The Survival Hypothesis: A Very Brief Discussion

By John G. Kruth, Executive Director of the Rhine Research Center

A reader asks:
Can you kindly suggest some good, critical book/s on the survival question giving state of the art coverage of the topic?

The topic of survival in parapsychology encompasses a number of different phenomena and experiences. One description of the elements of the Survival Hypothesis comes from An Introduction to Parapsychology:

The survival hypothesis concerns the notion of postmortem survival, that is, that a disembodied consciousness or some such discarnate element of human personality might survive bodily death at least for a time.  The survival hypothesis has obvious religious connotations, but these are of no concern in scientific parapsychology. (Irwin & Watt, 2007; p. 138)

The study of survival includes studies of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs), mediums, reincarnation, and apparitions & hauntings.  Because of the breadth of this work there is no single volume that can account for all of the evidence of survival.

In 1886, the Society for Psychical Research in London published a significant work called Phantasms of the Living. This collection of reports was compiled by Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore, and it included reports of apparitions, discussions of mediumship, and a comprehensive examination of the state of survival research at the time.  It is still considered a primary source of research into the topic of survival and the history of the field of parapsychology.

More recent studies in parapsychology have focused on individual topics related to survival.  This list includes a few of the important works that have been compiled in different areas related to survival research.

This is only a sample of the books that are available.  There are many other well researched books that could have been included on this list, not to mention numerous journal articles that could have been included.  This quick survey of the books available on survival research provides an introduction to the topic and a peek into the current thinking in the field of parapsychology.


Gurney, E., Myers, F. & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living. Society of Psychical Research: London.

Irwin, H. & Watt, C. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology, 5th Edition. McFarland & Company, Inc.: Jefferson, NC.


Welcome to Ask A Parapsychologist

Ask A Parapsychologist

Written by: John G. Kruth, Executive Director of the Rhine Research Center

Parapsychology is a field that is often misunderstood.  Many people think of parapsychologists as ghost busters, bigfoot explorers, or psychics, but Parapsychology doesn’t include any of these things.  This blog was created to answer questions to help people to learn more about the field of parapsychology.  By posting a question to Ask A Parapsychologist on the website at the Rhine Research Center (, your question will be reviewed and possibly answered by a scientist who works as a professional in the field of parapsychology.

So What Is Parapsychology?

Parapsychology is the scientific study of 5 specific phenomena:

  • Telepathy – communication between people
  • Clairvoyance – getting information about objects or places
  • Precognition – getting information through time, particularly from the future

These first 3 phenomena together are called Extrasensory Perception or ESP. They involve the ability to perceive information that is not available through the traditional physical senses.

  • PK or Psychokinesis – mind to matter interaction. Moving objects without physical intervention.
  • Survival Issues – This includes any phenomena that can provide evidence of the existence of personality, character, spirit, or soul outside of the physical body or after death. Survival Issues include:
    • Mediumship – communications with non-physical beings
    • Near Death Experiences (NDE)
    • Out of Body Experiences (OBE)
    • Hauntings
    • Apparitions

What is Psi?

Psi is a word used to represent the first 4 categories of phenomena studied by parapsychologists. It includes ESP (Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Precognition) and PK. Psi is not an abbreviation or initials. It is just a Greek word used to represent these four phenomena.

Are ghost hunters parapsychologists?

Though some parapsychologists work in the field, collecting data about haunted locations or strange phenomena, it is nothing like what you might see on TV shows about the paranormal. Parapsychologists work mostly in a laboratory setting, running controlled experiments to learn about the nature of psi.

Some paranormal investigators, very few actually, have training in the scientific method and apply critical methodology to their investigations of reported hauntings or apparitions. Actual parapsychologists don’t rely strictly on instrument and technology, and they search for physical explanations before they seek alternative theories.

Follow this blog to see answers to more questions about parapsychology and to learn more about this intriguing and interesting field. Don’t forget that you can submit your own questions to Ask A Parapsychologist at the Rhine Research Center website. I look forward to your questions!