Michael Grosso is a teacher, author, and painter, whose interests span psychical research, metaphysical art, the parapsychology of religion, and, primarily, philosophy. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy, and studied classical Greek, at Columbia University, and has taught at City University of New York, Marymount Manhattan College, and City University of New Jersey. He is currently affiliated with the Division of Personality Studies of the University of Virginia.
Michael has published books on topics ranging from life after death to the mythologies of endtime - some titles include The Millennium Myth, Soulmaking, and Frontiers of the Soul. His most recent book, Experiencing the Next World Now (Amazon US and UK), presents the best current evidence for life after death, but also offers the reader practical methods for 'peeking through the keyhole' at what may lie beyond.
GT: Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Could you begin by introducing yourself to readers with a short history of how and why you began your research into the idea of ‘the afterlife’?
MG: Probably what first got me going was realizing one day I was going to die. 'So what does this mean?', I thought. But there was something else. I kept having experiences that contradicted the mainline materialism dished up in the schools--especially graduate school in which belief in spirits was sheer heresy. What I experienced and what the standard view of reality was, were at odds. That got me to study psychical research: what was really going on?
GT: Could you describe in more detail these experiences which led you to re-evaluate the standard view of reality?
MG: I actually had a variety of paranormal experiences. One of the most striking was a series of three dreams in which I saw Ronald Reagan being shot. From the images I could see he was shot in the shoulder (he was), and the last dream was symbolic, in which I saw the President naked from the waist up and beaming with health. I inferred he would survive any attack (correct). I reported these dreams to my students who were duly astonished when the man was actually shot. I've seen apparitions of dead people that conveyed veridical information, for example, a dead great aunt I had never met but whom I later identified in a photo I'd never seen. I also projected my tangible double across the Atlantic ocean to my girlfriend. For details, see my book Soulmaking (1997) Hampton Roads Publishing (available from Amazon US and UK).
GT: Your latest book, Experiencing the Next World Now contains a broad review of the evidence for the survival of consciousness after death, to this point. Could you share with readers which cases you would consider the ‘best of the best’? And, to provide some balance, what do you see as the main arguments against the survival hypothesis?
MG: The whole pattern of survival-related stories--not individual startling cases--is what persuades me that some people continue to be conscious after they shed their bodies. There are types of case, certain features of cases, that suggest survival. For example, if there is verified intelligence from a deceased person, like when a lost will is found through a deceased agent. Or suppose a stranger intrudes on a mediumistic performance, and correctly identifies himself. There are records of known deceased researchers communicating through several mediums at a time. Numerous, detailed reports of reincarnation memories, behaviors, and related birth marks and birth deffects, strengthen the survival hypothesis. The near-death experience is suggestive. Parts of the brain go out of commission during cardiac arrest and general anaesthesia. Without these parts, conscious experience is believed to be impossible. But under these conditiuons, in the famous near-death experience, people not only have conscious experiences, they have enhanced experiences. And then there are those excursions out of the body, verified objectively, which point to the separability of consciousness from the body. It's really the detailed pattern that convinces me something very interesting is going on.
GT: The book goes beyond the idea of simply serving up evidence from others on ‘survival’ though, and encourages readers toward personal experience through methods of altering consciousness. Now we all know that the ‘New Age’/’Metaphysical’ section at the local bookstore is filled with titles by self-appointed experts on such ideas – how do we sort the wheat from the chaff and find the genuine methods which might provide something worthwhile? To my mind, perhaps the best idea is to trust those with a history – for example, shamanic methods of altering consciousness and other ancient rites. Would you agree with this, or do you believe we need to formulate new methods for our modern lifestyle?
MG: I think there is a wealth of traditiional materials we can draw upon to guide us to "experience the next world now." We could model ourselves after native vision questers, Tibetan dreamers, Sufi color enthusiasts, or Chinese foetal breathers.
I try to understand the psychology at work in a given system, and to adapt that understanding to my practical life. The idea is to reconstitute myself in such a way that I become more transparent, more porous to trans- or sub-liminal impressions, images, energies. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us; it's another state of consciousness.
GT: Having said that, do you think it is necessary that people have guidance in this sort of exploration? Despite the 'gnostic dream' of doing it all yourself - away from the rigidity of organised religion - many of the ancient systems employed 'superiors' to help the neophyte understand and integrate their experiences.
MG: Of course it's always wise to allow oneself to be guided by those more knowledgeable in any field of endeavor. Trouble is, there are few clear and unequivocal experts in this realm of experience, which depends on luck, context, and inspiration--a little like art or any creative venture. There is bound to be an element of risk in stepping beyond the enchanted boundary and fools and the foolhardy should beware. But how can we legislate against self-exploration?
GT: In your essay “The Flatliner Paradigm”, you explain your own feelings about the possibility of survival of consciousness: “When I look closely within myself, what I feel constraining me toward belief in probable extinction is the sense that I do not inhabit the kind of universe where the leap into a new mode of existence after biological death is possible or, at any rate, probable.”
