Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Joyce Brown: Wisdom that is saving Lives

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In 2005, Dr. Joyce Brown received a call through her suicide hotline from a woman in panic: Her brother John was about to shoot himself, she said. He had just said goodbye to her by phone.

Moments later, Joyce Brown called her brother. What she left on his answering machine made him put the gun down. The next day, he was engrossed in reading her life story.

What if life becomes unbearable?
Joyce Brown (b. 1933) grew up in the U.S. state of Idaho during a time of great economic hardship. Her single mother struggled to keep herself and her daughter afloat as a janitor. At school, Joyce was ostracized because of her poor clothes, and a teacher beat her so badly that she lost part of her hearing.

At 18, she married a cab driver she had met two and a half weeks earlier. Soon they had three children, but they were not a harmonious family: the marriage was unhappy, and after eight years they divorced.

At the age of 27, the young mother suffered a serious car accident, and a short time later a second one. During the following years, she had to undergo eight major back surgeries. She suffered almost constantly from enormous pain. When she was 39 years old, the doctors told her that she would never get rid of her pain. She would be paralyzed for the rest of her life and would only be able to move her arms and hands. Fortunately, this diagnosis did not come true. But just as she had painstakingly learned to walk again, an antibiotic caused her to lose her sense of balance.

She also suffered severe setbacks in her professional life: she abandoned a modeling career because she was repeatedly sexually harassed. As a real estate agent, she was initially so successful that her boss soon wanted to hire only women. But because of the numerous business trips, she had to end this career as well. So she became a consultant with a business idea for generating electrical energy from waste. She had already signed up her first customer, and other municipalities showed interest, when she was deprived of her shares in the lucrative business through legal tricks.

In all this, Joyce was accompanied by the thought that a way out was always open to her: to take her own life. That idea attracted her since she was eight years old. Back then, at a funeral, she heard people say that the deceased person was now "at peace." So to be happy in heaven, all you had to do was die. If it was that simple, why struggle in this world? This attitude was reinforced by her father, who raved to her about his paradisiacal near-death experience when she was 17, and who took his own life in 1980.

How far does the power of positive thinking extend?
On the other hand, however, Joyce also developed a positive, life-affirming approach at age 25: She discovered that she could overcome her negative thoughts through powerful positive reinforcement. She practiced this positive reprogramming of her consciousness very consistently from then on, even while sleeping. As a result, she gained considerable self-confidence.

But the setbacks did not stop. In December 1981 she had a serious fall; a little later she fell again; one illness replaced the other; she could no longer bear her antibiotics, had pains all over her body, suffered from muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing. At the time, she did not know that an incipient ALS disease was the cause. After losing the coverage of her health insurance, she could no longer afford even the necessary examinations - especially since her house needed costly repairs.

All of this was apparently too much for Joyce. Twice she tried to take her own life. Then, in January 1983, a doctor told her that she would soon die of natural causes. For a 49-year-old woman, this was a devastating diagnosis. But Joyce rejoiced, to her this was like a gift from heaven: she would soon be allowed to die without having to lay a hand on herself again.

A short time later, it seemed that the time had come: Joyce collapsed in her bathroom.

Near-death experience 
She found herself outside her body. Her pain was gone, her perception clearer than ever. Walls were no longer obstacles for her.

God was close to her. She learned that He loves us all unconditionally and is full of mercy and grace for us. Knowledge she had never known was open to her.

All at once she understood how silly and unnecessary are most of the quarrels we fight in this life. Quarreling couples were shown to her, hurting and dividing each other with careless words, even though they loved each other.

Looking back on her life, she was happy about the moments when she had managed to hold her tongue instead of letting an absurd argument escalate. In contrast, she was now sorry for every harsh word she had ever spoken to others.

Arguing about opinions now seemed pointless to her. Our opinions correspond to the level of mental development at which we find ourselves. Instead of attacking each other for it, we should listen to each other in an atmosphere of love and understanding. Being right is not desirable if it humiliates your partner.

Life is too short to hold grudges against others. Instead, we do well to forgive generously. We should not wait until the other person repents to do so. How sad if he or she dies before we have reconciled. Or if we die unreconciled, taking our resentment with us into the other world.

Instead of waiting for others to repent, we should repent for what we ourselves have done to them. In doing so, we do the greatest favor to ourselves. For in the other world our repentance acts like an eraser: all the bad deeds that Joyce had sincerely repented of in her life no longer appeared in her life review.

Let us not wait with reconciliation until justice has been done to us. We can confidently leave justice to God. He will confront every person with his or her injustice soon enough. Every person - including ourselves: As we judge, so shall we be judged. If you want to be forgiven by God, you have to forgive yourself.

We easily underestimate how valuable the small kindnesses are that we show to one another. Not only to our fellow human beings, but to all creatures. Even the smallest kindness makes ripples, like a stone we throw into water, touching many lives.

We cannot take our material goods with us to the other world. What we can take with us, however: How patiently and lovingly we have dealt with others, how helpful we have been.

