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Fakiry: The Oriental Tale
Deanna Marie Emmerson Contributor. Reaction to his work was mixed. In his New York Times obituary, Margalit Fox wrote that Stevenson's supporters saw him as a misunderstood genius, but that most scientists had simply ignored his research and that his detractors regarded him as earnest but gullible. Critics, particularly the philosophers C. Chari — and Paul Edwards — , raised a number of issues, including claims that the children or parents interviewed by Stevenson had deceived him, that he had asked them leading questions, that he had often worked through translators who believed what the interviewees were saying, and that his conclusions were undermined by confirmation bias , where cases not supportive of his hypothesis were not presented as counting against it.
Stevenson was born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa, one of three children. As a child he was often bedridden with bronchitis , a condition that continued into adulthood and engendered in him a lifelong love of books. He studied medicine at St. Andrews University in Scotland from to , but had to complete his studies in Canada because of the outbreak of the Second World War.
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He was married to Octavia Reynolds from until her death in She did not share his views on the paranormal, but tolerated them with what Stevenson called "benevolent silences. After graduating, Stevenson conducted research in biochemistry. His first residency was at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal — , but his lung condition continued to bother him, and one of his professors at McGill advised him to move to Arizona for his health. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona — Kelly writes that Stevenson became dissatisfied with the reductionism he encountered in biochemistry, and wanted to study the whole person.
He taught at Louisiana State University School of Medicine from to as assistant, then associate, professor of psychiatry. In the s, he met the English writer Aldous Huxley — , known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs , and studied the effects of L. Kelly writes that he tried L. From , he studied psychoanalysis at the New Orleans Psychoanalytic Institute and the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, graduating from the latter in , a year after being appointed head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Virginia.
Stevenson described as the leitmotif of his career his interest in why one person would develop one disease, and another something different.
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He acknowledged, however, the absence of evidence of a physical process by which a personality could survive death and transfer to another body, and he was careful not to commit himself fully to the position that reincarnation occurs. There is something essential to some human personalities Moreover, after some time, some of these irreducible essential traits of human personality, for some reason or other, and by some mechanism or other, come to reside in other human bodies either some time during the gestation period, at birth, or shortly after birth.
In and , Stevenson contributed several articles and book reviews to Harper's about parapsychology , including psychosomatic illness and extrasensory perception , and in , he submitted the winning entry to a competition organized by the American Society for Psychical Research , in honor of the philosopher William James — The prize was for the best essay on "paranormal mental phenomena and their relationship to the problem of survival of the human personality after bodily death. It caught the attention of Eileen J.
Garrett — , the founder of the Parapsychology Foundation , who gave Stevenson a grant to travel to India to interview a child who was claiming to have past-life memories. According to Jim Tucker, Stevenson found twenty-five other cases in just four weeks in India and was able to publish his first book on the subject in , Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation.
Chester Carlson — , the inventor of xerography , offered further financial help. Tucker writes that this allowed Stevenson to step down as chair of the psychiatry department and set up a separate division within the department, which he called the Division of Personality Studies, later renamed the Division of Perceptual Studies. The bequest caused controversy within the university because of the nature of the research, but the donation was accepted, and Stevenson became the first Carlson Professor of Psychiatry.
The bequest allowed Stevenson to travel extensively, sometimes as much as 55, miles a year, collecting around three thousand case studies based on interviews with children from Africa to Alaska. According to journalist Tom Shroder, "In interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents, Dr. Stevenson searched for alternate ways to account for the testimony: that the child came upon the information in some normal way, that the witnesses were engaged in fraud or self-delusion, that the correlations were the result of coincidence or misunderstanding.
But in scores of cases, Dr. Stevenson concluded that no normal explanation sufficed. In some cases, a child in a "past life" case may have birthmarks or birth defects that in some way correspond to physical features of the "previous person" whose life the child seems to remember. Stevenson's Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects examined two hundred cases of birth defects or birthmarks on children claiming past-life memories.
These included children with malformed or missing fingers who said they recalled the lives of people who had lost fingers; a boy with birthmarks resembling entrance and exit wounds who said he recalled the life of someone who had been shot; and a child with a scar around her skull three centimetres wide who said she recalled the life of a man who had had skull surgery.
In many of the cases, in Stevenson's view, the witness testimony or autopsy reports appeared to support the existence of the injuries on the deceased's body. In the case of the boy who said he recalled the life of someone who had been shot, the sister of the deceased told Stevenson that her brother had shot himself in the throat. The boy had shown Stevenson a birthmark on his throat. Stevenson suggested that he might also have a birthmark on the top of his head, representing the exit wound, and found one there underneath the boy's hair. The Journal of the American Medical Association referred to Stevenson's Cases of the Reincarnation Type as a "painstaking and unemotional" collection of cases that were "difficult to explain on any assumption other than reincarnation.
Despite this early interest, most scientists ignored Stevenson's work. According to his New York Times obituary, his detractors saw him as "earnest, dogged but ultimately misguided, led astray by gullibility, wishful thinking and a tendency to see science where others saw superstition. In addition, critics said, the results were subject to confirmation bias , in that cases not supportive of the hypothesis were not presented as counting against it. Skeptics have written that Stevenson's evidence was anecdotal and by applying Occam's razor there are prosaic explanations for the cases without invoking the paranormal.
