Friday, October 10, 2014

Does Your Mind Die?

The view called metaphysical materialism holds that everything in the world can be explained in terms of material substance. In other words, matter is all there is. Materialists deny the existence in human beings of any mental substance or soul that exists in tandem with the body. For the materialist when our body dies that's the end of our existence.

This view has been very popular for the last two hundred years or so, but it's coming under increasing strain by anecdotal reports from credible sources as well as from scientific research that suggests that there is indeed something immaterial about us that survives our physical death. Moreover, this immaterial substance seems to be conscious which is hugely significant.

Recently an article appeared in The Independent which discusses the state of research into NDEs (Near-Death Experiences) and draws the conclusion that there's something happening here that's totally unexpected if materialism is true. The article claims that:
There is scientific evidence to suggest that life can continue after death, according to the largest ever medical study carried out on the subject. A team based in the UK has spent the last four years seeking out cardiac arrest patients to analyse their experiences, and found that almost 40 per cent of survivors described having some form of “awareness” at a time when they were declared clinically dead.

Experts currently believe that the brain shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds of the heart stopping beating – and that it is not possible to be aware of anything at all once that has happened. But scientists in the new study said they heard compelling evidence that patients experienced real events for up to three minutes after this had happened – and could recall them accurately once they had been resuscitated.

Dr Sam Parnia, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and a former research fellow at the University of Southampton who led the research, said that he previously [thought] that patients who described near-death experiences were only relating hallucinatory events. One man, however, gave a “very credible” account of what was going on while doctors and nurses tried to bring him back to life – and says that he felt he was observing his resuscitation from the corner of the room.

Speaking to The Telegraph about the evidence provided by a 57-year-old social worker Southampton, Dr Parnia said: “We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating. “But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes.

“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.

“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”

Dr Parnia’s study involved 2,060 patients from 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria, and has been published in the journal Resuscitation. Of those who survived, 46 per cent experienced a broad range of mental recollections, nine per cent had experiences compatible with traditional definitions of a near-death experience and two per cent exhibited full awareness with explicit recall of “seeing” and “hearing” events – or out-of-body experiences. Dr Parnia said that the findings of the study as a whole suggested that “the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice”.
Studies like this, coupled with the work of researchers like Dr. James Tucker who has investigated dozens of credible reports of very young children having memories of events that actually happened to other people but which the children couldn't have known about certainly should temper the dogmatic certainty of some that we human beings are nothing else but our material selves.

It also addresses one of the traditional objections to the existence of mental substance. It's alleged that it's hard to imagine how a disembodied immaterial substance could think and perceive without a brain and senses, which it is. The evidence seems to be accumulating, however, that somehow it happens. Amazing stuff.

If our minds can survive the death of the body the next question that is sure to be raised is exactly where is it that they exist?