Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 4

Chapter 14: Various Senses on the Question Regarding Survival After Death

1. The bodily component of a personality | 2. Survival-of just what parts of the psychological component | 3. Survival - for how long | 4. "Sameness" in what sense, of a mind at two times | 5. Conceivable forms of discarnate "life" | 6. H. H. Price's depiction of a postmortem life in a world of images | 7. The architect of a person's heaven or hell | 8. Life after death conceived as physical reembodiment

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          DOES THE human personality survive bodily death? This question, phrased thus in the terms F. W. H. Myers used in the title of his famous work(1), seems to most of the persons who ask it simple and direct enough to admit of a "Yes" or "No" answer the only difficulty being to find out which of the two it should be.

(1) Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, 1903.

As will become evident in what follows, however, the question is in fact highly ambiguous. Hence, in order to be in position to judge intelligently what bearing on it given items of prima facie evidence of survival may really have, the first step must be to distinguish clearly the several senses which the expression "survival of the personality after death," can have.

1. The bodily component of a personality

When we reflect on what makes up a human personality, we find first a physical or more specifically a biological component. It comprises the particular facial features, the build and marks of the body, its weight, gait, carriage, voice, and so on. The body's dissolution following death automatically destroys all this. That the physical part of the personality does not survive is definitely known. A closely similar body might conceivably some time miraculously arise again, as the doctrine of the "resurrection of the flesh" contemplates; and this would not require that it should be composed of identically the same material particles which constituted the body at death, for the materials of it anyway change from day to day to some extent, and more or less completely over a period of some years, without the body's ceasing to be recognizably the same. But, aside from the occasional reports - many of them dubious - of materializations for a few minutes of a replica of the body of some deceased person, no evidence at all exists that a person survives after death in the sense that his body gets reassembled and revived, and continues then to live a life somewhere, in the sense in which his now decayed body lived a life on earth between its birth and its death.

2. Survival - of just what parts of the psychological component

As pointed out already in Chapt. 1, what the question of survival essentially concerns is not the physical but the psychological component of the human personality, We saw in Chapt. VI that it consists of various "dispositions, i.e., capacities or abilities - some of them psycho-psychical, some psycho-physical, and some physico-psychical.

Now, some of these might survive and others not. For example, the capacity to remember past experiences might survive, being then perhaps more extensive, or less so, than it was during incarnate life; and yet the capacity for intellectual initiative, critical judgment, or inventiveness might perish. Or again, what survived might be only a person's aptitudes; that is, the capacities he has, to acquire under suitable circumstances various kinds of more determinate capacities such as skills, habits, or knowledge constitute.

But certain of the capacities of a person are organized in particular groups relevant each to one of the chief roles which life calls upon him to play. Each of these groups constitutes what may be called a particular "role-self," which has interests, purposes, beliefs, and impulses more or less different from those of the others. Examples would be the "father" role, the "husband" role, the vocational roles of, for instance, "physician," or "teacher," or "policeman," or "inventor," or "bookkeeper," or "business executive." Any of these roles is in turn different from that of "religious devotee." of "sex hunter," of "bully," of "predator," and so on. A man is thus a society of various "role-selves" all using the same body, and getting along with one another harmoniously or not in various degrees, much as do men in social groups. At certain times, some one of these role-selves is in charge of the body's behavior. Sometimes, two or more of them compete for, or cooperate in, command of it-the predator perhaps competing with the would-be saint; or the latter cooperating perhaps with the father in repressing the would-be Casanova or the thief which the circumstances of the moment would tempt out.

Normally, these various role-selves function together somewhat as a committee, whose eventual action represents the balance of the claims, weak or strong, of the various parties having interests affected by the committee's decisions. But under abnormal circumstances, some one of these role-selves may get strong enough to get temporary dictatorial command uncensorable by the others. This is what occurs in the cases of split personalities, of which the Beauchamp case described by Dr. Morton Prince, the Doris Fischer case described by Dr. W. F. Prince, and recently that of "The Three Faces of Eve," described by Drs. C. H. Thigpen and H. M. Cleckley, are examples.

These cases bring up the interesting question as to which ones of the role-selves, which together make up the total personality of the living man, might or might not survive the death of his body; and also the question as to the nature and the strength or weakness of the connection that could remain between such of them as did survive, once the bond constituted by their joint association with the one body had been destroyed by the latter's death. Survival of the "father" role-self, or as the case might be, of the "mother," or "daughter," or "son," or "friend," etc., role-self would be what the relatives or personal friends of the deceased would automatically look for; but evidences of survival of it would be far from being evidence that the whole or a major part of the psychological component of the personality of the deceased had survived.

