Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia

Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia

A scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality from the bestselling author and skeptic Michael ShermerIn his most ambitious work yet, Shermer sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality along with utopian attempts to create heaven on earth...

DownloadRead Online
Title:Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia
Author:Michael Shermer
Rating:

Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia Reviews

  • Andrei Khrapavitski

    Finished reading Michael Shermer’s new book Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia. I found it a timely read, given my interest in future-related topics. I have had my fair share of arguments with both religious zealots and pseudo-scientific transhumanist believers, but even I needed a dose of high quality skepticism not to get too excited after reading authors like Kevin Kelly or listening to another podcast about the promise of CRISPR and life extens

    Finished reading Michael Shermer’s new book Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia. I found it a timely read, given my interest in future-related topics. I have had my fair share of arguments with both religious zealots and pseudo-scientific transhumanist believers, but even I needed a dose of high quality skepticism not to get too excited after reading authors like Kevin Kelly or listening to another podcast about the promise of CRISPR and life extension science.

    Shermer, the founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine Skeptic, is a perfect choice to bring anyone back to reality. But realism is not equal to existential pessimism. No, far from that! I had already recommended his extraordinary book Moral Arch as a supplementary reading to Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature. These two books can give you hope in humanity. So let’s see what Shermer’s latest offering will bring.

    Heavens on Earth begins by dismantling humans’ long-lasting belief in the afterlife. No sugarcoating here. If you believe in the Garden of Eden or Jannah or Tian, etc., prepare for the hard truth. No, you are not going to heaven. Good news, sinners, you are not going to hell either. Shermer not only explains why any version of afterlife you may think of is unlikely but offers reasons why our species tend to believe in life after death.

    After dealing with traditional religions, Shermer has some bad news for transhumanists and singularitarians, fans of Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Aubrey de Grey, Zoltan Istvan, and the like. No, singularity is not that near. No, you will not live forever. No, your diet won’t help. No, you will not get uploaded into a computer. And, with the current state of development, cryonics is probably waste of money. Bam! Some hard-hitting facts hard to swallow even for atheistic technology buffs.

    Shermer retells a sad story of FM-2030, a lifelong vegetarian and transhumanist who believed he would live forever, even wrote a book Are You a Transhuman?: Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World. FM-2030 died from pancreatic cancer and was placed in cryonic suspension at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale. Cryonics is a growing industry. People want to believe that one day in the future when technology is there, someone will bring them back to life. Well… As I noted above, there’s a low probability this will ever happen to those who are currently frozen in such facilities.

    Spoiler alert! If you need any physical law that can settle the question of immortality once and for all, the second law of thermodynamics can do the job. Entropy is why you are alive and why you will not live forever. You can read more on it and the arrow of time and get done with the whole thing.

    Shermer is not a physicist. He mentions entropy and even the multiverse, but he doesn’t touch the topic of infinities. Modern understanding of cosmology leaves the door open for those of us who want to have, at least, a dim hope about coming back to life. Any organism, or even a planet, is a finite system (with a finite number of atoms and possible combinations), while most versions of multiverse are either infinite or near infinite systems. If you take infinite time and keep on shuffling randomly, you can get the exact match. Some physicists claim that there may be exact copies of you and me somewhere in the cosmos. In theory this can go on forever. If this gives you hope, so be it.

    But don’t delude yourself. Shermer approaches this topic from another perspective. He recalls Derek Parfit’s personal identity thought experiments. Those cosmic copies are more like your clones. Imagine that you are cloned. Would you agree to be killed while your clone lives on? As Shermer claims, what counts in terms of our personal identity is our memories and our POV self (the way we view ourselves). Even if we could split into two organisms with exactly the same memories, from that moment onwards we get to live separate lives. Here Shermer differs from Parfit who doesn’t consider POV self as relevant. But the conclusions they make are similar. On this later.

    Having ripped our hopes apart about afterlife and immortality, Shermer directs his skeptic eye to those who attempt at creating heavens (or utopias) on earth. Communists, Nazis, fascists, etc. Our species did some appalling social experiments in the past. But some contemporaries did not learn from mistakes. Shermer focuses on the phenomena of the Alt-right and the Regressive Left, two worrisome trends in the XXI century American and European politics. Two sides of the same coin. In fact, Alt-right is the direct consequence of the regressive trends on the Left, claims Shermer.

