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Science and the Near-Death Experience

How Consciousness Survives Death

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

The scientific evidence for life after death

• Explains why near-death experiences (NDEs) offer evidence of an afterlife and discredits the psychological and physiological explanations for them

• Challenges materialist arguments against consciousness surviving death

• Examines ancient and modern accounts of NDEs from around the world, including China, India, and many from tribal societies such as the Native American and the Maori

Predating all organized religion, the belief in an afterlife is fundamental to the human experience and dates back at least to the Neanderthals. By the mid-19th century, however, spurred by the progress of science, many people began to question the existence of an afterlife, and the doctrine of materialism--which believes that consciousness is a creation of the brain--began to spread. Now, using scientific evidence, Chris Carter challenges materialist arguments against consciousness surviving death and shows how near-death experiences (NDEs) may truly provide a glimpse of an awaiting afterlife.

Using evidence from scientific studies, quantum mechanics, and consciousness research, Carter reveals how consciousness does not depend on the brain and may, in fact, survive the death of our bodies. Examining ancient and modern accounts of NDEs from around the world, including China, India, and tribal societies such as the Native American and the Maori, he explains how NDEs provide evidence of consciousness surviving the death of our bodies. He looks at the many psychological and physiological explanations for NDEs raised by skeptics--such as stress, birth memories, or oxygen starvation--and clearly shows why each of them fails to truly explain the NDE. Exploring the similarities between NDEs and visions experienced during actual death and the intersection of physics and consciousness, Carter uncovers the truth about mind, matter, and life after death.


Chapter Nine
Near-Death Experiences across Cultures

The findings discussed up to this point have been gathered from Western accounts. If the NDE is a truly universal human experience, it should occur in all cultures. What about near-death experiences in non-Western cultures?

Although comparatively few studies have involved non-Western subjects, enough data has been gathered in order to make some comparisons and to find out to what extent these experiences are culture bound.

In 1976 an earthquake struck Tangshan, China. Eleven years later, two physicians, Feng Zhi-ying and Liu Jian-xun, interviewed eighty-one survivors, and found that 40 percent reported near-death experiences. Compared to Western accounts this is an unusually large percentage, but we must remember that this sample was not randomly chosen and that all the subjects were victims of a single disaster.

Similar to Western studies, the researchers found that age, gender, marital status, educational and occupational level, personality, brain trauma, and prior knowledge of NDEs and belief in spirits, ghosts, God, and destiny did not affect the contents of the NDE.

The main difference between the Chinese sample and Western reports seemed to be in the frequency with which the various stages were reported. Fewer Chinese subjects reported feelings of peace or joy, an out-of-body experience, entering a tunnel-like dark region, and encountering a light. Many more Chinese subjects reported a life review. The percentages who reported meeting deceased or religious figures, or seeing an unearthly realm of existence, were comparable with most Western studies.

The first major report of NDEs from India was presented in 1977 by Osis and Haraldsson, who traveled to India to interview 704 Indian medical personnel about their experiences with the dying. In this sample they found sixty-four reports of NDEs, which they were able to compare with reports of fifty-six American NDEs they had gathered earlier.

The experiences of the Indian patients were similar to that of the American patients. About 80 percent saw otherworldly apparitions, and about one-third of the Indians who reported apparitions also reported being explicitly sent back by the otherworldly figures. However, whereas the American patients were usually told something to the effect that it was not their time, or that they had unfinished work to do, the manners of the Indian apparitions seemed more bureaucratic. Messengers would sometimes escort the dying patient to a clerk, who would then consult some records and announce that a mistake had been made! The bureaucratic bungling would be corrected, and the person would then be returned to their body.

Satwant Pasricha and Ian Stevenson reported a more recent systematic survey of sixteen NDEs in northern India in 1986. The findings of Pasricha and Stevenson were generally in agreement with the earlier findings of Osis and Haraldsson. Here is a sample report concerning a woman suffering from an abdominal ailment. After she fell unconscious:

I saw three persons with curly hair coming. Then I found myself outside (on the threshold) of a door. Inside, a fat man was sitting on a bench and looking through some papers. He told those three persons: “Why have you brought her? She still has [not completed her allotted] time” and he threw away my papers. After that I do not know how I came back.

In several respects, it is apparent the Indian cases differ from the Western and Chinese ones. In all three studies, Indian accounts seem strongly influenced by Hindu religious beliefs. Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death, is a well-known figure in Indian mythology, as are his messengers, the Yamadoots. So too is Chitragupta, the man with the book, who upon a person’s death is said to consult the fabled Akashic Records, in which are inscribed all the deeds, good and bad, of a person’s lifetime. Several features typical of the Indian accounts can be seen in the following, given by a woman suffering from a fever for which she received no medical treatment.

I was dragged “up” by four yamadoots. I saw one door, and went inside. I saw my mother and father there. I also saw the Yama, who was fat and had books in front of him. The Yama started beating the yamadoots for having taken me there instead of another person. . . . I was asked by my parents and the Yama to be sent back . . . and I was happy to be back so I could see my children.

As in the account given above, the Indian subjects frequently report being taken to the “other realms” by some messengers, where a man with a book consults some records, decides a mistake has been made--that the subject’s time has not yet come--and orders the subject’s return. This contrasts especially with Western cases, in which messengers do not usually escort the subjects, and no mistake accounts for their return. None of the Indian subjects reported a panoramic life review. Although Osis and Haraldsson found several out-of-body experiences in their reports, Pasricha and Stevenson found only one case out of twenty-eight that contained this feature. Also, descriptions of tunnels are conspicuous by their absence from the reports of Indian subjects--not a single informant in these studies reported the experience of a tunnel.

