Finding Common Ground: Exploring Near-Death Experiences and Beyond

I was recently scheduled to have a discussion on the meaning of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) in relation to death and the afterlife with Bernardo Kastrup. Unfortunately, that discussion was canceled due to stormy weather. Here, I will lay out my reflections on NDEs, what they mean, and how they find a suitable or better explanation in something like theism, even Christian theism. Although Kastrup’s view aligns with theism in affirming that a mind is central, he leans towards a version of global monism where there is literally only one mind, what he calls analytic idealism.

NDEs have captured the fascination of both scientific and philosophical circles. These experiences, often recounted by individuals who have faced imminent death, challenge conventional understandings of consciousness and the afterlife. Despite skepticism, the increasing number of documented cases, particularly in the wake of advancements in medical technology, presents a compelling argument for the existence of a realm beyond the material.

What are NDEs? They occur when individuals report experiences such as traveling through a tunnel, encountering deceased loved ones, or observing events from an out-of-body perspective. While skeptics may attribute these phenomena to physiological processes or hallucinations, the sheer volume of consistent testimonies and corroborating evidence suggests otherwise.

NDEs challenge the materialistic notion that consciousness arises solely from physical processes in the brain. Instead, they suggest the existence of a separate, non-material aspect of the self — an essence often referred to as the soul. These experiences underscore the dualistic view of the mind-body relationship, positing that consciousness transcends the physical body.

Empirical studies of NDEs provide compelling evidence for the persistence of consciousness beyond bodily death. These experiences, characterized by vivid subjective accounts, challenge reductionist explanations and point towards a reality that extends beyond the material realm.

The scholarly discourse on NDEs involves both proponents and skeptics, with each camp offering distinct perspectives. While some scholars acknowledge the evidential potential of NDEs in establishing an afterlife, others remain cautious, emphasizing the need for rigorous scientific scrutiny.

NDEs offer a range of evidential models, including corroboration inside and outside the hospital room, shared experiences among individuals, and accounts from the sightless. These diverse testimonies defy naturalistic explanations and demand a more nuanced understanding of consciousness. At least this much seems apparent. The evidence from these cases is quite overwhelming and demands some sort of explanation. I suggest that theism where we have a God and humans are something like souls or ensouled beings provides a plausible explanation of NDEs. Depending on the empirical/evidentiary promise of these reports (of which there are many!), theism provides us with a strong explanation deserving attention.

The cumulative weight of NDE testimonies, particularly those involving verifiable details and shared experiences, challenges conventional scientific paradigms. Attempts to dismiss these accounts often reveal underlying biases and an unwillingness to engage with challenging evidence. Thus far, there is little disagreement between Kastrup and myself.

Materialistic and naturalistic frameworks struggle to account for the complexities of NDEs, which defy conventional explanations rooted solely in physical processes. These experiences highlight the limitations of scientific inquiry when confronted with phenomena that transcend the material realm.

In essence, while our perspectives may diverge on the specifics, there seems to be common ground in recognizing the inadequacy of purely materialistic explanations in grappling with the profound mysteries of NDEs. As we continue our exploration, perhaps we can find even more points of agreement and deepen our understanding of consciousness and the afterlife.

The Christian View of the Afterlife

The Judeo-Christian perspective offers a framework for understanding NDEs, positing an intermediate state of existence beyond death followed by bodily resurrection. This theological perspective, rooted in scripture and tradition, resonates with the experiences reported by individuals who have undergone NDEs.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC), foundational documents in Reformed Christianity, articulate the Christian understanding of the afterlife. According to WCF 32.2, believers affirm the resurrection of the dead, where souls are reunited with their bodies for eternity. Similarly, WSC 37.A emphasizes the immediate passage of believers’ souls into glory upon death, with their bodies awaiting resurrection.

The Roman Catholic Catechism (RCC) reaffirms these beliefs, stating in RCC 990 that the resurrection of the flesh signifies not only the immortality of the soul but also the physical resurrection of the body. This teaching aligns with the broader Christian tradition, emphasizing the continuity of the soul beyond death and its eventual reunion with the body in resurrection.

Convergence or Agreement

Both theistic and monistic-idealist accounts offer interpretations of NDEs, each reflecting distinct philosophical perspectives. While challenges exist for both viewpoints, NDEs provide empirical support for the existence of consciousness beyond the physical body. In this way, both Bernardo and I agree. But, where we disagree is significant. Whilst Bernardo affirms that reality is ultimately rooted in a mind (as do I to some extent, for all theists do), that mind is not a personal mind in the way that we find in theism. And while it has some similarities to theism, it is quite radically different in portraying all individualized minds as parts of one unified impersonal mind. He describes this in a number of places, which you can look up in most of his books on his website. However, there are some significant challenges to his view. And, in fact, some of these challenges confronting his view would look very similar to the challenges confronting physicalism and panpsychism. Let me explain, albeit briefly. 

Challenges for Kastrup’s Analytic Idealism 

So, let’s break down some challenges to the idea that our minds are all there is. You know, this monist-idealist view suggests that everything, including our thoughts and experiences, ultimately boils down to one unified thing. But when we start peeling back the layers, we run into some pretty hefty roadblocks.

Think about it this way: our minds are like these complex machines, right? They’re full of privacy, transparency, qualia — those raw, subjective feelings — and intentionality, the ability to have thoughts about things. But here’s the kicker: when we try to understand how these things work together, it’s like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces.

And it’s not just monist-idealism that struggles here. Materialism — the idea that everything is just physical stuff — and panpsychism — where everything, even the smallest particle, has some form of consciousness — face similar hurdles. They all stumble when it comes to explaining the intricacies of our minds and experiences.

Now, let’s talk about the idea of a non-literal self. This is where things get really tricky. See, if our minds are just a byproduct of physical processes or some cosmic consciousness, then what does that say about who we are as individuals? It’s like saying we’re just cogs in a machine, with no real free will or autonomy.

And then there’s this whole mess of determinism — whether it’s naturalistic determinism, divine determinism, or even randomness. These theories suggest that our beliefs and actions are either predetermined by some cosmic force or just random chance. But if that’s the case, how can we trust anything we think or feel?

It’s like trying to build a house on quicksand. There’s no solid foundation to stand on, no rational or empirical reason to believe one thing over another. And if we start down this road, questioning the very fabric of our beliefs, where does it end? It’s a slippery slope that undermines the very essence of rationality and truth.

So, when it comes to understanding our minds and experiences, maybe it’s time to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Because if we don’t, we might just find ourselves lost in a sea of uncertainty, with no way to anchor ourselves to reality. 

That said, I am sure there are some challenges to theism or theistic-dualism as I have called it elsewhere, even Christian theism. And this is where I would have appreciated a bit of discussion with him. But I guess that will have to wait. 


The study of NDEs opens up profound questions about the nature of consciousness and the afterlife. As we navigate the complexities of these experiences, it becomes evident that a purely materialistic worldview may fall short in explaining the rich tapestry of human existence. On this point, I know that Kastrup and I agree wholeheartedly, and, further, we agree that the deeper explanation of all of reality is rooted in some way in a mind, an intelligence, even a Designer. This is where we agree, but where we disagree is quite significant. Whether one embraces a theistic or monistic-idealist perspective, the exploration of NDEs invites us to reconsider our assumptions, especially materialistic assumptions, about the nature of reality and the mysteries that lie beyond.

Source link

Add a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Keep Up to Date with the Most Important News

By pressing the Subscribe button, you confirm that you have read and are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use