Dr. Bruce Greyson Updates NDE Research
Posted on 10 May 2021, 9:06
When I interviewed Dr. Bruce Greyson in 2004, (below) I asked him how his research in the field of near-death experiences had influenced his beliefs concerning the survival of consciousness at death. I was not expecting him to say that the NDE proves survival, but I anticipated him saying something like “the NDE suggests that consciousness continues after death,” or words to that effect. However, Greyson seemed to be offended by the question and replied that his belief had nothing to do with his work as a scientist or as a physician.
In an attempt to clarify my question, I asked him, in effect, if a scientist must forever sit on the fence and never have an opinion or belief. I further asked why so many scientists can commit themselves to a belief in biological evolution but not to survival. While the evidence for evolution may be very strong, I remarked, it does not appear to extend to “absolute certainty.” Moreover, one does not have to be a “creationist” to be a skeptic with regard to the generally accepted belief in evolution. I was curious as to the degree of certainty a scientist must have before moving off the fence. Is his reputation as an objective researcher forever tainted if he deviates even slightly away from the mainstream worldview? If the evidence increasingly points to survival, doesn’t someone have to take the lead by coming off the fence?
“…Scientists explore the evidence for and against competing hypotheses, and derive tentative conclusions that a certain hypothesis is more or less likely than others, based on the data currently available,” Greyson responded to my concern. “Because science is based on empirical observation rather than revelation, our conclusions are always subject to change as new evidence accumulates. Sometimes a concept like evolution receives such overwhelming empirical support that we act as if it were proven; but even those concepts are subject to revision as we discover contradictory evidence. Although I think there is sufficient empirical evidence to make survival the most likely explanation for some phenomena, it has not been embraced by many mainstream scientists because we have much more work to do in eliminating, competing hypotheses and developing a plausible mechanism by something could survive bodily death.”
At the time of the 2004 interview, I visualized Greyson sitting on a fence that separates the survival school from the nihilism school, more or less straddling it with one foot planted firmly on the nihilist’s side of the fence and the other foot dangling on the survival side. Although it wasn’t discussed in detail in that interview, I inferred from his answers, perhaps more from what he had to say in other writings, that he was more interested in the transformative aspects of the NDE – that is, how it helped people better enjoy their earthly lives. But that left me wondering what it was that gave rise to the positive transformations of so many NDErs if not the recognition that this life is part of a larger life and the purpose that gave it. To put it another way, if the survival aspect is not at the root of it, what causes the transformation? Were those experiencers who were transformed supposed to be happier and more fulfilled without pausing to think why? Were they mere robots? If it was because they now saw a purpose in life, was it a purpose with a humanistic/nihilistic outlook? If so, how did that view develop?
After reading Greyson’s recently released book, After, I now visualize him with one foot on the survival side of the fence and the other foot dangling on the nihilist’s side. “I don’t know whether some kind of continued consciousness after death is the best explanation for NDEs in which experiencers see deceased loved ones no one knew had died,” he writes in a concluding chapter. “But I don’t have any alternative explanation for the evidence. We may eventually come up with another explanation, but until then, some form of continued consciousness after death seems to be the most plausible working model.”
Greyson is professor emeritus of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. He was a co-founder of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. He received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1968 and his medical degree from the State University of New York in 1973.
During the early years of his research, Greyson struggled with the fact that NDEs “smacked of religion and folklore,” which was not consistent with his upbringing in a scientific household and without any religious indoctrination.
Early in his career, while on the staff of the University of Michigan, Greyson was told by the chairman of his department that he should stop wasting his time studying NDEs because they were just “anecdotes.” As Greyson points out, however, personal anecdotes have been the source of most scientific hypotheses throughout history. “Most research starts with scientists collecting, verifying and comparing anecdotes until patterns in these stories become apparent, and then from those patterns emerge hypotheses, which can be tested and refined,” he explains in the book.
He further explains that he is not taking sides with his materialistic friends or his spiritual friends. As he sees it, both views are plausible. “But neither of these ideas, while plausible, is a scientific premise – because there is no evidence that could ever disprove either of them. They are instead articles of belief.” Whatever their source, he is convinced that NDEs “are quite real and quite profound in their impact, and are in fact important sources of spiritual growth and insight.”
Greyson mentions a number of paradoxes emerging from his studies. For one, there is the extra-ordinary thinking and perceptive abilities in NDE while the brain is impaired. You’d expect just the opposite. One such ability is the life review, something experienced by a quarter of all those who participated in his 45 years of NDE research. The majority of those described the life review as more vivid than ordinary memories. Some reported that they reexperienced past events as if they were still happening.
Although many NDErs have been thought to be suffering from some kind of mental disorder, the evidence suggests, according to Greyson, that NDEs are not associated with mental disorders. He points out that people with mental disorders may lose their sense of meaning in life, feel more fearful, and become more absorbed in their own needs and concerns, but NDEs usually leads to an enhanced sense of meaning and a greater sense of connectedness with others.
