on July 1, 2003
Folks who are not afraid of looking at what are still regarded as intellectually obscene phenomena (mediumship, apparitions, past live experiences, etc.) will be pleased to have such an able and sharp thinker as philosopher Stephen Braude examining the evidence for life after death.
Braude demonstrates how essential it is to acknowledge dissociative disorders and latent creative abilities when looking at some of the best cases suggesting survival, as well as the respective psychological settings in which those investigations are carried out. An implicit but also vital lesson to learn from "Immortal Remains" is how emotionally detached an author can and must be from this truly existential question (at least when dealing with it scientifically), as obviously managed by Braude, who permanently and cool-headedly weighs the arguments pro and con.
If you're out for easy answers, this book is not for you; if you enjoy brain-racking argumentation combined with a down-to-earth humor, "Immortal Remains" has certainly earned a place on your bookshelf.
In my view, this book is the legitimate successor of Alan Gauld's "Mediumship and Survival," and at the same time raises the standards of scientific survival research on an overdue next level.
on June 17, 2004
A reviewer on this page was obviously frustrated by the lack of a conclusion in 'Immortal Remains'. But the response, "I don't know", or "I'm not 100% sure", is a perfectly good one when investigating a diverse and complex subject such as survival after death. A book like Braude's, which grapples in great conceptual depth with ostensible evidence for survival and the various hypotheses that have arisen around this evidence, will not seem at all palatable to people with presupposed opinions on the issue. In any case, the current evidence for survival is not strong enough that one can fully commit oneself to any particular hypothesis.
Prof. Braude, to his credit, fully explores some of the best ostensible evidence for survival without any evident bias or coyness. He compares it against the evidence for psychic functioning among the living, motivated ESP, hidden capacities, creativity, linguistic skills, dissociation, and considers whether, and to what extent, they can help explain cases such as Runki's Leg, Mrs. Piper's trance mediumship, Cagliostro, Patience Worth, Sharada and others.
In the best cases the evidence is so remarkable that, ultimately, one must adopt either survival or super-psi (coupled with other abilities) as the most likely interpretation. But how do we decide? This is where Braude's book really shines through. He fully explores both hypotheses in their strongest and most plausible forms.
Although most cases end in a stalemate between survival and super-psi, Braude hesitantly favours survival since super-psi would inevitably suffer from "crippling complexity" - i.e. super-psi requires multiple casual chains which would be vulnerable to a huge array of obstacles, unlike the survival hypothesis which requires only the integrity of a single causal connection between the psychic subject and a post-mortem individual.
Whatever difficulties people find with Braude's analytical style, books like his are essential to advance the study of this vital issue and give it the intellectual and philosophical depth it deserves. Essential reading.
on October 9, 2004
Stephen Braude did an excellent work in this book. Since this topic is amazingly vast, there is no escape from making a highly "incomplete" work. Nonetheless, he managed to achieve a level of quality that, in my view, makes this book a must in the field. It did help me enormously, both with its empirical feedbacks and with its theoretical ones. The main strength of it is its deep and detailed evaluation and comparison of the "life after life hypothesis" (also known as "survivalist hypothesis") vs the "super paranormality hypothesis" (usually known as super psi or super ESP).
I would like to comment on some flaws, however.
The first chapter, "Preliminaries", gives a theoretical background of the issues involved. It is a good chapter indeed, but I think it should have been better. Braude makes a witty distinction between "epistemological survival" vs "ontological survival" (a distinction that, curiously, I myself had come to some time ago, in the form of "objective survival" vs "subjective survival"). But I think he should have dealt more deeply with what is meant by "survival", and especially HOW we survive both after death and BEFORE death (probing these issues leads one to curious and insightful conclusions...). Tightly linked to this previous issue is the question of "identity" or "what we really ARE and what makes each one of us really US" (that is: what is it to be an "individual"?). Further, I found him lacking for not dealing with the problem of "what is consciousness?". There is a huge body of discussion, both in phylosophy and in science, about the true nature of consciouness; that is: is consciousness really produced by the brain (materialism) or is it a fundamental element of the Universe (Brahmanist Panpsychism)? Many, like me, claim that materialism is on very poor and even self contradictory theoretical and logical grounds, and on rather cracked empirical grounds too: almost a "Paradigm Lost". Also, some background on the current discussion about the possibility of "machine consciousness" would have been handy.
