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Why Near-Death Experiences Are a Flimsy Justification for the Idea That We Have Immortal Souls

The evidence supporting the 'independent soul' explanation is flimsy at best. It is unsubstantiated. It comes largely from personal anecdotes. It is internally inconsistent.

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Now, many believers in the soul will argue that yes, they are biased in favor of their belief -- but so are the scientists who've concluded that consciousness is a physical process and the soul doesn't exist. But this makes no sense whatsoever. Scientists are human, too: they don't want to die, and they'd be just as happy as anyone to learn that they were going to live forever. In fact, for centuries, most scientists did believe in the soul, and much early science was dedicated to proving the soul's existence and exploring its nature. It took decades upon decades of fruitless research in this field before scientists finally gave it up as a bad job. The conclusion that the soul does not exist was not about proving a pre-existing agenda: quite the opposite. It was about the evidence leading inexorably to a conclusion that was both surprising and upsetting. What's more, if any scientist today could conclusively prove the existence of the soul, they'd instantly become the most famous and respected scientist in the history of the world. What possible motivation could they have for being biased against the soul hypothesis?

This is patently not true for the claim about the immortal soul, and the claim that near-death experiences are good evidence for it. This claim is not only unsupported by any solid evidence, and flatly contradicted by plenty of solid evidence. It is also, very clearly, based on the most wishful of all wishful thinking -- the deep, intense, completely understandable desire to not die.

So.

Given that all this is true.

Given that the evidence supporting the "biological process of the brain" explanation is rigorously gathered, carefully tested, thoroughly cross-checked, internally consistent, consistent with everything we know about how the brain and the mind work, able to produce mind-bogglingly accurate predictions, not slanted toward wishful thinking, and is expanding our understanding of the mind every day.

Given that the evidence supporting the "immortal soul separate from the brain" explanation is flimsy, anecdotal, internally inconsistent, blasted into non-existence upon careful examination, totally at odds with everything we know about how the brain and the mind work, and strongly biased toward what people most desperately want to believe.

Which of these explanations of consciousness seems more likely?

And which explanation of near-death experiences seems more likely?

Forget about the "you can't disprove it with 100 percent certainty" fallacy. We're not talking about 100 percent certainty. We don't apply the "100 percent certainty" test to anything else in our lives, so let's not apply it here. Which explanation is more plausible? Which has more credibility? If we were talking about any other question -- if we were talking about global climate change, or evolution, or whether the earth orbits the sun -- which set of evidence would you give greater weight to?

Yes, weird things sometimes happen to some people's minds when they're near death. Weird things often happen to people's minds during altered states of consciousness. Exhaustion, stress, distraction, trance-like repetition, optical illusion, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, sensory overload... any of these physical changes to the brain, and more, can create vivid "perceptions" that are entirely disconnected from reality. It's been extensively demonstrated. And being near death is an altered state of consciousness, a physical change to the brain. (What's more, as my wife Ingrid keeps pointing out: Near death experiences are not death. What happens to consciousness when the brain is briefly deprived of oxygen tells us nothing about what happens to consciousness when the brain is decayed in the grave into dust and nothingness.)

 
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