In a couple of months my book A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival (Palgrave Macmillan) will be released. The book provides a philosophical engagement with a topic that has held my interest for much of my life and which has been the focus of my research and critical reflection for the past 11 years. Do we in some way survive the death of our bodies?
Readers hoping to find a direct answer to this question in the argumentation of my book are likely to be disappointed, as I don’t argue for or against survival in the Philosophical Critique. My interest is in critically exploring the cogency or plausibility of a certain strand of argumentation in favor of survival, namely arguments based on the data drawn from out-of-body and near-death experiences, mediumistic communications, and alleged past life memories and correlated behavioral and physical characteristics suggestive of reincarnation. Since these ostensibly paranormal phenomena involve various data of sense experience or facts about the physical world and human experiences, the arguments for survival based on them have traditionally been classified as “empirical” arguments for survival. In the interest of distinguishing between these paranormal-type arguments and other kinds of empirical arguments for survival, I refer to them as “classical” empirical arguments for survival.
The central question I’m addressing in my book is whether these classical arguments succeed in showing that the relevant data from these different phenomena severally or jointly constitute good evidence for the hypothesis of personal survival – the survival of the individual self, consciousness, or person. While there are many salient issues that bear on the question of whether human persons survive death, the cogency (or lack thereof) of arguments that purport to offer an affirmative answer to the central question is surely one of them. So while I don’t argue for or against survival itself, what I envision in the Philosophical Critique is nonetheless an important contribution to the philosophy of postmortem survival, one that I hope will advance the survival debate and facilitate at least a deeper appreciation for the conceptual territory involved in arguments in favor of life after death.
Since I haven’t stated in any of my previous publications (nor in my forthcoming book) whether I believe in survival or not, I’ve received numerous queries from people about my personal views on the matter. Here I will offer some personal reflections on life after death. More specifically, I discuss the evolution of my personal views on survival, where I stand on the question today, the relationship between my personal views and my critique of the classical arguments, and how I see the future of the survival debate taking shape. In this way I’d like to begin the movement beyond the scope of my book, a direction of inquiry I intend to pursue in subsequent publications.
When I began my systematic research on postmortem survival in 2004 I was convinced of what is commonly called “personal survival,” the persistence after death of “me,” that is, this person, self, or individual consciousness. This notion of personal survival at least entails the postmortem persistence of a particular “psychological profile,” what Cambridge philosopher C.D. Broad called a “personal stream of experience,” including the knowledge, specific memories, beliefs, intentions, desires, and other mental states that are constituents of a first-person perspective. I retained this belief for much of the past 11 years. However, my confidence in personal survival has waned over the past two years. I’m now comfortable in stating that I no longer believe in personal survival. Of course, I also don’t deny personal survival. Hence, it would be fair to characterize my current view as agnostic with respect to personal survival. My interest here is to present an account of the evolution of my agnostic stance and its implications for the broader conceptual landscape related to survival.
1. My Earlier Views: Christian Eschatology, John Hick, and Parapsychology
When I embarked upon my focused exploration of empirical arguments for survival in 2004, I was a firm believer in personal survival. In fact, I had been a believer in survival at least in a fairly generic sense since my childhood. In adulthood my ideas more concretely reflected the influence of the Protestant Christian tradition to which I belonged. By 2004, though I accepted many of the basic features of traditional Christian eschatology (e.g. final day of judgment, survival as eventual bodily resurrection from the dead), I was quite happy to acknowledge the importance of modifications to the story, modifications of the sort that John Hick suggested in his wonderful book Death and Eternal Life (1976). Hick’s book is worth emphasizing here since it was the gateway to my eventual work on the topic of survival. When I was an undergraduate at Santa Clara University in the early 1990s, one of my religion professors highly recommended Hick’s book, but I didn’t give it a thorough read until I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 film the Sixth Sense. The film re-awakened the interest in survival I had as a young boy and teenager. It also inspired my teaching a senior seminar on life after death at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where I was a professor at the time. I used Hick’s book for the course.
In addition to introducing me to the ideas of Oxford philosopher H.H. Price, one of the interesting features of Hick’s work is the serious attention Hick gave to the data of psychical research (or “parapsychology,” to use the more common American designation). Like other philosophers of his generation who were interested in alleged empirical evidence for survival, Hick focused on the data of mediumship and phenomena seemingly suggestive of reincarnation (e.g. claims to past life memories in young children). The “near-death experience” craze that evolved out of Raymond Moody’s work in the mid 1970s had not yet peaked when Hick wrote Death and Eternal Life, though he acknowledged the relevance of the phenomenon to his discussion in the preface to his 1994 revised edition.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of Hick’s work was his engagement with the data of psychical research. There were at least three reasons for this.
