The apparent belief system of Ian Stevenson

by Richard Rockley

This is a follow-up to the book review of Ian Stevenson’s book “Children Who Remember Previous Lives, A Question of Reincarnation”.

Firstly I believe in Stevenson’s integrity on putting forward what he believes he has found. But in my view his belief in reincarnation leads him to miss the obvious explanations for things.

Stevenson supplies an analysis from his wider studies. The first striking thing is that reincarnation is reported much more frequently in cultures that believe in reincarnation. Stevenson insists that this is because where they believe in reincarnation they are more likely to report it. Where they don’t believe, they are less likely to recognize a child’s stories for “what they are”, or will suppress the child’s “memories”. Another explanation would be that in the cultures that do believe, the people are looking for such signs, and are more credulous in such matters that in cultures that do not believe. To me this is the more prosaic solution, and using Occam’s Razor it is the one I am more likely to accept.

Stevenson betrays his bias when he comments on this:

“These factors seem to me to favor the kinds of experiences that we in the West consider paranormal…. everyone who thinks about these differences should ask himself whether the West may have lost as well as gained in making its technological advances.”

“Just gained!” I guess you would feel we in the West have lost if you have a prior belief in the paranormal, as Stevenson apparently does.

Other trends are noted. For example, in cultures where:

  • They believe that you cannot change sex in a reincarnation, they report no cases of changed sex reincarnation. Where they do believe reincarnates can change sex, this is sometimes reported.
  • They believe that there is no gap between death and rebirth, they always report no gap, usually with the device of a poorly remembered “intermediate life” (see Suleyman Andary in the book review).
  • They believe that there is no gap between death and rebirth there are no “announcing dreams”, because rebirth is instantaneous. These dreams occur regularly where they believe there can be a gap.
  • They have a matriarchal society, the prior lives are more likely to be linked through the mother’s side of the family. The converse is true in patriarchal societies.
  • They believe the spirits reside in a “discarnate realm” between lives, the children more frequently remember these “discarnate realms”.

To me, these are indications that the children and/or the adults observing them are (knowingly or subconsciously), applying their pre-learned cultural beliefs to make the stories fit. Stevenson has another view. He believes that the cultural beliefs of a person (e.g., you cannot change sex in a reincarnation), are carried over when the person is reincarnated, and this prevents the person being reincarnated in a form that conflicts with their cultural beliefs:

“If a person dies believing that he cannot in another incarnation become a person of the opposite sex, perhaps he cannot, even if he can reincarnate.”

Yes, he really said that. A more self-serving piece of circular reasoning is hard to imagine.

He then moves on to Straw Man. He seeks to justify that consciousness does not reside in the brain. In doing so he asserts that neuroscientists “assume, in an act of faith, that no other solution to the relationship between brain and mind will be found; hence none other is worth considering.”

He moves on to argument from ignorance. He asserts that without consciousness we would not be able to observe “the probably false idea that (the brain’s) workings and nothing else produce consciousness”. He goes to talk about how the sensation of “blueness” remains an irreducible experience of consciousness, and concludes, “brains will never explain consciousness.”

Never! Glad he cleared that up for us.

Then we have the amazing claim: “less that one-thousandth of a person’s mind is normally accessible to his consciousness” . Where this comes from I have no idea.

Finally, the punch line: “If materialism… were true, telepathy should not occur; but it does occur, and so materialism must be false.” I was wrong, there was a more self-serving piece of circular reasoning than the one I referenced before.

With these comments I believe he blows his credibility as a serious scientist. In my view this casts doubt on all of his work.

You can read the review of Ian Stevenson’s book “Children Who Remember Previous Lives, A Question of Reincarnation” here.