The major problem of our time is decay in the belief in personal immortality. George Orwell

the manner in which we live our lives depends, to a large extent, on what we believe comes after it. Men and women throughout history have willingly gone to their deaths for their spiritual beliefs. Critics may point out that human beings have also committed grave atrocities and even launched wars motivated, at least in part, by "spiritual" beliefs inspired by the various religions. On the other hand, however, those who believe that death is nothing but oblivion often lead selfish and ruthless lives, concerned only with momentary pleasures, status, and the pursuit of material wealth.

Orwell's grim vision of the future, portrayed in his novel 1984, fortunately did not come to pass. however, we may now face a future even worse than anything Orwell imagined. Philosopher david Griffen recently issued this dire warning:

I believe the human race now faces the greatest challenge in its history. If it continues on its present course, widespread misery and death of unprecedented proportions is a certainty. annihilation of human life and of millions of species of non-human life as well is probable.

this is so because of polluting technologies, economic growth-mania, out-of-control population growth, global apartheid between rich and poor nations, rapid depletion of non-renewable resources, and proliferation of nuclear weapons combined with a state of international anarchy that makes war inevitable and sufficient measures to halt global ecological destruction impossible. What seems clear is that a transition in world order, if it is to occur, will have to be accompanied by a shift in world view, one that would lead to a new sense of adventure, replacing the modern adventure of unending economic growth based on the technological subjugation of nature. Only if we come to see human life as primarily a spiritual adventure, an adventurous journey that continues beyond this life, will we have a chance of becoming sufficiently free from destructive motivations to affect a transition to a sustainable global order. 1

Griffen and I both agree that the belief in an afterlife offers several practical benefits:

  • Such a belief can help overcome the fear of death and annihilation.
  • If people are convinced that they are ultimately not subject to any earthly power, this can increase their courage to fight for freedom, ecologically sustainable policies, and social justice.
  • If people believe that this life is not the final word, and that justice will prevail in the next life, this can help them withstand the unfairness they encounter in the here and now.
  • the idea of life as an unfolding journey, which continues even after death, can lead to a greater sense of connection with the universe as it unfolds into the future.
  • the belief in life after death can help counter the extreme degree of materialism that has pervaded every niche of modern civilization.
  • the belief that we are on a spiritual journey, and that we have time to reach our destination, can motivate us to think creatively about what we can do now-socially, internationally, and individually-to move closer to what we should be in the here and now.

But for many of us these practical benefits alone are not sufficient to compel belief. We seek hard evidence that stands up to the most rigorous critical scrutiny. Years before I even considered writing this book, I sought to find such evidence, and after combing through numerous books and journals, I was surprised by the sheer quantity and variety of the evidence for an afterlife. Some of the reports dated back hundreds and even thousands of years. But the most rigorous evidence by far has been gathered in modern times by respected scientists and scholars, beginning in the closing years of the nineteenth century, and continuing to the present day.

however, as a philosopher, I was not content to merely examine the evidence in favor of the survival of death; I knew that any counterarguments must also be fairly and closely examined if we are to arrive at any solid conclusions. I was aware that several philosophers and scientists have doubted or denied that we survive the death of our bodies, and so I began an in-depth study of the skeptical literature. through reading, discussion, and the occasional debate, I eventually came to understand not only the "skeptical" arguments, but also the motivations of those who deny so vehemently that there is more to human beings than material bodies.

the idea that our minds survive the deaths of our bodies is known as the survival hypothesis, and although many people today associate belief in an afterlife with religious faith, it is important to remember that this belief long predates any organized religion. It is found in the old shamanic spiritual beliefs of hunter-gatherers from around the world, and dates back at least to the neanderthals, who buried their dead with flowers, jewelry, and utensils, presumably for use in the next 4 Introduction world. Reports of phenomena suggesting the continued existence of those who once lived on earth have come from virtually all known cultures, and have continued into the modern age. as we will see, the most convincing evidence has been gathered under rigorous conditions over the last 125 years.

the evidence in favor of an afterlife is vast and varied, and comes from near-death experiences, deathbed visions, children who remember previous lives, apparitions, and communications through mediums. In my previous book, Science and the Near-Death Experience, I discuss the first two lines of evidence in depth. In this book I concentrate on the even more impressive last three lines of evidence.

Part 1, "Reincarnation," explores this ancient idea by examining contemporary reports of children who claim to remember previous lives. although most people associate a belief in reincarnation with the religions of the Far east, it is shown that this belief has historically been found among cultures all over the earth. as such, modern reports from children in a variety of cultures and locations are critically examined in order to see how such evidence stands up to critical scrutiny.

Part 2, "apparitions," considers the ancient and widespread belief that the departed sometimes return to visit the living in the form of apparitions. We carefully examine accounts of apparitions, including accounts in which they are reported by numerous eyewitnesses, accounts in which animals also seem to perceive them, and accounts in which the apparitions behave with a purpose of their own and sometimes convey information unknown to the living. Skeptics have challenged the testimony of these witnesses, and we carefully scrutinize these challenges.

Part 3, "Messages from the dead," evaluates the evidence that the departed are capable of detailed, two-way communication with the living through talented human mediums. although this idea can also be traced to ancient times, modern scholarly researchers have rigorously and thoroughly examined the validity of communication through mediums for well over a century. We carefully examine alternative explanations in order to see how well they stand up to the best cases, and the Introduction 5 reader will see why mediumistic communication is considered the most convincing single line of evidence for survival.

Finally, part 4, "Conclusions," summarizes the case for survival as it stands today, based on all of the available lines of evidence. the book concludes with a sample of messages purporting to come directly from the afterworld.

the experiences described in the pages that follow have important implications for humanity. Based upon my own experience and that of many others, I sincerely believe that deeply beneficial changes in our view of the universe and our place within it will be gained by those who read about these strange and often wonderful experiences, and then take their profound lessons to heart.

Most people base their beliefs regarding the afterlife on religious or materialistic faith. But there is a third alternative, one that requires neither a leap of faith nor the denial of evidence. however, as philosopher Carl Becker has written, this third alternative comes with an unusual requirement:

We must always walk a tightrope: we are examining data often ignored by the scientific community and embraced by the religious community, but we are using methodology that is advocated by the scientific community and ignored by much of the religious world. therefore we should expect to be criticized by dogmatists from both sides of the fence. 2

the purpose of this book is to examine the most convincing ancient and modern evidence for the existence of the afterlife; to carefully consider all the skeptical objections; and finally, to arrive at a solution to this deep and ancient mystery.


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