SO FAR, our main concern has been with the growing body of scientific evidence
which tells us how psi might work, when it might work best, who uses it most
efficiently, what it might be able to accomplish, and so on. Yet we have ignored
the central question which fired the imagination of the first systematic
psychical researchers: do human beings survive physical death? For those English
researchers of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, faith alone was not
sufficient. Driven by the triumphant materialism, evolutionary theory and
scientific atheism of their age, they were determined to find evidence, rather
than mere surmise, of survival after death.
The existence of psi suggests that the Mind can operate outside the constraints
of the Body. The existence of PK also implies this. So the next step, logically,
would be to seek direct evidence of detachment of Mind from Body. Our first port
of call, then, is the Out-of-the-Body Experience, or OOBE, also called astral
projection, or astral travelling. Here is a typical, though very brief and
undetailed, account of an OOBE from an eight-year-old boy:
'Such a funny thing has happened. I was just lying in bed reading when I felt I
was rising into the air. I seemed to go near the ceiling. Then I looked down and
could see myself lying in bed. I came slowly down. I called out ...'
Do such events really occur or are they just hallucinations? If Mind can leave
Body in this way, can it leave it permanently - and remain conscious - after the
death of the Body? This possibility is more sharply focused by one special type
of OOBE, the Near Death Experience (NDE), in which people report having left
their body when very close to death or having left it at the point of clinical
death only to be resuscitated.
Our next step would be to look at events which suggest the operation of Mind
after death: apparitions, communications from mediums, and evidence for
'past lives' from hypnotic regression and direct study of people who claim to be
Can there be a final scientific verdict on the issue of survival after death?
The answer must be no. For example, a medium may give detailed information about
someone who is dead. We may consult documents and interview witnesses whose
testimony convinces us beyond reasonable doubt that the information is both
accurate and could not have been acquired by any other but paranormal means. But
this does not prove that the dead person has somehow survived to be able to pass
this information on. The medium may equally have been using exceptional psi
powers - Super-ESP - to gather information from living human witnesses
(telepathy) or from documents (clairvoyance). This impasse, and the possibility
that Super-ESP might provide an alternative explanation to survival after death,
will be discussed in more detail later.
Nevertheless, even if we cannot reach scientifically watertight conclusions, we
can weigh up the evidence as a judge or a jury might. Is survival the most
reasonable, the most consistent, the least shaky interpretation of the findings
we shall be surveying? We cannot have a final scientific verdict but we can
have a provisional, rational one.
Mind beyond body [top]
'I was very tired, physically exhausted, but my mind was rather active. I lay
down on my bed to rest for a while in the late afternoon. I felt an odd prickly
sensation in my limbs and then a buzzing sound ... I was conscious of some kind
of pressure around or in my head and then I felt as if I was travelling along
some dark tunnel, very fast ... this ended and I looked around me to find myself
seemingly floating a few feet up in the air in my bedroom. I looked down and
found my body underneath me. For some odd reason I was especially taken with an
odd cobweb pattern on the top of my wardrobe... I got a little scared by this
and I willed myself to go back to my body. I got pulled back as if along some
kind of cord or thread and it seemed to me, though I'm not certain, that I
re-entered my body through my head. I gave a slight jump and sat up. It was
completely unexpected. When I regained my wits I checked the wardrobe top ...
the odd cobweb pattern was there alright.'
An OOBE experience. Such experiences are not uncommon. Surveys suggest that
between 10 and 25 percent of the population have had at least one such
experience, while a small percentage report repeated OOBEs.
Once again we must ask ourselves if ESP can be ruled out as a possible
explanation for OOBE perceptions? Certainly, the report given by the woman
resting on her bed in the late afternoon suggests possible ESP: she saw an odd
cobweb pattern out of normal view and later found that the perception she had in
her ESP was accurate. But if Mind can leave Body and travel outside it
there is no reason why it should not be able to perceive cobwebs by ESP.
Remember that OOBErs report essentially normal perceptions during their
Can the claim that Mind leaves Body be supported by evidence of Mind perceiving
events at places distant from the body, places it may have travelled to?
There are several good experiments on this theme. Charles Tart, the Californian
worker, has shown that one of his female subjects, who could induce OOBEs more
or less at will, could report correctly a five-digit number placed on top of a
wardrobe in the room where she lay in bed. This was in spite of the fact that
her head was wired up to an EEG machine so that the leads would have detached
had she moved. A rather more ingenious experimental approach to OOBEs was
pioneered by Karlis Osis in New York, using a subject who repeatedly had OOBEs.
With his subject in one room, Osis set up, in a different room, apparatus which
would display an optical target visible only to someone standing right in front
of it. The subject always reported the target correctly when he was confident
that he had done so. The logic of Osis' experiment was that to 'see' the target
successfully, the subject's Mind would have to leave his body. Unfortunately the
logic is faulty: we know that ESP can detect microfiche symbols and that PK can
influence unknown target systems. In short, Osis' results may simply show quite
normal psi effects. The OOBE itself may be no more than a contemporaneous
A similar conclusion is suggested by two experiments reported by John Palmer in
which he successfully induced OOBEs in volunteers. In the first experiment he
used a rotating spiral visual field. In the other he put his subjects into Ganzfeld, during which they received suggestions that they should have an OOBE
in order to find out about a target picture being seen by a sender in a
different room. In the first study, the overall scoring was below chance and the
people who had OOBEs showed significantly strong psi-missing. In the second,
exactly the reverse was observed.
The point here is that these results are exactly the same as those
obtained by Palmer in ordinary Ganzfeld ESP experiments without any OOBE
reports, the strongest ESP results coming from those subjects most strongly
affected by the experiment (i.e. with the most strongly altered state of
consciousness). This suggests that the OOBE experience may be irrelevant. What
really counts is the relaxation and the Ganzfeld.
This possibility is reinforced by the 'remote-viewing' experiments of Targ and
Puthoff in California, where receivers attempt to describe a scene being visited
by a sender somewhere in the general location of the laboratory. Successful
viewing has been achieved with some people who claim to travel out of their
bodies to 'see' the sender, but has also been achieved with many other people
who have no such experience. Might OOBEs, then, be pure illusion?
Although medicine and psychiatry have something to say about the possible
illusory quality of OOBEs, too few experiments have been done to dismiss them as
mere subjective hallucinations. In fairness it must be said that in Palmer's
experiments subjects reporting OOBEs had a quite different quality of experience
from that of practised OOBE travellers. For the former the OOBE may have been an
illusion, but for the latter it may not have been. It is important to make more
use of seasoned 'astral travellers' in OOBE experiments.
