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Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife (2006)

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2006)
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Rating
3.55 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0393329127 (ISBN13: 9780393329124)
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English
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publisher
w.w. norton & company (nyc)
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Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife ...
Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife (2006)

About book: Maybe a 3.5, but I'll round up because I laughed out loud several times and I'm hard pressed to do more than a smirk when I find something I'm reading funny.If you've never read a Mary Roach book before, her work is like this: she researches a bunch of scientific studies about a particular subject, and then presents them to you with witty prose and tons of oddball stories along the way. It's quite enjoyable, but beware that there is a fuck-ton of name dropping constantly, to of course credit all the sources and people she found information from, and you have to be one who enjoys reading about sciencey type stuff at least on a cursory level.This is her book on ghosts. She is a skeptic, hoping that through her research something can be proven to her. I am not a skeptic, I just don't believe anything. I don't sit and wonder, I personally feel confident in my decision that nothing is going to happen to me when I die, my brain will shut down and so will any control, memories, or anything, and that will be that. That's cool though, I don't care one way or the other (though my ex was just terrified by the notion that I thought this. Meh.) This book does nothing to try to convince you of any ghosts or afterlife either, because almost all experiments are either failures or serve the purpose of debunking anything that seems to be a ghost.I think the issue with this book, and what makes it not as good as Stiff, or even Bonk, is that it is based on something that can't actually be proven one way or the other, intangible and untouchable. With the science presented in Stiff, we actually learn things that are exactly as they are. With these stories, it's like "well that was the experiment, and nothing happened." There are many stories like that in the book. It's interesting to see what lengths people will go to, but in the end, it's all the same, there's no proving it.What I did like, is the silly stories of people acting like complete fools. There was plenty of that. And in fact, since I don't have much more to say (I enjoyed the book, you might enjoy it too if you like Mary Roach and science, but I recommend much, much more her book Stiff first), I'm going to leave you with my favorite passage from the book, which I typed up just now just so people can have a laugh:Is it possible to dress up like a ghost and fool people into thinking they've seen the real deal? Happily, there is published research to answer this question, research carried out at no lesser institution than Cambridge University. For six nights in the summer of 1959, members of the Cambridge University Society for Research in Parapsychology took turns dressing up in a white muslin sheet and walking around in a well-traversed field behind the King's College campus. Occasionally they would raise their arms, as ghosts will do. Other members of the team hid in bushes to observe the reactions of passerby. Although some eighty people were judged to have been in a position to see the figure, not one reacted or even gave it a second glance. The researchers found this surprising, especially given that the small herd of cows that grazed the field did, unlike the pedestrians, show considerable interest, such that two or three at a time would follow along behind the 'ghost.' To my acute disappointment, "An Experiment in Apparitional Observation and Findings," published in the September 1959 Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, includes no photographs.Several months later, the researchers revised their experiment, changing the venue and adding 'low moans' and, on one occasion, phosphorescent paint. One trial was set in the graveyard right off a main road and clearly in the sight line of drivers in both directions. Here observers hid in the bushes not only to record reactions, but to 'avert traffic accidents' and 'reassure anyone who became hysterical.' But again, not a single person of the hundred-plus who saw the figure thought it was a ghost, including two students from India. "Although we are superstitious in our country," the men told one of the researchers, "we could see his legs and feet and knew it was a man dressed up in some white garment."In their final effort, the research team abandoned traditional ghost-appropriate settings and moved the experiment into a movie theater that was screening an X-rated film. The author of the paper, A.D.Cornell, explained that the X rating was chosen to ensure no children were traumatized by the ghost, as though that somehow explained the choice of a porn theater as a setting for a ghost experiment. This time the 'ghost' walked slowly across the screen during a trailer. The phosphorescence was not used this time, and presumably low moans were deemed redundant. No mention is made of the specific images showing on the screen behind the ghost, but clearly they were a good deal more interesting: The audience was polled after the film, and forty-six percent of them didn't notice the man in the sheet. Among those who did, not one thought he'd seen a ghost. (One man said he'd seen a polar bear.)

