This is my second book review on the topic of Near Death Experiences (NDEs).
I found the first: Living in a Mindful Universe less than impressive and gave it two out of five stars.
This book: After. A doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond compensates in both engagement and quality.
The author Dr Bruce Greyson, is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia and has a long history of studying this phenomenon.
After recounting his encounter with a person who had experienced an NDE, Dr Greyson goes on to present a multitude of case studies as well as citing more empirical scientific research (for example this one published in the Lancet in 2001) exploring both the specifics of NDEs and the topic of consciousness in general.
“Much of the public interest in near-death experiences is related to the hope that they may tell us about life after death. And indeed, most experiencers are convinced that some aspect of us does continue after death. But they also consider of equal importance the lessons they bring back from their NDEs for life before death. The experience often gives them a new outlook on what makes this life purposeful and meaningful. I used the title After for this book to reflect this mixed focus. It refers to what happens to people after death – but also to what hapens to people in this life after an NDE. As I understand near-death experiences, they are ultimately not about death, but about transformation, about renewal, and about infusing our lives with purpose right now.”
Dr Greyson pitches himself as an unbiased researcher repeatedly mentioning how initially sceptical he was. This tends to wash a little weak after a while and as the book progresses it becomes clear he has invested a lot (over four decades) in the topic and has some very clear personal views (not that this is necessarily a bad thing).
All biases aside this is a far better attempt at a balanced science-based investigation of NDEs than was produced by the author of my previous book review. I found ‘Always’ interesting and engaging to read and (for me at least) raised plenty of questions and provoked much thinking. A worthwhile read.
“My assessments of what near-death experiences mean for how the mind relates to the brain and for what ultimately happens after death are based on decades of research, but they are only my opinions of what the evidence shows. Although I think I’ve got pretty good evidence to support my assessments, I know that some people may interpret that evidence differently and that new evidence may show I’m wrong. But there is one thing about which I am certain, about which the evidence is overwhelming – and that is the effect of NDEs on people’s attitudes, beliefs, and values. If you take only one thing from this book, I would want you to appreciate the transformative power of these experiences to change people’s lives.“
Based on my own reading, 35 years working as a nurse (in which I became very familiar with both death and near-death), and a few personal experiences I am fairly convinced that death is not the end of our phenomenal consciousness.
It is not a case of lights out, so much as door open.
If you REALLY want to take a deep dive into the topic of NDEs from a more philosophical as well as scientific viewpoint, the best paper I have read to date is this (and fair warning, it is philosophically dense reading in places): Are Near-Death Experiences Veridical? A philosophical Inquiry.