The skeptics often point to studies suggesting that stimulation of certain parts of the brain can result in the sensation of leaving the body, as can seizures and certain psychedelic drugs. “Despite the common belief among some scientists that unusual electrical activity in the temporal lobe, like that caused by epileptic seizures or stimulation, can provoke experiences like NDEs or out-of-body experiences, we didn’t find that to be true,” Greyson states, referring to his research at an epilepsy clinic.
The skeptics also claim that decreased oxygen in the brain is the cause of “hallucinations” reported by NDErs. However, Greyson’s research, which involved measuring oxygen levels in the people during medical crises, showed that NDEs “are associated with increased oxygen levels, or with levels the same as those of non-experiencers. No study has ever shown decreased levels of oxygen during NDEs.” He further mentions that patients given medication report fewer NDEs than do patients who don’t get any medication.
Are people who report meeting deceased loved one during NDEs simply hallucinating? Greyson says he no longer jumps to that conclusion, although there is no way to rule out the influence of the experiencers’ hopes and expectations of meeting loved ones. However, some experiencers have reported meetings with people not known to have died, which conflicts with the expectations of a reunion theory. He tells of one case in which an experiencer reported seeing his 19-year-old sister, who told him he had to go back. The experiencer was unaware that his sister had been killed in an auto accident earlier that day.
One might infer from Greyson’s comments that the NDE is the only phenomenon offering evidence that consciousness survives death. As the renowned physicist Sir Oliver Lodge said, it is the cumulative evidence that convinced him. The NDE research provides icing (I prefer chocolate frosting) on the cake – a cake well baked by Lodge, Frederic Myers, Richard Hodgson, and James Hyslop long before Dr. Raymond Moody gave a name to the NDE and before Dr. Greyson was born. If one is to fully appreciate the cake, he or she needs to do more than savor the frosting. I was left wondering if Greyson is even aware of the research carried out by the pioneers of psychical research and, if he is, why he doesn’t see the cumulative evidence offering the same “overwhelming” evidence that is accepted by most scientists with biological evolution. Nevertheless, having read at least 50 books on NDEs over the last 45 or so years, I would rank this book at or very near the top of the list.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.
Next blog post: May 24
Dear Mike, Tom and Amos,
I find 95% rapport with what you all say on this point.
I think what muddies the waters for almost every present-fashion thinker/physicist/spiritually-aware believer is the Western philosophical/Western scientific prejudice in favour of Monism (which is a gross misunderstanding of “Tat twam asi”), and the fanatical Western rejection of dualism (the real duality being between our Consciousness and our body, NOT between our individual Conscious (solipsistic) selves and The Great All (Who is the ONE AND ONLY static reference frame in Relativity Theory, since all other frames, however huge, however small, are moving relative to THAT WHOLE.)
This is all totally sparkling clear to anyone who comprehends dualism and relativity, but I find very nearly no-one at all is even interested in this understanding, into which everything slots suddenly, perspicuously, beautifully, taking one’s breath away with its comprehensive simplicity when one does see it.
I have dealt with the question of solipsism, and that of the relevance of Quantum Physics to the Consciousness in our book, the treatment of Relativity (which concerns the NON-LIVING part of the ALL-THAT-IS remaining to be treated in a book I hope I have time-on-Earth to write.
Why does almost no-one show any interest?
Eric Franklin, Sat 22 May, 10:40
Thanks for the positive feedback. I’m not sure, however, I fully grasp your VR. I see the brain as a “receiver,” while the “transmitter” is separate from the brain and can include information unknown to the relay station and the receiver, i.e., the transmitter is in the spirit world. You might have to accept the NDE based on the reports of others, but your reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to veridical information coming through credible mediums. Please take a look at my blog that will go up on Monday and explain the VR of it all on that one.
Michael Tymn, Fri 21 May, 19:57
I think that the brain primarily is the control center for the physical form. It provides instruction and control of vital functions of the body and perhaps acts as a filter or transmitter of information for the conscious mind. Whether or not it produces consciousness remains to be determined. Increasingly there is thought that perhaps the brain is not the center of consciousness but that consciousness resides somewhere else, yet undetermined.
The brain does however help the consciousness to perceive things in the physical environment. When the brain is not functioning but consciousness remains in the body, the person may appear to be unconscious but regardless of appearances, the consciousness may be very active in another level of reality as in a dream , an out-of-body experience (OBE) or a near-death experience (NDE).
Consciousness interprets limited inputs from physical reality transmitted by way of physical receptors and nerves to the brain allowing consciousness to experience vision, touch, taste, pain, heat, cold, and other sensations which are non-physical. As reported by people who have had an NDE they are still able to see and experience emotions and sensations even though their physical body and brain may be non-functioning. In physical life, it is thought that the consciousness experiences these non-physical things by interpreting the sensory input transmitted through the brain and based upon prior learning, consciousness perceives that input as a type of reality. When the consciousness experiences itself to be out of the body as in an OBE or NDE it is not known how consciousness is still able to do this.
It may be that the experience of each consciousness is unique and cannot be compared with the experience of another consciousness. Who is to say that everyone perceives reality in the same way. Is the color blue or any other color perceived the same by all consciousnesses? It is thought that some people are blind to the color blue and don’t perceive it in all its intensity as others do. Is the brain at fault for not transmitting blue light wave vibrations to the consciousness or, as is currently thought, is it the eye that is to blame. If light waves are transmitted by the brain is the consciousness at fault for not interpreting blue light waves as blue? (The whole concept of seeing color is beyond my understanding although I understand the mechanics of it.)