    So what are we left with? Is there no hope for us? To the contrary! We are living in the best period of human history so far. We should enjoy every moment of our brief existence. Organisms, Shermer claims, are survival machines for our genes to be passed along, reproduce and live on in other organisms. We should embrace the fact of our mortality and find purpose and meaning for ourselves. Shermer is right to claim that purpose is not the same as happiness. I know what he is talking about. Like when I’m running 10K or doing some hard coding task, the feeling is not happiness. But there’s a personal purpose in that. It gives me a short temporal meaning. We need to learn to create such goals. For instance, having children (whom I don’t have) can, in fact, make you less happy but can also create meaning for you.

    But is that all? Religious people have a sense of awe. What’s left for a person like me? I don’t believe in any deity. But I totally agree with Shermer here. Atheists can have a sense of awe. I do. This sense comes from the fact of being alive, being conscious and having what can be termed as a cosmic perspective. When I stroll through the parks of my beloved city of Vilnius, looking at squirrels or birds, trees and flowers, when I travel to the coast of Scotland or mountains of Norway, it is hard to ignore the beauty of our planet. In cities, it is hard not to get mesmerized by the art, magic of music, grandeur of architecture produced by the humankind. When I explore machine learning algorithms, I can’t but think that this math is to some degree an attempt at representation of decision-making inside of my own skull. And when I look at the stars, which I like to do when the weather allows, I can’t but feel awe at the vastness of what I see.

    Reading this book, I couldn’t but agree with the famous skeptic. Look around, this is the real heaven we have. Let’s just not turn it into hell for one another. Share good ideas, fight bad ideas. Be kind to those who share these precious moments with you. Cosmic perspective helps a lot. We are all on our little spaceship Earth. This is all we have. Let’s try not to screw up.

  • Dan Graser

    Michael Shermer is simply an indispensable writer and his latest volume is one of his very best. This is a complete survey and analysis of the various notions of the afterlife and immortality divided mainly between:

    1) How these claims have been scientifically tested and evaluated

    2) How such notions have been depicted throughout humanity's history in works of art, philosophy, and literature.

    3) How we have attempted to transcend our mortal limitations

    4) What we can reasonably expect in this area

    N

    Michael Shermer is simply an indispensable writer and his latest volume is one of his very best. This is a complete survey and analysis of the various notions of the afterlife and immortality divided mainly between:

    1) How these claims have been scientifically tested and evaluated

    2) How such notions have been depicted throughout humanity's history in works of art, philosophy, and literature.

    3) How we have attempted to transcend our mortal limitations

    4) What we can reasonably expect in this area

    Not only dealing with those familiar claims from the various monotheisms, Shermer casts an equally critical eye on those claims from New Age "gurus" (a nice way of saying charlatan), near death experiences, reincarnation, gruesomely cynical mediums preying on the desperate, as well as the efforts of some scientifically and pseudo-scientifically minded people seeking to extend human life as long as possible in the form of cryonicists, extropians, transhumanists, Omega Point theorists, singularitarians, and mind uploaders.

    There are many skeptical writers I enjoy but Shermer's worldview is probably the closest to my own and his indefatigability to examine the numerous spurious claims in this area of discourse with an objective, scientific mind is commendable and makes for mind-clearing, lucid reading.

    Where many volumes on this subject are just full of woo-woo, pseudo-scientific, and platitudinous nonsense, here there is only reason and science and yes; it is possible and necessary to speak of such matters in such terms. That we have been led to think otherwise is among the most frustrating things surrounding mature conversation of this subject and an act of intellectual abnegation. Shermer is a sagacious guide through this territory and his broadly focused work ends on the most reasonable and hopeful of tones. A must read.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    In this short book Shermer tackles the human mortality and beliefs about the afterlife with pertinent side forays into transhumanism, religion, and utopian ideologies we substitute for immortality and meaning. For such a short book a lot of ideas are touched upon from the starting point of human mortality we explore what happens physically at death, We move into traditional conceptions of the afterlife from antiquity and in the Abrahamic religions. We also cover briefly the afterlife possibiliti

    In this short book Shermer tackles the human mortality and beliefs about the afterlife with pertinent side forays into transhumanism, religion, and utopian ideologies we substitute for immortality and meaning. For such a short book a lot of ideas are touched upon from the starting point of human mortality we explore what happens physically at death, We move into traditional conceptions of the afterlife from antiquity and in the Abrahamic religions. We also cover briefly the afterlife possibilities open to atheists. These include cryonics, various technological options like gene therapy, medical interventions, and mind uploading into the cloud, even Frank Tiplers extremely speculative Omega Point Theory where a supercomputer of the far future resurrects us all into a simulated heaven. Shermer is skeptical of all these ideas and points out the problems with all of them. He touches on my favorite form of afterlife the true slacker option of letting huge amounts of time and space to randomly resurrect us after an inconceivably long period of time or huge expanse of space. He calls it something like resurrection and the googolplex. I call it Poincare Recurrence since that is the mathematical name for it. (see video below).

