What’s for afters?

Charles Cowling

 

Much attention has been accorded to Eben Alexander’s account of his recent near-death experience. While NDEs are two a penny, this NDE was experienced by a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon, no less. This lent Alexander’s NDE a clear edge in terms of credibility. It is easy enough to write off the NDEs of ordinary people as delusions.

The particular point of interest here is the current debate among neuroscientists about whether consciousness exists separately from the brain. A number hypothesise that it does, but none has managed to prove it.  Eben Alexander, man of science, claims he decidedly has: 

“I know that many of my peers hold as I myself did to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us. But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it.”

In the Guardian, Peter Stanford acknowledges the human need to believe that death is not the negation of life: 

From the time the first Neanderthal sat next to the lump of dead protein that had been his or her mate and realised that something had to be done about the smell of rotting flesh, we have wanted there to be something more, something beyond death. When that body was put into a ditch, or pushed over a ledge into a ravine, the one left behind looked into the void and ached.

He concludes: ‘[Alexander’s] account contains just about heavenly cliché known to humankind.’ In a comment under the piece, hermionegingold avers: ‘i suspect, if it exists (which i doubt) it’s probably a lot like milton keynes.’ 

Blogger Pharyngula at Science Blogs quotes from Eben Alexander’s account of his heavenly journey:

Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky.

Higher than the clouds—immeasurably higher—flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamerlike lines behind them.

Birds? Angels? These words registered later, when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms.

Each time I silently put one of these questions out, the answer came instantly in an explosion of light, color, love, and beauty that blew through me like a crashing wave. What was important about these blasts was that they didn’t simply silence my questions by overwhelming them. They answered them, but in a way that bypassed language.

The answers were:

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”

 Pharyngula’s conclusion is: “Here’s a deep message for you: brain damage can persuade you of the truth of some real bullshit.”

 In the Daily Telegraph, Colin Blakemore, Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy at the University of London, shares Pharyngula’s scepticism, but with more civility. He concludes his piece with the story of the nobleman who asked the Zen Master Hakuin:

“What happens to the enlightened man at death?”

“Why ask me?” said Hakuin.

“Because you’re a Zen master.”

“Yes, but not a dead one.” 

At the top of this post is a TED talk by GFG hero Peter Fenwick, who has a very open mind about continuing consciousness. Do listen to it if you have nine minutes and twenty-five seconds. You won’t find yourself wishing the time back as you lie dying, I promise. 

 

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Evelyn
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OM

Jenny Uzzell
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Hey, if you ever have a burning desire to know about the finer points of afterlife belief in the earliest Hindu Vedic scriptures just shout!
No, no-one ever does.
Some people, I believe, have USEFUL skills! 😀

Vale
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Vale

Top booklist Jenny!

Jenny Uzzell
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Ok, for anyone who is interested there follows a ‘starter pack’ on NDEs. I think I have included most of the standard texts. It all started in1975 with Raymond Moody’s ‘Life after Life’ but I have tended to use more recent texts which made greater use of scientific method. There are also a variety of different viewpoints here as to what is actually going on. I’ve included a couple of slightly more ‘off the wall’ things as well. Susan Blackmoor: Dying to Live 1993 Grafton. Argues for a purely physiological explanation of NDEs. A very well written and honest book.… Read more »

Jenny Uzzell
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Right-oh
I’ll put up a list of titles tomorrow 🙂

Jenny Uzzell
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To look at it from a different perspective, Vale, I am more concerned at the suggestion that the NDEs of ordinary people can be ‘written ff as delusions’. The fact that they cannot is one of the few things that all researchers into the field are agreed upon. Whatever is behind these experiences, there is enough consistency to make it clear that people are not delusional or making it up. The experience is real and well documented. That does not, of course, answer the question of what is causing it; a veridical expeience of what comes after death or a… Read more »

Kathryn Edwards
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Kathryn Edwards

Oh, do!

Vale
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Vale

Just watched the Peter Fenwick talk too. Fascinating that he is standing there as a scientist, yet is wholly comfortable with describing aspects of the dying process that have always been regarded as informal and anecdotal experiences – and somehow, as a result, less valid or less to be taken account of. It would be interesting to explore this – particularly to try to understand why these experiences are not universal. Are there particular conditions that make them more likely? By the way I felt bad about the ‘one hand clapping’ reference above. It sounded half hearted, when I was… Read more »

Vale
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Vale

Charmed by the suggestion that when a neuro-scientist gets a knock on the head his unconsciousness is somehow more valid. I’ve always thought insensibility a great leveller. An object lesson though in who gets heard isn’t it? Excellent weekend fare – listen out for the sound of one hand clapping.

Phoebe Hoare
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Phoebe Hoare

Very interesting Charles, thank you! Fenwick is very convincing most of the time. I wonder if humans will ever get to the bottom of life after death? Technology can get us to outer space and make robots perform surgery…can it ever make us look into life beyond death, if there is one?