In this episode, our intrepid host, William Shatner, leads us down a ghastly path in hopes of assuaging our uncertainty regarding life after death. Whether we channel the spirits of the past, walk among ghosts in our present, or may rise from the dead in the future, humans have been mystified by death for as long as we've been alive.
Dejà vu All Over Again
While visiting the site of the Battle of Antietam, Retired firefighter Jeffrey King was struck with an indescribable feeling. He describes an immediate paralysis followed by the compulsion to visit a local shop of Civil War memorabilia. Upon discovering a photograph of the uncannily familiar General John B. Gordon of the 6th Alabama regiment, Jeffrey knew that "we are continuous."
Harvard Psychologist Cynthia Meyersburg, however, has concluded that the phenomenon of so-called past lives can be attributed to the generation of false memories. While most consider their memory to be an accurate source of information, Meyersberg classifies our internal record of our life's experiences as a not wholly reliable representation of occurrences filed away for our future reference. Interestingly enough, the propensity to generate false memories has no bearing on one's ability to recall and form memories concerning actual events.
While Cynthia Myersburg presents a compelling argument, she does not speak for the whole of the scientific community. Dr. Stuart Hameroff, Associate Director at the Centre for Human Consciousness Studies, is open to the possibility of souls as discreet packets of quantifiable information. Hameroff believes that such information may enter an embryo during the gestation process, thus allowing us to carry the essence of another life into the next – a fascinating prospect at the very least.
Seance or Nonsense
The Scole experiments, performed by Robin Foy, placed participants around a table in a dark room with a roll of film securely locked in an impenetrable box. A seance was performed, and verbal accounts describe floating lights, disembodied whispers, spectral caresses, and the sudden manifestation of objects. And while this information is only as reliable as the witness' honesty, the locked film, when developed, produced splotchy pictures of a woman's face, among other strange patterns.
Skeptic Brian Dunning recreated the Scole experiments to the best of his abilities with the intention of pulling a hoax on his participants. With the stage set, and the lights dimmed, Dunning had little trouble convincing his volunteers that they had had an encounter with the spirit world. Similarly, photographers have confirmed that the on film "evidence" from the Scole experiments could easily have been fabricated – even in the pre-Photoshop era.
Just Your Average Zombie
Clarvius Narcisse, a Haitian man, was pronounced dead by a medical practitioner, only to waltz back into his family's lives very much undead 18 years later. While the shambling, stereotypical Hollywood Zombism we all know and love could theoretically be replicated by inflicting very specific brain damage to the Cerebellum -the balance center of the brain- and the Frontal Lobe –the hub of rationality- Clarvius' condition was much more coherent than your typical walker.
Instead, Anthropologists like Wade Davis believe that Clarvius was poisoned, squirreled away, and eventually resuscitated. Zombism in places like Haiti is terrifying for the afflicted as a loss of agency and freedom. Tracing its roots back to voodoo magic, Zombism is not feared as a threat to others, but rather as pitiful fate for a free person to succumb to. And while the years between Clarvius' presumed death and subsequent reemergence are as fuzzy as ever, it would take a pretty gnarly concoction to even make what Davis is suggestion possible.
Enter the poison of the puffer fish. While that may sounds like the title of a Syfy original movie, the active toxin, tetrodotoxin, could conceivably, when injected directly into the bloodstream, create a death-like state so convincing that it could fool a physician. And if that didn't sound enough like Science Fiction, you can always turn your body over to Ben Best at the Detroit Cryonics Center and enter the deep freeze in hopes of being reanimated in a high-tech future to come.
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