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Yesterday we posted a link to a paper calling for serious, open-minded research into the near-death experience. Happily, today we’re posting news that this looks very likely to happen.

The Templeton Foundation – set up by Wall Street pioneer John Templeton “as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality” – has awarded a 3-year, $5 million-grant to Professor John Martin Fischer at the University of California to study the concept of immortality, from both a religious and scientific viewpoint (ie. ‘heaven’ vs physical immortality):

UC Riverside philosophy professor John Martin Fischer will receive $1 million of that to host conferences on campus about the afterlife, to support post-doctoral students and to run a website for research on the topic. Then Fischer will administer competitions to dole out the remaining $4 million to researchers worldwide in the sciences, social sciences, philosophy and theology, he said.

“It doesn’t mean we are trying to prove anything or the other. We will be trying to be very scientific and rigorous and be very open-minded,” he said. Fischer described himself as skeptical about an afterlife but said he believed that “endless life without death could be a good thing.”

Titled “The Immortality Project“, the grant recognizes “the present time as an auspicious one” in which to launch a unified, organized, and open-minded research project into questions such as:

  • Whether and in what form(s) persons survive or could survive bodily death.
  • Whether and to what extent persons’ beliefs about immortality influence their behavior, attitudes, and character
  • Why and how persons are (at least pre-reflectively) disposed to believe in post-mortem survival
  • Whether it is in some sense irrational to desire immortality

The aims of the project appear to show a real desire to approach this much-neglected topic from a number of angles, from researching the possibility of an afterlife, through to discussing whether belief in immortality of some kind might be irrational.

On the topic of future research into NDEs, Fischer noted that…

We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions. Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports. We will look at near-death experiences and try to find out what’s going on there — what is promising, what is nonsense, and what is scientifically debunked. We may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not glimpses into an afterlife.