Nevertheless, we can also see that there are some striking similarities between Indian and Western accounts. In both cultures, experients frequently report meeting deceased acquaintances and otherworldly beings, usually in an unearthly realm. In both sets of reports a decision is frequently made that it is not one’s “time to go.” And although the Indian reports lack a panoramic life review, the reading of Chitragupta’s book can be considered a form of life review, although one that is thought to be postponed until the actual day of reckoning.

About The Author

Chris Carter received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Science and Psychic Phenomena and Science and the Near-Death Experience. Originally from Canada, Carter currently teaches internationally.

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Raves and Reviews

". . . a cogent and lucid discourse asserting that, according to the evidence, consciousness not only survives death but exists independent of the brain through which it operates . . A fascinating read for anyone interested in life after death, science, and the intersection of the two."

– Marlene Y. Satter, ForeWord Reviews, September 2010

“Chris Carter’s tightly reasoned approach and his encyclopedic grasp of the research make Science and the Near-Death Experience the best book on NDEs in years. The clarity of Carter’s writing and the breadth of his scholarship make this an ideal resource for both experts and those new to the field. This book brings much-needed insight and common sense to our understanding of NDEs.”

– Bruce Greyson, M.D., Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Vir

“As a physicist and neurosurgeon, I find Chris Carter’s Science and the Near-Death Experience to be a comprehensive analysis of NDEs,and a book that allows one to understand that consciousness persists beyond the death of the physical body. It is beautifully written!”

– John L. Turner, M.D., author of Medicine, Miracles, and Manifestations

“In this important book, author Chris Carter does a masterful job at demonstrating how the evidence does not support the mainstream scientific view that consciousness and mind are produced by the brain. In addition, Carter objectively reviews the empirical data on near-death experiences and rightly concludes that these data fully support the notion that mind and consciousness can continue to operate after the cessation of brain activity.”

– Mario Beauregard, Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience, University of Montreal, and coauthor of The Spir

“There has been a spate of books on the afterlife and the immortality of consciousness lately, indicating a resurgence of interest in what is surely one of the most important--and I would argue THE most important--question a conscious human being can pose in his or her life. Carter’s book is not only an important contribution to this literature; it is its current crowning achievement. For he masters both the theoretical and the evidential approach, showing that belief to the contrary of the survival of consciousness is mere, and now entirely obsolete, dogma, and that the evidence for survival is clear and rationally convincing. A book to read and to remember for the rest of one’s life--and perhaps beyond. . . .”

– Ervin Laszlo, author of Science and the Akashic Field and founder of the Club of Budapest

"Carter has joined the debate, scientifically demonstrating the possibility of previewing the afterlife upon surviving near-death experiences (NEDs). Studies, research and theory guide Carter's argument, which states that the existence of one's consciousness is not based upon whether or not one is still living."

– ForeWord Magazine, August 2010

"If materialism is the school-yard bully who has been terrorizing all your friends for years, then Chris Carter is the new kid in school who stands up to him. In Science and the Near-Death Experience, Carter systematically takes apart the standard materialistic arguments one-by-one, providing a lucid overview of the history of the key theorists and studies on both sides."

– Gold Thread, September 2010

“The belief that consciousness itself is somehow produced within the brain will topple under the momentum of observations this theory simply cannot explain. Chris Carter’s second book, as well organized and accessible as his first, details the history, physics, and observed phenomena that will forever change how we look at the brain. A readable, informative, and devastating critique of materialism.”

– Robert Bobrow, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine at Stony Brook University and a

“. . . a useful volume to have at hand.”

– John Poynton, Journal of the Society of Psychical Research (Volume 75.1, No. 902), March 2011

Science and the Near-Death Experience builds a powerful and compelling case that the mind is not dependent on the brain and can exist independently of the brain. . . I am simply glad that Carter is out there writing. His book shows that those who believe in survival do not have to apologize, be timid, or take refuge in the mystery of “faith”. On strictly scientific grounds, they are in the stronger position. With more books like this one, our society may start slowly waking up to this fact, with all its immense implications.”

– New Heaven New Earth, August 2011

“This is a book that demands the serious attention of everyone who is interested in the question of consciousness. Furthermore, it is the second in a trilogy by Chris Carter discussing scientific evidence bearing on the question of consciousness, following the first book in the series entitled Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics (which is discussed in this previous post). The third book in this trilogy is due out at the end of this month. It will be called Science and the Afterlife Experience: Evidence for the Immortality of Consciousness. While it appears that it will spend quite a bit of time discussing apparitions (which I find somewhat scary to read about, as I mentioned in this previous post), I’m sure I will be sitting down to see what Chris Carter has to say in the third book of this outstanding series soon after it hits the market.”

– David Warner Mathisen, Mathisen Corollary, August 2012

“This book is essential for anyone interested in survival after death. There is material in it for everyone, it’s a good introduction to those new to the subject, it’s a reasoned argument for those familiar with the ideas and it’s packed with enough references to keep the most enthusiastic researcher busy for a time.”

– Gordon Rutter, Fortean Times, November 2012

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