Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Proof of an afterlife?

Dr. Jeffrey Long has evidence of the afterlife...

If by evidence, you mean the same anecdotal stories about near-death experiences (NDEs) that everyone else presents, along with a flawed conclusion:

In the book, Long contends his study shows that accounts of near-death experiences play out remarkably similarly among the people who have had them, crossing age and cultural boundaries to such a degree that they can’t be chalked up simply to everyone having seen the same Hollywood movie.

I know of no one who suggests NDEs are solely due to cultural norms.  We know that people have similar experiences when they are near death.  But this only proves that death causes similar experiences in the brain.  And given that we have similar experiences, it is no surprise that people in different cultures recount similar NDE stories.  The experience is no proof that an afterlife exists.

In fact, other circumstances can cause similar experiences, even when the person is not really near death.  Lack of oxygen to the brain causes hallucinations, peacefulness, and feelings of flying (similar to stories of out of body experiences).  We also know that activity in the right temporal lobe can cause many of the classic elements of NDEs (bright lights, peacefulness, false memories, presence of God, etc.). A host of other natural explanations for NDEs exist as well.

Given that we have several possible natural explanations for NDEs, and that similar experiences occur due to naturally occurring phenomenon which likely occur during a near death episode (lack of oxygen to the brain, activity in the frontal lobe, etc.), suggests the the supernatural explanation is less likely to be true.  Scientists have not conclusively shown which of these phenomena are the cause of NDEs, but its would be quite a coincidence if NDEs were some distinct supernatural phenomenon from the given natural explanation, given the overlap.

Also see Penn and Teller discussing NDEs on Bullshit here.

There is also a poll on the website asking the question "Do you believe in an afterlife?"  It appears to already be in the process of Pharyngulation.  I guess PZ has already written about this story.

EDIT:  I should have linked to Dr. Long's book: Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences.


  1. What really gets me about all the NDEs that people want to use as proof of an afterlife is that it was only NEAR Death, which means that throughout the entire episode there was brain activity. So why should we not accept NDE as hallucinations?

  2. That's a good point Soulless. I wonder how many of these people feel about things like life support. It seems like it would be wrong to put someone on life support if they really are with God in some supernatural realm. It wouldn't surprise me if that weren't the case, given the religiousity.

  3. I have spoke to someone who claims to have had a NDE and he swore up and down that he was dead for so many minutes. I said, "So you were dead." He said, "Yeah I was dead" so I said to him, "If you were dead, why the hell are you still here?"
    "Oh they brought be back to life."

    Whatever. Why can't people understand that when you're really dead you can't be resuscitated?
    Seriously, it's like beating your head against a brick wall with these people.