Science Tackles the Afterlife

Book - 2005
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What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that's thatthe 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 lap-top?" 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.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton and Co., 2005.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780393059625
Characteristics: 311 p. :,ill. ;,22 cm.


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Jun 08, 2017

I am an atheist, and so do not believe in the existence of the soul, but I found this book fascinating nonetheless!

mvkramer Apr 19, 2017

How have scientifically-minded people tried to prove the existence of the soul? If you are, as I am, a collector of random facts, this will be a fun book for you and provide fodder for plenty of party conversations.

Radharc Mar 27, 2015

Roach's blend of science and humor makes for some damn fine entertaining and enlightening reading. This time around, the book is about the search for scientific evidence of the human soul. As in her previous book, Stiff, there are plenty of footnotes that will guarantee a chuckle. Recommended!

Jul 19, 2014

Believe in the existence of a soul or not, it's worth reading just for it's thought provoking possibilities.

Aug 01, 2012

I personally enjoyed Stiff more than this book, but Stiff was a little more tactile to research. I find the writing style complex, yet comfortable. I look forward to reading more in the future.

Jul 06, 2012

Was not as impressed as the first 2 comments, but they seem better read and written then me. Book well researched. The short asides and footnotes provide a well needed chuckle. I lost gas toward the end. Unsatisfying wrap-up. Quick read though.

Mar 30, 2012

Do ghosts really exist? No.* That out of the way, Ms. Roach's entertaining book is an examination of why, despite everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- people believe and try to find proof. What evidence there is indicates a dispiriting deterioration of character and mental powers after death. Shakespeare's post-mortem poetry, for example, has hit the skids. A ghost never has anything interesting, witty, or even useful to say (thanks for telling us about the housing bubble, spirit world!) And the afterlife? Don't ask. "We are all very joyful" is about as exciting as it gets. Do ghosts have to take an oath of confidentiality, like MI 6?

*Not that the author explicitly says so -- she's very gentle with people's opinions. But look at that Contents list, above.

Dec 19, 2011

Author Mary Roach admits up front that she is skeptical of all claims of life after death and has been since she was a teenager. Her aim in this book is to apply scientific rigour to the question of the afterlife and see what she can learn. Roach's approach to science books is to use a lot of humour and tangential asides to lighten the topic and to entertain. This worked very well in her more recent "Packing for Mars". Here, in Spook, she was either reluctant to let loose with the mocking commentary that was so effective in Packing for Mars because of the subject matter or her talent was not as developed as it would become. Either way, the humour is more subdued and a bit forced here. That being said, this is still an enjoyable book and covers a range of topics including reincarnation, measuring the weight of the soul, ectoplasm and mediums, ghosts, and near-death experiences. Whatever your views on the afterlife, this book will probably not change your mind, but it may at least make you think a bit about it.


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MaxineML Apr 07, 2015

“It’s possible that the reason I've never experienced a ghostly presence is that my temporal lobes aren't wired for it. It could well be that the main difference between skeptics (Susan Blackmore notwithstanding) and believers is the neural structure they were born with. But the question still remains: Are these people whose EMF-influenced brains alert them to “presences” picking up something real that the rest of us can’t pick up, or are they hallucinating? Here again, we must end with the Big Shrug, a statue of which is being erected on the lawn outside my office.”

MaxineML Apr 07, 2015

In the words of the late Francis Crick...You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.

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