SSE Talks


Is Postmortem Survival A Scientific Hypothesis?
May 12, 2010 at 5:32 PM EST | B GREYSON


Bruce Greyson


The belief that some part of human beings may survive bodily death has been around for millennia, yet it has been regarded as a scientific hypothesis only for the past century. Although some scholars still argue that belief in survival belongs to the magisterium of religion and is not amenable to scientific exploration, postmortem survival can be, and has been, operationalized in terms of empirically testable hypotheses. More than 40 years ago, a research division was founded at the University of Virginia for the scientific exploration of the survival question. Now designated the Division of Perceptual Studies within the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, this division continues to pursue three parallel lines of empirical evidence bearing on the question of what, if anything, survives bodily death. The first line of investigation explores the question of whether persons living today provide evidence of having lived previously, that is, of having reincarnated. This evidence may include verifiable cognitive memories from a previous life; unexpected personality traits, likes, and dislikes attributed to the previous life; unlearned skills attributed to the previous life; birthmarks and birth defects attributed to the previous life; and objective biometric similarities to the facial geometry of the previous life. The second line of investigation explores the question of whether persons now deceased still manifest consciousness in some form. This evidence may include spontaneous or induced interactive apparitions of the deceased, communication with the deceased through mediums, instrumental transcommunication or contact through physical (usually electromagnetic) devices, and the communication of keys to decipher messages encrypted by the deceased prior to death. The third line of investigation explores the question of whether the mind can function independent of the brain, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for postmortem survival. This evidence may include unexplained recovery of lost mental functions as the brain dies, near-death experiencers with enhanced mental activity while the brain is demonstrably impaired, and out-of-body experiences with accurate perception from an extracorporeal perspective (sometimes accompanied by objective detection of a disembodied entity). The convergent evidence from these three lines of investigation provides empirical support for the scientific hypothesis of postmortem survival.


Bruce Greyson, M.D., is the Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences and Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. He was a founder and Past President of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, and for the past 26 years has edited the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Dr. Greyson graduated from Cornell University with a major in psychology, received his medical degree from the State University of New York Upstate Medical College, and completed his psychiatric residency at the University of Virginia. He held faculty appointments in psychiatry at the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut, where he was Clinical Chief of Psychiatry, before returning to the University of Virginia, in 1995. His research for the past three decades has focused on near-death experiences and has resulted in more than 70 presentations to national scientific conferences, including an international symposium at the United Nations last year, more than 100 publications in academic medical and psychological journals, 3 edited books, and several research grants and awards. He has been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the International Association for Near-Death Studies and the Parapsychology Association, and is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.




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