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Death and the Afterlife: Let us Persevere

Posted on 30 January 2017, 15:53

As a follow-up to my last blog post dealing with philistinism – our tendency to avoid talking about death and to seek a life of pleasure without any search for meaning, thereby leading to existential despair – I am going to let the world-renowned French astronomer Camille Flammarion (below) (1842-1925) have his say on the subject.  His words below are extracted and abridged from his 1922 book, Death and Its Mystery: Before Death.  Not much seems to have changed in the near hundred years since Flammarion penned his thoughts.


“Whether we face it boldly, or whether we avoid the image of it, Death is the supreme event of Life.  To be unwilling to consider it is a bit of childish silliness, as the precipice is before us and as we shall inevitably fall into it some day.  To imagine that the problem is insoluble, that we can know nothing about it and shall only be wasting our time if, with daring curiosity, we try to see clearly – that is an excuse dictated by a careless laziness and an unjustified timidity.

“It is hard not to desire an answer to the formidable question that presents itself when we think of our destiny, or when a cruel death has taken from us some one we love.  How is it possible not to ask whether or not we shall find each other again, or if the separation is for eternity? Does a Deity or Goodness exist? Do injustice and evil rule over the progress of humanity, with no regard for the feelings that nature has placed in our hearts? And what is this nature itself? Has it a will, an end? Could there be more intelligence, more justice, more goodness, and more inspiration in our infinitesimally small minds that in the great universe?  How many questions are associated with the same enigma!

“No thinking man can avoid being troubled in the hours of personal reflection by this question: ‘What will become of me?  Shall I die wholly?’

“There is no valid reason for not studying everything, for not submitting everything to the test of positive analysis, and we shall never know anything that we have not learned. If Theology has been mistaken in pretending that [the study of immortality] is reserved for her, Science has been equally mistaken in disdaining them as unworthy or foreign to her mission.  The problem of the immortality of the soul has not yet been solved in the affirmative, but neither has it yet been solved in the negative, as has sometimes been pretended.

“It is the general tendency to believe that the solution of the sphinx’s riddle of what lies beyond the grave is out of our reach, and that the human mind has not the power to pierce the mystery.  Nevertheless, what subject concerns us more closely, and how can we fail to be interested in our own lot?

“The persistent study of this great problem leads us to believe, to-day, that the mystery of death is less obscure and impenetrable than has been admitted hitherto, and that it may become clear to the mind’s eye by the light of certain actual experiments that were unknown half a century ago.  It ought not to surprise us to find psychical research associated with astronomical research.  It is the same problem.  The physical and moral world are one.  Astronomy has always been associated with religion.  The errors of that ancient science, which was founded on deceptive appearances, had their inevitable consequences in the erroneous beliefs of former days; the theological heaven must accord with the astronomical heaven under pain of collapse.  The duty of all honest men is to seek loyally after truth.

“We once affirmed things of which we were ignorant; we imposed silence upon all seekers.  This is what has above all retarded the psychic sciences.  Undoubtedly this study is not indispensable to a practical life.  Men in general are stupid.  Not one out of a hundred of them thinks.  They live on the earth without knowing where they are and without having the curiosity even to wonder.  They are brutes that eat, drink, enjoy themselves, reproduce their kind, sleep, and are occupied above everything in acquiring money. 

“The deplorable conditions of life on our planet, the obligation to eat, the necessities of material existence, explain the indifference to philosophy on the part of the earth’s inhabitants, without entirely excusing them; for millions of men and women find the time to indulge in futile amusements, to read newspapers and novels, to play cards, to occupy themselves with the affairs of others, to pass along the old story of the mote and the beam, to criticize and spy upon those about them, to dabble in politics, to fill the churches and the theaters, to support luxurious shops, to overwork the dressmakers and hatmakers, etc.

“Universal ignorance is the result of that miserable human individualism that is so self-sufficient.  The need of living by the spirit is felt by no one, or almost no one.  Men who think are the exception.  If these [psychical] researches lead us to employ our minds better, to find out what we are here to do, on this earth, we may be satisfied with this work; for truly, our life as human beings seems very obscure.

