Without death there can be life

Is there a life after death? Near-death research and near-death experiences provide answers

Death is one of the issues that preoccupy people, if only because it is inevitable for them. But also because death eludes our human science. The final “borderline experience” (Karl Jaspers) is surrounded by speculations and myths because people can only approach this borderline with their sensual experience from one side. The other side, the “beyond”, eludes empirical access (and thus science). The hereafter is an essential object of belief, not of knowledge. This leads to a paradox: we know nothing with greater certainty than that we have to die, but at the same time we know with the greatest certainty nothing about what awaits us in death and afterwards.

The activism of modern medicine deprives people of the opportunity to die in dignity. The philosopher Robert Spaemann studied dying as part of life. (Bioethics Series Part 3)

All the more fascinating is the fact that there are people who apparently were able to overcome this barrier to knowledge by briefly crossing the death line and were able to experience death or dying as a quality of sensual experience and therefore report on such an experience. We are talking about "near-death experiences". The phenomenon of near-death experience can be approached in different ways: scientifically like Birk Engmann in “Mythos near-death experience” (2011) or in a philosophical sense like Michael Nahm in “When darkness comes to an end: Terminal mental clarity and other unusual phenomena near death” (2012). What these methodologically different approaches have in common is the author's external perspective, who bases his analysis on the descriptions of third parties - researcher and subject are and remain separate. In addition, there is near-death research in self-experiment, the description and interpretation of one's own near-death experience - researcher and subject come together, as in Eben Alexander's “View into Eternity” (2013).

Naturalistic narrowing

Birk Engmann, neurologist and neurologist from Leipzig, describes and interprets near-death experiences with reference to the history of near-death research, to relevant medical studies and with the help of his own interpretive approaches. The brevity of the presentation is due to the fact that this is often a somewhat superficial approach; There is very little room in the 100-page book for considering non-scientific interpretations. When depicting religious “contradictions”, a blatant misunderstanding of beliefs is often the cause of the postulated inconsistencies that the author raises in the form of questions, but this stylistic device cannot hide the fact that belief has little sense of its meaning and meaning is dealt with - for example, when Engmann rhetorically asks how it could be that even the “dying” Otto normal believer reports of a “encounter with God” as a form of personal revelation.

"Is the intensive contact with God not only a grace that is bestowed on saints and apostles, but that some can claim for themselves during their lifetime?" Asks the author "from a Christian point of view", obviously devoid of any more detailed information regarding the terms " God ”,“ grace ”and“ holiness ”- from a Christian point of view. To continue to ask what “significance” a “Christian way of life” still has, if one gets the near-death encounter with God virtually free of charge, does not necessarily testify to a great knowledge of the Christian faith and is at best to be called absurd. None of this throws a good light on the seriousness of the author’s efforts to understand “alternative” (i.e. non-scientific) approaches to the phenomenon of near death, the representatives of which are sometimes denied reason elsewhere: Whoever has medical theories of a methodological Subject to fundamental criticism, is in the author's eyes "opponent of a rational point of view".

Clarify contradictions

It would not only be important to subject recognized problems and apparent contradictions in near-death research of past decades and centuries to a scientific criticism, but also to competently confront medical theories with near-death interpretations of non-naturalistic provenance, such as the relevant research work Pim van Lommels, whose book “Endless Consciousness: New Medical Facts on Near Death Experience”, published in 2009, does not include Engmann. Instead, he approaches a scientific explanatory model very quickly and purposefully - an approach that can be described as unsuccessful.