First, I grew up watching the 1972 television series the Sixth Sense (starring Gary Collins as parapsychologist Michael Rhodes) and other 1970s television shows inspired by parapsychological research and its relation to the topic of survival. Consequently, I also had a passing acquaintance with the long-standing debate within parapsychology as to whether phenomena apparently suggestive of survival might be equally explained in terms of psychic functioning in living persons. For example, might the apparently impressive displays of detailed knowledge about the deceased demonstrated by the better mediums be explicable in terms of the medium’s powers of telepathy and clairvoyance? So I naturally connected to this aspect of Hick’s work.
Second, at various points in my life I had experienced ostensibly paranormal phenomena, first as a child and later as a teenager. The exploration of phenomena one has personally experienced is naturally alluring of course, and as a philosopher I wanted to critically explore my own experience. Within a couple of years of reading Hick I would have a third wave of exposure to ostensibly paranormal occurrences after purchasing and moving into a “haunted house” in Windsor, Connecticut. This was actually the catalyst for the research program that led to the writing of my Philosophical Critique. Finally, I would eventually have a prolonged engagement with mediumship during a crucial phase of research for the book (to be discussed further below).
Third, although I was a Christian at the time, I was convinced that Christian theology had on the whole not taken the data of psychical research seriously enough, a point Rev. David Kennedy wonderfully argued in his book A Venture in Immortality (1973). Explaining away paranormal phenomena in terms of demonic activity struck me as more than a tad bit lame, the incrustations of an outdated theology perpetuated by theologians who lacked logical rigor and who had little acquaintance with the relevant empirical research.
I should emphasize that none of my early experiences with the paranormal led me to believe in personal survival. As noted about, I already believed in personal survival, even as young child. I suspect the influence of my grandmother played a role in this. She exposed me to the idea early on and in a way that made it attractive, or at least intriguing. So for me the survival hypothesis was an antecedently credible hypothesis, and not surprisingly it presented itself as a very natural and even tidy explanation of the paranormal phenomena with which I would later have first-hand acquaintance. But of course, the matter is more complex. During my years as a Christian, I viewed paranormal phenomena as plausibly explicable in terms of survival, but there was always the thorny question of how exactly to accommodate the details of the phenomena (as evidence for survival) to the details of my pre-existing Christian eschatology. And here Hick again proved helpful. First, he convinced me of the negotiable nature of several aspects of the traditional Christian eschatological story. Second, he convinced me that “the core” eschatological insights of the Christian tradition underdetermined most of the details relevant to the data of psychical research.
Nonetheless, when I experienced the third wave of paranormal phenomena after moving to Windsor, Connecticut in 2002, I was reluctant to opt for the survival hypothesis as the best explanation of the phenomena. This was not due to potential conflicts with Christian eschatology but because I was aware of what struck me as initially plausible counter-explanations of the phenomena in terms of psychic functioning among living persons. The plausibility of such explanations was only partially appreciated by me at the time. It was based on only a rather superficial knowledge of parapsychology and some first-hand experiences, including telepathy experiments I conducted years earlier with friends. But this was enough to prevent me from easily defaulting to the survival explanation.
2. The Catalyst and Evolution of My Survival Research
My two years in Windsor, Connecticut deepened my long-standing and recently re-wakened interest in survival. Within a couple of days of moving into the early Federal-style home built by Eliakim Mather Olcott in 1817, my wife and I (and dog) began to experience a combination of prototypical haunting and poltergeist phenomena. Although we critically investigated the various phenomena as they occurred, we were unable to trace the phenomena to natural causes. Given the fairly astonishing nature of some of the phenomena, my curiosity about our experiences peaked and I began research into the history of the home and the experiences of its former residents. This led to what has been a ten-year long investigation, including interviews with former residents, visitors to the home, and acquaintances of residents as far back as the 1930s. My inquiry turned up testimony from several prior occupants to experiencing phenomena identical, even in detail, to the phenomena my wife and I experienced. What I found equally fascinating, though, was the fact that occupants of the home prior to 1969, including long-term residents, claimed not to have experienced anything unusual. 1969 was the year resident Walter Callahan Sr. committed suicide in the home. In this way, the pattern of experiences surrounding the home fit a more widespread pattern in which ostensibly place-centered paranormal phenomena are associated with a suicide or other tragic event at the location.
