If a skeptic is presented with an astounding alternative paradigm idea, they very often will invoke Occam’s Razor as a means of countering it. Occam’s Razor might best be summarised as ‘the simplest explanation is often the best’. So, if you are trying to say that the reason an apple falls on your head is because the ghost of Isaac Newton threw it at you, the skeptic might say that Occam’s Razor would argue for gravity being the actual cause. Occam’s Razor isn’t a law (plenty of complicated things can also be the cause of things), simply a handy rule of thumb for considering the obvious hypotheses before ‘looking outside the box’.
We could, therefore, be a little confused by how the skeptic might approach the subject of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). In the NDE, a person close to death quite often will experience the seeming separation from their own body – looking down on it from the ceiling…disembodied as it were. Then they feel like they are travelling through a tunnel, and moving towards a brilliant light composed of – as best they can put into words – love and knowledge. Often they may see dead relatives and friends, and experience this light as a ‘being’. Some equate it to Jesus, Allah or other ‘god’, but most seem to take it as it is. In the presence of this being they are shown their life, in full three-dimensions, in totality – paradoxically in the blink of an eye – with identification of moments in their life where they may have impacted on others both positively and negatively. It doesn’t seem as this is a moment of ‘judging’, more a moment of learning. Then at some point they either ask to be sent back, or conversely are told to go back because of unfinished business. There is usually no recollection of their return…they simply wake up again.
When NDEs are recounted, the individual has a difficult time relating the story because so much of it was ‘other-worldly’. Over and over again, the theme is that this experience cannot be put into words, that what we hear is simply the best approximation in physical terms – this is called the ‘ineffability’ of the experience. Here’s an excerpt as an example:
Even now when I try to describe something so beautiful I am mute with awe. There are no words in any language to describe such grandeur. Even the great literary works by men and women fortunate enough to have experienced this blissful state only paint a shadow of its glory
No matter how many times that the phenomenology of the NDE is explained, it has far less impact than actually reading the experiencer accounts. Not that the scientist would accept that as proof of another realm. But there are other things that give pause:
I mentioned in an essay on Graham Hancock’s website (“The Mysteries”) how a vision of a ‘city of knowledge’, made of what appeared to be transparent gold, has been experienced multiple times.
When the separation from the body occurs, it seems to be more than a simple hallucination. There have been some tales where the experiencer was able to give details of the scene even though being clinically dead. Even how the person saw themselves gives a hint that it is something worth investigating:
Boy, I sure didn’t realize that I looked like that! You know, I’m only used to seeing myself in pictures or from the front in a mirror, and both of those look flat. But all of a sudden there I – or my body – was, and I could see it…it took me a few moments to recognize myself.
It’s a strange hallucination when the individual doesn’t recognize themself…
Experiencers believe that the message from ‘beyond’ is to show love for others and increase knowledge.
Experiencers report increased ‘psi’ abilities upon return to the world.
There are numerous other things worth investigating – at the start of the experience there is a sound – described alternately as a buzzing, ringing or rushing – which leads to the next state. This sound is also found in OBEs, in ritual magick, and in the astonishing DMT trip…what Terence McKenna describes as the tearing of the membrane of reality. In the NDE state, vision is said to extend whereever the mind can imagine, talking and hearing is done through the mind and not the mouth, and complete knowledge is available while in that ‘dimension’.
However, the scientific view on NDEs is that they are caused by either:
Drug hallucinations (though not all NDEs occur with drugs).
Sensory deprivation (which does not preclude travelling to another ‘realm’, in fact sensory deprivation is a well known method of reaching altered states).
Cerebral anoxia – oxygen shortage (the symptoms are not at all like the NDE).
Religious expectations (some NDEs occur to atheists and those not expecting death, and a lot of the ‘religious expectation’ is nothing like what happens in an NDE).
Depersonalisation – the mind panics with fear of death and separates itself from the body (in fact, the effects of the NDE are almost completely opposite those of depersonalisation).
Denial of death – the mind trying to make things ‘easier on itself’ (there are numerous occasions where the experiencer panics at the OBE element and returns to the body).
To be sure, there are good points to be made in each of the above. However, none adequately explain all NDEs. So by Occam’s Razor, what are we to make of an experience in which we almost die, feel a separation from the body, meet dead relatives and undergo a life review with a being of light?
I would posit that the simplest explanation is that when we die we travel to another ‘realm’/’dimension’ and are met by a higher being.
The only reason this is not accepted is because we have no proof of an afterlife – not because it is a complex theory which disregards simpler theories. The scientific/physicalist theories mentioned above are not simpler…none fit the experience and not all experiences can be explained by one – they are contrived to provide a reductionist explanation for a mystery. That is not to say that the matter is decided – as I said there is still no proof. But until we do find more clues and evidence, then by Occam’s Razor the survivalist interpretation of the NDE is completely valid, and serious research should be conducted into providing more context and data. Unfortunately, the converse is true – NDE research is still considered fringe.