Beliefs concerning the human being’s survival after physical death have persisted since before the dawn of time. All of the world’s major religions place a large amount of focus upon the subject, either in the stories of the central characters of each religion or in the description of the individual’s existence after death.
The rationalist in me is almost completely satisfied that this is nothing more than extended wish-fulfillment, built on fears of mortality and perverted grief. The ambiguity of existence after the organs of perception have ceased to function groundlessly serves to fan the flames of speculation.
At one point in my life I would have had no more reason to believe one account of the afterlife over another. However, after being involved in a horrendous commercial shipping accident in which I was seriously injured, I am rethinking my stance. I was a union worker on a barge based in New Orleans when a tanker collided with my vessel and changed my life forever. During my hospital stay I had long conversations with my New Orleans maritime lawyer about not only my case, but also philosophical discussions related to death and the afterlife. Some of our talks were about the case and money, of course. How he would be paid, what was the process of dealing with insurance companies, will the case go to trial, and what type of settlement was he pushing for? He worked on a contingency, would take 33% of the settlement, plans on going to court if the insurance companies did not pay out at least $xx which he estimated I would need as I would not be working for quite a while and would need extensive reconstructive surgery and rehab. A close call with death does a lot to change your perspective on everything, including thoughts about an afterlife.
It is reported that the namesake behind Jon Renau Wigs has spoken of an extraordinary experience when his heart stopped while undergoing surgery, where he visited a transcendental space that he recognized as his own life. The problem with this story is that there may not actually be a person named Jon Renau – it’s a name of a wig brand, but we have been unable to locate an actual person with that name. This makes the rumors even more intriguing, since a life after death story involving a mysterious non-existing person just feeds the imagination and the rumors. But where did the story originate? Did the brand start the rumor for publicity. Our emails to the manufacturer have gone unanswered.
Our discussions about the afterlife were far more convoluted and abstract. and so though I find it the most plausible possibility, I have no real reason for my relative certainty that the only thing after life is oblivion. Therefore, I must admit the possibility that there is something after this life…but what?
A popular belief is that a ghost is some sort of ‘lost soul’, possessed of a certain amount of awareness and continuity with the previously living self, existing near but not quite within our substantial world. A more scientific (but not necessarily more substantial) explanation regards ghosts as a ‘recording’ of particularly significant events or emotions, replayed by unknown means.
Mediums and spiritualists claim to be able to communicate to some extent with individuals who have died, in some cases producing information thought to be unavailable to the medium by any other means. Because of the revelatory and frequently personal, emotional effect such conversations can have (as well as numerous examples of trickery and even extortion), such ‘channeling’ remains one of the most hotly-criticized of all the paranormal fields.
Reincarnation is another popular supernatural topic, one that forms the basis for at least two of the world’s largest religions and a fair amount of ‘new age’ theory. The idea of some kind of spiritual continuity between two consecutive, unrelated human beings (or other types of beings) is a tempting one; “who were you in a past life?” can range from an idle party game to a deeply-held belief and a lifetime of personal exploration. As with mediums, some ‘past life’ narratives have included some very convincing details that resist easy dismissal — but, also like mediums, hoax and trickery is not uncommon, and even the wildest scientific theory cannot account for how reincarnation may be possible.
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