Near Death Experiences & Life after Death

©G.M. Woerlee, 2023

Near death experiences are real experiences — experiences sometimes so profound as to be life-changing. For many people such experiences are seemingly inexplicable glimpses, and even proof of some sort of an afterlife, an immaterial and immortal life after death in some postmortem universe. This belief is the comforting assurance of some sort of “purpose” in the universe, and proof of some sort of afterlife with retention of all memories and personality for an eternity, either in some sort of heaven, or in some sort of hell. The idea of some sort of “hidden purpose” in the universe is nothing new. Indeed, William Alger wrote of this very idea during 1878 in the book, “The Destiny of the Soul”, as one of the reasons for belief in an immaterial soul and a immortal life after death — an afterlife.

Secondly, an emphatic presumption in favor of a second life arises from the premature mortality prevalent to such a fearful extent in the human family. Nearly one-half of our race perish before reaching the age of ten years [Author’s note: Until about the 1930’s worldwide infant and child mortality was quite horrific!]. In that period they cannot have fulfilled the total purposes of their creation. It is but a part we see, and not the whole. The destinies here seen segmentary will appear full circle beyond the grave. The argument is hardly met by asserting that this untimely mortality is the punishment for non-observance of law; for, denying any further life, would a scheme of existence have been admitted establishing so awful a proportion of violations and penalties? If there be no balancing sphere beyond, then all should pass through the experience of a ripe and rounded life. But there is the most perplexing inequality. At one fell swoop, infant, sage, hero, reveller, martyr, are snatched into the invisible state. There is, as a noble thinker has said, an apparent “caprice in the dispensation of death strongly indicative of a hidden sequel.” Immortality unravels the otherwise inscrutable mystery. (Page 48 in Alger 1878)

To our forefathers, as well as many in the present, the very lack of any relationship of premature demise to belief system, morality, or degree of sinfulness, could only be explained by the reality of some unknown “inscrutable plan of God”, or some sort of intrinsic and fundamental “purpose” in the universe we all inhabit. Near death experiences undergone during periods of cardiac arrest, when there is no detectable heartbeat, breathing, or consciousness — a condition called “Clinical Death” by some — such near death experiences are apparent proof of the reality of a soul, or some sort of separable consciousness that continues to exist in some sort of afterlife, or life after death (Greyson 2003, page 228 in Holden 2009, Lommel 2001, page 167 in Lommel 2010, Parnia 2007). So how does a life after death as revealed by the near death experience appear, or is experienced?

The NDE and life after death

The life after death revealed by the near death experience has many forms, varying from eternal ecstasy to a simple continuation of life as we know it on this physical world. For example, the example of a woman who was transported to a Christian afterlife shared with deceased family members.

My own experience began after coming around from the operation, with tubes attached to me… . I became aware of the surgeon and anesthetist standing at the foot of my bed. The conversation went like this: Surgeon: “Well, we have done all we can. This little lady doesn’t know which way to go, so we will leave her alone and let her decide which way she's going.” In the quiet and peace that followed, my spirit left my body, and I traveled down this tunnel leading toward a bright light at the end. It seemed to be a long way away. I couldn’t wait to get there. When I reached the end, Jesus stood there with his arms open wide and stopped me, then said, “Not this time. I have more work for you to do. You must go back.” At this point my husband and father (both had previously died) came toward me in the spirit and guided me back. (page 60 in Parnia 2006)

Another example of a near death experience where the continued eternal existence with the same mental abilities as when alive was related by an elderly lasy who reported being unconscious for three days after a heart attack.

I found myself standing in front of a nice prefab [inexpensive and prefabricated dwelling that can be erected very quickly and was extensively used during World War Two to house bombed-out victims]. There was a path leading up to the front door with masses of nasturtiums on either side. The door was open and I could see my mother inside. I thought, ‘That’s funny, my mum always wanted a prefab and she always loved nasturtiums.’ I went up to the door and said, ‘I’ve brought you a present, mum.’ It was some lovely blue silk, enough to make a dress. She took the material and put it on the table and then got out a pair of scissors. I said, ‘Mum, what are you doing? You know you don’t know how to do dress-making.’ She said, ‘It’s all right, they’ve been teaching me since I got here.’ I could see my Uncle Alf inside; I never cared for him much in this life. They seemed to be getting ready for a visitor, as if they were expecting someone. I said, ‘Can I come in?’ It looked so nice and welcoming, but my mother said, ‘No, you can’t, it’s not your time to stay.’ I said, ’Please, mum, it’s so lovely here, I don’t want to go back.’ But she was very firm and would not allow me to cross the threshold. I said, ‘You seem to be expecting someone; if it’s not me, then who are you expecting?’ She said, ‘We are getting ready for your Auntie Ethel. She is expected shortly.’ I begged once again if she would let me come in, as it was so warm and sunny and I felt really happy and at peace there. I did not want to go back, but she would not allow me to come in. The next thing I remember is finding myself back in bed at the hospital. (see page 54-55 in Grey 1986)

There are a simply enormous number of published near death experience accounts with many variations. But when carefully examined, this almost universal longing for an eternal life after death as a continuation of the same life in this physical world, together with the same personality and mental abilities as when alive, is very strange. Indeed, many of those who long for an eternal life after death, are people for whom death is a welcome ending to the boredom of their lives. Suzan Ertz, a novelist, once expressed this last idea in a single pithy sentence during 1943 in a novel entitled &ledquo;Anger in the Skies.”

