Is there life after death? Belief in some form of afterlife has persisted nearly universally across cultures for thousands of years. But what of the empirical evidence for survival of bodily death? Has there been rigorous research into phenomena purported to provide evidence for survival after death, such as 'past life memories,' near-death experiences, deathbed visions, alleged possession by dead spirits, and apparitions of the dead?
In fact, there has been some such research, but it is scant, and the quality of the evidence varies considerably depending upon which phenomenon one is considering and which questions one asks about any particular phenomenon. Indeed, there are even "mixed" studies in which sound research conducted in some cases is combined with poorly conducted investigations of others. There is a large body of well-documented research into claims of memories of previous lives, for instance, but those rare investigations in which such claimants also purport to speak a foreign language that they never learned in their current lives have not been conducted by linguists, who would be most qualified to assess such claims and test claimants' purported proficiency.
Moreover, research into such phenomena has uncovered inconvenient facts that actually undermine the notion that they provide evidence for life after death. The content of both near-death experiences and 'past-life memories' is largely determined by cultural factors, for instance, and one's medical condition has an impact on the nature of the near-death experience reported. Additionally, individuals with particular personality traits are more likely to report near-death experiences than others. What is perhaps most interesting of all, however, is that these different sources of supposed survival evidence are not congruent with each other; taken at face value, what near-death experiences seem to imply about an afterlife is inconsistent with, for instance, what 'past life memories' or apparitions of the dead seem to imply about life after death. Consequently, Lester concludes that the research conducted to date fails to provide convincing evidence for life after death.
Table of Contents
Part One: Views on Life After Death
1. Religious Views on Life After Death
2. Who Believes in Life After Death?
Part Two: Near-Death Experiences
3. Near-Death Experiences: Descriptions, Frequency and Types
4. Critical Research on Near-Death Experiences
5. Other Research on Near-Death Experiences
6. The Impact of Near-Death Experiences
7. Explanations for Near-Death Experiences
8. Does This Show There Is Life After Death?
Part Three: Reincarnation
9. Introduction to Reincarnation
10. Research on Reincarnation
11. Reincarnation and Hypnosis
12. Phenomena That the Theory of Reincarnation Can Explain
13. Conclusions About Reincarnation
Part Four: Other Phenomena
14. Apparitions of the Dead
15. Widow Hallucinations
16. Deathbed visions
Part Five: Conclusions
20. Is There Life After Death?