«JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION A Publication of the Society for Scienti¢c Exploration Volume 22, Number 1 2008 Page Editorial 1 Editorial Peter ...»
Stevenson, I. (1971). The Diagnostic Interview (2nd ed.). Harper and Row. (Original work published 1960)
Stevenson, I. (1975). Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Vol. I: Ten Cases in India. Charlottesville:
University Press of Virginia.
Journal of Scientiﬁc Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 115–116, 2008 0892-3310/08
How do you thank someone for providing the adventure of a lifetime?
After a long career of keeping a careful distance from the press, Ian Stevenson invited me to come along with him on two of his last journeys in search of children who talked about previous lives. Without caveat or precondition, he met me in Paris for a flight to Beirut, where we spent a month being driven at high speeds on narrow twisting roads in the Druze-inhabited hills that arced around the city. Half a year later, we flew into the blinding chaos of Delhi, then by train, plane, and Maruti microbus we criss-crossed half the continent. Together we endured 14-hour days bouncing down rutted farm roads into the outback, a broken axle away from serious trouble. We confronted undisguised hostility, and humbling hospitality. We went hungry, and we feasted. We pursued dead ends, and stumbled into gold mines of first-hand testimony.
In his 80th year, twice my age, he out-walked, out-talked, and generally outlasted me. There was never a question of starting late or stopping early – or sometimes even for lunch. At the end of grueling days when I only wanted to unfold myself from the car and crawl into bed, Ian emerged ramrod sraight and declined the elevator.
‘‘I’ll think I’ll walk up the stairs instead.’’ He never once complained of fatigue, hunger, or physical discomfort of any kind, even after nights where I heard him up half the night with the deep hacking cough of someone who’d battled respiratory disease his entire life.
After nearly 40 years and countless field trips far more difficult than these, he approached his work with the same methodical deliberation he’d shown from the start, his briefcase filling steadily with notes and forms that would wind up in the cabinets of his Charlottesville office, along with the hundreds of thousands of pages that documented his life’s work, work that would earn him a measure of fame in certain circles, but skepticism and scorn from many of his scientific colleagues.
While I worried about out-of-control drivers swerving around water buffalo into our path, bandits, angry villagers, contaminated food, Ian was fearless, except for one thing.
‘‘Why do mainstream scientists refuse to accept the evidence we have for reincarnation?’’ he asked me late one night after a particularly long journey into the hinterlands.
Here’s what I believe: Neither self-delusion, intentional fraud, peer pressure,
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nor coincidence could explain how the children Ian investigated could have known all that they knew about strangers who’d died before they were born. But neither Ian nor anyone else had a shred of evidence for some process that could explain it.
Maybe in ten years, maybe in a hundred, some data stream from a super collider will reveal the secret connection between consciousness and quantum reality, or the fallacy of the arrow of time. Maybe the testimonies of Ian’s children are the leading edge of a new paradigm, points of light peeking from the firmament of a new dimension.
But whatever the truth turns out to be, Ian’s work, those countless files filled to overflowing with the passionate precision of his research... well, they are something. They are really something.
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Our times are witness to a massive conflict between reductionist scientism and a resurgence of irrational religious fanaticisms. In the resulting smoke and flames the quest for truth falters. By scientism I mean the claims made by scientists, such as Richard Dawkins (2006), to know things they cannot possibly know—in particular, that God does not exist and that the mind is identical with the brain. Avrum Stroll (2006) has demonstrated that it is logically impossible for humans to know whether God exists or not. As for the mind-brain Identity Theory, this is most certainly untrue, as it violates Leibniz’s Law of the Identity of Indiscernibles (see Smythies, 1994a, 1994b, for details). Scientism is also picky about which scientific facts it accepts. Its adherents pour scorn on parapsychologists as pseudo-scientists. However, these people have very rarely studied the work of parapsychologists and base their opinions purely on dogma.
Their own metaphysical theory of mind-brain Identity does not allow for any such facts as the parapsychologists report, and so, like Galileo’s Pope, the skeptics deny the experimental facts on a purely a priori basis. Likewise, neuroscience is currently infected with scientism. Almost all contemporary neuroscientists believe, as an article of faith, that neuroscience has demonstrated the truth of the mind-brain Identity Theory. But, of course, it has done no such thing (Smythies, 1994a). As Ayer (1951) pointed out many years ago, the information about all and every detail of how the brain works as an electro-chemical machine is irrelevant to the quite separate question of how ALL this activity is related to the phenomenal events that we experience in conscious awareness. As he put it, if one is trying to build a bridge across a river, it does not do merely to raise one of its banks.
Fortunately, if we reject Identity Theory, we are no longer left with Cartesian Dualism (with its many defects) as the only alternative explanatory theory of mind-brain, or consciousness-brain, relations. A rival theory—extended
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materialism—has been developed over the years by C. D. Broad (1923), Bertrand Russell (1946: 45, 581–593), H. H. Price (1953), Lord Brain (1960), and myself (Smythies, 1994b). This theory allows for the existence of the facts reported by parapsychologists. It also allows that humans may have immortal souls after all, along the lines suggested by Hindu and Buddhist psychology. Included amongst these alleged facts are the reports of reincarnation that Ian Stevenson devoted much of his life to studying. His meticulous work accumulated a wealth of evidence that supports the reality of this phenomenon.
