The Case for NDEs
I have presented here a case for consciousness living beyond, and surviving biological death, that there is a part of us that transcends our physical body and has the potential to be active in such a state.
This is first presented by evaluating four lines of evidence for Near-Death Experiences. The first line of evidence is the Almost (near-death) state. The person in question views external events while in a comatose state and describes with verification accuracy information otherwise they could not have known. Here I have described a number of cases Such as Katie, Rick, congenitally blind individuals and incidents such as noticing insignificant objects in locations impossible for them to know otherwise.
The second line of evidence follows similar characteristics of the first—details that can be verified (corroborated) externally of the person. This line of evidence is NDEs when the person has no heart activity, such as an 11 year old boy who possessed no heartbeat for 20 minutes and upon waking up described with amazing accuracy conversations had, genders of the staff, details of the medical procedure, all of which without any heartbeat. This all happened considering Scientists such as Negovskii considers 5-6 minutes as the maximum duration of the state of the brain cortex can survive subsequent recovery of its functions. We have other cases far longer such as an 8 year old girl with no heartbeat for 45 minutes—again recounting procedure details, timestamps when paramedics arrived and more.
The third line of evidence relates to no brain activity (flat EEG in medical terms) where cases from 30 minutes to 3 hours of no brain activity have had individuals returning from NDEs. One such famous case is a woman with a flat EEG, was declared dead, and then 3 and a half hours later she spontaneously revived, removed the cloak from off her face and regained full awareness. She described during this time floating over her body, described the resuscitation details, the exact number of people in the room, specific details including the words of a joke to relieve tension as well as describing the ties of the doctors in attendance.
The fourth and final line of evidence we enjoy here is when people report on people not known to have died in their NDE. One woman described meeting her friend Tom, who had apparently just arrived in her NDE. Upon waking up, not long after they find out Tom had recently died, completely unknown to the woman. Cory saw an old boyfriend of his mum in an NDE, later the mum finds out through friends of a friend the ex-boyfriend had recently died, despite their lives and friends going separate ways. Then we have cases such as a 48 year old man who claims to have sene his mother and step-mother in a dream. His family were surprised as he was never told about the passing of his real mother. When shown a photo, he recognised his mother who died when he was only many months old instantly from a crowd of people. One, most remarkable was the boy who recognised the deaths of his mother and his brother Peter. The boy awaken from his coma, verified his brother and mother had just died and lapsed back into his coma claiming to want to go join them. His brother Peter, who ended up at a different hospital, had died not long before the boy woke up, verified by medical staff.
In short, these 4 lines of evidence present a strong case for the details of near-death experiences which have been rigorously tested and recorded by doctors in the field form all stripes and background with many case studies across cultures for 30+ years. Osis & Haraldsson, Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom and Melvin Morse have championed rigorous testing methods to make sure they have strong, credible data to work with.
As well as these 4 lines of evidence, there is work from modern brain psychology that further affirms the separation of mind and brain, yet their integration to one another at the same time. Wilder Penfield mapped the human brain and the results of his research was a blow to his materialistic view. He determined that you can move limbs by electrifying the brain in certain parts, but you cannot stimulate the will of a person. Roger Sperry’s research further reinforced the work of Penfield and his conclusion was much the same, that the mind has causal power independent of the brain. Sir John Eccles’ work led him to believe that we have mental events before they become brain events, there is a degree of separation of the steps. Hans Kornhubers research led his evaluation to conclude that “how we think determines how our brain works”. Richard Restak declared that the will of a person could not be localised to an area of the brain and the results of works from Penfield and co. Was as influential as Einstein’s work to physics! Libels work aided the conclusions of others that the self is more than just neuronal machinery that reacts to stimuli as it receives them. Lawrence Wood, familiar with much of the work done by neuroscientists in this area expressed how scientists are embracing an immaterial mind even if they don’t enjoy the concept of an afterlife as a solution to this crisis of information.
The conclusions have been striking in response to NDEs in the intellectual hemisphere. John Beloff of the Humanist Journal declared that we should just accept the data and work out how humanists can deal with it through naturalistic means. But he does confess that this challenge was as big as Darwin appeared to be to Christianity. Ronald Siegel at the American Psychological Association proposed hallucination theory to account for accounting for NDEs before withdrawing his accusation after failing to account for corroborative accounts of NDEs. One of interest was A.J. Ayer, a well known atheist opposed to God, who had an NDE, after which, his view of no afterlife weakened and further confesses he is “drawn” to the prolonging of experience in the afterlife. I use these three striking examples as they assess the data in different ways—one accepts, one attacks and withdraws and the other isn’t quite sure due to a commitment to a presupposed naturalism.
There are known concerns theologically to NDEs, are they compatible with the Christian faith and do they undermine it to any degree? There is the problem of multiple interpretations—how were people seeing Buddha, Jesus and Krishna? After looking at the research we can establish that there is no corroborative data to support the truth of what they saw; intellectual commitments by religion or culture seem to affect what they say they saw and various studies such as those by William Wainwright drew out these cultural issues even as far as cultures where women were seen as less valuable had less women appear, and the only reasons for this was by cultural means. And we could also establish that information such as cultural commitments could well be stored in the consciousness, there is nothing definitive here to say otherwise. The test would be: find a culture, invent a God called X, one of these people has an NDE and declare they saw X even though we know we invented X (a cruel and impossible experiment).
