. (2007). Ian Stevenson’s work in parapsychology [Abstract]. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 50th Annual Convention (pp. 235–238).

Palmer, J. (1978). The out-of-body experience: A psychological theory. Parapsychology Review, 9(5), 19–22.

Stevenson, I. (1974). Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (rev. ed.). Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Stevenson, I. (1997). Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Stevenson, I. (2001). Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (rev. ed.).

Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Stevenson, I., Palmer, J., & Stanford, R. G. (1977). An authenticity rating scale for reports of spontaneous cases. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 71, 273–288.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 110–114, 2008 0892-3310/08

–  –  –

My association with Dr. Ian Stevenson goes back to October 1973, and I have known him ever since, as a mentor, a guide, a friend, a scientist, and above all a good human being.

My First Meeting with Dr. Stevenson During the silver-jubilee conference of the Indian Psychiatric Society that was held in Chandigarh in December 1972, a senior Indian psychiatrist with whom Dr. Stevenson had corresponded told me about Dr. Stevenson’s work on reincarnation. Because of my background in science, I was quite skeptical about such cases, about which I had read only in the newspapers. Subsequently, however, during another meeting in 1973, the same professor informed me that Dr. Stevenson was coming to India and that I could meet him if I wished.

I was employed in Chandigarh (about 250 kilometers north of Delhi) and came to Delhi to meet Dr. Stevenson for the first time in October 1973. He was staying at Hotel Janpath, where he often stayed when he came to Delhi. Dr.

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