Thursday, February 19, 2009

Serious Literature

Last September I chanced across Carl B. Becker's Paranormal Experience and Survival of Death (SUNY, 1993). It's not only a superb survey of the state of knowledge and of speculation pro and con in recent times but also an original assessment of this field in context of the philosophy of science and resistance to the paranormal within the bastions of science. The approach is refreshingly mature.

There is much more serious literature on this subject than I had anticipated, but it's relatively inaccessible to the layman. Most of us don't have access to first-class academic libraries where the expensive journal literature is readily available. Adult-style books are there, of course, but very expensive. The popular literature is not worth pursuit. It exists to serve a very different mentality.

Becker's book is just the sort of serious orientation a very small group of people need—those who look at these matters from a rational point of view—not with the object of debunking what they view as scientific heresy but, rather, trying to understand what is actually known. The book, at around $29 for a new copy from Amazon, is a treasure.

Becker carefully delineates subjects he omits. Among these are déjà-vu, precognition, mediums and spiritualism, hallucinations, ghosts and haunting, and phantom limbs. I regret the omission of precognition; it's probably the strangest of paranormal phenomena. In my view the déjà-vu experiences are closely linked to precognition, in the sense that they are probably spontaneously surfacing memories of forgotten precognitive dreams. At the same time I understand fully why Becker leaves the subject to the side: the linkage to survival of death isn't very strong.

Becker concentrates on reincarnation, apparitions, out-of-body and near-death-experiences (OBEs and NDEs). In treating of NDEs he omits discussion of the so-called life review, in part because only a minority of experiencers report it, and "within this narrow segment of people who experience a life-review, there is little agreement about its nature."

The book features a bibliography of 538 items, including books and journal articles across a wide spectrum, from ancient to modern, including some opposing views. All of the big names are present (Moody, Rhine, Ring, Ian Stevenson, Tart, and others — also old friends of mine like Ouspensky and Toynbee and, surprisingly, Castaneda). Anyone searching for serious literature will find a plentitude of starting points here.

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