A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

29
Evidence for Survival from Near-Death Experiences?
A Critical Appraisal
GERD H. HÖVELMANN

Introduction

Ever since 1848, when the Fox sisters produced those ill-famed and most probably fraudulent ( Dessoir 1967, 339; Nicol 1979, 16) rapping sounds to use them as a means for purported communication with the spirit of a deceased man, the assumption that mind and personality survive the death of the body and brain has formed the basis for the quasi-religious spiritualistic movement. While the British Society for Psychical Research was not founded to pursue the problem of survival as such, at least one of the immediate reasons for its formation in 1882 was the hope that that assumption might be demonstrated to be correct by the meticulous application of scientifically sound empirical methods (Gauld 1968; 1982).

The early leaders of the SPR set afoot large-scale attempts to collect and critically assess ostensible evidence for survival. They conducted careful censuses and collected accounts of apparently veridical hallucinations of the dead and dying during the 1880s and 1890s; but their extensive reports, though sometimes suggestive, were far from conclusively resolving what these early psychical researchers had called "the problem of survival." 1 Thus scientific research into the problem of survival of human personality after death has been conducted for well over a century. More or less comprehensive accounts and evaluations of old as well as contemporary research and its results that may be usefully consulted include Myers ( 1903), Barrett ( 1918), Hyslop ( 1919), Murphy ( 1945), Salter ( 1961), Jacobson ( 1973), Palmer ( 1975), Gauld ( 1977, 1982), Stevenson ( 1977a; 1982a), Resch ( 1980), Anderson ( 1981), Roll ( 1982; 1984), Zorab ( 1983), and Thouless ( 1984).

There can be no doubt that the focal point of the parapsychologists' interest has shifted away from survival research to other areas of parapsychological

____________________
©Copyright 1985 by Gerd H. Hövelmann

-645-

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