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Excerpt from “Science and Spirit” Chapter One


As in most scientific research and, as philosophers will tell you, in clear thinking in general, the most important step is to define the question clearly. I’m asking two questions: what evidence is there for consciousness apart from the body, and what evidence is there for the survival of consciousness after bodily death? I must admit that these questions are very difficult to clarify.

To begin with, what exactly is consciousness? Several times my review of the literature on the subject came across statements like, “Science has no clue about what consciousness is, or how to locate it in the brain.” This could be a problem.

Science, New Age, Spirituality, Science and SpiritI remember at one meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration, a highly respected member who had researched the mysteries of consciousness for decades stood up and chided (or perhaps commiserated with) fellow members by pointing out how the term “consciousness” was being used in so many different ways that we didn’t really seem to know what we were talking about. Is it awareness, self-awareness, being awake rather than unconscious, some transcendental mystical state, or what?

And yet we all know when we are conscious. We may not know what it is, but we know when we’ve got it (or when we’re “conscious” of it). Right now, I am conscious of myself typing on a MAC. Wouldn’t you think that with all of our modern neuroscience somebody could explain how I know that, and how I know that I know that? It’s maddening and fascinating at the same time. There’s a lot more like this, just wait.

Another major issue has to do with what we mean by “survival after death.” How would we know if Uncle Harry’s “spirit” survived death? Or rather, what would we mean by saying that his spirit survived (how we would know it is another tough issue, as you will see later on)? Would he have to remember his life and identity as Uncle Harry? If he has no memory or sense of self, and he reincarnates as little Susie Q., in what sense is that a surviving Uncle Harry?

As it turns out, there are really a number of interconnected and inexact questions involved in the subject area of consciousness and whether it can exist apart from or beyond a living body. As noted in the Introduction, some of the reported phenomena that suggest consciousness beyond the body are ESP (or psi, for psychic phenomena in general), OBEs, NDEs, reincarnation, spirit mediumship, and apparition (ghost) experiences. All of these phenomena have been variously explained in different scientific frames as nonexistent, as misinterpreted normal events, as evidence for survival after death, or as evidence for psi but not necessarily for survival.

1Charles F. Emmons and Penelope Emmons

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