When I lost my 20 year-old son to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, I plunged into a vacuum devoid of any belief system that would answer what would be the most important question of my life. Where is my son? As a physician with a strong science background raised by two atheists, I found it difficult to know where to start my search. I didn't even know whether there was anything to search for.
So, I did what I do best. I turned to science. I devoured hundreds of books and accounts by quantum and theoretical physicists and near death experiencers. I reviewed controlled, double blind experiments conducted on mediums and explored scientific studies on the survival of consciousness after death. My journey is still on going, but along the way, I became aware of the fact that I'm not alone in my exploration into the existence of life after death. In fact, I'm riding a surging wave of a growing fascination about what happens after you take that last breath, and that wave is swelling to tsunami like proportions as nearly 78 million baby boomers grapple with their own mortality.
Why now? Haven't people always wondered what happens when the lights go out for the last time? Haven't they always been afraid enough to ponder the question, or have they had their head in the sand for the last several centuries? Sure they have, but only in a closeted fashion. After all, most of us are afraid to die. The thought of disappearing from all existence or being yanked away from our loved ones isn't exactly a warm and fuzzy one. And yes, most of us are curious. However, we might casually wonder what happens after the person sitting next to us dies, but we don't often dwell on the thought of our own death.
Then there are the paranormal experiences. Those who have them often contemplate the existence of life after death. And you'd be surprised how many people have had them. It's nothing new. Near death experiences, visits from deceased loved ones or deathbed visions are commonplace, but until recently these were all hush-hush. No one wants to be ridiculed or labeled "mentally unfit." If only they knew that tens of thousands have experienced similar occurrences. In fact, estimates from NDERF (Near Death Experience Research Foundation) suggests at least 15 million adults have had NDEs. Multiple polls find that 20 percent of the population have had communications with those who have passed away, and a PEW Research poll conducted in December 2009 found that 18 percent of people report to have seen or been in the presence of a ghost (1)
So, what's changed? Several things. For one, we've seen a declining membership in and impact of the more dogmatic, inflexible religious denominations whose job is to tell us that some sort of Divine Being will sweep up our souls and sort us like nickels and dimes into either some sort of idyllic paradise or eternal hellfire.
Secondly, quantum science has begun to steal the show from material science (sorry, Sir Isaac), teaching us that we no longer have to rely on our five senses to hypothesize and eventually define a truth. Just because we can't see, feel, hear, taste or smell something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. As quantum physics comes into its own, studies into the existence of alternate dimensions and consciousness survival after death result in breakthroughs. Not a month goes by that new discoveries aren't becoming breaking news stories: The fact that we may be able to see other dimensions beside our own (2). The hypothesis that the microtubules in our cell's mitochondria are the origin of consciousness (3). The idea that our souls maybe be comprised of tiny subatomic particles known as "neutrinos." (4)
Last and most important, technology. The tie that binds us all. Now, the Internet helps us create micro-communities where we can share those "paranormal" experiences in a safe, anonymous place free from scorn. The number of websites dealing with life after death has skyrocketed in recent years as have the number of movies and television shows dealing with the afterlife and all things supernatural. Suddenly, the taboo becomes a more comfortable "well, maybe I'm not so crazy after all" thing. In fact, thanks to this public "outing" of deathbed visions, NDEs, and after death communications, even physicians have become emboldened enough to share the "paranormal" events they've seen throughout their careers during the dying process of their patients. Beforehand, they would have feared the ridicule of their peers, who were probably sharing the same secrets.
Once this discussion about the afterlife became comfortable, spiritual celebrities like Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsh and Gary Zukav assumed a bigger stage and a large following. As the breakthroughs in quantum physics were made public through the Internet, television and other venues, the physicists, themselves, become popularized and many, such as Michio Kaku, have become overnight celebrities as well. The wave continues to swell.
For those of you who still need to see it to believe it, Dr. Thomas Campbell, Ph.D., (5) Theoretical Physicist and author of My Big TOE (Theory of Everything), explains it like this (and I'm paraphrasing, here): We are like our intestinal bacteria. For all we know, the bread that comes down to us is manna from Heaven. We know nothing of the sowing of the seeds, the irrigation, the crop rotation, the fertilization and pest control, the harvesting, the production of bread and its transportation to market. Furthermore, we have no concept of the global economics of wheat, the rise and fall of its price in the commodities market, etc. But it still affects us, the bacteria. That said, there is much out there that we cannot perceive with our senses that exists and affects us all. Other dimensions, including the one my son, Erik, is in, may be one such thing. But the course of a big ship changes its direction very slowly, and as Schopenhauer said, "Truth goes through three phases: First it is ridiculed. Next it is scorned. Then it is taken as self-evident."
Is there sufficient proof for immortality and the existence of the afterlife? No, not 100 percent. And for me, there will never be until I'm there. But that's okay. Being an open-minded skeptic is healthy. It's the closed minded skeptic that keeps humanity at a standstill. If they had their way, we'd still think the Earth was flat and at the center of our solar system. I'm still one of the intestinal bacteria learning about the global economics of wheat, but in the remedial class. In the end, it's all about a mix of science and faith. How much of each is up to you. Either way, you're destined to ride the wave.
If you'd like to accompany me in my adventure-laden (and sometimes pothole-riddled) journey through death, the survival of consciousness and the nature of the afterlife, please join me at www.channelingerik.com. We'll continue to search for answers, and we'll probably discover more questions along the way.
If you've learned anything in here, please also follow my twitter feed, @drmedhus