I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that's that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my laptop?" In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die. She begins the journey in rural India with a reincarnation researcher and ends up in a University of Virginia operating room where cardiologists have installed equipment near the ceiling to study out-of-body near-death experiences. Along the way, she enrolls in an English medium school, gets electromagnetically haunted at a university in Ontario, and visits a Duke University professor with a plan to weigh the consciousness of a leech. Her historical wanderings unearth soul-seeking philosophers who rummaged through cadavers and calves' heads, a North Carolina lawsuit that established legal precedence for ghosts, and the last surviving sample of "ectoplasm" in a Cambridge University archive.
”The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with.”
With that one sentence, Mary Roach sums up my whole view of the survival of a soul. She explores reincarnation stories, Victorian spiritualism, and ghost hunting. She attends a workshop to develop her mediumship. In general, she treads the odd pathways that I would if I had the freedom to do so, and she does it with her characteristic humour.
I think one of the key things, that gets several mentions in the book, is the role of loss and grief in starting people on the path looking for spiritual survival of death. When my parents were killed in a car accident twenty years ago, I had dreams of them that were so realistic that I almost believed that I was communicating with them again. The longing was so strong (and still often is so strong) that I truly wish that I could somehow reach out to them one more time.
One of my sisters twisted my arm until we visited a local clairvoyant, who I must say provided a very comforting experience. But I left that session feeling like my emotional self (that wanted to believe desperately) and my intellectual self (that analyzed the session and decided that my sister & I provided most of the information) were definitely in dissonance. It was an interesting experience and I don’t regret it, but I also don’t think I will ever repeat it.
Perhaps not as much fun as other Mary Roach books that I’ve read, but still an enjoyable way to spend some time.