Postmortem Survival of the Soul
Useful Facts on Death and the Afterlife
© Copyright 1995/2006 by Timothy Conway, Ph.D.
Numerous areas of experience and scientific research reveal that an aspect of the personality (the personal consciousness or "soul," what was called the "jiva" in ancient India), survives the physical death of the body.
In this essay, I briefly discuss just two of these areas: evidence from the field of Spiritualism and evidence from NDEs / Near-Death Experiences. Other areas that could be discussed (and which i have amply explored in a course I've taught for many years on this topic of postmortem survival) would be such phenomena as vivid postmortem apparitions that are experienced by family/friends of "deceased" persons, as well as apparitions of the deceased by those who themselves are nearing death (e.g., what hospice personnel have witnessed: a patient suddenly rising up out of near coma to see and communicate with one or more souls coming to welcome the patient as he/she is close to the time of expiring). Another area for demonstrating the survival of the personal consciousness is the inquiry into reincarnation, whether via the many documented cases of children who in great detail recall past lives (and those details are corroborated by investigators) or else adults opening up to memories of past lives via spontaneous recall, hypnosis or other methods such as the Netherton method. (See more on the topic of rebirth by clicking on the link at the end of this essay.)
Authentic cases within the Spiritualist movement of the last 150 years conclusively indicate that consciousness survives physical death. One of the soundest cases of all time was that of Leonora Piper (1859-1950) a psychic medium of Boston who channeled messages from people's departed ancestors, with the help of her spirit guide, "Dr. Phinuit." Mrs. Piper was highly accurate, charged no fees (sacrificing a lucrative career with her psychic gift) and, most importantly, she was severely tested by the most hardnosed skeptics of the day, such as Richard Hodgson, ardent debunker and founding member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London in 1882; William James ("Father of American Psychology"); and Sir Oliver Lodge.
All stated unequivocally that Mrs. Piper's demonstrations utterly convinced them of the reality of survival beyond physical death. Lodge: "The hypothesis of surviving intelligence and personality ... is the simplest and the most straightforward and the only one that fits the facts."
Hodgson (after 15 years of stringently testing her): "I entered the house profoundly materialistic, not believing in the continuance of life after death, and today I simply say, I believe. The proof has been given to me in such a way as to remove from me the possibility of a doubt." Emphasis is added here because that is a remarkably strong statement of admission from a scientist who had been one of the most reductionist, materialist and successful "debunkers" of his era. Elsewhere Hodgson stated: "I cannot profess to have any doubt that the chief communicators [from the "other side"] are veritably the personages they claim to be, and that they have survived the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with us, whom we call the living, through Mrs. Piper's entranced organism." (See Jeffery Iverson, In Search of the Dead: A Scientific Investigation of Evidence for Life After Death, HarperSF, Amer. ed, 1992, ch. 15)
Other quite convincing psychic mediums since the dawn of the Spiritualism movement in the mid-19th century have included Daniel Dunglas Home (Scottish-American, he flourished in the 1850s and 1860s), Gladys Osborne Leonard (she flourished during and after World War I), and Eileen Garrett (1893-1970). These and many other mediums have had ample revelations from spirits showing that the personality survives physical death.
In modern times, the most publicly tested medium (by scientists and skeptics) is George Anderson (1952- ), who has relayed information that could only be derived from the influence of surviving persons who have "crossed over to the other side." (See We Don't Die and We Are Not Forgotten, written by Joel Martin, published by Putnam in 1988/1991, and Anderson’s own work, George Anderson’s Lessons from the Light, 1999, and subsequent books also co-authored with Andrew Barone, discussing aspects of "life on the other side" as has been revealed to George; see, too, the book The Afterlife Experiments, 2003, by Gary Schwartz and William Simon, reporting Schwartz' controlled studies of different mediums including George Anderson, one of the two most accurate mediums tested.)
These and other Spiritualist accounts reveal that most people's consciousness at physical death floats beyond the physical body and begins to associate with a "subtle energy" realm of beautiful light, wherein it meets with benevolent spirit guides and loving ancestors; various forms of beauty and pleasure are experienced in these "light realms" on "the other side," but most of the time is spent learning about how to grow and progress spiritually, with the ultimate aim being complete formless God-Realization.
