- Opinion has long been divided over Near-Death Experiences1, or NDEs, some presenting them as evidence for the existence of the soul and life after death2, others arguing that they are merely the chemical and physiological products of a dying brain.
- Susan Blackmore has interviewed many people who claim to have had NDEs, and after researching hundreds of case histories she offers an absorbing and detailed review of this fascinating and controversial phenomenon. While presenting clear physical explanations for the changes that take place within the brain, Blackmore argues that true spiritual transformation comes not from searching after a spirit or soul that survives death, but from reinterpreting the concept of "self" itself.
- Dying to Live succeeds in bridging the gap between the scientific and the spiritual points of view and shows how an understanding of NDEs can help us live our lives in the face of death and lead the way to genuine self-knowledge.
- Susan Blackmore is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England. She is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and one of the world's leading experts on near-death experiences3. She is the author of The Adventures of a Parapsychologist (Prometheus Books), an autobiography describing her search for evidence of the paranormal.
- In 1975, James Moody's ground-breaking book Life after Life collected the anecdotes of people who had come close to death and described the experience as comforting and transforming. Since then, the parapsychological, medical and scientific investigations of these near-death claims have become a small industry. This comprehensive report, by the author of The Adventures of a Parapsychologist and a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, collates theories about near-death experience4, challenges the reality of spiritual claims and surveys historical and cross-cultural attitudes toward death. Blackmore concludes that the neurological "Dying Brain Hypothesis" better explains the evidence than the more paranormal "Afterlife5 Hypothesis." This work is chiefly of interest to medical professionals; the mysteries of death remain.
- Susan Blackmore is an academic psychologist, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England. She began her career as a parapsychologist, but eventually she concluded that she could find little valid evidence to support the existence of the alleged paranormal phenomena she was supposed to be studying and so she ceased to work on the subject. In this book she considers the near-death experience6 (NDE), with the aim of deciding whether it does, as many people suppose, provide evidence for our survival of physical death, or is wholly explicable within a natural context. Her approach is based partly on published accounts of NDEs and partly on accounts from experiments which she has collected and analysed. She discusses the various arguments that have gone on about the origin and nature of the NDE and comes down firmly but fairly on the side of a fully naturalistic explanation. Although she is fully aware of the importance of the NDE for those who have had it, she concludes that there is no good evidence for the claim that it really gives us a glimpse of what happens after death. Indeed, she does not believe that there is an afterlife7 in this sense. However, her argument is not merely negative; she puts forward an interesting, and to me convincing, theory of why these experiences occur. At the centre of the theory is her contention that the "self" is a mental construct or model, but that this is an illusion. And during the NDE, she suggests, the self model begins to disintegrate, and this is what gives rise to the dramatic experience: "the NDE brings about a breakdown of the model of self along with the breakdown of the brain's normal processes". The feeling of insight into profound truths which the experience often provides occurs just because of this temporary loss of the ordinary illusion of self. Blackmore's view of the self as a model has obvious affinities with the Buddhist notion of no-self, and this is no accident, for she has indeed done Buddhist meditation and regards it as an alternative way of disrupting and ultimately destroying the illusion of self. Many people who have had NDEs say that they are sure that Blackmore must be wrong because they have been there and they know. To this, however, she has an answer, for she too has had an out-of-the-body experience which had many of the features of an NDE, so that she is able to say: "I have experienced it too and I have come to a different conclusion from you." This is one of the best books on the NDE that I've read; it's strongly recommended.
(Anthony Campbell, see Link)
- For a review from a crazy site devoted to the reality of NDEs, follow: Link (Defunct)
Acknowledgements – ix
Preface – xi
- Coming Close to Death – 1
- The Stages of Dying – 23
- Visions From the Dying Brain – 46
- The Light at the End of the Tunnel – 67
- Peace, Joy and Bliss – 94
- But I Saw the Colour of Her Dress – 113
- Realer Than Real – 136
- In or Out of the Body8? – 165
- My Whole Life Flashed Before Me – 183
- All At Once and Timeless – 202
- Decided to Come Back – 226
- Who Returns? – 244
- And After Death? – 260
References – 265
Index – 281
"Blackmore (Susan) - Dying to Live: Preface"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Preface
- What is it going to be like when I die? Will I be lonely and frightened, in pain and in anger? Will the grim reaper thrust me into darkness and terror against my will?
