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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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We did raise the idea of a new society at that time, but I made arrangements to visit Ian in his office a few days later. It was on that occasion that I informed him of my own ‘‘anomalous’’ research interests and those of Bob Jahn, and of my contacts with Larry and Charlie, and where it all seemed to be heading. Ian was very knowledgeable about experimental parapsychology, the area of Bob Jahn’s research. Moreover, Ian had of course experienced his own difficulties in getting the results of his research, in either parapsychology or reincarnation studies, published in mainstream scientific and medical journals. He therefore immediately sympathized with the need for a forum that would be more open to the presentation and discussion of the results of research outside the scientific mainstream, a forum that would be free from the constraints of conventional scientific orthodoxy. By the end of our meeting, Ian had agreed to become a member of the Founding Committee of the new society, for which we did not yet have a name.

The addition of Ian to the Founding Committee added an important new dimension to the intellectual scope of the incipient society. The Committee had a big complement drawn from the physical sciences (Bob Jahn from Aeronautical Engineering; George Abell, Bart Bok, Tommy Gold, and myself from Astronomy and Astrophysics; and George Siscoe, Bill Thompson, and Jim Trefil from Physics). We also had representation from Philosophy (Bob Creegan), Psychology (Roger Shepard), and Statistics (Persi Diaconis). However, the only research being carried out by these members was in the experimental paraIan Stevenson and the SSE 127 psychology and UFO areas. Ian’s groundbreaking research into the possible survival of physical death represented a crucial expansion of the intellectual scope of the planned society.

The Society’s Dinsdale award was initiated in 1992, and Ian was from the beginning an obvious candidate worthy of that award. However, Ian served on the Council from 1989 until 1997, and the Council properly considered it inappropriate to give the award to a current member of the Council. Eventually the Society was able to bestow the award on Ian, in 1998 after he had stepped down from being a councilor.

All who came into contact with Ian were the richer for the experience. He was unfailingly polite and attentive in one-on-one conversations, and he was unfailingly attentive and wise in Council meetings. He was truly ‘‘a gentleman and a scholar.’’ Despite – or perhaps as a result of – his difficulties with and rebuffs from the mainstream scientific and medical communities, Ian had developed a remarkable equanimity and seemed to rise above the friction that he encountered. It would have been difficult for anyone else actually to emulate Ian, but those of us who encountered similar difficulties were able to learn from him.

The Society for Scientific Exploration owes a great debt to Ian Stevenson.


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

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, p. 128, 2008 0892-3310/08

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My first association with Ian Stevenson occurred when I was completing my second-year studies in medical school at the University of Virginia. Ian had moved to Charlottesville from New Orleans the year before and had taught ‘‘Introduction to Psychiatry’’ to the second-year students. I needed a job for the summer and thought it would be interesting to work in his research laboratory, where he and his Ph.D. assistant were investigating the biological/chemical causes of schizophrenia. So one spring day I waylaid Dr. Stevenson in front of the old Medical School on his return from Chancellor’s Drug Store, where he had just had lunch. I introduced myself and told him that I wanted to work in his laboratory during the summer. I could see that he was taken aback by my confident assurance that he would hire me on the spot. In his careful, investigative style he asked me about my qualifications, and I told him that prior to medical school I had worked in a laboratory for Drs. Parson and Crispell, both of whom he knew. The result was that I spent that summer in Ian’s laboratory looking at rats’ brains which had been subjected to substances obtained from patients who were schizophrenic, as well as the brains of other rats who were the controls. The control rats had been subjected to substances obtained from members of the professional staff. (One can, of course, question the latter’s suitability as ‘‘normal controls,’’ but nevertheless...) Several years later I worked with Ian as a resident in psychiatry. During our first year the residents rotated night and week-end duties, and when Ian was the Attending he met with the resident on duty early Sunday morning and discussed his/her work with one of the patients. Woe be to the resident who had not boned up on the history of that patient, including illnesses in his/her life and family, childhood traumas, and the state of his/her physical health, as well as the psychological reasons for his/her admission to the hospital. Ian was an internist first and a psychiatrist second. I valued those sessions with him and always came away more enlightened and challenged and determined to work even harder.

Our paths diverged when I went into child psychiatry and Ian went into fulltime study of reincarnation. Later I was delighted when he married Margaret Pertzoff, whom I had known earlier but had not seen in years as our paths had diverged. They gave much happiness to each other over the years.

It was very sad watching Ian’s lung condition progress until he was bed-ridden and shortly thereafter died. Throughout that time he was cheerful when I visited, asking about me and my family, and he always urged me to ‘‘come back soon.’’ Among the many qualities that I admired in Ian, and hope to emulate, was his pursuit of the truth to the end of his life.

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I have known and greatly respected Ian Stevenson and his works over many years. Although my direct contacts with him have been less frequent than I should have liked, he was always generous with advice and donations of inscribed copies of his works, the last of which arrived with a faltering inscription very shortly before his death. It was for me a happy circumstance that I was able to support an invitation to him from Darwin College, Cambridge, to become a visiting scholar and dine with us during the times he spent in England. He was immensely well read, aware of academic concerns in many different spheres of humanities and science, and over the years he became a much appreciated visitor. During his final illness, I received various anxious inquiries about him from the college.

