Peter Novak. The Lost Secret of Death: Our Divided Souls and the Afterlife. Charlottesville: Hampton Roads, 2003. ISBN 1-5714-324-3.
It happens only rarely that a reviewer finds a book very interesting, original and well written and at the same time feels that it is built around a major fallacy. This is what happened to me while reading The Lost Secret of Death by Peter Novak, a former counselor. The author has formulated an extremely original theory based on a wide range of sources - varying from religious traditions from Antiquity and exotic myths, to esoteric doctrines, neuropsychological studies, psychoanalysis, and last but not least data about Near-Death Experiences, Out of the Body Experiences, apparitions and memories of previous lives. According to Novak we are made of two clearly distinguishable components: an emotional and normally subconscious part or soul and a conscious, rational spirit. Not only would these two parts be abe to function separately to a certain extent, for instance in cases of multiple personality or split-brain experiments, but after death they would also be literally separated from each other! Soul and spirit would go their separate ways, each with its own subjective awareness. The soul would lose its rational abilities and usually end up in an overwhelming hereafter of love and connectedness, roughly corresponding to the phase of Light in NDEs, while the spirit enters a world of pure consciousness without memory or perception, and may reincarnate from that state. According to Novak, this theory, termed the Binary Soul Doctrine (BSD), would be able to reconcile all kinds of apparently contradictory experiences and visions concerning a life after death. Apart from NDEs and past life therapy these also include stories about lost souls eternally trapped in emotional obessions after they have lost their rationality in the division. Novak shows that his theory probably matches old traditions and he even speculates about a primary religion from a long lost age, which would be related to pyramid-like temples.
All this being said, I must confess I have seldom stumbled upon a theory as strange as Novak's BSD. For instance, the tunnel (or dark phase) and the light that NDE-ers may encounter would in Novak's view refer to a partial division. The author stresses a few exceptional reports of people who are convinced that such a process really took place during their Near-Death Experience, and explains the fact that the large majority does not mention it all as the result of a powerful illusion.
After the temporary division during a NDE the two mental components would get integrated more than before. Novak compares this process with the after-effect (retraction) of stretching a rubber band. The author believes this phenomenon explain the spiritual transformation many experience after an NDE.
About reincarnation Novak claims that only people who are highly `integrated' psychologically would be able to spontaneously recall their previous lives. Memories would only reside in the soul and the spirit must remain sufficiently in touch with the soul in order to have access to them. In reality, some children from the studies by Ian Stevenson and his associates turn out to have been hot-tempered drunkards, drug addicts or womanizers. Not exactly the archetype of psychological integration I might say.
Novak repeats time and again that only his BSD would be able to explain all data, whereas in my opinion there is no inherent contradiction between concepts such as spiritual worlds, apparitions of the dead, and reincarnation. Finally, Novak also entertains a bizarre theory about Jesus Christ. According to the author it is essential to maximize the unity between soul and spirit during an earthly life, because otherwise they will certainly be divided after death. However, Jesus of Nazareth would have added an alternative to this, because a mental division could also be prevented through believing in Jesus. An original but extremely implausible attempt to reconcile BSD with Christianity.
Peter Novak is a name to be reckoned with by now. If you want to stay informed about theoretical developments in the field of survival after death, it is certainly worthwile to buy this pleasantly readable book.
(Translation of Dutch review in Terugkeer)