The "subtle-energy light realms" are the usual postmortem state for most people. There are much higher, much more refined levels of light, which are inhabited by spiritually mature (saintly, sagely) individuals; some of these beings descend occasionally to the middling levels of light to teach the souls residing at these levels. There also exist lower, darker, denser realms of light ("the lower astral planes") which are the temporary dwelling places for souls who die with great confusion, anger, fear, shame, greed, etc.; these souls are eventually brought up into the middling planes of light through the aid of spirit guides, loving ancestors, and the prayers of earthly humans.
Love, forgiveness and compassion are in great abundance in these light realms. There is no intent to punish or seek retribution. We exile ourselves from Light via our own egocentric tendencies, and we are back in the Light whenever we drop egotism and live in Love. Ultimately, Divine Love prevails. (This was, incidentally, the widespread early Christian teaching of apocatastasis, or "universal redemption/salvation," the teaching that all souls will consciously come out of their own selfish exile back home to Divine Love because God's Love is all-embracing and all-accomplishing. Egocentricity cannot finally prevail over Divinity.)
In 1943 George Ritchie (1923-2007) experienced what has come to be called a Near Death Experience or NDE, wherein he clinically "died" but later was resuscitated with a shot of adrenaline; during his time of being physically "dead" he experienced being out of his body and traveling around merely through the power of thought; he experienced a great light, and, within the light, an amazingly charismatic being of love, with whom Ritchie communicated telepathically; he experienced a review of his entire life; he was led by the Christ-like being through various physical and subtle realms before returning to his body.
Ritchie went on to become a psychiatrist and told many of his medical school students about his experience; in 1975 the book, Life After Life, written by one of his former students, Dr. Raymond Moody (b.1944), was published, presenting many cases of NDEs. Moody's work was followed by more scientific work by Christian cardiologists Dr. Michael Sabom and Dr. Maurice Rawlings, psychologist Dr. Kenneth Ring, and psychologist Dr. Margot Grey (in England), and pediatrician Dr. Melvin Morse, whose cases of children's NDEs are particularly convincing.
These researchers (especially Drs. Morse and Sabom) have persuasively rebutted the arguments by many materialistic physicians and scientists that NDEs are merely dreams, drug-induced hallucinations, "hypoxia" visions of an oxygen-starved brain, psychophysiological "defense mechanisms" of a dying brain, schizophrenic "autoscopy," or "wish-fulfillment" programmed by religious conditioning.
To my mind, the best, most thorough and most persuasive counter-argument against the reductionist arguments by the "scientism" crowd--the biased, pseudo-scientists with a materialist prejudice that consciousness is merely a byproduct of the brain--is that written by Greg Stone in his long, point-by-point critique of Susan Blackmore's book, Dying to Live, entitled, "A Critique of Susan Blackmore's Dying Brain Hypothesis." The longest, fullest version of Stone's critique is archived at Kevin Williams' website on NDEs, at URL www.near-death.com/experiences/articles001.html.
Dr. Kenneth Ring's findings of patterns in NDEs, published in book-form back in 1980 as Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience, based on cases of more than 100 people who had NDEs, indicate the following:
--60% of those resuscitated from NDEs reported a feeling of ineffability and elation.
--37% reported separation of awareness from body and floating above scene of apparent "death."
--Over 97% of those who reported a definite near-death experience felt an absence of any form of body, and for nearly as many there was an absence of any normal concept of time.
--23% of NDE survivors describe the sensation of leaving the physical dimension and hurtling fearlessly and effortlessly in darkness through some form of void or tunnel towards a source of extraordinary light.
--Roughly 20% of NDE survivors report emerging from the tunnel into extraordinarily beautiful surroundings, wherein "dead" relatives, friends and acquaintances are encountered in a loving way, communication occurring in a telepathic manner. A life-review is experienced by most of the NDE survivors who reach this stage. Usually a Christ-like being of tremendous love and light is also experienced and communed with. A decision is encountered as to whether to return to earthly life. Then, if a decision has been made to return, very abruptly one "wakes up" back in the original body with its pains and struggle to survive.
All in all, the after-death transition appears to be a completely natural process. It has happened countless billions or trillions of times before when we include both humans and other animals with highly developed nervous systems.
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For a large array of resources to read on these and other topics in thanatology (study of death), here's an extensive
bibliography on dying and the afterlife
See also my essay on rebirth or "reincarnation," including the subtopic of why we never need fear "losing someone from the soul realm" due to a rebirth. Here's the