Hornell Hart

Hornell Hart

(1888-1967) Received his Ph.D. degree from the State University of Iowa in 1921, and for nineteen years he was Professor of Sociology at Duke University, North Carolina. During this period he also served on the Advisory Board of The Journal of Parapsychology, and in this capacity worked in close association with Dr. J. B. Rhine. Held a number of other important university posts, and wrote several major books on social and psychological problems. Coined the term "super-ESP" in 1959. Also coined the term "ESP projection" and contributed articles for several leading parapsychological journals.

What Could Life Beyond Death by Like?

- Hornell Hart -

I. What Light on the Future Life is Available?

          SOME ANTI-SURVIVALISTS have given the impression that no significant information about the life beyond death has been given through mediums, and that this alleged failure is one more argument against survival. Let us examine three examples:

Leuba's denials
James H. Leuba, who for many years was Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College, was an active crusader against beliefs in a future life. He complained, in 1916, about 'the vacuous nature of the communications made by the alleged spirits regarding their states and the circumstances of their existence'. He continued:

'They have been fairly loquacious; yet not any of them, not even those from whom much could have been expected, have revealed anything at all. More significant still than the insignificance of the remarks of these alleged spirits concerning the other life, is their pertinacious effort to avoid answering the many and pointed questions addressed to them on that subject...

Whether the results of the SPR are regarded as proving survival or not, it must be admitted that no amount of ingenuity in explanation and no optimism can hide the unattractiveness of the glimpses that may have been caught of the other life; there is no hint in these glimpses of any glorification; nor, for that matter, of any retribution.'

Dodds's denials
In his 1934 essay on 'Why I Do Not Believe in Survival', Professor E. R. Dodds wrote:

'It is, I think, fair to say that the "spirits" have so far failed to convey to us any distinctive impression of their present mode of life, their occupations, or their state of mind; and that they have never explained this failure.'

Flew's denials
In his 1953 chapter on 'The Question of Survival', Antony Flew wrote:

'No Control or Communicator - however great was the literary ability possessed by his earthly namesake - ever seems able to give a plausible and distinctive account of his present mode of existence.'

But the literature is voluminous
S. Rowland Morgan published in 1950 an Index to Psychic Science. From this, and from other sources, I have compiled a list of 63 books, each of which deals with psychic communications about the nature of life beyond death. Of these books, 25 were published before Leuba issued his denial, while 25 more (making a total of 50) had been published before Dodds issued his. Thus, plenty of literature is available, claiming to give information about the nature of life beyond death.

Does it give real facts?
Critics like Leuba and Dodds may quite possibly seek to excuse themselves from looking at any of these books, on the ground that these supposed accounts of the after-life offer no proofs that what they say is true. This (it will be noted) is a different objection from the one with which they started. But let us examine the point with some care.

Most of the 63 books in my list do present their accounts of the life beyond death in association with evidential messages relating to life here on earth. Swedenborg, for example, was one of the most famous pioneers in this field. His accounts of the future life are elaborately detailed. And these descriptions gain some force from the fact that Swedenborg gave evidences of extrasensory powers which have impressed many investigators - from Immanuel Kant on down to contemporary psychical researchers.

One of the most outstanding instances of tying in verified psychic evidence with descriptions of the life after death is to be found in the writings of Drayton Thomas. This close association of verified psychic phenomena with messages about the after life reached its climax in the book which he published in 1928 - Life Beyond Death with Evidence. In it, chapters on evidence alternate with chapters on the nature of life beyond death.

Drayton Thomas dealt with the topics which Leuba and Dodds missed
Dodds objected that the spirits had failed to convey any distinctive impression of their after-death occupations. But Chapter 14 in Thomas's book devotes eight pages to 'Occupations in the Life Beyond Death'. That chapter explains that occupations in the world beyond are sufficiently related to occupations during earth life so that continuity and natural development can be achieved, and yet the after-death occupations involve new problems, capacities and opportunities which certainly do distinguish them significantly from the occupations of earth-dwellers.