This is one of the provisos that clearly, emerges from a study reported in 1976
by Robert Morris and colleagues in which Stuart Blue Harary, an experienced
astral traveller, was tested. Morris suggested that a good test of whether
something really did leave Harary's body during an OOBE would be to use a human
or animal monitor which might respond to that something. Harary's pet kitten was
chosen for the job. The cat was placed in an enclosed space at a certain
distance from Harary, and he - during a randomly selected 50 per cent of the
total duration of the experiment - 'travelled' to it. During the time when Harary was having an OOBE the kitten sat still and appeared comfortable and
happy. It never miaowed. During the other half of the experiment, the cat
appeared restless and miaowed 37 times. Clearly there is a difference between
zero and 37; Harary does seem to have been influencing the animal.
Interestingly, with another cat with whom Harary had no rapport, no significant
results were found.
So did Harary really leave his body? Apart from the kitten's reaction, one
experimenter monitoring the cat reported seeing an apparitional shape at one
stage during the experiment, when in fact Harary, was having an OOBE. But still
the case is unproven: Harary could have been using PK to affect the cat and the
experimenter. The same problem applies to more recent experiments by Osis, in
which success in the ESP 'seeing the target' test was accompanied by signals
coming from strain gauges (as in Hasted's metal-bending research) located
John Palmer has suggested that a stronger case for OOBEs could be made if it
were shown that psi effects associated with OOBE reports were different in
type from psi effects found without OOBEs. This is certainly an interesting
line of thought. Nevertheless other researchers who have tried to track down
changes in brain-wave activity accompanying OOBE reports have come up with
At present we simply have no good grounds for deciding whether the OOBE is a
subjective or a real phenomenon. However, since OOBE reports seem to accompany
strong psi effects, the OOBE state may be strongly conducive to psi.
Early chroniclers of OOBEs, Robert Crookall among them, notes that a proportion
of OOBEs were induced by strong fear, stress, or injury. Interestingly Crookall
and others tended to avoid placing too much emphasis on stress-induced OOBEs,
fearing that they might be explained away as hallucinations more easily than
natural ones. In the last years, however, great interest has been shown in the
stress-induced OOBE; Raymond Moody has collected well over 300 cases of what he
terms Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) from people who have been greatly stressed,
severely injured, or in some cases pronounced clinically dead although they
later recovered. Here is a fairly typical example of an NDE as reported to one
of us (the numbers refer to some of the characteristic NDEs listed opposite).
'I find this very difficult to explain, hard to express myself... there are
certain qualities I find it hard to convey (1)
'I was in a car accident [details given]. I was dimly aware of much activity
going on around, and people shouting, but I can't remember much of that (2). I
felt strangely calm, very tranquil, as if little mattered to me anymore (3). I
slowly became aware of travelling as if down a long chute of some kind (5),
moving along, a blur around me. I don't think I had any idea of what I was. In
the distance, though, I saw a light ... a globe of light. It moved towards me
slowly and when it drew close it was so brilliant, pure light, but not dazzling
(9) ... This light, I simply cannot describe what it meant ... it wasn't God or
Christ or anything like that, but it was someone, some agent or force ... I got
an astonishing feeling of the complete benevolence of this light. Behind it were
what I suppose I would have to call buildings of some kind, all lit up (12) ...
there were other lights around, I suppose now I would say they were spirits or
something but I don't remember any of them as people I'd known ... The light
suddenly made some motion to me. It pointed, or rather it seemed to orient
itself in some way down ... I realised that I was going to return to myself, to
my body, and live. Although it sounds bizarre I must say I'm not sure I was
altogether pleased. This light was so full of everything good that I think I
almost wanted to stay. But it faded ... eventually I came round (15). I had been
very severely injured in the crash.'
Now this person had never heard of Moody or his work, and yet the correspondence
of his experiences with many of those described by Moody is striking. The major
component missing in this account is what Moody terms The Review. The Being of
Light frequently directs (non-verbally) the attention of the person to his life
and its past events with a wordless question such as 'What have you done with
your life? Are you prepared to die?' Moody's respondents said that such
questions were never accusatory; they were aware of the Being's infinite and
unqualified love for them. Many of Moody's respondents claimed that they had
lost all fear of death, though they did not wish to die. The huge majority of
those who have a Near-Death Experience treasure it, and live and think more
The case for survival rests on the meetings of such people with others known to
them who have died, and on the fact that an NDE is not brought to an end by
clinical death (in one case lasting for over 15 minutes). The content of the NDE
may even have an imagery familiar from the visionary writings of mystics: some
people report having seen a 'realm of bewildered spirits', beings whose purpose
in life has not been fulfilled, or who have committed suicide. An origin for the
Day of Judgement, and consignment to Heaven or Hell, is implicit in The Review
aspect of NDEs, in which the person is shown the consequences of his life's
actions on other people. Moody, pondering on the perpetrators of Nazi
atrocities, wrote that their actions would have 'resulted in countless
individual tragedies ... innumerable long lingering deaths, and last brutal ones
... in awful degradations, in years of hunger, tears, and torments for their
victims. If what happened to my subjects happened to these men, they would see
all those things and many others come alive, vividly portrayed before them. In
my wildest fantasies, I am totally unable to imagine a hell more horrible, more
ultimately unbearable than this.'
Naturally Moody sought for 'normal' explanations of Near-Death Experiences. A
severely injured or stressed person is inevitably affected by powerful
physiological events such as depleted oxygen supply to the brain, and isolation
of the various senses. Some of Moody's reported NDE characteristics, notably the
sensation of travelling along a tunnel, are quite commonly associated with such
physiological stresses. Drugs and anaesthetics could also be a contributory
factor to NDEs, although Moody cites one interesting case of a woman who had
twice been close to death, once with and once without anaesthetics; she had an
NDE only on the occasion when no anaesthetic was given.
Psychiatrist Ronald Siegel of Los Angeles has penned an extensive critical
review of NDEs. He claims that they can be explained in terms of strong
psychological needs and wishes combined with medical trauma. Most of the
characteristics of NDEs, he points out, are also reported by people taking LSD
and other hallucinatory drugs. This may be missing the point; why should there
be any difference? If there is some. continuity between out-of-the-body and
near-death experiences why should we expect the latter to be completely
different from certain experiences of those who are living and healthy?
