- Raymond Moody has achieved a rare feat in the quest for human knowledge: he has created a paradigm.
- In his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions1, Thomas Kuhn points out that scientific revolutions occur when someone creates a new perspective, a new model, a new approach to reality. After such a breakthrough, great progress can be made that was previously impossible. Scientific progress, Kuhn contends, is less the result of the dogged work of applying the scientific method to problems and more the result of a brilliant and original insight that opens the way for such work.
- As Dr. Moody notes in the present volume, Life After Life is not the first book about such experiences. Indeed, Dr. Carol Zaleski of Harvard, in her fascinating study, Other-world Journeys2, tells us that the literature of the Middle Ages is filled with similar accounts. Moody did not, then, discover these experiences. But he put a name to them, and that name, NDE — near-death experiences — provided the paradigm for the considerable research that has occurred since the publication of Life After Life.
- Why is giving a phenomenon the right name so important? Stephen Hawking, the great English theoretical physicist, has said that the name black hole for the phenomenon he is studying is of critical importance. So in every human activity, since we are naming creatures — creatures who bestow meaning on phenomena — the names we choose determine how we explain the phenomena and what others do with our work.
- Not only did Dr. Moody rediscover an experience that, as we now know, is widespread in the human condition, but he also, by assigning that experience the precisely appropriate label, assured that there would be more research and study of the experience. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of such a contribution to human knowledge.
- The Light Beyond, like Dr. Moody's previous efforts, is characterized by openness, sensitivity, and modesty. The last characteristic is, I think, the most important in his work. He makes no extreme claims for his findings. The very label near-death experience is so effective because it is so utterly modest. Dr. Moody does not claim that he has proved anything more than the existence and the widespread prevalence of the NDE.
- Has the NDE research scientifically proved that there is life after death3? I think not, despite some of the enthusiastic claims that have been made for it. It merely proves that at the time of death many people undergo a benign and promising experience. I don't think that on the subject of human survival anything more than that conclusion can be expected. Thus I fail to see why much of the scientific and medical establishments cannot be content with the demonstrated fact that these experiences occur and study them with interest and respect.
- Does the NDE research increase the probabilities of human survival beyond death? I rather think it does; but, as long as one is working with probabilities, there is still required a leap of faith, which most of those who have had an NDE do not hesitate to make.
- Near the end of this book, Dr. Moody turns to a man who was perhaps America's greatest thinker, William James. The NDE is a "noetic" experience, an experience of illumination that purports to provide understanding that is unassailable for one who has encountered it. As James himself remarks, such experiences cannot constrain acceptance from empirical science; but, since such experiences occur, empirical science cannot claim a monopoly on human ways of knowing. Carol Zaleski arrives at the same conclusion at the end of her investigation; as does Dr. Moody, she falls back on the categories of William James: the NDE is an experience of mystical illumination.
- "Otherworld visions are products of the same imaginative power that is active in our ordinary ways of visualizing death; our tendency to portray ideas in concrete, embodied, and dramatic forms; the capacity of our inner states to transfigure our perception of outer landscapes; our need to internalize the cultural map of the physical universe; and our drive to experience that universe as a moral and spiritual cosmos in which we belong and have a purpose."
- The NDE then is one of many hope renewal experiences that occur in human life — though a spectacular one. It is a hint of an explanation, though a powerful hint. It is not the only hint.
- Dr. Zaleski, in correspondence with me about her work, remarked that her letter had been delayed by the advent of her first child. I wrote back that I wondered if the birth of a child might not be at least as strong a hint of an explanation as an NDE, if a much more commonplace hint. From the perspective of the Ultimate, the question might well be whether He can give better hints or more hints than He already has.
- Be that as it may, the hints, the rumors of angels, are not much use to those who are inclined to listen to them, unless they influence their lives. As Dr. Zaleski remarks, "A conviction that life surpasses death, however intensely felt, will eventually lose its vitality and become a mere fossil record, as alien as any borrowed doctrine, unless it is tested and rediscovered in daily life."
- As I read Dr. Moody's exploration of light and Light, he seems to be making the same argument. The Light came into the darkness and the darkness could not put it out.
… Andrew Greeley, Chicago, All Souls/Samain, 1987
Footnote 1: See "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".
Footnote 2: See "Zaleski (Carole) - Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near Death Experience in Mediaeval and Modern Times".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)