A call for meatier woo-woo

BaseballIs there some unwritten law that prohibits characters in woo-woo movies and novels from being inquisitive about their paranormal encounters? Do they always have to be so thick-headed in the face of revolutionary changes to their reality?

If I saw Shoeless Joe Jackson standing on a baseball field that I made out of a cornfield after a voice told me if I build it he will come, I’d have a few questions. I’d show a little spunk. I wouldn’t just leave it at, “Oh, Shoeless Joe Jackson is hanging out in my field. Hi Shoeless.”

Don’t get me wrong. Field of Dreams remains one of my favorite movies. That’s largely because it whets my appetite for more answers about why we’re here on this planet.

Yet I’ve always wondered why authors and screenwriters are so reluctant to mix it up with the good stuff. Even the late Roger Ebert wrote in his 1989 review of the Field of Dreams, “The movie sensibly never tries to make the slightest explanation for the strange events that happen after the diamond is constructed.”



Personally, I want explanations. I want to be challenged by an artist’s vision of wha’ happened. I would have loved a sequel where we follow Terence Mann as he enters the mysterious clubhouse deep in the cornfield, presumably to discover all those juicy secrets hidden from those of us stuck in the flesh?

Why are we so reluctant in our mainstream media to wonder aloud about our cosmic nature? Is it all marketing, marketing, marketing — don’t want to offend anyone by creating a vision that contradicts someone’s dogmatic religion? Is it a case of separation of church and entertainment?

Personally, if I were Ray Kinsella and met my deceased father on a ball field at twilight, I’d have a few questions. For starters, “Uh, Dad, has it occurred to you that you’re dead?”

Or is that not appropriate guy talk? Don’t wanna get too much into feelings! Gasp!

“Ray, Son, you live on an spiritually challenged planet. You want simple, pat answers and tie-it-nicely-together happy endings. So let’s just cut the curiosity crap and have us a catch.”

“Dad, how can a dead father materialize in Iowa, regress thirty years in age, and have nothing to say about cosmic human destiny?”

“Sh-sh-sh. Now, now. See if you can catch my curve?”


A somewhat daring film in the spiritual cinema genre was What Dreams May Come (1998) based on the novel by Richard Matheson. It at least dared to toy with some metaphysical concepts like creating your own reality with your consciousness. The film showed how Dr. Chris Nielsen’s external world in heaven changed as his inner world changed.

Even so, the heroic doctor and family man (played by Robin Williams) who’d lost two children in an earier fatal car wreck seemed peculiarly lacking in spiritual curiosity once he figured out he was dead. It takes him forever to ask, “Where’s God in all this?”


His guide Albert (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) replies while gazing skyward, “Oh, he’s up there … somewhere … shouting down that he loves us, wondering why we can’t hear him.”

Is it just me? Isn’t that the most banal reply from a spirit guide who just may (just should) have more insight into the workings of the Universe? You can just read into the script the discussion at the studio about not jeopardizing market share among the religious audiences by laying out a bold vision of the afterlife.

Don’t get me wrong. That movie thrilled me, too. It was a giant leap ahead of the pack in spiritual cinema. Siskel and Ebert gave the film “two enthusiastic thumbs up!” Still I wondered why it was so timid. Or as Roger Ebert would have said, “So sensible.”

On the rare occasions when movies follow someone who’s died, they seem to have swallowed dumb and dumber pills.

I’m especially amused (as in wanna throw a book at the TV) when the freshly crossed ask, “Am I dead?” And some get all upset that the answer is yes. Dead? Dead? I’m dead?

It’s amusing because they generate brand new thoughts. They still think therefore they still are. But it does not occur to them that they have entered a new environment, are still conscious, and that all the crap they learned about dying was uber misleading.


So I was wondering — is it ultimately all about money and market share? Is there any unwritten rule in the literary and movie-making empires about characters openly asking poignant questions about their new living situation — or is it a matter of too much information?

I do find this strange because the movies are none too shy about killing people. The industry kills people right and left in plenty of creative and visually exciting ways. It milks death scenes for every last teardrop. Yet for all the carnage and farewells shown on the big screen (with DVD and streaming video beyond that), the industry doesn’t seem to want to invest much talent in exploring what happens beyond the red line of death.

Behind every tombstone in every cemetery in the world dwells a huge question mark — where did I go after I went to the morgue?


I support our mainstream art in panning the goldfields of speculation for sparkling nuggets of cosmic wonderment. Science has seemed to be dragging its collective ass on investigating what happens to dead people, so perhaps it’s up to the arts community to throttle up the exploration.

