“Doubt everything or believe everything: these are two equally convenient strategies. With either we dispense with the need for reflection.” ~ Henri Poincare
Ever had a conversation with someone and realized that no matter what you said, there was no way your companion would grasp what you were trying to say? One time I was talking excitedly to my nephew Mark about some studies I had recently uncovered about how our minds work. In complete seriousness Mark stopped me and said, “Studies, oh you can’t believe studies like that.” In that moment the conversation ended before it began. With that said, if you are convinced that life is finite and there is no heaven or any kind of existence beyond the physical, chances are good that nothing I can write will make any difference. But, if you are open to some ideas that are intriguing, it might be valuable to read a bit about the ongoing debate of life after death before completely making up your mind.
I became fascinated by this topic after attending a Noetic Sciences conference that I wrote about in my last post. One of the speakers, Dr. Eben Alexander is the author of Proof of Heaven—A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Besides hearing Dr. Alexander speak twice during the 3-day event, a number of related topics made the subject irresistible. Of primary importance were two main questions: 1) Does consciousness exist separate from the body or is it merely a biological or chemical result of the brain? 2) Is life a material and limited manifestation, or actually an eternal quantum experience that never begins and never ends? Ultimately, assuming you care in the first place, how any person then answers those two questions, largely determines whether you open the door or slam it shut on any further discussion about eternal life.
First off, I’ll admit that I am biased toward a belief that consciousness is primary and much more than just the way my brain works. I also tend to believe that life is eternal, meaning it exists prior to and after it works in concert with my physical body. I’m fairly sure that all life recycles itself by in the material and the spiritual form. But I’m definitely skeptical about whether a “heavenly” location exists as described by anyone, including Dr. Eben Alexander. I found his description a bit too traditionally religious for my taste and prefer a more cosmic and holistic approach to such questions. And while I will humbly acknowledge that I am as guilty of confirmation bias as much as anyone, I spent the last couple of days researching what I believe are fascinating tidbits of information that both support—and argue against—a belief in both of my earlier questions. They are:
- Millions of people have reported a Near Death Experience (NDE) since ancient times. Data shows that 774 NDEs occur daily in the United States.
- Descriptions of NDEs can be found in the folklore and writings of European, Middle Eastern, African, Indian, East Asian, Pacific, and Native American cultures. (So NDEs are not limited to any one religion.)
- There are numerous consistencies in the vast majority of NDEs regardless of the age, sex, nationality, religion, ethnicity, culture, etc of the person.
- Young children under the age of 5 years who are too young to have internalized expectations of death or the afterlife report consistent experiences.
- People who have never before heard of them also report similar experiences.
- People who have been blind since birth relate similar visual accounts of their NDE.
- Deathbed stories (where the person is not revived) contain similar themes
- Hundreds of scholarly articles have been written over the last 35 years about NDE by highly credentialed and respected professionals.
- NDEs offer affects similar to a mystical experience: a sense of cosmic unity or oneness, transcendence of time and space, deeply positive mood, sense of sacredness, noetic quality or intuitive illumination, paradoxicality, ineffability, transiency, and persistent positive aftereffects.
- There is no straightforward relationship between religiousness and deathbed visions, although they did find that an individual’s belief system influenced the interpretation of the experience.
- After the experience a NDE person (as opposed to others who were close to death without claiming a NDE) reported a heightened sense of spirituality in their lives including an overall tolerance for all ways of religious worship.
- Hundreds of NDEs have been verified. (i.e. Pam Reynolds) who had a severe brain aneurysm so they lowered her body temperature to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing stopped, her brain waves flattened, and the blood was then drained from her head. She experienced an NDE while her body was in this “standstill” plus she also had an out of body experience (OBE) that allowed her to report in detail what was going on in the operating room that was verified later by those present.
- Research in resuscitation now shows that you can be technically “dead” –no heart rate or brain function and if kept under the right circumstances (body & brain kept cool and oxygen levels monitored) your character, your memories (your soul) can be revived several hours later proving that your consciousness exists separate from the workings of your brain.
- Increasing amounts of scientific evidence (i.e. studies) prove that consciousness is separate from the brain and can work independently of it.
- 78% of Americans say they believe in an afterlife–while this doesn’t make it “true” it does point to something that cannot be simply explained as delusion and deserves study.
