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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Ghost trusters

From The New York Times:

A PROFESSOR of obstetrics at an esteemed university explains to Mary Roach his quantum-theory equation to measure the energy lost when the soul departs the body. He wants to test it by putting a live organism in a box with electromagnetic sensors and watching it die. But he can't find collaborators - a predicament Roach has trouble believing. "Most people don't listen nearly as long as you have," the forlorn professor tells her. Roach has endless patience with people whose ideas are most charitably described as unconventional. In "Spook," she sets off on a skeptic's scavenger hunt to find out if there's any scientific way of proving there is life after death, listening to a whole range of people who have doubtless grown used to people's eyes glazing over - or worse. Describing her undertaking as a "giggly, random, utterly earthbound assault on our most ponderous unanswered question," Roach gives all her subjects their due. The guy who says he's determined the weight of a dog's soul. Researchers who interview children claiming to be reincarnated. Mediums who transcribe their conversations with the dead. She takes a "Fundamentals of Mediumship" course in England, and heads out with the International Ghost Hunters Society (14,000 members in 78 countries) to tape-record so-called spirit voices in a national forest in California. Later, ignoring the locals' warnings that a Canadian professor keeps rats and mows his lawn in a three-piece suit, she allows him to lock her in a soundproof chamber and expose her brain to electromagnetic fields in an attempt to pick up ghost "presences" in the atmosphere. "It is interesting," she writes in a perfectly deadpan style, "to come across people who feel that a ghost communicating via a spell-checker is less far-fetched than a software glitch."


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