On This Day … 08 February

People (Deaths)

  • 1964 – Ernst Kretschmer, German psychiatrist and author (b. 1888).
  • 2007 – Ian Stevenson, Canadian-American psychiatrist and academic (b. 1918).

Ernst Kretschmer

Ernst Kretschmer (08 October 1888 to 08 February 1964) was a German psychiatrist who researched the human constitution and established a typology.

Life

Kretschmer was born in Wüstenrot near Heilbronn. He attended Cannstatt Gymnasium, one of the oldest Latin schools in Stuttgart area. From 1906 to 1912 he studied theology, medicine, and philosophy at the universities of Tübingen, Munich and Hamburg. From 1913 he was assistant of Robert Gaupp in Tübingen, where he received his habilitation in 1918. He continued as assistant medical director until 1926.

In 1926 he became the director of the psychiatric clinic at Marburg University.

Kretschmer was a founding member of the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy (AÄGP) which was founded on 12 January 1927. He was the president of AÄGP from 1929. In 1933 he resigned from the AÄGP for political reasons.

From 1946 until 1959, Kretschmer was the director of the psychiatric clinic of the University of Tübingen. He died, aged 75, in Tübingen.

Cooperating with the Nazis

After he resigned from the AÄGP, he started to support the SS and signed the “Vow of allegiance of the professors of the German universities and high-schools to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialistic state.” (German: “Bekenntnis der Professoren an den deutschen Universitäten und Hochschulen zu Adolf Hitler und dem nationalsozialistischen Staat”).

Persistent Vegetative State and Sensitive Paranoia Research

Kretschmer was the first to describe the persistent vegetative state which has also been called Kretschmer’s syndrome. Another medical term coined after him is Kretschmer’s sensitive paranoia. This classification has the merit of singling out “a type of paranoia that was unknown” prior to Kretschmer, and which “does not resemble the stereotypical image […] of sthenic paranoia”. Furthermore, between 1915 and 1921 he developed a differential diagnosis between schizophrenia and manic depression.

Ian Stevenson

Ian Pretyman Stevenson (31 October 1918 to 08 February 2007) was a Canadian-born American psychiatrist. He worked for the University of Virginia School of Medicine for fifty years, as chair of the department of psychiatry from 1957 to 1967, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry from 1967 to 2001, and Research Professor of Psychiatry from 2002 until his death.

As founder and director of the university’s Division of Perceptual Studies, which investigates the paranormal, Stevenson became known for his research into cases he considered suggestive of reincarnation, the idea that emotions, memories, and even physical bodily features can be transferred from one life to another. Over a period of forty years in international fieldwork, he investigated three thousand cases of children who claimed to remember past lives. His position was that certain phobias, philias, unusual abilities and illnesses could not be fully explained by heredity or the environment. He believed that, in addition to genetics and the environment, reincarnation might possibly provide a third, contributing factor.

Stevenson helped found the Society for Scientific Exploration in 1982 and was the author of around three hundred papers and fourteen books on reincarnation, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966), Cases of the Reincarnation Type (four volumes, 1975-1983) and European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003). His most ambitious work was the 2,268-page, two-volume Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (1997). This reported two hundred cases in which birthmarks and birth defects seemed to correspond in some way to a wound on the deceased person whose life the child recalled. He wrote a shorter version of the same research for the general reader, Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (1997).

Reaction to his work was mixed. In an obituary for Stevenson in The New York Times, Margalit Fox wrote that Stevenson’s supporters saw him as a misunderstood genius but that most scientists had simply ignored his research and that his detractors regarded him as earnest but gullible. His life and work became the subject of three supportive books, Old Souls: The Scientific Search for Proof of Past Lives (1999) by Tom Shroder, a Washington Post journalist, Life Before Life (2005) by Jim B. Tucker, a psychiatrist and colleague at the University of Virginia, and Science, the Self, and Survival after Death (2012), by Emily Williams Kelly. Critics, particularly the philosophers C.T.K. Chari (1909-1993) and Paul Edwards (1923-2004), raised a number of issues, including claims that the children or parents interviewed by Stevenson had deceived him, that he had asked them leading questions, that he had often worked through translators who believed what the interviewees were saying, and that his conclusions were undermined by confirmation bias, where cases not supportive of his hypothesis were not presented as counting against it.