Friday, February 22, 2013

Book 6: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

Mary Roach is one of my favorites. She delves into the fascinating & sometimes confusing realm of science without batting an eye and makes even the most complex scientific theories accessible to the least scientifically-inclined mind. In my opinion, she ranks right up there with Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) and Stephen Dubner (co-author of Freakonomics). She first showed up on my radar when I stumbled upon her mind-blowing book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers in the stacks a few years ago. I walked home from the library that day with my nose buried in its pages. Roach takes a unique approach to her research, and she gets bonus points for making me chuckle and write "Haha" all over my Post-It notes. Admittedly, her humor is not everyone's cup of tea, and she has a crassness about her that is all her own. Fortunately, her intelligence and open-mindedness with regard to her subject of research trump all.

In Spook, Roach details the many attempts by professionals in various fields to prove, or disprove, the existence of life after death. Throughout history, many scientists have dedicated their lives to seeking out, through many different means, the answer to that always-elusive question: What happens to us when we die?

Mirrors must be involved somehow...

I have always been content with the idea that someday I will "shuffle off this mortal coil" and return to the land (as a child, I was told that my father's side was part Cherokee....a very small part but still...). I've always imagined my remains growing into a towering oak tree or an uncharacteristically cheerful willow, but I'd also settle for being responsible for a few sprigs of grass or even a dandelion...I'm not picky. As I'm sure you've guessed, Roach does not offer any definitive answer with regard to whether there is indeed an afterlife, but she does take us on a spectacular journey as she explores the numerous studies that focus on a wide range of topics from reincarnation to the weight of the soul to the existence of ectoplasm. While some of the researchers involved in studies of the paranormal or parapsychological are obviously nutters (like W.J. Crawford who was obsessed with proving the existence of ectoplasm and who had a bizarre underwear fixation), others perform exhaustive research that lends some interesting insight into what might await us when we die.

For me, the most intriguing research mentioned in Spook is the work of Michael Persinger, a neuroscience professor, who believes that certain patterns of electromagnetic field activity can trigger hallucinations in human beings. After analyzing 37 years worth of data, Persinger found a nice correlation between electromagnetic fields and supposed hauntings. Basically, we're being haunted by moving electrically charged objects! Persinger designed a "haunt box" that uses laboratory-generated EMFs to create synthetic ghosts. The results of Persinger's work suggest that you CAN use EMFs to make individuals feel as if they're being haunted. A shocking 80% of people (out of one thousand) who have been subjected to the haunt box have felt a ghostly presence.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever been transfixed by the paranormal or if you've ever lingered just a little too long on shows* like Psychic Kids or Ghost Hunters International.

*I accidentally typed "paranormal shoes" into my Google search bar and, before I knew it, I was staring at a glowing pair of "ParaNorman" Air Foamposite Ones....a Nike creation.

Sharlene Edwards
Program Director

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