The experience of physical reality may be somewhat unique for each individual but there are some things for which there is evidence that they are experienced in the same way by all consciousnesses. Burning in a fire is probably experienced by most people as hot and very painful and taken to the extreme results in an ash residue acknowledged by most people. Most people would have the same conscious experience of fire. Water is perceived as either hot or cold with a certain feel by most people and ice is described in a similar way. One can compare “notes’ with another person in which physical things are described in the same way with three dimensions, hardness, softness, smooth, rough, etc. etc. providing some evidence that most people experience physical reality in the same or very similar way. I do not think it is dishonest and/or assumptive to say that.
There appears to be a pas de deux between the brain and the consciousness in that one’s experience of reality is the result of that interaction—-the brain transmitting and the consciousness interpreting probably based on prior experience and conscious attention. Therefore probably the experiences one is having are not totally 100% the result of the activity of the brain.
(I recall a video of a man in a gorilla costume walking across a basketball court among the players which I admit I did not “see” on first viewing of the video even though my eye and my brain were receiving visual input of the man in the gorilla costume.)
I am not sure that using the terms ‘virtual reality” and “avatar” add anything to the conversation and I think the discussion gets rather murky and I get lost at that point. Perhaps those ideas need to be further expanded. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Fri 21 May, 19:12
Dear Tom Davies,
Your comment is very interesting, and urges me to respond.
I wonder if my chapter (chapter 15, about 90 pages) in Dr Maureen Lockhart’s book The Subtle Energy Body, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont, 2010, might shed some useful light on the matter of solipsistic experience and other beings?
Also, adding to what I treat there for highly intelligent non-specialists, my paper on Relativity Theory and the possibility of other contiguous universes that are probably inhabited, but beyond normal communication with our universe, whether our universe is material or not, might also be illuminating. Some find the paper difficult, but my own sincere view is that the argument or evidence (call it what you will) is a very simple mathematical necessity, and very easy to “see” once one reads it without blinkers.
My email address is <email@example.com>.
Eric Franklin, Fri 21 May, 10:07
I hope that the following comments are not too inappropriate in this context, but it has to do with certainty and uncertainty.
Most of the time I function as a materialist. I act and interact with the world around me as if it is real. I realize, as a materialist, that this is only a convenience on my part. The experiences I am having result totally, 100%, from the activity of my brain. I can only assume, out of necessity, that there is a reality outside of my functioning brain, and that it is similar in large part to the experiences I am having resulting from the activity of my brain. But this is an assumption and can never be otherwise. Solipsism, at this point, seems highly attractive, as I can only assume that what I am experiencing is typical in others. In other words, for each of us our experience is entirely personal. We cannot know what, if anything, another person is experiencing. Or even what, if anything, exists outside of our personal experience.
This gets confusing to me, because other beings seem to be operating outside of my personal experience as if they are individual identities having their personal experiences. And they are making statements which they consider true of the world at large, when all they are able to do is make statements concerning the experiences they are having resulting from the activity going on inside their brain. Which is going on inside my brain. I know, this doesn’t make sense, but I see no way around it, as a materialist. And I can’t see how any materialist can avoid the fact that any statement he or she makes can only apply to the experiences he or she is having resulting from brain activity and cannot extend beyond that. To say otherwise, is being dishonest and overly assumptive.
Where does this leave me … us? That I am conscious and having experiences is undeniable, and I choose to believe that there are others having conscious experiences similar to mine. I can only conclude that the source of our similar conscious experiences is a virtual reality (VR). When we interact with the world and other individuals within that world, we are interacting as avatars within a VR, each avatar under control of a conscious individual. Our consciousness is interacting directly with the VR and not through the intermediary of a brain, although within the VR we each have a brain that appears to be experiencing the VR through sensory receptors, rather than directly, as can occur also in dreams, OBEs and NDEs. Based on our individual experiences within the VR, we make statements of certainty. For some, it is that the VR is a material reality and subject to the well established laws of physics. There is no possibility of experiences other than those associated with the material world that they are experiencing within the VR. For others, some of whom have experienced alternative VRs, this VR we are currently experiencing is one of many. Which view of reality has the higher degree of certainty?
Within this virtual reality it has been a pleasure, over many months, of reading the insights of Michael in his blogs. They have been a source, among many, for my personal inspiration and insight. Thank you.
Tom Davies, Fri 21 May, 00:04
Well stated, but one of the problems is that “science” has different meanings and different degrees of certainty. There is exact and inexact science, laboratory science and courtroom science.
People don’t have to wear a lab coat or have a Ph.D. to be scientists. As I see it, the subject of life after death falls more within the realm of courtroom science than laboratory science. A lawyer, even an investigative journalist, can be just as much a scientist as a biologist or physicist.
Also, I would have said that D. D. Home “was levitated” rather than saying he “levitated.” To say he levitated himself seems to imply no spirit involvement. Indications are that spirits are doing the lifting, but that, of course, is far outside the boundaries of laboratory science. It does, however, lend itself to courtroom science and there seems to be a preponderance of evidence supporting it.
