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Point of no return

August 2001 | by Jonathan Skinner

British scientists have claimed to have found the first scientific evidence of an afterlife. It was recently reported that doctors have discovered evidence that consciousness and the mind may persist after the brain has ceased to function and the body is clinically dead.

The research team at the University of Southampton spent a year studying patients who were resuscitated in the city’s general hospital after suffering a heart attack.

The people ‘brought back to life’ were all, for varying lengths of time, clinically dead, with no respiration, no pulse and fixed dilated pupils. EEG studies have confirmed that the brain’s electrical activity, and hence brain function, ceases during this time.

Out of 63 patients who survived their cardiac arrest, seven recalled emotions and visions while they were ‘dead’. In this study, the heart-attack survivors were interviewed within a week of their cardiac arrest and asked if they remembered anything during their period of ‘death’.

Some recalled feelings of joy and peace, lost awareness of body, heightened senses, time speeded up, seeing a bright light, entering another world, encountering a mystical being or deceased relative, and coming to a point of no return.

Near death

The problem with near-death experiences (or NDEs) is that they are exactly that – near-death experiences and not death experiences.

The difficulty lies in assessing when the brain, an organ we hardly understand, actually dies. Does the cessation of electrical activity necessarily mean that the person is dead, or are they actually in the process of dying?

Body tissues are sensitive, and real death very quickly brings irreparable damage. The fact that these patients were resuscitated means that such damage had not occurred and therefore begs the question as to whether they actually did die. All that may have happened is that life could no longer be detected by established clinical means.

Mental software

As to the question of the emotions and visions which the patients experienced, the difficulty lies in understanding what happens to the brain when it is nearly dead. When some cells die, others become damaged and brain chemicals are no longer controlled, what sort of hallucinations are possible?

The fact that many people who testify to having NDEs have similar experiences needs to be taken seriously. But this might simply be a common psychological phenomenon which occurs as the mental software begins to crash.

The essential point is that, even if we give credit where the evidence is at best dubious, such experiences can provide no reliable information about an afterlife. An afterlife is by definition in another dimension, and we can have no confidence that the tools and methodology of our science applies – the laws of that universe might be totally different from ours.

Spiritual dimension

When trying to explore that other dimension, which many call the spiritual dimension, we have to use a totally different approach.

The Bible’s claim is that it is a source-book, provided by God to reveal certain aspects of that dimension to us. God uses it as a ‘dimension-crossing communication device’ to show us spiritual realities.

There, in a form which spans history and culture, is something which can be interpreted and understood. Using literary forms which are understandable to either a first-century nomad or a twenty-first-century university professor, God speaks from that other dimension into ours.

If we approach the Bible with that mindset, it will stretch, bend and even blow our thinking more than we could ever imagine.