The Survival of Human Consciousness: Essays on the Possibility of Live After Death.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: The Journal of Parapsychology Publisher: Parapsychology Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Parapsychology Press ISSN: 0022-3387|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2006 Source Volume: 70 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||NamedWork: The Survival of Human Consciousness: Essays on the Possibility of Life after Death (Book)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Storm, Lance; Thalbourne, Michael A.|
THE SURVIVAL OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS: ESSAYS ON THE POSSIBILITY OF
LIVE AFTER DEATH edited by Lance Storm and Michael A. Thalbourne.
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006. Pp. vii + 311. $45.00 (paperback). ISBN
The Survival of Human Consciousness is a puzzling book. The quality of its chapters differs greatly, two of them are reprints from years-old sources, and there are crucial omissions. Let me start with the last. Despite Stephen Braude's acclaimed and thoughtful addition to the literature (2003), neither he nor the members of the two labs carrying out programmatic research on mediumship (e.g., Beischel & Schwartz, 2007; Roy & Robertson, 2004) have contributing chapters. There is only a passing reference to such recent research in Bill Roll's chapter (p. 157). Braude is mentioned elsewhere, especially in a contentious and not especially clear (more on that later) final chapter by co-editor Lance Storm. I also wish that a well-informed and well-intentioned skeptic (such as Dodds in 1934) would have provided a counterpoint to many of the interpretations in the book.
After a brief foreword (by James Houran) and preface (by the editors), the book is divided into sections: "Historical," "Theoretical and Experimental," "Evidential Issues," and "Conclusions." The book starts on a very wrong footing with a chapter by Keith Chandler exploring beliefs in the afterlife from the Neanderthals to our times, all in 22 pages! I do not know if anyone could do justice to the history of humans' attitudes toward death in this span, but Chandler definitely cannot. Part of the problem can be seen in the list of references, 22 items including three books by Chandler himself, all published by a "vanity" press. In the notes about the contributors, there is a reference to his "graduate studies" (unspecified) and his being an "independent scholar," but no actual description of his field of expertise. Rather than providing a clear overview, his chapter rambles around his sympathies (e.g., Shakespeare's Hamlet, Jane Fonda) and antipathies (e.g., physical fitness, Becker's important treatise on denying death). He makes outrageous statements, such as denying that Paul Tillich, arguably the most important theologian of the twentieth century, would know anything about spirituality, all of them supported only by his opinion, not by a literature review, research, or careful argumentation.
The book recovers some of its footing in the second chapter, "Mystical Experience and the Afterlife," in which Christopher Moreman, a professor of religious studies, surveys the mystical traditions within various religions and supports a type of survival in which individuality is absorbed into a kind of Universal Mind within which everything is interconnected. He maintains that individuals do have value in adding meaning to that all-encompassing totality. I found myself in sympathy with his argument, as I agree with him that psi phenomena can be reconciled with the mystical view of interdependence. I would, however, argue with his statement that near-death experiences (NDEs) are "almost entirely culturally determined" (p. 33; cf. Athappilly, Greyson, & Stevenson, 2006) and wish that he had discussed recent empirical work on mysticism (cf. Wulff, 2000). Nonetheless, his position needs to be reckoned with in any consideration of survival.
Psychologist Douglas M. Stokes also disagrees that our everyday personality can survive without a body. He brings to bear evidence from various areas of psychology and the neurosciences to support the notion that we are much more than our conscious self, which to an extent is an illusion. In a well argued chapter, he proposes instead mat what might endure are "fields of consciousness," which may act through clairvoyance and psychokinesis on the brain, along the lines of the "shin" theory articulated by Thouless and Wiesner (a position also held by Tart, 1993).
William Braud, a very successful contributor to the study of consciousness and psi, provides a creative chapter in which an "alter-ego" of his discusses with an interlocutor various conundrums about survival research. He disagrees with the received wisdom that good data for survival can be explained only through super-psi or actual survival and embraces a model that includes both, depending on the case studied. Like Moreman and Stokes,, and following the Indian sage Sri Aurobindo, he is not supportive of the survival of our personality but of something that may underlie it.
Editor Michael A. Thalbourne offers what reads more like a journal article than a book chapter. I wish he had presented more contextual information on the background of his research and why it is relevant to survival studies. In any case, he presents the results of two correlational studies in which the proneness to have hallucinations has only a weak relationship with holding paranormal beliefs; the relationship disappears when "absorption" (full deployment of attentional and other cognitive resources to an internal or external Stimulus) is statistically controlled for. In another data-centered chapter, reprinted from a 1997 book, John N. Boyd and Philip G. Zimbardo present their findings that having a "transcendental-future time perception" (i.e., the possibility of one's survival after death) is a specific personality trait that may explain individuals' behavior (e.g., engaging in life-threatening activities) better than a more general religious stance.