Leuba objected that in 'the glimpses that may have been caught of the other life there is no hint ... of any glorification; nor, for that matter, of any retribution'. But Drayton Thomas's father, communicating through Mrs. Leonard, is reported to have said:

'Were I about to engage in difficult work - say a mission of help to those on a lower sphere - I should first visualize Our Lord and draw to myself actual power through consciousness of Him...

And that which I have alluded to as a light comes to me whenever I visualize Our Lord's face, or call to mind His voice or touch. Whenever we do this we seem to attract the light which illuminates every difficulty and everything we have to do...

Try to recall those brief flashes, coming at rare intervals on earth, of complete consciousness of good, of everything being just as it should be. Well, I now had that complete realization of a goodness, therefore of God, in everything... I felt during those moments as if I understood everything; as if a spirit of life, flowing through Jesus to me, explained even ugliness and sin, as well as beauty and goodness. I felt only hope and ultimate good for everything... Even now, under these very different conditions, I can feel the glow of that wonderful presence, that revelation.'

Quite apart from sharing or failing to share the distinctively Christian devotion expressed in the above passage, it would seem that an objective psychologist should he able to detect in it some 'hint of glorification'.

As to retribution, Mr. Thomas's book devotes Chapter 26 to 'The Place and Condition of the Unprogressed'. In it appears this passage:

'Take an extreme case, one upon the lowest sphere to which human life can go, say a man who has been very cruel, thoughtless and selfish ... say a wealthy man who, by his vices, brought suffering and even sin into the lives of others... On coming here he passes to that plane and place to which he belongs because of what he really is... That means that he will find himself surrounded entirely by those who have the same sins, vices, and limitations as himself, ... The whole atmosphere and the very scenery of the place are tinted with the hopeless drabs and greys of their mental and spiritual outlook ... the darkness of evil, the greyness of misery ... surpassing that known on earth...

The wakening comes slowly, very slowly to such people; and, therefore, that which I shall term Judgment comes slowly. At first there is felt a resentment at being in such a condition; this is followed by bitter disappointment at being unable to buy, or to enforce, better conditions. Then, when they realize that they cannot command different surroundings, they begin to wonder why...

When that seed commences to germinate it brings the realization, "I am with these miserable people because I am of them, in fact, because I am like them." When that happens there comes the desire to be different. Then follows the awakening of which I have spoken. It brings that bitterness and remorse which is the greatest and most terrible, punishment man can have. No torture which another can inflict is so terrible as the remorse which one's own best self inflicts when enlightenment comes.'

Thus, reports about the future life ARE available
In view of the kind of communications just cited (which could readily be quoted in vastly greater volume) it seems evident that the criticisms of Leuba and Dodds must have been based upon unfamiliarity with available reports rather than upon actual lack of such reports.

Yet how can anyone tell whether these supposed accounts of the life beyond death give real facts or are mere fantasy? While the reports are usually associated with verifiable materials, they are not in themselves evidential. In seeking enlightenment about the nature of life after death we must apply tests of rationality rather than the kinds of verification which apply to earthly psychic phenomena. Let us test the logical rationality of believing in the kind of after life which most of the purported communications describe.

II. The 'Astral World' is a Logical Necessity

Vivid dreams, shared by telepathy
That a world exists which is invisible to our physical senses, and which yet is a realm of objective experience and of social contacts between conscious personalities, is a conclusion which emerges out of two well-established facts.

Take, first, the fact of telepathy. Practically all intelligent and open-minded people who have studied the available facts on the subject with any thoroughness, accept telepathy as an established fact.

Add one further and fairly obvious fact: many people, at times, have extremely vivid dreams, in which they feel wide awake, keenly alert and alive, and surrounded by objects, people, and scenes which seem to them to be even more detailed and full of meaning than are the scenes of waking life. If these two facts are granted - telepathy and vivid dreams - it would seem evident that two or more people might meet each other in their dreams, and might have shared experiences which both might remember afterwards. Let us look at some actual cases.