I was very interested in reading this book, 'Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife' , as I have had a lifelong interest in the supernatural and paranormal. I was curious to know just what science has contributed to this topic. In this book, Mary Roach ambitiously tackles a wide range of topics. The first subject she delves into is reincarnation… a subject I have read a great deal about. She recounts a visit she made to India and her meeting with Dr. Kirti Rawat, director of the International Center for Survival and Reincarantion Research. Dr. Rawat , a retired philosophy professor, takes his role very seriously and approaches his subjects in a thoughtful manner and demonstrates a firm belief in the claims made by families and their young children regarding memories of people and events from what they believe are previous lives. Dr. Rawat tirelessly visits families throughout India and Ms. Roach recounts her impressions of particular visits. Reading these accounts was tremendously fascinating to me but if you are a reader looking for more definitive proof…. well, you won't find it here. For me, however, each time I read such stories , I can't help but marvel and wonder…. and perhaps ultimately that is all I can hope to do.Ms. Roach also presents a multitude of other topics in her book, including a somewhat confusing explanation of ectoplasm (and I confess that I'm still unclear what it actually IS!), and an accounting of all the ways and manners in which phony mediums found to exude such substances from multiple orifices of their bodies…. definitely a little too much information !!! She also includes chapters on electronic voice phenomena (EVP), near death experiences… which I admit, I find particularly captivating… and an extensive and somewhat tedious description of the spiritualist craze of the 1920's.All in all, there just was not much in this book that I had not read extensively about previously… with the exception of the experimentation which has been ongoing regarding the experience of ghostly phenomena and apparitions. The discovery that Ms. Roach refers to is the discovery of infrasound … sound at a frequency too low for humans to hear.. and how infrasound has been shown to create or cause the experience of ghostly phenomena. Ms. Roach tackles many topics in this book and it occurs to me that perhaps this is part of the problem I have with the book. Each topic was discussed briefly and superficially ; and I suppose this was her intention .. a kind of overview on the topic. But for someone like me, who has done a fair amount of reading on many of these subjects, the book ended up very unsatisfying.The other problem I had with this book… and at times, it was insurmountable… was its tone. Although Ms. Roach clearly states in her introduction… "The moral of the story is that proof is an elusive quarry and all the more so when you are trying to prove an intangible"; I found that rather than presenting the information that is available and allowing the reader to decide its veracity, she editorializes throughout and seems to be saying quite often that she finds particular topics silly and based on ignorance. Her tone, to me, often seemed mocking and disdainful; and although I'm assuming that she perhaps intended her tone to be playful and humorous, it didn't 'feel' that way to me. It sometimes seemed mean-spirited. I have no idea what the truth is regarding reincarnation and near death experiences but along with so many people, I AM curious about what is next after this life ends. And I can't help but wonder… could this be true? As Albert Einstein said, "There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle or you can live as if everything is a miracle." I suppose I choose to believe in the possibility that miraculous things CAN happen.I would give this book 2 1/2 stars as I admit that perhaps I was not the intended audience.
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Reviews
Sammy
I picked up Spook first because it's subject matter interested me and then I knew I had to buy it when I saw that the author was none other than Mary Roach who had written another interesting and intriguing book dealing with the physical body at death. Remembering how amusing and fascinating that read had been (I recommened it to several friends who have the same weird sense of humor and morbid curiosities I do) I had a feeling this book would not disappoint. And it didn't.First off I'm going to give the same disclaimer Roach did: this is not a book written to debate various moral, religious, or philisophical beliefs. It's not meant to prove or disprove life after death, the existence of souls, or if heaven is out there. Rather it explores the various research that have been imployed to discover that. It's meant to shed light and simply learn. Okay, with that out of the way, I can safely begin!If you had started reading Roach's other book, Stiff and just found it to icky to go through with it, have no fear, you'll be safer with this book. There are a few moments you're a little disgusted, but the amount of times you'll be laughing, shaking your head, or simply saying "wow" definitely out weigh any squick moments. It's Roach's sarcastic wit that really makes the book an enjoyable and fun read. Her footnotes (that really read more like sidenotes) are a real treat constantly scattered throughout. Her approach and way of writing non-fiction subject matter is dealt with in a really nice way that even those who cannot stand anything dealing with real life will find the book hard to put down. There's almost a constant narrative and a steady stream of thought going on, something I think is made possible because instead of just constantly regurgitating facts a lot of what she's writing about she went and experienced first hand. It's the personal twist on everything she writes about that makes it a lot more interesting and easy to get into.There were the inevitable dry moments that were scattered throughout. Those mostly came about when Roach began giving the scientific explanations that were needed to explain the theories and research being done. I did feel kind of dumb reading some of this as it was way over my head some of the times, but Roach managed to remedy that by poking fun at her own ignorance. The fact that even the author was a little confused at times makes you feel a lot better for not getting it.I don't feel the book really opened any new beliefs for me, or pointed out anything I hadn't thought of before. For me, the book more or less explored the actual studies that went into what different people think happen to us after we die. No new school of thought is introduced to us in this book. That still doesn't make this book old and nothing we haven't heard before. I actually learned quite a bit. Especially with how long people have actually been trying to find the soul (and the various places people have put it in the body), my knowledge of Spiritualism has been greatly increased, and the fact that there are funded studies still being done out there to research the soul and life after death is fascinating. If this sounds interesting to you, even in the slightest, you will really enjoy this book then. Even if it doesn't sound interesting, Roach's style and humor will probably pull you in anyway.
Margitte
I have this book on my Kindle. Not a good idea. Spook is not a novel. It is a thoroughly-researched publication about the search for the soul by scientists and everyone else looking for it in different ways.This is the kind of book that should be on a coffee table, or in the throne room of the house. It is for interest's sake. It can be entertaining, or it can be serious, depending on your approach to the subject. It can be many things to many people. It is just not a book that should be read in one sitting, like a novel.Well-written. I will not finish it, nor rate it, for now. It simply does not talk to me nor does it hold my attention long enough. The information and experiments are interesting to a point. Perhaps a mood swing might do the trick.
Jim
Mary Roach looks at the afterlife through the eyes of science, both past & present. It's a tough subject to pin down, as she shows in her typically thorough & funny way. If you read this looking for what actually does happen after you die, you've picked up the wrong book. She says that in her introduction. Yes, she was trying to find out. She interviewed dozens of scientists, read up on more & even went on outings or classes with a few paranormal clubs. The upshot is, no one reliably knows. But her explorations & the facts she turned up makes a wonderful read.Her research seems pretty exhaustive to me. I don't know much about the subject nor do I have a lot of interest. I confess, I bought the book because I enjoy her writing. She has a quirky sense of humor, but doesn't over power me with it. Just flashes it to lighten what could otherwise be a boring subject. How many people want to read about someone going to medium school, after all? Well she did & made it interesting.I can't wait to read her next book "Bonk - the curious coupling of sex & science". After having several kids, I probably know all I need to about sex, but the trip with her should be interesting!
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