Aside from this, the kind of evidence one happens to have, in support of the hypothesis that a particular part of the psychological component of the personality of a deceased person survives, could itself impose limits, minimal or maximal, on the content of the hypothesis. If, for example, the evidence consisted of identificatory facts communicated purportedly by the surviving spirit of the deceased directly "possessing" temporarily the vocal organs or the hand of an entranced medium and expressing itself through them, then this would require survival of the psycho-physical capacity which the mind of the deceased had, to cause speech or writing movements in a living body with which it was suitably related. But this would not be a required part of the hypothesis if the identifying facts were communicated not thus. through direct possession of the entranced medium's organs of expression, but indirectly, through telepathic "rapport" between the medium's subconscious mind and the surviving part of the mind of the deceased. In this case, on the other hand, capacity for such telepathic rapport would be part of the equipment required to be possessed by the hypothetically surviving part of the personality of the deceased.

3. Survival - for how long

Were survival to be for only an hour, or a week, or even a year, then empirical evidence that such survival is a fact would have relatively little interest for most persons. If on the other hand the evidence were that survival is normally for a much longer period - at least for one similar in length to that of a person's normal life on earth - then it would be of considerable interest to most men, and the prospect of its eventual ending at such a distant time would now probably not trouble them much.

But anyway the question, "survival for how long?" necessarily raises the prior one of how length of time after death is to be measured if, as the survival hypothesis usually contemplates, the surviving personality does not have a physical body - the body one revolution of which around the axis of the earth defines "one day"; and around the sun, "one year."

The answer would have to be in terms of hypothetically possible communication by us with that discarnate personality: If (assuming availability of a medium) communication with that personality remained possible during, say, one year, or n years, of earth time after the death of that personality's body, then specifically this would be what it would mean to say that that personality had survived one year, or n years, after death. Of survival forever, which is what "eternal" life is usually taken to mean, there could of course be no empirical test.

4. "Sameness" in what sense, of a mind at two times

The personality of each of us changes gradually as the months and the years pass; but, notwithstanding our acquisition of new capacities and loss of some we possessed earlier, each of us is to himself and to others, in so me sense admitting of more and less, the "same" person at different ages. The question now before us is, in what sense or senses of "sameness" or "personal identity" this is true.

We noted earlier that the human personality includes various bodily traits as well as psychological ones and that, since death destroys the body, the psychological components are the ones directly relevant to the possibility of survival. But the question as to what it means, to say of something existing at a certain time that it is, or is not, "the same" as something existing at another time, will perhaps be easier to answer if we ask it first concerning human bodies - say, one young in 1900, and one old in 1950.

One sense, which the assertion that they are "the same" human body can have is that the relation of the first to the second is the relation "having become." If this relation does obtain between the 1900 body and the 1950 body, then they are "the same" body even if no likeness, other than that each is a human body, is discoverable between them - not even, let us suppose, likeness of pattern of finger prints because the old man anyway happens to have lost his hands.

If, on the other hand, it is not true that the body in view in 1900 has become the one we view in 1950, then they are not "the same" human body even if the likeness between them is so extensive and evident as to make the first clearly recognizable in the second; for it may be that the once young man who has become the old man we now behold is not the young man we knew in 1900 but, perhaps, is his identical-twin brother.

Thus likeness, no matter how great, does not constitute proof of identity unless the characteristic in respect of which it obtains is, and is known to be, idiosyncratic, and hence identificatory. Yet the more nearly idiosyncratic, i.e., the rarer, is the characteristic (or the combination of characteristics) in respect of which the likeness obtains, and the more minute is the likeness in respect of it, the more probable it is empirically that the relation between the human body in view in 1900 and that in view in 1950 is that of "having become," and hence that they are "the same" body.

These remarks concerning the meaning of "the same," and of "not the same," when one or the other of these two relations is asserted to hold between a body at a given time and a body at a different time, apply also in all essentials where minds instead of bodies are concerned: a mind at a given time is "the same mind" as one at an earlier time if and only if the mind in view at the earlier time has become the mind in view at the later time.

5. Conceivable forms of discarnate "life"

Regarding the question, in what sense of "living" could such part of the personality as persisted after death be said to continue living, the following several senses suggest themselves.

(i) The particular set of dispositions one had specified as those in the survival of which one is interested might continue to "live" only in the sense in which a machine - here a psychological robot - continues to exist without losing the capacities for its distinctive functions, during periods when it is not called upon to perform them but lies idle, inactive. Even in the case of the body, it is still alive when in deep sleep or in a faint, but is more alive, or alive in a somewhat different sense or in ways more typically human, when it is awake and responding to visual, auditory, and other stimuli from its environment, and acting upon it.

