SCIENCE & THE CASE FOR REINCARNATION
Past Lives and Birthmarks
In 1993, Ian Stevenson MD, head of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine
at the University of Virginia School of Medicine located in Charlottesville,
Virginia, published the article reproduced below. It later was the basis for
"Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect"
Why Reincarnation and Biology Intersect
This is dramatic evidence of how past life traumas become so embedded in an individual's cellular memory that they are carried from one life to the next.
Now Dr. Stevenson Speaks for Himself About His Research
"Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to
Wounds on Deceased Persons"
Almost nothing is known about why pigmented birthmarks
(moles or nevi) occur in particular locations of the skin. The causes of
most birth defects are also unknown. About 35% of children who claim to
remember previous lives have birthmarks and/or birth defects that they (or
adult informants) attribute to wounds on a person whose life the child
remembers. The cases of 210 such children have been investigated.
[This drawing is from the autopsy report of the deceased.]
Although counts of moles (hyperpigmented nevi)
have shown that the average adult has between 15 and IX of them (Pack and
Davis,1956), little is known about their cause -- except for those associated
with the genetic disease neurofibromatosis -- and even less is known about
why birthmarks occur in one location of the body instead of in another.
In a few instances a genetic factor has been plausibly suggested for the
location of nevi (Cockayne, 1933; Denaro, 1944; Maruri, 1961);
but the cause of the location of most birthmarks
My investigations of these cases included interviews,
often repeated, with the subject and with several or many other informants
for both families. With rare exceptions, only firsthand informants were
interviewed. All pertinent written records that existed, particularly
death certificates and postmortem reports, were sought and examined. In
the cases in which the informants said that the two families had no
previous acquaintance, I made every effort to exclude all possibility that
some information might nevertheless have passed normally to the child,
perhaps through a half-forgotten mutual acquaintance of the two families.
I have published elsewhere full details about methods (Stevenson, 1975; 1987).
Correspondences between Wounds and Birthmarks
A correspondence between birthmark and wound was judged satisfactory
if the birthmark and wound were both within an area of 10 square
centimeters at the same anatomical location;
in fact, many of the birthmarks and wounds
were much closer to the same location than this.
A medical document, usually a postmortem report, was
obtained in 49 cases. The correspondence between wound and birthmark
was judged satisfactory or better by the mentioned criterion in 43 (88%)
of these cases and not satisfactory in 6 cases.
Cases with Two or More Birthmarks
The argument of chance as accounting for the correspondence between birthmarks and wounds becomes much reduced when the child has two or more birthmarks each corresponding to a wound on the deceased person whose life he claims to remember. Figure 3 shows a major abnormality of the skin (verrucous epidermal nevus) on the back of the head of a Thai man who, as a child, recalled the life of his uncle, who had been struck on the head with a heavy knife and killed almost instantly. The subject also had a deformed toenail of the right great toe (Figure 4). This corresponded to a chronic infection of the same toe from which the subject's uncle had suffered for some years before he died.
The series includes 18 cases in which two birthmarks on a subject
corresponded to gunshot wounds of entry and exit. In 14 of these one
birthmark was larger than the other, and in 9 of these 14 the evidence
clearly showed that the smaller birthmark (usually round) corresponded
to the wound of entry and the larger one (usually irregular in shape)
corresponded to the wound of exit. These observations accord with the
fact that bullet wounds of exit are nearly always larger than wounds
of entry (Fatteh, 1976; Gordon and Shapiro, 1982).
I have calculated the odds against chance of two birthmarks correctly
corresponding to two wounds. The surface area of the skin of the average
adult male is 1.6 meters (Spalteholz, 1943). If we were to imagine this
area square and spread on a flat surface, its dimensions would be approximately
127 centimeters by 127 centimeters. Into this area would fit approximately
160 squares of the size 10 centimeters square that I mentioned above.
Examples of Other Correspondences between Wounds and Birthmarks
A Thai woman had three separate linear hypopigmented scarlike birthmarks
near the midline of her back; as a child she had remembered the life of a
woman who was killed when struck three times in the back with an ax.
(Informants verified this mode of death, but no medical record was obtainable.)
Three Examples of Birth Defects
Figure 8, below, shows the right side of the head of a Turkish boy with a diminished and malformed ear (unilateral microtia). He also had underdevelopment of the right side of his face (hemifacial microsomia). He said that he remembered the life of a man who had been shot (with a shotgun) at point-blank range. The wounded man was taken to a hospital where he died 6 days later -- of injuries to the brain caused by shot that had penetrated the right side of the skull. (I obtained a copy of the hospital record.)
Figure 9 shows fingers almost absent congenitally on one hand (unilateral brachydactyly) in a child of India who said he remembered the life of another child who had put his right hand into the blades of a fodder-chopping machine and lost his fingers. Most cases of brachydactyly involve only a shortening of the middle phalanges. In the present case there were no phalangeal bones, and the fingers were represented by mere stubs. Unilateral brachydactyly is exceedingly rare, and I have not found a published report of a case, although a colleague (plastic surgeon) has shown me a photograph of one case that came under his care.
