Spook by Mary Roach

spook mary roach

This is a humorous but informative and though-provoking look at the ways in which science has attempted to prove or disprove whether or not there is any kind of afterlife. This is such an interesting and controversial subject because I doubt very much that we can ever know the answer for sure. Although some people have had “near death experiences” and have told the tale, this is not the same as being dead. What happens after the initial few minutes of lovely fields or bright lights and tunnels? It could be heaven and angels, the eternal fire of hell, or just the lights being switched off forever. Or, of course, something else. We all have our beliefs, but not one of us can know for sure. I read it for the Las Vegas Non-Fiction book group and had a very good two hour discussion.

The afterlife that many these scientists are investigating is a general Western one. It is one of a separate dimension where the dead can pop back to ours now and again to communicate with the living. The first chapter looks at a Hindu view of reincarnation, in particular, a boy that remembers his past life. As Roach says, several children who live in countries where reincarnation is accepted have memories of past lives. It is not so common in countries where the majority of people believe something else. That is the problem with much of the anecdotal evidence on the afterlife. If someone is seeking out a medium to speak to their lost loved ones then they want it to be real. They want a connection, so they will find one. To take it a step further, none of us wants our lives to be over, so we are all hoping, perhaps some more than others, that there is something else to look forward to once this life is over.

Roach talks about the 21 grams that our bodies allegedly lose when we die. She has a look at some ectoplasm. She goes to a school for mediums. She meets with people testing various theories of what brings on hallucinations or visions of ghosts. None of the studies seem to be conclusive, to me. Of course, no proof of afterlife is not proof that there is no afterlife. Just as proof that many mediums are awful scum preying on gullible grieving people does not mean that some of them are not genuine, caring people who truly believe that they are communicating with spirits.

My summary of the book is that lots of people have been trying to prove this one way or the other for a very long time and nobody has done so yet. It is a well told story, though and roach is highly entertaining. Where we go after we are dead is a subject that everyone has pondered at one time or another so I would challenge anyone not to find it thought-provoking.

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