Three Actual Cases of Shared Dreams

1. He rescued this woman doctor from dream dangers
The first of these three cases is an experience of a woman physician who was rescued in a dream of terror by a man friend who remembered independently having dreamed his part in their shared adventure:

'In Elmira, New York, on January 26, 1892, between two and three a.m., Dr. Adele Gleason dreamed that she stood in a lonesome place in dark woods, that great fear came over her, that the presence of her friend, J. R. Joslyn came to her, that he shook a tree by her, and that its leaves began to turn to flame. On the same night, at the same hour, in another house in Elmira, Joslyn dreamed that he found Dr. Gleason in a lonely wood after dark, apparently paralysed with fear, that he went to her side and shook a bush, when the falling leaves turned into flame. Both dreamers submitted written accounts within a month of the occurrence. The accounts agree that when the two dreamers met, four days after the event, she mentioned having had a strange dream, but that he at once stopped her and related his own dream first, without suggestion from her. Dr. Hodgson made written inquiries and found that Dr. Gleason had made a notation of the dream in her notebook the morning after it occurred, and before she saw Joslyn.'

2. These two conversed in a dream park
Our second case is somewhat similar to the first. It occurred in England, and was promptly documented:

'In July, 1887, a Mr. and Mrs. H., both on the same night, dreamed that they were walking in Richmond Park with their friend J. They were discussing an invitation to a party, to be given by Lady R. (In her dream the invitation was prospective, in his dream it had already been received.) They were talking of the difficulty of getting home, when J. remarked, "Oh, I will manage that for you". Mrs. H.'s dream, as presented, contained the additional details of seeing notices of the party posted up on trees, and of a carriage driving up when J. struck a blade of grass with his stick. An account written by Mrs. H. was signed by both dreamers and was submitted in the following month.'

3. Murder, in a triply shared dream
The third case involved three individual dreamers, each of whom remembered his own part in the shared dream. The experience is related in a letter dated 3 May, 1869, by Henry Armitt Brown, who subsequently became a brilliant lawyer:

'In the fall of 1865 ... while I was studying law in the city of New York, I retired to my room about midnight of a cold and blustering evening. I remember distinctly hearing the clock strike twelve as ... drowsiness crept upon me and I slept. I had hardly lost consciousness when I seemed to hear loud and confused noises and felt a choking sensation at my throat, as if it were grasped by a strong hand. I awoke (as it seemed) and found myself lying on my back on the cobble-stones of a narrow street, writhing in the grip of a low-browed thick-set man with unkempt hair and grizzled beard, who with one hand at my throat and holding my wrists with the other threw his weight upon me and held me down... Over and over we rolled upon the stones... Presently I saw him reach forth his hand and grasp a bright hatchet... I made one more tremendous fight for life, for a second I held my enemy powerless and saw with such a thrill of delight as I cannot forget the horror-stricken faces of friends within a rod of us rushing to my rescue. As the foremost of them sprang upon the back of my antagonist he wrenched his wrist away from me. I saw the hatchet flash above my' head and felt instantly a dull blow on the forehead. I fell back on the ground, a numbness spread from my head over my body, a warm liquid flowed down upon my face and into my mouth, and I remember the taste as of blood...

Then I thought I was suspended in the air a few feet above my body, I could see myself as if in a glass, lying on the bark, the hatchet sticking in the head ... I heard the weeping of friends, at first loud, then growing fainter ... With a start, I awoke... My watch told me I had not been more than half an hour asleep.

Early the next morning I joined an intimate friend with whom I spent much of my time... Suddenly he interrupted me with the remark that he had dreamed strangely of me the night before ... "I fell asleep," he said, "about twelve and immediately dreamed that I was passing through a narrow street when I heard noises and cries of murder. Hurrying in the direction of the noise, I saw you lying on your back, fighting a rough labouring man, who held you down. I rushed forward, but as I reached you he struck you on the head with a hatchet and killed you instantly. Many of our friends were there and we cried bitterly.

"What sort of a man was he?" I asked. "A thick-set man, in a flannel shirt and rough trousers; his hair was uncombed and his beard was grizzly and of a few days' growth."

Within a week I was in Burlington, New Jersey. I called at a friend's house. "My husband," said his wife to me, "had such a horrid dream about you the other night. He dreamed that a man killed you in a street fight. He ran to help you, but before he reached the spot your enemy had killed you with a great club."

