I highly respect Dr. Ian Stevenson. Of all the authors I have read, some truly execrable, some quite respectable, Dr. Stevenson is the one person who has formed and shaped my beliefs about life and death, and the very purpose of existence. I believe that no one makes a stronger case than he does for the continuing existence of consciousness.
It doesn't matter what I think, really, since I am not a scientist but a PhD. in Hispanic literature and language. I have read a tremendous amount on the subject of existence (in some form) after physical death, and I have conducted some of my own investigations. I have had numerous personal experiences that defy a materialist mindset, but none of that makes me an expert or someone whose opinion on this weighty matter should be accepted as a matter of fact. So many of these questions must be answered on a personal level, for it is a matter of personal transformation in the end. I appreciate, however, those who dedicated their lives to amassing evidence so that people like me can feel reasonably justified for their belief in post-mortem existence. The hard, painstaking work of investigators like Dr. Stevenson allows me to draw my conclusions based on their evidence, and for that I am eternally (literally!) grateful.
There may be some interest for anyone reading this in what I have concluded, after reading over one hundred books on the subject, ranging from the purely scientific (SPR and ASPR papers) to the popular (John Edwards' and Van Praugh's accounts of the afterlife). I do have training in critical thinking and evaluation of evidence-- no one receives any kind of degree at Yale without rigorous training in both--and 22 years as a teacher and director of various academic and administrative programs certainly trains one to organize one's thought process towards results, not fantasies. After wading through so much information and history, after thinking about this issue endlessly and pondering all possible explanations, I find that the theory of reincarnation is what makes the most sense and has the strongest evidence to back it. It also, on a personal note, is what explains my experiences as a child and best fits my memories (the few that remain) of a previous existence.
All of the other information--gleaned from mediums, channelers, psychics, near-death experiencers and adults who claim to remember past lives (as opposed to children between 3 and 5 years of age) tends to suffer from wish fulfillment fantasies and self-delusion; yet even as I write that, I am quite sure that there are several authentic "experiencers" of the afterlife that I hesitate to criticize or invalidate. The problem is the mixture of real and imagined, of authentic with trickery, of pure motivations with motivation tainted by greed for money and fame. Eusapia Palladino is a good example of what I mean by that. Much of her physical mediumship was authenticated by scientists from various disciplines who set up conditions that would make fraud impossible; yet, even though she could produce amazing results ranging from apports to full materializations, she was caught cheating openly on several occasions. When she couldn't produce good material from the spirit world, she took matters into her own hands. This is the issue, then, that plagues people like John Edwards. He may be 99% authentic, but there's that nagging issue of the 1% that tarnishes his reputation. You could look at it the other way, too: he may be 99% fake and 1% authentic; in the end, you have to have some control over what you do, some method that keeps you above board and "investigatable" by objective observers with no interest in the outcomes. This is what Dr. Stevenson does, and his work taken as a whole is overwhelmingly convincing. As far as I am concerned, Dr. Stevenson has proven that reincarnation happens. He does not claim that it exists for everyone at all times; yet the fact that it exists at all blows the top off the universe and everything we think we know about human consciousness and survival of death.
When asked about the "larger purpose" behind reincarnation and current theories of the mind, here are his words:
"Do you see in reincarnation a glimpse of a larger purpose?"
Stevenson: Well, yes, I do. My idea of God is that He is evolving. I don't believe in the watchmaker God, the original creator who built the watch and then lets it tick. I believe in a "Self-maker God" who is evolving and experimenting; so are we as parts of Him. Bodies wear out; souls may need periods for rest and reflection. Afterward one may start again with a new body.
Omni: Do you disagree with most bioscientists, who hold that what we call mind or soul is actually a part of brain activity?
Stevenson: The assumption that our minds are nothing but our brains appears to receive support when you consider the effect of injury, surgery, a high fever, or one or two drinks of whiskey on our mental processes. Some neuroscientists ac knowledge that they have only just begun to show how brain processes account for mental ones. But they claim to know that they or their successors will work it all out. They are sure there can be no other explanation, therefore they consider no other. We are not pledged to follow all the received opinions of neuroscientists, however. Recently, a small number of psychologists and philosophers have begun to ask whether mind can ever be fully explained in terms of brain functioning.The mind, apparently, is not bound by this one existence. As for the implications of this, that I leave to a later post. In the meantime, anyone with any interest in the question of survival of consciousness should read Old Souls, written by a journalist who traveled with Stevenson to India and documented the journey. It's a fascinating introduction to an amazing man and an even more amazing life's work.