Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Afterlife Investigations

Anyone who would make a serious documentary about survival of the human spirit after the death of the physical body faces daunting obstacles. The evidence is largely based on spontaneous phenomena that can't be summoned at will for the camera. It depends on the cumulative weight of many individual data points rather than a few spectacular events. Logically, even the strongest cases defy "proof": it is hard to conceive anything that would see off every alternative explanation to survival.

As if that weren't enough, any producer, director, or writer for such a film is at the mercy of network executives if the program is intended for TV viewing. TV is designed for entertainment, not truth. So we get junk shows about ghosts and haunted houses featuring credulous witnesses and spooky music on the sound track. Intelligent viewers are more likely to have their skepticism stoked than to be convinced or even have their minds opened.

Occasionally, though, someone overcomes the odds. Tim Coleman has made what is, as far as I know, the first feature production with extensive footage of the sessions that resulted in the Scole Report, originally published in the Society for Psychical Research Proceedings, now reissued as a book. The video, The Afterlife Investigations, is available on DVD.

For those who would like a relatively brief summary of the Scole investigations, here is an article by Montague Keen, one of the three SPR investigators who were present at and witnessed many of the remarkable paranormal events.

Back to Tim Coleman's video. In addition to making good use of video recordings from Scole, The Afterlife Investigations introduces us to Marcelo Bacci, who is somehow able to use an old table radio (it looks like '30s vintage) for communication with the deceased; other examples of the electronic voice phenomenon, in which spirits in the afterlife speak to the living on tape recordings; and Allison DuBois, of whom I know nothing except that she is said to be a famous medium on which the NBC series Medium is based.

DuBois is shown (allegedly) communicating with the spirit of Montague Keen, who died several years after his role as lead writer for the SPR's Scole Report.

The main interest of The Afterlife Investigations, for me, is the shots taken at Scole, showing amazing spirit-generated "physical phenomena." The mediums involved are interviewed and give their own first-hand accounts.

Despite having appeared on television (something unfortunately called UFO TV -- I don't know if that's a U.K., U.S. or both network), the video's tone is determinedly non-sensationalistic, even if some of the phenomena shown are pretty sensational. What is seen here deserves the careful treatment it gets.

Not that the video is flawless. It stops from time to time to insert man-on-the-street interviews of pedestrians giving their views of life after death, which struck me as pointless. I also could have done with fewer repetitive establishing shots of the town of Scole seen from a traveling car; one would have been enough, and each return to Scole could have been labeled with computer graphics.

Nevertheless, I consider The Afterlife Investigations to be an immensely valuable contribution to a much-abused cinematic genre -- the paranormal show -- and frequently fascinating. I can strongly recommend it to anyone willing to consider the evidence for post-mortem survival on its merits.

For the record, I am not a disinterested observer, since I met Monty Keen soon after the Scole Report appeared and talked with him at some length both at SPR conferences and when he and his wife Veronica came to the U.S. on visits. The account and conclusions of Scole Report were not accepted by many SPR members, but he had no doubts. "I have seen miracles," he told me.

Of course the whole subject of survival, spirits speaking through mediums and electronics, producing physical evidence and so on seems absurd to many people -- most people, in our age of materialistic science. Neither The Afterlife Investigations nor the Scole Report, not to mention the huge body of literature on spirit communication, renders doubt impossible. But I think it makes belief possible.

There was Monty Keen -- dead for seven or eight years now -- interviewed in the video, looking and speaking just as I remembered him, seeming almost present thanks to the high resolution of digital video. Imagine telling someone in, say, the 18th century about such a phenomenon. Imagine the response: "Sir, I fear either your mind is disordered or you have been nipping at the claret to an unseemly degree."

Yes, it would have been self-evidently ridiculous. Like spirits of the "dead" speaking to the living through mediums or electronic instruments, preserved on videotape.


Stogie said...

Wow, you have piqued my interest. I watch a lot of paranormal shows and I am very interested in the possibility of an afterlife. I really want to see the DVD of the Scole Report.

I watch those "ghost" investigations on cable and they are mostly boring, develop little or no phenomena, and are annoying.

The one show I really liked was "I Survived, Beyond and Back" about real near death experiences, narrated by the persons who had the NDEs. Unfortunately, it seems to have diaappeared from the airways.

Last night while watching "Celebrity Ghost Stories" (much better than the Ghost Hunter claptrap), I subjectively measured my own belief in the events related, and concluded that I have not gone over the top, from interest to actual belief. I remain open-minded and leaning towards belief, but I am not quite there...yet. It's like UFO's. when I see one, I will believe in them, but so far, none have crossed my airspace.

I'll look for more info on the Scole Report. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Stogie said...

I found this video at Youtube on the Scole Report. It is an hour long and quite fascinating:

Andrew E. said...


I picked up a copy of Is There an Afterlife? by David Fontana after you had mentioned it on Dennis Mangan's blog a while back. Anything that disturbs the delicate psychological balance the (even right wing) secular materialists must maintain lest their screws start to come loose is okay by me. I found the book very interesting and I believed the accounts described therein.

But after reading it, the worldview I've since come across that I think is by far the most convincing and complete explanation for non-material reality has been Orthodox Christianity. And I highly recommend Fr. Seraphim Rose's short book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. He covers Shamanism, mediums and even UFO's and more. His diagnosis of the UFO phenomenon absolutely blew my mind. Rose also has another book, The Soul After Death but I have not read that one yet.

Rick Darby said...


I recommend reading the complete Scole Report. It's fairly long, because there were so many phenomena to write about and because Monty and the other writers were determined to explain in great detail the precautions they took against fraud. But there is nothing dry or academic about it. Anyone interested in the inner truths will probably be enthralled by it.

Andrew E.,

I'm pretty ignorant about the Orthodox church, but if John Tavener's music is anything to go by -- he was strongly influenced by the church's rituals -- there must be something inspiring there.

I visited a couple of Orthodox churches in Romania and was impressed by their unearthly atmosphere and great beauty.