Review Of Raymond Moody’s New Book: ‘Paranormal’
BOOK REVIEW: PARANORMAL
Review Of Raymond Moody’s New Book: ‘Paranormal’Feb 22
BOOK REVIEW: PARANORMAL
By Michael Prescott
February 21, 2012
People had near-death experiences for centuries before Dr. Raymond Moody began to study the phenomenon. But although NDE anecdotes could be found throughout literature, and glimpses of the experience could be seen in works of art like Hieronymus Bosch’s Ascent of the Blessed, nobody seems to have identified the NDE as a distinct phenomenon. In fact, nobody had even thought to name the experience.
All of that changed with the publication of Moody’s first book, Life After Life, in 1975. Put out by a small publisher who optimistically thought it might sell 10,000 copies, the book became an international sensation. In it, Moody coined the term “near-death experience” and listed the main features of the NDE — features which have become almost too familiar through their subsequent dramatization in movies like Ghost and Flatliners, and in innumerable TV shows. Although Moody’s book was more anecdotal than scientific, it paved the way for more rigorous studies conducted by Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom, Bruce Greyson, and others. Today, although the true meaning and nature of the NDE remain in fierce dispute, nobody denies that the phenomenon is real; hundreds, if not thousands, of cases have been carefully documented, and if public opinion surveys can be trusted, millions more have taken place.
In his new book Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife, co-written with Paul Perry, Moody gives us the background behind his investigations into NDE’s and other, even more esoteric phenomena. The book is briskly paced, engagingly written, and remarkably open.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that for most of his life Moody has suffered from a serious thyroid condition that can cause severe mood swings, and that, during one period of intense depression when his thyroid had essentially shut down, he attempted suicide and had a brief, preliminary NDE (or at least the prologue to an NDE) of his own.
The suicide attempt is the focus of the book’s introduction, where the outcome is left hanging. Several chapters later, the authors return to the subject to tell the rest of the story. (Rather oddly, they choose to recapitulate several pages of the introduction word for word at this point, an unnecessary bit of padding.) Moody observes that he had kept his thyroid problem secret from the general public in part because he did not want it to cast doubt on the validity of his work on NDE’s; but at this point, with the reality of the NDE phenomenon acknowledged by all researchers, he felt free to reveal this aspect of his life at last.
Moody recounts an equally dramatic episode from another period of low thyroid activity. At that point he was actively engaged in studying the ancient esoteric practice of mirror gazing, in which people look deeply into a reflective surface and sometimes perceive deceased loved ones in the glass. The effects he obtained in his homemade “psychomanteum,” detailed in his book Reunions, were anecdotal but nevertheless impressive; some practitioners even insisted that their deceased loved one stepped right out of the mirror and interacted with them in the room.
But when Moody — his energy at a low point with his thyroid largely out of commission — discussed this work with his skeptical father, the elder Moody decided his erratic son was having a mental breakdown and promptly had him committed! Trapped in a psychiatric hospital, he was misdiagnosed as bipolar, his every move and statement interpreted as further evidence of his disorder. Luckily, thyroid treatment was able to restore his normal functioning within a few days, while friends and associates who had experienced the psychomanteum for themselves arrived at the hospital to testify on Moody’s behalf. As a result, he was finally released – but it seems to have been a close run thing. Just one of the perils of exploring psychic phenomena in a skeptical world …
Another intriguing section of the book deals with Moody’s developing interest in past-life memories. Initially he was dismissive of such claims, assuming — as most people do — that such memories typically involve reliving the life of a famous historical figure like Joan of Arc or Napoleon Bonaparte. But when a hypnotist convinced him to try past-life regression for himself, he experienced a succession of quite ordinary lives that were sufficiently vivid and realistic to call his earlier doubts into question. I have to say I was unaware of his interest in this subject, although Moody actually wrote a book about it titled Coming Back.
One of the things that have sometimes frustrated me about Moody is that he can seem stubbornly skeptical or iconoclastic about his own investigations, an attitude epitomized by his rather strange book The Last Laugh, in which he seemingly calls much of his own research into question. For someone with a deep-seated interest in paranormal phenomena, he can also be surprisingly hostile toward parapsychologists, a trait I discussed in an earlier post. Now I wonder if these periods of intensified skepticism may be correlated with periods of diminished thyroid activity, with its concomitant self-doubt and self-destructive tendencies. Could the emotional swings Moody vividly describes in his memoir possibly relate to his occasional, baffling attempts to undermine his own credibility and the credibility of like-minded researchers? Moody himself doesn’t say this, and maybe I’m wrong about it, but it might make sense of the somewhat contradictory messages he has put out over the years.
In any case, in Paranormal the good doctor seems to have moved beyond his earlier skepticism. In the conclusion of his book, he makes reference to “what happens to our souls after death,” and then comments that this statement:
“is a big step forward for me. In the beginning, when I first named the near-death experience and started near-death studies, I made it a point to neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of the soul or a place called heaven. I was raised in a family that didn’t attend church or believe in God. But aside from that personal history, I felt it was unscientific to conclude that we have a soul or that there is an afterlife. To do so would mean to some people that I wasn’t objective in my work, that all of my research was merely aimed at propping up a belief, not at testing one. My goal in this research was to remain a true skeptic in the ancient Greek sense–one who neither believes nor disbelieves but who keeps searching for truth.
“After more than four decades of studying death and the possibility of an afterlife, I have come to realize that my opinion is buttressed by thousands of hours of research and deep logical thought of the type that few have devoted to this most important topic. I have concluded that if everyone else has an opinion on the subject of life after death, why shouldn’t I? As a result of his conviction, I have become brazen about voicing my viewpoint.”
He then reproduces an answer he gave during a TV interview:
“What do I think happens when we die? I think we enter into another stage of existence or another state of consciousness that is so extraordinarily different from the reality we have here in the physical world that the language we have is not yet adequate to describe this other state of existence or consciousness. Based on what I have heard from thousands of people, we enter into a realm of joy, light, peace, and love in which we discover that the process of knowledge does not stop when we die. Instead, the process of learning and development goes on for eternity.”
As Moody points out, he “answered the question from the heart.” It is this heartfelt quality of self-revelation and emotional honesty that is perhaps the most striking feature of this fascinating and worthwhile book.