Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reports from the Afterlife

This morning, I listened to a fascinating interview with Dr. Sam Parnia, the author of Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death.  He's spent his medical life easing people back from death, and he's got all sorts of insights.

If you're interested in the biology of death, and why some people can come back from death relatively unscathed while others are terribly damaged, he's got some answers.  He also reports on his efforts to determine whether or not the experiences that people have after death are due to chemical reactions, pop culture expectations, or something else.  He reports that people who can discuss leaving their bodies do indeed have experiences and knowledge that they couldn't have had at the moment of death.  For example, he's placed pictures at the head and the foot of the bed as they worked to bring the patient back, and the patient can describe the pictures in great detail.

Very good, you might say, but what happens to them?

Some of what he reports will probably not be new to you:  the light in a tunnel, a presence that welcomes them.

But one chunk of what he said made me wonder if we'd behave differently during life if we knew we'd be facing a test when we died:  "They often describe having a review of their lives, everything that they had done from early childhood to that point. And interestingly, the way they describe their review is very much like they experience, sometimes, everything that they had done. So for instance, if they had hurt somebody's feelings, even inadvertently, without purpose, they feel the pain that they had given somebody else. And therefore, they judge themselves, in effect, and their actions. And that's why when they come back, many of them are motivated to lead their lives in a completely different way. I remember one person who said that, I particularly wanted to make sure that I don't fail again; and I want to make sure that I at least end up with a C, when I get back there again."

I have always loved the great English poet John Keats' view of heaven as one where we experience again all the joys we experienced during life; but we experience them even more intensely in the afterlife.

But what if we also experienced all the pain we'd caused to others?  Would that knowledge shape our behavior here on earth?

The interview with the doctor is fascinating from beginning to end, and if you want to hear it or read the transcript, go here.

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