"Oh, no," cried the husband across the room, "he killed you with a hatchet." ...'

An Oxford Philosopher Views Heaven and Hell

That something corresponding to 'the astral world' emerges logically from a combination of clear dreams and telepathy is recognized in the writings of at least two distinguished Philosophers C. J. Ducasse, of Brown University, Providence, R.I., U.S.A. and H. H. Price, of Oxford University, England. Professor Price, in 1956, published two articles under the title 'Heaven and Hell from the Point of View, of Psychical Research'. He suggested that there are two different ways of conceiving the next world: (1) first, as a kind of material environment in which embodied surviving spirits observe and act; or (2) as a purely mental world of dreamlike experiences in which personal identity continues.

Professor Price confessed that he found the second of these two conceptions more helpful and easier to handle. In developing that conception he suggested that 'the dreams we have in this present life would be a kind of foretaste of the experiences we might expect to have after death'. But this dreamlike world would not be a state of individual isolation. Professor Price pointed out:

'Telepathy must be taken into account. After all, there are telepathic dreams and telepathic visions even in this present life. Indeed, it is likely that telepathy would operate on a far larger scale in the next life than it does at present...

In the next life ... it is to be expected that only like-minded personalities would share a common world-personalities whose memories and desires are sufficiently similar to allow of continuous telepathic interaction. If so, each group of like-minded persons would have a different next world, public to all the members of that particular group, but private to the group as a whole...'

Having developed in some detail this idea of a socially shared dreamlike world after death, Professor Price pointed out that the 'mental' and the 'material' conceptions of the life after death are complementary rather than opposed. He observed: 'Perhaps they reach the same conclusion, though they approach it from opposite ends and express it in very different words.' He observed:

'And now our dream-like Other World begins to look rather more like the physical world. At any rate it has an existence independent of any one percipient. It is the conjoint product of the memories and desires of many different percipients. In this way we come closer to the idea which we reached when we adopted the other starting point, and conceived of the next world on the analogy of the familiar physical world which we perceive by sight and touch.'

Let us recapitulate
Contrary to the denials of anti-survivalist sceptics, mediumistic and other psychic communications have given elaborate and voluminous descriptions of life after death, as we have seen in the first section of this chapter. In the communications received by Drayton Thomas through Mrs. Leonard, these descriptions were closely associated with evidential communications. But the descriptions themselves could not be evidential in the usual sense.

Shared dreams give the clue
Yet we do have good evidence of a type of phenomenon which points inexorably towards the existence of something corresponding to what many people have called 'The Astral World'. This phenomenon consists in shared dreams.

III. Reports from Explorers of the 'Astral World'

Both from the evidential cases of shared dreams, and from the logic of men like H. H. Price and C. J. Ducasse, we are led to the conclusion that a world exists which is invisible to our physical senses and which yet is a realm of objective experience and of social contacts between conscious personalities. But if such a world really exists, why have not explorers come back to tell us about it?

The answer is: they have. The explorers whose reports are about to be summarized were not primarily concerned with offering evidence acceptable to the SPR. Whatever weight is given to their statements must rest chiefly on the strong presumption that such a world does exist. When Columbus and the other early explorers of the New World came back to Europe, their records may not have been fully up to the standards required by the then-dominant organizations of geographers. But after all, the world is round. Why not listen to these chaps who say they have been over to the other side?

Levels of life in the after-world
Caroline Larsen, wife of a Vermont college professor, wrote a book, in 1927, entitled My Travels in the Spirit World. Her experiences have already been cited in Chapter 15 as illustrating how it feels to get outside of one's physical body. But her book also has notable interest because of her descriptions of life beyond death.

Like other writers on the subject, Mrs. Larsen found the afterworld divided into zones or 'planes'. The 'first spirit plane' is described as the one on which spirits arrive on leaving their physical bodies, and in which are all those. whose emotional attachments still bind them to the physical world. On this plane also Mrs. Larsen found an army of dark spirits whose main interest was to sway mortals to low desires and to possess their minds for purposes of doing evil. These spirits keep endeavouring to win over mortals to a life of vice and cruelty, such as they themselves had indulged in when they were physically embodied. Mrs. Larsen summarized.

