In Search of the Dead, by Jeffrey Iverson

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Jeffrey Iverson’s 1992 book, co-published by BBC Books and Penguin, accompanied a BBC documentary series on which he was producer.  He had previously written More Lives Than One (1976) on past-life regression sessions conducted by Arnall Bloxham and produced the television documentary ‘The Bloxham Tapes’.  In Search of the Dead ranges widely, if not deeply, over the evidence for life after death, told in an easy journalistic style.  The project obviously had a decent budget, allowing a fair amount of travel, notably in the United States and India, and Iverson touches on a wide variety of phenomena that fall under the umbrella of psychical research.

The book begins by discussing ‘Powers of the mind’, covering remote viewing’, psychic detection, the Ganzfeld experiments, and Montague Ullman’s dream research, the thrust being that if mind can be shown as a separate entity from brain within living individuals, there is a chance the same will hold after death.  The second part, ‘Visions and voices’. moves directly into survival issues by examining Near-Death Experiences, asking whether they are subjective or do give an insight into a life beyond life.

The third, ‘Intruders from the psychic world’, examines apparitions, mediumship and post-mortem communication, a mixture of both contemporary and historical material.  ‘Remembered lives’ deals with reincarnation, drawing heavily on Ian Stevenson’s research.  One chapter is headed ‘The Galileo of the Twentieth Century’, referring to a description of Stevenson:  ‘Either he is making a colossal mistake … or he will be known as the Galileo of the twentieth century.’  There is no prize for guessing which verdict Iverson favours, but Galilean status is still a long way off for Stevenson and reincarnation studies generally.

The final chapters are more general, looking at what Iverson matily insists on calling just ‘quantum’ instead of ‘quantum physics’, propounding the familiar point that quantum physics allow wiggle-room for the existence of paranormal phenomena essentially on the  grounds that we don’t know what’s going on in either, so one extremely strange thing is potentially as good as another.  There are plenty of examples given in all the categories Iverson covers, some familiar, others less so, leavened by interviews with significant figures, notably Brian Josephson, Peter Fenwick and the Dalai Lama.

Iverson is sympathetic towards the topics he covers though not always sufficiently critical.  His interviewees too are on the sympathetic side, and sceptical voices for balance are notably lacking.  However, despite its age and clear bias this is still worth reading for the brisk overviews of the cases covered and may encourage the casual reader to delve more deeply into the issues, and come to appreciate their complexity.

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