Braude could have made his work more "acceptable" to skeptical readers. For example, he treats ESP (extra-sensory perception) as a proved fact (something with which I fully agree!), but he does not show WHY it is already proved. It would have been easy to give a concise exposition of, say, the current status of the experiments on "telepathy" using Ganzfeld protocols, and therefore show why ESP is so strongly based and why and how skeptics (CSICOP et al) have simply nothing to say contrary to it (James Randi, Susan Blackmore, and Ray Hyman included...).
In the chapter on reincarnation and possession (chapter 6), Braude says that Ian Stevenson has 33 cases of the "strongest" type suggestive of reincarnation (page 182), which Braude called "early bird cases" (cases with written records made BY THE RESEARCHER before attempts to identify the previous personality). I believe this figure is wrong, and actually it refers to the slightly weaker cases (maybe not so slightly...) where there are written records before identification of the previous personality, but not written down BY THE RESEARCHER: these records were in these instances written down (and the previous personality found) usually by members of the families involved. He comments on the Schouten & Stevenson 1998 article as if it compared only the strongest case types with the "weakest" (cases with NO written records made by anyone before identification of the previous personality), but actually this article does include the "slightly weaker" case types that I mention above!
I didn't very much like the chapter 8 on "out-of-body experiences" (including near-death experiences). Braude did not analyze very well the data from Near-Death Experiences, both in its possible strengths and in its possible weaknesses! He says, on page 274, that Pam Reynolds had a flat EEG (and also no blood in her brain plus body temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit - 15 degrees Celsius - and no brainstem activity) FOR ABOUT AN HOUR. Also, he says that she did have veridical perceptions WHILE IN THIS EXTREME STATE. Both these statements are incorrect. A careful reading of the very same book that Braude cited for this (Light and Death, Michael Sabom, 1998, chapter 3) clearly indicates that this extreme condition probably did not last longer than half an hour (I guess it actually lasted about 20 minutes or less) and that she had ABSOLUTELY NO verifiable perception while in this state! Surprisingly enough, this misreporting of the Pam Reynolds case is extremely ubiquitous on the internet (including www near-death com). Braude's is not the only scholarly work that misreports it. Van Lommel et al's article (The Lancet, 2001), also does! (But Emily Kelly, Bruce Greyson, and Ian Stevenson reported the case correctly in 2000, Omega Jounal of Death and Dying, vol 40(4) pp. 513-519, 1999-2000). At the same time, Braude did not mention some potential strengths pointed out both by van Lommel et al (The Lancet, 2001) and by Sam Parnia et al (Resuscitation, 2001). Further, I think Braude downplays the significance of NDE cases for the survival issue. It is true that NDE is not about "after death", but about "during dying" instead. However, it is the only empirical data in this field that can possibly move us from the "epistemological (objective) survival" arena into the "ontological (subjective) survival" scenario.
Braude even comes to the extreme of considering that the evidence from NDE-OBE "gives us no reason to believe that the mind is more substantial, resilient, and self-sustaining than a fart" (page 276). I think it is too extreme a comparison because he is comparing the mind with what we have of most disorganized, volatile, and short living (gases). I know of no case of anyone ever reporting being able even to sense (see, hear, etc) through his/her farts...
Despite all these comments above, it is necessary to stress that Braude's book is indeed a must in the field, and that although naturally incomplete, it is a work that deserves to be... Immortal!
on June 3, 2004
Stephen Braude takes us on a fascinating tour of what he believes to be the best evidence for continuing life after death. Ever in search of truth, not comforting imagery, he examines skeptical responses to such evidence, adding some of his own based on his knowledge of human psychopathology. Yet, he is hardly a dogmatic skeptic: he finds that some of the most stunning cases stand up well against attack and call forth reasonable belief in immortality.
This book is not for everyone. It is written in a rigorous style (Dr. Braude is a philosophy professor) that may turn off those seeking easier new-age reads. Personally I wish Dr. Braude had looked more at broad-based phenomena in the culture (near-death experiences, visions of departed loved ones, ESP capabilities) that suggest that consciousness may be non-local and exist in disembodied form. Braude, instead, focuses on a limited number of canonical (and somewhat astounding) cases, some dating back to the 19th century. Nonetheless, his recounting and assessment of these cases is fascinating, meticulous, objective, and intelligent, and forms a great addition to existing literature. His references to such literature also provides a quick introduction to other serious authors in the field.