Which religion a person belongs to is not decisive. God, Joyce learned, appreciates people of all religions who work on themselves to become better. Let us accept each other in the stage of development we are in.

We would love to have a life without problems and misfortunes. But that would not be good for us. Because the difficulties we face are our spiritual training program. With every challenge we accept, we strengthen our spiritual muscles.

Without need, however, we should not aggravate our problems either. Yet that is exactly what we do when we run away from them. Instead of taking refuge in drugs and alcohol, we should accept what life confronts us with. Accepted suffering strengthens our ability to feel for and help others.

All too quickly we become dissatisfied with our bodies, thinking them too fat, too old or too sick. In contrast, Joyce learned during her near-death experience how useful our bodies are, whatever ailments they may have: without them, we could not fulfill our purpose on this earth.

We make our self-esteem dependent on how we look, what others think of us, or what we have in our bank account. Yet none of this is important to God. He loves us as we are. We are His children: that is what counts. That is what we should base our self-confidence on. When we do that, we throw off the chains we have put on ourselves.

Our mind is more powerful than we think. Only if we constantly provide it with good suggestions will it work for us. We should therefore avoid discouraging thoughts.

We tend to underestimate our ability to learn. If we are on a wrong path, we can realize that and change the direction of our life. Looking back, this will fill us with great joy in the other life.

We are measured only by our actual possibilities 
But how free are we really? Aren't we limited by our circumstances?

Yes, we are. But we should not focus our attention on that. Because one day we won't be asked, "What did you do with the opportunities you didn't have?" but "What did you do with what you did have?"

We are not in unfair competition with people who had more favorable starting conditions than we did. For it is not by them that we will one day be measured. We are in competition solely with ourselves. Therefore, it makes no sense to blame other people or unfavorable circumstances for our own mistakes. To make the best out of what we have - that is always up to us.

Therefore, no one has the power to defeat us. No one can take away from us what matters: to keep going against all odds, to look for solutions, to strive for a life in harmony with the eternal truths, to toil and persevere as long as we live.

Suicide is not the way to peace 
Making the best of any situation is something we can't do that if we throw our lives away. That's why Joyce warns: the hope of finding peace through suicide is deceptive. During her near-death experience, she saw suicidal people who were horrified by the suffering they had caused their loved ones. They wanted to ask their loved ones for forgiveness, but their loved ones could not see or hear them.

Suicide is not the path to peace, Joyce has been convinced since her near-death experience. If we want to experience our death as a transition to our true home some day, then we must first face the challenges of this life as they come. Death is redemptive only if we have not willfully brought it on ourselves. Not even near-death experiencers can return to the peaceful place where they were so happy by taking their own lives: Like all of us, they must first take upon themselves whatever befalls them, until the end of their lives.

Pain over missed opportunities 
For Joyce, the time had come: her earthly life was over. She painfully realized how many opportunities to do good she had missed. How she would have loved to return to her physical body to tell her family how much she loved them. Now it was too late. Never again would she be able to seize the opportunities to grow spiritually that only this earthly life holds. Everything she had not said would remain unsaid forever.

But then she got her second chance after all.

After the near-death experience 
As abruptly as Joyce had left her body, she found herself in it. Overjoyed despite the pain that had returned, she wanted to take on every challenge from then on, to grow from it.

And the challenges were not long in coming: to be sure, Joyce initially made health progress that doctors had not thought possible. But in 1988, at the age of 54, she received a diagnosis that is considered a death sentence: she had the incurable nerve disease ALS. Doctors gave her only a few more months.

But Joyce managed the impossible: That same year, she assures, she overcame the disease completely. She had fought ALS through holistic nutrition and medicine, prayer, and the belief that she could be cured, supported by meditation and positive reinforcement while awake and asleep.

Legal disputes with her former business partners sapped her strength for years. It was not until 1992 that a less than favorable settlement was reached. After that, Joyce focused entirely on helping people with their spiritual, mental and health concerns. As a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (N.M.D.), she worked with renowned medical experts and became involved in a group to cure ALS.

In 1998, her second husband Earl died, 14 years after doctors diagnosed him with a life expectancy of a few weeks. In 1999, she founded the non-profit organization Stress and Grief Relief, Inc. which, among other things, is dedicated to fighting suicide and its causes.

Through this commitment, Joyce Brown has prevented many suicides. But to her great pain, she was unable to stop her half-sister from taking this step: Shirley took her own life in late June 2003. Joyce agonized over feelings of guilt until one day Shirley appeared to her and encouraged her to leave grief and feelings of guilt behind.

Joyce Brown's warning against suicide, then, should not be misunderstood: Not at all does it mean that those left behind by a suicide should despair. God unconditionally loves people who have taken their own lives as well. He understands how they came to this. Joyce is confident that they, too, will eventually experience forgiveness and peace. Nowhere does she speak of eternal damnation.

