Book Review by David Lorimer
BEYOND MATTER by Dr Oliver Lazar
Giger, 2023, 385 pp., €xx, h/b – ISBN 978-3-03933-034-8
Dr Oliver Lazar has written a landmark book combining his personal journey involving remarkable spiritual experiences and a subsequent research programme on the accuracy of mediumistic messages with a rigorous and informed critique of existing orthodoxies – usually critically unexamined – in physics, biology and neuroscience. Until his mid 40s, Oliver subscribed to orthodox scientific materialism that is hard-wired into the education system, especially with respect to biology, evolution, and the origins of life and consciousness.
Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, he finds himself catapulted into another dimension by the accidental death of one of his daughter’s classmates, Joma. He experiences cosmic love and, in two separate consultations, he receives subsequently verifiable information and the extraordinary message that he was Joma’s father in a previous incarnation when he had experienced a similar loss. If there were no truth in this insight, the bond experienced could surely not have felt so compelling. Oliver’s concept of a ‘main soul’ in relation to the individual incarnations makes a lot of sense, especially in the light of his further research of the work of Dr Brian Weiss and others. Moreover, existential challenges and suffering seem to be necessary for growth and transformation, as argued by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
An important leitmotif in the book is the contention that scientific materialism or scientism is in fact a belief system insofar as it marginalises and rejects evidence inconsistent with its foundational assumptions, almost like an intellectual immune response. This is true even in mainstream avenues of enquiry, and the consensus is reinforced by the peer (pressure) review system and the sociology of career success that is intolerant of deviations from the norm, as many pioneering scientists have discovered. These include Dr Pim van Lommel, cited in the book, whose work on NDEs has been attacked by dogmatic materialists. Etzel Cardeña’s 2018 review article on parapsychology in the American Psychologist is another case in point, whether the so-called refutation cobbled together by well-known sceptics was published without right of reply, arguing that such phenomena are a priori impossible – hence there is no need to engage with the evidence! Materialistic peer pressure within academia and science is a serious limitation on the freedom to research spirituality and the further reaches of consciousness. However, as Jeff Kripal puts it: ‘To dismiss is to miss.’ As a result, research results inconsistent with scientific materialism are rigorously excluded.
Readers will find themselves getting to grips with detailed arguments about the origins of life and the nature of chemical and molecular evolution, irreducible complexity in the light of Intelligent Design, the relationship between science – especially quantum theory – and spirituality, information theory, and the question of whether the brain gives rise to consciousness. In all of these areas, Oliver discovers that orthodox positions taken for granted and incorporated into the educational curriculum are in fact critically and empirically contested from within the disciplines themselves. Underpinning these positions is an implied defence of materialistic and reductionist approaches, which are in fact based on a series of philosophical presuppositions as demonstrated, for instance, in Collingwood’s 1940 Essay on Metaphysics where he points out that ‘the answer to any question presupposes whatever the question presupposes… And because all science begins with a question (for the question is logically prior to its own answer), all science begins with a presupposition.’ Scientism is therefore by definition a philosophy underpinning science – it is not itself scientific, nor can it be validated by science.
Oliver proposes an expansion of the presuppositions of science while maintaining an empirical approach on a deeper evidence base, as also argued by the Galileo Report (https://galileocommission.org). To this end, he set up the EREAMS (Empirical Research into the Effectiveness and Authenticity of Messages from Spirit) research study involving two mediums and a questionnaire administered to 500 people to assess the accuracy of messages received, changes of attitude before and after the session, and the transformative effect on grief when such a loss is involved. The results are by any standard remarkable and convincing, especially as they also involve people sceptical before the session who are transformed by it. A series of charts shows results of 80 to 90% in positive response to questions about the accuracy of messages and, on the part of subjects, that they will once more meet the departed loved one. Of special interest is information unknown to and only subsequently verified by the sitter, of which many specific instances are given.
On the basis of my own decades of reading and reflection, I agree with Oliver’s conclusion that we are multi-dimensional beings embedded in and shaped by a larger spiritual reality where consciousness is fundamental and love is a cosmic organising principle. In my book co-edited with Marjorie Woollacott, Spiritual Awakenings (https://spiritual-awakenings-net) featuring personal accounts of transformative experiences and processes from 57 scientists and academics, it is clear that personal transformative experience is the most powerful catalyst for a change in worldview, as is also Oliver’s case. Brilliant and ground-breaking books like this one can also play a significant role for those whose minds are critically open; and for those whose opinions on these subjects are genuinely in the balance, its analytical rigour can potentially prove a tipping point towards a necessary expansion of science beyond its – sometimes stifling – materialistic limitations.