Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation is a book written by Ian Stevenson on the phenomena of spontaneous recall of information about previous lives by young children. The book contains twenty cases of children who begin to talk about specific memories of them having a previous life.
Dr. Stevenson describes his general approach as following an "almost conventional pattern":
"The case usually starts when a small child of two to four years of age begins talking to his parents or siblings of a life he led in another time and place. The child usually feels a considerable pull back toward the events of the life and he frequently importunes his parents to let him return to the community where he claims that he formerly lived. If the child makes enough particular statements about the previous life, the parents (usually reluctantly) begin inquiries about their accuracy. Often, indeed usually, such attempts at verification do not occur until several years after the child has begun to speak of the previous life. If some verification results, members of the two families visit each other and ask the child whether he recognizes places, objects, and people of his supposed previous existence.
Dr. Stevenson set up a network of volunteers to find these spontaneous past life recall cases as soon as the children began to speak of them. He then would carefully question both the family of the living child and the family of the deceased to ensure that they had no contact and that no information would be passed between them. He would obtain detailed information about the deceased, including information not fully known to anyone involved such as details of the will, that he would use to verify that the child actually did know the information required.
Dr. Stevenson personally and carefully vetted each of the cases mentioned to ensure that no other method of obtaining the information was possible for these children. This includes ensuring that the children were physically distant from the previous life described by them to rule out local knowledge being passed to the children. It also includes vetting them to ensure that their parents had never met nor had mutual friends who could have conveyed this information to the children.
The book also describes the interview process, which includes taking possessions from the dead person and requiring the children pick the objects out amongst a field of random objects. Dr. Stevenson required the children to do much better than chance.
The book also discusses various alternative hypotheses including fraud, information gained from others, extra-sensory perception, motivation and capacity of parents to deceive, and even spirit possession. In Dr. Stevenson's final conclusion, reincarnation stands as the best scientific hypothesis for explaining results presented.
Dr. Stevenson concluded that reincarnation was the best possible explanation for the following reasons:
In 1977, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease devoted most of one issue to Dr. Stevenson's work. In a commentary for the issue, psychiatrist Harold Lief described Dr. Stevenson as "a methodical, careful, even cautious, investigator, whose personality is on the obsessive side.
In 1994 The Skeptical Inquirer published (in Volume 18, Number 5) an article by Dr. Leonard Angel (a philosopher) criticizing one of the cases in Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, that of Imad Elawar, which was handled personally by Dr. Stevenson. In the following issue, Dr. Stevenson published a rebuttal, saying in part:
"If I could be sure that readers of the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER would examine my report of the case of Imad Elawar (Stevenson 1974), I should have no need to reply to Leonard Angel's criticism of my investigation of it (Angel 1994). Readers of my report would quickly learn that Angel's statements show grave omissions of important information that I included in the report as well as inappropriate emphases on certain discrepancies in the testimony and verifications.
In fact, a Brazilian biologist - Julio Cesar Siqueira - wrote an article that reveals at least six mistakes in Angel's article.
Proponents of Dr. Stevenson's work sometimes cite him in a non-scientific manner and extend his theories beyond the bounds of scientific discourse. As an example, Carol Bowman makes extensive use of Dr. Stevenson's theories to promote a form of child therapy that emphasizes the past lives of the child.