- There are very few of us who have not thought about our own deaths, or pushed the thought steadfastly away. As young children we begin to think about dying. As we gain a strong sense of self and who we are the thought of death becomes more and more threatening. It is inconceivable that Mummy will ever be dead, let alone me.
- It is no wonder that we like to deny death. Whole religions are based on that denial. Turn to religion and you may be assured of eternal life. You cannot die, you have a soul, a spirit, an everlasting inner being that will not succumb to the ravages of worms and putrefaction.
- Of course, this comforting thought conflicts with science. Science tells us that death is the end and, as so often, finds itself opposing religion. Interestingly, the greatest conflict of all has been about our origins, not our end. Darwin's The Origin of Species, first published in 1859, caused a controversy which is still not dead after a century and a half. He proposed that the simple process of natural selection could account for the evolution and diversity of living things.
- The idea is, I believe, the simplest and most beautiful in all of science. Indeed, it is so simple and obvious that it is sometimes hard to remember how important it is to understanding ourselves. It is just this. You need a system for reproducing things that is not exact copying — it produces variation. And you need an environment in which there is not room for all the things that are made. Obviously some things survive and some do not. And the ones that survive pass on copies more similar to themselves than to the dead ones. That's all. Out of that simple principle comes the whole of evolutionary theory and our understanding of our own origins.
- The problem with evolution is, and has always been, that it leaves little room either for a grand purpose to life or for an individual soul. The environment moulds the progress of evolution and it in turn is part of that evolutionary process. In fact, the whole planet can be seen as an interdependent living system, as it is in the Gaia hypothesis. We are each just tiny parts of that living, evolving whole. As part of the whole we are indispensable; as individuals each of us is eminently dispensable.
- There is no future heaven towards which evolution progresses. And no ultimate purpose. It just goes along. Yet our minds have evolved to crave purposefulness and cling to the idea of a self because that will more efficiently keep alive the body and perpetuate its genes. In other words, our evolution makes it very hard for us to accept the idea of evolution and our own individual pointlessness.
- It is perhaps not surprising that in the United States there are still powerful lobbies for equal time to be given to the theory of ‘creation’ in teaching biology in schools. The idea that God created us all for a special purpose is a lot more palatable than the idea that we just got here through the whims of ‘Chance and Necessity', as the French biologist Jacques Monod put it, even though it has no evidence to support it and provides no help in understanding the nature of the living world. And people will fight, and even die, for the ideas they like best.
- Death is an idea they do not like. The self is an idea they do like; an everlasting self they like even better.
- It is over a hundred and thirty years since science seriously tackled the nature of human origins. Is it ready to tackle the nature of hums death? I think so. The past twenty years have seen great strides forward. The discovery and study of near-death experiences1 has taught us about the experience of nearly dying. Progress in medical science has increase our understanding of what happens when the brain begins to fail. Psychology is delving ever more deeply into the nature of that precious self. This book is an attempt to explore what psychology, biology and medicine have to say about death and dying. Are you ready to find out what it's going to be like when you die?
Susan Blackmore, Bristol, 1992
"Blackmore (Susan) - Coming Close to Death"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 1
- Life After Death1 Or A Dying Brain?
- The Afterlife2 Hypothesis
- The Dying Brain Hypothesis
- Travels From Distant Times
- Across Cultures Today
- Children Facing Death
"Blackmore (Susan) - The Stages of Dying"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 2
- The Depth Of NDEs: Stages And Scales
- How Common Is The NDE?
- Does Everyone Who Comes Close To Death Have An NDE?