The experiences in the home prompted me eventually to return to John Hick’s work on survival, and from there I was led to a deeper study of the work of C.D. Broad and H.H. Price on the topic, two philosophers who would exert significant influence on my reflections on paranormal phenomena and survival. Among other things, they each introduced the intriguing possibility of an explanatory option other than personal survival on the one hand, and living-agent psychic function on the other hand, namely the possibility that what persists after death are aspects of our mental life or consciousness but that fall short of constituting the survival of the self or individual person. Broad unpacked this in terms of a “psychic factor” (the persistence of only the dispositional basis of the individual personality) and Price as “place memories” (the persistence in space and time of mental items – thoughts, feelings, images, etc. – independent of the center self-awareness to which they originally belonged). Broad and Price present us with forms of what we might call attenuated survival. Since the concept of personal survival can be weakened in many different ways, there are many conceivable hypotheses of attenuated survival, including a large range of models of attenuated personal survival (some of which I explore in Chapter 2 of the Philosophical Critique).
Whatever might be said on behalf of these exotic alternatives to personal survival, they at least reveal some of the complexities involved in determining whether there is empirical evidence for survival. First, the survival of some significant aspect of the person might explain the relevant data at least as well as the hypothesis of personal survival. Second, though less noticed, the case for personal survival is challenged by conceivable hypotheses of personal survival that do explain the relevant data. Each of the many different survival hypotheses is capable of generating very different kinds of predictions about the observational data we should expect to find if survival is true. Can we reasonably determine, therefore, whether what we observe in the world is evidence for or against survival? The inquiry conducted by Broad and Price (as well as survivalist C.J. Ducasse) also showed that the empirical survival debate is inseparably connected to fundamental questions about the nature of personhood, mind, and consciousness. These issues would come to play an important role in my evolving critical appraisal of empirical arguments for survival.
However, in my first four years of working on empirical survival arguments, my main interest was in trying to make the arguments work, so I was devoted to “saving” the survival hypothesis, specifically in the context of particular kinds of ostensibly paranormal phenomena. Owing to my personal experiences (and those of family and friends), I was initially interested in apparitional experiences and haunting phenomena. It was during this initial phase of exploration (2004 through 2008) that I developed a friendship with parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach. In addition to participating in some interesting spontaneous-case investigations with Loyd, he introduced me to the work of fellow philosopher Stephen Braude with whom I developed an inspiring friendship. Braude became something of a mentor to me in my critical engagement with the survival debate, and we’ve had ten years of invaluable correspondence on questions in the interface between parapsychology, survival, abnormal and depth psychology, and salient issues in philosophy of mind and epistemology.
By 2009 my specific area of interest had shifted from apparitional experiences to mediumship (and later possession phenomena and cases of the reincarnation type), which struck me as at least psychologically more interesting than apparitional experiences, if not more evidentially salient to the case for survival. The exploration of mediumship also corresponded to my deepening interest in psychology. So it was something of a boon not only to make the personal acquaintance of a number of mediums whose work I and other researchers observed on different occasions, but I also developed a three-year intimate relationship with a medium whose abilities I regularly and carefully explored and documented in spontaneous and designed sittings between 2011 and 2014. (I plan to eventually publish a paper on the latter, which involved ostensible communications from a number of interesting “discarnate persons.”) My first-hand experience of mediumship helped me understand some of the highly contextual features of mediumship. Moreover, having highly detailed background knowledge (including of the medium) helped me construct experiments that at least served to rule out some of the more commonly appealed to naturalistic explanations of the phenomenon. However, it also reinforced my belief that our theorizing at this juncture should take very seriously the larger psychological landscape of the medium’s mental life.
During the first four years of critical exploration I was mildly optimistic about there being a good empirical argument for personal survival (perhaps of a cumulative case sort) based on the data of psychical research, with the data of mediumship perhaps showing the most promise, but my optimism began to wane in 2009. The main catalyst for my decreasing confidence in the evidential force of the data was the increasing plausibility of explanations of the data in terms of living-agent psychic functioning together with interrelated considerations drawn from abnormal and depth psychology. Stephen Braude’s work at this juncture, which is unrivaled in depth and clarity, strongly influenced my thinking and direction of exploration. Even my three-year work with the impressive medium of intimate acquaintance failed to secure the kind of empirical data that clearly favored the survival hypothesis. Indeed, for reasons space does not permit discussing at present, in certain respects my work with the medium in question conferred more plausibility on explanatory candidates other than personal survival.
