David H Lund. Death and Consciousness. MacFarland and Co, 2011.

A paperback reissue of the 1985 original in which Minnesota philosopher David Lund argues for the possibility of life after death. In the first part he argues for a theory of disembodied survival in a world of images, as envisioned by the English philosopher H. H. Price (not to be confused with Harry Price). This we might now call a virtual world. The analogy with dreams does not strike me as particularly persuasive, as dreams have a physical substrate in brain activity (indeed it is not impossible that within a couple of decades we may be able to decode dreams from brain activity and display them, perhaps even as the latest form of reality TV). It is difficult to understand how information could be gathered or stored without some kind of physical substrate, however strange.

Lund argues that the brain works (and perhaps exists to) screen and limit consciousness, an idea which seems a lot less plausible than the idea that brains and consciousness evolved to deal with the problems of survival. Like many such writers, Lund does not deal with the consciousness of non-human animals (maybe like Descartes, he assumes they are just automata).

The second part of the book looks at evidence from psychical research and covers out-of -body experiences, near death experiences, deathbed visitations, hauntings, mental mediumship (mainly of Mesdames Piper, Leonard and Willett), and finally a brief look at reincarnation claims. As always this tends to rely on uncritical acceptance of the stories told by psychical researchers and others; and the use of the testimony of people like Robert Monroe does not add to confidence. The ‘Chaffin Will’ case is included, though that is now suspected to be a fraud, and even if it were not, there is a perfectly logical non-paranormal explanation for it ( a back up will only to be discovered if the son who was meant to inherit died before his son came of age, to prevent the farm from being alienated from the family if the widow looked like she might remarry).

While some of the evidence produced by psychical research is intriguing, the thesis advanced by Lund is not likely to be the explanation for it, and the last quarter of a century’s advances in neuroscience make it ever less so. It’s revealing to contrast that progress with the stagnation in parapsychology. In what other subject is there constant reference to the evidence, work and personnel from over a hundred years ago? -- Peter Rogerson

1 comment:

  1. > In what other subject is there constant reference to the evidence, work and personnel from over a hundred years ago?

    creationism (as distinguished from intelligent design).

    I recommend:

    Herbert Hovenkamp: Science and Religion in America, 1800-1860 (1978)
    Ronald Numbers: The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (1992, though there is a revised edition)

    Hovencamp's subjects are usually academics and learned clerics. Numbers' study picks up the tale in 1859; by the 1920s, we see the leading advocates are increasingly unlettered men or evangelical preachers. As the decades roll on, Numbers frequently notes the entire lack of science PhDs promoting creationism. This would only change with Duane Gish and the emergence of ID, but until that time, creationists and biblical literalists had precious little contemporary science to cite.