Updated date:

Review: Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson

CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.

A review of Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson.

The late Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia

The late Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia

Transmigration of souls

Do you believe in reincarnation?

I’m not sure.

Various religions, ancient and modern, have offered it as a possible explanation of what happens to us after we die. Buddhists believe it. Hindus believe it. In the past, the ancient Greeks believed it, and referred to it as Transmigration of Souls . Gnostic Christians may have believed it; the Druids certainly did.

The problem for the modern, rational mind is that belief in something is not enough. We want proof. “Show us the evidence,” we might say, before dismissing such claims as wishful thinking.

And this is natural enough, of course. Who wants to die? Wouldn’t we all like to hope that something of us survives into the future?

As Woody Allen said: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.”

As it happens there may well be quite serious evidence of reincarnation.

This lies in the work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia – he died in February 2007 – and of his associates in the Division of Perceptual Studies there who are continuing with his work.

Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation

Dr. Stevenson’s began his work in 1961 and has published several books on the subject, the most famous being Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation first published in 1966.

His method was as follows. He would hear about cases where young children (typically from the ages of two to seven) were making claims about having memories of a previous life. He would then interview the children, taking meticulous notes, usually with witnesses around to verify the child’s statements.

After this he would turn from scientist into detective, and would begin to investigate the child’s claims, to see if there was any truth in them.

The cases he examined ranged from the moderately weak, to the very compelling.

Sometimes some of the children told remarkable tales about people and events which they almost certainly couldn’t have got by any other means than by reincarnation.

In a typical case, a boy in Beirut claimed that he had been a mechanic in his previous life who had died in a car accident. Witnesses say the boy provided the name of the driver, the location of the crash, the names of the mechanic's sisters and parents, cousins and friends, all of which turned out to match the life of a man who had died some years before.

Of course, none of this constitutes proof, and Dr Stevenson was too cautious to claim that his investigations were any more than “suggestive” of reincarnation.

On the other hand, almost nothing in science is based upon absolute proof. For instance, there is no “proof” that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. There is, however, overwhelming statistical evidence that it does.

I think a rational person, if he wants, can believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence"

— Dr. Ian Stevenson


As to what conclusions you might draw from his work, Dr. Stevenson has his own views on the subject.

"I think a rational person, if he wants, can believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence."

But we are left with a number of questions. For instance: if we are reincarnated beings, why is it that we don’t remember? Also, why is it generally only very young children who make these claims?

Actually that’s not quite true. I know lots of people who claim to be the reincarnation of this or that historical person. The difference is that very young children are the best evidence. There might be strong political reasons why an adult might make such a claim. On the other hand young children are generally less tainted by aspiration and the hope of political gain.

Also, maybe we are more psychically in tune when we are younger, less committed to a fixed view of who we are and who we might have been.

As to why most of us don’t remember, I think that is obvious.

It’s probably a survival technique. After all: who wants to remember their own death?


© 2010 Christopher James Stone


Sharon Vile from Odessa, MO on August 19, 2014:

I tend to believe in reincarnation--and have "memories" of previous lives, though of course the mind is not a perfectly reliable thing. I have trouble remembering things that happened in this life, or remembering them correctly, so it's hard to say. Sometimes I have believed I could "see" things about other people's previous incarnations, too.

Many men are fascinated by WWII, and/or the Civil War, or other wars. I think this may be because these are part of their past-life experience. My ex-husband was one of those types--and often bemoaned "missing out" on WWII by being born too late. Well--assuming my impressions are correct--he DIDN'T miss out in WWII. He was a German aviator who was killed in WWII.

I used to tell one of my daughters that the reason she struggled with reading as a child, and with language arts in general, was because she had never before been incarnated as an English speaker, or a speaker of any of the European languages. Her aptitudes, on the other hand, were/are all of the kind of thing you would expect from someone steeped in a different and equally rich traditional culture.

I think (JMHO) that people have long, long pasts, which often show through in the present. Sometimes you can get a glimpse of them.

ParadigmEnacted on May 06, 2013:

Well if it doesn't I'll have wasted the money.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on May 05, 2013:

I believe so. You'll have to buy the book to confirm.

ParadigmEnacted on May 05, 2013:

By any chance are birthdays and key dates in the lives of the suggested incarnates provided?

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 30, 2010:

I'll check it out Amanda.

Amanda Severn from UK on July 30, 2010:

I've read a lot about this subject, and have had experiences of my own which lead me to believe that re-incarnation is more likely than not. Have you read the Jenny Cockell story, Chris? I think it's called 'Yesterday's Children' and it's about her experiences tracing the family in Ireland of her former incarnation as a mother of a large family in the early half of the 20th century. It's worth reading.

