Robert F. Almeder is a philosopher who believes that we do in fact survive death. In his book Death andPersonal Survival: The Evidence for Life Against Death (1992), he investigates the evidence for life after death — including such things as ghosts. In fact, a good title for this essay would be “Ghost Stories 101.”
I. Evidence for Life After Death
- People Remembering Earlier Lives as Different People
Almeder investigates people who remember earlier lives as different people — in other words, reincarnation — something Almeder strongly believes is true. A vivid example concerns Dr. Arthur Guirdham’s investigation of Mrs. Smith.
Mrs. Smith went to British psychiatrist Dr. Guirdham in 1961 complaining of waking up from sleep screaming. The doctor examined her for neuroses but found none. Little by little, Mrs. Smith revealed that when she was a young girl she had written down strange things that came to her as recollections. Dr. Guirdham examined these writings and discovered that they were written in medieval French and in a language called langue d’oc(“the language spoken in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries”). He sent the writings to a specialist who stated that they revealed knowledge of the Cathars (Christian dissidents who were strongly dualist). In the doctor’s own investigation, he discovered that four of the songs Mrs. Smith had written could be found in old manuscripts of the 13th century.
The writing apparently revealed things that Mrs. Smith could not have known. These things were not verified at the time that Mrs. Smith wrote them — they were verified later. For example, she wrote that Cathar priests sometimes wore dark blue. Textbooks of the time stated that the priests always wore black, but later it was verified that they sometimes wore dark blue or dark green. Also, names and family relationships that she had written could be found in the dog Latin records of the Inquisition. Furthermore, she had stated that Cathars had been kept as prisoners in a certain church crypt. At first, no one believed that prisoners had been kept there, but later it was discovered that so many prisoners had been rounded up that prisoners in fact had been kept in that crypt.
The doctor’s investigation convinced him that reincarnation is true — a conclusion that Almeder agrees with.
- Apparitions of the Death
Almeder also writes about apparitions of the dead — ghosts. One vivid example concerns the Rev. Abraham Cummings, who wrote an account about the late Mrs. Butler in 1826. The ghost of Mrs. Butler allegedly appeared in a village in Maine several times before many people during a period of several months. During her visits, she spoke with people and accurately foretold births and deaths. For example, she predicted that the new Mrs. Butler would give birth to one child and then shortly thereafter die. In addition, on one occasion her husband tried to put his hand on her body and it passed through. Several eyewitnesses swore that they had seen this.
Another vivid example concerns the ghosts of Flight 401. On Dec. 28, 1972, an Eastern Airlines plane (Flight 401) crashed, killing 101 people. Shortly thereafter, the ghosts of the pilot, Robert Loft, and the second officer, Don Repo, began appearing on airplanes that had been made with parts recycled from the crashed airplane.
Often, a dazed captain would appear on a plane. The stewardess would be worried about him, but when she tried to comfort him, he would disappear. On one occasion, the stewardess called back the pilot, who stared at the dazed captain and said, “My God, it’s Bob Loft.” The ghost of Don Repo also appeared frequently, sometimes warning the crew of potential mechanical problems. Once he said, “Watch out for fire on this plane.” Later, on takeoff the plane’s third engine burst into flames and the plane had to land.
If ghosts such as those described here truly exist, then we have empirical evidence for postdeath survival. Almeder believes that ghosts exist.
In addition to ghosts, Almeder recounts some vivid examples of possession, in which the spirit of a dead person inhabits the body of a living person. One vivid example is that of the “Watseka Wonder.” This case of possession allegedly took place in Watseka, Illinois, in the late 1870s. Mary Roff was 18 years old when she died in 1865. A year later, Lurancy Vennum was born. In 1877, at age 13, Lurancy began to have fits, during which her body was allegedly possessed by several spirits — most notably by the spirit of Mary Roff.
When Lurancy’s body was possessed by Mary Roff, she had no memory of being Lurancy. In fact, she went to live with the Roff family for a while, during which time she recognized many of Mary’s friends and relatives and recounted many events from Mary’s childhood. Later, Lurancy’s personality returned and she remembered nothing about Mary Roff. Almeder explains this by saying that Mary Roff’s disembodied personality had possessed the body of Lurancy Vennum.
