Does the human personality survive physical death? The New Age set assures us that it does, unconditionally; organized religion says "yes," conditionally--you have to obey, first. Humanists, along with materialists, generally say "no." Paradoxically, you can be an atheist and still embrace the survival hypothesis--survival, by itself, does not require a supreme being.
The survival hypothesis is unproven and likely will remain so for a while, but confirmation of it would lead to shifts on many levels. The unspoken assumption that underlies most of our scientific and philosophical beliefs is that cognition, intelligence, awareness, can only be biologically-based. Evidence outside of this assumption is ignored, or relegated to pseudo-science.
But step outside that framework just a little bit, and ponder the possibilities of a universe that can be perceived and experienced outside the biological container, and you begin to realize that everything that you physically know and have been taught is now questionable.
So this has been a peculiar and personal pursuit of mine--to see what evidence there is for the survival hypothesis.
I start at ground zero: We have no proof, but we are left with empirical clues and compelling anecdotal accounts, suggesting several competing scenarios.
One school of thought envisions an after-death environment of careful and intricate organization, defined rules, assigned roles, with meaning and purpose. For my money, the most convincing advocate of this scenario is Michael Duff Newton, who has written two hugely influential books, Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives and Destiny of Souls: New Case Studies of Life Between Lives, that purport to examine reincarnational memories, as well as details of that interstitial period between lives. Dr. Newton uses (and teaches) a unique method of deep hypnotic induction that seems to differ from those of other researchers. I admit that the use of hypnotic induction, particularly to retrieve past or "hidden" memories, is becoming controversial, but Dr. Newton causes me to suspend my skepticism by his skilled, nuanced, painstaking, and assured navigation through the various narratives that arise from his patients. He's a qualified professional who is intellectually rigorous, yet compassionate and spiritual. I can't say the same for other researchers on the hypnotic regression dog-and-pony circuit.
I'm about half-way through "Memories of the Afterlife," the latest in his series, and I admit that I am enjoying the book--mostly because I had already bought into the basic framework set forth in Newton's earlier books: that after death, the human personality survives mostly intact, is met with "guides," is escorted into various realms where the process of learning continues. But "Memories" is not Dr. Newton. Instead, the LBL (life-between-life) hypnotic inductions were conducted by students of Dr. Newton, and the quality of the narratives varies.
I have one, mild, criticism. Some of the narratives seem better than others. The suspect ones seem somewhat two-dimensional, almost cookie-cutter imitations of the accounts presented in Dr. Newton's two books Others are contaminated by dated New Agey references (allusions to vague "earth changes," crystals, "light" healings, Reiki therapy, etc.). I was puzzled by one individual who claimed direct and constant communication with her "spirit council." The disciple will say, "These accounts must be true--they confirm what Dr. Newton has already discovered." But the skeptic knows the danger of this path. Are we always met by our "guide" at death? Are we always whisked shortly thereafter to meet with our "spirit council" composed of approximately three vaguely paternal elders? I don't know. Our entrance into the physical world is fraught with complexity; I somehow think that our exit would be also. So this is my one criticism of some of the accounts; I would have liked the researchers to go beyond what has already been mapped out, rather than simply "confirm" it.
If there is an afterlife--and I personally believe that there is--then echoes of our experiences there would filter through our culture, religions, and beliefs. Those familiar with Christianity can already see the origin of certain beliefs in these after-death accounts; including that ubiquitous and annoying "light at the end of the tunnel" metaphor. Every time "Coast To Coast AM" features a medium, I try to listen, and invariably there will be at least one Christian Fundamentalist call in to chastise the guest, or fret that a loved one has gone to Hell. Beliefs are powerful--and often dangerous--things. So I applaud Dr. Newton and his students for at least trying to objectify what, still, is the biggest mystery our our existence.
One echo of these accounts that I find most intriguing is the idea of a central repository of personal histories of every life that has been lived (the so-called "Akashic Records"). This one concept has reverberated through our Western culture and turns up in the most unlikely places. The Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays," for example, has always reminded me of this. This episode centers around a library that holds CD-looking discs containing historical data; when activated, a time portal is opened up, and an individual can be transported to that era. The virtual reality "holodeck" in the second generation Star Trek seems to describe certain experiences described in the afterlife, particularly the "place of choosing" where the individual goes before the next incarnation, to try out different potential lives. Indeed, you can carry these analogies further by arguing that piratically every technological advance of the last century has been an attempt to replicate, on a material level, experiences of the post-human state.
I was very happy to find that a Nashville researcher was featured in the book: Nancy Hajek, who actually does not live very far from me. I contacted her in 2004 about undergoing a LBL regression. I was going through a major life change, and I thought that a LBL session might be helpful. Unfortunately, as my life is wont, my life began to crumble in a very dramatic way shortly after this communication, so I never went through with it, and it's always bothered me that I never got back to Ms. Hajek. A similar life upheaval hit me several years earlier, after I had digested much of the Seth / Jane Roberts material and set about trying to apply what I learned. Students of the paranormal, particularly if you are a Paracast listener, know quite well this experience--attempting to step too far outside of the boundaries of our consensus reality will get you slapped. I think I would be terrified, now, to even attempt a LBL session. So I applaud the executive, the "energy worker," the teacher, and all the others in "Memories Of The Afterlife" who had the courage to go through that door. For me, I'll wait my turn to find out what's on the Other Side.