A book I highly recommend to those interested in exploring perhaps the most important question of all: does the human soul transcend death?
on June 19, 2004
Professor Braude surveys a sizeable body of research that has unfortunately passed through history generally neglected by the field of psychology and even (strangely), to some degree, contemporary parapsychology. This represents a poor state of affairs, for this body of work presents, at the least, prima facie evidence for phenomena that defies current understanding in mainstream science. Much of this research constitutes the qualitative data on which the field of experimental parapsychology was born, and given the replicability problems still inherent in the field, it might be wise for some in that field to at least refresh themselves with some of the early work and take stock of how things compare in present times. How one chooses to interpret this research, however, is ultimately a subjective process, but Braude deftly provides arguments supporting various theories.
If one "learns nothing" from this book, as one reviewer puts it, then it is hardly the fault of Braude. One who is unfamiliar with this phenomena may find them too incredible to be sufficiently considered in a single book. Braude, however, provides references by which one may follow through if one chooses. Through this book, the ball is placed firmly in the reader's court as to what he may choose to do. He may choose to ignore it or place it aside, as many have both in past and present times; or he may, as John Beloff said, "choose to play", and by doing so continue the game through further inquiry. The choice, then, rests on the shoulders of the reader, and Braude amply provides the fundamental underpinnings for further inquiry into perhaps the most complex, puzzling questions to ever be asked by man.
on July 19, 2011
Braude supplies in-depth analyses of famous cases of trance mediumship (or channeling), possession, ghost hauntings, reincarnation claims and near death experiences (NDEs) before coming to a conclusion on the final page of the book.
What I find compelling about Braude's research is the accent on the incredible creativity of the mediums, resembling the output of savants who lack basic forms of knowledge, but have supernormal potential in others. Pearl Curran/Patience Worth is a prime example. With little education or interest in literature, she was able to produce a huge body of dissociative texts, including poety, novels, short stories, plays and aphorisms, some written in an archaic Anglo-Saxon dialect. Pearl could even be self-aware, co-conscious, while Patience Worth was speaking, even dictate a poem while writing a letter to a friend. This chapter is utterly fascinating. Braude considers the possibility of rare talents and phenomenal memory coming out in a dissociative state as well as "super-psi," i.e. telepathy among the living that might supply information about people from the past. He provides important biographic data to explain how the psychology of the living informs their need to make these connections. He does not doubt that telepathy and clairvoyance can occur, citing many examples. He also lingers long on the evidence for xenoglossy, i.e. the ability to speak a formerly unknown foreign language while in a trance.
I can only surmise that mediums with unusal linguistic talents are working bi-hemispherically as well as bi-directionally. In another case of Braude's, a child was producing automatic scripts without having learned the alphabet. She had, however, observed her older sister producing automatic writing. She may then have been hyperlexic, with the supernormal ability to decode patterns in letters and words precociously. Telepathy can play a role too. Often when a foreign language is produced by a medium, one of the sitters present knows the language, as when Victor Hugo's seance group occasionally got messages in English.
Braude would like to think that all children have these kinds of capacities, but are stiffled by a dreary educational system. I would maintain that a dissociative capacity as well unusal brain organization would play equal roles. The dissociative state would definitely play a role in releasing the creative hemisphere to invent away with fluency and agility. To exemplify the unusual brain organization argument, Nadia, an artistic savant, was autistic with little to no speaking ability (ten words at age 6), but could draw life-like pictures of moving horses and other animals at age three, comparable to prehistoric cave art of Chauvet and Lascaux, and even to Leonardo da Vinci, who was dyslexic and wrote backwards, by the way. Nadia's defective left brain allowed for hyperability of the visually artistic right to replicate animal imagery from pictorial memory. Furthermore, after intensive therapy in acquiring more language skills, Nadia lost her spontaneous ability to draw her animals. (See Nicholas Humphrey's article in Art and the Brain, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 6 (1999). See also Betty Edwards's book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which teaches you to access the kind of realistic perspective of someone like Nadia, rather than rely on what you think you see.)