'I did not, of course, see all of this first plane, but I saw enough to know that every spirit is free to follow his own ideals and inclinations. His destiny is in his own hands, limited only by his past life. But since spiritual barriers are the strongest of all, class cannot mingle with class. Should an earth-bound spirit stray into the region of higher souls his darker aura would betray him, and the current, as of electric energy, proceeding from the first spirit he would meet would sweep him back to his own place. There is but one path upward - that of personal effort to become fit for a higher type of existence. To this the activities of the place are directed; and toward this end order and discipline prevail. No one is permitted to interfere with the efforts of others. On the whole, life is good and pleasant among those on the upward path, but words cannot express the dark hopelessness of the completely earthbound souls. I found no "heaven" or "hell" - except as it exists in the spirit.'

Mrs. Larsen then proceeded to tell about the second spirit plane, which she 'found to be merely a continuation of the first plane, except for the fact that there were there no earth-bound souls'. She also visited what she called the third and fourth planes. She described the third plane as 'a fair and glorious world, impossible of adequate description in the terms of our worldly speech'.

Sylvan Muldoon's explorations
Sylvan Muldoon has reported that he himself has had hundreds of conscious astral projections. He has gathered and published more reports of such projections by other people than has any other investigator. His reports about the astral world are of particular interest - both because of his outstanding leadership in exploring these phenomena, and also because of their contrast with some of the statements made by Mrs. Larsen. Muldoon says:

'There are no words to express the feeling of "prodigiousness" which overwhelms the projector when he becomes perfectly conscious in the purgatory of the dead - sees earth-bound phantoms, rides upon the air, sustains himself by thought, passes through material beings and objects (which offer no more resistance than the air itself) and listens to the chatter of those [still physically embodied persons] who suspect not his presence...

And yet, for all the marvellous things upon the astral plane, it does feel good to get back into the physical body again and "touch"! If one could only "feel" things in purgatory! That is the "hell" of it, speaking seriously! It is a wonder to me that some of the case-hardened earth-bound phantoms, under a superstress of habit or desire to make "touchable" contacts, do not go insane. There is but one cure for his condition, and that is to turn away from the earthly - to "will" to break the stress of habit and desire to make contact with the earthly.'

In some respects, Muldoon's comments on earth-bound spirits are in fairly sharp contrast with those of Mrs. Larsen:

'Earth-bound phantoms are not as numerous as one might suppose. One of the greatest possible mistakes is to believe that, the instant one is outside his body, he sees thousands of spirits all about him. This is not the case, for although there are some, they are not numerous. Usually, one never sees a spirit during projection. Usually he finds himself alone - a stranger in a strange and yet familiar land. It is said that, on the streets of large cities, hundreds of astral phantoms mingle with the flesh-and-blood beings... This, like anything else, is not always true. In fact, one can scarcely answer one single question concerning the astral plane without saying: "Sometimes this is true and sometimes it is not true."

One might project and encounter one condition, interiorize again, and think he knew all about the astral; yet he would know only about that particular condition which he experienced. Because of these innumerable conditions, many stories concerning the astral world are contradictory; what one medium sees and hears and tells us, another will reject, because he has found a different condition. This is true also of spirits. The mind of one spirit will be at variance with that of another.'

Where Muldoon and Larsen agree
The Larsen and Muldoon accounts are like each other in a number of respects:

1. Both tell of an astral body which resembles the physical body, but which can separate from it during projection.

2. Both state that the astral body is ordinarily unable to move physical objects, and is ordinarily invisible to physically embodied persons into whose presence it comes.

3. Both agree that the astral body is independent of gravitation, can penetrate physical obstacles, and can move swiftly to a distance, by shifts of attention.

4. Both agree that the clothing of the astral body is formed, by conscious or unconscious thought, out of the aura which surrounds that body.

5. Both agree that many phantoms of the dead remain on the earth plane, and that some of these are very undesirable as associates, and may attempt evil actions.