Another vivid example concerns Shiva and Sumitra Singh. This occurred in India and is discussed in a 1989 article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. On July 9, 1985, Sumitra Singh appeared to die; however, she revived in a confused state and stated that she was Shiva and that she had been murdered by her in-laws. As Shiva, Sumitra acted differently, for Shiva was of a higher caste than hers. Shiva had been well educated, while Sumitra had not. In addition, as Shiva, Sumitra was able to recognize many of Shiva’s friends and relatives. Once again, Almeder accepts this as a case of genuine possession.
- Out-of-Body Experiences
Almeder also writes about out-of-body experiences, which have been investigated by Dr. Raymond Moody, who is famous for his research into near-death experiences. (The out-of-body experience is a part of near-death experiences.)
Once again, we have a number of vivid examples. One patient had clinically died, but the doctor was able to resuscitate him. The doctor was surprised by the patient’s description of what had happened in the hospital room during the resuscitation attempt and by the description of the equipment that had been used. However, what most surprised the doctor was the patient’s description of the nurse who had helped resuscitate him. In fact, the patient even knew her name. The patient explained that after he had left his body he had walked down the hall to see his wife and had noticed the nurse rushing in to help him. (He had noticed her name written on her nametag.)
In another vivid example, a woman who had been blind for over 50 years was able to describe the equipment that had been used to resuscitate her — equipment that had been invented after she had gone blind — and she was able to tell the doctor that he was wearing dark blue during the resuscitation attempt.
In yet another story, a doctor had rear-ended a car on his way to the hospital and he was worried about it. This time the patient told him not to worry about the accident — apparently being able to read his mind during the out-of-body experience.
The final example concerns a man who had clinically died in a hospital where his sister was lying in a diabetic coma. While having his out-of-body experience, he began talking to his sister, who then began to go away from him. He tried to follow, but she told him, “You can’t go with me because it’s not your time.” After being resuscitated, the man told the doctor that his (the man’s) sister had died, but the doctor denied it. However, after checking, the doctor discovered that the man’s sister had died.
- Communications with the Dead Through Mediums
Finally, we have examples of communications with the dead through a medium. The first vivid example concerns Laura Edmonds, whose father was Judge John Worth Edmonds of New York. This example of a medium at work was reported in 1905 in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques. A Greek man attended a séance at which Ms. Edmonds was the medium. A dead Greek man allegedly controlled her body and told the living Greek man that his son had recently died in Greece. This was later confirmed.
The Main Point
The main point of all these examples of ghosts, mediums, etc. is that if these experiences are genuine, they provide support for postdeath survival and for dualism. Of course, Almeder believes that they are genuine.
II. Objections to Life After Death, and Responses
Almeder responds to three objections to life after death, and then he states his conclusion
- It is impossible to imagine what a disembodied spirit would be like; in fact, the very idea of a disembodied spirit is conceptually incoherent.
Almeder’s response is that even if we cannot imagine what a disembodied spirit would be like, this is no reason to suppose that a disembodied spirit cannot exist. After all, Almeder points out, we cannot fully imagine an infinite set of numbers, yet we know that such series exist.
In addition, Almeder writes, those people who say that the notion of a disembodied spirit is conceptually incoherent are engaging in a dogmatic answer — they are simply refusing to consider the possibility of a disembodied spirit.
- We don’t have any experimental evidence of postdeath survival.
Almeder’s response here is that we don’t need experimental evidence. Experimental evidence is good for answering certain kinds of questions, such as those about causal connections. However, experimental evidence is not good for answering questions about what happened in the past. For example, we know that dinosaurs have existed in the past, but we can hardly reproduce their existence in a laboratory (except in Jurassic Park).
- There is so much fraud associated with ghosts and mediums that we need experimental evidence to establish that postdeath survival is possible.
Almeder’s response is that we don’t need that kind of evidence — only the kinds of evidence that we already have: Many and widespread apparently true examples of such things as reincarnation, ghosts, and communications with the dead through mediums.
III. Almeder’s Conclusion
Almeder’s conclusion is that a very strong case has been made for reincarnation and that postdeath survival is a fact.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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