Thanks for the comment.
Michael Tymn, Thu 20 May, 08:34
[Dr. Greyson] further explains that he is not taking sides with his materialistic friends or his spiritual friends. As he sees it, both views are plausible. “But neither of these ideas, while plausible, is a scientific premise – because there is no evidence that could ever disprove either of them. They are instead articles of belief.”
I have great sympathy for scientists whose work involves study of paranormal phenomena that can be interpreted in various ways. They are expected to follow the intellectual and philosophical basis of science in their role as scientists, regardless of their deeply held beliefs. That must be frustrating.
Experts in every field (not only scientific fields) may not legitimately impose their opinions as facts. If your auto technician, however brilliant, is sincerely convinced that gasoline or electric batteries are inferior to his invention of engines that run on liquefied dog breath, he still has to follow the repair procedures in the manual and not redesign your car.
Dr. Greyson is also entirely correct that an unfalsifiable claim is not science. True, in practical terms, we behave as if certain theories are “proven,” and it seems to work out just dandy. You can confidently expect to wake up tomorrow and discover that gravity on the earth’s surface is just what you’ve become used to over a lifetime.
But gravity is only 99.9999% certain. Learned and even skeptical observers saw Daniel Dunglas Home levitate on several occasions. Naturally, that doesn’t “prove” the “law” of gravity is broken. Logic says you can’t prove a negative. It can only be shown that a hypothesis has an established record of doing what it is said to do.
I wish scientists and the public would stop butting heads over whether paranormal events like NDEs and many other anomalies must be accepted or rejected. Looking for absolute answers in this field is futile — how can even people who’ve had purportedly mystical or afterlife experience be sure of its nature? But if the search is for evidence, we can obtain a whole lot more light than heat.
Rick Darby, Sun 16 May, 21:19
It would indeed be exciting and promising, Michael, if Dr. Greyson and other NDE researchers of his caliber were to take a hard look at the psychical research of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and at related phenomena like Patience Worth. Certainly, the case for the existence of the afterlife would be significantly strengthened, although additional questions concerning the nature(s) of that afterlife would also likely surface. On the even more pressing subject, IMHO, of the effects of that revelation on the living of THIS life, the older psychical research seems somewhat spotty compared with the NDE stuff, with Greyson doing a superb job in delineating the aftereffects of the brush with death or initial experience of it. There are notable exceptions in the older material: the inspirational concluding section of “Human Personality,” the dominant (if not ponderous) ethical tone of “Spirit Teachings,” Patience’s lyrical observations of temporal life (the Here) in the context of eternity (the There), etc. Yet I have come to believe that perhaps too much time and effort (then and now) have been poured into attempting to prove the existence of the afterlife and not quite enough in explaining—in hammering home, if necessary—how the recognition of the next world should impact our living in this one. Consolation, while of crucial importance to each one of us, is hardly the last word here, and the Chairman of the Board seemed to get the balance right 2000 years ago. “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world at the cost of his soul?”
Newton E. Finn, Sun 16 May, 18:37
Good observation and insight Michael.
Dr. Greyson has spent decades studying NDEs. I don’t know to what extent he is familiar with all of the other literature related to survival of consciousness after death of the physical form. And it is not for anyone to direct his academic research. Dr. Greyson has perhaps provided a piece of the puzzle of survival. That is enough. There is too much information suggesting survival to be gleaned from a multitude of sources over centuries for any one person to know it all and to be able to put it all together in a way that will satisfy the scientific community. But it is the compilation of all of that information that perhaps proves the case.
Beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult to prove if the evidence comes only from one witness but when the evidence comes from hundreds of witnesses then 98.8% surety seems a reasonable conclusion. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Sun 16 May, 18:37
Dear Mike (Tymn),
I agree with every thought and feeling you express in your “summing-up”. Your rational approach, utterly devoid of extremism or emotional claims is admirable. We can always rely on you for that reasonableness, and all scientists should learn from your stance, or admire you for it if they already stand with you. Sadly, prejudiced pseudo-science on the one hand and over-emotional journalistic sensationalism are the fashions, and you refuse to be fashionably extreme either way. Bravo.
Others should change orientation differently, of course, if they truly want to discover the truth, because their present stances are more in line with current fashions, as just mentioned. The utter disdain for TRULY UNPREJUDICED science shown by many who DO believe that we are not mortal as our bodies are mortal does the whole field of research great disservice.
HONEST science is our very best ally, even though some refuse to accept that fact, and/or disdain to make the effort of understanding it. Of course, there are also many who do not claim to understand science who are truly honest believers in what seems 98.8% certain. Bravo to them too.
Eric Fraklin, Sun 16 May, 15:54
Thanks to all for the comments and the links. To clarify, I totally agree that the NDE does not offer absolute certainty relative to the continuation of consciousness after death. As I see it, it is “highly suggestive” of it and strengthens the case made by Myers, Lodge, Hodgson,Hyslop, Barrett and many other esteemed scholars and scientists. Dr. Greyson has contributed immensely to the subject matter and my thanks to him. I think he should take a break from NDE research and study the research of the pioneers of psychical research. I had to read it all about three times over 10 years before it finally sunk in, but those of greater intellect might get it on the first read. As I have said before, I am 98.8% conviction and I doubt that I can go higher than that. It is enough to provide peace of mind for me. If the NDE were all I had read about, I’d probably be at around 65%.