Similarly, in the case of the psychological part of the personality, it might when discarnate be "alive" only in a minimal sense analogous to that in which the comatose or anaesthetized body is nevertheless alive. At any given time of a person's life, much the larger number of his capabilites exist only in such dormant condition. Probably, at the time the reader was reading the beginning of the present paragraph, the capability he does and did have to remember, say, his own name, was wholly latent. Even the enduring of a personality's dispositions in a dormant state, however, would constitute the basis of the possibility of sporadic brief exercise of some of them if and when direct or indirect contact happened to occur between that otherwise wholly dormant personality and the organism of a medium. Temporary exercise of the dispositions constituting the automatic, mechanical constituents of a mind - to wit, associations of ideas, memories, etc. - is the most which the majority of mediumistic communications appear to testify to.

(ii) A second possibility is that some of the "internal" mental dispositions of the person concerned, i.e., some of his psychico-psychical dispositions, should not only persist but actually be exercised, though without critical control. This would mean mental "life" in the sense in which dreaming or idle reverie is a species of mental life.

(iii) Or, thirdly, mental life of a more active kind might consist in a reviewing of the incidents of one's ante mortem life, with an attempt as one does so to discern causal connections between one's experiences, one's reactions to them, and one's later experiences or activities. Especially if, as psychoanalysis and some experiments with hypnosis appear to testify, memories one is not ordinarily able to revive are nevertheless preserved; and they were accessible in one's discarnate state; then much wisdom that was latent in them, but which one had at the time been too passionately engrossed to harvest, might in that discarnate state be distilled out of them by reflection.

(iv) Or again, one's capacity for intelligent control and purposive direction of creative thought might be exercised. "Life" would then mean, for example, such creative purely mental activity as a mathematician, or a musical composer, or a poet, or a philosopher, etc., can, even in the present life, be absorbed in at times of bodily idleness and of abstraction from sense stimuli.

(v) Or, fifthly, "life" could mean also response - then telepathic or clairvoyant - to stimuli from a then non-physical environment; and voluntary, "psychokinetic," reaction upon the excarnate personalities, or the possibly impersonal constituents, of that non-physical environment.

This would be discarnate post-mortem "life" in the fullest sense. It is the "life" to the reality of which, as we shall see, the so-called Cross-correspondences appear to testify more strongly than do any of the other kinds of prima facie evidence of survival. As C. D. Broad has rightly remarked, "if the dispositional basis of a man's personality should persist after his death, there is no reason why it should have the same fate in all cases. In some cases one, and in others another of the various alternatives ... might be realized. It seems reasonable to think that the state of development of the personality at the time of death, and the circumstances under which death takes place, might be relevant factors in determining which alternative would be realized."(2)

(2) Personal Identity and Survival, The Thirteenth F. W. H. Myers Lecture, 1958. London, Soc. for Psychical Research, p. 31. This lecture provides an admirably systematic, analytical discussion of the various aspects of its topic. The reader is also referred to Ch. 21, "Some Theoretically Possible Forms of Survival" of the present author's Nature, Mind, and Death, Open Court Pub. Co. La Salle, Ill. 1951, pp. 484-502.

6. H. H. Price's depiction of a postmortem life in a world of images

One of the objections most commonly advanced by educated and critical persons against the survival hypothesis is that it is unintelligible - that no conception of discarnate life that is not patently preposterous is imaginable. Our discussion of the meaning of the hypothesis that the human personality survives after the death of its body may therefore turn next to the description Professor Price has given of a clearly imaginable and plausible "Next World" and of what the content of life in it would be - thus effectively disposing of that objection. His description is contained in a lecture entitled "Survival and the Idea of 'Another World'."(3)

(3) Proc. Soc. for Psychical Research, Vol. LX:1-25, January 1953.

The "Next World" he depicts would be of the same kind as the world we experience during our dreams. When we dream, we perceive things, persons, and events more or less similar to those which we perceive normally as a result of stimulations of our sense organs by the physical world. In dreams, however, this is not the cause of our perceptions of objects, for no physical objects such as perceived are then stimulating our senses. Yet what we perceive engages at the time our thoughts and emotions. The behavior of the dream objects, of course, is often very different from that of the physical objects they resemble, but the anomaly is not realized until we wake up. So long as the dream lasts, we are not aware that it is a dream but take it to be reality, just as we do the objects and events we perceive while awake.

The "Next World," then would, like our nightly dream world, be a world of mental images. It would, as Price puts it, be an "imagy" world, not one which, like Utopia or Erewhon, is imaginary in the sense of imaged but not believed to exist.