In the seemingly most impressive cases Stevenson , has reported, the children claiming to be reincarnated knew friends and relatives of the dead individual.
Robert Baker wrote that many of the alleged past-life experiences investigated by Stevenson and other parapsychologists can be explained in terms of known psychological factors. Baker attributed the recalling of past lives to a mixture of cryptomnesia and confabulation. Ian Wilson argued that a large number of Stevenson's cases consisted of poor children remembering wealthy lives or belonging to a higher caste.
He speculated that such cases may represent a scheme to obtain money from the family of the alleged former incarnation. The philosopher C. Chari of Madras Christian College in Chennai, a specialist in parapsychology, argued that Stevenson was naive and that the case studies were undermined by his lack of local knowledge. Chari wrote that many of the cases had come from societies, such as that of India, where people believed in reincarnation, and that the stories were simply cultural artifacts ; he argued that, for children in many Asian countries, the recall of a past life is the equivalent of an imaginary playmate.
The philosopher Paul Edwards , editor-in-chief of Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Philosophy , became Stevenson's chief critic. Champe Ransom, whom Stevenson hired as an assistant in the s, wrote an unpublished report about Stevenson's work, which Edwards cites in his Immortality and Reincarnation According to Ransom, Edwards wrote, Stevenson asked the children leading questions, filled in gaps in the narrative, did not spend enough time interviewing them, and left too long a period between the claimed recall and the interview; it was often years after the first mention of a recall that Stevenson learned about it.
In only eleven of the 1, cases Ransom looked at had there been no contact between the families of the deceased and of the child before the interview; in addition, according to Ransom, seven of those eleven cases were seriously flawed. He also wrote that there were problems with the way Stevenson presented the cases, in that he would report his witnesses' conclusions, rather than the data upon which the conclusions rested.
Weaknesses in cases would be reported in a separate part of his books, rather than during the discussion of the cases themselves. Ransom concluded that it all amounted to anecdotal evidence of the weakest kind. In Death and Personal Survival , Almeder holds that Ransom was false in stating that there were only 11 cases with no prior contact between the two families concerned..
According to Almeder there were 23 such cases. Edwards cited the case of Corliss Chotkin, Jr. Edwards wrote that, among the many weaknesses in the case, the family were religious believers in reincarnation, Chotkin had birthmarks that were said to have resembled scars that Vincent had but Stevenson had not seen Vincent's scars, and all the significant details relied on the niece. Edwards said that Stevenson offered no information about her, except that several people told him she had a tendency, as Stevenson put it, to embellish or invent stories.
Edwards wrote that similar weaknesses could be found in all Stevenson's case studies.
Edwards charged that Stevenson referred to himself as a scientist but did not act like one. According to Edwards, he failed to respond to, or even mention, significant objections; the large bibliography in Stevenson's Children Who Remember Previous Lives does not include one paper or book from his opponents. In support of Stevenson, Almeder argued in Death and Personal Survival that Edwards had begged the question by stating in advance that the idea of consciousness existing without the brain in the interval between lives was incredible, and that Edwards's "dogmatic materialism" had forced him to the view that Stevenson's case studies must be examples of fraud or delusional thinking.
According to Almeder, the possibility of fraud was indeed investigated in the cases Edwards mentioned. Stevenson wrote an introduction to a book, Second Time Round , in which Edward Ryall, an Englishman, told of what he believed to be his memories of a past life as John Fletcher, a man who was born in in Taunton, England, and died forty years later near his home in Westonzoyland, Somerset. Stevenson wrote, "I think it most probable that he has memories of a real previous life and that he is indeed John Fletcher reborn, as he believes himself to be".
Since no trace of the name could be found, he concluded that no man called John Fletcher actually existed and that the supposed memories were a fantasy Ryall had developed over the years. In his book European Cases of the Reincarnation Type , he wrote, "I can no longer believe that all of Edward Ryall's apparent memories derive from a previous life, because some of his details are clearly wrong," but he still suggested that Ryall acquired some information about 17th-century Somerset by paranormal means.
Although Stevenson mainly focused on cases of children who seemed to remember past lives, he also studied two cases in which adults under hypnosis seemed to remember a past life and show rudimentary use of a language they had not learned in the present life. Stevenson called this phenomenon "xenoglossy.
Samarin, a linguist from the University of Toronto , wrote that Stevenson corresponded with linguists in a selective and unprofessional manner. He said that Stevenson corresponded with one linguist in a period of six years "without raising any discussion about the kinds of thing that linguists would need to know. Stevenson stepped down as director of the Division of Perceptual Studies in , although he continued to work as Research Professor of Psychiatry. Jim Tucker , the department's associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, continued Stevenson's research with children, examined in Tucker's book, Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives The inaugural chairholder is Professor Annmarie Adams.
As one experiment to test for personal survival of bodily death, in the s Stevenson set a combination lock using a secret word or phrase and placed it in a filing cabinet in the department, telling his colleagues he would try to pass the code to them after his death. Emily Williams Kelly told The New York Times : "Presumably, if someone had a vivid dream about him, in which there seemed to be a word or a phrase that kept being repeated—I don't quite know how it would work—if it seemed promising enough, we would try to open it using the combination suggested.
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the Australian footballer, see Ian Stevenson footballer. Montreal , Quebec, Canada.