Michael Tymn, Sat 15 May, 21:17
Great article! Thanks for bringing this book to our attention.
Progress in this area for scientists is very slow.
yvonne limoges, Sat 15 May, 21:01
I find Greyson’s statement about oxygen levels in people who have had an NDE very interesting. Obviously people who have a cardiac or respiratory arrest no longer have blood circulating to their brain. If a person is not breathing I don’t understand how his blood oxygen concentration could be increased or the same as people who continue to breathe and whose heart is pumping blood throughout the circulatory system. He says that “no study has ever shown decreased levels of oxygen during NDEs” but surely that cannot be correct. That may be true for the people he studied but maybe there needs to be more studies that include people who have had a cardiac or respiratory arrest and an NDE. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 13 May, 17:21
As usual, this is an excellent post that you have put together. I want to reply to Frank about his comment where he notes that “It is far from unusual for a scientist to be essentially a moron” as this seems to be an especially harsh conclusion.
Many leading scientists of the 18th and early-19th century were far from morons and they objectively studied survival of consciousness, just as Dr. Greyson has been doing for decades now. There are very many other scientists around the world currently studying the subject matter and I would assume not all of them are morons even if, based on their research findings, they don’t come out and conclude with conviction that consciousness survives death. Science does not afford such certainty.
Can anyone be 100% certain that consciousness survives death based on all the supporting evidence out there? I am betting many proponents of the survival of consciousness school will admit they allow for 1%-2% chance that they may be wrong in their conclusion.
I do not fault Dr. Greyson for not coming out and stating he is 100% certain, that based on his research, consciousness survives death. My assessment of his research also does not allow me to jump to the conclusion that I am 100% certain that consciousness survives death.
Dr. Greyson’s research is highly suggestive but not 100% conclusive. He is not an expert in death bead visions, studying of mediumship, etc. so he can only base his conclusions and belief based on his own field of expertise.
I also think there is a role for science in the study of consciousness survival as strict controls, brought to the table by scientists, are vital to the field of study. There are too many frauds and flakes in this field so I think science has a place when it comes to undertaking rigorous research methodologies which add to our body of knowledge about the subject matter.
My having spoken to a medium and having received 14 correct statements out of 14 about my deceased dad is only meaningful to me. It is an anecdotal and it is not proof of anything even though I like to think it proves his consciousness survives. In reality this, alone, does not prove anything about consciousness survival so it is important to have scientists study many mediums under highly controlled conditions to make sure there is no sensory leakage, and then utilize proper statistical analysis to try and come to conclusions based on their research findings. This is just one example of the important role scientists play in this field of study.
So to sum up, I would have to argue that there is a role for scientists, even for those who are morons, as long as they utilize highly rigorous research methodologies, in the same way that highly respected scientists went out of their way to do so in the 18th and 19th century.
Just my 2 cents,
lee, Thu 13 May, 16:56
It is far from unusual for a scientist to be essentially a moron. Because of the established cultural position of the scientific field (it is unassailable) and the consequent self-regard of those who are science careerists, scientists must maintain a belief in the critical importance of what they do and in the existential assumptions that must support the reality of the context in which they work. While they may pay lip-service to the quantum Observer Effect, they do not base their lives upon it. Otherwise, they would be forced to admit that everything is just made up and that scientific “fact” is no more than a hypothesis that conforms to a made-up set of criteria that, if met, confers “proof”.
I do not hesitate to claim that I know far more about the existence of the Afterlife than Greyson because I have a direct contact who is in it and who has communicated considerable information to me about it. The medium through which I have communicated with this contact was selected by my contact after her death. After seven years of ongoing communication with my contact, the medium (an evidential one) told me that she had learned a lot from the conversations that she mediated between me and my Afterlife contact.
As is so often the case with controversial subjects such as the Afterlife and the continuing issue of ongoing consciousness beyond death, scientific investigators reject the simple expedient of asking the dead about it. Naturally, they cannot use that obvious source of data because to do so would amount to admitting that the Afterlife is real and the “dead” continue to be who they are after they have departed from their physical bodies. The paradox is that you cannot prove the existence of the immaterial by requiring that it meet material (scientific) requirements for proof of its existence. Therefore, it is unwise to adhere to the perceptual context formulated by the scientific method if you are pursuing data about something outside the existing scientific context.
Read Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Science Delusion” for a good critique of science and scientists. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we require a “scientific” validation of a phenomenon that is so obviously outside the parameters of scientific investigation. When it comes to the paranormal, screw the scientists!
Frank Juszczyk, Wed 12 May, 17:45
Yes Michael, the book After, while falling short of deep historical perspective, is as good a modern book on the nde phenomenon as has been published in years. Greyson continues to perch on the fence, despite the many evidential situations that could easily tip him over into the garden of eternity. His choice. Keep that sacred objectivity, mate: credibility guaranteed until the grave. But then what?
gordon phinn, Wed 12 May, 17:14
hi Mike… been way too long thx for a great post.