Where Muldoon and Larsen differ
In spite of the five agreements listed above, Mrs. Larsen and Sylvan Muldoon differ in a number of particulars, such as the following:

1. Muldoon lays great stress on the astral cable or cord which he says always connects the astral body with the physical body so long as the physical body is alive. Mrs. Larsen makes no mention of any such cord.

2. Mrs. Larsen says: 'Everywhere in my [astral] journeys I found these new citizens of Spirit Land roaming the streets of cities... There are as many spirits inhabiting this earth as there are mortals.' Muldoon says: 'Earth-bound phantoms are not as numerous as one might suppose... Usually, one never sees a spirit during projection.'

3. Mrs. Larsen tells of having visited four of the spirit planes. Muldoon asserts: 'I have never had a conscious projection when I was not upon earth - as much so as I am in the flesh, yet intangible to all earthly things.'

4. Mrs. Larsen told of having been conducted by a spirit guide. Muldoon asserts:

'These guides must have no liking for me - for I have never yet seen one of them! In every conscious out-of-the-body experience I have ever had I have never seen anyone but the earthly things I have always seen. I have seen astral phantoms among the earthly but none whom I would choose for a guide!'

Why accounts of the astral world vary
I once spent some months in attempting to collate various accounts given by communicators who had claimed to have visited the astral world. I found that, while these accounts seemed in general to be based on the same fundamental facts, they failed, in many details, to agree with each other. In some respects they seemed to contradict each other seriously. But these diversities among the different descriptions of the astral world, and of the after life in general, cannot be explained by claiming that all such accounts are mere fantasies. The verified evidences of the reality of astral projection seems quite conclusive, and the evidence that apparitions of the dead may often be and usually are vehicles of surviving conscious personalities, seems also to be convincing. Hence it seems evident that there is an objective reality to be described, and that the various accounts are not mere inventions. Moreover, the accounts do agree in many fundamentals, and they do fail to show anything like the amount of disagreement which would certainly be expected in pure inventions. Thus again, it seems evident that many and probably most of these accounts are dealing with genuine reality.

The theory which appears best to account for the differences is the one intimated by Muldoon. With some additions and developments it may be summarized as follows: What one sees in the astral world (if one actually does project into it) will depend upon what one pays attention to, and what one is prepared and able to receive. Muldoon says:

'Everything in the astral plane seems to be governed by thought - by the mind of the projector... As one is in his mind he becomes in reality when he is in the astral body... Most of the time, even before you can complete a thought, you have already attained what you are thinking about...

It seems that the mind creates its own environment - yet the environment is real! This condition could not possibly last indefinitely; it is a sort of purgatory wherein one must learn to think correctly.'

Muldoon also points out that ordinary dreams are quite different from astral projections, and yet that sometimes dreamers may confuse the two.

The above factors seem adequate to account for all of the major differences between all the more important descriptions of the astral world.

IV. Here are the Pertinent Facts in Belief

Some anti-survivalists make sweeping denials about the content of mediumistic communications, without ever (apparently) having familiarized themselves with the materials which they are criticizing. Leuba and Dodds, for example, object that 'spirit communicators' never give definite information about such subjects as after-death occupations, beatific glorification, or retribution. Yet Leonard's communications discuss these very topics specifically and meaningfully.

The existence of some sort of 'astral world' appears to be a logical necessity. Vivid dreams do, of course, occur, and telepathy is a scientifically established phenomenon. Hence there is no good reason to reject as inherently incredible the numerous accounts of shared dreams. Eminent philosophers, both in America and in England, have pointed out the rationality of conceiving of life beyond death in terms of telepathically shared experience.

As to the character of experience in the 'astral world', many explorers have reported. Two outstandingly interesting accounts are those of Mrs. Caroline D. Larsen and of Muldoon. Their accounts agree in five important particulars, but disagree in four others. Such disagreements appear to be explainable on the basis of the principle that what one sees in the astral world depends upon what one pays attention to, and what one is prepared and able to receive.


The above article was taken from Hornell Hart's "The Enigma of Survival. The Case For and Against an After Life" (London: Rider & Co., 1959).

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