What about when it describes atheists going to heaven and believers in God experiencing hellish NDEs? Well again, beyond the conscious experience of the NDE, one feature common to nearly all NDEs is a ‘barrier’ or someone telling them they can go no further. To describe this as heaven or hell would perhaps be problematic as beyond this barrier may be heaven or hell, we simply cannot get there/know. NDEs could easily be the awe and amazement of a new environment, like a refugee turning up in a huge city, there’s a huge sense of awe and amazement. And finally heaven and hell could well be cultural installations which, from an early age, many children are taught about, especially heaven.
Now the third concern would be the spiritual theological side to it all. Christians believe Satan can manifest himself as an angel, and could take the appearance of a comforter and could well mislead someone. It doesn’t seem beyond him from what we know of him. But this doesn’t mean NDEs are unbiblical, it means like all things, there can be a cause for concern, something to be cautious of. The bible speaks of visions say with Stephen when he sees Jesus, when Paul is stoned in Lystra and even Lazarus and the rich man story could well be a produce of genuine conscious experience or description of the spiritual. There are hellish NDEs that have described terrifying scenarios such as these.
So the cause for concerns regarding NDEs should not be some incompatibility, quite the contrary, they might be a door into the conscious realm that Christ exposed to us in some form.
So theologically, there is nothing contradictory, it’s rather an agnostic unproblematic issue to the Christian faith that has the potential to the unlearned to misinterpret. But apart from these, there have been theories presented to account for NDEs in the past.
The Drug theory presents the first obvious accusation. Much research has been done into this and the findings were agreeing across the board. Osis & Haraldsson found at most 1 in 5 of their patients in an NDE study could be affected by drugs and hallucinations leaving ⅘ unaccounted for. Melvin Morse’ child study findings concluded that nothing of an NDE nature was present in his drugs nature and was also able to note individuals who have had NDEs without any drugs administered. In none of these studies were corroborative NDE accounts satisfied.
The next assumption could well be “they just hallucinated”. Osis & Haraldsson produced a Hallucinogenic index and amongst their findings concluded that those who had hallucinated had no experience similar to that of an NDE. Again in Melvin Morse’ child study he found hallucinations did not account for the NDE data, even when a girl was aided to hallucinate. And finally many who have had hallucinations historically and NDEs can tear apart the two experiences as they feel very different to those who have had both experiences. In none of these studies were corroborative NDE accounts satisfied. Other medical assumptions were also made: Fevers, Anoxia, temporal lobe seizure, all of which cannot account for corroborated NDEs
What about psychological hallucinations? Apart from medical? Again Osis & Haraldsson amongst others research contradict the connection and sees a distinct lack of correlation between these types of hallucinations to NDEs. And just to make it clear, similarities don’t prove identical causes, even if both experiences appeared similar it doesn’t mean they had the same cause.
How about some simpler oppositions like Fraud, bias, unintentional mistakes? Well with cases such as Katie and Rick, overhearing would not be accounted for, the details are external, could be time-stamped and far too accurate, after all you can’t pre-plan an NDE in advance. What about bias of the researcher or the patient? In many cases we have early testimony, sometimes the very same day to avoid later embellishment. Researchers have verification methods and questionnaires to allow them to pull truth from the hysteria of an NDE and finally many NDE cases can and have been investigated by just normal people who are curious. As for the testing process, it’s like history, you’re dealing with the past, you can’t say “sir, can you please do that again,” it’s just not possible. As for fraud, what does the patient have to gain? Often the researchers questions seem like a general medical assessment and patients are often unaware what they are describing is an NDE, just something they’re totally new to. As well as this, when NDE research first started, it wasn’t famous at all, so the patients would not have a hidden motive for something for which people were just seen as “delusional” in the past for.
In a last ditch attempt in scraping the barrel for theories some have suggest telepathy as a way of accounted for NDEs and the obvious problem with this is the theory itself is unproven. But to engage this final theory, features such as telepathy cannot account for all NDEs like in the cases of blind people seeing colour in their NDEs and accurately describing physical locations and features or take the cases where people point out obscure objects in odd places. None of these can account for corroborative accounts. As well as this, many NDEs are from the perspective of the ceiling, this is not something known for with telepathy. And how about those who have died recently but not known to? There was no intention and often there is surprise they are there? Finally and most ironically, even if Telepathy was true, that wouldn’t rule out afterlife. It is a non-naturalistic theory and is easily accountable with afterlife and if it was even true,it would only provide evidence contrary to naturalism.
Near-Death Experiences are a phenomena that we’ve known about scientifically for decades, but the notion of it is even mentioned in the writings of Plato in suggestion. It is something in the words of John Beloff that cannot be ignored and must be accounted for if you wish to deny their existence. What we have seen here is there are no good naturalistic theories to account for NDEs and therefore we feel justified in implying that they do indeed exist and provide strong grounds to believe that life does not end at biological death, the soul (consciousness) lives on.
We can formulate this argument in these helpful steps:
- The Conscious Will of a person cannot be stimulated like the brain
- Strong Corroborative NDEs cannot be accounted for by opposing theories as a product of the brain
- Therefore, the conscious self (soul/mind) is not the same as the brain
- NDEs lend support that our conscious self does not die with the body
- NDEs & brain psychology research support the theory that the conscious self does not die with the brain
- Therefore, The conscious self does not die with the body but lives on in an afterlife.
- Afterlife is the best inference of the data
I would end this entry with the words of Sir John Eccles, the well known neurophysiologist
I believe that there is a fundamental mystery in my existence, transcending any biological account of the development of my body (including my brain) with its genetic inheritance and its origin. … I cannot believe that this wonderful gift of a conscious existence has no further future, no possibility of another existence under some other unimaginable conditions. 
“Facing Reality : Philosophical Adventures by a Brain Scientist” by Sir John Carew Eccles, (p. 83), 1970.