My emerging critique of survival arguments was, at least in the first instance, a further development of some of Stephen Braude’s insights.
First, it seemed to me that some of the allegedly devastating objections to appeals to living-agent psi were equally applicable to the survival hypothesis itself, especially since the latter is committed to its own version of “super-psi,” a presumably prodigious and refined kind of psi for which there is supposedly no independent evidence but which would be required if the data are adequately explained by appealing to psychic functioning in living persons. I presented this “parity argument” in considerable detail in my first article on survival, “Super-Psi and the Survivalist Interpretation of Mediumship” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2009).
Second, it struck me that survivalists had overestimated the explanatory force of the survival hypothesis. This was a consequence of a lack of clarity on their part concerning how rival explanations would defeat the purported explanatory superiority of the survival hypothesis. For example, the living-agent psi hypothesis does not need great explanatory power to pose a challenge to survival arguments, especially if survival arguments purport to show that the evidence makes the survival hypothesis very probable or even more probable than not. It would suffice if the living-agent psi hypothesis significantly decreased the prior probability of the evidence, and it’s not required for this that it confer a high probability on the evidence. I took up this line of argument in “Is Survival the Best Explanation of the Data of Mediumship?” (in The Survival Hypothesis, Ed. Adam Rock, McFarland Press, 2013) and “A Critical Response to David Lund’s Argument for Postmortem Survival” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2013).
However, retrospectively, the more important issue I raised in the latter two articles was the role of auxiliary assumptions for the explanatory/predictive power (and hence testability) of the survival hypothesis. This evolved into the central issue in my forthcoming Philosophical Critique – the problem of auxiliary assumptions. Roughly stated, auxiliary assumptions are required in empirical arguments for survival, but this proves self-defeating for these arguments in their classical formulations, and my proposed formalizations of the classical arguments as Likelihood and Bayesian arguments render more perspicuous why the arguments are unsuccessful. Furthermore, the problem of auxiliaries further illuminates the perennial survival vs. living-agent psi debate. Given my central argument, it’s not that the appeal to living-agent psychic functioning (e.g. telepathy, clairvoyance) is a good counter-explanation of empirical data allegedly suggestive of life after death. It’s that the survival hypothesis is an exceedingly poor explanation (and untestable hypothesis), and one of its devastating and self-defeating flaws is that it opens wide the door to various exotic non-survival counter-explanations of the data. Not only are survivalists unable to adequately rule out such exotic counter-explanations, the internal “logic” of survival arguments implicitly sanctions them.
So by 2012 I had concluded that, best case scenario, a favorable empirical case for survival would depend on accepting a number of assumptions at least as controversial as the hypothesis of personal survival itself. More seriously, though, the logical architecture of the classical arguments was simply self-defeating. It was also equally clear to me that the bulk of the existing body of literature in favor of the classical arguments was not just philosophically superficial but hopelessly flawed. In addition to transparent conceptual naivete, the lack of rigorous argumentation (and the rhetorical trickery by which skeptical arguments are characteristically and impetuously dismissed) struck me as little more than maneuvers intentionally or unintentionally masking the more salient issues. This was also the conclusion I drew after dialoguing for a couple of years with parapsychologists and survivalists on a private listserv moderated by Charles Tart.
3. The Rise of My Agnosticism about Personal Survival
As I pointed out in several blogs beginning in 2013, and also in Jime Sayaka’s detailed 2014 interview with me, my emerging critique of empirical arguments was not necessarily reason to deny any particular hypothesis of personal survival, much less deny the disjunction of conceivable models of personal survival. I still take this position. The empirical arguments may fail; indeed all arguments for personal survival may fail. It does not follow that this gives us a sufficient reason to believe that survival is false. What does follow is that, if belief in survival is based solely on such arguments, we do have reason, and I think good reason, to doubt the truth of the hypothesis of survival. This is based on the conceptual truth that losing one’s grounds for believing that a proposition is true – and so having grounds for doubting the proposition’s being true – does not entail acquiring reasons for believing that the proposition is false.
Nonetheless, the failure of the empirical arguments for survival has played a partial role in my own emerging agnosticism on the question of personal survival. It’s important to be clear, though, on why this is the case. It’s not merely that I find survival arguments less than compelling, true as this is. It’s why I find them less than compelling. The critical exploration reveals that there is no single hypothesis of personal survival, but many such hypotheses. At present I have no means at my disposal to empirically or otherwise discriminate between them. To be explained below, I do find some survival scenarios more plausible than others, and I would not be greatly surprised to discover that at least one of these is true, but the more plausible hypothesis is not necessarily worthy of acceptance. So what the upshot of the critical inquiry has demonstrated is that I find at present no sufficient basis to accept any of the many hypotheses of personal survival. And it also seems no more plausible to me that one of these hypotheses is true than that some hypothesis of radically attenuated survival is true.
