One thing that frustrates me about paranormal research is that the field seems to suffer from a pervasive case of short-term memory loss. People are constantly announcing “new” approaches that turn out to replicate work that was done decades or even generations earlier.
A recent example is the statement released by John M. Fischer upon receiving a John Templeton Foundation grant of $5 million for research into life after death. Fischer makes it sound as if no one has ever conducted any serious, sustained, properly supervised, peer-reviewed research in this area. Readers of this blog know that nothing could be further from the truth.
A less egregious, but still slightly irksome, example came to my attention today, in the form of a recently released book by Jeffrey A. Marks called The Afterlife Interviews: Volume 1. Marks is a medium who sat with 14 different individuals who asked him questions about the afterlife. He conveyed his answers to them, and then organized these replies into a book – or apparently two books, since this is Volume 1. It's an interesting idea, I guess, though it seems to me it would have been better to use a variety of mediums and see to what degree their statements dovetailed.
But what got me a little ticked off was that, even though Marks styles himself as a paranormal investigator, he seems to be largely unaware that the territory he's exploring is far from new. I should point out that I haven't read Marks' book itself, only an excerpt from the introduction that's available on the Amazon sales page via the “search inside” feature. Still, that was enough to suggest that the author knows little about the vast amount of channeled material describing conditions on "the other side." His only acknowledgment of it is a) a short discussion of Emmanuel Swedenborg; b) a passing mention of "glimpses of what the nature of the afterlife was like" in communications studied by the Society for Psychical Research a century ago; and c) Geraldine Cummins' book The Road to Immortality, which purportedly channels F.W.H. Myers.
The casual reader could logically conclude that until now, no one -- with the exceptions of Cummins and Swedenborg -- has offered a detailed explication of conditions in the spirit world.
I have observed that the history of ghost research has always been wrought with the simple question “Why?” But to me, it needed to go a bit further. Not only the “why,” but to ask from the ghost's own point of view, “what is a spirit's life like?” It was a perspective no one had really taken before, at least not to my knowledge. Some of the questions I asked were: “Do you still perceive the movement of time?”; “Do you notice a tunnel of light following you?”; “Do you ever get hungry?”; “Do you sleep or are you always awake?” Despite what some in the spiritual/metaphysical community have said, there are spirits who are willing to talk about the nature of the afterlife.…
So when I kept hearing that single all-important critique of modern mediums–“Why don't they tell us what the Other Side is like?”–I knew from my research at haunted locations asking EVP questions to ghosts (who are existing “in-between” our world and the Other Side), that I could do the same for spirits who had crossed “through the light” all the way over to the Other Side. Why not? I have been a practicing medium for over a decade. Perhaps the reason other mediums have not gotten answers is because they're too focused on assisting their client, who can admittedly get caught up in the moment of communication, or they don't believe they can get sensible answers.…
What do these possibilities [ i.e., the communications] present?
A view, as we have never been offered before, on the nature of surviving death and what awaits us – straight from the mouths of those who are there.
The trouble is that the view on display in The Afterlife Interviews is hardly one “we have never been offered before.” From what I can tell, it's entirely in line with a vast amount of pre-existing material, including -- in no particular order --Life in the World Unseen, by Anthony Borgia; Testimony of Light, by Helen Greaves; Raymond, by Oliver Lodge; The Blue Island (channeling W.T. Stead), by Pardoe Woodman and Estelle Stead; Through the Mists, by Robert James Lees; Spirit World and Spirit Life, by Charlotte Elizabeth Dresser; Gone West, by J.S.M. Ward; Letters from the Light, aka Letters from a Living Dead Man, by Elsa Barker; The Spirits' Book, by Allan Kardec; and Intimations of Immortality, by Robert Crookall.
This is by no means a complete list. I'm not sure anyone could exhaustively catalogue all the titles in this sprawling category. The literature is so extensive that Richard Matheson, who found himself impressed by it, was able to create a comprehensive and detailed picture of the afterlife for his novel What Dreams May Come -- a book that includes a lengthy and valuable bibliography. And it's not as if this material is terribly obscure. Matheson's novel was made into a big-budget movie, after all.
Now, much of this allegedly channeled material is questionable. I find that Borgia's book, for instance, reads like fiction, and parts of Cummins' two books channeling Myers are hard to swallow. But the point is, this ground has been trod before. In fact, it has been covered so thoroughly that I'm not clear on how another book, coming through a single medium, can add much to what has already been written. Of course, there's always room for more data -- but must we believe that just because the data are recent, they represent "a perspective no one had really taken before"?
I wonder what it is about paranormal research that has us perpetually reinventing the wheel. Rather than building on the work of those who came earlier, each new generation seems determined to start from zero. It's hardly the way to make progress -- either in this life or the next.