Figure 10 shows congenital absence of the lower right leg (unilateral hemimelia) in a Burmese girl. She said that she remembered the life of a girl who was run over by a train. Eyewitnesses said that the train severed the girl's right leg first, before running over the trunk. Lower hemimelia is an extremely rare condition, and Frantz and O'Rahilly (1961) found it in only 12 (4.0%) of 300 cases of all congenital skeletal deficiencies that they examined.
Because most (but not all) of these cases develop among persons who believe in reincarnation, we should expect that the informants for the cases would interpret them as examples according with their belief; and they usually do. It is necessary, however, for scientists to think of alternative explanations. The most obvious explanation of these cases attributes the birthmark or birth defect on the child to chance, and the reports of the child's statements and unusual behavior then become a parental fiction intended to account for the birthmark (or birth defect) in terms of the culturally accepted belief in reincarnation.
There are, however, important objections to this explanation.
Persons who reject the explanation of chance combined with a secondarily confected history may consider other interpretations that include paranormal processes, but fall short of proposing a life after death. One of these supposes that the birthmark or birth defect occurs by chance and the subject then by telepathy learns about a deceased person who had a similar lesion and develops an identification with that person. The children subjects of these cases, however, never show paranormal powers of the magnitude required to explain the apparent memories in contexts outside of their seeming memories.
Another explanation, which would leave less to chance in the production of the child's lesion, attributes it to a maternal impression on the part of the child's mother. According to this idea, a pregnant woman, having a knowledge of the deceased person's wounds, might influence a gestating embryo and fetus so that its form corresponded to the wounds on the deceased person.
The idea of maternal impressions, popular in preceeding centuries and
up to the first decades of this one, has fallen into disrepute.
Until my own recent article (Stevenson, 1992) there had been no review of
series of cases since 1890 (Dabney, 1890); and cases are rarely published
now (Williams and Pembroke, 1988). Nevertheless, some of the published
cases - old and new - show a remarkable correspondence between an unusual
stimulus in the mind of a pregnant woman and an unusual birthmark or
birth defect in her later-born child.
It is not my purpose to impose any interpretation of these cases on the readers of this article. Nor would I expect any reader to reach even a preliminary conclusion from the short summaries of cases that the brevity of this report entails. Instead, I hope that I have stimulated readers to examine the detailed reports of many cases that I am now in the process of publishing (Stevenson, forthcoming). "Originality and truth are found only in the details" (Stendhal, 1926).
I am grateful to Drs. Antonia Mills and Emily W. Cook for critical comments on drafts of this paper. Thanks are also due to the Bernstein Brothers Parapsychology and Health Foundation for the support of my research.
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to: Ian Stevenson, MD, Division of Personality Studies, Box 152, Health Sciences Center, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22908
Cockayne, E, A. (1933). Inherited abnormalities of the skin. London: Oxford University Press.
Cook, E. W., Pasricha, S, Samararatne, G, Win Maung, & Stevenson, I. (1983). Review and analysis of "unsolved" cases of the reincarnation type: II. Comparison of features of solved and unsolved cases, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 77, 1 15-135.
Dabney, W. C. (1890). Maternal impressions. In J. M. Keating (Ed.), Cyclopaedia of the diseases of children, Vol. 1 , (pp. 1 9 1 -2 1 6). Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.
Denaro, S. J. ( 1944). The inheritance of nevi. Journal of Heredity, 35, 2 1 5- 1 8.
Fatteh, A. (1976). Medicolegal investigation ofgunshor wounds. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.
Frantz, C. H., & O'Rahilly, R.(1961). Congenital skeletal limb deficiencies. Journal ofBone and Joins Surgerq: 43-A, 1202-24.
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Mills, A. (1989). A replication study: Three cases of children in northern India who are said to remember a previous life. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 3, 133-184.
Nelson, K., & Holmes, L. B. (1989). Malformations due to presumed spontaneous mutations in newborn infants. New England Journal of Medicine, 320, 19-23.
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Smith, D. W. (1982). Recognizable patterns of human malformation. (3rd ed.) Philadelphia: W. B·Saunders.
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Stevenson, I. (1983). American children who claim to remember previous lives. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 17 1, 742-748.
Stevenson, I. (1987). Children who remember previous lives. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
Stevenson, I. ( 1990). Phobias in children who claim to remember previous lives. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 4, 243-254.
Stevenson, I. (1992). A new look at maternal impressions: An analysis of 50 published cases and reports of two recent examples. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 6, 353-373.
Stevenson, I. (Forthcoming). Birthmarks and birth defects: A contribution to their etiology.
Williams, H. C., & Pembroke, A. C. (1988). Naevus of Jamaica. Lancer, 11, 915.
Wilson, J. G. (1973). Environment and birth defects. New York: Academic Press.
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