I’ve often wondered the same about Dr. Greyson. I mean, how much of his stance is just self-preservation. UVA, as a whole is a pretty conservative place. then again, I wonder if a more direct approach might be a better path forward. I asked Bruce whether he was willing to consider the possibility that over-the-top resistance to near death experience science he experienced wasn’t totally 100% organic… he was very reluctant to go there
Alex Tsakiris, Wed 12 May, 15:01
Very interesting article, for me, when you hear from people who actually sat with mediums like Alec Harris, Leslie Flint, Minnie Harrison, how can one explain materialized spirit that everyone can see or hear having an intimate chat with their loved one, other than survival of conscientiousness? could there be any other explanation? maybe the Agent PSI theory but it is very far-fetched.
Daniel Goldberg, Wed 12 May, 14:33
NDEs as you say are just the icing on the cake.
I hope I am not being too soppy but do you think there is a vulnerability to God, which we underestimate? I observe these assiduous scientists either proving or disproving God’s existence and wonder if there is this magnetic pull that we ovelook. We can speak of mansions but what about dimensions within the universe?
Birds in gardens work feverishly, always busy, always urgent. God must be urgent for us too. I noted the astronaught Michael Collins’s observations of the earth and his incredulity or lamentations, as to how such a place, seemingly uniquely wondrous, yet within so many spheres, had so much division.
God, all seeing, all powerful,all knowing, yet simultaneously yearning.
How beautiful, how vulnerable, just maybe.
Michael, North London, Wed 12 May, 12:09
Very briefly, after an absence caused by a minor stroke and increased pressure from the matters of life down here for which I am the sole load-bearer:
For Karen Herrick: There is no such thing as time. It is space experienced tiny bit by tiny bit in sequence (the tiny discrete bits being quantum leaps in the true sense of that term, not in the utterly uncomprehending and ridiculous vernacular sense of “a great change”. That view is nonsense). The sequence of tiny “Nows” (the Aristotelian view) is what WE experience, using memory, as ‘time’, but the GREAT WHOLE can experience it all at once. That is hard to understand UNTIL one finally grasps the TOP-DOWN view, and the hierarchy of contiguous universes. At the human level it is all within Einstein’s Relativity, but almost none of the scientists who do understand Relativity ALSO understand the top-down perspective. When they do finally see THAT perspective they begin to be ready also to grasp the many CONTEMPORANEOUS universes view which explains the how-it-happens and how-it-is-possible of most para-normal/afterlife phenomena. It will take me another book to explain this properly, and, very busy at eighty, I may not have enough Earth-“time” to achieve the writing of it.
Bruce Greyson is being a good Popperian, and, while we may all regret that stance, we must be glad to have his research, and we must allow for the viciousness of scientists who defend their professional positions by denying what their subconsciouses are try to tell them about the happy news that Being (Dasein) does not die when the visible, ie the physical drops away. I deal with this with some thoroughness in my part of Dr Maureen Lockhart’s book ‘The Subtle Energy Body’, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2010. The book recently reached 5000 sales, so, as I think that may have been the print run IT produced, may be hard to find from now on. I do not mind if anyone experiencing difficulty in obtaining a copy contacts me direct on <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Eric Franklin, Wed 12 May, 12:05
I can understand Dr Greyson’s ambivalence about whether NDEs constitute proof of survival. On their own I don’t think they do, though many seem evidential. When combined with other sources of evidence though I think they make the case for survival stronger.
There are many lines of evidence which imho ought to be considered in the round to get a realistic picture.
Paul, Wed 12 May, 11:16
Thanks for the suggestion. Actually, I’ve started on an article or blog about the evolution or devolution of psychical research several times, especially as psychical research turned to parapsychology and avoided the spirit/survival issues, but I’m not sure that many people are interested. The SPR magazine carried my timeline from the 11th Century to the formation of the SPR in 1882, but then didn’t continue with parts II (1882 - 1935) and III (1935 to present) as I had expected and planned for. It is all too much for one blog and I don’t know anyone else who is interested in reading about the subject. I do appreciate your interest.
Michael Tymn, Tue 11 May, 19:00
While near death experiences may be interesting and partly informative I don’t think that one should base one’s view of the afterlife for everybody on reports of near death experiences of a few. After all, these people did not die and spent relatively a very limited amount of time in the afterlife. Obviously they do not know what it is like to be truly dead.
Jesus is reported to have said that “in my father’s house there are many mansions.” that comment is often quoted to explain why near death experiences, while similar, differ in some ways. All human consciousnesses apparently do not go to the same place or more appropriately stated, do not have the same experience after death. That is an obvious expectation if one believes that some spirits go to a nether region of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” while others ascend to a “Summerland” similar to an earth environment and others continue on to Paradise.
How unheavenly it must be for an American Indian of the 19th century to find himself in the Victorian environment of an 19th century Englishman and vice-versa! That same Englishman would be totally dismayed if he found himself in the “Happy Hunting Ground” of the American Indian.