    He also explores ideas around mortality which could supply meaning to a finite life. He talks about terror management theory which he argues is too simplistic an idea. Human behavior could maybe be explained as partially the management of our fears about mortality but we have drives also around reproduction which also explains some of our behavior (again not all of it). He then talks about utopian ideologies to make a better world as a substitute for meaning if we must live a finite life. The Classless society is one recent utopia, the master races is another even darker vision (unfortunately making a comeback with the alt-right.) The 20th century is a guide for what happens with such projects. Hint they don't end well. Anyway, I am to the left of Shermer politically but he does a good job of pointing out the problems of getting carried away with Utopias especially ones based on shoddy thinking. I enjoyed this book but is only a teaser I would love to see his ideas more fully fleshed out. I will include a video on Poincare recurrence to give a flavor of my oh so slacker vision of the afterlife.

  • Jerry James

    If you're already a skeptic there is not much in this book that's surprising, but Shermer is always enjoyable. The end of the book was the most fun for me as he outlined all the things that provide meaning for life without the use of religion.

  • Book

    Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia by Michael Shermer

    “Heavens on Earth” is an intellectually provocative yet accessible book that explores the afterlife. Dr. Michael Shermer is a well-known skeptic, professor and accomplished author of many books. This enlightening 303-page book includes twelve chapters broken out into the following four parts: I. Varieties of Mortal Experiences and Immortal Quests, II. The Scientific Search for Immortality, III.

    Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia by Michael Shermer

    “Heavens on Earth” is an intellectually provocative yet accessible book that explores the afterlife. Dr. Michael Shermer is a well-known skeptic, professor and accomplished author of many books. This enlightening 303-page book includes twelve chapters broken out into the following four parts: I. Varieties of Mortal Experiences and Immortal Quests, II. The Scientific Search for Immortality, III. All Our Yesterdays and Tomorrows, and IV. Mortality and Meaning.

    Positives:

    1. Shermer is a gifted writer. He has great command of the topic and is able to convey his thoughts in a clear, concise manner.

    2. As fascinating a topic as you will find, the scientific search for the afterlife, in the capable hands of Shermer. “This book is about one of the most profound questions of the human condition, one that has driven theologians, philosophers, scientists, and all thinking people to try to understand the meaning and purpose of our life as mortal beings and discover how we can transcend our mortality.”

    3. Intellectually provocative. “To experience something, you must be alive, so we cannot personally experience death. Yet we know it is real because every one of the hundred billion people who lived before us is gone. That presents us with something of a paradox.”

    4. Makes great reference to other great authors. “In his book Immortality, for example, the British philosopher Stephen Cave contends that the attempt to resolve the paradox of being aware of our own mortality and yet not being able to imagine nonexistence has led to four immortality narratives: (1) Staying Alive: “like all living systems, we strive to avoid death. The dream of doing so forever—physically, in this world—is the most basic of immortality narratives.” (2) Resurrection: “the belief that, although we must physically die, nonetheless we can physically rise again with the bodies we knew in life.” (3) Soul: The “dream of surviving as some kind of spiritual entity.” (4) Legacy: “More indirect ways of extending ourselves into the future” such as glory, reputation, historical impact, or children.”

    5. The debunking of the soul. “The soul has been traditionally conceived as a separate entity (“soul stuff”) from the body, but neuroscience has demonstrated that the mind—consciousness, memory, and the sense of self representing “you”—cannot exist without a brain.”

    6. Interesting look at suicides. “People desire death when two fundamental needs are frustrated to the point of extinction; namely, the need to belong with or connect to others, and the need to feel effective with or to influence others.”

    7. A look at Christian heaven. “Once you get to the Christian heaven, what’s it like? Since no one has ever gone and come back with irrefutable evidence, believers must once again be content with biblical or theological narratives, sprung entirely from the imagination of the narrators.”

    8. Addresses ideas about the afterlife and immortality from the perspective of spiritual traditions. “Dualists believe that we consist of two substances—body and soul, brain and mind (called “substance dualism” by philosophers). Monists contend that there is just one substance—a body and a brain—from which consciousness is an emergent property, “mind” is just the term we use to describe what the brain is doing, and the soul is just the pattern of information that represents our thoughts, memories, and personalities.”

