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Spook: Science Tackles the AfterlifeSpook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
By Mary Roach
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 2005)
Pages: 288 – Price: $24.95 author interview

Mary Roach, author of the imaginative, well-written, and intriguing Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, is the guest. Let me ask you right off, what inspired you to write Spook?

Duncan MacDougall, the original soul-weigher, who made a cameo appearance in Stiff. He was a quirky little
Massachusetts doctor (looked just like George
Costanza of Seinfeld) who became obsessed with the
idea of proving that the soul exists by weighing patients as they die (and seeing if the scale indicator goes down). I loved that can-do spirit — trying to apply experimental method to something as ephemeral as the human soul. He was the inspiration. 

With all the diverse information available, did you find writing your book difficult at times?

That’s why I held so dearly to my little theme: Proving the afterlife or soul. If you weren’t somehow engaged in this activity, you couldn’t be in Spook! Otherwise, I would have been overwhelmed — covering theories and beliefs etc. That would be a 20-volume set! 

With that guideline in place, it was actually a bit hard to fill the book. There’s not many people doing anything in this area these days… 

Do you believe in the possibility of reincarnation?

I believe in the possibility of it, yes, absolutely. I didn’t feel that the research had thus far supplied proof of it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t exist. I believe in the possibility of almost everything I touched on in Spook: ghosts, haunted houses, near-death experiences being non-hallucinations, reincarnation… 

Do you believe in the possibility of an afterlife?

Yes. I think it would be arrogant to come out and say that there is no possibility of an afterlife. Who can know at this point? Science can only take us so far. There is much, I think, that man and his sciences have yet to explain or even comprehend. 

What were your feelings towards death after your cultural encounters in India?

I remain pretty solidly in denial in regards death. It remains sort of an abstract, something easily pushed to the far corners of my mind. I fear old age, senility, pain, loneliness, decrepitude — all the things that precede death — more than death itself. India didn’t really change my feelings about death. 

A writer once told me, that at her death she expected to be greeted by angels singing the Cole Porter song “Anything Goes.” What do you personally expect to happen at your death?

I expect to see my mother, saying “I told you so.” (She was a strict Catholic, never doubted that she was on a one-way to heaven.) 

What is your opinion on ghosthunters and the numerous books written by them? Are they phony or legitimate?

I’ve never read any books by professional ghosthunters. I’ve only spent time with a group of amateur ghosthunters, who seemed mainly to be in it for the entertainment. (And it was indeed quite entertaining.) I don’t get the sense that ghosthunters are fraudulent, no. Though some are perhaps a bit reluctant to consider other possible
explanations for the things they encounter. 

 What is your opinion on such television programs as The Ghost Whisperer and Medium?

I haven’t seen either show. My book tour has pretty much done away with my leisure time! 

Why do you think such television shows are gaining in popularity with the American public?

There seems to be a growing trend toward accepting the unproven, the unscientifically explained. E.g., the recent embracing of Intelligent Design as a legitimate alternative to Darwinism. People are saying the hell with scientific evidence, I’ll believe what I believe
to be the truth. So perhaps this is part of that trend. Either that or it’s just another case of the monkey-see, monkey-do mentality which pervades the TV world.

Would you venture an analysis as to why there is a renewed world interest in the paranormal over the last twenty-five years?

I’m not aware that there was. It seems pretty constant to me. There has always been an interest, and always will, I think. 

Do you see the United States as more fascinated by the subject of ghosts than other countries?

No — Asia is a highly ghosty continent, as is Africa. And Latino culture as well — i.e., Day of the Dead, etc. If anything, I think ghosts are more a part of day to day culture in these places.

What would you say to a ghost if you encountered one?

Please tell me! What’s it like? What do you do all day? Are you happy? Are you bored? What’s the weather like? Do you have any friends to keep you company? Do you get to eat? How’s your sex life? 

Who is the real Mary Roach? Please define yourself!

Well, I think I’m one of those writers who comes through pretty clearly in her writing. No mystery at all. 

What are your future plans?

More books, but no more books involving cadavers or souls. Need a change
of scenery! 

It was great visiting with you, and thank you very much for the interview! Is there any closing thoughts you wish to share?

Thanks! It was great visiting with you too. A welcome respite from the grinding sameness of the book tour. Closing thoughts? Never order Cioppino in Milwaukee.

Click here to buy this book now.

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