Braude's book is essential reading for the wealth of materials it contains on a difficult subject. The philosophical arguments, however, can sometimes be a bit hard to push through.
on October 18, 2012
What a wonderful book!
The author's knowledge of the subject he writes about is just overwhelming. I definetely consider this book to be the classic, and natural continuation of 2 other classical books: "Mediumship and Survival" by A.Gauld and "Lectures on Psychic Research" by C.D.Broad.
Maybe this book is a little bit more philosophical than these of Gauld/Broad and therefore for me it was a little bit difficult to get it through in times,but over all impression is fascinating.Of course,a lot of future research is needed - this is the point of the author.Highly recommended!
on May 31, 2004
A reviewer on these pages asked "is objectivity so necessary a criteria when researching paranormal phenomena?" I suppose if one is not interested in such research having any bearing on the progress of knowledge, poetic musings will suffice. But to those who want to pursue an understanding of the nature of the mind, or the nature of anything, for that matter, Professor Braude is an inspiration. There are no answers here, to be sure, except to the question: Is it worthwhile to closely examine what we call, for lack of a better word, reality? As Professor Braude notes, the cases he examines are more than anything "humbling reminders that there's much still to learn." But Braude leads the way in refusing to dismiss what he cannot refute and in daring to consider what he cannot prove. A welcome change from the arrogance that plagues so much of what passes for science in this age of fear.
on October 2, 2011
No need to say that this is an excellent academic book on the entitled subject by the philosopher of science Stephen Braude. Detailed contents of the book have been given by the preceding reviewers, putting 4 or 5 stars for the book. I would like to mention two points after reading this book: (1) Survivalist hypothesis vs. Super-psi hypothesis, and (2) Could the idea of afterlife be compatible with Cartesian dualism?
(1) Survivalist hypothesis vs. Super-psi hypothesis
The author's argument regarding these two hypotheses in almost every chapter of this book shows the author's very cautious approach to the subject of afterlife. That is, if one assumes super-psi hypothesis (which has a ground on the huge amount of facts accumulated in the field of psychical research or parapsychology), then some cases of probable afterlife or Ian Stevenson's reincarnation hypothesis could be rejected. What I would like to mention regarding super-psi hypothesis is that some of the very super-psi Braude speculates in the book might originate from the experiences of previous lives of the particular subject in discussion, if the survivalist hypothesis is granted. My speculation is based on the following gist of certain psychical knowledge (Ref. 1):
(a) Each physical event that has happened to us is filed away within our psyche as a definite group of symbols. These represent our "personal symbol bank" as far as our present life is concerned.
(b) This bank was ours from the day of our birth and before. It contained the symbols of our past existences in our terms (and in our terms, we add to it in this life). This bank of symbols must be activated, however. [Note: This explicitly refers to the idea of "reincarnation" in our terms; however, the psychical knowledge states in other books that the idea of reincarnation is a conscious-mind (the ego's) interpretation in linear (arrow of time) terms. On the one hand the idea is highly distorted; on the other hand it is a creative interpretation, as the conscious mind plays with reality as it understands it based on its own time system which flows from the past to the future. The psychical knowledge tells that the time system is the result of our method of perception, primarily based on physical senses. By the way, on pp. 220-221 Braude mentions some cases of reincarnation which apparently contradict the time sequence of rebirth-after-death; maybe the apparent contradiction originates from our "highly distorted" idea of reincarnation.]
(c) For example, we have visual images when we are born, internal visual images, symbols that are activated the moment we open our eyes for the first time. These serve us as learning mechanisms. We keep trying to utilize our eyes properly until exterior images conform to the inner patterns. This is extremely important, and not understood by our scientists.
(d) The inner banks of symbols, however, operate as a drawing account, latent unless we take advantage of them. We think before we learn language; we already have at our psychic fingertips past experiences from other lifetimes to guide us.
Ref. 1: Roberts, Jane. "Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul (pp. 263-264)." San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing, 1994; originally published from Prentice-Hall in 1972.
This knowledge is, in my opinion, very important (as the psychical knowledge tells) when modern linguists argue about the well-known enigmatic aspect of infant's/child's language learning. Perhaps "xenoglossy" and other manifestations of abilities and skills, speculated by Braude as manifestations of super-psi, may be explained on the basis of the abovementioned psychical knowledge, which supports the survivalist hypothesis.
