Thanks for reading Spook with me during the month of October!
To wrap up, did you find that the book influenced your beliefs in an afterlife or lack thereof?
Why is discussion and research about the existence of an afterlife important, or isn’t it?
If you’ve read other books by Mary Roach, how did this one hold up to the others? Would you recommend it to friends? Why or why not?
If you are interested in more on this subject, try:
Ghost Hunters: William James and the search for scientific proof of life after death by Deborah Blum
Ghosts Caught on Film: photographs of the paranormal? by Melvyn J. Willin and Ghosts Caught on Film 2 by Jim Eaton
Occult America: the secret history of how mysticism shaped our nation by Mitch Horowitz
Possessions: the history and uses of haunting in the Hudson Valley by Judith Richardson
The Perfect Medium: photography and the occult by Yale University Press
Mary Roach is quite a present figure in Spook; how does her narration add to or detract from the book? Why do you think she chose to write the book based on her own experience? Is there such a thing as being too skeptical? What do you think of her use of humor?
The publisher’s reading group guide for Mary Roach’s Spook has some great questions:
In Spook, Mary Roach explores a great variety of answers humankind has come up with to explain the soul’s destiny. Despite their diversity, do these theories reveal any universal qualities of the human imagination?
Roach encounters numerous researchers attempting to connect spirituality with material evidence. Isn’t the relationship between spirituality and physicality inherently antithetical?
In Chapter Six, Roach describes several skeptics’ schemes for trying to establish contact with the dead through coded messages established prior to subjects’ deaths. Can you think of a foolproof test for ascertaining a medium’s reliability?
Roach reports that our likelihood of believing in a given paranormal phenomenon increases with our intimacy with the source of the story, with family members proving most credible. Is there a lesson in this?
While attending medium school, the class pairs off for practice and the man doing Mary Roach’s reading says he’s picked up on a heavy-drinking man with a big belly and suspenders. It reminds Mary of a friend who’d recently died of cirrhosis and she writes,
“It leaves me wondering. Men who drink too much often have big bellies so there’s nothing surprising there. It’s the suspenders bit that grabs me, combined with the newness of this person’s death. If I were inclined to easy persuasion, I might be persuaded.”
How much and what kind of proof do you think the average person would need to believe in life after death? How much proof would you need? Would an experience similar to this one be enough to convince you? Why or why not?
How well does the content of Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife hold up to the book’s title and subtitle?
As chronicled in Spook, science has long been tied to exploring the existence of spirits, from the idea that early x-rays could detect the unseen to today’s EVP (electronic voice phenomena) supposedly captured on digital voice recorders. Comment on the frequent use of science, an inherently hands on, physical discipline to explore the existence of nonphysical entities.
In her book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Mary Roach takes a look at the people who explore the possibility of life after death and their work, from reincarnation to mediums to near-death experiences.
In an early chapter in which the author tags along with an Indian doctor who investigates cases of alleged reincarnation, she accompanies him to the home of a man who meets a boy claiming to be his reincarnated son. She expects the man to try and reach his “son” through the boy, to verify the child’s claims:
“What I notice instead is that Mathan Singh, sitting chatting with his arms around the boy, looks profoundlly content. It occurs to me that it doesn’t much matter whether this boy does or does not hold the soul of the son Mathan Singh lost. If Mathan Singh believes it, and if believing it eases the grief he feels, then this is what matters.”
How much do you agree that this is indeed what matters? Is there any harm in believing this, regardless of the “truth” about an afterlife? Has the chapter on reincarnation influenced your thinking at all?
Interested in learning more? Here are a couple of books from the library to get you started:
Lifecycles : reincarnation and the web of life by Christopher Martin Bache
Past lives: an investigation into reincarnation memories by P.B.C. Fenwick
Symphony of your karma : healing destiny of soul by Rachel Madorsky