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.


6 thoughts on “The Survival Hypothesis: A Very Brief Discussion

  1. Why no book by Prof. Ian Stevenson is included? I think he has done more than anyone else to explore this question in great detail.and as far as fieldwork is concerned, others are only adding footnotes to his painstaking, pioneering work. .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ian Stevenson did excellent field work and investigations of people, often children, who remember past lives. He is a pioneer in the field of parapsychology. Dr. Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia has picked up this work and is doing a wonderful job continuing this research. I included a book by Jim Tucker because it is recent work on this topic. No slight was intended to Dr. Stevenson.


  2. I must add a thought here. Why do we really have to go with a “discarnate” body of consciousness? We don’t even know what dark matter is, and are only a few hundred years into using something that resembles scientific theory.

    If you believe in Chi or a similar life force energy, it may very well be that we don’t have the tools to measure what this is, and due to the unpredictability of these encounters, we have a very difficult time selecting tools with which to measure these events.

    Heat/Cold? Electricity? Magnetism? We don’t even know what type of energy this may be. I think it is very important to avoid making assumptions. We know that people see them, hear them, feel them, smell them, sense them, and can see the effects of their manipulations in our surroundings.

    This to me indicates that there must be some organization and focus of the energy, whatever it is.


  3. Also, Elisabeth Kubler Ross had some interesting experiences in this field. Especially her book “On Life After Death” and her work with NDEs. I don’t care for talk of a god, or her using pejorative terms for people suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder, but her work is intriguing nonetheless.


  4. Pingback: Eight things you need to know about poltergeists – just in time for Halloween – The Conversation UK |

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