It has been a long time since a book about ghosts made me feel the excitement I used to feel in my gut when researching the ghost sightings I would go on to investigate with my ghost research team, but Stop Worrying! There probably is an afterlife by Greg Taylor was a joy to read and, at times, made me feel excited about ghosts again.
The last time that happened was when I read Mary Roach’s ‘Six Feet Over‘, or Will Storr’s ‘Will Storr Vs. the Supernatural’ and I’ve realised that it’s because they’ve all got a common theme in the narrative – an exploration of an interesting subject led by the authors genuine curiosity.
In fact, this book made me realise that the historic research (that influences modern research) that Taylor writes about in this book is the research that has captivated me since my teens and that popular paranormal culture has simply always been a fun distraction. I realised this when reading Taylor’s extensive exploration of death bed visitations. In fact, this part of the book genuinely moved me to tears. Why? I’m not sure. I think it’s because of the joy these experiences brought to those who witnessed them, and isn’t that often what ghost stories are about?
Yet, there were some things in this book that I didn’t necessarily get and I felt that in some areas being explored we were being asked to accept things that didn’t necessarily follow a logical route and several alarm bells rang when I read Dr Julie Beischel tell the autor that ‘her experimental designs are not always those desired or recommended by skeptics, as her primary aim is to provide the right setting for the phenomenon to occur: “We don’t do this research to please skeptics; we do it to gain new knowledge”.
Beischel goes on to explain
We also need to account for cold reading… To prevent that from happening, the medium will be what’s called masked or blinded to the sitter. The medium won’t be able to see, hear, smell, etc., the sitter during the reading: but, as stated above, the sitter should be involved somehow in order to optimize the environment, so we’ll just make sure his intention is that his discarnate communicates with the medium.
His discarnate communicates…? Isn’t that a bit of a presumption variable to throw into the mix? To assume that a sitters discarnate can communicate? That it even exists? She then states
I think the difference is one between statistical evidence and evidence that is meaningful to a sitter … A p-value won’t convince a sitter of communication and a dazzle shot doesn’t provide objective evidence that can be statistically analyzed. [So] in addition to item-by-item and whole reading scores, we also have raters choose which blinded readings they believe were intended for them so if one reading contains true dazzle shots but not a lot of other correct information, that may be reflected in the raters’ choices
and this is where my biggest problem with the book is properly demonstrated. There seems to often be an over reliance on things that can be classed as positive hits (such as the “dazzle shots” that Beischel mentions above, hits that seem too specific to be guess work on the part of the medium), and a tendency to ignore the things that are negatives or misses. This is cherry picking and it’s something that I am ll too familiar with as an ex-believer in ghosts.
There also seems to be a reliance on strange things as being significant when they’re actually not. Deathbed visitations, for example, are interesting and profound experiences but I think it is assumptive to proclaim that they are evidence of the survival of the spirit. There are too many factors that could contribute to these experiences that I don’t feel we are justifiably about to rule out completely.
It reminds me of when I would have strange experiences while ghost hunting. I would happily proclaim these happenings as evidence of the existence of ghosts, when in all reality that was a huge leap of logic on my part.
I don’t believe in the things discussed in the book but they are an interesting part of the history of paranormal research and I don’t think you have to believe in the paranormal to find it interesting as, say, social or cultural phenomena. I don’t think much of other skeptics who admit they haven’t read the book yet dismiss it because of the beliefs of the author but I understand their skepticism.
All in all though I would recommend this book to anyone who is genuinely interested in paranormal research and ghosts, but would recommend that people research the studies mentioned for themselves before reaching a conclusion. There are many subjects that Stop Worrying has prompted me to research further, adding yet more books to my ‘to read’ pile and that, surely, is an indication that this is a book worth reading.