The strokes of fate in her life did not cease: in 2003 she suffered another traffic accident with serious health consequences. In 2006, her house burned down shortly after she had married a third time. Her husband suffered from kidney disease, which soon worsened so much that doctors estimated his life expectancy at only two months. But once again, Joyce succeeded a miracle: He survived his diagnosis by ten years. And when Joyce went "terminally" blind in November 2011, she regained her sight the very next year.

"There is nothing more we can do for you" - accepting such a medical finding is not Joyce Brown's thing. In 2022, at the age of 89, she continues to be active. Despite her severe back pain, she continues to share her experiences and insights, teach techniques for overcoming depression, anger and stress, and save lives in suicide prevention.

And what became of John, who had been about to shoot himself in 2005? He went on to study psychology and now works in suicide prevention himself.

What had stopped him from taking his own life back then? It was Joyce's words on his answering machine: "Don't you want to know where you're going before you pull the trigger on that gun? What if it's worse for you after you die than it is right now?" She found out personally, Joyce continued at the time, that it wasn't always nice on the other side regardless of what we have done here on earth.

Dear reader, whether you believe in life after death or not, there is one thing we can perhaps agree on: This life is an opportunity that is quickly over and that will never return. We should not let it pass by unused. We will die soon enough.


This translation from German is based on DeepL.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Near-death experiences: Why the physiological explanations are not sufficient

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Near death, many people have the most intense experience of their lives: a near-death experience. They leave their body - as they later report -, observe resuscitation efforts from above, enter another world, encounter deceased relatives there and a being of light who loves them unconditionally, relive their lives from the perspective of the people they have dealt with well or badly, and finally return to their bodies because their task in this life has not yet been fulfilled. After that, they are unshakably convinced that their lives have meaning and that there is life after death. Their values change: they are no longer competition- and success-oriented, but find it important to be fully present in the here and now and to lovingly encounter the people they are about to deal with.

Is this experience a sensory illusion of the dying brain? If so, it should actually be fully explainable physiologically, whether now or in the future. Or does it really happen at the transition to the world beyond, which awaits us after our death and from which our life on this side gets its meaning? Then every physiological explanation would have to come up against a limit which remains insurmountable.

If there is an expert on these questions, it is Bruce Greyson. The psychiatrist and neuroscientist is a natural scientist through and through. For a long time, he was convinced, like probably most of his colleagues: Everything that is, consists of physics; God does not exist; spirit exists only as an earth-historically late by-product of complex matter; when the brain dies, consciousness dies too. He abandoned this physicalist worldview only when he had a personal experience incompatible with it. Since then, he has been researching the phenomenon of near-death experience with the care and expertise of a natural scientist.

What has he found out? He reports about it among other things in his latest book "After". In the following, I rely mainly on his chapter about near-death experiences from the anthology "Consciousness Unbound" by Edward Kelly et al. (2021).

The physiological explanations and their limitations
How Greyson deals with all current physiological attempts of explanation: Of these, I can only offer a succinct summary here. If you want to know it more exactly, please read Bruce Greyson himself. With him you will also find the corresponding literature evidence and references to further literature.

Are near-death experiences caused by ...

  • ... lack of oxygen?
    Against this speaks:
    Near-death experiences also occur with increased or normal oxygen content in the blood.

  • ... an increased CO2 content in the blood?
    Against this speaks:
    Near-death experiences also occur with low and normal CO2 levels.

  • ... malfunctions of the brain?
    Against this speaks:
    Malfunctions of the brain impair the ability to think and lead to confused hallucinations. In contrast, near-death experiencers report clarity of thought. Their perceptions are not confused, but have a meaningful inner context.

  • ... medication?
    Against this speaks:
    Near-death experiences also occur without medication. Patients who receive medication report near-death experiences even less frequently than those who do not.

  • ... drugs?
    Against this speaks:
    True, some drugs produce experiences that can be described as spiritual. But these are very different from near-death experiences. This is also true of ketamine intoxication, which is actually said to bear the greatest resemblance to near-death experiences. While near-death experiences are usually exhilarating, with ketamine the terrifying experiences predominate.
    Most importantly, most near-death experiences do not occur under the influence of drugs.

  • ... REM activity in the brain, which is typical for dream states?
    REM is the sleep phase in which most dreams occur.
    Psychiatrists speculate that such REM activity could be induced by the dying brain to relieve the fear of death. In particular, they think of perceptions from the so-called "REM intrusion" such as an unusual light or the feeling of being dead.
    Against this speaks:
    After an REM experience, we realize that we have been dreaming. In contrast, near-death experiencers are unshakably convinced that their experience was real.
    Most importantly, near-death experiences often occur under conditions that make REM activity impossible, such as under general anesthesia.

  • ... hidden brain activity that is there without being detected by the electroencephalogram (EEG)?
    Against this speaks:
    It may be that there is
    some brain activity during a near-death experience that is not measurable. But the crucial question is a different one: Do those brain activities occur during the near-death experience that neuroscientists consider a necessary prerequisite for conscious experiences? These brain activities are measurable. And there are near-death experiences that have occurred at a time when it has been measured that these brain activities were not present.