The section on "Evidential Issues" opens with a chapter by David Fontana, past president of the Society for Psychical Research, who recently published a book on survival. He bases his positive conclusion about survival mostly on a review of paranormal "physical phenomena" (e.g., physical mediums such as D. D. Home, and "instrumental transcommunication"). Although the chapter was an interesting read, I found myself in agreement with a recent review by Emily Williams Kelly (2005) of Fontana's book in which she was skeptical about the relevance of physical mediumship to survival and about the strength of the instrumental transcommunication data. Fontana's assertion that Home's belief that spirits were responsible for his performances is good evidence for survival is weak on two counts. First, it may indicate only an unwarranted causal attribution on Home's part (and humans are chock-full of wrong attributions as to what causes their behavior). Second, and more damaging, if physical mediumship is mostly caused by the dead, we should have obtained by now far more evidence than that culled in Home's, Palladino's, and a few other cases, if nothing else because the deceased would like to assuage our uncertainty concerning death (Dodds, 1934).
The following chapter, by William Roll, on the evidence for survival from apparitions and mediumship is, to a large degree, a shorter and updated version of some sections of his thorough and excellent previous chapter (Roll, 1982). Probably no one knows this literature better than Bill Roll and it is good to have his work in a more accessible venue than his earlier chapter, but I wish that he had spent more time discussing recent developments, such as the current research programs on mediumship or any updates on the "omega" project he described in 1982. Roll's conclusion is not dissimilar to that of other authors in the book, advocating a "field" rather than a "personality" notion of what survives, and also pointing out that physical, not only psychological, systems are part of that field.
Predictably, the contribution by Stanley Krippner on "Afterdeath Communication Experiences" is scholarly and well written. He first describes a dream and an auditory experience conveying to him that a friend had died before he had actually found this to be the case. Regardless of the ontological nature (e.g., super-psi?, survival?, mere fantasy?) of these communications, Krippner makes a good case that these exceptional or anomalous experiences can soothe the grieving and deserve to be better understood, if nothing else to help the mourning process and provide a comprehensive view of reality.
The chapter by Erlendur Haraldsson is a reprint of a 2000 article on a good case supporting a claim for at least previous-life memories if not outright survival. There are some impressive aspects to the case, including birthmarks on a girl (Purnima Ekanayake) that correspond to injuries that were left on the identified deceased person by a bus that ran over him, and a majority of accurate and not obvious statements offered by the girl. Although the case has the weakness that the girl's statements were not written down before she contacted her "previous" family, it is nonetheless difficult to explain in conventional terms. Mills and Lynn (2000) have provided methodological suggestions that may strengthen the design of research on reincarnation.
The fourth section, on sociological and phenomenological issues, starts with a chapter by Pamela Rae Heath and Jon Klimo (a world authority on channeling) on channeled material of people having committed suicide. Although the authors state that their material is not proof-oriented and that they are interested in the nature of the experience of the channelers rather than in issues of survival as such, they do not consistently follow that caveat and at times conclude that consistency in reports shows four stages in "the afterlife experience" (as contrasted with reports about the afterlife experience). I also missed in their chapter concrete methodological information and analyses that would have made me believe that, for instance, "blind" raters would arrive at the same conclusions as the authors regarding the consistency of the material.
In contrast, although Robin Wooffitt transcribes only a few samples of his data, his Conversation Analysis of interactions between mediums and clients clearly shows that mediums often exhibit a pattern in which tentative information is retrospectively confirmed as being solid from the start, depending on the client's reaction to the initial statement. Wooffitt states that his analysis does not address the validity of the mediums' communications, but it is difficult not to conclude that at least a number of their apparently accurate statements may be more the result of their interaction with their clients than with deceased individuals.