Ian’s work was rejected by the Establishment of the practitioners of scientism (masquerading, in this respect, as scientists). They knew for a priori reasons that reincarnation was impossible, so they did not bother to read Ian’s books. In doing this, they overlooked the fact that Identity Theory is riddled with errors and cannot, as detailed above, be true. This scientism represents not only an example of the resistance to paradigm change at any cost that has afflicted science throughout its existence (vide the ferocious fight against the germ theory of disease, tectonic plates, Helicobacter pylori as the cause of stomach ulcers, and many others), but is also an example of ideological imperialism (‘‘How could ancient [and pathetic] Hindu psychology be right and our own glittering science be wrong!’’).
Scientism leads to nihilism, with which Western culture, in its politics, art and literature, philosophy and everyday life, is currently awash. The main hatred of fundamentalist Islam for things Western is directed, not at the Christian religion, which Islam respects, but towards our sickly, and to them evil and disgusting, culture. In their eyes, humans in the West have turned themselves into things without any purpose in the world other than mere biological activity. Scientism, without any evidence, denies the role for individual humans as travelers in eternity that is central to Islamic belief. Certainly one can make a case that many Western intellectuals, such as Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and Derrida, were merely so many termites gnawing at the foundations of civilization. It is up to us to do what we can to stop the rot.
Ian Stevenson has, for over half a century, been a leader in the uphill struggle to establish real science in the area of the mind and mind-brain relations in the face of bitter, and often envenomed, resistance by the Establishment. Richard Dawkins (2006) makes great play in his recent book The God Delusion of what he calls the appalling propensity of religious people to base their ideas on dogma rather than on the evidence. Well, many do, but this reads strange in a book bursting at the seams with its own dogmas, its uncritical acceptance of metaphysical theories such as Identity Theory, its refusal to take note of the relevant evidence from parapsychology, and its special pleading with regard to the views of Darwin and Wallace on genocide (see Smythies, 2007, for details).
For example, Dawkins states that he knows that this life is the only life we have.
How could he possibly know that? In these discussions I am reminded of some tadpoles in a muddy pond complaining that they cannot understand the special theory of relativity.
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ReferencesAyer, A. J. (1951). Comments. In Laslett, P. (Ed.), The Physical Basis of Mind. Oxford: Blackwell.
Brain, Lord. (1960). Space and sense-data. British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 11, 171–191.
Broad, C. D. (1923). Scientiﬁc Thought. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. Houghton Mifﬂin.
Price, H. H. (1953). Survival and the idea of another world. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 50, 1–25.
Russell, B. (1946). Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. London: Allen & Unwin.
Smythies, J. (1994a). Requiem for the identity theory. Inquiry, 37, 311–329.
Smythies, J. (1994b). The Walls of Plato’s Cave. Aldershot: Avebury.
Smythies, J. (2007). Planet in Peril.
Stroll, A. (2006). Did My Genes Make Me Do It? New York: Oneworld Publishing.
Journal of Scientiﬁc Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 120–124, 2008 0892-3310/08 Ian Stevenson: A Man from Whom We Should Learn
Ian Stevenson was one of the most extraordinary individuals, in the best sense of that word, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing. I had the privilege of working at his center for roughly five years (1968–1973) and of knowing him for many more years. I welcome the opportunity to share some impressions of this remarkable man because he is someone whose work we should continue to study and from whose example we should continue to learn.
One way in which Stevenson was extraordinary, although not unique in parapsychology, was his breadth and depth of scholarship, both in parapsychology and outside it, and in the application of those findings and insights to his own research in parapsychology. Based on what he read in contemporary parapsychology journals, he sometimes was dismayed about the apparent ignorance, by too many contemporary parapsychologists, of the contributions to this field by historical figures. He felt that this was unfortunate for the advancement of the field. Of course, he was correct, but I would toss in the caveat that historical myopia (including prejudice against old literature as somehow deficient simply because it is old) often seems also to characterize work in other fields of science, with comparably ill consequences. Parapsychology probably is far from unique in this regard, but Stevenson’s concern merits continued attention.
There is another way in which Stevenson was outstanding among contemporary investigators. Based on both his writings and my many interactions with him over the years, I gained the impression that he saw his research mission fundamentally as dedicated to illuminating the nature of the person (as in the concept of ‘‘personality’’), rather than toward illuminating the nature of mysterious powers (i.e., of psi events), although he surely felt that understanding the latter had its own importance. (I recognize and Stevenson surely did, too, that illuminating the nature of psi function conceivably might illuminate the ultimate nature of the person, but I suggest that his interest in the nature of the person was less focused on this
kind of issue than on something more germane to everyday functioning; see comments that follow.) Stevenson contributed in a variety of ways, and very well, to domains related to spontaneous cases of possible psi communication (e.g., a very important work, ‘‘Telepathic impressions: A review and report of thirty-five new cases’’ [Stevenson, 1970]), but if we stop there in thinking of him, we will have stopped very far short of the mark. Of course, there is his monumental work on evidence of possible previous lifetimes (i.e., ‘‘reincarnation cases’’). His selection of reincarnation as a research
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problem might well have been driven fundamentally by its implications, if true, for the nature and development of the individual personality and for that personality’s functioning in everyday life. He surely was interested in the abstract question of ‘‘survival,’’ but he, I suspect, pursued the reincarnation quest because of its potential to illuminate what happens in the here and now—perhaps to a much greater degree than anything that might come out of other areas of survival research. I suspect that he, as someone with a passion for psychiatry, found this possibility substantially more engaging than simply the relevance of reincarnation evidence to the ‘‘survival question’’ in the abstract (i.e., ‘‘Do we survive death at all?’’). None of this is to say that he was uninterested in the ‘‘survival’’ question generally, for there is much evidence of such interest on his part—he proposed, for example, tests in which a person would set the combination to a padlock and then after death try to communicate (say, to a medium or in a dream) a mnemonic that would reveal the combination (Stevenson, 1968).