Places all over the Internet house virtual museums of anecdotal evidence of soul survival including near-death experiences, after-death communication, out-of-body experiences, mediumship, and so on. Even my casual perusal of Facebook groups yields stuff that would make intriguing movie magic.

Art is art. It is often fiction. It speculates. But because it is free from having to be scientific, it lets us explore “what if” possibilities with more gusto.

In one of my current projects, I follow a successful advertising copywriter through his fatal car crash into spirit. I have been inventing a heaven for him to dwell in. So far that sounds like Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks’ inventive romantic comedy about an ad exec who winds up in judgment City for his afterlife review trial.

Some friends thought the 1991 film wimped out by going for too many laughs instead of exploring what heaven was. Yet I found the whole afterlife trial so compelling that I used it as a spiritual anchor. I often found myself wondering how my actions would play out if there was such a life review. Later as I studied more about near-death experiences and the life reviews many of these people faced, Defending Your Life seemed headier than ever.

But it also just whet my appetite for more. I keep thinking that if 10% of the movies we devote to crime and war and other forms of killing were devoted instead to exploring spiritual possibilities, our cosmic purpose for being on earth, positive solutions to our planetary woes, and what happens after death, we would be a much different society.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “A call for meatier woo-woo

  1. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

    Hey Josh,
    Thank you for a thought provoking post. I really liked the movie, “What Dreams May Come.” I agree with you about “Field of Dreams”. I’d be asking some serious questions while tossing a ball around, lol. I don’t really think much about the afterlife, to be honest with you. A life-review doesn’t interest me either, and this is coming from someone who’s had a NDE more than once. I’ve experienced Nirvana, so I’m inclined to believe that we can wire our brains to experience ‘heaven’ on earth, if you will. Buddhist have mastered this. We already have positive solutions to our planetary woes. As Aldous Huxley once said: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

    I’m inclined to favor the theory I shared with you a while back, in Todd Murphy’s video lecture. I’m sure you’ve been so busy you’ve not had time to watch to the end, as I never got any feedback from you, except that you had only watched part of it. Also, I don’t think what I’m about to say is OT, as it ties in with what many believe about an afterlife; that supposedly we are here to learn lessons from bad behavior in past lives. I think that karma can be a rather eff’ed up concept, considering the fact that every 5 seconds someone dies a horrible death from starvation, mostly children. Also the fact that serious brain damage in the prefrontal cortex can cause very antisocial behavior, challenging the idea of free will. So can an environment that stimulates too much dopamine in the brain, which can lead to a lack of empathy for others, egocentricity, and poor decision making.

    Dopamine is not a bad neurotransmitter. We wouldn’t survive without it, but it does affect behavior. People with low dopamine tend to be much less interested in spirituality and religion. So does somebody (a soul) decide they are going to hop in a body with low dopamine? Do they decide they are going to make a contract with another, hop in a body who’s going to get brain damage to the point that they inflict harm on another in order to teach them a lesson about bad behavior in past lives? It’s kinda hard for me to wrap my pea brain around this concept. It seems quite unproductive. It also promotes the idea that there is value in violence, as it is apparently used to ‘teach’ people lessons about their apparent antisocial behavior in another past life.

    I understand from what you’ve shared with me previously that you don’t like to debate. For the record, I’m not debating you. I’m just sharing my thoughts, since you asked us what we thought. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share. I have more to say about your interesting post, but I’ve rambled on enough, and didn’t mean for this to be so long.

    As a side note, I do like the idea of there being far less movies about war, death, and destruction. But culture has wired the human race to actually get dopamine rewards by being entertained by violence, more so it seems, than exploring novelty. Science is about exploring mysteries, but I do think it would be cool if Hollywood did too. Oh, one more note…I think you would enjoy reading neuroscientist Michael Persinger’s Psi research. Lots and lots of interesting studies. I think you will find this video lecture fascinating, based on past conversation I’ve had with you; and the fact that you are interested in Psi. So am I.

    “No More Secrets” http://youtu.be/9l6VPpDublg

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Victoria, I always love your amazing comments. I was thinking this morning that we all come from different backgrounds and histories. I for example have not had a personal visit with Nirvana (that I am aware of) and yet have had some ecstatic experiences from hugging. Not having had a conscious NDE or OBE, I reply on what others have said about those experiences. I also know very little about brain science, so here you are 🙂 … Our different histories give us different focal points when we look at concepts.