Further, many features one might expect to be present in NDE reports if they are
no more than wish-fulfilment are not present. One might expect religious
people to report more NDEs then agnostics, but this is not the case. Accounts of
cultural stereotypes of Heaven or Hell are extremely rare: for example, angels
and devils are not frequently met with. Nor do social class, education, and
economic status correlate with NDE imagery. And cultural biases simply do not
appear to contaminate either the frequency of NDEs or their special
characteristics. To date, no convincing suggestion as to their causes has been
Moody for one is sceptical about medical 'explanations' of NDEs his own data
being insufficient to prove survival after death, he has outlined a research
programme for himself and others in years to come which will probe the matter
further. At present NDE research is a very young subject and only taken
seriously by a small number of unbiased researchers. To those who have had an
NDE, however, and who have mentioned it to others and been met by blank
incomprehension or dismissive comments about hallucinations, the subject is
Before leaving the topic of the NDE, it is worth considering whether there is a
possible psi component in it. This possibility has been suggested by cases in
which deeply anaesthetised people (or even clinically dead people) have heard
and reported back to doctors what they were saying. One doctor reported to
'A woman patient of mine had a cardiac arrest just before another surgeon and I
were due to operate on her. I was right there, and I saw her pupils dilate. We
tried for some time to resuscitate her, but weren't having any success, so I
thought she had gone. I told the other doctor who was working with me, "Let's
try one more time and then we'll give up." This time she came around. Later I
asked her what she remembered of her death ... She said she heard me say "Let's
try one more time and then we'll give up."'
Clearly such cases could be coincidence or even subliminal perception, but ESP
is a possibility.
The importance of the NDE in the field of parapsychology as a whole is that it
links the OOBE with evidence for survival from mediumship and from other areas.
The similarities between OOBEs and NDEs are very considerable, as Moody's
sample, much larger than Crookall's sample of stress-induced cases, shows. The
few reports that exist in which people who have died are allegedly describing
the death process through a medium are also similar to direct NDE reports. A
similar relationship can be seen in the case of apparitions.
Apparitions: the quick and the dead
Are ghosts, or apparitions, purely hallucinatory? Many people report having seen
a ghost - the experience is as old as our records of civilisation. Here is a
fairly typical account of 'seeing a ghost':
'I was working in a large girls' boarding school in Kent. I was 29 years old and
in excellent health, good eye-sight, and of a normal and non-excitable
'One night I was going downstairs, carrying an Aladdin Lamp [sic], turned fairly
low ... and as I reached the top of a long straight staircase I saw what
appeared to be the figure of an elderly man walking down the staircase in front
of me. He was five or six steps down when I saw him. His back was turned to me,
his hair was grey, and one hand was on the banister rail.
'I stood still and watched him go down until on reaching the bottom of the
staircase with his hand on the newel post, he disappeared. There was no sound of
footsteps although the staircase was not carpeted. He seemed to be wearing a
long dark garment.
'I knew at once he was a "ghost" but was only conscious of extreme interest. The
house was very old, reputedly haunted, and there were of course a great many
people living in it, although I suppose most of them were asleep at that time.
'Although I lived there for four years this was my only experience of the kind
in that house, and although other people occasionally saw "ghosts" these were
not the same as the figure of the old man.'
There are four good reasons for considering this a purely hallucinatory
experience. The first is that observing conditions were bad, only the
light of a dim lamp at night. The second is that the house was reputedly
haunted. the maxim that we see what we expect to see has a grain of truth in
it. Related to this is the third fact that other people saw different
'ghosts'; this very much suggests that there was nothing objective there,
only subjective. perceptions. Finally there is nothing about this report which
suggests anything other than hallucination being involved.
So in what circumstances might an apparition not be a hallucination? We suggest
there are four possible non-hallucinatory categories of 'ghost'.
1. Collective apparitions: cases in which several people independently
see the same apparition in the same place at the same time.
2. Hauntings: repeated observations of an apparition by different people,
at different times, in the same place.
3. Crisis apparitions: apparitions of the dying which appear to a living
person around the time of death.
4. Informative apparitions: apparitions which give some information to
the person seeing them which they could not otherwise have known.
The first two categories are not very common, although there are enough cases to
make them worth considering. A typical example of a haunting would be the
'I had lived in Trondheim for four years and left the city in 1938, but have
often visited the city since that time. I was much interested in the
construction work done at the cathedral ...
'One sunny morning I went into the cathedral. I walked along the north passage
... Looking across towards the south hall, I noticed a nun sitting quietly in
one of the many niches along the wall ... I wondered what she was doing here at
this time of day. I thought I would talk to her as I came closer, but when I was
just six or seven feet away from her, she faded away and I saw her no more! I
must say I was puzzled, but walking into the west end of the cathedral I stopped
and talked to one of the women cleaning the church and said to her: "I thought
I saw a Catholic nun over in the west end, sitting in a niche, but when I came
near she disappeared. How could that be?" "Oh', answered the woman, "we often
see her." And this I have verified by others.'
Such cases - when observations are made in good conditions, and when independent
witnesses have been interviewed by researchers and the details checked - cannot
easily be dismissed as hallucinations. The same can be said of collectively
Crisis and informative apparitions are rather more important, however. Crisis
cases at least are fairly common and there is the possibility of verifying their
accuracy. If a person reports seeing an apparition of someone at the time of
their death in a distant place, unpredictably, then it is possible to verify the
link by interviewing witnesses. If the link is verified, and not due to
coincidence, we can at least say that if such apparitions are hallucinations
they are hallucinations with added ESP.
The most important work in this area was done in the nineteenth century by the
founders of the British Society for Psychical Research. These dedicated men and
women produced the monumental study Census of Hallucinations, in which
some 17,000 people were asked about their experience of hallucinations
(including apparitions). The cost of doing a survey like this today would be
astronomical! Some 2,300 people said that they had had at least one experience.
After eliminating dreams, and experiences due to drugs, fever, and so on, some
1,700 cases were left. Of these, around 80 involved an apparitional experience
coinciding with someone's death, and occurring within 12 hours of death.
Extensive checking and questioning pared this number down to 32 cases where
death could not possibly have been predicted, and where there were (in almost
all cases) witnesses. 'Strong' cases, therefore, represented about 1.5 per cent
of the total sample. From the Registrar-General's tables of the day it was found
that the odds against a person dying on any given day were some 19,000 to one.