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Page 137 in Ertz 1943)

An eternal afterlife is just that — eternal, forever, never ending. The holy texts of major world religions and near death experiences reveal that the mental properties of the immaterial soul are the same as those of the physically alive body. An afterlife spent in eternal obsequious fawning praise and slavish crawling before God in heaven, or alternatively undergoing never-ending ghastly torments in hell, would not be for just 10 years, or 100 years, or even 1,000,000 years — it would continue forever, until the universe itself dies and collapses into singularity. Most people would eventually become unspeakably bored because of memory of the unending repetition of the same things, over and over again. The ultimate consequence of eternity with memory retention is the same, regardless of how it is spent — everlasting, mind-numbing tedium. But luckily we are spared the terror of eternal tedium — there is conclusive evidence that the afterlife ostensibly revealed by near death experiences does not exist.

Conclusive evidence

The totality of all evidence for the idea that consciousness and mind are products of the functioning of the brain and body is overwhelming and physically provable. This is evidence derived from observations repeatedly confirmed during anesthesia, observations during medical procedures, observations of the world about us, as well as observations made by those believing in the immaterial reality of a separable human consciousness, or a human soul. Alternative explanations, theories and arguments without provable facts remain just that — alternative explanations. Nonetheless, even reasonable and possible alternative explanations require serious consideration. So what are relevant absolute and supplementary proofs revealing the illusory nature of the soul as defined by millennia of popular belief?

Any attempt (not least Myers’s) to systematize and interpret the ostensible evidence for human survival of bodily death has to take on board the empirical facts, so far as they are known, of the relationship between memory and the brain. Most modern neuroscientists regard memory as totally a function of the brain, a view which if justified (and it was widely enough held in Myers’s own time) is fatal to the possibility that memory and related features of personality might survive death as Myers hoped, believed, and argued. It is curious how many subsequent persons who have discussed the evidence for survival and its interpretation have failed to take this crucially relevant question fully on board. (page 295 in Kelly 2007)

Failure of memory function while under the effects of cerebral hypoxia, midazolam, propofol, and many other situations, all conclusively prove that the physical brain is the repository of all memories, and not the soul, or some immaterial and separable human consciousness (see page on discussion of memory location). This is powerful absolute proof that the functioning of the body is the origin and the generator of the near death experience and the out-of-body experience. No alternative explanations such as paranormal abilities, or other unknown abilities are possible.

Conclusion

A life after death as revealed by the near death experience, or the out-of-body experience is provably an illusion generated by the functioning of the body. However, this does not mean there is no afterlife. The absence of memory function outside the physical body only proves that the near death experience reveals nothing about the nature any possible life after death (see a more extensive discussion here Woerlee 2020). There may still be a life after death with entirely unknown manifestations and properties — only we know nothing about it, because it is as yet unknown. The only realistic advice for those wishing to believe in an afterlife is that given more than 2,000 years ago by the ancient Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE)… .

And if I err in my belief that the souls of men are immortal, I gladly err, nor do I wish this error which gives me pleasure to be wrested from me while I live. (Page 97 in De Senectute, Cicero 1996)

References.

  1. Alger WR, (1878), The Destiny of the Soul. A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, published by W.J. Widdleton, Publisher, New York, USA.
  2. Cicero MT,(1996), De Senectute, [Translated by WA Falconer in Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-674-99170-2.]
  3. Ertz S, (1943), Anger in the Sky, published Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  4. Grey M, (1986),Return from Death. An Exploration of the Near-Death Experience, published by Arkana, England, ISBN 1-85063-019-4.
  5. Greyson B, (2003), Incidence and correlates of near-death experiences in a cardiac care unit. General Hospital Psychiatry, 25: 269-276.
  6. Holden JM, Greyson B, and James D, (Eds.) (2009), The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation, Published by Praeger/ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California, USA, ISBN 978-0-313-35864-7.
  7. Kelly EF, et al, (2007), Irreducible Mind. Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., USA, ISBN 978-1-4422-0206-1.
  8. Lommel P van, et al, (2001), Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet, 358: 2039-2045.
  9. Lommel P van, (2010), Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-death Experience, Published by HarperCollins, USA, ISBN 9780061777257.
  10. Parnia S, (2006), What Happens when we Die: A Groundbreaking Study into the Nature of Life and Death, published by Hay House, USA, ISBN-13: 978-1-4019-07 10-5.
  11. Parnia S, (2007), Do reports of consciousness during cardiac arrest hold the key to discovering the nature of consciousness? Medical Hypotheses, 69: 933-937.
  12. Woerlee GM, (2020), Anesthesia & the Soul Download E-Book in pdf format

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