    9. Philosophically provocative questions. “In other words, if brains are not the source of consciousness, then what is?”

    10. Examines evidence for the afterlife. “And we can ask ourselves what’s more likely: that NDE accounts represent descriptions of actual journeys to the afterlife or are portrayals of experiences produced by brain activity? Many lines of evidence converge to support the theory that NDEs are produced by the brain and are not stairways to heaven.”

    11. Debunked claims and stories. “It is revealing that the author of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, improbably named Alex Malarkey, recanted his allegedly true story, admitting that he made it all up.”

    12. Examines reincarnation. “In this sense reincarnation is a type of cosmic justice in which the scales are ultimately balanced, or life redemption in which wrongs are righted and the crooked is made straight, and it fits squarely into the Law of Karma, which holds that the world is just so justice will prevail sooner (in this life) or later (in the next life).”

    13. A look at biases. “Such longings make us all subject to a number of cognitive biases, most notably the confirmation bias in which we look for and find confirming evidence and ignore disconfirming evidence.”

    14. Examines the soul. “The neurobiologist and philosopher Owen Flanagan summarizes the three primary characteristics of the soul: the unity of experience (a sense of self or “I”), personal identity (the feeling of being the same person over the course of a lifetime), and personal immortality (the survival of death).” “The vast majority of people base such belief on religious faith, but science tells us that all three of these characteristics are illusions.”

    15. So can science conquer death? “They are the cryonicists, extropians, transhumanists, Omega Point theorists, singularitarians, and mind uploaders, and they are serious about defeating death.” “As the name suggests, singularitarians are scientists considering singularity-level technologies to engineer immortality by, among other things, transferring your soul—the pattern of information that represents your thoughts and memories as stored in the connectome of your brain—into a computer.”

    16. A look at utopias. “In 1935 a former chicken farmer instituted the Society for Research and Teaching of the Ancestral Inheritance, devoted to the historical and anthropological search for the origin of the superior Germanic race. His name was Heinrich Himmler, and he went on to became the Reichsführer of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) and the titular head of the Reich’s die Endlösung der Judenfrage—the final solution to the Jewish problem. Such is the power of myth when put into action.”

    17. So was Atlantis real? Find out.

    18. A look at Hitler’s inspiration. “Adolf Hitler, in fact, read Chamberlain’s biography of Wagner, and he drew heavily from the racial theorist for his own ideas about racial purity, one of which was that for the Germanic peoples to survive, the Jews would have to be removed from German society.” “All such utopias are premised on a vision of a past that never was and a projected future that can never be, a heaven on earth turned to hell.”

    19. A look at why we die. “For scientists, the ultimate answer to why we age and die begins (and ends) with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which guarantees that the cosmos is running down and in the long run must come to an end hundreds of billions of years from now.” “To date, no convincing evidence showing the administration of existing ‘anti-aging’ remedies can slow aging or increase longevity in humans is available.”

    20. Interesting perspectives. “Participants reminded of global warming, for example, were more supportive of international peacemaking, in the sense that a threat to all of us reduces the concerns about the differences between us.”

    Negatives:

    1. Honestly, this wasn’t Shermer’s best effort.

    2. Lacks depth.

    3. No formal bibliography.

    In summary, I enjoyed this book. Shermer has a knack for covering very interesting topics and does so with the layperson in mind. I like Shermer’s approach and what keeps this book from five stars is the lack of depth and dare I say I sense the book was rushed. It lacks the awe I sensed from what I consider his greatest book, The Believing Brain. That said, I’ve enjoyed Shermer’s books and look forward to more material in the future. I recommend it!

    Further suggestions: “The Believing Brain” and “Why People Believe Weird Things?” by the same author, “Immortality” by Stephen Cave, “The Problem of the Soul” by Owen J. Flanagan, “Science in the Soul” by Richard Dawkins, “The Physics of the Future” by Machio Kaku, and “How to Create a Mind” by Ray Kurzweil.

  • Tim Gorichanaz

    We're obsessed with what happens after we die. We can't seem to help it. This is an engaging synthesis of different views on the matter, with a New Atheist tilt. It finishes with a "what's the point of life?" section much along the lines of Sean Carroll's

    .

  • Jenna

    The good news? You're alive (well, I

    that's a good thing for you). The bad news? You're going to die. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. For millennia, humans have been trying to evade death by creating afterlives. Sure, we can't stop our physical bodies from dying but we certainly can imagine that they'll either be resurrected or we have some immortal soul that will live on outside of our bodies. We know that religions promise some sort of immortality, but what does science tell us?