Clearly the number of 'crisis apparitions' largely exceeded the coincidence rate
to be expected by chance, and so the researchers concluded that coincidence
could not be the explanation: at the least, telepathy must be involved.
Unfortunately there were many subjective aspects to these evaluations. Alan Gauld, an expert on spontaneous psi cases, has commented that the statistical
methods used would not be acceptable today. Data such as these cannot be
straitjacketed into scientific analysis - there are simply too many
uncertainties attached to them. However, it must be pointed out that the actual
rate of coincidence between experiencing an apparition and the death of the
person whose apparition is experienced exceeded the chance level by a factor of
around 250. Even if the researchers' methods had been responsible for some freak
results, this is still an impressive margin.
If we accept, at least for the sake of argument, that apparitions may not be
explicable solely in terms of coincidence and subjective hallucination, do they
appear to favour a 'survivalist' interpretation? Or can they be explained by the
operation of a particularly powerful ESP Super-ESP, if you like? There are
points in favour of both. On balance, the Super-ESP hypothesis looks marginally
more likely, although collectively experienced apparitions are particularly hard
to explain in such terms.
An interesting recent advance, which promises greater progress in the
experimental study of apparitions than hitherto, has been made by Gertrude
Schmeidler and her colleagues. After investigating allegedly 'haunted' premises,
they compiled lists of what 'ghosts' had been seen doing in the places in the
house where they had been seen. Small groups of 'psychics' and sensitives were
then asked to visit the houses and check off 'correct' actions and locations
from a list which contained both true and false items randomly intermixed.
Schmeidler found that some of the psychics were able to pinpoint, some to a
highly significant extent, what the 'ghosts' had done and where they had been
seen, claiming to have picked up this information from the 'vibes' in the
building. A control group of sceptics scored uniformly at chance on this task, a
particularly interesting result for rather complex reasons. If we suppose that
sceptics would tend to explain 'ghosts' in terms of hallucination and tricks of
the light, and if we suppose that this really is the explanation for ghosts,
then one might have expected the sceptics to score well, since they would
naturally select precisely those shady corners, nooks or crannies which would
favour optical illusion. But they did not. The psychics may, of course, have
succeeded by ordinary ESP, but their claim that they directly picked up
something from the buildings themselves cannot be discounted.
Is there anybody there?
In Chapter 2 we examined the remarkable career of D. D. Home, a physical
medium, a person who appears to be in communication with 'spirits' and in whose
presence paranormal physical effects (PK) appear to happen. Where survival after
death is concerned, however our attention must turn to mental mediums.
Mental mediums convey information which they usually claim to have obtained,
paranormally from the 'spirits' of dead human beings, now inhabiting another
world It is, of course, always possible that such information could be the
result of Super-ESP. The first task, however, is to decide whether there is a
paranormal element at work here at all.
Now the vast majority of mental mediums are inoffensive people whose sincerity
it would be uncharitable to question but who produce a great deal of waffle
which no seasoned researcher takes seriously. Their services can be comforting
to relatives of a recently deceased person and many of them charge no fee or
only a token fee. They are not commercially orientated charlatans exploiting the
gullible for profit. On the contrary they are often kindly and very well meaning
The 'Golden Age' of mental mediumship roughly spanned the years between 1880 and
1940. During this period six female mental mediums - all of whom had high
reputation - were investigated thoroughly, and in every case reasonable evidence
for psi was obtained. Since that time no equivalents have been reported on
(although one of the six, the flamboyant Irish-born medium Eileen Garrett, died
only a decade ago). Why this recent dearth? Sceptics would say that researchers
now know all about mediums' tricks and so the 'evidence' for mediumship has
simply evaporated. But there is another explanation which we will present
shortly. In any case the sceptic's argument would fail, and fall badly, when
confronted with one man alone, the Australian researcher Richard Hodgson, the
man who studied the first great mental medium and arguably the most powerful of
all, Mrs Leonore Piper. In fact the details of Mrs Piper's career are far more
revealing and of considerably more value than a shallower general survey of
In 1884 Mrs Piper was a quite unexceptional Bostonian housewife unexceptional,
that is, until she visited a faith-healing medium, slipped into trance and
received a 'message' for another sitter. She then began holding séances for her
friends, during which time a 'control' spirit, a Frenchman calling himself Dr
Phinuit, became a regular dramatis persona. Phinuit was the intermediary
between Mrs Piper's sitters and the 'spirits' with which they wished to
communicate. Rumours about these sittings reached the cars of the psychologist
William James, who was curious enough to attend one of her séances in 1885.
Later, James despatched other researchers to Mrs Piper, introducing them with
pseudonyms. Many expressed the view that Mrs Piper had given them information,
often of a quite personal and intimate nature, which they did not think she
could have obtained by normal means. One however wrote to James describing her
as 'that insipid prophetess' - she was not a woman of great education or
In 1887 a Richard Hodgson arrived in Boston to take up the post of Secretary to
the American Society for Psychical Research. Naturally he attended some of Mrs
Piper's séances. From his own letters and those of others he emerges as a fairly
obnoxious human being, extremely intelligent, but also belligerent, insensitive,
and vituperative - a less likely dupe of charlatanry it would have been
difficult to find. Yet he eventually became convinced not only that Mrs Piper
had psi ability but that her case proved the reality of survival after death.
An Australian, born in 1855, Hodgson read Law at Melbourne and Moral Sciences at
Cambridge, and was a founder member of the (British) Society for Psychical
Research. In 1884 the Society sent him to India to study Madame Blavatsky and
the Theosophists, and to evaluate the 'paranormal' happenings which they claimed
took place at their meetings. Hodgson's report was devastating; he regarded
Blavatsky as a fraud and most of the Theosophists as pathetic dupes. In other
investigations he zestfully destroyed the credibility of witnesses at séances
held by physical mediums, in which activity he was helped by Ins considerable
abilities as a conjuror. In short, Hodgson's forte was debunking, and there is
plenty of evidence to show that in full cry he was as subtle as an air-raid and
twice as unpleasant.
