By now I hope you’ve heard about the upcoming Immortality Project. It’s not a movie with a catchy name, but it’s the new project the University of California, Riverside will take on studying topics of the afterlife thanks to a five million dollar grant. If you haven’t read about it, there’s a solid article from Huffington Post LA, here.
The money will fund research into heaven, hell, purgatory, karma, and other topics, according to the university’s web site.
Which is brilliant. If you’re going to do a study of the afterlife, absolutely do it academically. We in the ghost-hunting field have been pushing for “scientific” documentation of these experiences of the supernatural, which is still needed. But taking an approach to the afterlife in general on a level of theology, culture, philosophy, and biology is a solid approach. If you’re going to explore the afterlife, regardless of conclusion, there are questions that need exploring along the way. “Are we immortal beings? Would we even want to be immortal? What would immortality even look like?” An approach that considers both the fact of the issue and the philosophy is absolutely the right thinking.
“We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said in a statement. “Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports.”
So not all the bias toward the supernatural has been thrown out with this step forward. All in due time I suppose. Alien abductions might not be trendy like ghosts or the more PC, less-restrictive term, “the afterlife,” and their supporters still seem crazy (really, the same as ghosts fifteen years ago). But the deeper you look into alien abduction reports, the more similarities you find between them and “Old Hag Syndrome,” or sleep paralysis, or classical mythology and religions. Indeed, alien reports carry remarkable tie-ins with much of religious mythology and lore. John Keel’s Our Haunted Planet is a fine resource for these connections and, according to him, inconsistencies.
Though not so much correlative to the near-death experience, close encounters of the fourth kind do resemble religious or mystical experiences. Though this study is focusing, at least for the moment, on experiences occurring around the time of death, it’s not a far stone’s throw to the mystical experiences of higher (or different) consciousness. See (bright lights appearing in the sky, terrifying beings who appear on earth and supply prophesies, strange chariots appearing in the air).
The question then: is this exactly what we need right now? Not just the “we” who are paranormally inclined. But the “we” of the human race, in a science-worshipping world tearing itself apart over religion and ideology.
Or will this divide us further? If we find indication that there may be something after, something further, will this only increase the hostilities between two parties to be more “right” than the other? If you suggest that the soul does exist, what does that say of God? If God exists, what does that say of these fighting religions? If we live on after we die, what does that say toward the morality of homicide?
Either way, it’s a fascinating project, and I’ll be first in line for the book in five years.