If truth can't be found on Google, it must not exist. That's my cyberspace-centric view of reality. So here's the result of my hour or so of Googling the question: is there persuasive scientific evidence of life after death?
Short answer: no. As some commenters (one of whom was me) on my "Life is a mystery. Afterlife, ditto" post observed, if such evidence existed, it'd be trumpeted to the heavens – plus the front pages.
Now, quite a few people believe that scientists and the media are censoring evidence of life after death. Such as this guy.
There are two expert opinions as to what so-called paranormal phenomena are, but in this "free" country the British people are only allowed access to the explanation that is politically correct, the first version that is listed below, because it is no danger to the powerful religious and scientific establishments.
Huh? It's difficult to believe that scientists, who are as egotistical and ambitious as everyone else, are willfully ignoring evidence for what would be the biggest discovery of all time – the survival of individual consciousness.
And I'm not sure why religious authorities would be opposed to this truth being revealed either, though I suppose the monotheistic religions could be threatened by someone (maybe everyone) surviving bodily death without the aid of Jesus, Allah, or God.
So if evidence for life after death was as strong as believers in the paranormal and psychic phenomena make it out to be, we'd know about it.
Today there is a growing body of evidence suggestive of life after death, including near-death experiences, death-bed visions, spontaneous apparitions, and spirit communication through mediums. While personal survival of death has yet to be scientifically proven, the potential implications of the evidence to date for philosophy, psychology, science and religion are enormous.
OK, granted. Enormous isn't a big enough word. But let's also pay attention to other words here: "growing," "suggestive," "has yet to be," "potential."
What would it take for this evidence to become strong enough to pass over into a validated scientific theory? Hard to say. To me, there's a difference between (1) life after death and (2) consciousness separate from a body.
Seemingly brain-dependent consciousness could be capable of perceiving events that aren't known to the bodily senses. I don't know how this would happen, obviously, but extrasensory perception doesn't seem to necessarily imply survival of consciousness after death.
Still, near-death experiences are deeply interesting to most people – since we're all going to die without the "near" one day. It makes sense that coming close to death, and returning to tell the tale, would offer insights into the real deal.
I found a Scientific Evidence for Survival web site that was nicely organized. I haven't checked out the 53 categories of evidence very closely, but appreciated that links to supporting information (which I'd bet isn't entirely scientific) were included.
Nonetheless, even this site says:
A scientifically controlled NDE that can be repeated which provides such evidence would be the scientific discovery of all time. However, science does not yet have the exact tools to accomplish this. But, science is coming very, very close. This kind of evidence and others provide very strong circumstantial evidence for the survival of consciousness.
"Circumstantial." Another sign that even those who believe in the survival of consciousness after death recognize this can't be proven to skeptics.
TIME magazine ran an article in 2007, "The Science of Near-Death Experiences." I was curious to see what conclusions a mainstream news organization, armed with fact checkers and hyperbole averse editors, would come to.
Clearly, NDE's are a mystery. Much more needs to be learned about them.
A flat electroencephalogram (EEG) recording doesn't suggest mere impairment. It points to the brain having shut down. Longtime NDE researcher Pim van Lommel, a retired Dutch cardiologist, has likened the brain in this state to a "computer with its power source unplugged and its circuits detached. It couldn't hallucinate. It couldn't do anything at all."
Yet it's in this period, between switch-off and resuscitation, that many researchers believe NDEs occur. "Many near-death experiencers describe heightened perceptions and clear thought processes, and form memories, at a time when the brain is incapable of coordinated activity," says Greyson, director of the University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies. "Our current neurophysiological models can explain NDEs only if one ignores much of the empirical data."
Yet materialistic explanations still are credible.
Science is trying to solidify the brain-based theory of NDEs, which goes something like this: Survival is our most powerful instinct. When the heart stops and oxygen is cut, the brain goes into all-out defense. Torrents of neurotransmitters are randomly generated, releasing countless fragmentary images and feelings from the memory-storing temporal lobes. Perhaps the life review is the brain frantically scanning its memory banks for a way out of this crisis. The images of a bright light and tunnel could be due to impairment at the rear and sides of the brain respectively, while the euphoria may be a neurochemical anti-panic mechanism triggered by extreme danger.
The article's final paragraph pointed in a certain direction, but reflected the uncertainty of life, death, and consciousness.
On balance, it's almost certain that NDEs happen in the theater of one's mind, and that in the absence of resuscitation, it's the brain's final sound and light show, followed by oblivion. Nonetheless, there's still no definitive explanation. There mightn't be a ghost in the machine. But it's a machine whose complexities remain well beyond our grasp.
We don't know what happens after death. That bit of knowledge is worth keeping in mind. So long as we have one.