- Who Has NDEs?
- An NDE-Prone Personality?
- Factors Affecting The NDE
- Do You Have To Be Near Death To Have An NDE?
"Blackmore (Susan) - Visions From the Dying Brain"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 3
- Brain And Mind
- Blood Gases And Cerebral Anoxia
- The Effects Of Carbon Dioxide
- Volunteers For Unconsciousness
- The Threat Of Death
- Understanding Anoxia
"Blackmore (Susan) - The Light at the End of the Tunnel"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 4
- Forms of Hallucination
- Explaining the Tunnel
- There is a ‘Real’ Tunnel
- Representations of Transition
- Birth Relived
- Just Imagination
- Disinhibition and the Dying Brain
- Down to the Details
- Drugs and the Tunnel
- The Light at the End
"Blackmore (Susan) - Peace, Joy and Bliss"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 5
- Sublime and Joyous Moments
- Journeys to Hell
- Heaven Turns to Hell
- The Brain’s Own Drugs
- A Challenge to the Theory
"Blackmore (Susan) - But I Saw the Colour of Her Dress"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 6
- Prior Knowledge and Expectation
- But She was Unconscious
- Sensory Information
- Distant Vision
- NDEs in the Blind
- Why the Lore?
"Blackmore (Susan) - Realer Than Real"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 7
- Reality in Outer Space
- Alternate Realities
- The Holographic Universe
- The Mystical View
- Paranormal Phenomena (Not) Explained
- Through the Illusion
- Mental Models
- Who am I?
- What Seems Real?
- Living in Illusion
"Blackmore (Susan) - In or Out of the Body?"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 8
- Does Anything Leave the Body?
- Models of Reality
- The Breakdown
- Assessing the Theory
"Blackmore (Susan) - My Whole Life Flashed Before Me"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 9
- The Incidence of the Life Review
- A Psychological Function of the Life Review?
- The Point of No Return
- Theories of the Panoramic Life Review
- Light in the Hologram
- Resonance, Wholeness and Interconnectedness
"Blackmore (Susan) - All At Once and Timeless"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 10
- Endorphins and the Temporal Lobe
- The Sacred Disease (Epilepsy)
- Temporal Lobe Signs
- Electrical Brain Simulation
- Objections to the Theory
- The Life Review Explained?
- Dissolving Time
- Time and Reality
"Blackmore (Susan) - I Decided to Come Back"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 11
- Decisions without a Self
- Spontaneous and Deliberate?
- Giving up the Ghost
- So You Decided to Come Back?
"Blackmore (Susan) - Who Returns?"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 12
- Changes without an NDE
- What Causes the Change?
- No Experience
- Now I Know the Truth
- Dazzling Darkness
- Letting Go
- But I Know
"Blackmore (Susan) - And After Death?"
Source: Blackmore - Dying to Live, Chapter 13
All things considered, I can see no reason to adopt the afterlife1 hypothesis. For me the arguments are overwhelming. The dying brain hypothesis, for all its shortcomings, does a better job of accounting for the experiences themselves. And it reveals not a false hope of the self surviving for ever but a genuine insight beyond the self. .Rejected arguments / hypotheses.
- The Consistency Argument: that NDEs are similar around the world and throughout history. So, NDEs are what they seem, and amount to evidence for an afterlife2.
- The Reality Argument: that NDEs feel so real that they must be what they seem, a real journey to the next world.
- The Paranormal Argument: that NDEs involve paranormal events that cannot be explained by science. Hence, NDEs must involve another dimension, another world or the existence of a non-material spirit or soul.
- The Transformation Argument: that people are changed by their NDEs, sometimes dramatically for the better, becoming more spiritual and less materialistic; which is evidence for NDEs being spiritual experiences in another world.
We are biological organisms, evolved in fascinating ways for no purpose at all and with no end in mind. We are simply here and this is how it is. I have no self and ‘I’ own nothing. There is no one to die. There is just this moment, and now this and now this.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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