Working with other researchers, Hodgson approached the case of Mrs Piper in his
typically meticulous manner. Complete verbatim records of most séances were
kept, and signed testimonies from séance participants collected. Proxy
sittings were also organised - a proxy sitting is one in which a sitter is
sent along and told to ask about, say, Mr Alfred Robinson, even though the
sitter has no idea who Mr Alfred Robinson is; this eliminates the possibility of
the medium acquiring information from involuntary 'cues' displayed by the
In 1889 Hodgson exported Mrs Piper to England. There, too, many proxy sittings
were held. On arrival at the house of the researcher Sir Oliver Lodge, Mrs
Piper's baggage was checked for any information she might have collected on
potential sitters. Indeed on one famous occasion Hodgson actually hired private
detectives to follow her and her family to check that she was not secretly
researching her sitters by going to libraries, talking to friends and so on. At
the time Lodge had a house full of newly employed servants who could have told
Mrs Piper almost nothing of value. Sittings were held with individuals chosen
'in great measure by chance' by Hodgson; in some cases he even selected them
after Mrs Piper had gone into trance, precluding her from collecting any
information about them in advance. In one sitting, Lodge presented Mrs Piper
with a watch belonging to an uncle of his whom he had known slightly in his
later years. 'Uncle Jerry' announced himself, named his brother, and claimed
ownership of the watch. Lodge replied that he would need information (not known
to him) about Jerry's early life to validate this claim, which he would then
check with the surviving brother. 'Uncle Jerry' obliged. As Lodge wrote:
'"Uncle Jerry' recalled episodes such as swimming the creek when they were boys
together, and running some risk of getting drowned; killing a cat in Smith's
field; the possession of a small rifle, and of a long peculiar skin, like a
snake-skin, which he thought was not in the possession of Uncle Robert [the
'All these facts have been more or less completely verified ...'
What Lodge did not report was that these correct and sometimes very
specific and unusual items of information were, interspersed with generalities
and erroneous comments. However, a reading of the full records suggests that
quite a good proportion of correct and specific information was given in the
séance. One could indeed dismiss this as coincidence, in isolation. But when an
individual appears able to provide substantially correct information over and
over again this argument wears thin. Though the Lodge sitting was not a proxy
sitting as such, it approximated to one: information was given which was
completely unknown to anyone present.
Coincidence can also be ruled out from an experiment conducted with Mrs Piper
after her return to America. Phinuit had now been largely displaced by 'G.P.',
ostensibly the 'spirit' of a young man, George Pellew, who died in an accident
in 1892. G.P. correctly recognised, from a total of 150 sitters, the 30 he had
known when alive, and only those 30. He never made a mistake. The odds against
this happening by chance are astronomical. A less quantifiable, but equally
important, point is that G. P. behaved in slightly different ways entirely
appropriate to each individual. his demeanour and style of conversation were,
his friends claimed, exactly as they had been towards them when he was alive.
During G.P.'s control, Hodgson had almost complete supervision of séance
proceedings, and very full and complete records were kept.
What is most remarkable about Mrs Piper is that every researcher who
studied her at first hand for a reasonable period became convinced that she had
paranormal powers. The records of her séances run to several thousand pages, and
so we do no more than dip into the evidence here, but the accumulated material
defied, and defies, disbelief. Hodgson, with other sceptics almost as hostile,
was totally convinced by Mrs Piper. Indeed Hodgson went further than believing
in Mrs Piper's paranormal powers. He believed that her mediumship proved
survival after death. This belief is thought to rest on evidence he did not
publish - it was rumoured that Mrs Piper gave him information of an intensely
personal nature concerning a deceased woman. Did this influence his judgement?
What conclusions can we draw from the career of Mrs Piper? She certainly
provided accurate information about persons and events she could not possibly
have known about. But was this information communicated to her by the spirits of
the dead? Or was it the result of powerful, unconscious Super-ESP? That she had
psi ability of some kind is really beyond question. And there are good reasons
for not accepting that her feats demonstrated the reality of survival after
death. 'G.P.', her second control spirit, was very unusual in that he had a
historical existence during life: more usually, the control spirits of mediums
seem much more like secondary or alternative personalities of the mediums
themselves. Studies of mediums in trance - using word-association tests, EEG
measurements and other instruments of enquiry - have often shown that the
'spirit' is psychologically very different from the medium. Further than that,
however, it is very hard to go.
One further piece of evidence from mediumship, however, seems to tip the balance
somewhat against the Super-ESP hypothesis. It comes from Alan Gauld, whom we
have already mentioned. He studied instances in which the information given by
'spirits' about their lives on Earth can be verified by consulting historical
sources. Gauld was fortunate enough to find an archive of material gathered 20
years before by a group of amateurs who had field séances over a period of time:
detailed notes on the séances had been kept and filed away. In this archive,
Gauld unearthed several cases in which 'spirits' of persons unknown to the
participants gave information about their lives which, although subsequently
proved to be correct, were originally published incorrectly in
contemporary sources! In such a case there can be no question of one of the
séance participants having inadvertently read about the dead person - or of
somehow using Super-ESP to extract information from published material.
Here is one quite extraordinary example, involving one 'Harry Stockbridge' - a
pseudonym used by Gauld for the young man in question. The 'spirit' of Harry
Stockbridge (who was unknown to any of the participants) arrived at the séance
unannounced, as it were, and gave the following details about his life. We give
the results of Gauld's own researches in brackets:
'Second Loot attached Northumberland Fusiliers. Died Fourteen July, Sixteen.' (A
second lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers, named Harry Stockbridge, was
killed on 14 July 1916. The date of death is incorrectly given in the
War Office official lists.)
'Tyneside Scottish.' (Stockbridge was originally in a Tyneside Irish battalion
of the Northumberland Fusiliers, but at the time of his death had been
transferred to a Tyneside Scottish battalion, a fact which does not seem to have
found its way into print.)
'Tall, dark, thin. Special features large brown eyes.'
(Verified by relatives and by a photograph, but not, so far as could be
discovered, mentioned in any printed source.)
'I hung out in Leicester.' (True.)
Asked what were his likes and dislikes: 'Problems any. Pepys reading. Water
(He studied mathematics and physics at university. His university career is
referred to in print, but not his subject of study. Relatives could not answer
for sure on the latter points.)
Asked if he knew a 'Powis Street' about which a sitter had dreamed: 'I knew it
(It later transpired that there was a street of this name not far from his
Now, at some points we would like more detail: what more could have been said
about Powis Street, for example? But the first three Points - correct name, date
of death, description, regiment, battalion considering that these were sometimes
unknown in print or wrongly stated, if we accept that coincidence is not
an explanation (and the existence of other good cases from the same group makes
this highly unlikely) then we are dealing here either with psi or with an
extensive and extremely careful fraud.
Spirits and UFOs: useful scapegoats?
