Where Do You Go After Death?
In the beginning of the semester, we tackled the debate of what it means to be ‘alive.’ Mary Roach’s book “Spook” takes a spin on this ‘alive’ and examines whether or not there is an afterlife. Rather than choosing a textbook, I picked this book in the hopes that it would answer this question that is not usually covered in biology textbooks. Roach narrates her research in the antithesis of a textbook fashion. Instead, she tells a story about science, much like in a way similar to Biology 103: Basic Concepts.
From the very start of her narrative, Roach states that she is looking for proof, for some form of evidence that a soul exists after a person’s body dies and stops functioning. However, she acknowledges that scientific answers are not absolute and these answers are changeable when more data is presented. Roach sees the science that Professor Paul Grobstein introduced to us, the ‘seriously loopy science.’ Scientific truth, as learned in class, is only as truthful as it can be for the men and women who choose to believe in it. There will always be a different perspective to answer the questions of ‘life’ and those answers are truth for those people who select it. For Mary Roach, she accepts that not everything taught by science is true but science is the closest thing she can find to help her answer her question. She writes this book for the people who want to believe in an afterlife but need more than just faith. Her approach to answering her question then, was to research the already conducted scientific studies done on afterlife ‘experiences’.
Roach uses several cases of ‘discoveries’ of the soul through science and religion. She follows up on each of these cases and tries to find the concrete evidence she wants to prove the existence of an afterlife. I found that the most striking cases Roach studied were the ‘studies’ based on human story telling. In these situations where the soul is believed to exist by the people, Mary Roach revisited the situation and was unable to replicate the ‘evidence’ people claimed to have. For example, she went to India to examine reincarnation of the soul. In the specific case she was studying, the people who believed in the reincarnation present in their son would have evidence that supporting this reincarnation. However, upon further research, Roach learned that most of this ‘evidence’ was reshaped by the parents, because they believed in reincarnation, they unconsciously molded what they saw to fit their beliefs. Their perception was limited to only seeing what they wanted to see. In another situation, Roach studied the research done on mediums in séances. Once again, she found a flaw that negated whatever ‘evidence’ that was produced. Unlike the reincarnation stories, which do not lead to monetary or personal gain (because it is so common in India), many of the mediums were frauds. Roach even enrolled into a medium school where she deducted that a medium’s job is to start off with general guesses and try to persuade the person to agree with the answer. This persuasion was based off belief, the more a person is susceptible to wanting to believe, she will find ways to apply these guesses to her actual life.
For these two examples, Roach reinforces a notion that truth is created by tailoring the beliefs of those who want to believe it. The ‘truth’ which some people believe in is changeable; it is ‘seriously loopy science’. In Biology 103, fall 2006, there were several proposals that the Earth, and not just its occupants, is alive. The two sides of the argument (not alive versus alive) both had understandable and valid points. And even so, with the logical arguments, there were some beliefs that could not be changed. This statement ‘the Earth is alive/dead’ was debated on and what I have concluded from the debates is that the Earth whether it is alive or not, depends on the person judging it.
There was one instance, however, where Roach met a medium who was able to have accurate guesses. This medium, the one who inspired the NBC television show, spoke about Roach’s brother’s obsession with hourglasses. This ‘dead-hit’ is accurate and highly improbable of a guess, providing Roach with some type of evidence she can believe.
In “Spook”, consciousness is another topic which Mary Roach uses to try to answer her question. A study in the University of Virginia Hospital, conducted by Professor Bruce Greyson, was done to see if the ‘consciousness’ can exist outside of the body in a near death experience (NDE). In this line of research, he tried to find situations where people remember traveling outside of their body and seeing themselves ‘die’ before they are resuscitated by a defibrillator. To prove that this actually happened, Greyson positioned a computer screen on the ceiling so if the people did indeed momentarily escape their bodies, then they would be able to tell him what they saw on the screen. So far, none have been able to. However, Roach also stumbled upon other research of this out of body experience. In several instances, people would recall seeing shoes placed on the ceiling or somewhere obscure, in their out of body experience. When people, usually a nurse who heard the story without other witnesses, went to look for the shoe they found it. However, since they did not bring people along, they could be making the story up.
At the end of “Spook”, Roach concludes that she does not have an answer to whether the afterlife exists or does not exist. What she is able to conclude, however, is that the more likely are you are to believe in ghosts, the most likely you are to see these ghosts. This belief is something that is confused with knowledge. Is it that when you believe something, it becomes knowledge to you? Or is it that your knowledge of something causes it to be belief? In this ‘seriously loopy science,’ the answers do not lie in the ‘proof’, because ‘proof’ can be subjective. The answers are found in the person who chooses them. As Mary Roach tells her readers, whether there is an afterlife or an absence of one that is up to you to decide.
Roach, Mary (2005). Spook. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc..