The Truth about Near-Death Experiences
The phenomenon remains a huge challenge to materialism and is strongly suggestive of survival.
Amongst the phenomena pointing to the survival of consciousness of bodily death, Near-Death Experiences (NDE) are possibly the most compelling. They area also, however, the best known by anybody interested in the subject of survival. Countless books have been written on the subject, several feature documentaries and even a couple of Hollywood movies have been produced. My readers, therefore, may wonder why I decided to initiate a mini-series of articles dealing with NDEs.
My motivation is that I feel that more clarity is needed. I would like to think that, like myself, the community who follows my writing is mostly composed of “rationalist believers” – individuals who are convinced of the survival hypothesis neither on the basis of faith nor even on the basis of a generic “desire to believe”. Rather, I think, most of us “believe” on the basis of empirical data. Facts are what matters here: following a true scientific approach, we feel compelled to follow the data, wherever that may take us. I also think that we all should be advocates for the truth as we have – always tentatively, provisionally – come to understand it. In the specific case of NDEs, there is one “truth” that is frequently challenged, at times even by open-minded and well-informed observers, and I think that we should be very clear about the arguments and the counter-arguments so that, if we want, we can play our advocates role.
I am talking here of the fact that, before strongly suggesting the survival of consciousness, NDEs are fundamentally at odds with the materialist theories of mind. If NDEs as we understand them are true, then mind and consciousness are not merely the product of the electrochemical activity of the brain. This may seem a secondary point, whilst I believe it is absolutely primordial. The fact that mind and consciousness are somehow independent of and more than the physical brain provides the foundation for a rational belief in life after life. One can open up to the idea of survival if one has, beforehand, understood that mind and brain are not the same thing.
As I follow debates and controversies, I am disconcerted to hear age-old “explanations” being regurgitated again and again, regardless of the fact that they were shown to be incompatible with the empirical data 10 or 20 years ago. I am incensed by the widespread intellectual and methodological mistake of ignoring anecdotal evidence. I am annoyed by the all-too-common promissory materialist explanations: “We don’t know yet, but we’re on the verge of understanding it all – the brain, after all, is much more complex than we think…”
If all this was coming from the sorry lot we call the skeptics, then I wouldn’t worry too much. My problem is that, as I mentioned, you hear such arguments from philosophers of mind and other scholars who are not staunch materialists. These people are open – at least in principle – to the fact that mind could be more than neurons, but they still believe that data from NDE research can somehow be made to fit within the prevailing materialist paradigm. This incapacity of “taking the plunge” and accepting the extreme consequences of what the data seem to indicate makes the efforts of these educated and intelligent thinkers pointless.
In this mini-series of articles, therefore, I will attempt to build as a systematic, logical and compelling case as I can to argue that NDEs are fundamentally incompatible with the brain-generates-the-mind paradigm. I hope this will be of general interest to my readers, and possibly of use to those who may want to engage in discussions with open-minded critics.
After this introduction, we will start with the very basics, that is understanding what, according to the prevailing materialist theories of mind, is necessary to produce consciousness. That in itself, I believe, should be enough to make the entire house of cards fall in light of the NDE facts, but there will be much, much more.
Click here to download the full 16-page article in .pdf format.