After my son Jack died, I kept asking myself whatever was I going to do, now that my worst fear had come true. The question would revolve in my head. Trapped in the torture of grief, I'd often catch myself muttering out loud the same seven words, like some bad mantra, "What am I going to do now?". As an atheist I was certain that when we're dead, we're dead. But what exactly is Dead?
Researching answers to that question turned out to be what I was going to do now. For the next five years I read a tower of books, interviewed medics, preachers, philosophers, scientists, the bereaved and people who had come back from the jaws of death with an extraordinary story to tell.
Here are five of the many things I’ve learned:
1. There's nothing so special about we humans. That is not to say that there is nothing wonderful about us. We are wonderful because we are each part of nature which is wonderful. But we belong very solidly in the mammalian family. We are descended from a pair of small rats that lived in Dorset. I still live in Dorset. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
2. We are not just our brains. Pea plants do not own a single brain cell, but they are capable of learning. Trees too don't have a brain cell to their names, but they send each other messages and food, and even scrunch up their roots to make room for one of their offspring. In short, they can be considerate. Even fungus can be smart: slime mould, yellowish gunge that grows on rotting logs, can find its way around mazes, describe transport networks and help design aircraft components. It even holds a preference for mood-altering drugs. Honestly.
3. Intelligence seems to go all the way down the scale of matter; atomic particles change their behaviour when we turn our gaze towards them. This is no new finding: we have known about this for over a hundred years.
4. Identical twins living a thousand miles apart sometimes have the same dream on a given night. Light particles, held more than a thousand miles apart, are able to communicate instantly with one another; many physicists believe that they do so via a fifth dimension: 'non-local' space.
5. People who have been brought back to life from cardiac arrest report having found themselves in an extraordinary light-filled other world that they swear is more real than this, real world. It's a sort of fifth dimension, a non-local space. One man who'd been there while he was clinically dead told me that the experience had ruined his atheism forever. He had lost his faith.
About David Marteau
Dave and Debbie Marteau's 21-year old son Jack was killed crossing the road in Palermo, Sicily nine years ago. Following this tragedy, Dave spent five years investigating death. He has written a book, The English Book of the Dead, to share his findings. Details, including a sample chapter, can be found at www.englishbookofthedead.com
You can follow Dave on Twitter.