I am puzzled by the seeming lack of interest in one of the great mysteries. I have also noticed an active revulsion on the part of friends I have known toward even thinking about it. I once performed an experiment with two colleagues. I tried to place a copy of the best book I knew on mediumship by the British psychologist, Alan Gauld, into their hands, in hopes of them reading it. I failed on both counts. Each of my colleagues literally recoiled from the sight of Gauld’s book, and each of them invented the most baroque reason for not being free to turn a page at least for a year!
What’s going on? Perhaps an unwillingness to even think about mortality? For some this may be a necessary life strategy. To live well we must for all practical purposes feel as if we were immortal. It won’t work to be overly conscious of our mortality. It’s not conducive to mental health to dwell on the fact that at any moment it could all be over. It would poison the mental fabric of our existence.
Humans have devised different ways for coping with this issue. There is however one simple but rather momentous step we might take. We may come to realize that our minds transcend the constraints of our mortal bodies.
In fact, this was taken for granted by most cultures before the rise of mechanistic science in modern Europe. It was taken for granted because people saw ghosts, experienced hauntings, had premonitions of death, had near-death experiences, saw signs of reincarnation, and had out-of-body experiences. But then the mechanizers and physicalists became possessed by their own ideas, and decided all the otherworld experiences were illusions and phantasies.
However, some have chosen to use science and reason to try to find out what happens to consciousness when the body dies. It so happens there is a very large amount of fascinating work on the subject. It includes studies of near-death experiences, apparitions of the dead, mediumship, reincarnation studies, and much more. (See my Experiencing the Next World Now for a review of all the types of survival evidence.)
But to the question in my title. Should we care about this research? Or is it a specialty subject for the odd eccentric with no real human importance? I put the question that way because established science, the press, and public intellectuals of various stripes seem uninterested. I began with the example of two friends recoiling from my handing them a first-rate book on the subject. These were symptoms of the curious indifference of science in general.
But I think science ought to be interested in this research. Ought implies some kind of moral obligation. On what grounds do I make this claim? To answer, suppose a group of scientists got wind of a definitive cure of cancer. But suppose that for some reason there was something about the cure that scientists thought was personally repellent.
Would not the scientists be failing to fulfill their duty by turning their backs on research that promised a cure of cancer?
This seems analogous to research on life after death. Whatever the reasons are, scientists in general tend to ignore, even seem to despise and prematurely dismiss, research on life after death. But scientific evidence on the topic would make a momentous difference not just to people suffering from a particular disease but to all humanity.
And yet mainstream science refuses to show even the slightest curiosity about the evidence that already has been uncovered on the subject. A ‘cure’ for mortality would count as one of the greatest of scientific achievements. But science for its peculiar reasons evidently hasn’t any interest in the subject.
I regard this willful disregard of the evidence for life after death as morally defective. It is as morally defective as the eagerness of science to serve the business of making the most murderous weaponry. The leading offender is of course the United States that sells its brilliantly evolved death machinery to 85 percent of the countries in the world. My conclusion is, yes, science ought to be concerned with research on life after death. But it is not. The killing business is infinitely more profitable.
Science is just another belief system, a secular faith.
You may well have seen an interview with John Cleese on YouTube during which he said "the evidence [for survival in some form] is overwhelming"
He is right of course and, personally, any doubts I ever had are now gone completely.
I wrote about it recently in the context of old age and you might find it an interesting perspective.
Michael, as I read your essay I could not help asking myself a similar question about science’s unwillingness to give the findings of experimental parapsychology the attention they so deserve. I suppose that the main reason for this attitude is that there is still no widely-accepted ‘theoretical’ approach that can accommodate parapsychological phenomena, let alone the possibility of life after death, given the still prevailing scientific-materialistic worldview about which you have written so much about. I also suspect that most scientists continue to hold strong associations between parapsychology, especially psychical research, and all sorts of less than optimal research approaches, fraudulence, etc., leading to immediate contempt for those who dare to publicly express a sliver of interest in these phenomena. This fear of being ridiculed, which I believe to be much more prominent today than at any time in the past, is perhaps one of the strongest variables that prevent genuinely curious scientists from even looking into the literature. As I had mentioned in an earlier comment to another one of your posts, my own hope is that the situation will change from within, most likely from the field of physics, when more refined theoretical formulations about our physical world, possibly backed by some type of experimentation, finally demonstrate the feasibility of parapsychological-type phenomena. But, even at this point, I am not sure that such an opening toward parapsychology will automatically lead to the type of interest in life after death that we all wish science would also undertake.
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