An intriguing experiment, of relevance here, is that carried out by Iris Owen
and others in Toronto. A small group of highly dedicated researchers wrote for
themselves an entirely fictional biography of a 'spirit' they named Philip. They
then held a series of séances with the object of getting in touch with him.
Eventually 'Philip' did indeed begin to communicate with them through an ouija
board. More interestingly 'Philip' began to levitate tables and produce apparent PK effects! The experiment has not been satisfactorily replicated, but it
suggests very strongly that 'spirits' might simply be a psychological prop for
This gains credibility if we consider the point made by Rex Stanford and others
- namely that psi events (especially powerful ones) are ego-alien. We are not
entirely comfortable with them. Thus our chances of exerting psi effects are
stronger if we can somehow blame their occurrence on someone or something else.
The 'spirits' represent such a something else. This account would go a long way
towards explaining the undoubted fact that great mediums are only to be found in
the past. In the nineteenth and (to a lesser extent) the early twentieth
century, 'the spirits' were to some extent culturally acceptable. Their
acceptability has declined. Other forms of psychological prop are required.
Speculatively, three possibilities raise their heads. From those who argue that
it is the experimenters in parapsychology who generate results from their
own psi, one could adduce that the subjects in those experiments are the
psychological props! A second possibility (less worthy of study) is that
unidentified flying objects might be a prop. UFOlogists have reported cases of
alleged spontaneous ESP and PK among people who claim to have been contacted by
UFOs, for which they believe the UFOs or their occupants may have been
responsible. More in keeping with the times, certainly, than spirits of the
dead. We are not impressed by the reported evidence - but the idea could be
tested. The third intriguing possibility concerns astrology. Although there is
little evidence to show that traditional astrology has any validity,
there is a moderate amount to show that astrologers can give accurate
information from birth charts alone. So they could be doing this by ESP -
indeed, two of them have suggested this to us. The astrologer would have the
best psychological prop of all - a system which is, at least in principle, based
on scientific theory! One could hardly imagine a better psychological prop for
the late twentieth century.
These speculations suggest that the Super-ESP hypothesis is not, after all,
entirely devoid of any predictive value. However, let us speculate a little
further about the survival issue. If we suppose Mind can leave the body, and
survive independently of it, might it not be capable of re-associating itself
with another physical body? Reincarnation is not a common belief in
Judaeo-Christian cultures but it is common elsewhere. Clearly if reincarnation
were established as a likely fact one would probably have to accept some notion
of survival after death. The evidence for reincarnation comes from two sources
of widely differing value: studies of hypnotic regression to past lives' and
direct studies of possible reincarnation in children. It is these cases we now
need to examine.
Hypnotic regression: living past lives over?
Hypnotic regression to childhood is a hotly debated, although 'normal',
phenomenon. Hypnotised persons have been asked to recall events from their very
early years and behave as they did at that age; there is much conflicting
evidence, but some of it suggests that such people can act in ways very like
children of the appropriate age in ways not easily simulated by non-hypnotised
people. It would be accepted by almost everyone, though, that there remains a
strong contaminating effect of the mind of the adult who is being regressed; it
is as though a hybrid of a child and an adult is speaking to the hypnotist. This
and many similar problems confront the hypnotist who attempts to regress the
hypnotised person back beyond birth to a 'past life'.
In the last decade much attention has been given to two British hypnotists,
Arnold Bloxham and Joe Keeton, who have conducted many such regressions and
presented their findings with an admirable lack of axe-grinding. It would be
fair to say that, in most cases, nothing has emerged to support the notion of
survival after death. This is not surprising - a balanced view of hypnosis would
be to say that 95 per cent of what happens to 95 per cent of hypnotised people
is simple role-playing, response to suggestions, acting, and going along with
the hypnotist. It is the other 5 per cent which is interesting. It is certainly
fair to assume that the overwhelming majority of alleged hypnotic regressions to
past lives is made up simply of acted-out fantasies, reconstructed from
half-forgotten historical books or magazines. Bloxham and Keeton were both well
aware of this, although some other hypnotists have not been so cautious.
Among the interesting minority of cases, perhaps the most impressive one could
find is that of 'Jane Evans', from Bloxham's files. This woman was regressed to
six different past lives. For at least three of them, sufficient corroborating
evidence could be found for the existence of the historical character to suggest
that coincidence would not be a likely explanation; the others were rather too
vague. Now this does diminish the possibility of fraud: who would bother to
check large amounts of historical material (at least some of it buried in
obscure archives and discovered only subsequently), for three different
characters? The motivation is missing, for the woman in question has never made
any fame or fortune from her experiences. Fraud is not impossible, but it is not
a reasonable explanation.
The 'six lives' of Jane Evans were recorded by Bloxham and later checked by Jeff
Iverson, a BBC producer who made a programme on the research. By one of those
strange coincidences, Iverson was born in the same Welsh town as Jane (and one
of the present authors) although the two had never met.
A particularly intriguing example of Jane Evans's allegedly previous
incarnations is that of Rebecca, a Jewess killed in pogrom in York in 1190.
Under hypnosis, in the character of Rebecca, Jane gave a chilling account of
being trapped with her child in the crypt of a small church just outside the
gates of the city as a murderous mob closed in. Those who have heard the tapes
testify that Jane's behaviour as she recounted the final scenes of butchery in
the crypt was emotional to an alarming and distressing degree.
In other sessions, 'Rebecca' gave details of her life in York prior to her
murder, naming many places and individuals whose identity could be verified,
together with others that could not. The latter could be wrong or simply not
recorded in the incomplete records we have for the period. However, a key aspect
of Rebecca's testimony was the church in which she claimed to have died.
Professor Barrie Dobson, a professor at York University and an authority on
Jewish history of the time, was called in to listen to the tapes. Dobson thought
that, of all the surviving churches in York, only one, St Mary's Castlegate,
fitted Rebecca's description. Unfortunately, the church did not have a crypt.
Six months later, Dobson wrote to Iverson, the producer, with an extraordinary
piece of news. A workman engaged in the renovation of the church had
accidentally broken into what looked like a crypt beneath the chancel. It was
blocked up again before archaeologists could examine it. But the workman had
seen round stone arches and vaults, indicating the Norman or Romanesque period
of building, that is, before 1190 rather than after. More recently still, the
discovery of re-used Roman and Anglo-Saxon masonry below floor-level in St
Mary's Castlegate makes it absolutely certain that there was a church on the
site in Rebecca's time.