“The inhabitant of the earth is still so unintelligent, and so bestial that everywhere, even up to the present day, it is still might that makes right and upholds it; the leading statesman of each nation is still the Minister of War, and nine tenths of the financial wealth of the people is consecrated to periodic international butcheries.

“And Death continues to reign over the destinies of humanity! She is indeed the sovereign.  Her scepter has never exercised its controlling power with such ferocious and savage violence as in these last years.  By mowing down millions of men on the battlefield she has raised millions of questions to be addressed to Destiny.  Let us study it, this final end.  It is a subject well worthy of our attention.”

In his book, Death and Its Mystery: At the Moment of Death, also published in 1922, Flammarion discusses the strong evidence in favor of survival, stating that much discernment is necessary when examining it, but the cumulative evidence is convincing.  He writes:

“There are men who cannot be candid!  They would even be afraid to commit themselves by declaring that castor-oil is a laxative. There are limits to skepticism and incredulity.  Quibbling and the sophistries of the subtlest dialectic do not affect the existence of fact.

“Unfortunately, as a general thing, people of the upper classes – savants, scholars, artists, writers, judges, priests, physicians, etc. – maintain a discreet reserve, as though afraid to speak out.  They are less free, have their own interests to protect, and are silent while others talk.  Such faintheartedness, such cowardice, is absolutely despicable.  What is there to fear?  It is excusable to deny facts through ignorance.  But not to dare admit things seen – a sad state of affairs!

“There are other criminals besides those in prisons, namely cultivated men who know truths they do not venture to reveal, for reasons of personal interest, or for fear of ridicule.  In the course of my career I have met more than one of these ‘men of science,’ extremely intelligent, very learned, who have been witnesses of metaphysical phenomena beyond cavil, or who have grown aware of them – men who have no doubt of the undeniable existence of these phenomena, yet dare say nothing, through meanness unpardonable in minds of real worth.  Or else, from fear of being heard, they whisper, mysteriously, testimony which would be of considerable weight in the triumph of truth. Such men are unworthy of the name of savants.  Several of them belong to what is called ‘high society,’ and believe that they would lose credit by seeming over-credulous, although, on the other hand, they subscribe to debatable beliefs.

“A part of the clergy is hostile to [psychical research] and considers that the Church should monopolize such questions.  This point of view has come down from biblical times. The summoning of the dead was formally forbidden the Hebrews, and Saul violated his own decrees when he went to consult the witch of Endor and invoked the shade of the prophet Samuel.  Perhaps this interdiction was justifiable in the case of incompetent men of the humbler orders, who can so easily fall into the worst stupidities.  But in our day to forbid men who are learned, given to reflection, well balanced, to study these problems; to teach that they are not to use the reason God has given them, that they must humble this reason before the affirmations of a debatable divine revelation; to maintain that the question of the nature of the soul and of its survival, which interests so personally each one of us, must be reserved to a caste of casuists who appropriate for themselves the right to judge and to decide between the true and the false, between God and the devil – such is, indeed, a strange way of thinking, and an anachronism carrying us back to the middle ages. 

“This error is all the more inexplicable from the fact that the phenomena with which we are concerned support the stories of the sacred Scriptures, among other the apparitions of Jesus, unknown or denied by nine tenths of mankind. 

“There are men of worth among the observers: the names of Immanuel Kant, of Goethe, of Schopenhauer, of William Crookes, of Russel Wallace, of Oliver Lodge, of Edison, of Victor Hugo, of Victorien Sardou, of Lombroso, of William James, and of some others, are not negligible; there are observers of all sorts. [However, there are too many] men incapable of being convinced, despite the most evident proofs; worthy men, moreover, from other points of view, learned, agreeable, philanthropic, but whose mental eyes are constructed in such a way that they do not see straight before them.  (Hunters tell us it is the same with hares.)  Their eyes have a prism before the retina in place of the normal lens, and this prism distorts the rays by a few degrees, with refractions, which differ according to type.  This is not their fault.  It is not only that they do not wish to perceive the sun at high noon, but they cannot … Eyes are useless to a blind brain, say an Arabian proverb. 