      You bring up some fascinating questions about karma in the context of neuroscience, great questions that I do not have answers for and have not heard much discussed in reincarnation circles, especially about brain science. The way I like to play with concepts like this is to write fiction about them. So, for example, I write a book about a guy who dies. This puts me in heaven, and then I start considering reincarnation and how it works. What was his purpose past and future? And it is during that process where questions like yours will enter the picture for me: How does reincarnation work? How does karma work? Now while I have not studied brain science very deeply, I have of course wondered about why souls would choose to come back into certain situations … that most of us here in the body would think, “No way would I choose that!” For example, why would I as a soul choose to be a kid living in Iraq during a major war? Or yeah, why would I choose to dwell inside a body with a damaged brain?

      Lots of questions have been coming to me on this topic of karma from various sources, so I ponder certain questions like is reincarnation linear in time or are we living everything all at once out of time (with time being an illusion?) Another source recently has been espousing the idea that many souls incarnate into more than one person at the same time. One soul has two or three independent physical lives. Those lives may or may not be harmonious. One might be a soldier and one might be a peace activist, say. So that adds many more questions about karma. Who creates karma if one soul has three expressions, and who has to pay the piper?

      I think about the afterlife mostly in terms of it being a north star to help me make decisions about certain issues here. In my writing, dwelling in heaven through my characters is a way to get a unique vantage point about life on physical earth. It’s a great perceptual tool.

      Thank you for your comments.

  2. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

    Josh, two (of many) things I appreciate about you is your open-mindedness and your willingness to ask questions. Yes, we both come from different backgrounds; you pretty much being raised void of religious indoctrination, and I being indoctrinated by religion from the day I was Christened without my permission. I was brought into a world that didn’t tolerate questions, and discouraged them in my religious circles. You see, they already knew the answers, and that was that, or so they thought. I try to keep that in the back of my mind when seeking answers to my own questions, and how I share my own findings with others. There are some things we can be certain of, and others we simply can’t be certain of.

    I do like that you use the concept of heaven as a tool. You see, when I grew up, and even as an adult, I was taught that if you follow the rules, and worship the right deity, you get to go to heaven. So doing good to others was about reward for ourselves, rather than being guided to do the right thing for the well-being of our species, both individually and collectively. Also, I’ve read a good bit of literature about how the concept of heaven was used to control the masses, so this helps to shed some light on why I am not that interested in thinking about heaven. Also, when I shed the shackles of religion, and after my last NDE, I gained a grand appreciate for life like never before, and realized that being in the moment was about being among the living.

    I do, however, like thinking about the future with regard to humans living among themselves as a peaceful species. I also like to think about the future in respect to all the discoveries that will unfold about the brain, and our connection to the electromagnetic fields we are immersed in. I hope you will watch Persinger’s lecture and the question and answer session afterwords. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, or get you excited, I will be shocked. The ending is powerful. The lecture will also answer some of your questions about why the media, i.e., Hollywood, is not addressing some of these questions in movies and elsewhere. After all, our Government has a history of being in bed with Hollywood. All one has to do is look at the American propaganda cartoons during WWII.

    Dr. Persinger said in a BBC Horizon documentary interview that many of his colleagues ask him:

    “Why are you studying this subject, because you’ll never get grant money, you are putting your reputation on the line, and that religious and paranormal experiences should never be studied because they are outside of the realm of science?”

    His answered them with a question: “Why not? Why shouldn’t we study them. Experimental method is the most powerful tool we have, and that’s how we find truth from non-truth.”

    With regard to karma, the biggest red flag for me was that karma does not nurture empathy. After all, if we all are to believed that we are here to learn lessons about bad behavior in a past life, then people can become apathetic about suffering, illness, inequality, crime, murder, genocide, child abuse, and slavery, etc. The ‘bad’ guys actually become the ‘good’ guys because they are contracted to come here and teach you a lesson.

    I think you are also going to like the part in Persinger’s lecture when he talks about imagination, and that it is through imagination we make things materialize.

    Einstein said:

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

    Gives me goosebumps every time I read it. 😀

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Victoria, you seem to mirror what so many NDErs have said … that your experience created substantial changes in outlook. Some NDErs give up organized religion entirely; some who were atheists before become very spiritual almost overnight. Actually, when I first heard about NDEs, studying them in a sense became a religion for me even though I would not call them that. But I thought of them as insights into the cosmos, and since people had experienced them first-hand even though they were subjective experiences, I saw them as a window into the afterlife (so-called) more reliable than channeled writing or mediumship. But even that is a moving target, because now I am getting wind of the idea that the astral plane, where most NDErs seem to go, may not be the final word. In other words, the astral may just be a small piece of what awaits out-of-body. So yeah, then it comes back to what do we do with our time here and now. Karma has been a moving target, too.

      I might not give you the appropriate level of feedback, but I do appreciate your sharing links with me. I will check it out. I have a “to watch” list waiting to enlighten me, and your “brain science” input is working i the background of my current writing project.

      Love the Einstein quote.

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