I think all consciousnesses, including the consciousnesses of animals gravitate to a heavenly environment essentially of their own making. And that like attracts like, so that those with similar interests, likes and dislikes find themselves together. But that whatever environment one finds one’s self in, that environment is temporary and that a spiritual existence is malleable as the spirit learns and grows from multiple incarnations. So that the part of the oversoul that had an American Indian existence and then perhaps an experience as a Victorian Englishman may feel perfectly comfortable in either heavenly realm as the shackles of earth are released. and the trappings of time fade away. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 11 May, 18:54
Years ago, Michael, I read at least a dozen books about NDEs and was impressed enough to quote from a particularly moving NDE account during a funeral service I was conducting. I don’t recall the exact words, but they were along the lines that the experiencer suddenly saw the whole plan, the entire reason that everything was the way it was, and that the plan was perfect. That this was so despite all the wars and terrors and sufferings and failures surrounding us, that we were not to lose hope and meaning and purpose because of them. I remember especially the following words from the NDE account (as best I can reconstruct them): “That it was all safety and security and love and peace, and that I was safe forever, loved forever, home forever…and that everybody else was.” When the NDEr came back into her body, of course, the perfection she saw and felt had evaporated, and no words could be found to describe it or explain it. There are certainly resonances here with some of the things heard through mediums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the “boggle factor” seems raised to the max in comparison with, for example, the Leonora Piper material. In somewhat similar fashion, Eben Alexander’s well-known NDE would seem of a quite different tone or pitch than many of the older “revelations.” So I wonder…is the experience of death and the afterlife itself something that grows and changes with the evolution of humanity, reflects and incorporates whatever stage in that great plan we happen to have reached, individually and culturally, when we pass over? Just one of many possible ways to try to account for these differences, and I do hope, Michael, that you tackle this intriguing subject in a future post.
Newton E. Finn, Tue 11 May, 16:19
Dave, I agree. To quote Sir Oliver Lodge:
“The aim of science has been for the most part a study of mechanism, the mechanism whereby results are achieved, an investigation into the physical processes which go on, and which appear to be coextensive with nature. Any theory which seems to involve the action of Higher Beings, or of any unknown entity controlling and working the mechanism, is apt to be extruded or discountenanced as a relic of primitive superstition, coming down from times when such infantile explanations were prevalent.”
Thanks for the comment.
Michael Tymn, Tue 11 May, 00:38
Regarding transplants, In “A Change of Heart,” author Claire Sylvia tells of her own heart transplant and how she took on some of the tastes and interests of the donor. She reports taking on an affinity for green peppers, something she had never liked before. She also began craving beer and chicken nuggets as well as becoming more masculine in personality and taking an interest in motorcycles. She continued feeling a “presence” with her.
Sylvia investigated and found out that her heart came from an 18-year-old male, the victim of a motorcycle accident. She met his family and found out that her new tastes and interests were those of her donor. She interviewed other transplant recipients and found that they also had acquired the interests, traits, and tastes of the donor. One recipient had a great fear of water before her transplant, but after it she had a great desire for swimming and sailing. She found out that her donor had been an avid sailor who died in a boating accident. Another recipient, a born-again Christian, seemed completely out of character when he began cursing and swearing after the transplant. It was discovered that the donor frequently used such vulgar language.
The most logical and scientific explanation seems to be that of “cellular memory.” Dr. Paul Pearsall, a neuropsychologist, discusses this theory at length in his book, “The Heart’s Code.” “The donated cells remained energetically and nonlocally connected with their donor and seemed to ‘remember’ where they came from,” Pearsall writes.
Dr. Deepak Chopra also explained it as cellular memory, while popular author Dr. Larry Dossey had several possible explanations for Sylvia, but concluded that the most likely one is that the consciousness of the donor had fundamentally united with the consciousness of the recipient enabling the recipient to gain information from the donor. He wondered if organ recipients are entering into a realm of consciousness where information about another person can be accessed through a ‘nonlocal mind,’ more commonly known as the Universal Mind.
Medium James Van Praagh was also asked for his opinion. Sylvia quotes Van Praagh: “Donated organs often come from young people who were killed in car or motorcycle accidents, and who died quickly. Because their spirits often feel they haven’t completed their time on earth, they sometimes attach themselves to another person. There may be things that your donor hadn’t completed in the physical world, which his spirit still wanted to experience. When this happens, the spirit is caught between two worlds, like the movie, Ghost. Sometimes this leads to possession, and sometimes, as in your case, to influences.”
Van Praagh’s comments can be viewed as a diplomatic way of saying that some of them may be “earthbound” spirits, possibly being held back from advancing “into the light” by the attachment to their physical bodies, including the separated parts.
See my article, “Are Organ Transplants Contraindicated?” in the Features section at left.
Michael Tymn, Mon 10 May, 21:51
Newton, I agree that a comparison of the afterlife from old mediumship accounts with those of the NDE would be very interesting. If nobody else tackles it, I may give it a try, but my references are too disorganized to do it soon. Off the top of my head, I don’t recall many NDE accounts that go much beyond meeting deceased loved ones.