“To have too much intellect is sometimes a hindrance to the simple comprehension of things as they are.  [In effect], we have against us, in our investigation, three kinds of adversaries, virtually unconquerable:  1) Those who make sport of everything, who are interested in nothing; 2) materialists convinced, on principle, that matter produces everything; 3) human beings confined within a narrow dogma, whatever their religion, sure of their beliefs and satisfied with them.  Those with knowledge of truth have always formed a minority, despite the most persevering efforts of free seekers. Let us persevere, however. The good seed will, at length, germinate.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  Feb. 13      



Yes Michael, I understand your nuanced comment. Our assumption is that something does not exist if we cannot see or otherwise detect it in some way but of course that is a false assumption.  Another thought perhaps is that planets appear barren because there is no consciousness there to create a reality. They are like a blank canvas waiting for the artist’s paintbrush. - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 6 Feb, 14:26


I once had a psychic tell me that I was a vineyard owner in France in a past life and that I drank much of my profits, thereby becoming an alcoholic.  That may explain why I have never acquired a taste for alcoholic beverages of any kind during this lifetime. 

As for life on Mars, even the moon, can we be certain that there is not life there in a form we
cannot see or understand?

Michael Tymn, Sun 5 Feb, 04:37

Memorable and thought-provoking quotes of Flammarion—some still appropriate for today.  Thanks Michael for sending me out on another quest for knowledge!

Flammarion apparently was a ‘blind groper searching for truth’. He considered non-mainstream possibilities related to the universe, stars and planets, life and death.  It is too bad that he didn’t have the tools of astronomy that we have today as he would have had to revise his conjectures about the moon and Mars being habitable.

I believe that he may also have been a believer in reincarnation and transmigration of souls as he is reported to have said, “I have always thought that in some previous existence I must have been bitten by a mad dog, hence my instinctive antipathy to them; though at heart I am very fond of animals of all kinds in general, and of dogs in particular.”  He also apparently wrote several fictional stories which describe the reincarnation of a spirit on other worlds in various alien forms, a belief to which I subscribe.

Nevertheless, the choice quotes you selected are as appropriate today as they were many years ago.  My favorite is:

“To have too much intellect is sometimes a hindrance to the simple comprehension of things as they are.  [In effect], we have against us, in our investigation, three kinds of adversaries, virtually unconquerable:  1) Those who make sport of everything, who are interested in nothing; 2) materialists convinced, on principle, that matter produces everything; 3) human beings confined within a narrow dogma, whatever their religion, sure of their beliefs and satisfied with them.  Those with knowledge of truth have always formed a minority, despite the most persevering efforts of free seekers. Let us persevere, however. The good seed will, at length, germinate.”

Thanks again Michael. - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Fri 3 Feb, 22:23

Excellent! Thanks for reminding us about this perceptive thinker!

Yvonne Limoges, Thu 2 Feb, 20:09

It was wonderful to read what an intelligent astronomer had to say about the evidence of psychical research and the reason that so many either have no interest in its conclusions or dismiss it out of hand, assured by their biases of its utter nonsense.  But this has been the complaint for years and years by those who study the paranormal with seriousness and dedication.  Thank you, Mike, for sharing this with us.

Appreciatively, John

John F. Miller III, Wed 1 Feb, 22:19

I read the first volume of Death and Its Mystery years ago. Thanks for reminding me, through your quotations, of its eloquence.

Toulouse, France, has a major boulevard named after him, the Avenue Camille Flammarion. I would bet money that half or fewer of the city’s inhabitants know who he was. And of that half, maybe one or two out of a hundred are aware of his interest in anything other than astronomy. So discouraging.

Rick Darby, Tue 31 Jan, 18:17

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“Life After Death – The Communicator” by Paul Beard – If the telephone rings, naturally the caller is expected to identify himself. In post-mortem communication, necessitating something far more complex than a telephone, it is not enough to seek the speakers identity. One needs to estimate also as far as is possible his present status and stature. This involves a number of factors, overlapping and hard to keep separate, each bringing its own kind of difficulty. Four such factors can readily be named. Read here
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