About 80 thousand Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus. The pain is magnified by not being able to be present at the death of loved ones. And there are problems with funerals, religious gatherings, and grieving, all made doubly difficult by the need for social distancing.
Now if the divine spirit that most people believe in is omnipresent, it doesn’t matter how alone you are. You don’t have to be inside a church to get inside yourself. The connection to the higher power is through our minds, or maybe we should say our souls. Wherever we are we can make the connection, and in that sense nobody with a mind is ever alone.
But now to a question rarely if ever discussed in public venues. What happens to the persons taken from us by death? Why is this question always avoided? One reason is that it’s hard to answer the question. The current scientific attitude is at odds with traditional life after death beliefs. To put it bluntly, if science is reduced to materialism, it must rule out the idea of life after death. But in fact science is not wed to materialism, and some scientists have studied experiences that do point to conscious survival after death. In fact, there is a massive literature on this subject.[i]
All I wish here is to summarize the gist of the case for the belief in afterlife consciousness. Two things are involved: conceptual and factual. So what is the issue? Our bodies die, and that’s the end of our physical reality. What we’re asking is if the mental and conscious life of the person survives, our thoughts, feelings, memories, and so on. We’re entitled to ask this because our mental and conscious life cannot be reduced to our brain life. Death of the brain does not imply that one’s mind is wiped out. Some in fact even hold that the death of the brain is what releases the full potentials of consciousness. Because our minds are not reducible to our brains it is possible to survive brain death.
This leads to the second part of making the case. The first is meant to show it is logically possible to imagine how our minds abide although our bodies pass away. But logical possibility isn’t enough. We need to see if there are actual case histories, stories that persuade us that in fact particular known people died and yet survived in some conscious form. This is the empirical basis of the answer. Now the perhaps surprising answer is, yes—really, there are facts that do seem to prove the power of consciousness to survive bodily death.
It turns out there are several ways it seems to occur. For example, most of us are familiar with the near-death experience. Cardiac arrest is supposed to physically cut off consciousness; but instead some people have amazing experiences that convince them of a life beyond this one. They end up being deeply transformed human beings. They float away from their bodies and observe things in the distant environment. They encounter deceased relatives and behold an ineffable being of light. The evidence for this unexplained phenomenon is massive.
Evidence for reincarnation is yet another type of afterlife research. In near-death cases, we glimpse where we may be going; in reincarnation studies, we see where we have been in previous lives. Apparitions of the dead provide another type of evidence. Suppose a dead person appears in a dream and imparts information that no other living person is acquainted with; there are cases on record that demonstrate this sort of thing.
Another large source of evidence for life after death is mediumship. Talented mediums transmit communications from deceased persons; appropriate information, tone and character of the person come convincingly through. To appreciate the value of this evidence, you have to look at the details and arguments. I’m just stating what’s available for the curious person to investigate. There are answers to the question of life after death that come from science. We’re not forced to rely on pure faith.
It certainly helps if you’ve had a direct experience of any of this. I have on three occasions been visited by ghostly agents; one was a belated family visit; two were nasty assaults from unpleasant spirits related to people I was trying to help. My experience has been that if you ask around, surprising numbers of folks have stories to tell—but you have to ask and gain their confidence.
We have various kinds of evidence of persons surviving death. What about criticisms of the evidence? According to one line of criticism, survival evidence, even the best cases, can be explained by appealing to the paranormal and histrionic powers of the subconscious mind. In the case of the dreamer who finds his father’s hidden last will, it is the dreamer that paranormally locates the missing will and creates the hallucination of his father. The psychological need to believe in an afterlife produces the whole experience, which deludes the believer into accepting the phantasm of his father as real. Clever arguments like this can be devised, but are they compelling?
So there is good evidence for survival. But it’s possible that however compelling it seems, it might just be a persistent illusion. But why? To mitigate death anxiety perhaps. I think much more is involved, but more research is needed. We need a new mythology of transition to the next world. The old religious guides were mostly projections of schadenfreude and naïve fantasy. A new guidebook to the great ‘after’ based on matters of fact is possible. The pandemic is a reminder of this important but neglected kind of research.