Michael Tymn, Mon 10 May, 21:40
Stafford, I don’t know about Dr. Greyson, but I have encountered many researchers, including parapsychologists, who seem to know very little about the psychical research that took place between 1850 and 1935. They seem to assume that it all began with Dr. Rhine during the 1930s. Greyson says science has a long way to go before understanding it all, but that may not be the case if proper attention were given to the old psychical research.
Michael Tymn, Mon 10 May, 21:34
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 10 May, 16:52
Stephen Braude in his book “Immortal Remains” reports four examples I think of transplant cases in which the person who received the transplant exhibited unusual behaviors or interests consistent for the person from whom the transplant was obtained. Very interesting! - AOD
I would love to see some discussion of what strike me as significant differences in descriptions of the afterlife stemming from the older psychical research and the newer study of NDEs. Certainly there are similarities here, but aren’t there also substantial divergences? For example, compare the gradual progression in knowledge and wisdom often alluded to by discarnate voices speaking through mediums, with the sudden transportation into a state of “knowing everything” often described by NDEers? Thank you, Michael, for another excellent piece, and I think the evolution analogy is an apt one. For a variety of reasons, Darwin’s “natural selection” and Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” are losing much of their explanatory punch in cutting-edge evolutionary science. Yet many scientists (not on this cutting-edge) doggedly hold onto these partial-at-best concepts as complete explanations.
Newton E. Finn, Mon 10 May, 16:26
There are stories of the transplant of organs in other people who had an character change as an effect. The reciever of the organs showed suddenly some of the behaviour and interests of the donating victime. So I am sure that our consciousness is not restricted to our brains. Everything seems to be connected.Maybe it’s a light or spiritual energy within our entire body.
Chris De Cat, Mon 10 May, 15:35
Very well written piece Michael. In videos I have seen of Bruce Greyson he has seemed to me to be a very conservative tight-lipped academic, one who gathers data and presents it for others to evaluate and draw conclusions.
NDEs are only one piece of the puzzle of survival of consciousness as you have pointed out. But they can be a very big piece of the puzzle when they are well documented and presented. I especially like the NDEs presented on the German websites “Thanatos” and “Afterlife Experiences” which can be found at:
Both of the sites are well presented and now have vocal English translations which are good—-keeping in mind that a translation may sometimes lose subtleties conveyed by the original language.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 10 May, 14:46
The comparison of belief in survival with belief in biological evolution in my opinion is maybe not the best. It seems obvious to me that some species do change over time while others remain the same over eons. Most species populations have many variations of form. Whether or not they evolve into completely different genera I think is not strongly supported by observational evidence. It may be however that evolution of species and the development of new genera do occur but that if one believes in a spiritual world, such evolution could be seen as guided by those in the spiritual realm. That is my belief and an activity in which I hope to participate. - AOD
My guess is that Greyson’s reticence is a case of the classic tendency to double down on scientific methodology to protect one’s professional academic standing in the community. One can only imagine the amount of explaining he’s had to do in defending his work as being legitimate academic research, especially at a high caliber institution like UVA. The materialist tide is strong and persistent.
Dave Daughters, Mon 10 May, 14:44
Your choice of words, Mike, are exquisite in challenging Greyson’s non-opinion on the matter. Well done.
One story I particularly liked stars on p. 31 with Rob about rapid thinking and a sense of time slowing down. Rob slipped on a ladder when he was 44 yrs old. “The actual fall was slowed way down almost like a series of camera still pictures being taken. Not only did the fall slow way down but my thinking became very clear. I actually remembered wanting to head for the shrubs and that’s exactly what happened. I rolled avoid head injuries. This account reminded then spurred a skiers account of falling down a mountain where time became greatly expanded. This skiing NDE was shared with students at Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute where the teacher taught geology. One of the students in the class was Albert Einstein. A decade later Einstein published a paper describing his theory of relativity which proposed tha time slows down the faster you travel. The book asks if Heim’s account of time influenced Einstein’s idea that time is not a constant. I loved this!!!
Karen E Herrick PhD, Mon 10 May, 11:50
Also I liked the story on p. 143 of Brenda of leaving her body - “the muscles in my body began to jerk upward (Leonardo Da Vinci said this once that muscles push upward - i have to look this up) anyway she felt her body slipping down at an angle as if on a slide. This is how one leaves the body!! Yes it really is a good book! Thanks for your review per usual. Blessings Karen
I was disappointed to read the following in your article:
He further explains that he is not taking sides with his materialistic friends or his spiritual friends. As he sees it, both views are plausible. “But neither of these ideas, while plausible, is a scientific premise – because there is no evidence that could ever disprove either of them. They are instead articles of belief.”
I agree with you, Michael, that the cumulative evidence for survival is extraordinarily strong and regret that Bruce doesn’t come out and say so. Is it because he still has a lingering suspicion that survival is tainted by religion? If even he feels it necessary to play court to the materialist majority, we are in worse shape than I thought. I was expecting a more courageous voice from this book—one that is justified by the evidence that he himself lucidly brings to light. Hopefully such expression will follow from him now that he has established his bona fides in this book, which is outstanding in so many other ways. cedt.
Stafford Betty, Mon 10 May, 11:30
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