  • ... an increase in electrical activity in the brain at the time of death?
    Against this speaks:
    This increase is not measurable with standard EEG. Therefore, it has only been detected with the bispectral index method. However, this method is very susceptible to interference. Various signals in the body, but also from the environment, can easily be misinterpreted as brain activity.
    In addition: Whereever this increase has been measured, a connection with near-death experiences has never been established.

Does enough electrical activity remain in the dying brain to produce a vivid and complex experience? Electrical activity was measured in the brains of dying rats 30 seconds after cardiac arrest. However, this was extremely low. It was only a fraction of the electrical activity before. To attribute this weak activity to the production of near-death experiences would contradict decades of clinical experience and research.

Most importantly, the increase in electrical activity after cardiac arrest in the brains of rats can be completely eliminated by anesthesia. However, near-death experiences also occur under anesthesia.

Can near-death experiences be attributed to a brain region?
Greyson also discusses in detail the attempts to find out in which region near-death experiences are located by stimulating certain brain regions. The main candidate here is considered to be the right temporal lobe. In fact, however, out-of-body experiences have been reported after brain surgery involving a wide variety of brain regions.

Perceptions artificially induced by stimulation of brain regions are quite different from near-death experiences:

  • Near-death experiencers repeatedly share correct observations from their out-of-body experiences that have as a prerequisite that they actually left their bodies. This is not the case with artificially induced out-of-body experiences.

  • The life reviews in near-death experiences are consistent, accurate, memorable, meaningful, and life-changing. In contrast, artificially induced memories are fleeting and dreamlike, and do not produce a change in one's outlook on life.

Another argument against attributing near-death experiences to a specific brain region is that memories of near-death experiences lead to activity in multiple brain regions.

Recent developments
In March 2022, news broke in the press that Estonian neurosurgeons had found the scientific explanation for near-death experiences. I summarized what Greyson had to say about this in my post of August 22, 2022.

Unfortunately, I have not yet found a statement from Greyson on the attempts to explain near-death experiences by discharge waves of the nerve cells. These waves occur a few minutes after a cardiovascular arrest, says neurologist Jens Dreier in Spektrum der Wissenschaft online (5.8.2022) (in German). According to him, they gradually spread throughout the brain, whose activity has actually already ceased 30 to 40 seconds after the cardiovascular arrest. Could these discharge waves be the cause of the light phenomena in near-death experiences? Dreier does not rule this out, but brings another possibility into play: endogenous drugs that might be released in this context. However, he himself describes these possibilities as "pure speculation". And because the discharge waves begin minutes after cardiovascular arrest, they can hardly explain those near-death experiences that take place before that time.

All physiological explanations for near-death experiences presented so far have as a prerequisite that a part of the reality of near-death experiences is ignored: Either one ignores those near-death experiences for which the proposed physiological conditions do not apply. Or one ignores features of a near-death experience that cannot be explained in this way.

But perhaps there is no need for
one explanation for all near-death experiences? Couldn't "near-death experience" be understood as a collective term for different phenomena with different physiological causes?

Against this, there are some features that most near-death experiences have in common: They are experienced as real, usually even more real than the reality that otherwise surrounds us; they are extremely complex and consistent; and they convey the same values across cultures: What matters in life is not status and material wealth. Rather, we are on earth to love and to learn.

Do near-death experiences show that consciousness can detach from the body?
Some phenomena associated with near-death experiences are considered by many to be concrete evidence that consciousness can detach from the body:

  • Increased mental activity at a time when such activity is not possible according to current brain research.

  • Perceptions during one's own operation from a perspective outside one's own body that are subsequently verified and confirmed by a third party.

  • Subsequently confirmed perceptions with sensory organs at a time when these sensory organs are switched off (e.g. visual perceptions despite taped eyes during surgery).

  • Subsequently confirmed observations at distant locations where the perceiving person was not physically present at the time of his/her observation.

  • Visual perceptions of blind people, including people blind from birth.

The phenomenon of terminal mental clarity also points in the same direction: people with high degree of dementia sometimes show mental clarity shortly before their death, which should actually no longer be possible in view of their irreversible brain damage.

Are near-death experiences cause for hope in life after death?
If consciousness can detach from the body: Does this mean that we have reason to hope that life continues after death? The following points of view speak in favor of this:

  • The conviction of almost all near-death experiencers that they - or a part of them - will live on after death.

  • Near-death experiences of children: These never report encounters with their closest living caregivers, but always encounters with people who have already died. This speaks against the fact that they are fantasies.

  • Encounters with the recently deceased, of whose death the person knew nothing before his near-death experience. Near-death experiencers have never been mistaken about whether a person is deceased or still alive.

  • Encounters with close deceased persons of whom the near-death experiencer did not know before, for example with the disowned biological father or with a sibling who died early and whom the parents had kept silent.

  • Near-death experiencers are always convinced that they met real people during their experience.

