Saturday, May 30, 2009

How exactly does one scientifically study ghosts? Now I know...

I enjoyed Mary Roach's Spook a great deal more than I did her first book, Stiff. Stiff was pretty good. I did learn some things about what really happens to your body when you donate it to science and various ways you can request disposal of your remains when I thought the only options were a regular burial or cremation. But the book wandered a bit and lost me at times. This was not the case with Spook.

Perhaps it was the subject matter - I am inherently more interested in life after death and ghosts than I am in cadavers. But I also think Roach learned a lot about writing a book the first time that she was able to apply this time. Her writing in Spook is tighter; the flow from chapter to chapter is better. Her sense of humor even seems sharper. She's no stranger to writing - she's been a journalist for a number of years, but writing a book is quite different from writing an article for a newspaper or magazine, and I think she's honed her craft in the second book.

Spook is about, as I have implied, life after death. Specifically, it's about the scientific study of life after death. Who knew that my very own Charlottesville is a hotbed of paranormal research at the University of Virginia? Who knew that a number of historically brilliant scientific minds had projects to try and communicate with the dead? Who knew that electromagnetic fields or strong (but too low to hear) sound waves could be responsible for the creepy-crawlies we get when we think something ghosty could be going on? I thought the book was fascinating, and I liked her conclusion very much. Science has not yet proved any sort of afterlife one way or the other - neither that it exists or that it doesn't. After studying the research and talking to lots of scientists, Roach says that the only conclusion she can come to is: who knows? But, as she points out, it's no fun to go to a graveyard with a non-believer.

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