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After Life?

The question of what happens after death has always fascinated man. Many theories have been developed through religion and philosophy, some of which are discussed below together with my own ideas on the subject.

The movement known as Spiritualism originated in the nineteenth century. The Spiritualist philosophy holds that upon death, the spirit of the deceased passes from the Earth plane to a spirit plane. The living may contact these departed spirits by employing the services of a medium i.e. someone with the gift of communicating with this other world. Generally the medium makes use of clairvoyance and clairaudience to see and hear Spirit, describing their observations to the enquirer in the form of psychic readings. The medium describes the spirit as they would have been, giving details from the spirit to be confirmed by the enquirer for the purpose of providing evidence of survival.

Spiritualism caught the interest of eminent scientists Sir William Crookes (1832-1919) and Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) creator of Sherlock Holmes, among others. Today there is a network of Spiritualist Churches throughout Britain, with the "headquarters" of the movement, the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain (SAGB), occupying grand premises in Belgrave Square, Central London. In addition to offering individual consultations the SAGB also hold regular demonstrations of clairvoyance, where an invited medium gives psychic readings to members of the audience. The descriptions and messages given by the medium are more often than not recognized by their recipients. Whether this represents proof of an existence beyond the grave is a matter for personal opinion, but it can be quite impressive. Of course such results could be attributable to telepathy, psychology, guesswork or gullibility. For the interested or curious I would thoroughly recommend attending one of these demonstrations, which are open to non-members and held in a friendly, informal atmosphere.

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are the various recollections of people who have come close to death, or actually "died" for a short while. The surprising thing about NDEs is that many of them share the same features e.g. the impression of floating above, and observing, the physical body below including the attempts to restore life; the feeling of traveling down a tunnel towards the light; meeting with dead relatives and friends and a feeling of peace and well-being often with the preference to stay rather than returning to the earthly body. Many people who have experienced NDEs are able to describe details that they couldn't possibly have been physically aware of, e.g. the resuscitation efforts or events in distant locations. What is the significance, if any, of NDEs? Do they confirm the soul's survival of physical death, giving clues to the nature of the afterlife? Or are they merely hallucinations brought about by physical weakness e.g. a lack of oxygen reaching the brain?, and if so why are they often so similar? The large number of similar experiences, many reported by people who haven' previously known of NDEs, indicate they are more than hallucinations which would tend to vary widely from case to case. Descriptions of events of which the observer could have no physical knowledge add further weight to the theory of a distinct spirit, as do the Out-of-Body experiences of advanced esoterics. However, since nobody has crossed the threshold of reassurance and returned we are still, and will remain, ignorant of the true nature of any afterlife.

Tales of ghosts and hauntings abound in both fact and fiction. For such things to occur requires not only a spirit which may exist independently of a body but also one that is capable of affecting physical matter. Not all ghosts come from beyond the grave; poltergeist activity (i.e. the violent movement of physical objects) is thought to be associated with living individuals, usually hyperactive teenagers. Certain places are said to be haunted, often those with a violent or tragic history; their ghosts could be visitations from spirit or, more likely, emotional residues picked up by the sensitive. Whether ghosts exist outside the minds of their observers remains debatable.

The idea of reincarnation states that each spirit lives many earthly lives in different bodies either indefinitely, or until it becomes sufficiently developed to move on to the next plane of existence. Remarkable cases have been reported of people having detailed knowledge of past lives that have subsequently been verified as correct. Such accounts are often, but not always, given under hypnosis. The memories of past lives given by children carry more weight than those from adults, who may consciously or unconsciously be giving details that they have obtained during their current lifetime. Further clues to a previous existence may come from recurring dreams on a theme which has no relevance to the present existence.

Life on earth is either a random accident of a deterministic nature or a bonding of an immortal spirit with a physical body. Either way it is of limited significance, being at best a single step along an infinite journey. If we accept that the mind/spirit/soul is distinct from the physical body, as is suggested by our seeming freedom of will, then there is no reason to suppose that it ceases to exist at death. Scientific explanations of the observable universe are based on the principle of transformation between different forms of matter and energy. Rarely, if ever, is anything created from or destroyed to nothing. It is therefore unlikely that our spirit miraculously appears at birth and vanishes at death.

In questioning existence beyond death we should also consider the nature of existence before birth. If we believe the spirit remains after death then it more than likely existed before birth. What brings about the alliance of spirit with body? In the case of human beings life is created through an act of will (of spirits in incarnation), i.e. that of sexual union. The joining of a spirit with the newly formed body would occur some time between conception and birth. This view of a physical-spiritual partnership raises the question of whether all forms of life possess spirits. I believe they almost certainly do, with the potential of the spirit to exercise its will being determined by the type and complexity of the organism it occupies, and the complexity being determined by the degree to which an individual spirit has become differentiated from what is the generic spirit realm. Single-celled organisms and plant life provide evidence of the evolutionary steps towards producing more advanced creatures through which the spirits may achieve a more sophisticated earthly incarnation.

It is for the skeptic to define what it is within me that causes me to reach these opinions, or in them that fuels their skepticism? Is it merely the deterministic motion of the atoms in our brains? Could a random swirling of matter have really built the self-organizing complexity that we observe within the short life of this planet? Or could there be some deeper, hidden, non-physical driving force?

Following my father Ron's recent passing I was struck with doubt and despair. Desperately seeking reassurance that he continues in some form my contemplation and searching produced what follows:


  • Mind is a distinct entity, not just a product of the physical being. This is suggested by our free will, emotion and non-survival motivations such as art appreciation.

  • The non-physicality of mind is suggested by the mind's desire to believe there is something more than mere matter and energy, most strongly evidenced by the power of religious faith. A purely physical being would be untroubled by its purely physical nature. A psycho-physical one would be driven to prove it was more than atoms and molecules.

  • If mind is non-physical and exists independently of the physical body it cannot be destroyed when the body ceases to function. It is natural for entities to be transformed from one state to another, but not for things to appear from nothing nor be completely destroyed. Thus mind, soul, spirit, consciousness... survives physical death, in some form.


  • We each of us act unquestioningly as though there is some lasting purpose to our existence. If our mortality coincided with the finiteness of our very being we should not strive for satisfaction and significance in the way that we do.

  • Thousands upon thousands of individual accounts suggest those that pass continue to exist and are able to touch those that remain. Just one account need be true for survival to be fact, every single account must be false if it is fallacious.

  • In addition to individual experiences certain individuals, known as mediums, are able to provide evidence of the survival of individuals as distinct entities. I have been attending demonstrations of clairvoyance for a number of years and have personally witnessed numerous displays of mediumship that have far surpassed what could have been achieved by guesswork.

  • I have also been given numerous personal messages by mediums unknown to me the accuracy of which were in considerable excess of what might have been obtained by physical means.

  • The Church of England Majority Report of 1937, subsequently suppressed by the Church, found evidence that spiritualistic mediums could indeed communicate with departed spirits.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.


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See also Survival and Reincarnation on the Web | Modern Spiritualism | Life, Death and Spirit

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