But I said, the alleged failure of the empirical arguments (and something similar must be said for philosophical survival arguments) has a played only a partial role in facilitating my agnosticism about personal survival. An at least equally important factor has been my engagement with eastern spirituality and concepts of self. I have discussed this in some detail in various contemplative explorations in my blog over the past two years, but a few salient points should be noted here.
First, for philosophical and experientially based reasons (and also empirically-informed considerations drawn from psychology), I find there to be less unity to what we are apt to call the (individual) self or person than many are inclined to suppose. My ideas here are partially informed by theorizing about the composite nature of the psyche, to which Ducasse and Broad drew attention in their day, and which today plays an important role in depth psychology and various psychotherapeutic models of the psyche (e.g. “Internal Family Systems” therapy). The plurality of personality or self is, of course, more dramatically represented in extreme cases of dissociative phenomena such as possession and trance, as well as “personality disorders” (such as borderline and dissociative identity conditions), but less dramatic shifts in mood and behavior are commonly encountered in people otherwise characterized by stability of mood and personality.
Broad once humorously pondered which personalities in cases of multiple personality would survive death, that is, if any of the personalities should survive death? This is a genuinely interesting question. Since both borderline and dissociative identity conditions are the result of trauma, there’s some empirical basis for expecting a similar fragmentation of our apparently individual mental life at death. At all events, if death is a trauma, can we sufficiently rule out the possibility that a postmortem consciousness would not become multiple? Broad jokingly raised the question, but in his book Death and Eternal Life, John Hick more sympathetically considered this possibility (in part on the basis of Buddhist and Vedantin concepts of the self), at least for some phase of our postmortem existence. And I was quite amused to discover, and I say this with the wit characteristic of Broad, that in a series of alleged communications with the postmortem “John Hick” via that impressive medium to which I referred above that “John Hick” (or – more properly – one of his closest continuers) seems to have found a verification of the earthly John Hick’s conjecture. As Columbo would say, “no conclusion,” but as Dr. Spock (from Star Trek) would no doubt say, “Fascinating, Captain.”
Second, I don’t find the idea of a substantial, enduring individual self sufficiently convincing anymore. It’s a plausible metaphysical conjecture about my experience of course, including the introspectively accessible unity of consciousness and the use of self-referential terms like “I” and “me,” but there are alternative plausible conjectures to account for these features of our experience. As indicated in my interview with Helen De Cruz earlier this year, my view of “self” falls within the domain of the non-dual traditions of Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism. While my view of self does not rule out personal survival, it does arguably constrain the interpretation of personal survival in certain ways. Most simply stated, on the non-dual view, the body-mind comes into existence at conception or birth and ceases at death, but we are not essentially the body-mind, and therefore we do not share in the limits and destiny of the body-mind. Our essential nature is non-differentiated consciousness or pure awareness, of which the body-mind is a temporary and finite manifestation. On this view, there is an essential “I” (the “big mind” of Zen) that persists through all changes (including death), but technically it does not “survive” death since it was never born in the first place.
Now the prior two points contribute to my agnostic stance in the following ways. The first consideration noted above implies that I don’t know what the personal stream of experience (presently identified with my body-mind) would look like if it should, in part or whole, survive death, including whether the persisting psychological profile would be strongly, weakly, or entirely non-continuous with the prior ante-mortem stream of experience out of which it emerged postmortem. As Broad noted, there might be a postmortem personal stream of experience (which originated from an earlier antemortem personal stream of experience), but it might not constitute numerically the same person as the person who died. While the second point is consistent with there being a postmortem stream of personal experience originating from the present body-mind (one understanding of “rebirth” in the eastern traditions), the second point is also consistent with there being no such pattern. And at all events, if there were a persisting stream of personal experience after death, it would be another temporary and limited manifestation of pure consciousness.
So it should be clear, then, that my agnosticism about personal survival does not entail agnosticism with respect to the continuation of awareness or consciousness as an aspect of our apparent individual experience. I don’t doubt that consciousness will continue after death, but it’s less than clear what this consciousness will be like. What sort of personal consciousness will it be? Will it even be personal? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the possibilities and prospects are at least intriguing and worthy of further exploration.