Ian took a keen interest in my attempt to distribute to a Cambridge population a version of the Society for Psychical Research’s (SPR) Census of Hallucinations question, which confirmed the impression that vivid visionary experiences are as prevalent today as they were in the late 19th century. He was plainly disappointed when I found it impractical to obtain further information and confirmation about one particularly interesting veridical vision. He was indefatigable in the pursuit of evidence that might confirm or refute a paranormal interpretation. While obviously pleased when mundane explanations could be ruled out, he was meticulous in recording the data, whatever the outcome. This was a valuable feature of his studies of cases suggestive of reincarnation. He never shunned consideration of points that invite scepticism, such as the culturebound features of many cases, the claims to have had a much higher status in a previous life, and the theoretical confusion between a moment of fresh incarnation and the ‘‘possession’’ of an already developing personality.

Ian had an abiding concern with mind-body relationships and took a particular interest in such phenomena as the somatic expressions of emotion (including hypnotically induced skin eruptions), ‘‘recovered’’ memories, cryptomnesia, ‘‘multiple personality,’’ and near-death experiences. These topics featured prominently in the early publications of the SPR, but, being less available to the investigatory techniques of contemporary experimental psychology, are somewhat neglected today. Ian has done more than anyone to remedy this.

129130 D. J. West

Never frightened to think beyond currently fashionable scientific theories (such as the supposedly illusory nature of the will and the mind), he saw the farreaching implications of his discovery of the inheritance of physical blemishes in some reincarnation cases. If true, this would suggest the development of physical as well as mental characteristics being derived from individuals other than parents. The difficulties of investigating such cases, particularly in view of the impossibility of observing or measuring the wounds or abnormalities of the deceased, would have deterred many researchers, but Ian pursued this research with his customary tenacity and, in the face of much derisory scepticism, has published some challenging evidence. Whether this work will be followed up and prove to be, as he believed, his most important contribution remains to be seen.

Although at one time I thought otherwise, I now share Ian’s belief in the importance of looking beyond effects that can be conveniently reproduced in laboratory experiments. He was out of sympathy with J. B. Rhine’s policy of neglecting field research, especially when particular lines of experimentation were yielding insubstantial results and contributing little to an understanding of the phenomena. When Rhine retired from Duke University and could find no place in his new unit for my friend the late Gaither Pratt, a senior experimental researcher with a wider outlook and experience than most, Ian found a place for him at the University of Virginia.

Ian’s powerful intellect, academic accomplishments, and enormous drive enabled him to become a well-respected figure in university establishments, attract fund-givers, and provide facilities for some who might otherwise be lost to the field. He wanted and strived for improved acceptance of researches of the paranormal in mainstream academic publications, arguing that it was unhelpful to have parapsychological reports buried in specialist journals unread by those in the academic establishment. In my opinion, one of his greatest legacies is that his Division of Perceptual Studies, situated in a fine university, is providing places for a new generation of productive workers to carry on where he was finally forced to leave off.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 100–101, 2008 0892-3310/08

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One may confidently expect that, in years to come, Ian Stevenson will be recognized as one of the most illustrious personalities in the history of Mr.

Jefferson’s university. He has earned this distinction through laying the foundation for the scientific study of human reincarnation. How long it will be before this discipline, as well as the fact of at least occasional human reincarnation, becomes widely accepted with a soundly established methodology, we do not know, but there can be no reasonable doubt that this acceptance will occur, with recognition of Ian Stevenson’s seminal role herein. It was he who pioneered virtually all investigative methods in this new science, and, with an unmatched knowledge of the pertinent facts, he identified many of the questions still to be answered.

Most important among future areas for research is likely to be the frequency of the occurrence of reincarnation: Is human reincarnation almost universal, as accepted in Buddhism and Hinduism, ceasing only with final deliverance, with ‘‘enlightenment,’’ the cessation of ‘‘samsara’’? If not, how might it depend on variables such as age at death, mode of death, culture, geographical location, beliefs, or personal effort? Further, is there any reasonable indication from memories of other lives for reincarnation in other locations than earth? And what evidence, if any, may be explored to account for the discrepancy between numbers of deceased humans and new births, especially the historically recent explosive increase in numbers of humans so that almost as many humans are alive now than ever lived before? Exploration of these and related questions will continue for a long time to come. One important aid herein is likely to be the investigation of cases involving birthmarks and birth defects, as also pioneered by Ian Stevenson. In addition, the condition of the personality between incarnations, the effect of a past life and its various circumstances on the new personality, and a host of additional subjects worthy of detailed research will presumably be similarly investigated.

Ian Stevenson has made seminal contributions to most of the above questions,

100 Founder of the Scientific Investigation of Reincarnation 101

but he shied away from speculation and the seemingly outlandish. This certainly was wise, since it will require steadfast clinging to fact and shunning of speculation to retain scientific integrity. Almost certainly it was this consideration that prompted him to refuse to assert that his research had documented the existence of reincarnation as an at least occasional occurrence, and to refuse saying that he himself believed so. Rather, he acknowledged no more than that the evidence amassed by him and others was ‘‘suggestive’’ of reincarnation. This was the one issue regarding which I fundamentally disagreed with him: True, certainty always eludes humans except as established per definition, and so we cannot be certain that reincarnation ever occurs; but neither can we be certain of Newton’s laws or relativity theory or Darwinian evolution. Yet the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur, at least occasionally, is so overwhelming, established by thousands of already documented cases of remembered lives, and strongly buttressed by the incidence of birthmarks in conjunction with many of his well-documented cases, that cumulatively the supporting evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science, whether physics, cosmology, or Darwinian evolution.

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