Friday, June 19, 2009

Book Review: Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life after Death by Stephen E. Braude

In his book "Immortal Remains", Stephen E. Braude examines the evidence for life after death. Braude is a philosopher and this book is heavily laden with philosophical arguments and analysis. In that way it is different from other books that just report the evidence for the afterlife. The book discusses how well the survival hypothesis and the super-psi hypothesis fit the empirical data. It isn't written for the reader who is new to the subject so I would recommend such readers do some background reading first. Any of the following would be helpful to read before tackling "Immortal Remains":

There is also a page about the Evidence for the Afterlife on my web site.

You can get the flavor of Braude's thinking from the following on-line articles from

In "Immortal Remains", Braude raises a lot of ideas for discussion and tries to consider all sides of the issues. It is worthwhile reading the book to be exposed to those ideas. However another philosopher might not agree with every point Braude makes, so a reader who is not trained in philosophy should not accept everything in the book simply because of Braude's academic credentials.

Braude covers some of the best evidence (but not all of the best evidence) and gives many references.

The book covers the following types of evidence in detail:

  • Drop-In Communicators
  • Trance Mediumship
  • Reincarnation and Possession
  • Haunting
  • Transplant Cases
  • Out-of Body Experiences

It includes an analysis of the following cases:

  • Cagliostro
  • Runki's Leg
  • Mrs. Piper
  • Mrs. Leonard
  • Sharada
  • Patience Worth
  • Bishen Chand
  • Antonia
  • Sumitra/Shiva
  • Thompson-Gifford Case

Braude's reasoning is philosophical and somewhat complicated. Actually, I have to admit that I didn't follow how he came to some of his conclusions. Braude's main conclusion is that the evidence justifies the belief that some individuals survive for a time after death. He bases his conclusion on the argument that survival is slightly favored by the empirical evidence over super-psi but what really tips the scales in favor of survival is something which he calls "crippling complexity".

Crippling complexity is based on the assumption that there are certain factors that that interfere with psi, such as psychics getting in each other's way psychically, or adverse geomagnetic conditions. The more ways psi needs to be used to produce a result, the greater the susceptibility of that result is to this interference. Explaining the evidence for the afterlife using the super-psi hypothesis would often require that a psychic access information from multiple sources. The survival hypothesis explains the same phenomena with only one source of psychic information. Therefore super-psi is more susceptible to crippling complexity than the survival hypothesis. Braude likens it to the fact that obtaining information from several radio stations is more problematic than obtaining information from just one station. The more veridical information in a case, the stronger the effect would be. Therefore, cases with a lot of veridical information are better explained by the survival hypothesis than by super-psi.

Braude emphasizes that when analyzing the evidence for the afterlife, one must examine the empirical evidence both for and against. However, I didn't completely follow Braude's explanation about what empirical evidence there is that supports his theory of crippling complexity. Braude also didn't specify any means to quantify the effects of crippling complexity which I think would be helpful in justifying the claim that it actually pertains in cases of survival evidence.

However, it is interesting that his own theory, as he says, tips the scales in favor of survival. When analyzing of the evidence for survival, Braude advocates a psychological analysis of the people involved to assess whether or not super-psi is a reasonable interpretation of the case. If there are reasons to suspect that living people might benefit psychologically from a phenomenon, there is reason to suspect they might be using psi unconsciously to produce the phenomenon. I think it would be helpful in assessing Braude's analysis of the evidence for life after death if Braude was psychoanalyzed to determine if he benefited psychologically from his finding that his theory of crippling complexity tips the balance in favor of survival.

Another area where I had trouble following Braude's reasoning was when he concluded that super-psi is a better explanation than survival for the Patience Worth case. Patience Worth was a spirit who communicated literary works of the highest quality through a medium.

The samples of Patience Worth's work reprinted in "Immortal Remains" included this one:

Mrs. P.: The world is crying for proofs of immortality.

P.W.: To prove a fact, needst thou a book of words, when e'en the sparrow's chirp telleth thee more?

A tale unfolded by the Bishops' drudge may hold the meat for thousands, while dust and web are strong on his Eminence. The road to higher plains leadeth not along the steeple.

Copyright © 2009 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.