susan_blackmore's picture
Psychologist; Visiting Professor, University of Plymouth; Author, Consciousness: An Introduction
Do we survive death?

This question was long considered metaphysical, briefly became a scientific question, and has now disappeared again. Victorian intellectuals such as Frederic Myers, Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1882 partly because they realised that the dramatic claims of spiritualist mediums could be empirically tested. They hoped to prove "survival" and thus overturn the growing materialism of the day. Some,
like Faraday, convinced themselves by experiment that the claims were false, and lost interest. Others, like Myers, devoted their entire lives to ultimately inconclusive research. The Society continues to this day, but survival research has all but ceased.

I suggest that no one asks the question any more because the answer seems too obvious. To most scientists it is obviously "No", while to most New Agers and religious people it is obviously "Yes". But perhaps we should. The answer may be obvious (it's "No" — I'm an unreligious scientist) but its implications for living our lives and dealing compassionately with other people are profound.

SUSAN BLACKMORE is a psychologist and ex-parapsychologist, who — when she found no evidence of psychic phenomena — turned her attention to why people believe in them. She is author of several skeptical books on the paranormal and, more recently, The Meme Machine.