[This essay started off with an intention to be a highly positive recommendation for Eben Alexander’s just published book Proof[…]
In April, 2018, I gave a talk on the evidence for some kind of postmortem survival of consciousness for Ashby Village, an East Bay organization that is part of a nationwide trend to help elders live out their lives in their homes. It’s rewarding to meet regularly with people who may be classified as “elders,” but who are sharing and helping one another, not sitting around complaining about this that and the other…
I became aware of the evidence for some sort of survival of mind while I was still a teenager, part of my extensive reading trying to reconcile the best of science and the best of religion, but it was largely a theoretical and intellectual interest. I intellectually knew that it would become a more interesting subject to me when I got a lot older, and that came true. So I figured the members of Ashby Village would be interested in what I’d learned…and they were.
The lighting wasn’t as good on the video as I would have liked, and keeping it down to an hour kept me from going into the kind of detail about evidence that I like to think about, but it’s a useful introduction. I don’t know one way or the other if we survive, but there’s certainly some interesting evidence pointing toward some kind of survival. In a rational world, I think there would be a lot of research on it, instead of people just believing or disbelieving, but, as we all know, the world isn’t too rational. And there’s lots of room for intelligent faith and hope…
You can see the video at https://youtu.be/xuQiWv-a2L0 .
To think about….
When we research whether Person A survived death, the kind of material we consider evidence is of several kinds. A very important one is getting factually correct information about Person A (usually through a medium) while she or he was alive, information that we could not reasonably expect would be known to the medium through ordinary means. A second one, given considerable emphasis in some cases, is whether the ostensible spirit of Person A shows distinctive mannerisms of speech or behavior that were characteristic of Person A while alive, and, again, which we did not expect to be known to the medium by ordinary means and which are distinctive and uncommon.
My best working hypothesis at present is that when I die I am likely going to survive, although the form of my consciousness, without a physical body and nervous system to constantly shape it, will probably change significantly. To use an analogy, the “user” may survive, but the “user” is so used to functioning through certain programs, embedded in my body and nervous system, that it will be quite different to not have those familiar programs to work with. But, judging by mediumistic material, surviving spirits must be able to recall enough about their embodied lives to come up with unique, factual memories and have habitual mannerisms manifest.
To quote from the article, “Memory researchers used to believe that there was just one kind of long-term memory. But in 1972, Endel Tulving, a Canadian psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, introduced the idea that long-term memory comes in multiple forms. One is semantic memory, which allows us to remember how to spell a word like say, autonoetic. Years from now, you might recall how to spell it, but maybe not when and where you were when you first came across the word and its definition, perhaps in Wired.”
“Tulving argued that autonoetic consciousness is crucial for the formation of another kind of long-term memory—episodic memory—which integrates time and sensory details in the cinematic, visceral way remembering where and when you learn how to spell autonoetic: that’s in episodic memory.”
The article reports on studies of a woman therein called McKinnon, who simply does not have any episodic memory. For example, she and her husband took many vacation cruises, but “McKinnon makes clear that she has no memories of all those cruises.” No memories of buying the souvenirs displayed in her living room, in front of her and the interviewer. She doesn’t remember any vacation she’s ever taken. “In fact she cannot recall a single moment in her marriage to her husband or before it…” It’s not that she doesn’t remember these memories are in losing them, she’s never been able to remember them in the first place.
By and large she functions quite well as a mature adult. As the article notes, “McKinnon first began to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment. When her friend ask basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this? No one remembers that.” She knew that other people claim to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.”
So what would happen if McKinnon died, her spirit survived, she was contacted by a good medium, and she was asked to prove her identity.? Assuming her consciousness survived pretty much as it functions now in life, she probably could certainly produce all sorts of every day, factual material, but no really personal memories. And so we would conclude that?
We have thousands of well-documented mediumistic cases, but this kind of memory loss is apparently quite rare, so I don’t think we’ll be in luck and find such a case…although those who know that literature better than me may find something…
It reminds me that one of the most basic questions in survival research is not so much survival per se but what is consciousness itself? A computer could store all sorts of facts about our lives, but, at least so far, we’re not willing to attribute consciousness to any computers….
Anyway, it’s a very rich article, and I recommend it. Being terribly old-fashioned, I subscribe to wired as a printed document, but I’m sure there’s some way to get it on the web.
I’m not sure where I’ll go in thinking about this, but it’s an unusual and interesting entry point for thinking….