I came across an article about, Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife, by John Martin Fischer, Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin.
I’m writing a bit more below the block quote, but in response to an article in Slate, I posted, to Facebook, the following:
Quite interesting. I don’t suppose I’ll read the book, but the article is interesting.
They talk of meaning. Generally meaning must be more than physical and naturalistically materialistic.They do qualify meaning as meeting reality, relevant in the waking world, as it were. I suppose one can hold meaning to only mean so much. Kinda meaningless, though.
He describes some evidences taken as establishing reality and some more-than-natural essence (supernaturalism, of course), but everyone will weight such differently. I particularly don’t accept the argument that blind folk having visual content in their NDE makes it more real and stronger evidence of supernatural, because I don’t see sight as evidence of supernatural.
I agree in general with his statement, “We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world.” Where I diverge is I do not accept that such ephemeral essences of beauty, meaning, awe, wonder, etc. can be explained purely in context of the natural world.
Ultimately, universally speaking, we’ve had 13 billion years to find some evidence of the foundation of meaning, the underlying and overarching reality that is more than our natural universe, and the only real evidence we have is our sense of awe, our sense that there must be more. The fact that it just seems wrong that the truly good is impermanent. The fact that we know there is such a thing as good, even when people disagree exactly how to define it, is our only real evidence that there is anything real at all.
I am more than a random confluence of quarks, strings, and quantum states, and I honestly am not sure I will ever consider that proven. I do honestly believe that sooner or later, in terms of a human life or in terms universal, I will step out of time, space, matter, and energy, and enter eternity. It is my true desire to be ready. I and my understanding are not all that I am, not all that is, not the sum of all that matters to me. There is something more. I call it God. I endeavour with open heart to be subject to God and that which can truly be called good.
We take the reports very seriously; indeed, we take them at face value. People really do have NDEs with the content they report. And they are beautiful—deeply and profoundly transformative in positive ways, altering their moral and spiritual outlook, and diminishing their fear of death. We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world. We do not have to give up the tools of science in order to understand NDEs, and we do not have to give up the beauty and awesome nature of these experiences in order to explain them in terms of the natural world.
We believe that the key to reconciling naturalism with the deep meaning of NDEs is to recognize two important parts of the human attempt to come to grips with the world. One part of this inquiry seeks understanding, and the best way to achieve understanding is through science. But another part involves seeking to feel comfortable and at home in the world; this is not merely a cognitive project, but one that engages our emotions.
Stories are the best way to achieve this kind of emotional resonance. Human beings strive to understand the world, but we also aim to be at home in it. Thus, we are storytellers as well as scientific inquirers. Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife explains how storytelling and scientific understanding fit together in a coherent way. Seeing this helps us to present a naturalistic interpretation of NDEs—an interpretation that is nevertheless deeply respectful of these awesome experiences.
He addresses the deep meaning, yet what can that mean in a purely naturalistic context?
He asserts the best way to seek understanding is through science, yet it is not the only way, and “best” is lacking. Science is our only repeatable way to verify reality and how things work. Whether it is best or not is subjective and depends on value, which itself is subjective. Subjective things can be monitored over time for evaluation, but so much of what is involved depends on the individuals examining and evaluating.
Scientific investigation lets us share our investigations and findings. It helps me check you, and you check me, to try to ensure that we are not fooling ourselves, and we really must admit we are the easiest to fool. Check Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) blog. He likes to point out how we fool ourselves and can hardly do differently. (But that is a different topic.)
As a Christian, I hold certain views of eternity, the afterlife.
I like to say eternity because it necessarily steps outside time, and time, space, matter, and energy, are all that is, all that makes what nature is, all that can be called naturalistic and materialistic. Science has us convinced the universe is not eternal. It is well confirmed, and thorough thinking confirms it. Nature is temporary. Our universe, all that is and all we know of it, is only about 13 billion years old. Science differs on how it might end, and how much time will elapse before it ends, but no scientific evidence suggests our universe will continue. It will end.
If there is no eternity, there is, in a very real sense, nothing, nothing at all.
Is it reasonable to suppose that in 100 years I will be exactly as I was 100 years ago?
It is a possibility. I accept that, but nothing in me can believe it. There is more, and I am, and always will be, part of that more.
If all that is me, all consciousness, all essences, ends up as it was before me, then nothing different can be supposed of the universe. If all the matter comes apart, all the energy dissipates, all the subatomics cease, even space will cease to be, and time. With no time, there is nothing. With no time there is no time to change. There will be nothing, nothing in any sense we can understand from science. Only the supernatural can still be, and it must be eternal or exists not at all.
Back to NDEs, I suppose all such experiences are limited by our brains, by our understanding, by all that makes us individual. Near death experiences, out of body experiences, are necessarily limited by ourselves, by our capacities. Even if such a spiritual experience exceeded all bounds of human intellect and capacities, the experience could be retained in this natural life only as some vague knowing, with no expressible understanding. That is, anything learned or experienced beyond natural capacity while unconstrained by anything natural would be lost as soon as it was restrained to the natural world, body, and mind.
In short, there either is only the natural, or there is more. I believe it is inherently impossible to quantify the supernatural in any way. I likewise hold it impossible to find any naturally observable phenomenon that exceeds natural scientific investigation and explanation with the laws of nature. I still believe in miracles, but I expect we will always be able to explain the ones we can catch and quantify, but miracles are not always so. Some miracles are truly unique, and such cannot be investigated and quantified. Some things just can’t be explained. Even science tells us that.