From The Paranormal Review, Exploring this world, the next.. and beyond Thursday June 26, 2008

LONDON. A little over a year after the death of Prof Ian Stevenson (left), the indefatigable researcher best known for his reincarnation studies, fellow parapsychologists met in London to pay tribute to him on Saturday (26 April). They were participating in a Society for Psychical Research Study Day devoted to the life and legacy of a very remarkable man.

Prof Bruce Greyson, Stevenson’s successor as Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, flew in from the US to talk about the work of the division as well as Stevenson’s less well known involvement in near-death experience (NDE) studies.

Prof Erlendur Haraldsson, professor emeritus at the Faculty of Social Science, University of Iceland, who has conducted field studies of children claiming to remember past lives in Sri Lanka, the Lebanon, and elsewhere, collaborating with Stevenson on a number of scientific papers, also travelled from Reykjavik to pay tribute. He was one of the small number of people at Stevenson’s bedside when he died (obituary).

From the UK, Profs David Fontana and Bernard Carr, and Mary Rose Barrington, talked about Stevenson’s active involvement in the Society for Psychical Research from their different perspectives.

What emerged was a portrait of an extremely hard-working and very private man who encouraged and influenced many others to undertake parapsychological studies.

Stevenson worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, and travelled 10,000 miles or more each year in order to interview subjects and witnesses firsthand. Perhaps the travel enabled him to find time to read. During his lifetime, he devoured on average 45 books a year, totally well over 3,300 and keeping meticulous notes on every one of them.

He was born in Scotland but moved to Canada, where his father was a leading journalist, before settling in the United States. As a result, he carried three passports which was a great advantage during his reincarnation studies in countries like Burma (right), where the stay of visitors was severely limited. He would arrive on one passport and leave on another.

It was support from photocopying inventor Chester Carlson which enabled the University of Virginia to set up the parapsychology division to support Stevenson’s reincarnation studies. In time, with changes of administration, the “parapsychology” name was dropped in favour of “personality studies” and, more recently, “perceptual studies”.

Even though Stevenson had retired in 2002, Greyson felt he needed to ask for his predecessor’s opinion on the most recent name change. “What does it matter?” Stevenson replied. “They’re all code names, anyway!”

For much of Stevenson’s academic life, he and the division operated out of an old wood frame building. Recently, however, it has moved to more substantial premises where its 12 staff members – “some of whom believe in survival of death and some don’t”, Greyson observed – have a variety of new equipment to assist in their studies.

A mirrored room – called a psychomanteum and based on a Greek concept – that can produce apparent spiritual experiences such as contact with the dead is among its facilities.

Its recent research has included an impressive mediumship study (see separate report) and the division is also researching instrumental transcommunication (ITC), the use of technology to communicate with other dimensions.

Near-death experiences remain the domain of Prof Bruce Greyson and the study of children claiming to remember past lives is in the capable hands of child psychiatrist Dr Jim Tucker though, because he has a young family and does not want to be away from them for extensive periods, his field research is likely to be limited to North American and European cases.

Greyson and his team are also close to digitising all of Stevenson case studies, for which it has received financial support from the SPR. This will provide future researchers with a tremendous resource.

For many years the division has also been studying “Survival codes”, looking at ways in which individuals can, after their death, communicate a code that will unlock a combination lock. Attempts to do so are made during their lifetime to see if the code can be broken by, say, telepathy, clairvoyance or even computer software.

Prof Ian Stevenson has left two codes with the division he once managed so competently in his attempt to prove to the world that the mind and the brain are not the same thing.

No doubt, from the next world, he will be attempting to communicate that code. Unless, of course, he has already reincarnated. He once observed: “What parents would want me as a child?”

Someone could be in for a real surprise!

Pictured below are the SPR Study Day presenters, pictured outside St Philip’s Church, Earls Court, where the meeting took place. They are, from left: Bernard Carr, Bruce Greyson, Erlendur Haraldsson, Mary Rose Barrington and David Fontana (photo © Roy Stemman).