Science and the Afterlife

stop-worrying-webcoverI’ve experienced a series of losses this year, which have me thinking about what happens to our loved ones when they die and will I ever see them again? Greg Taylor’s “Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife” is an attempt to examine the scientific evidence that consciousness survives death, and it’s a refreshing approach that is free of religion. I had no idea that so many researchers have been tackling this topic for years.

Taylor cites examples of death-bed visions of a beautiful afterlife, near-death experiences in which people formed memories of what was going on around them despite the absence of brain function, and out-of-body experiences — and researchers’ attempts to verify them by placing objects on top of furniture where only floating spirits would see them. Those were the most convincing chapters in the book.

He also spends a great deal of time on spiritual mediums and the efforts of the Society of Psychical Research around the turn of the 20th century to prove (or disprove) that mediums were genuinely communicating with dead people. I was more skeptical of this “evidence.” Although some of it is quite compelling, I found myself not wanting to be taken in by mere parlor tricks. (And part of me thinks that if such communication is possible, why can’t I get a message to, say, Mattie Blaylock or Wyatt Earp — to say nothing of my friends and family members who have died?)

By the end, I think I was right back where I started — still wondering and hoping. When a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with a terminal lung condition, she told me she had a vision in which her dead husband and friends told her not to be afraid and a beautiful life awaited her on the other side. It gave her a great sense of peace. She also had hallucinations later (when she was on morphine) of adorable animals clambering around on the furniture, and she knew they weren’t real. Still, she said, “I wish you could see them.”

In the words of Fox Mulder, I want to believe. But I suppose I won’t be certain until it happens to me.

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