Book review on
Is there life after death? The extraordinary science of what happens when we die
by Anthony Peake (2006)Reviewed by David Fontana, 2010 published in Network Review No 104
Briefly - and I hope that I don't over-simplify - Peake proposes that after death we immediately begin our lives over again, and do so repeatedly after each subsequent death. In each of these lifetimes, consciousness is split between a lower self that experiences physical existence, and a higher self that retains all memories of our various lifetimes but that, beyond offering occasional flashes of illumination and guidance, remains inaccessible to lower-self consciousness. In addition to the evidence provided by these sudden illuminations, Peake refers for support to the various interpretations of reality provided by quantum physics, in particular those interpretations that relate to the role and importance of the observer, arguing that the physical universe surrounding each observer is personal to the individual, and dependent upon his or her perception of it. When people die, they are simply dying in and to the universe of each of those observing them, but not to their own universe. Their existence continues in their personal universe, and they proceed to re-live their life in what for them is real time. The memories stored in the higher self enable the individual to re-experience his or her whole lifetime over again, though this time with the ability to make changes in it.
At this distance I couldn't give the references, but I first came across this intriguing theory in my studies of ancient mystery traditions very many years ago, but never found any answers to the questions it raises. For example, if each of us inhabits our personal universe, then what position do you occupy in my universe, and what position do I occupy in yours? And how is it that familiar individuals can relate to me over and over again as I repeat my lifetimes? Are they merely reflections of their real selves? Or do their various universes intermingle with mine, in which case we each live partly in the multitude of universes that surround us, and each individual's universe is therefore not after all personal to him or herself?
Peake's answer to these and related questions involves David Bohm's theory of the implicate/explicate order. In terms of the relevant parts of the theory, the implicate order can be thought of as a giant, flowing hologram containing every region of time and space. Like a hologram, the implicate order enfolds all reality. And like a hologram, each part of this implicate order contains a miniature copy of the whole, including presumably the lives of each one of us. The explicate order, the material reality in which we live, is a projection of the implicate order, and the apparent stability and solidity we experience around us is generated and sustained by a ceaseless transition of sub-atomic particles between enfoldment (the implicate order) and unfoldment (the explicate order). The sub-atomic particles that make up the explicate order of our material reality are in fact constantly dissolving into the implicate order and then recrystallising and re-emerging into the explicate order. In terms of our conscious existence, each individual inhabits his or her own universe at the level of the explicit order, but meshes and intermeshes with everyone else's individual universe at that of the implicate level. At so-called death, the individual and his or her personal universe leaves the explicit universes of those at the bedside, only to re-emerge in its own universe and re-live its life.
There are elegant mathematical models that support Bohm, despite the fact that his theory goes contrary to the more generally accepted Copenhagan interpretation of quantum physics, but my main objection to Peake's use of it in support of his own model of death and dying is that his model does not represent the picture of death and dying that we receive through spirit communications transmitted through mediums, or through the picture we are given by Out of the Body and Near Death Experiences and Deathbed Visions of the next world. A voluminous body of evidence has grown up concerning death and the afterlife since the Society for Psychical Research began its attempts to investigate survival in 1882, and virtually none of this evidence to my knowledge directly supports Peake's model. Spirit communicators speak of levels of afterlife existence distinct from physical reality, full of experiences never encountered while in earth, and with opportunities for development towards more exalted levels of understanding.
Apart from Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Anthony Peake makes no mention of this evidence, and even regards NDEs as 'an error, a glitch in the system', occasioned by the fact the body is preparing 'itself for death by giving the person' positive rather than negative experiences. He suggests further that it is the publicity given to NDEs and the expectations to which this publicity gives rise, that determines the form and content of the typical NDE. In addition, he claims that 'it is usual that the approach to death is made in a cloud of painkilling drugs', and perhaps with an 'initial flood of chemicals in the brain'. This claim ignores the fact that neuropsychiatrist Dr. Peter Fenwick in particular has pointed out, supported by a large data bank of case studies, that many of those reporting NDEs had no prior knowledge that NDEs even exist, thus ruling out the possibility that expectations play any part in their experiences. Furthermore, in one of the most carefully reasoned and detailed analyses of the medical influences upon the brain and the NDE, Dr. Fenwick has shown that NDEs cannot be attributed to painkilling drugs or to a flood of brain chemicals, or to any of the other natural explanations that have been so diligently advanced in an attempt to dispose of NDE evidence.
If I appear over-critical of Anthony Peake's book, let me protest this is not my intention. In one short review it is impossible to do justice to its richness. Peake presents his theory carefully and with internal consistency, and the book is a mine of information on quantum theory, and on relevant areas of philosophy. He is also careful to point out that he does 'not intend his theory to invalidate long-held religious beliefs about life after death'. I welcome his attempt to present an alternative theory of what happens at death (just as I welcome the other work he does in support of psychical research), and the clarity and lucidity with which he describes his theory. The more we advance carefully argued alternative models of what happens at death and beyond the better. My point is simply that I think the evidence we have on dying and the afterlife supports a very different model from the one he proposes. Doubtless he will disagree, and in the final analysis those interesting themselves in death and dying must familiarise themselves with as much of the evidence as they can, and then arrive at their own conclusions.
Fenwick, P. and Fenwick, E. (1995). The Truth in the Light. London: Headline.
Fenwick, P. (2008). The Art of Dying. London: Continuum.
The Scientific and Medical Network