Braude asks: "In fact, I suspect that advocates of reincarnation may be asking the wrong questions in these cases. Rather than trying to locate exotic hidden sources of latent, the real challenge may be to explain what dampens the average intelligent child's expressive or creative potential (p. 126)." This question is obviously related to psychical statement (d) above. Perhaps the answer is that (1) each individual self has its own purposes in the present life, not necessarily with using the hidden latent abilities, (2) the idea of reincarnation itself is "highly distorted" as noted in (b) above; the hidden latent abilities are shared by "many selves" of a whole self as explained by the psychical knowledge (Note: for the understanding of this, I refer to the idea of "Group Soul" allegedly conveyed by F.W.H. Myers from the other side through Geraldine Cummins); because of this, I speculate, an activation of the hidden abilities may not be that simple. The shared memories of many selves might explain the abovementioned [in (b)] cases with apparent contradiction of the time sequence of rebirth-after-death. (For the whole self, time is simultaneous: everything happens simultaneously! You may say the psychical knowledge is nonsense; nonetheless, it appears extremely intelligent.)
If added one more point, the psychical knowledge also tells "without the constant aids of inner senses (the senses used by subconscious self) and telepathy, language is meaningless." Hence, in my opinion, the two hypotheses should be combined, not rejecting each other, to understand those paranormal facts discussed in the book.
(2) Could the idea of afterlife be compatible with Cartesian dualism?
Cartesian dualism is expressed as follows (using the author's writing on p. 259): ... according to a strong substance dualism [equivalent to Cartesian dualism], mind and body are radically different kinds of entities. Now historically, at least, substance dualists have maintained that one crucial difference between mind-stuff and body-stuff is that the latter is extended in space whereas the former is non-extended. Descartes claimed (notoriously) that despite this difference, mind and body interact casually.
Since Descartes (1596-1650), our understanding of the mind-stuff, in my opinion, has not improved much despite the rapid progress in modern neuroscience whereas our understanding of the body-stuff or material-stuff has changed a lot owing to the advents of the Darwinian theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory. The modern biology and physics tell us that the idea of life after death is out of the question. What a contradiction between what the modern science tells us and what Braude tells us based on the huge amount of knowledge obtained in the fields of psychical research and parapsychology! A certain prestigious scientist once wrote that "Unexplained cases are simply unexplained. They can never constitute evidence for any hypothesis." So far this critical statement has been justified, at least regarding afterlife, because no feasible hypothesis has been proposed as the author closed his book writing "We might need to adopt something like a Cartesian dualism. Or we might find that we need to follow Griffin and adopt a kind of Whiteheadian or process metaphysics (p. 306)."
Perhaps the difficult problem of afterlife on the basis of Cartesian dualism originates from our constantly being hypnotized by the materialism. We might need a drastic change in our understanding of "what a reality is" to solve the abovementioned contradiction. I speculate some type of "Idealism," such as a form of mental monism, may be the answer, and this is, if I understand it correctly, what the abovementioned psychical knowledge teaches us; i.e., our physical reality is a camouflage, being essentially subjective though appearing ostensibly objective owing to constant telepathy. You may say it is nonsense. However, for example, the modern quantum multiverse, which includes a subjective observer in the formulation, is essentially a subjective multiverse created by the subjective observer, though physicists of this advocate never mention the subjectivity of the quantum multiverse. Heisenberg, who is one of the founders of quantum mechanics with the Copenhagen interpretation, appropriately said "Objective reality has evaporated" (see Popper's very critical opinion against Heisenberg in his book Quantum Theory and the Schism of Physics). In my opinion, basically, the situation has not changed in the quantum multiverse formulation, which has only eliminated the collapse of wave function by creating infinitely many copies of an observer in the multiverse; hence, still, a Heisenberg could say "Objective reality has evaporated." Hence, the psychical knowledge is no nonsense.
on November 27, 2013
In "Immortal Remains", a philosopher and parapsychologist Stephen E. Braude examines the evidences for life after death and this work is overwhelmed with philosophical arguments regarding survivalist hypothesis vs. super-psi hypothesis with famous case examples. What I personally found most fascinating read is the case of Patience Worth. This book is a highly insightful read.