ARTICLES

Hans J. Eysenck

Authors:

Hans J. Eysenck (pictured left): One of Britain's leading social scientists. Established a worldwide reputation for his encyclopaedic contribution to the popular understanding of psychology. Head of the Department of Psychology at the Maudsley Hospital Institute of Psychiatry, University of London.

Carl Sargent: Gained his PhD in Experimental Parapsychology in 1979. His post-doctoral research was concerned with ESP in the ganzfeld. He was a member of the Parapsychological Association and author on numerous papers on parapsychology. He was widely regarded as an authority on the paranormal.

Is there Life Beyond Death?

Mind beyond body | Near-Death Experiences | Apparitions: the quick and the dead | Is there anybody there? | Spirits and UFOs: useful scapegoats? | Hypnotic regression: living past lives over? | Reincarnation: direct studies | The Case of Imad Elawar | The question of survival

 - Hans J. Enysenck and Carl Sargent -

           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 reincarnations.

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 out-of-the-body trips.

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 hallucination.

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 nearby.

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 inconsistent results.

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.

Near-Death Experiences [top]

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 positively afterwards.

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 put forward.

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 profoundly important.

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 Moody:

'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 [top]

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 disposition.

'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 following:

'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 experienced apparitions.

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? [top]

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 people.

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 mediumship.

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 erudition.

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 sitter.

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 surviving brother].

'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 colouring.’

(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 well.'

(It later transpired that there was a street of this name not far from his birthplace.)

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? [top]

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 the medium.

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? [top]

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 drawn.

Reincarnation: direct studies [top]

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 family.

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 Imad Elawar [top]

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.
Item Comments
1. His name was Bouhamzy and he lived in Khriby. 1. The first name was never used (i.e., Ibrahim).
2. He had a woman called Jamileh. 2. Correct: Ibrahim's mistress.
3. She was beautiful. 3. Jamileh was famous in Khriby for her beauty.
4. She wore high heels. 4. Correct, and very unusual amongst Druse women.
5. He had a brother 'Amin'. 5. Amin was a close relative. Close relatives may be termed 'brother'.
6. Amin worked in Tripoli. 6. Correct.
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. 10. Correct.
11. A truck ran over a man, broke both his legs, and crushed his trunk. 11. All details correct for Said Bouhamzy (note 9).
12. He (Ibrahim) was a friend of Mr Kemal Jouhblatt. 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. 14. Correct.
15. He also had a rifle. 15. Correct.
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 another dog. 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 before it. 18. Correct.
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 died. 20. When Ibrahim died, the garden was being rebuilt.
21. There were apple and cherry trees in the garden. 21. Correct.
22. He had a small yellow car, and a minibus. 22. Both correct.
23. He also had a truck. 23. Correct.
24. He used the truck for hauling rocks. 24. Correct.
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 attic. 26. Correct.
27. He had a goat, and sheep. 27. Correct.
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 stranger?

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 immemorial.

 

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