The major problem of our time is decay in the belief in
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
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
Griffen and I both agree that the belief in an afterlife offers several
- 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
- 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
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 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
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.
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.