Near-death experiences are extremely intense, complex, and consistent experiences that often occur under conditions in which they are impossible according to current neurophysiological models. Sometimes they are accompanied by phenomena that are incompatible with the current scientific worldview. The experiencers themselves consider their experiences to be real, and afterwards they are unshakably convinced that life continues after death.

This finding does not force you into anything. How you deal with it is up to you. Whatever conclusion you may come to: You will always find experts who agree with you and experts who don't. Because this is where we touch on the ultimate questions. And experts can at best provide clues to these questions. Something else is decisive: your personal power of judgment. Don't let yourself be too impressed by any experts, regardless of which direction they belong to, but trust your own judgment instead.


This translation is based on DeepL Translator.

Monday, August 22, 2022

"Doctors find explanation for near-death experiences." Really?

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"Doctors find explanation for near-death experiences": This was the title of the BR24 newsletter on March 21, 2022. Similar headlines appeared in many other media. Apparently, the scientific explanation for near-death experiences had finally been found: Shortly before death, there is an increase in gamma waves in the brain, which is typical of vivid dreams and memories. So do we have to give up the hope that near-death experiences may portend life after death?

The study

The reason for the reports was a study by neurosurgeons from the University of Tartu in Estonia. They hooked up the brain of an 87-year-old epileptic to an EEG monitor when he went into cardiac arrest. The device remained connected for 30 seconds after his death. It recorded an increase in gamma waves just before the heart stopped and just after. A similar amplification of gamma waves had previously been measured in rats in induced cardiac arrest.

So, does it follow that the religious and spiritual expectations associated with near-death experiences are baseless? One reason why near-death experiences are fascinating is because they can allegedly occur even when there is no longer any brain activity. If this is true, then near-death experiences show that the spirit can detach from the body, possibly even surviving its death. However, the current study proves that this is not the case.

In earnest? Have the Estonian researchers actually demonstrated that brain activity is underlying near-death experiences? Meaning, that consciousness is always linked to brain activity, even in near-death experiences?

Voices on the study from the German “Netzwerk Nahtoderfahrung”

Netzwerk Nahtoderfahrung”, the German branch of IANDS, took up the topic in its April 2022 newsletter. The network chairman Joachim Nicolay, the neurologist Wilfried Kuhn and the journalist Werner Huemer (Thanatos TV), who extensively quoted the Swiss death researcher Reto Eberhard Rast, took a stand. Among other things, they pointed out the following:

The 87-year-old epileptic was not able to report any near-death experience because he died after the measurements. So we only have the medical data from this case. And they don't even show a flat line EEG, as one would actually expect with brain death. That's because death occurred during an epileptic seizure.

What was measured? The dying brain of an epileptic receiving antiepileptic drugs during an epileptic seizure. It can therefore be assumed that the measured gamma waves are related to epilepsy. Because epileptic seizures and antiepileptic drugs also lead to increased gamma waves. However, this gamma increase does not lead to conscious experiences in epileptics: No patient has ever reported a near-death experience or a state of lucid consciousness after an epileptic seizure. In fact, epileptics can't remember anything after their seizure because they were unconscious - gamma waves or not.

So why, in this particular case, should gamma waves be used to explain a near-death experience that we don't even know if the patient actually had?

There is another reason why it is unlikely that the measurements on this one patient could explain near-death experiences in general: near-death experiences can also occur under physiologically completely different conditions. For example, in perfectly healthy people in fear of death, under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, or in a fall in the mountains in the seconds or fractions of a second before the injury. But if near-death experiences occur under physiologically completely different conditions: how can the specific physiological conditions of an 87-year-old epileptic with no known near-death experience explain near-death experiences in general?

So that an increase in gamma waves causes the life flashback reported by near-death experiencers is pure speculation. Experiments with rats tortured to death cannot provide any information about this either. Because rats can report near-death experiences neither dead nor alive.

Bruce Greyson, Pim van Lommel and Peter Fenwick on the Topic

A commentary on the Estonian neurologists' study has appeared on the IANDS website, written by near-death researchers Bruce Greyson, Pim van Lommel and Peter Fenwick. They emphasize that what the authors of the study themselves do claim is one thing - what the media made of it is another.

Do the study authors claim to have solved the mystery of near-death experiences? Not at all: They call it speculation that the gamma waves they measured could serve as an explanation for near-death experiences. Only the media gave the impression that this was the ultimate explanation of near-death experiences. And they did so against the will of the authors. Because they expressly emphasize that their study should not be generalized: The gamma waves in the brain of the 87-year-old, they restrict, could be related to his traumatic brain injury, the medication administered, the lack of oxygen and the increased carbon dioxide content in his blood.

But that's not all: It is possible that the measured gamma waves, at least in part, do not even come from the brain: The results could have been influenced by waves from muscle contractions that were incorrectly measured.