    In

    The good news? You're alive (well, I

    that's a good thing for you). The bad news? You're going to die. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. For millennia, humans have been trying to evade death by creating afterlives. Sure, we can't stop our physical bodies from dying but we certainly can imagine that they'll either be resurrected or we have some immortal soul that will live on outside of our bodies. We know that religions promise some sort of immortality, but what does science tell us?

    In

    , Michael Shermer explores the various beliefs humans have held for the last few thousand years. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks, Jews and Mesopotamians -- all were on a quest for immortality, constructing heavens and hells, places where our souls would travel to after death. He explores the concept of reincarnation held by many Eastern people. Do psychics really communicate with the dead? What are NDEs and do they prove the existence of an immortal soul?

    Unfortunately for those who wish to believe in an afterlife and a soul distinct from our physical bodies and brains, science shows there is absolutely no proof of this and the more we learn about our brains, the less likely it appears that we are more than our physical selves and will survive death.

    Shermer doesn't just debunk religious beliefs though; he also explores the various ways atheists dream of immortality. From brain uploads into computers to cryogenics, to transplanting our brains into new bodies to a future AI capable of bringing back to life all who've ever existed, Shermer explains why these are all but impossible, at least with what we know today. Whilst I wasn't exactly jumping up and down with happiness to have my dream of getting my brain put into a new body at some point, I am nevertheless glad to know that it's highly unlikely and thus stop hoping for that day. Why waste time and energy on something that's not likely to happen? It's always better to face the facts and accept them than to place our hopes on something that's never going to happen. That's how I feel about it anyway; everyone is different and I know some would rather hold on to their religious and supernatural beliefs than accept their mortality, but I am not one of them.

    So what do we do when we no longer have hope of an afterlife? How do we find purpose and meaning in life when it's temporary, when we're only here for what amounts to less than a blink of an eye in the universe's history? Well, we create our own purpose and meaning. Knowing that ultimately there IS no meaning bestowed upon us does not mean we have to live lives without purpose. In fact, I would argue that it's the opposite. When we accept our own and everyone else's mortality, we can better appreciate the here and now. We can better appreciate the fact that we were born and have a life to enjoy. Trillions upon trillions of people who might have existed never did and never will. Were we "given" our life by some supernatural being? No, probably not. Does that mean we cannot be grateful for it or cannot make it meaningful? No, absolutely not. For me, knowing this is all I have gives MORE meaning to life. I have this one chance to live and learn and love so I must make the most of it and I can live a healthy lifestyle to hopefully extend this life. I can focus on the good I can do now, knowing everyone else is in the same boat as I am - we all will eventually die and forever cease to be. Instead of wasting time thinking of and preparing for some time that won't eventuate, I can focus my energy on making my life and the lives around me as good as possible for the short time we are here.

    I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone who really wants to know what science has to say about an afterlife. As a skeptic and someone who long ago stopped believing in an afterlife (minus my hope in medical technology giving me a new body or granting me immortality by uploading my brain into a computer), there wasn't a lot of new material for me to consider. These are probably concepts most agnostics and atheists have considered, possibly many religious people as well. I might not have learned much, but I DID learn some things and had my beliefs challenged, thus I am glad I read it.

    Now, just in case there IS some future, all-powerful AI that is conscious of this book review at some point in the far, far future.... please don't hesitate to reconstruct my connectome and give me a new body... but only if you still have Brussels sprouts in your time. Oh, and chocolate! I definitely need chocolate as well!

  • Leonard Singer

    First two parts ugh; last two parts worth the read.

  • Glenngrubb

    When I got my $30 book home and began to read I had to wonder if the supplier had slipped the wrong book into the jacket. But, indeed this was the correct book: “Heavens on Earth, The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia”; accolades including: “brilliant, filled with profundity, startling facts, and mind-expanding ideas.”

    In chapter one on page one, within seven words, something does not meet with the authors’ deductive standards. His words are, “Come again?”. For the read

    When I got my $30 book home and began to read I had to wonder if the supplier had slipped the wrong book into the jacket. But, indeed this was the correct book: “Heavens on Earth, The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia”; accolades including: “brilliant, filled with profundity, startling facts, and mind-expanding ideas.”

    In chapter one on page one, within seven words, something does not meet with the authors’ deductive standards. His words are, “Come again?”. For the reader this proves to be an alert; in other words, get used to searching out meaning. Here are more examples of the blasé rejoinders that indicate the book is going to pass judgement: “I don’t think it is… I don’t think this will happen… It seems to me... I am not at all sure… I became curious… I think not.”

