Journal of Consciousness Studies 27 (11-12):166-191 (2020)

John Fischer
University of California, Riverside
Most discussions of near-death experiences (NDEs) in both the academic and popular literature contend that they establish ('prove') supernaturalism (about NDEs): they show that the mind is not the brain (and can continue after the brain stops functioning), and they bring us into contact with non-physical realms. I believe that the evidence provided by NDEs for supernaturalism is not persuasive, but I offer an alternative, naturalistic interpretation of these phenomena. On this interpretation, NDEs are 'real' in both senses of the term: they really occur (people really have them, with the experiential content ascribed to them), and they are accurate. On this interpretation, NDEs are fundamentally about a journey from the known to the unknown, guided by a trusted mentor. Thus, NDEs accurately depict the possibilities for dying. Negative NDEs indicate the possibility of dying in cold, sterile, lonely circumstances, whereas positive NDEs point to the possibility of 'dying well', surrounded by loved ones. This is an interpretation that avoids the problems for supernaturalism of the gap between evidence and conclusion, and the commitment to causal interaction between physical and non-physical realms.
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