What happens after you die? I can name you 47 men who have tried to harness the rational horsepower of science to answer this most floaty question. Some were physicians, some physicists, some psychologists. Two were Nobel prizewinners. One is a sheep rancher. They have tackled it in labs, in hospital operating rooms, in barns behind their houses. Of them, only one, to date, has landed an irrefutable proof—not a suggestive nugget or an inexplicable anomaly, but the sort of answer you could plant your flag into and say, "Victory! Now I know for certain." The man's name was Thomas Lynn Bradford.
Though his background was in electrical engineering, Bradford's afterlife experiment involved gas, not electricity. On 6 February 1921, Bradford sealed the doors and windows of his rented room in Detroit, Michigan, blew out the pilot on his heater, and turned on the gas.
Finding out is easy. Reporting back is the challenge. For this Bradford needed an accomplice. Some weeks back, he had placed a newspaper advertisement seeking a fellow spiritualist to help him with his quest. One Ruth Doran responded. The two met and agreed, as The New York Times put it, "that there was but one way to solve the mystery—two minds properly attuned, one of which must shed its earthly mantle". The protocol was sloppy at best, for regardless of whether or not our mantle-shucking engineer came through on the telepathic wireless, Mrs Doran, for the sake of spiritualism or publicity, could simply have told the...