Tuesday, December 20

Spook, by Mary Roach

I just finished Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach, author of another surprisingly funny science book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Here's a sampling of things I learned from the book:

  • 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation, which I found surprisingly high
  • since a human soul cannot split in two, it must enter the body not at conception, but sometime later than 14 days after conception, the point at which an embryo can no longer split into two and form identical twins—or so reasons philosopher and Catholic priest Norman Ford
  • in 1923, the New York Times reported that heaven is in need of more businessmen and accountants to do work there, according to the revelatory visions of an Anglican clergyman. (This makes me wonder where all the businessmen and accountants go when they die, if not to heaven.)
  • it is in fact not an urban myth that dental fillings can pick up radio signals and play tunes and mysterious voices inside your head, by vibrating your skull and thus your inner ear
  • a phenomenon called ducting in the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere where charged particles abound, can randomly carry weak radio broadcasts across continents
  • University of Cambridge researchers wandered around at night wearing sheets to try to measure people's belief in ghosts
  • a very low frequency type of sound, called infrasound, probably does not cause diarrhea or vomiting (despite the claims of the band sunn 0)))), but can cause a heightening of emotion.
  • forensic scientists actually do read off messages by looking at the imprints left in a pad of paper from writing on pages above, just like in "The Big Lebowski," when The Dude did this to Jackie Treehorn.
  • a website called TASTE collects scientists' recollections of transcendent experiences they've had—with the idea being, I guess, that scientists are less gullible than common folk

  • Also, here's a Powell's.com interview with Mary Roach.


    Blogger Harlan said...

    Thanks for the summary, I was wondering what was in the book and whether it would be worth my time to read...

    I found the thing about the Catholic view of when the soul enters the embryo, avoiding twinning, very politically interesting. You must be familiar with the anti-abortion argument against the morning-after pill, saying that it can abort a fertilized (and thus soul-containing) egg. Intruiging contradictions to ponder...

    Oh, and congratulations on the link from Boing Boing.

    3:12 PM  

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