Above all, however, a closer look reveals that the increase in gamma waves after the cardiac arrest, which the media claimed, was not even measured by the scientists. What they noticed was not an increase, but on the contrary a reduction in gamma waves. Only the relative proportion of gamma waves was increased compared to alpha, beta and delta waves. And that's only because the latter were reduced faster than the also receding gamma waves.

So much ado about nothing? In any case, the authors of the study were well advised to exercise caution in interpreting their data. And all the more so because they obviously knew the current state of research only insufficiently: In their study they write that there has never been any systematic research on brain activity during the dying process. In contrast, Greyson, van Lommel and Fenwick state: Clinical experience and research on the dying process has been around for decades.

And these decades of research have shown that brain activity typically declines in the eight seconds following a cardiac arrest, to flat line EEG around 18 seconds. Similar results have been reported from cases where brain activity was measured during cardiac arrest, such as during surgery. But with a flat line EEG, we don't have any gamma activity either. And reports of near-death experiences that took place during a flat line EEG do exist. Arguably the best-documented case is that of Pam Reynolds.

Apparently there are near-death experiences that happen at a point in time when no brain activity can be measured. At least none of the brain activities that, according to the current state of research, are a prerequisite for experiences of high coherence and complexity – and that's what near-death experiences are. In other words, we are faced with a conundrum. The Estonian study has not changed this.

Nice try. When's the next one?

Joachim Nicolay already stated in 2016: The news that the mystery of near-death experiences has now been solved has been appearing again and again in popular media for decades. Each time, a different physiological explanation is supposed to prove that it's just hallucinations. But if there were actually one scientifically proven explanation for near-death experiences, then you wouldn't have to keep coming up with a new explanation again and again.

So the controversy about the interpretation of near-death experiences cannot be ended that easily. The neurologist Jens Dreier may have heralded the next round in an interview with “Spektrum der Wissenschaft”. He says that 30 to 40 seconds after cardiac arrest, all brain activity is gone. But minutes later there is a huge wave of nerve cell discharges, comparable to a short circuit. In this emergency situation, the body releases drug substances, and these may be causing near-death experiences.

Dreier himself describes this conclusion as speculation. Whatever physiological facts the researchers may unearth, the question will always be: What do these facts explain and what do they not? And again and again the personal answer will depend on what you believe is possible. But that is more a question of worldview than one of facts.

What shouldn't be can't be

Our worldview narrows or widens our horizons. It determines which phenomena we consider relevant, or even acknowledge, and which we don't.

Materialists have strong motives for considering near-death experiences as irrelevant. Because near-death experiences go hand in hand with phenomena that modern science cannot explain: out-of-body experiences that subsequently turn out to be correct; telepathy; encounters with the deceased whose death was previously unknown. Dying persons and their loved ones can even share the same near-death experience – a neurobiologically inexplicable process (R. Moody et al., Glimpses of Eternity).

Neurobiological mechanisms can trigger near-death experiences. But to explain their complete process scientifically, including the paranormal side effects - nobody has managed that yet.

So if the ultimate scientific explanation for near-death experiences is presented in the media in the near future, you can confidently assume that these reports say more about the ideological prejudices and the time pressure of the journalists involved than about the near-death experiences themselves.


BR24, March 21, 2022 (in German): „Ärzte finden Erklärung für Nahtoderfahrungen“:,T0idJC2

Study „Enhanced Interplay of Neuronal Coherence and Coupling in the Dying Human brain“ (2022):

The Newsletter of the Netzwerk Nahtoderfahrung (Issue: April 2022) is available for members under

Commentary of the near-death researchers Bruce Greyson, Pim van Lommel and Peter Fenwick regarding the study mentioned above:

Interview with neurologist Jens Dreyer in Spektrum der Wissenschaft (in German) regarding the physiological basis of Near-death experiences (from a physicalist point of view):

Friday, August 5, 2022

What is Evidence?

Is there evidence of life after death? Before we answer that, let's get this straight: What is that - evidence?

The answer depends on what we're talking about: mathematics? Physics? A court case?

Absolutely compelling evidence – proof –, against which no objection is possible, only exists in abstract disciplines such as mathematics and logic. Here everything takes place within a purely formal system according to clearly defined rules. In all other sciences, whatever we may call proof or evidence must be measured against the reality that surrounds us.

 ... Physics ...
Physics and chemistry come close to the absolute certainty of mathematics because they can be mathematically modeled and experimentally repeated as often as desired. Newton's theory of gravitation, for example, can be expressed in mathematical formulas that allow very precise predictions. Their correctness can be checked experimentally at any time. Nevertheless, Newton's theory is today only considered an approximation of physical reality, very practicable indeed, however, Einstein's theory of relativity has proven to be more precise and appropriate. So, even a mathematically modeled theory that has been tested countless times can one day be replaced by a better theory.