Bob Diamond RPh from Charlotte, NC USA on July 27, 2010:

Provocative, CJ.

ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on July 27, 2010:

very interesting. I think maybe a young child's thoughts of a past event in another life is somehow connected to deja vu's.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 27, 2010:

Thanks for coming over here Pam. I was just thinking about you as it happens as I've been writing a hub about my early experiences with HubPages. I like the idea of the brain as a receiver. My view is that it is a transmitter/receiver. Telepathy certainly exists and I've always thought that maybe we receive our intelligence from an intelligent universe rather than the other way around. This makes much more sense to me than the idea that intelligence is just the products of our poor isolated brains locked in our skulls wandering about in a dead universe.

pgrundy on July 27, 2010:

My son was like this as a young child. A couple of times, after he hit puberty, he actually lapsed into a kind of waking dream state and began speaking in another language. It did sound like a language to the people with him (sadly I wasn't one of them), not gibberish, but it only happened a few times and then passed. He has no recollection of it nor did he immediately after it happened.

Thank you for referencing this fellow's work about it. I had not heard of him, and of course I love this stuff. Recently I've been intrigued by the notion that perhaps the brain is more like a receiver made of meat--just circuitry basically--and that consciousness resides elsewhere. If that is so, we might all have access to detailed info from other eras, other places, if only we knew how to get to it. Remote viewing seems to work well sometimes for some people, and why should it? So there's that. Perhaps our whole paradigm for 'reality' is way off.

Basically we just don't know what the hell is going on, you know? We're born, confusing stuff happens, then we die. What's it all about? I sure don't know, and I've learned to avoid people who stridently claim to have all the answers--though I will listen up to a point.

Thanks CJ for a fun read. :)

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 26, 2010:

Saddlerider, yes it's my view too that we keep coming back till we get it right.

NCapamaggio: I have to say that your comment really has nothing to do with my hub. It's a bit like one of those prewritten comments you get which turn out to be nothing more than advertising. "Nice Hub, and have you thought about double glazing?" If I was interested in Jesus I'd have written about him.

NCapamaggio on July 26, 2010:

Interesting hub, my total belief system comes from the holy scriptures and what God has taught me is we have one life and after that the judgment. There must be answers to how these things have happened, but sometimes its not what we think. You might thing my thoughts are over the top, but i believe that there is a spiritual world out there consisting of angels and demons, and they play an important part with things like this. We aren't gong to understand everything in this life, but if you search for the truck you will find it, and the day i did that i found Jesus Christ. Keep up the good work on your hubs!

saddlerider1 on July 26, 2010:

I am a believer of reincarnation. I believe a human dies then it's spirit reincarnates by manifestation through a man's genes into a woman to start the process all over again.

It's a very sad thing to think that great minds that have gone on before us die forever and go into a great dark hole or void. Life is a circle, just keeps going round and round.

I suppose the religious amongst us would say we keep coming back until we get it right? get what right? belief in a diety? I don't believe so. This hub certainly stimulates ones thinking and purpose in life.

I have seen a ghost or apparition, so I know they do exist, but where they go from that position is speculation.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 26, 2010:

Mike it might be worth checking out Dr Stevenson's work. It sounds like it might offer some insight into the questions you ask.

Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on July 26, 2010:

Several months ago I wrote a hub about reincarnation, wondering aloud how mankind might benefit if reincarnation could be "proven" to all as a certainty. What would it be like for man to know for certain that death wasn't the end? It could change the way we think and feel about everything.

No one has yet to disprove the possibility of reincarnation in a definitive way, although I realize non-believers don't see the need to disprove what they believe cannot exist.

I am convinced children are able to access mental processes later lost to us when we mature. I'm not a scientist and can only offer my own speculations, but I think a child's seeming ability to remember past lives more clearly than an adult is similar to the same apparent ability to more clearly see ghosts (assuming it is ghosts they truly see). On a more mundane level, perhaps it is reminiscent of a child's ability to easily learn multiple languages when younger, only to find it far more difficult when one matures.

I enjoyed reading your article very much. Thank you for sharing your insights.


msorensson on July 26, 2010:

How wonderful that you write for "The Guardian" and "The Independent"

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 26, 2010:

I've added some links to the hub too.

msorensson on July 26, 2010:


Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 26, 2010:

I've read it.

msorensson on July 26, 2010:

Indeed looking into your death the previous lives requires more than courage.

I suggest you look into The Tibetan Book of the Dead :-)

Related Articles