‘We have certainly made substantial progress in finding cases with stronger evidence of a paranormal process. I myself am more convinced than I was that mind and body are separate entities, joined during life but not afterward. I am more persuaded than I was that reincarnation is the best – even though not the only – explanation for the stronger cases we have investigated. Processes, however, remain a mystery. Yet their study need not daunt the scientists of the next generation.’
About Dr. Ian Stevenson
Lecture by Dr. Ian Stevenson: Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives
Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (1987)
Ian Stevenson, MD
In Summary

In a sweeping investigation, psychiatrist Ian Stevenson uncovers many remarkable cases of children who have memories, behaviours and birthmarks consistent with recently deceased persons, providing, he claims, compelling scientific evidence for reincarnation.


Is this life all we get? Is death the end of our story or could, perhaps, our bodies be mere vessels in a far greater journey reaching infinitely into both past and future? While the more ‘scientifically’ oriented often cling to the former opinion, regarding human beings as nothing more than matter in motion, the belief in reincarnation remains perhaps one of the most universally held human hopes and questions underpinning various philosophies and religions of both East and West.

But is it merely a hope? Must one give up such unproven beliefs to accommodate science? No, proclaims famed psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, for science itself proves to be the greatest ally for proponents of reincarnation, and this support comes from perhaps the humblest of witnesses. It is in the documented experiences of children that we discover reincarnation to be more than a projected hope or fantasy. In a thorough investigation of over 400 cases (and a more general examination of a thousand others), Stevenson documents remarkable instances of young children who seemingly have the power to recall accurate memories from deceased individuals – memories that in many cases contained information unknown to anyone with a relationship to the child. This ability, coupled with behaviours and bodily markings matching supposed previous incarnations, provides a scientific case against the claim that death is our destination rather than a small intermission along the journey of life.


There are many individuals who claim to remember a past life either through hypnotic regression or alleged psychic powers. Yet even in instances where people can provide remarkably accurate information of previous lives, such cases do not, according to Stevenson, add much weight in favour of reincarnation. Any sceptic could justifiably claim that these facts could have been gained in some other fashion and stored subconsciously by the supposed reincarnated person. As such, Stevenson narrows his investigation to young children, usually between the ages of two and eight, whose minds are less likely to be influenced in this manner.

However, even in this narrowed set of examples, the relative veracity can vary greatly. A case is greatly strengthened if the child can provide enough information about their previous life to locate the deceased individual, such as a name or a hometown. The case is strengthened even more in those instances in which the child provides details about the individual’s life that are otherwise unknown to the parents and relatives. In some rare circumstances, children have been able to confirm information that only a few members of the deceased’s family would have known. Additionally, the child might exhibit behaviours, such as phobias or habits, that closely match the claimed previous incarnation. One example concerned a young infant with a deathly fear of water. Once the child had learned to speak, it was revealed that this phobia stemmed from a drowning in a prior life. In the most interesting cases, the child will even have birthmarks or birth defects that correspond to the fatal wounds of the deceased person. In one remarkable case, a deceased individual named Selim Fesli appeared to a mother two days prior to her child’s birth, announcing his intention to stay. When the child was born, he displayed a malformation of the right ear in the exact place where Selim had received his fatal wound. Once the child was able to speak, he confirmed his prior identity as Selim and correctly identified Selim’s wife and six children by name.

There are other commonalities in these cases, as well. For example, most (though not all) children who claim to remember past lives come from regions or families that believe in the concept already. Stevenson thinks this stems from a cultural context that makes these memories and their reports more common than in societies where reincarnation is denied. In addition, the reincarnations rarely take place over vast distances and disproportionately occur within the same family or local community. Stevenson suggests this is likely due to the soul’s attachment to certain places or families. Unfortunately, the evidential value for these cases is limited, as sceptics might claim the child has garnered the information in a more natural way. As such, many of Stevenson’s own examples involve those that defy such easy dismissal. Finally, the timeframe for the recovery of these memories is usually short. By the age of eight, children will normally stop speaking about or forget all memories of their prior lives. The window of opportunity is narrow, yet this has not prevented Stevenson from compiling a wide set of features common to the phenomenon.

Such claims will, of course, inspire scepticism, and Stevenson is no stranger to accusations of every variety. As such, a considerable portion of the work is devoted to divulging the exact methodology (both its strengths and weaknesses) and entertaining other possible interpretations (both natural and supernatural) for the data. Stevenson leaves no stone unturned, considering every facet of the case and ultimately arriving at the same conclusion: ‘Reincarnation is the best – even though not the only – explanation for the stronger cases we have investigated.’


While science is normally prized for its commitment to open inquiry, one restriction hangs over the field: it must not touch upon questions of the supernatural. Science, it is supposed, can only tell us what happens naturally. If Stevenson is correct, his research will shatter the glass house upon which this assumption stands and erect in its place a new edifice – one that takes seriously the possibility that we can, in fact, discover truths about what happens to us after we die. Despite passing away in 2007, Stevenson’s research lives on through his former colleague Jim Tucker and the work of studying the phenomenon continues to this day.

Yet Stevenson’s work is relevant beyond academia. For billions, reincarnation is not a dry subject of scientific inquiry but a promised hope and the centre around which their lives revolve. For the faithful, Stevenson offers not merely an interesting set of data but evidence confirming what they have long recognised – that death is nothing more than the doorway to new life.

Further Reading By This Author

Stevenson published extensively on his reincarnation research. The present title, along with Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, are among his most famous.

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