May 07

Death Is Not Final

Death398x239

Illustration by Thomas James

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

If consciousness is just the workings of neurons and synapses, how do we explain the phenomenon of near-death experience? By some accounts, about 3% of the U.S. population has had one: an out-of-body experience often characterized by remarkable visions and feelings of peace and joy, all while the physical body is close to death. To skeptics, there are more plausible, natural explanations, like oxygen deprivation. Is the prospect of an existence after death “real” and provable by science, or a construct of wishful thinking about our own mortality?

  • Alexander90px

    For

    Dr. Eben Alexander

    Neurosurgeon & Author, Proof of Heaven

  • Moody90px

    For

    Dr. Raymond Moody

    Psychologist, Medical Doctor & Author, Life After Life

  • Carroll90px

    Against

    Sean Carroll

    Physicist & Writer

  • Novella90px

    Against

    Dr. Steven Novella

    Academic Neurologist, Yale School of Medicine


    • Moderator Image

      MODERATOR

      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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Alexander90px

For The Motion

Dr. Eben Alexander

Neurosurgeon & Author, Proof of Heaven

Eben Alexander, M.D., is a renowned academic neurosurgeon. A transcendental near-death experience (NDE) during a week-long coma from an inexplicable brain infection completely changed his understanding of how the brain worked. He has spent the years since his NDE reconciling his rich spiritual experience with contemporary physics and cosmology. His book about the experience, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (2012), has spent more than a year atop the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list and is contracted for publication in over forty countries. Alexander has taught at Harvard Medical School, and has authored or co-authored over 150 chapters and papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. A pioneering scientist and thought leader in consciousness studies, he has been a guest on Dr. Oz, Oprah, and many other national and international media programs.

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Moody90px

For The Motion

Dr. Raymond Moody

Psychologist, Medical Doctor & Author, Life After Life

Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., PH.D., is a psychologist and medical doctor. He is the best-selling and award-winning author of twelve books, including Life After Life (1975) in which he coined the term “near-death experience” (NDE), as well as numerous articles in academic and professional literature. His research into the phenomenon of NDE had its start in the 1960s, and the New York Times has since hailed him as "the father of the near-death experience." In the three decades since receiving his M.D., a PH.D. in philosophy, and a Ph.D. in psychology, he has lectured for audiences all over the world and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio programs. In addition, he trains hospice workers, clergy, psychologists, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals on matters of grief recovery and dying.

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Carroll90px

Against The Motion

Sean Carroll

Physicist & Writer

Sean Carroll is a physicist and author. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, and is now on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. His research focuses on fundamental physics and cosmology, especially issues of dark matter, dark energy, and the origin of the universe. Carroll is the author of The Particle at the End of the Universe (2012), From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time (2010), and Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity (2003). He has written for Scientific American, New Scientist, and The Wall Street Journal. He frequently consults for film and television, and has been featured on television shows such as The Colbert Report, PBS's Nova, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.

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Novella90px

Against The Motion

Dr. Steven Novella

Academic Neurologist, Yale School of Medicine

Steven Novella, M.D., is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the founder and current executive editor of Science-Based Medicine, as well as the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. Novella is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, the philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society.

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Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion

Despite claims that it is produced by the brain and bound by the laws of physics, human consciousness remains a mystery.

Throughout history, individuals have witnessed—often after a near-death experience (NDE)—another realm beyond this life. While it cannot be adequately explained by science or described by language, the myriad historical records and modern-day accounts suggest that death is not final.

Previously established by respected philosophers, from Plato to William James, mind-body dualism and the immateriality of the soul have been further supported by recent studies on the afterlife. NDEs, as well as psychic phenomena, provide strong evidence that consciousness exists independently of the body and thus independently of physical life.

From the writings of mystics centuries ago, to the medical records of NDEs reported today, glimpses into this other realm share a core set of characteristics that, together, indicate a universal definition of life after death.

Against THe Motion

Humans, with bodies and brains composed entirely of atoms, are part of the natural world and subject to its laws. Individual life and consciousness are not immaterial and thus cannot extend beyond physical death.

The belief in an immaterial soul, existing in realms independent of the body, contradicts the basic laws of physics and goes against the foundations of modern science.

There is no empirical evidence for life after death. NDEs, the centerpiece of recent research, are purely anecdotal, descriptive accounts, which, despite some commonalities, are not evidence of a universal experience but rather reflect the subject’s cultural background.

NDEs are simply altered mental states akin to the complex brain phenomena that occur in delusions, hallucinations, oxygen deprivation, and drug-induced experiences. In addition to being highly unlikely, there is no evidence that NDEs occurred while the subjects’ brains were inactive.

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9 comments

  • Comment Link James Apronti Thursday, 17 April 2014 03:31 posted by James Apronti

    John 11:25-26 - Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” I believe this so there is life after death. I vote for the motion!

  • Comment Link Kenyon Harris Wednesday, 16 April 2014 09:22 posted by Kenyon Harris

    Being a believer in the ressurection of Jesus, i vote for the motion that death is not final. But that's just my opinion.

  • Comment Link Romann Arithmetic Tuesday, 15 April 2014 13:30 posted by Romann Arithmetic

    The notion of a "soul", a formless non-physical "spirit" with no physical characteristics, took place in a world with no science. No one knew what an atom was, what a molecule was, that we needed one component of "air", oxygen, to continue living. Now we know that every thought an memory has a physical component: calcium ions, sodium ions, enzymes, complex biochemistry. When you die, all this amazingly complex, unfathomably complex, machinery stops working. There is no life after death.

  • Comment Link Ben Monday, 14 April 2014 14:20 posted by Ben

    Go Steven! I've been a huge fan since 2007 :D

  • Comment Link Michael T. Monday, 14 April 2014 10:47 posted by Michael T.

    I'm convinced that death is final. There's no reason to believe that consciousness is anything other than the brain experiencing thoughts as they form.

    There's certainly no reason to think there's a soul.

    As nice as it is to think that life goes on after death, I suspect that the experience after death will be very much like the experience was before birth.

  • Comment Link mike Friday, 04 April 2014 16:32 posted by mike

    depends on whose death. Each leaf on a tree buds, grows, and dies. New leaves come next season. These are not "reincarnations" of former leaves, they are just the continuing expression of the life of the tree.

    the consciousness that inhabits has always been here, and will continue eternally.

  • Comment Link Becki Hawkins Wednesday, 19 March 2014 17:43 posted by Becki Hawkins

    I vote yes!! Death is not final! YouTube: Nurse Shares 30 Years

  • Comment Link Yao Kra Sunday, 16 March 2014 02:37 posted by Yao Kra

    I vote for the motion. Death is not final.

  • Comment Link ben Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:40 posted by ben

    wow being an agnostic this is going to be good! hope they mention technological singularity!!

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