The Next Room

This account concerns the possible after-death condition and whereabouts of my father. When he died I found that neither I nor anyone else had any clear idea what might have happened to him. Had he vanished for good, as science suggested? Was he living on somewhere else, according to occult tradition? Or would he resurface unchanged at a later date, which the reading at his funeral implied? The unhappy, unspoken consensus seemed to be that it was unrealistic to expect anything other than his total annihilation.

It was clear, for all our cultural sophistication, modern man knew nothing of what happened to its dead, beyond their obvious physical demise. Wanting to learn more, I wrote to church leaders, authors, philosophers, scientists, asking where and in what state they thought my father was.

The response encouraged me to do some further investigation on my own. I read widely, wrote more letters and started to form my research into a story.

I discovered the world was divided between those who were certain neither my father nor anyone else survived death in any form and those who were equally convinced, though often in contradictory ways, that everyone lived on, Belief in the former largely depended on the absence of any certain proof supporting the latter.

Almost without exception, Western religion relied on unverifiable historical texts for its beliefs. Contemporarily, only Spiritualists claimed to be in touch, and to encourage communication, with the actual dead. The occult view, which was shared to some extent by Eastern religions, was that the dream world, which all of us visit every night, was where we ended up when we died, and that this was my father’s current home; but that conscious access to it was problematic..

A number of avenues of exploration presented themselves. Out-of-the-body travel was one. I wrote letters to researchers in this field, meanwhile asking myself how it could be possible to know whether the experience of travelling in the dream world, let alone meeting my father there, was real or imaginary. The crucial question seemed to be whether the mind and the world visited could exist separately from the brain.

The scientific position was clear. The mind and brain were the same. When the body died, so did they. I wrote to and received a letter from the arch-exponant of this way of thinking, Susan Blackmore, and was made aware of the hardly less vehement beliefs of Richard Dawkins and Nicholas Humpreys. What was puzzling to me were the number of equally reputable, fully as intelligent non-scientists who subscribed to the opposite viewpoint. One who wrote to me, Professor David Fontana, was quite catagoric on this score.

I thought the problem might be solved if I could learn to travel out of my own body, or failing that, discover someone else who could, and was willing and able to verify this, principally by observing details of something hidden from both them and anyone else. I wrote to neurosurgeon Peter Fenwick, who was experimenting along these lines in hospitals, with those who had undergone Near Death Experiences.

I looked at the historical evidence for survival phenomena, outside of religion, in particular the claims for full form, corporeal manifestations of the dead; but it was difficult to rely even on first hand accounts from such ordinarily impressive sources as the physicist Sir William Crookes or author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, since whatever they believed they witnessed couldn’t realistically be replicated.

Then I came across an organisation attempting to encourage similar manifestations today, whose newsletter reported such bizarre occurrences as the regular reappearance of an extremely vocal Judy Garland, and the occasional visit by Lord Dowding of WW11 fame, as well as innumerable others, in private houses across the country. Unfortunately, all such appearances took place in the dark, where the ‘dead’ could be heard and occasionally touched but not actually seen; and although audio recordings were made infra red filming was disallowed.

I found a contemporary scientist citing the latest physics in support of bodily resurrection but no immortality of the soul; another, using the same discipline to describe an ethereal world in which our souls had lived, were currently half occupying, and would always belong; and others again denying all possibility of – in Richard Dawkins’ words – “energy fields unknown to physics”.

Overall, I bemoaned the lack of interest humanity took in any literal investigation into something that should have been as important, if not far more important, to its individual members as their schooling, careers or pension plans. Making the assumption there was no life after death, or that even if there was it would do us no good to speculate about it, least of all consider how the way we lived now might affect us later, struck me as little more sensible than denying the need to work and earn to provide money and creature comforts in the known world.

I had thought that by visiting a medium I would receive some form of conclusive proof, but this wasn’t the case. I was resigned to ending my research wiser but no more certain of what was or wasn’t true concerning my father. Then something extraordinary happened. I had, and have, no ready explanation for this.

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