4. Beyond Agnosticism
While I’m agnostic about personal survival, I’m prepared to make the following “survival friendly” concessions, some of which are relevant to an empirically informed philosophy of survival that is favorable to survival, and some of which suggest how the classical arguments might be more successful if re-contextualized.
First, I’ve already said that one of the important considerations driving my agnosticism is the plurality of hypotheses of personal survival and the fact, as I see it, that there is no way at present to epistemically discriminate between them, or between them and hypotheses of strongly attenuated survival, at least until we understand more about the nature of consciousness itself. The belief, widely held among empirical survivalists, that empirical arguments for survival play a primary or lead role with respect to the survival question just strikes me as getting matters ass backwards. The classical empirical arguments can’t get off the ground until we have at least a tentative theory of survival informed by a more advanced theory of consciousness, a theory that must be informed in part by future advances in cognitive neuroscience.
Second, while I’m agnostic about what happens to our individual consciousness or personal stream of experience at death, my agnosticism is friendly towards survival in at least the following way. I think some people can be epistemically justified in their belief in personal survival, and so I would agree that there can be justifying grounds for belief in personal survival.
As an illustration of one kind of justifying ground for belief in survival, my position and arguments do not rule out there being an experiential justification for belief in survival. Subjects who have near-death experiences, who have ostensible memories of past lives, or mediums who experience “communicators” in particular ways may very well be in possession of experiential grounds that confer justification on their belief in survival. Unlike the experiential justification of belief in God, which has been a central theme in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy of religion, empirical survivalists have paid little or no attention to the prospects for an experiential justification of belief in survival. But this is essential to a more complete epistemology of belief in survival.
I also acknowledge that there may be good empirical arguments for survival. More precisely stated, I see no reason why there can’t be arguments, empirical and otherwise, that make a significant contribution to the epistemic justification of belief in personal survival. I don’t rule this out. I’ve been very careful in my publications to qualify the nature of my critique of the classical arguments, for instance by challenging the claim that the arguments are sufficient to render the survival hypothesis highly probable or even more probable than not. However, similar to what I argued on behalf of theistic arguments in my Reformed Objection to Natural Theology (Ashgate 2009), it’s plausible that different grounds (e.g., experience and argument) may make their own modest contribution to the justification of belief in survival, but a robust or strong justification might require multiple grounds.
Third, while I don’t presently find a pragmatic justification for (myself) accepting any particular hypothesis of personal survival, I think greater attention should be paid to the utility of survival beliefs, especially in connection with our psychological development and the broader landscape of religion and spirituality, which has historically been the conceptual and value framework for survival beliefs, that is, before psychical research and parapsychology tried to extract survival from this framework, as many theists have done with reference to belief in God.
Fourth and finally, although I’m agnostic about personal survival, if I had to place a bet concerning the survival of individual consciousness (or some feature of our individual psychological profile), given what we know at present about altered states of consciousness and dissociative phenomena, I’d put my money down on some sort of highly attenuated form of survival. It might be better to call it “persistence” (as Broad did) rather than survival, but what persists in this scenario might not be personal, or it might be a person just not one identical with this individual person I presently call “me.” Perhaps Broad’s humorous consideration of which “alters” (of multiple-personality/dissociative-identity types) might survive death is more than a concession to our ignorance. Perhaps a future theory of consciousness will lead us to expect the dissociation of consciousness in the afterlife. At present, all I can say is that for all I know this individual “I” may not emerge as intact or unified as it is now. It may be fragmented or dissociated at death, a consequence of its initial cognitive fragility and the trauma of death. For all I know, my postmortem consciousness may be to my antemortem consciousness what my dream consciousness is to my waking-state consciousness, in which case what survives may retain more or less of the memories that characterized the antemortem stream of consciousness. Perhaps our antemortem religious beliefs find their fulfillment or manifestation in the form of image-worlds constructed from our antemortem memories and desires, a conceivable afterlife H.H. Price once proposed.
There are many conceivable survival scenarios. Our future inquiry may or may not shed further light on the next world, or whether there is any such world, but the persistence of the inquiry reveals that in a significant psychological sense the dead are living, living in us, and they are the guardians of an inner life we cannot help but consciously or unconsciously explore.
As Carl Jung said:
A man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death, or to create some image of it – even if he must confess his failure. Not to have done so is a vital loss. For the question that is posed to him is the age-old heritage of humanity: an archetype, rich in secret life, which seeks to add itself to our own individual life in order to make it whole.