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If you’re anything like me, with eyes that roll over to the back of your head whenever you hear words like “reincarnation” or “parapsychology,” if you suffer great paroxysms of despair for human intelligence whenever you catch a glimpse of that dandelion-colored cover of Heaven Is For Real or other such books, and become angry when hearing about an overly Botoxed charlatan telling a poor grieving mother how her daughter’s spirit is standing behind her, then keep reading, because you’re precisely the type of person who should be aware of the late Professor Ian Stevenson’s research on children’s memories of previous lives.

Stevenson, who died in 2007, was a psychiatrist by training—and a prominent one at that. In 1957, at the still academically tender age of 38, he’d been named Chair of psychiatry at the University of Virginia. After arriving in Charlottesville, however, his hobbyhorse in the paranormal began turning into a full-grown steed. As you can imagine, investigating apparitions and reincarnation is not something the college administrators were expecting of the head of their mental health program. But in 1968, Chester Carlson, the wealthy inventor of the Xerox copying process who’d been introduced to Stevenson’s interests in reincarnation by his spiritualist wife, dropped dead of a heart attack in a Manhattan movie theatre, leaving a million dollars to UVA on the condition it be used to fund Stevenson’s paranormal investigations. That money enabled Stevenson to devote himself full-time to studying the minds of the dead, and over the next four decades, Stevenson’s discoveries as a parapsychologist served to sway more than a few skeptics and to lead his blushing acolytes to compare him to the likes of Darwin and Galileo.

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