- 48% of Americans say they believe in ghosts
- 18% say they have felt or been visited by ghosts
- 29% say they have been in touch with the dead
- 24% of Americans say they believe in reincarnation
- Compelling reincarnation evidence (especially from young children ages 3 to 5) has been documented and verified
- Reliable evidence from past life regression to heal and erase physical and psychological issues along with verified information including the ability to speak unknown languages fluently.
- Ongoing scientific studies that show that consciousness is a nonlocal, nonphysical, quantum reality.
Yet, in spite of the above information, a large number of skeptics disregard it and believe adamantly that NDEs are nothing more than wishful thinking or a brain’s reaction to a traumatic experience. Most of these detractors are scientists who are firmly committed to the growing material reductionist worldview provided by science since the seventeenth century. Back in the 1600s anyone who wanted to pursue science was commanded by prevailing religious authorities to stay away from anything that could be considered spiritual, invisible, related to a Deity or having to do with a soul if they wanted to keep their head on their shoulders. And while the scientific pursuit of the material world has reaped tremendous benefits, many scientists have become so anti-religious in study and intent that they are now as fundamental in their beliefs and approach as any religious zealot.
In fact, many scientists like atheists, are pseudo-skeptics. A pseudo-skeptic is defined as anyone who has such strong predisposed beliefs at an emotional and intellectual level that it causes blind “faith” in the truth of something or other. Or, as said by Dave Pruett, “in short scientism is to science what fundamentalism is to religion: cocksure and inflexible.” It’s no surprise then that a Gallup poll on immortality says only 16% of leading scientists believe in life after death as opposed to 67-82% of the general population. Keep in mind we are not talking about a religious belief—but rather a belief that some aspect of being, energy or information continues after death.
So what are some of the arguments that disprove an NDE?
- Some say that low oxygen levels in the brain cause NDEs. (Note: A large majority of the NDE cases did not have lower oxygen levels. Plus–people who suffer oxygen deprivation typically suffer from confusion, and they ”thrash around.” Also, they seldom have memories of the experience.)
- It’s possible that other medications can cause the hallucinations similar to an NDE. (However, evidence shows that those on medications actually have fewer reported NDEs than those with no medication.)
- Temporal-lobe stimulation can approximate some of the experiences of an NDE. (However, the transformative aspect of the experience is absent.)
- Some believe that NDEs can be explained by memories that happen at the exit or entry point of consciousness. (However, when the brain suffers trauma that causes a loss of consciousness, people generally have amnesia, which can last for hours or even days. With cardiac arrest, the insult to the brain is so severe it stops the brain completely.
- The drug ketamine leads to a similar transcendent type of experience and can be induced spontaneously.
According to my research that’s about it, most detractors say that the evidence for NDEs just isn’t good enough to prove that something real and amazing is happening and is worthy of study. They also seem to forget the aphorism, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” What makes the conversation even more fascinating is that at the same time, scientists will admit that most of what they study is merely theories. For example, according to science our Universe is made up of 73% dark matter, and 23% dark energy, with only around 4% of it making up what we even understand as material matter consisting of the planets, stars, galaxies, you, me and everything else we can see and touch. And what is dark matter and dark energy? Scientists don’t know for sure. Beyond that, prevailing theories suggest a “Many Worlds Theory” with unlimited parallel universes each having their own natural laws. Or what about “String Theory?” that theory suggests that eleven separate dimensions exist. In spite of those mind boggling claims, scientists and other skeptics believe that attempting to validate an NDE is impossible and not worth the time and effort.
So what do you think? As I started out saying, my nephew Mark wasn’t even remotely interested in hearing about information I thought fascinating. As many of my other posts suggest, it’s impossible to open, let alone change someone’s mind who doesn’t want it to be changed. Of course, I agree that it is important to study, verify and back up our claims as much as possible. But if we never step out into the unknown at some point, we likely will never make any new discoveries. Remember how Galileo was ridiculed? What about the Wright Brothers, electric light, space travel? Each of those was considered impossible by most, including scientists, who had yet to see proof. Thank goodness someone took the chance and followed through.
It is not my intention to tell you what to believe about eternal life. What I do care about is that you take the time to think it through and decide for yourself. Ultimately, how any of us answers those and other big questions can determine both the direction and the quality of our lives. If you are happy, find meaning, and are at peace with your worldview of life as you see it—then that is all the proof needed. Besides, if all those parallel universes and eleven dimensions are going on around us, we just might be experiencing a form of heaven right here at this very second.
Note: Want more? I’ve recently written a related post about heaven that you may want to check out…It’s titled: How Do You Live If Heaven Is Real?