Do you think this is based on valid reasoning, or is your concern perhaps a result of inculcation in the materialist paradigm? I’d appreciate hearing more of your ‘inner dialogue’ on this subject.
MG: Thanks for that question. There is no doubt about the hypnotic spell of the materialist paradigm. In spite of direct experiences of my own, my views on survival remain in skeptical suspense. On the other hand, there's nothing we know about the universe that forbids the idea of conscious survival. After all, against the miracle of there being a universe in the first place, and of dumb matter evolving into an Einstein or Nicole Kidman, and then consciousness appearing on the scene, it seems like just another evolutionary lift-off into novelty for consciousness to slip away from its neural substrate..
GT: Do you think that quantum physics might play a role in allowing humanity to accept better some of these models? Some of the concepts in modern physics surely throw our whole concept of reality into doubt?
MG: I think concepts of modern physics could play a role in two ways. First, they show that our naive mechanistic and materialistic views of the world are a misleading facade for what ultimate reality may really consist of. Next to quantum realities, nonlocality, etc., what's the big deal about the paranormal? Second, on some interpretations of quantum physics mind proves to be an integral feature of our description of reality.
GT: Nevertheless, the scientific paradigm is still very much grounded in Newtonian physics. In fact, you have written that “thanks to scientific materialism, the dominant metaphysical conceit of the age, anything supporting the reality of minds as substances…tends to be ignored, if not repressed, by the watchdogs of mainstream culture.”
Could you say who you regard as the ‘watchdogs’, and can you cite examples of the repression of evidence?
MG: The watchdogs are embedded in all layers of the culture, the press, the scientific establishment, the university, the religious establishment, etc. The repression takes the form of negative hallucinations; the evidence is not noticed, discussed, regarded. Here's an amusing example. I gave a copy of Alan Gauld's Mediumship and Survival to a fellow philosopher; he refused to look at it. "It's just a book," he said.
GT: So, with the materialist paradigm as entrenched as it is, one would think that it would require some ‘shock’ to move towards contemplation of the survival hypothesis rather than simple accumulation of experimental data. While veridical out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are not in themselves proof of survival, do you think solid evidence on this front could be used an ‘assault’ on the current paradigm?
MG: Why just veridical OBEs? I believe there's a huge amount of data, normal, abnormal, and supernormal, from hypnotic reversals of congenital disease (icthyosis) and placebos that invert physiological responses to Joseph of Copertino's levitations that assaults the paradigm. Then there's strictly normal stuff like subjective consciousness, its unity, memory, dreams, free voluntary acts, etc. that can't be digested by physicalism. Very few are willing to look at all this with a cool comprehensive eye.
GT: Well, I was thinking more in terms of what it would take to win over your CSICOPs out there - and I think it would have to be something very straightforward to remove room for doubting. I would say positive results in viewing hidden symbols or numbers through out-of-body experience would constitute extremely strong evidence. Having said that, scientists such as Dean Radin might argue that we're already at that point with the mass of positive results over the past decade in related fields (remote viewing, precognition etc).
MR: I agree with Dean and believe there is ample data out there already, experimental and spontaneous cases, that suffice to prove to any rational and open-minded person that psi is a fact of nature and that a decent case can be made for postmortem survival. I often tell diehard disbelievers to read the first ten or fifteen volumes of the English Proceedings for Psychical Research and then come back for a chat.
GT: Lastly, I'd like to cover the question of whether we are seeing a core mechanism at work behind many seemingly different experiences. Ken Ring has written about the integration of near-death experience (NDE) study with other areas such as shamanism and abductions. Jacques Vallee and John Keel have long espoused a psychical aspect to the UFO question. John Mack has now brought a similar question to bear in abduction research, and of late research into entheogens (for example, Rick Strassman with DMT and Karl Jansen with Ketamine) has contemplated the same areas. Your book covers these topics as well. Are we seeing some great awakening to the unity of these experiences, and perhaps a validation of Henri Corbin’s ideas of the imaginal realms (versus the imaginary or utopian)?
MG: I could add to that list of names. It would be nice if someone made an anthology of theoretical papers on the unity you allude to. We could use a good general theory of psi-mediated anomalies; I think it would shed light on certain points in religious studies. As for the imaginal world, surcharged and undergirded by the psychokinetic and extrasensorial properties of psi, it's a potent theoretical construct. We could use it to corral all manner of mind-monster and metaphysical wild bunch.
GT: Sounds like a good project for the weekend at the very least, Michael! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us here at the Daily Grail, and best wishes for the success of your book.
Experiencing the Next World Now by Michael Grosso is available from Amazon US and UK. More information about Michael Grosso, including a range of thought-provoking articles by him, is available from his personal website.