Sunday, February 09, 2014
As I grow older, I think more and more about death and what comes next. I am not afraid of death, but feel I need to prepare for it. I am not a member of any religion, but I believe in God, not a big man in the sky with a giant beard, but as a force that permeates and includes the universe and anything beyond.
I have been reading books on the near death experience (NDE), and find them very interesting. One of the best was Science and the Near Death Experience, How Consciousness Survives Death, by Chris Carter. Carter discusses quantum mechanics and posits that consciousness is not produced by the brain, though it uses the brain to carry out bodily functions in the here and now. Carter gives examples of how consciousness is greatly expanded at times when the brain is near death or otherwise nonfunctioning. Of course, he points to NDEs as proof. (Note: it is not true that a nonfunctioning brain makes one into a Democrat, though the mistake is understandable.) Carter spends some time refuting skeptic theories about the NDE.
Near Death Experiences sometimes occur when someone flatlines and is near physical death. The person experiences an out-of-body perspective, where he or she watches from above a team of doctors working to save his or her life, from a vantage point on the ceiling. If the NDE continues for a time, the voyager is pulled into a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, and finds himself speeding toward the light, which grows bigger and nearer. He meets and communicates with departed friends and relatives. He may experience a life review, where every moment of his life is replayed for his viewing and lessons learned. Wonderful gardens, colors and music are often experienced during the NDE as well. The greatest impression NDE voyagers describe is being enveloped in great love, with a feeling of peace, acceptance and well-being.
Finally, those who live to tell about the experience are sent back to this life. They are told "it's not your time, you have to go back," at which time they are returned to their body. NDEs are fairly common, and have been described in many cultures and time periods. One's religious persuasion usually has little effect on what the voyager sees, hears and experiences. Most people who have an NDE lose all fear of death, and may find renewed purpose and meaning for their lives.
Another book I am reading is The Experience of God, by David Bentley Hart. Hart's book seeks to clarify issues and terms for atheists, so that deists and atheists can at least be on the same page in the great debate. His book clarifies some concepts for me, but his writing is highly technical and filled with vernacular, so frequent use of the dictionary is necessary. The reader has to work quite hard to get to the meaning of his essays, and I suspect many will give up before finishing the book. It is not written for the layman, unfortunately.
The opponents of both these writers are generally called "materialists," that is, people who believe there is no reality beyond our physical existence. If they can't see it, smell it, taste it or measure it, then (or so they believe) it does not exist. Needless to say, I am not a materialist.