 ... Climate Research ...
Experimental verifiability is a strong criterion. But we shouldn't apply this standard to all scientific theories: the Big Bang, for example, is a unique event in the past. That it happened can be inferred from observable phenomena, but the Big Bang cannot be repeated in experiments. We should also not demand experimental verifiability from the climate sciences, because the catastrophe they warn about will only unfold its full force in the future. Whether the worst can still be averted depends on conditions that climate research cannot fully grasp and certainly cannot control. Only this much is certain: We must act before the climate collapses – in other words: before we have the ultimate proof that the disaster warning was correct.

... Biology ...
The criterion of mathematical modeling is also not applicable to all scientific theories. In biology, for example, experimental verifiability is possible: countless laboratory rats can be tortured again and again with the same experimental setup. But the results cannot be poured into mathematical formulas.

We have to make further cuts in the case of scientific theories, which can neither be mathematically modeled nor experimentally tested. This applies, for example, to the theory of evolution or to paleontology, i.e. the science of historical creatures that are only available as fossils. But even such theories can be very valid if they are confirmed by large numbers of high-quality finds.

... the Multiverse Theory ...
And then there are scientific theories that can neither be tested in reality nor mathematically modeled nor experimentally repeated. Such theories have no probative value, they are pure speculation. An example is the multiverse theory, according to which there are other universes outside of our universe. Whether this is true cannot be determined.

... History...
Let's leave the sphere of the natural sciences and turn to the historical sciences. They are in a less comfortable situation: their subject is historical events. These can only sometimes be confirmed by archaeological finds, such as the sudden end of Pompeii. Often historians have to rely on a few written sources, sometimes written decades after the event reported. Can we trust such sources? Whatever the answer may be, historians are treading on comparatively thin ice. We have to accept that, if we want to learn something about important events from antiquity and the Middle Ages.

… in Court ...
Also, many court judgments are not based on physical evidence, but on the testimony of witnesses. If credible witnesses make statements under oath that do not contradict each other or the real world: then these statements are accepted as evidence. In chemistry, this would be unthinkable. In the legal system, it's enough to put people behind bars for years. 

... afterlife research.
And what about possible evidence of life after death: what standards should apply here?

Many want to set the standard so high that it cannot be reached by any kind of research, because: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". After all - so they reason - the assumption of an afterlife would call into question everything that the natural sciences have so far discovered.

I think that's wrong. If there were to be a dimension that goes beyond what can be scientifically ascertained, then nothing would change in natural science at all. The question of the hereafter should be examined in the same way as other questions: if it turns out that experiments are possible, then let's do them. If, on the other hand, experiments prove impossible, let us not demand them. If we would have no other evidence with this subject than testimonies, then we would have to content ourselves with examining them.

Would you allow this testimony to the afterlife trial?
In the 1970s, in the emergency room of a psychiatric institution, a young doctor was talking to a  woman who had tried to commit suicide and just come out of her coma. When he had examined her the day before, she had not yet been responsive. At that time, he had left her to go into another room and have a conversation with another patient.

When a day later he examined the suicidal woman again, she was just waking up and able to respond to him: "I know you," she said. - "It's possible," he replied, "I examined you yesterday." - "No, I don't mean that," she replied.

And then she described to him in detail what had happened to him after he had gone to the other room the day before: with whom he had spoken and about what, where he and his interlocutor had been sitting, what he had been wearing and how both had moved. That is, very specific details that she couldn't possibly know, and yet she knew.

The doctor who reported this personal experience is Bruce Greyson. Previously a convinced atheist, this experience made him a co-founder of the International Association of Near-death Studies (IANDS) and one of the most important near-death researchers. I cannot provide evidence that what Bruce Greyson reported about this experience is true. But I got an impression of his personality and let his report work on me. Since then I can't help but believe him.

So I have no evidence with which to refute a skeptical commission, but one that does convince me. It is not surprising that such evidence convinces some, others not: witness testimonies are not as compelling as mathematical proofs. I suggest we allow them anyway. After all, this isn't about math.

 This post is based on a chapter from „Dieu - La science Les preuves: L'aube d'une révolution“ by Michel-Yves Bolloré and Olivier Bonnassies (2021).

Theism vs. Atheism: What does Science say?

Was the universe brought into being by a divine creator?

Concerning this question, the fronts seem to be clear: The scientists on the one hand state that there are no indications for a divine origin at all. The religious on the other hand keep putting their cherished mythological idea of a divine creator above the scientific facts.

This view is challenged by the French authors Michel-Yves Bolloré and Olivier Bonnassies in their recent book „Dieu – La science – Les Preuves“ („God – The Science – The Evidence“, October 2021). 20 scientists have been involved; the preface is written by a legend of physics: Robert W. Wilson, Nobel laureate and discoverer of the cosmic background radiation. 

Natural sciences undermining religious belief

Bolloré and Bonnassies admit that the natural sciences have indeed undermined religious belief. Scientific findings became the building blocks of an atheistic worldview. The astronomical discoveries of Copernicus (1543) and Galileo (1610) banished man from the center of the universe. Newton (1687) deified nature and subjected it to the laws of mechanics. Darwin (1859) degraded man to a random product of mutation and selection. The social sciences followed suit: Marx (1870) called on the oppressed working class to free themselves from the old order of church and state (1870). Freud (1896) declared religion to be pathological and motivated by unconscious impulses.

