On Tuesday, September 8th, the Human Experience Book Club met for the first time under our revamped name and mission to discuss Spook by Mary Roach. We had a nice turnout of around 6 people, and had a great discussion about the afterlife, the extent of scientific research in this area, and the nature of death in our society. Mary Roach has a very distinct, comical writing style, and approaches topics in science from a place of self-proclaimed ignorance in order to bring a wider audience to scientific topics and discourse. In Spook, she continues that approach and looks at what science has to say about the afterlife and what happens to consciousness after death.
In Spook, Roach travels to different parts of the world and analyzes different points in scientific history, highlighting various studies that focus on the afterlife. Science, at it’s very basic level, is nothing more than a method — a system of questions designed to get at the heart of a problem. Roach shows us scientists who are attempting to use this method to ask a very difficult question: What happens when we die? Roach tackles this immensely complicated and difficult question with her characteristic wit. Though you may find that you either love or hate Roach’s humor (there were a few too many poop jokes for my taste) her style is very inviting and leave her books open to anyone to pick up. It is extremely important to have writers like this talking about complex subjects because it leaves discussion and contemplation open to everyone.
In the end, we learn from Roach that this is a very difficult question to answer using science, but not impossible. There are people out there who are very committed to learning the answers, and are devising studies to attempt to answer them. These people are running into issues when it comes to funding, but it seems, at least to me, that if we continue to become more comfortable with the topic of death, and can overcome our fear of learning whatever answers may be out there, than we will someday be able to know quite a bit more that we do. We still have a very limited view of the nature of consciousness in general, and the brain still proves mysterious in many ways. How can we even begin to understand what happens to consciousness after death if we still don’t understand consciousness before death?
During our discussion, I was reminded of a lecture I listened to once from Alan Watts. Watts was a philosopher and interpreter of Eastern Philosophy who became popular in the 1950s. Though this particular philosophical interpretation is not exactly grounded in science, I do believe that we can gain some insights from it. In it, Watts discusses the nature of consciousness, and provides contemplation on what happens to the self after death. I’ll link to the lecture below.
We hope to have you join us at out next meeting on Tuesday, October 13th, at 7pm. We’ll be discussing our effects on the planet and what would happen if people were to disappear, after reading Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us.
John Paul DeGennaro