08/10/2012 11:43 am ET Updated Oct 10, 2012

The Immortality Grant


Woody Allen once said, "I don't believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear." John Martin Fischer doesn't believe in an afterlife either. But he can afford to bring along an entire wardrobe. The University of California, Riverside philosophy professor just received $5 million to study the afterlife.

The money, provided by the John Templeton Association, will go to a three-year interdisciplinary investigation of immortality by scientists, philosophers and theologians.
Called the Immortality Project, it will use scientific methods to study what happens after you die -- everything from near-death experiences to the effect of brain structure on belief in an afterlife. Well, not everything. "We're not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports," said Fischer.

Too bad. Cause we're talking big bucks here. Much of the $5 million will be used to provide researchers with grants of $100,000 to $250,000. And dead aliens (like the ones supposedly held by the federal government in New Mexico) would be perfect for the study. Can a dead alien go to heaven? Can a dead alien have a soul? Can a dead alien leave you more than $3 million dollars without paying an estate tax if the Bush tax cuts aren't renewed?

The focus of the project isn't just on the after-life. According to Fischer, "Part of it is motivated by the fact that there are advances now in longevity that naturally raise the question of whether immortality is possible and whether it would be desirable." So you know they're going to get into cryonics -- freezing people after they die and hoping they can be resuscitated and cured in the future.

Perhaps the most famous representative of this process is baseball legend Ted Williams. After his death in 2002, his remains were shipped to a cryonics facility in Arizona where they were to be preserved for future resuscitation. Subsequently, a whistle-blower claimed that employees at the facility severed Mr. Williams' head from his body and used the frozen head for batting practice. He didn't say whether they hit .400.

Of course, the study can also explore many other questions related to the post-death experience. For example:

  • Can you talk to foreign ghosts with an English language Ouija board?
  • Does listening to insurance salesmen produce immortality or does it just seem like forever?
  • Is there an express lane for the tunnel in a near-death-experience?
  • Why are out-of-body experiences considered psychic and out-of-mind experiences psychotic?
  • Does Congress prove that life continues after brain death?
  • If you die at the front of a long stadium restroom line, do you have to go to the end if you're reincarnated?
  • Do dead relatives with hands outstretched mean they're welcoming you to the other side or they want a loan repaid?
  • Is immortality longer if calculated in dog years?

But here's the big question: Is eternal life really possible? I hope so. Because that's how long it will take to figure out how anyone got $5 million to answer that question.