Wheels of knowledge grind slowly: It took centuries for the atheistic worldview to penetrate so far that it seemed to be widely accepted, at least in the natural sciences.

Natural sciences undermining atheistic belief

Even today, those wheels grind slowly. But, surprisingly enough, they meanwhile grind on the opposite realization: God is back. It's not generally accepted yet, but atheism can no longer appeal to the natural sciences.

It started with Einstein: His theory of relativity (1905–1915) showed that time, space and matter are not eternal, but rather came into existence together. Mustn't the universe then have a cause outside itself?

Big Bang: The universe has a starting point 

The Big Bang Theory (starting in the 1920s), which was only later called so, pointed into the same direction. It came up at a time, when it was considered taboo in physics to doubt the eternity of the universe. The objection to the big bang theory was: If the universe had a beginning, then someone must have started it—which would bring us to the religious notion of a Creator God. And that must not be.

A bizarre situation had thus arisen in the natural sciences: now it was no longer the pious, but the materialism-oriented scientists who refused to accept reality for ideological reasons. And the proponents of the Big Bang theory felt their resistance painfully: although the big bang theory was already evident decades earlier, it was only recognized in 1964 under the pressure of irrefutable empirical evidence.

And the attempts to assert the eternity of the universe despite the Big Bang continued. According to the big crunch theory, after the current phase of expansion, the universe would eventually contract again, making a cyclical process conceivable. This theory, according to Bolloré and Bonnassies, has been disproved since 1998: Today we know that one day there will be nothing in the universe but evenly distributed photons in a cooled, gigantic space.

Quantum mechanics: Determinism is wrong

Quantum mechanics (1900-1930) also seems difficult to reconcile with a materialistic-deterministic worldview. According to it, the iron law of cause and effect is invalid at the micro level, elementary particles can be in two places at the same time and systems can interact independently of space and time.

Fine-tuned universe: Supposing a plan behind the universe is reasonable

The thesis that the universe originated from unintentionally random processes is even more questionable in view of the fine-tuning of the natural constants (1960–2020): the four basic forces of physics – gravitation, electromagnetism, weak and strong interactions – are extremely precisely coordinated. If only one of these forces were adjusted slightly differently, instead of our universe there would be either nothing or absolute chaos, but definitely no life.

Take, for example, the relation between electromagnetism and gravitation. It's extremely precisely adjusted. The mathematician John Lennox illustrated how improbable it would be to randomly find the measure required for life here: Pave an area the size of Russia with small coins, on each of these coins build a pillar with more coins, the height of which corresponds to the distance between the earth and the moon, multiply the whole thing by a billion and then blindly pick out precisely that single coin from this huge mass of coins that is the only one colored red. Isn't a planning intelligence the more probable cause?

Origin of life: still unexplained

And it gets even tighter for the supporters of chance, when it comes to biology. – Biology? Shouldn't this be a domain of atheism on the basis of the theory of evolution? Well, the variety of species may be explained on the evolutionary terms exhaustively. But what about the origin of life?

According to Bolloré and Bonnassies, we are much further away from an explanation for the origin of life than materialistic biologists would have us believe. Their claim that the primordial soup experiments would have brought us much closer to the mystery is illusory. If you compare the degree of complexity of the most complex structure that emerged from these experiments with the degree of complexity of the simplest single-celled organism, you will find that the difference is as big as that between a screw and a car.

The astronomer and mathematician Fred Hoyle illustrated how improbable it is that life could have developed by chance from inanimate matter: We could just as easily believe that a storm could whirl the parts of a spare parts warehouse together in such a way that a Boeing 747 is being assembled.

But who knows: maybe a Boeing 747 could actually be made from a spare parts store if only there was enough time for countless tiny intermediate steps?

Multiverse: wishful thinking? 

Materialists seem to think so. They have also come up with a theory to ward off the impositions of the big bang and fine-tuning: the multiverse theory. According to it, there is not just one universe, but infinitely many, whose parameters are all randomly adjusted in some way, without any plan behind it. The sheer mass of the universes then explains why our universe is randomly adjusted to be life-friendly. Just as it can be statistically explained that someone will succeed in hitting the jackpot in the lottery if only enough players take part.

So, is our universe the one who accidentally drew the red-colored coin of life-friendliness because an infinite number of other universes didn't?

That cannot be disproved. But is that still physics? The multiverse theory is based on mere speculation, it cannot be falsified by any experiments. Therefore, isn't it the kind of theory that philosophers of science call "so bad they're not even wrong"? Isn't it a desperate attempt to explain away the likelihood of an intelligent plan behind our existence, against all odds?

Who is sticking to the facts, who is practicing wishful thinking? I'd at least leave the question open.

 This post is based on an article I wrote for the newsletter of "Netzwerk Nahtoderfahrung", the German branch of IANDS.