This is intriguing: a piece of evidence turns up retrospectively which supports
Rebecca's claims. This could not be fraud or reconstruction from memory. There
may indeed be something worthy of investigation in cases of hypnotic regression.
But for every one solid case hundreds fall apart on a brief checking. Nor would
it be surprising if further historical research weakened even the best cases on
record. Unfortunately very few investigations of hypnotic regression have been
carried out by professional parapsychologists. Ian Wilson, author of an
excellent volume on the Turin Shroud, has recently examined such cases for his
book Mind out of Time? In it, he makes many criticisms of hypnotic regression
work. The value of his criticisms is lessened by his concentrating his attack on
weak cases, but he is certainly correct in concluding that most hypnotic
regressions provide absolutely no evidence for 'past lives'. Much better
evidence for reincarnation can be obtained from direct studies of individuals
who appear to be reincarnations of deceased people. Why this should be so
becomes clear when we consider the different areas from which the evidence is
Reincarnation: direct studies
In 1977 the prestigious Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases published two
papers on the subject of reincarnation by Dr Ian Stevenson, a researcher based
at the University of Virginia. That such a journal should publish on such an
unusual topic is a clear indication of the esteem in which Stevenson's work is
held, even by sceptics.
There are two good reasons why Stevenson's evidence is simpler to evaluate than
hypnotic regression evidence. First, Stevenson's cases concern very young
children, whereas regressions involve adults. The hypothesis of reconstruction
from mostly forgotten memories of papers, books, magazines and radio and TV
programmes is important with respect to adults (with many years' exposure to
such sources of information) but not to children of two or three years of age.
Second, Stevenson's cases mostly come from relatively underdeveloped countries
where sources of communication of this, kind are hardly plentiful. In short, a
regression from a literate and observant Western adult will pose many more
problems than cases involving very young children from semi-literate societies.
The most characteristic quality of Stevenson's work is its sheer
professionalism. Through one of his many contacts, he hears first details of a
case of possible reincarnation. Almost without exception, the case concerns a
very young child (in around half the cases he investigates, two years or
younger) whose utterances and behaviour suggest reincarnation. Stevenson will
travel to study the case at first hand: in Alaska, Lebanon, India, Brazil,
Ceylon ... literally all over the globe. Stevenson himself speaks fluent French
and German, and in other cases uses trusted interpreters to interrogate
witnesses. Witnesses are almost always interviewed more than once to check for
reliability. For any given case, Stevenson uses at least two interpreters, and
sometimes three or four, to check testimony and the accuracy of interpretation.
Stevenson possesses a vast library of tapes from these interviews. Documents,
registries, archives are meticulously checked for corroboration of testimonies.
The care and attention to detail are remarkable.
First we may look in depth at a case of unusual evidential value, which
Stevenson was able to investigate before the two families concerned (the family
of the child and that of the deceased person of whom the child appeared to be a
reincarnation) had met. Obviously, such cases offer the researcher the chance to
check testimony unaffected by confused memory after meeting the other family.
Stevenson arrived in Lebanon in 1964 after being told by a young Lebanese, who
had assisted him in a Brazilian investigation two years before, that many cases
of reincarnation occurred in his home country. Among the Druse people, who
belong to an unusual Islamic sect, belief in reincarnation is common: indeed, it
is a fundamental tenet of their religion. However, many Druses express
considerable scepticism about particular cases of reincarnation: they are not a
gullible people. As Stevenson set out among these people to find his Lebanese
contact, he learned of a case in the village he had come to visit, Kornayel,
some ten miles cast of Beirut. It transpired that the. father of the child
concerned was a cousin of the man he had come to meet. On his first evening,
Stevenson made complete written notes of his interview with this man, Mohammed
Elawar, and his wife. On this occasion only an untrained interpreter was on
hand: for a further four days, Stevenson used two other, trained, interpreters.
Stevenson rechecked much of his material, and added new information, on a second
visit five months later (with another interpreter)
On his first visit, Stevenson was told how Mohammed's son Imad had been born in
December 1958. One might have suspected that something strange was going on when
the first word he spoke was ‘Jamilch', had one known that this was the name of
the mistress of Ibrahim Bouhamzy, the man whose reincarnation Imad appears to
have been. As soon as he could string sentences together, Imad was speaking of
his past life. His father scolded him for telling lies, but Imad persisted. At
the age of two years he had spontaneously recognised a neighbour of Bouhamzy's
in the street. He had given many details of his (i.e. Bouhamzy's) house, his
relatives, his own life. Nonetheless his family did not feel moved to do any
checking. Mohammed, the father, had once attended a funeral in the town of
Khriby, where Bouhamzy had lived, but had not met any member of the Bouhamzy
The two villages were separated by some 20 miles, but the people of Lebanon in
this region tended not to travel very much, and members of the Elawar and
Bouhamzy families were adamant that they had not met. After collecting all the
information he could about Imad, Stevenson set out for Khriby to collect as much
information as possible from the Bouhamzy family itself.
Finally Imad and his father were taken to Khriby, where Imad was introduced to
the Bouhamzy family. He recognised many of them spontaneously, addressing them
in the correct manner. The Bouhamzies were astonished at the way Imad behaved,
which is not the. least important aspect of such cases. This five-year-old child
behaved, the family said, just as Ibrahim had.
The sum total of correct statements made by Imad about his past life, involving
intimate details, precise statements about his home and his relatives, is
summarised overleaf. The sheer wealth of information seems to rule out
coincidence completely as an explanation of the correspondences. Of 57
statements checked by Stevenson, no less than 51 were correct.
What possible explanation - apart from that of reincarnation could we conceive
of for this case? Since the families insisted that they had not met, there is no
chance of a member of one family discussing lbrahim with a member of Imad's
family, and that second person getting confused and thinking that Imad had said
it. It is perhaps possible that one or two incidental meetings had been made and
forgotten, but is implausible in the extreme that so many of Imad's statements
could have been correct as a result of a few casual comments long forgotten.
Some details the Bouhamzy family would surely have preferred to keep quiet:
Ibrahim's mistress, for example. Fraud is really unlikely when one's claimed
past life risks the embarrassment of social disapproval. One might simply
consider that a conspiracy between 17 people with no conceivable motivation for
undertaking it is much more implausible than reincarnation.
Reincarnation: The Case of
In all cases, there was at least one
informant for each item and at least one corroborator. In many cases,
there were two or more informants and corroborators.
Evidence from Imad Elawar in advance of Stevenson's visit to Khriby.