    Let’s try to figure out the author’s deductive standards and what the author is trying to say. There are arguments made 1) about mortality and immortality, 2) about imagining mortality and immortality, and 3) that we demonstrate something about an afterlife because we do not fear death. The author believes that ‘we’ do not fear death. He’ll ‘prove’ this for us. There will be more about this, and more about ‘we’, later in this book review/critique.

    Statements from page one and two are here quoted: “In order to observe or imagine a scene you must be alive and conscious…”, and: “You can no more visualize yourself after you die than you can picture yourself before you were born…”, and: “It is… impossible for a thinking being to imagine nonbeing…”, and from page two: “We cannot indeed, imagine our own death…”, and: “To experience something, you must be alive, so we cannot personally experience death…”.

    Read chapter one for yourself and see if the book doesn’t conflate the imagining of something and the existence of something. Evaluate the logic of these quotes and see if we don’t have similar logical equivalences being: ‘if you are only imagining a twinkie there is no such thing as a twinkie’, and ‘you can’t be alive when you’re dead’.

    Problems continue in chapter one. The book describes “TMT” (Terror Management Theory) and “EPT” (Emotional Priority Theory). It does not believe in TMT, but it does believe in EPT. The author does not agree that death inspires the “creativity” and “terror” that TMT proposes; but rather that EPT allows “prioritization of one’s emotions”. Within one sentence the author jumps from “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight”, to “Facing death focuses one’s mind on the most important emotions in life, love being arguably the deepest. In fact, love is so powerful an emotion that it can be addictive, like chocolate and cocaine…”. This curious conjunction of factoids rolls on for another paragraph, invoking ‘science’ and dopamine, love, lust, the pituitary, oxytocin, and a footnote. The book then proceeds to take this very strained opportunity to jump directly to the value of using EPT: “Confirming my Emotional Priority Theory prediction… of the 425 death row inmates…”. Would you (the reader) draw conclusions about intuiting something about an afterlife, and/or whether ‘we’ fear death, by evaluating the statements of death row inmates? Was this possibly a convenient, but unfortunate source of data?

    Should ‘we’ believe that the attitudes and beliefs of death row inmates and their judges represent the attitudes and beliefs of the general population? The author here takes the opportunity to refer to his work/’statistics’, as if it confirms some kind of hypothesis that he has presented. He also speculates that this situation (i.e: death; sentencing; death row) is, “… perhaps priming judges of their impending death… remind(ing) them to prioritize their sense of moralistic punishment, an emotion we all carry over from our evolutionary ancestry”. This is the books’ odd segue into chapter two. The book next spends time chasing supposed connections between an afterlife and: animal behavior, pollen at an ancient burial site, evolutionary predecessors, ancient murder, and children’s beliefs.

    Regarding animals, the book points out that there are, ”(emotional) correspondences of which may be found, in some degree, in our fellow mammals, including and especially primates and cetaceans…” . Here the book describes dolphins and elephants acting disturbed when their pod mates / herd mates die. The book also observes that “cautious scientists (are) concerned about the anthropomorphizing of animals, but it is pertinent to note that we are animals too.”

    Next we are presented with ‘science’ that maintains that pollen that existed at one ancient burial site was due to the activity of rodents.

    Regarding archeology (i.e. the grave sites of Neanderthal) and quoting from the book: “Neanderthal brains were as large as our own… we may reasonably infer that these were thinking and feeling hominids who had some awareness of their own mortality”. Indeed, the book warns us of “the difficulty of fossil interpretation”.

    Next we have a claim that a 2013 study of 85 Homo-sapiens burial sites were mostly, “… relatively plain with items from daily life, but a few contained… ornaments of stone, teeth, and shells.” And next we learn, “Curiously there was no sign of progression over time… . So, the behavior of humans does not always go from simple to complex…”.

    And jumping ahead: “In a column in Scientific American I argued that intentional burial may be the result not of mourning but of murder”. Here the author (apparently) proposed that bodies were buried, not just because they stink, but because individuals were murdered (thereby suggesting that the bodies were hidden by the murderer). Here again the author has conveniently taken the opportunity to support his own (unrelated?) ‘work’.

    And (from the book) children might be able to “understand that death is inevitable, universal, and irrevocable”, but that the concept of an afterlife…”, i.e. religion, has the “corrosive effects of confusing young minds.” Does the contention that young minds can be confused demonstrate something about the existence of an afterlife?