James McClennon describes authoritatively the historical, cross-cultural literature on NDEs as part of his interesting evolutionary "ritual healing theory." He proposes that individuals with "dissociative/ hypnotic" ability have a propensity to have anomalous experiences and beliefs and an evolutionary advantage because of the benefit they may derive from shamanic rituals. I think he is correct in pointing out that shamanic phenomenology may derive from spontaneous experiences of highly hypnotizable individuals (Cardena, 2005), and there is some data supporting his contention that shamans may have more children than a comparison group (Van Ommeren et al., 2004), but he fails to consider that the common elements of NDEs that he has found in his and others' data do not necessarily have to be explained by a biological etiology. A case can be made that the commonality of the experiences could be the product of universal human experiences (e.g., birth, experiencing the passage of time), cultural dispersion, or some other factor. Also, McClennon should make a distinction between dissociative and fantasy types of hypnosis (Barret, 1990) and discuss more how his theory can account for the finding that these traits can be evolutionary disadvantageous (e.g., Kluft, 1990).
The final section of the book, "Conclusions," contains two essays by co-editor Lance Storm. In the first, he summarizes the previous 13 chapters; in the second, he provides what he considers a solution to the information reviewed, namely radical survivalism. I will have to confess to being at a loss to understand why two chapters by the same author were not really just a single chapter. More troubling to me, though, is that I found Storm's writing and reasoning meandering and obtuse. Consider just one among various similar sentences:
In sum, this book is a strange concoction, with ingredients of varying quality and some previously used. In parting, I can mention two recurring themes in some of the best chapters of the book. One is that what may survive death is not likely to be our ordinary personality but something that underlies that self, or perhaps a field of shared consciousness that may include physical objects. The other is that findings in research on various anomalous experiences (e.g., NDEs, OBEs) remain very pertinent to our understanding of what may or may not survive after we become dust.
ATHAPPILLY, G. K., GRESON, B., & STEVENSON, I. (2006). Do prevailing societal models influence reports of near-death experiences? A comparison of accounts reported before and after 1975. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 194, 218-222.
BARRETT, D. (1990). Deep trance subjects: A schema of two distinct subgroups. In R. G. Kunzendorf (Ed.), Mental imagery (pp. 101-112). New York: Plenum.
BEISCHEL, J., & SCHWARTZ, G. E. (2007). Anomalous information reception by research mediums demonstrated using a novel triple-blind protocol. Explore, 3, 23-27.
BRAUDE, S. E. (2003). Immortal remains: The evidence for life after death. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
CARDENA, E. (2005). The phenomenology of deep hypnosis: Quiescent and physically active. International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 53, 37-59.
DODDS, E. R. (1934). Why I do not believe in survival. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 42, 147-172.
KELLY, E W. (2005). Review of Is there an afterlife? A comprehensive overview of the evidence by David Fontana. Journal of Parapsychology, 69, 390-395.
KLUFT, R.P. (1990). Incest and subsequent revictimization: The case of therapist-patient sexual exploitation, with a desciption of the sitting duck syndrome. In R. P. Kluft (Ed.), Incest-related syndromes of adult psychopathology (pp. 263-289). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.
MILLS, A., & LYNN, S.J. (2000). Past-life experiences. In E. Cardena, S.J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of anomalous experience (pp. 283-313). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
ROLL, W. G. (1982). The changing perspective on life after death. In S. Krippner (Ed.), Advances in parapsychological research 3. (pp. 147-291). New York: Plenum.
ROY, A. E., & ROBERTSON, T.J. (2004). Results of the application of the Robertson-Roy protocol to a series of experiments with mediums and participants. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 68, 18-34.
TART, C. T. (1993). Mind embodied: Computer-generated virtual reality as a new, dualistic-interactive model for transpersonal psychology. In K. Rao (Ed.), Cultivating consciousness: Enhancing human potential, wellness and healing (pp. 123-137). Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.
Van Ommeren, M., Komproe, I., Cardena, E., Thapa, S. B., Prasain, D., de Jong, J., & Sharma, B. (2004). Mental illness among Bhutanese shamans in Nepal. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 192, 313-317.
WULFF, D. M. (2000). Mystical experience. In E. Cardena, S.J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), The varieties of anomalous experience (pp. 397-440). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Department of Psychology
University of Lund
P.O. Box 213 SE-221 00
If we accept that the synchronistic process (information reception via ESP or PK) requires the existence of absolute knowledge (after Jung) with access via (magic-wand) super-psi (after Braude) or psychopraxia (after Thalbourne), and if we regard action (normal or paranormal) as being goal oriented (after Thalbourne), we can say that the agency (activity and intervention) involved in survival experiences (NDE, OBE, visitation by discarnate entity, etc.) is primarily the same thing as manifested access to an ostensibly unlimited pool of information, experience, actions, and events, which fall under the super-ordinate category of absolute knowledge (cf. the key theoretical arguments of Moreman and Roll in their respective chapters). [italics in the original] (p. 299)
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