1. His name was Bouhamzy and he lived in
1. The first name was never used (i.e.,
2. He had a woman called Jamileh.
2. Correct: Ibrahim's mistress.
3. She was beautiful.
3. Jamileh was famous in Khriby for her
4. She wore high heels.
4. Correct, and very unusual amongst Druse
5. He had a brother 'Amin'.
5. Amin was a close relative. Close relatives
may be termed 'brother'.
6. Amin worked in Tripoli.
7. Amin worked in a courthouse.
7. Amin was an official of the Lebanese
Government. His office was in a courthouse.
8. There was someone called 'Mehibeh'.
8. Cousin of Ibrahim Bouhamzy.
9. He had brothers called Said and Toufic.
9. Ibrahim had cousins called Said and Toufic:
see point 5.
10. He had a sister, Huda.
11. A truck ran over a man, broke both his
legs, and crushed his trunk.
11. All details correct for Said Bouhamzy
12. He (Ibrahim) was a friend of Mr Kemal
12. Ibrahim was a friend of this Druse
politician and philosopher.
13. He was very fond of hunting.
13. Ibrahim was passionately fond of hunting.
Imad frequently asked his father to take him hunting.
14. He had a double-barrelled shotgun.
15. He also had a rifle.
16. He had hidden his gun.
16. Correct. Presumably refers to rifle, which
is an illegal possession in Lebanon.
17. He had a brown dog and had one beaten
17. Ibrahim had a brown dog, which had once
fought with another dog which Ibrahim had beaten.
18. His house was in Khriby: there was a slope
19. There were two wells at the house, one
full and one empty,
19. Correct. These were not spring wells, but
concrete concavities used for storing grape juice. During the rainy season
one became filled with water, whilst the shallower one did not, since
water evaporated from it. Hence one was full and one empty.
20. They were building a new garden when he
20. When Ibrahim died, the garden was being
21. There were apple and cherry trees in the
22. He had a small yellow car, and a minibus.
22. Both correct.
23. He also had a truck.
24. He used the truck for hauling rocks.
25. There were two garages at his house.
25. Almost correct. Ibrahim kept his vehicles
in the open, outside two sheds.
26. The tools for the car were kept in the
27. He had a goat, and sheep.
28. He had five children.
28. Quite wrong: he had none. Said (note 9)
had five sons.
Stevenson has reported scores of cases of possible reincarnation. Errors of
testimony, memory, and fraud - 'conventional' explanations do not appear able to
cope with the facts. Stevenson considers that some paranormal explanation is
justified by the data. As we have seen consistently throughout this chapter, the
'survival' and 'Super-ESP' explanations are the two major rivals.
Stevenson accepts that Super-ESP could explain much of the correct information
reported by the children in reincarnation cases. However, he points out that it
is difficult to explain the fact that the children only appear to have ESP
related to one person, the person whose reincarnation they appear to be. Above
all, Stevenson says, it is the personality aspect which strongly suggests
survival. In Imad's case, his natural manner of behaviour strongly resembled
that of the dead Bouhamzy. In some cases families have spontaneously recognised
similarities in the personality of the deceased person and that of the child in
which the deceased is allegedly reincarnated. How can this possibly be just
Super-ESP? Alan Gauld has written that he has studied many of the older
psychical researchers in great detail, and knows more about them that anyone
could possibly expect to learn by ESP: but he is also sure that not for a moment
could he accurately impersonate them in this way. Now, certainly, there are
excellent mimics in show business; but could one of them convince the mother of
a dead man that he was a reincarnation of that person? Surely not. So how can we
reasonably entertain the idea that children of four or five, even using ESP-acquired information, could effect a convincing impersonation of a dead
We have made much of Stevenson's pioneering research, but a caveat must be added
with which we are sure Stevenson himself would agree. A clear priority is for
other dedicated researchers to replicate, in broad fashion, Stevenson's
enquiries. Certainly some others have researched reincarnation cases, but no-one
has conducted such an exhaustive and extensive enquiry over many years as
Stevenson. It is understandable why this is so: the expense in terms of time and
money is considerable. But it is a crucial next step in reincarnation research.
The question of survival [top]
Some decades ago, J. B. Rhine nearly managed to exorcise the survival problem
from the realm of parapsychology. For him, it was not a scientific question: the
Super-ESP hypothesis would always provide a possible alternative, so the
question was ultimately beyond scientific proof one way or the other.
This was an extraordinary attitude for Rhine to take, even given the times he
lived in. For exactly the same attitude of mind is exemplified by those sceptics
who believe that all parapsychology is fraud or bad experiment. It is in
principle impossible to disprove that. It could indeed be the case that scores
of scientists have conspired to defraud their colleagues (which would have to
include both of the authors). We reject, that 'explanation', as all intelligent
people will, because while not impossible it is an absurdly unreasonable
argument to offer. Similarly, some of the best evidence in survival research,
especially the detailed behavioural evidence from Stevenson's reincarnation
studies, is getting close to reducing the Super-ESP hypothesis to absurdity -
even though it is not possible to rule it out completely. We cannot decide the
issue scientifically: but we can decide it rationally, just as we decide
rationally to reject the notion that ALL significant ESP results are the product
of a gigantic conspiracy.
Rhine did live and work in an age in which death was a taboo topic. There is
some truth in the notion that the twentieth century replaced sex with death as
the topic not to be discussed in polite company. Recently attitudes have
changed. The interest in euthanasia, the hospice movement, the experiments of
Stanislav Grof with hallucinogens to case the deaths of terminally ill people;
all these things and more suggest that we are trying now to come to terms with
death and, and the growing interest in survival research amongst
parapsychologists reflects this. Attitudes to survival, of course, vary
enormously. Spiritualists anticipate their deaths with happy certainty of a
blissful after-life, while the Cambridge philosopher C. D. Broad expressed a
hope that there was no survival on the grounds that this world was bad enough
without having to put up with another one. Other philosophers have established
to their own personal satisfaction that survival after death is inconceivable,
since a linguistic analysis shows that our concept of 'personality' is
irretrievably bound up with the notion of a physical continuity. Only one thing
remains certain: death is the one experience which all human beings can be sure
that they will experience alone. None of us will 'know' for certain whether we
survive physical death until a few minutes after our brains have finally stopped
functioning. Some people have been so fascinated by this problem that they have
actually committed suicide in order to find out. Whilst few of us have so keen
an interest as that, it seems unlikely that human beings will not continue to
direct their ingenuity to the problem which has obsessed people from time