    This reviewer believes that whether a child’s mind is confused, or a human progenitor was murdered, or a dead body stinks, or whether ancient graves were lavishly or minimally decorated, or whether a possible (marginally?) human ancestor (i.e. Neanderthal) speculated about mortality; are moot points. None of these demonstrate something/anything about the existence of an afterlife.

    In this reviewers’ opinion, it would seem reasonable that there is a relationship, for adult humans, between fear of death and belief in an afterlife. The author’s assertion, though, is that we do not fear death. To identify this position sort through the mash of information in chapter one to find his argument against “TMT”. Quoting (regarding a connection between death and the ”terror” of TMT): “I have my doubts. First, it is not obvious why contemplating death should lead people to experience terror…”, and, “Those hominid groups that developed religious rituals to quell their death terror were more likely to survive.”, and, “fear of death is only one of many drivers of creativity and productivity, if it is one at all.” In this last sentence he states that fear is “one of” the drivers, but he (really) believes: “… the claim that people feel “terror” when contemplating mortality is an assertion, not an observation… depend(ing) on unconscious states of mind makes it even more problematic when determining what, exactly, is being tested.” So, dear reader, if you are fearful, it’s due to an unconscious state of mind and we can rule out whatever it is that you assert that you’re thinking about. The book believes that “The capacity to reason and communicate symbolically is… surely a more basic survival skill than the management of death terror.”

    The book says, “… faith in some spiritual protection… (is) a colorful story, but one lacking in empirical evidence…”. The author needs to examine what constitutes empirical evidence. Is it empirical to speculate about Neanderthal’s speculations, or a hominid’s religious rituals? How do we know the hominid’s weren’t speculating about the earth mother or Thor or the industrious woodchuck or mad scientists of the future?

    It seems to be fashionable for intellectuals to laugh at death. Quoting the book, quoting Feynman: “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring”. And, according to the book: Hitchens, “after swiftly dispatching Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous (and flawed) stage theory of dying (not everyone goes through all five stages…)”… “Hitch reflected, “… I can’t see myself smiting my brow… or… whining about how it’s all so unfair…” “. Apparently we are to believe that Ross’s theory is inaccurate because it didn’t click for all five stages. This reviewer is not willing to go off on another tangent to investigate whether the author, and “Hitch”, may have been accurately critiquing Kubler-Ross, or if they were putting spin on otherwise worthwhile work. If this is an argument about Ross not being accurate on all five points, we may want to consider this book’s obsessive need for counting, numbering, and pidgeonholing:

    On page 12 there are four immortality narratives: #(1), #(2), #(3), & #(4). The book sums up problems with narrative #(1) in this not so helpful way: “First, staying alive is not presently possible.” On page 13 the book finds two problems, designated (1), and (2) with immortality narrative #(2). Problems (1) and (2) are here (in the book) delineated (respectively) as The Transformation Problem and the Duplication Problem; you can read them for yourself and see if they are useful. For problem (1), we learn that (quoting the book) “I am involved in one aspect of this research and will discuss it at length in Chapter 7”. In Chapter 7 we have the potpourri of: “Star Trek… Commander William Riker… Plutarch… Minotaur(s)… replacement of atoms… foreign cells… identity shattering, God… duplicating your (self), (etc)”. Back on Page 14 and 15, regarding “not… ambition but… trepidation”, or is it, “positive emotions (and creations) to avoid the terror that comes from confronting one’s death”, or is it “a little cooling down of animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a little weakness and descent of the pain-threshold, will bring the worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and turn us into melancholy metaphysicians”, here the author states: “I have my doubts. First …, Second …, and Third…”. And Page 19: ”Figure 1-1“ Chart about (eight)… “Emotional Reasons Why People Believe in God”… including stupidity. And Page 24: “Figure 1-2. Content analysis of Texas Death Row Inmates’ Final Statements”, including eight more categories complete with probabilities; for which category 7 is (paraphrasing): ‘I didn’t do it’, for which (quoting) “k=.842,p<.01: 14.8%”.

    In chapter one we have already heard of/from: “Sartre… Goethe… Freud… Becker… Cave… Soloman… Greenberg… Pyszczynski… and James”. Freud was implicated in the mash of imagination and existence (on page one and two of chapter one). In chapter three we also hear of/from: “Wright… McGrath… Russell… Segal…”, and now specifically (quoting the book): “McDannell and Lang”. Here in chapter three “The world’s major monotheistic religions” are dispatched thusly: “the variation in heavenly themata… is staggering”, and, the “diversity of ideas… is… disappointing…”. Here we readers are called on to indulge the book in its disappointment and frustration that there is not a clearly demarcated throroughfare to the hereafter. In addition to the “lack of agreement” being “… disappointing” for a “theologian”, it is also said to also be “frustrating” in an “ontological” sense for a “philosopher”. It’s disappointing and frustrating that here the book chooses to call on theologians and ontologists to make this point; these are types that the author delights in debating on national TV. That the book considers diversity of ideas to be a “delectation” is beyond odd.

