Arthur Ellison portrait

Arthur Ellison

(Professor Emeritus Ellison D.Sc.(Eng.), C.Eng. was Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The City University, London. The author of a number of electrical engineering textbooks and many learned papers, he was also a Vice-President of the Society for Psychical Research. He served two three-year terms as its President, and held that office during the Society's centenary year.

What is it Like After Death?

- Arthur Ellison -

          PROFESSOR H. H. Price produced a thoughtful and stimulating paper some years ago in which he deduced, from philosophical and psychological considerations, the sort of life one might expect after the death of the body, assuming we still existed. His deductions agree very well not only with the ostensible information through mediums and the near-death experience but also with the teachings of Hinduism.

Clearly after death we would have no information coming in via the senses and therefore no sense perceptions. How could we experience a world? It would surely be a kind of dream world: when asleep we have no sensory input but still have experiences. After death George would really come into his own and produce objects of awareness about which we could have thoughts, desires and emotions. The next world would, on this argument, be a world of mental images. It would be quite solid - there is nothing imaginary about mental images. Sometimes objects would behave in a queer way but this would not be too disconcerting and our identity would not be broken. An image world would be, to those who experienced it, just as real as this one; in fact they might have difficulty in realizing they were dead. It would be a perfectly good world, in which one would feel completely alive. But what about a body? (Saint Paul had that difficulty! 'How are the dead raised up and in what body do they come?') They could have images representing the body they had here. They might find that their image bodies also were subject to peculiar causal laws in that wishes tended automatically to fulfil themselves. The body could be young and vigorous and dressed in any way that its owner wished. A wish to go to New York City might be followed at once by a set of New-York-City-style images and the owner of the body would realize that 'going somewhere' was a little different. He or she might conclude that the body was not the same as the physical body and might call it a psychic or spiritual body, very like the old one but having different properties.

We have earlier explained, and shown by means of an experiment, that this body (and this world) would not be in physical space but in its own space. Passing from the physical world to the next might be thought of as a change of consciousness, like waking to a dream. It would involve a change from a perceptual consciousness to an imaging type of consciousness. You might suggest that discarnate minds are thus in a state of perpetual delusion. If so then they would have to put up with it. However, we say delusion only because the experiences would be different from those of the physical world. People in the next world would be deluded only in the sense that their bodies and their world were not really physical though they might mistakenly think so. But it is another world, as it should be, having different space and laws.

Would a world of mental images be private? Not if we accept telepathy. Telepathy might be more common in a disembodied state than it is here and the image world might be the joint product of a group of telepathically interacting minds and public to them all. It would not have unrestricted public access as it seems likely there would be many such worlds for each group of like-minded personalities. There are a number of groups of people having rather narrow religious ideas possessing very clear views as to what 'heaven' is like. They would discover that they were in such a world, with all the 'unbelievers' being excluded. ('In My Father's house are many mansions.')

Such a world would be mind-dependent. It would be dependent on the memories and desires of those who experienced it; memory, as Price puts it, providing the pigments and desires painting the picture. Desires unsatisfied in earthly life might play an important part. This could seem agreeable, but desires repressed because they were too painful or disagreeable to admit might also be important, and the same might be true of repressed memories.

Such an after-death world of mental images has been well described by Hindu thinkers as kama loka or 'world of desire'.

Material possessions clearly cannot be taken into the next world - but this would be no loss because if they were remembered well enough, image replicas could be produced of them.

Price mentions the scathing remarks of some people concerning the materialistic character of what comes through mediums. Agreeable houses, beautiful landscapes and gardens are described. They argue apparently that this materialistic character is evidence against its genuineness. On the contrary, this is evidence for its genuineness as most people do like material objects and are deeply interested in them. If the objectors are saying that such a world is not worth having and would prefer a different state because they find this uninspired and unsatisfying - then they will indeed experience something different. A mind-dependent world would tend to be a wish-fulfilment world.

In case you think this is too good to be true it is easy to argue that it is the reverse. There would be many next worlds, not just one, and the world each of us could expect after death would depend on the kind of person we are. It is easy to see that some people's next world would be more like purgatory than paradise because they have conflicting desires. Few of us are completely integrated personalities and, Price suggests, the one-pointed saint probably comes the closest. Sometimes when our desires appear to be relatively harmonious, appearances can be deceptive. Conscious desires are not in apparent conflict but this may well have been achieved at the cost of repression. There are unconscious desires conflicting with the neatly organized pattern of conscious life: the seeming harmony might vanish after a person is dead. Formally repressed desires would be manifested by appropriate images, and they might be horrifying - as some dream images are for the same reasons. (The 'secrets of the heart' would be revealed.) They would certainly be wish-fulfilment images but the wishes would be in conflict with others and the resulting emotional state might be worse than the worse nightmare - worse in that the subjects are unable to wake up. They might find themselves doing cruel actions which they never did in earthly life: but the desires would have been there even though repressed and unacknowledged. Cruel desires would fulfil themselves by creating appropriate images. But unfortunately for their comfort their personality encompasses benevolent desires too so they are distressed and horrified even though, in a sense, the situations are expressions of their own desires. For instance, psychoanalysts tell us that there is often an underlying urge to be punished - the result of guilty repressed feelings.

It is clear that such unpleasant experiences would not be literally punishments. They would he inflicted by no external judge but each person's purgatory would be just the automatic consequences of his or her own desires. The life after death, on these arguments, would be an expression of what each person truly is - it will all depend on what we have made of ourselves during earthly life.

At first sight one might think that an image world contained no hard facts and so there was nothing objective. However, a man's or woman's character is objective in that it exists whether we like it or not.

The next world as pictured would be subject to law but not to the laws of physics: such laws might be more like the laws of psychology. If we dislike the image world our memories and desires create for us - if when we get what we want we are horrified - we have to set about altering our character, and this might be a long and painful process.

Some people say all desires, even permanent and habitual ones, would wear out in time by the mere process of being satisfied. In such cases this dreamlike purgatory would be only temporary but it would be where we are brought face-to-face with what we really are. When that has perhaps become a thing of the past - what would the world after that be like? Would we still have personal identity when we are not even dreaming? Price puts the question: would the soul become something greater? What sort of experiences could we imagine for it? He refers us to the mystics, who have tried to describe (in allegory, because there is nothing equivalent here) this higher state of consciousness - which they experience while in the physical body.

Price's account of the next world is, you will appreciate, in some respects not at all unlike what we have in effect suggested this world may be like. We postulate a physical body having five senses but actually all we really know is that we have experiences, images, in the mind. Those images are all we have. 'Material objects' are just collections of ideas.

Price wrote his paper along these lines before the information about near-death experiences was available. So far as they go, these experiences appear to confirm his views. Scriptural writings appear to do the same. I do not think that Price was far wrong in his descriptions of the hypothetical 'next world'. Certainly they agree very well with the evidence presented earlier in this book. Perhaps, if we think there is something significant and possibly important and true in these views, it might be a good idea to start to improve our characters right now! It could be much more painful to let the next world do it for us!


Arthur Ellison's "The Reality of the Paranormal" (London: Harrap, 1988).

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