Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shroedinger’s Cat Versus Eternity

Spook : science tackles the afterlife
Mary Roach
Nonfiction 311 pages
W.W. Norton and Co. 2005

Others may be dying to find out if there’s an afterlife, but Mary Roach looks at what science has to say about it. In “Spook: science tackles the afterlife,” Ms. Roach seeks the answer on three continents. She encounters reincarnation research in India, a school mediums in England; and in the U.S.A., she encounters laptop computers viewable only by those who are temporarily discarnate.

Does she find the answer? No, her findings are inconclusive. Some of the afterlife research is badly designed. Some is downright bogus. Regardless, whatever research she analyses, Mary Roach’s writing is always entertaining and witty.

Roach’s most convincing evidence is based on near death experience (NDE) research and is presented toward the end of the book. NDE research may be the most hopeful route toward understanding the afterlife. However, it is not a straightforward route. There are both neurological and practical factors to consider. Since near death is not death itself, permanent and unyielding, to what extent can experiencing it be generalized to experiencing death itself? For that matter, since much of our experience comes through our senses, which require living organs to function, how can there even be a death experience, at least in terms that are understandable by the living?

The near death experience reminds me of the dilemma that Erwin Shroedinger’s cat found itself in. In Shroedinger’s thought experiment, the cat is both live and dead until an observer opens the box that contains it. Only upon observation can the cat be considered dead or living. That’s the thing — is a person dead or living during an NDE? Roach’s book doesn’t provide any solid answers, but it does ask some great questions.
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Dave Loeff ( is an author and graphic designer. In addition to fiction, Dave writes about graphics, travel, and other topics. Find him at

Dave worked domestically in the sewn goods industry, before he became a buyer in Taiwan. He subsequently worked as a mental health clinician, technical writer, computer technician, and graphic designer.

His freelance services include conversion of manuscripts into eBooks, photo retouching, book design and illustration,