In the experience of a discarnate human personality in that world, imaging would replace the perceiving normally caused by stimulation of the sense organs. It would replace it "in the sense that imaging would perform much the same function as sense-perception performs now, by providing us with objects about which we could have thoughts, emotions and wishes. There is no reason why we should not be 'as much alive,' or at any rate feel as much alive, in an image-world as we do now in this present material world, which we perceive by means of our sense-organs and nervous system. And so the use of the word 'survival' ('life after death') would be perfectly justifiable" (p. 6).

Moreover that image-world would for us be just as real as the physical world is for us now, or as the objects seen in our dreams are real so long as we do not wake up. What one can say of the dream objects is that, although they resemble physical objects, they are not really physical; but one cannot say that they are not real in the sense of not existing. The laws of their behavior are different from those of the behavior of the physical objects they resemble, and this is what makes the dream world an "other" world. But its being other does not make it delusive unless one believes it to be the same world - i.e., unless one believes that the laws of behavior of its objects are those of the behavior of physical objects. And such belief is not a necessary nor a usual part of the dream state.

Moreover, if telepathy should be part of the equipment of the discarnate personality, then that personality's image-world would not be entirely subjective. It would, to some extent, "be the joint product of a group of telepathically interacting minds and public to all of them" (p. 16). Yet each mind would, to a considerable extent, build his own dream world - his memories providing the "material" for it; and his desires, whether conscious or unconscious, determining the "forms" the memory material would be given (p. 17). Thus there would be not just one Next World, but many - some, overlapping to some extent, and others "impenetrable to one another, corresponding to the different desires which different groups of personalities have" (p. 19).

This description of a Next World as a wish-fulfilment world may seem wishfully rosy; but Price makes very clear that it would be so only to the extent that one's wishes happened to be themselves beautiful ones rather than, some of them, disgraceful. And most of us have some of each kind even if we repress and hide the latter from other persons and largely from ourselves too.

7. The architect of a person's heaven or hell

But the words "desires," "wishes," and "aversions," which Price uses to designate the psychological generators of our dream images, are perhaps not the best after all by which to describe the subjective architect of a person's post mortem image world. For the architect we can observe at work in ourselves even now, building up every day for us imaginal and conceptual contents of belief, is rather attitude, emotion and disposition. Suspiciousness, for example, paints as devious the persons it meets. jealousy paints its object as unfaithful; hatred, as hostile; contempt, as despicable. Trustfulness, on the other hand, sees others as honest; magnanimity, as worthy; love, as lovable; friendliness, as well-disposed; considerateness, as respectable; and so on.

It is not so much the "wish," then, that is "father to the thought," as it is the attitude or disposition one brings to one's contacts with others. It determines what one imagines and believes them to be, as distinguished from what one strictly observes and finds them to be. Moreover, what a person imagines and believes another to be affects his own behavior; which in turn tempts the other to play up, or down, to the role thus handed to him! What kind of world each person now lives in therefore depends to some extent on what kind of psychological spectacles he wears, through which he looks at the empirical, truly objective facts. To that extent each of us, here and now, is living in a hell, purgatory, or heaven he himself constructs. How much more, then, is this fatally bound to be the case when he lives wholly in a dream-world - whether an ante or a post mortem one; that is, in a world from which the objective, stubborn facts perception supplies are absent, and absent therefore also their sobering effect on one's subjective imaginings!

8. Life after death conceived as physical reembodiment

There remains to mention, besides the possible forms of discarnate life considered in Sec. 5 above, also the conception of life after death according to which such life consists of reembodiment of the "essential" part of the personality in a neonate human or possibly animal body; and whether immediately at death, or after an interval during which consciousness possibly persists in one or another of those discarnate forms. This is the hypothesis of metempsychosis, palingenesis, or reincarnation, which has commended itself to numerous eminent thinkers, Professor Broad among them. Nothing more will be said about it in this chapter, however, since Part V is to be devoted to a detailed discussion of it.

What has been said in the present chapter will have made evident that any answer based on empirical facts - no matter of what kinds these might be - to the question whether the human personality survives the death of its body, will automatically be as ambiguous, or as unambiguous, as the question itself happens to be as asked by a given inquirer. Whether the answer, when unambiguous, turns out to be that survival - in whatever specific sense is then in view - is certainly or probably a fact, or certainly or probably not a fact, will of course depend on what the empirical evidence on which it is based happens to be. But to have purged of ambiguity the expression "survival after death" will at all events entail that, when one asks whether "survival" is a fact, one will then know just what it is that one wants to know.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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