One really interesting change in science literature on near death experiences in recent years has been growing respect, possibly due to more information about them. For example, when people claim that they could see colors not normally available to humans, there is at least a possible science basis for that.
In a recent edition of Scientific American neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, founded by a Microsoft billionaire, doesn’t discount them. He would like to find a fully naturalist explanation but that is quite different from past efforts to explain them as mere hallucinations, which failed to take into account their life-changing effects.
He has said about them,
I accept the reality of these intensely felt experiences. They are as authentic as any other subjective feeling or perception. As a scientist, however, I operate under the hypothesis that all our thoughts, memories, percepts and experiences are an ineluctable consequence of the natural causal powers of our brain rather than of any supernatural ones. That premise has served science and its handmaiden, technology, extremely well over the past few centuries. Unless there is extraordinary, compelling, objective evidence to the contrary, I see no reason to abandon this assumption.
The challenge, then, is to explain NDEs within a natural framework. As a longtime student of the mind-body problem, I care about NDEs because they constitute a rare variety of human consciousness and because of the remarkable fact that an event lasting well under an hour in objective time leaves a permanent transformation in its wake, a Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus—no more fear of death, a detachment from material possessions and an orientation toward the greater good. Or, as in the case of Hemingway, an obsession with risk and death.
Christof Koch, “What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about the Brain” at Scientific American (June 2020)
Well, that might be true. Or maybe not. The critical question today is, can there be a continued honest discussion?
It appears to be starting.
Note: In the past, most explanations have been dismissive, despite the frequently life-changing nature of the experiences.
What if a near-death experience is as vision of hell? It happens but isn’t the end.
Do near-death experiences defy science? NDEs do not defy science. They sometimes challenge human senses, which are based on our biology. For example, if the human eye’s usual limitations were not a factor, previously unknown colors—which we KNOW from science to exist—might be perceived.
Why medical scientists take near-death experiences seriously now Today, we know much more about what happens to people when they die—and what we are learning does not support materialism. Near-death experiences are generally seen as real, even among hardcore skeptics and research focuses on how to account for them.