    The author claims that “for the scientist such variation of beliefs is indicative of the likelihood that none of them are “true” in any ontological sense”. Does science consider data that doesn’t conform to pre-conceptions to be incorrect… or that it is amusing to find data varied? The book seems unacquainted with arguments in theology and jusrisprudence that maintain that conformity of testimonies suggests that the witnesses have been paid off; multiple observers often have varied report of the same incident.

    The book reports that in 1999 “Pope John Paul II determined that heaven and hell are not actual physical places but states of the soul…” and (quoting the book/Pope): “ ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we find ourselves is… a living, personal relationship…”. This superficially (and when taken out of the context of the book) seems to be headed towards a type of position held by the book, but don’t jump to conclusions; the book objects to this, too. Quoting, “… how did the pope determine that heaven and hell are not real places, anyway, beyond the usual arm-chair ratiocination?” So reader, don’t forget that the only this author, not even the pope, is qualified to perform arm-chair ratiocination.

    By the end of chapter four even a casual observer can confirm that the book has ulterior motives. Is it helpful to approach a situation you want to understand with dismissive pre-conceptions? The author is here resentfully determined not to like his chapter four investigative weekend away; his attitude is, quoting from the book: “… then I had to go back to work on Monday morning because my mortgage… was coming up soon”. Is this an attitude that is conducive to the scientific process? The book then describes the startling results of observations by visiting scientists that reviewed this (chapter four) activity; results that the author must never have expected. The scientific conclusions (of the visiting scientists) are arguably the only science we’ve seen in this book. What we’ve seen so far is improper choice of data, muddled reasoning, name dropping, and pseudo-philosophical noodling.

    What science could be more captivating than finding a result that you never expected? It seems like the author would notice, ‘gee, everything I loath results in an outcome I didn’t foresee. I’d better really try to figure out what I’m missing - what could be the cause and effect of what we’re observing!’ Perhaps (with this book…with this work) we could have had investigation into a new wave theory of scotoma, or insights into early childhood traumatic imprinting, or something - anything that resembles scientific process. The author however doesn’t take the bait; the science didn’t matter. He concludes chapter four with, “… I did benefit, even while remaining skeptical that consciousness is the ground of being…”. The book muddles on to the end, not mentioning this best approximation of heaven on earth that we’ve seen yet. Perhaps we should be thankful that this book didn’t try to connect those dots.

    If you have the “stupefying patience” (a descriptive phrase from the book which was applied to a biblical character; here taken out of context) to continue on through the rest of this book you’ll find more on: near death experience, reincarnation, “the soul”, “afterlife for atheists”, cryopreservation, utopian communities, and alt-right nationalism.

    For an ironic distraction as you finish the book, look for information in chapter 8 about the BPF (Brain Preservation Foundation). Our author is apparently on the advisory board! The author describes BPF neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth as having, “… mannerisms and affectations (that) remind me of Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory (without the nerdy laugh)”. The scientists let the author look through their microscope but the author’s attitude makes you wonder if he ever intends to work with these guys again.

    The last chapter, chapter 12, starts by asking for a “deeper understanding of spirituality and awe”. It begins with a Sagan-esque invocation of vast spaces and large numbers of stars. The book then quickly ‘debunks’ awe; explaining it away according to types of personalities being “awe-prone”. Warm and fuzzy is not what this book is about. What does impress the author is ultra-human accomplishment such as a 100 mile open ocean swim or a three thousand mile non-stop bike race. Our author happens to be an avid bicyclist. This, to our author, exemplifies the “… true nature and cause of self-esteem: accomplishments through effort.”

    Chapter 12 concludes by making (superficially) well-articulated observations about what gives things, and what gives us, purpose. The book (seemingly) sagely observes that “we create our own purpose, and we do this by fulfilling our nature, by living in accord….”. In an upside-down way this book does illustrate that this can happen. Too bad this purpose and fulfillment hinge on conjuring up a conclusion and obsessively twisting information to fit. It’s an odd way to fulfill ‘our nature’.

Best Free Books is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2018 Best Free Books - All rights reserved.