In the early 2000s, I stumbled on a book that radically changed the way I thought about ghost stories and the paranormal. That book was The Last Laugh (1999) by Raymond Moody, Jr. Today, it is only available in digital format on Amazon Kindle. After all these years, I still recommend it to my readers interested in having a more well-rounded perspective on this subject. You might be surprised at what you discover about yourself and what it means to be human.
Raymond Moody, Jr. is the doctor who first publicized the phenomenon of near-death experiences in his groundbreaking book, Life After Life (1975). Much to his chagrin, his work re-invigorated the New Age movement and he was thrust into the limelight as someone who had “proven” the existence of life after death.
This misconception, he reveals in The Last Laugh, came as a result of his publisher’s deletion of a crucial final chapter in Life After Life in which he argues that these personal experiences, though incredibly meaningful and sometimes life changing, actually do not prove the existence of life after death. They just “moved the goalpost.”
The Last Laugh was meant not only to be a post-script to Life After Life, but to also serve as that final missing piece. The premise of The Last Laugh is simple but deeply insightful. Throughout recent history, there have been three main players in the discussion of the paranormal: parapsychologists, professional skeptics, and Christian fundamentalists.
Not only have these three perspectives not advanced our knowledge very much on the issue, but Moody contends that neither actually wants to resolve the debate, because in resolving the controversy they would eliminate their reason for being in the spotlight and also lose a source of fun and entertainment in the process.
That the paranormal is, fundamentally, about fun and entertainment seems to be Moody’s deepest insight. His solution to our intellectual logjam on the subject is to propose a new perspective: “playful paranormalism.” Playful paranormalism sheds a more pragmatic light on the subject and declares that there is nothing “true” or “false” to be found in the subject, only experiences both interesting and meaningful.
Most people’s attitude toward the paranormal is similar to their attitude toward professional wrestling. Everyone loves to watch but no one takes questions about its reality very seriously. Only the “big three” perspectives take paranormal phenomena literally, insisting on a set vocabulary and a rigid interpretation of events.
By viewing the paranormal as a form of entertainment, we open it up as a meaningful field of study. What is the history of the paranormal? How do we experience it? How do we talk about it? What is paranormal? All of these questions have been left out of the debate by the “big three.” Playful paranormalism removes the logjam that has kept discussions of the paranormal mired in endless, circular debate.
“I believe that readers who follow my arguments through to their conclusions will arrive at what is, ultimately, a more comprehensive, useful, and satisfying solution of the mysteries of the paranormal than is offered by any of the ready-to-wear theories that dominate the market,” he concludes.
I believe that Moody more than accomplishes his goal. In addition to its central thesis, The Last Laugh contains a number of surprising insights, including Moody’s efforts at recreating an ancient Greek technique for causing participants to experience aspects of the near-death experience.
Do not let the negative reviews dissuade you—many are from readers angry that Moody “changed his mind” about near death experiences, even though he explains how his publisher manipulated his original work on page one. They are the same close-minded ideologues that Moody does such an effective job of exposing.