Over at the well-thought out Decline of the Empire, there was a Christmas post on the Meaning of Life, which ended with, “Otherwise, without the rationalizations, life would be impossible. There’s your “meaning” of life.”
Pretty dark stuff. At one point, he writes, “This view of life offers no hope or redemption at all.” Again, wow. Makes you wonder how any of us gets out of bed in the morning (but of course, the answer, from the DOE point of view, is rationalization).
If we had a purely scientific materialistic worldview, that would probably be a good conclusion. Yet, there are things that might exist outside our normal scientific system, that could have incredible impacts on both our view of our place in the world, and how we might live.
OK, take a deep breath. Some of the following stuff has been touched upon somewhat in a past post, but today it is time to trot out some other interesting bits which may fly in the face of what many hold be as “absolute truth.” It is important to note that these interesting bits will most likely not change our climate trajectory, nor the course of our coming economic stair-step collapse, nor any of the other the increasing problems with our world. Yet they might change some of the worldview that point to a meaningless life. So, without further ado, here’s one book that brings a lot to the table on the subject. The title, of course, gives it away:
(Paranormal Experience and Survival of Death, by Carl B. Becker)
At this point, all we might be hearing is crickets (what is this survival of death nonsense?! Good grief!), but this book (and only very few like it) brings up a good deal of interesting questions about life and death, but more importantly, how our “modern” and scientific society reacts to things that it finds distasteful. The book was published in 1993, but still retains a clear outlook on the topic.
One reason why this book is a fantastic read for this subject is that Becker does not give a breezy pop culture version of the issue of the survival of death, and, as the classic complaint goes, “have us sit around and sing campfire songs (Kumbaya is the traditional song inserted here).” In the first part of the book, he methodically goes through many objections to the NDE (near-death experience) data that point to an existence beyond death, and points out that there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on which can’t be and shouldn’t be rejected.
More importantly (and in the second half of the book) he goes through the reasons why the objection to this is so strong in the scientific community. It is in this area that the book shines. The existence of a soul/afterlife may not at all interfere with any known (or future) physics, for example, but the very thought of an afterlife may just be too much for the current scientific hierarchy to handle, so it is rejected outright. Now, it is true that there have been frauds in the paranormal research area, and a lot of “woo” nonsense. But that shouldn’t stop honest research from being conducted, nor should it stop valid results from being published. The arguments of the book aren’t repeated here (it’s available from a few places), but it is highly suggested you pick up a copy and give it a read.
Now, don’t get take this the wrong way – the scientific method can do some interesting things; find medicines, determine the arc of a thrown object, and figure things out about the subatomic world. But the method is performed by a scientific establishment (made up of people), and all groups of people (no matter how smart) have quite human frailties and biases, leading to all manners of human problems.
In some ways, objections to the data from NDEs are like objections to the reality of the UFO phenomenon, discussed by Wendt and Duvall, in their paper, “Sovereignty and the UFO.” One of the chief reasons nations deny and/or reject the existence of the reality of the phenomenon is that it undermines their sovereignty, which is an existential threat that they cannot handle.
If one is to accept the overwhelming evidence of the reality of our financial Ponzi scheme, resource depletion, climate change, NDEs or UFOs, it would mean that if you had any bit of decency, you might start to live your life very differently, and not buy into the world as we know it. None of these elements will most likely change our trajectory (no deus ex machina or alien space bats will change the laws of physics), yet they (especially the NDE data) might change our thought of why we are here, and for what purpose we are going through all this turmoil. Accepting any of the topics mentioned above (and changing an entire worldview) is an existential threat to the current way things “work,” (quite the euphemism!) and therefore, finds immense opposition.
One shouldn’t take these ideas on faith, of course, or be bound by confirmation bias and only read books and articles by those who we agree with. A more recent book (yet to be read; on the list!) Fringe-ology, by Steve Volk, brings up these questions (his bit about Carl Sagan is spot on), and ask that both sides of the NDE worldview be honest with themselves as well.
For sure, it is damn difficult to try to be open-minded all the time. The truth is (somewhere) out there, and might, just might, give some meaning to all of this.