Criticism and openness

Successful work in the field of near-death research is ideally above the assumed assumptions and takes into account current laboratory findings, but does not interpret them by ignoring traditional knowledge of cultural-religious provenance. Good near-death research is therefore neither ahistorical nor blind to the present. Good near-death research combines results from the natural sciences and the humanities to a holistic interpretation of what is happening on the edge of our existence. One result of particularly successful near-death research in this sense is the study by Michael Nahm, who, as a natural scientist, competently assesses the brain physiological processes in connection with near-death experiences (a whole chapter is devoted to the brain, its functioning and organic anomalies), but in his judgment the existing explanatory gaps does not deny it, but on the contrary emphasizes it pointedly: “The more we know about the brain, the less we understand it. You should take note of that. "

This realization leads to a reasonable modesty, as it is not shown by all near-death researchers: "All subsequent speculations and theories regarding our brain functions should accordingly be conducted carefully and undogmatically." This methodological humility also includes confronting the current state of research with findings from the history of medicine without falling into an anachronistic transfiguration of premodern interpretations. In short: Took his difficult craft with the skepticism it deserves and an affirmative embedding of it in his story.

The individual potential of the soul

The near-death experience network sheds light on the different paths that are currently being taken in near-death research

The key concept in Nahm's presentation is “terminal mental clarity”. When the soul detaches itself from the body at the hour of death (or the consciousness of its physical concretion in the brain matter), then, as many non-scientific, also disparate sources show, poorly accessible sources in which the experiences of nursing staff in hospices arise are just as collected as the stories of close relatives of dying people, often moments of spiritual awareness, despite the fact that some of the dying have suffered from dementia for years (ie: “spiritlessness”), just as if the soul received “its very own” in death individual potential back ”. Nahm calls this peculiar process "terminal mental clarity" and places it at the center of his near-death research, asking himself how it can be that the dying can regain access to memories that were created in the course of dementia "through the destruction of the relevant parts of the brain have been irretrievably deleted ".

Nahm's conclusion: “Anyone who believes that unusual and previously unexplained phenomena occur near death and that consciousness can even survive death can make some good arguments for this. The skeptical opinion that dominates the scientific community, on the other hand, has to rely on hypotheses that appear well-constructed and that, on closer inspection, prove to be unsound. ”A realistic view of things.

Own experience

Can it get any more realistic? Probably only in the subjective view. The neurosurgeon Eben Alexander had a near-death experience himself. He describes it in a book that became a bestseller: Proof of Heaven (in German: "Blick in die Ewigkeit"). Alexander writes a report about his journey into another dimension - comprehensible, impressive and competent. He brings near-death research to a completely new level of knowledge. It is very seldom the case that someone who has had a near-death experience himself writes about it in a competent, investigative manner - because when does a person in the field of neurology or brain research ever have a near-death experience itself?

In the week from November 10th to 17th, 2008 the time had come. During these seven days, the neurosurgeon and brain specialist Eben Alexander, internationally renowned author and speaker and lecturer at Harvard, was in a coma due to a rare form of bacterial meningitis. It sounds cynical, but in view of the experience that the patient was allowed to have in the hospital bed, one is inclined to speak of a "stroke of luck" - for science, for humanity and not least for Eben Alexander himself, who experienced a broadened horizon changed his life.

Message of love and hope

Alexander, who until his experience beyond time and physicality was one of the more skeptical minds, i.e. those who consider near-death experiences to be phantoms and reduce them to physiological aspects, experiences a journey into the infinity of a stream of consciousness in which he presents a three-part message of the Receives love and hope, which he recognizes after careful examination as “universal truth”, uttered by “real” entities outside his body: “The message went through me like a wind and I understood immediately that it was true. I knew it the same way I knew the world around us was real - no fantasy, nothing fleeting and insubstantial. ”Is that believable? “Remember who is talking to you here. I'm not a stupid emotional person. ”The clarity with which Alexander experiences this surreal world in a very real way leaves little doubt that it exists. Therefore, the English original title is rightly thick: Proof of Heaven - "Himmelsbeweis".

The hereafter is an essential object of faith. But what can we know about it? Three very different approaches to near-death research - naturalistic (Birk Engmann), philosophical of consciousness (Michael Nahm), as a result of very personal experience (Eben Alexander) - reveal the difficulty of interpreting what happens at the moment of "transition". They show that scientific explanations cannot fully explore the depth of a near-death experience.

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