Near-death experiences offer a glimpse not only into the nature of death but also into the meaning of life. They are not only useful tools to aid in the human quest to understand death but are also deeply meaningful, transformative experiences for the people who have them.
In a unique contribution to the growing and popular literature on the subject, philosophers John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin examine prominent near-death experiences, such as those of Pam Reynolds, Eben Alexander and Colton Burpo. They combine their investigations with critiques of the narratives' analysis by those who take them to show that our minds are immaterial and heaven is for real. In contrast, the authors provide a blueprint for a science-based explanation. Focusing on the question of whether near-death experiences provide evidence that consciousness is separable from our brains and bodies, Fischer and Mitchell-Yellin give a naturalistic account of the profound meaning and transformative effects that these experiences engender in many. This book takes the reality of near-death experiences seriously. But it also shows that understanding them through the tools of science is completely compatible with acknowledging their profound meaning.
Taking on recent bestselling claims of visits to heaven as well as a few other storied examples of proof of afterlife, Fischer and Mitchell-Yellin systematically challenge the desire to reach for supernatural explanations for near-death experiences (NDEs). In dry and analytic fashion, they show how unusual phenomena associated with NDEs can have natural, physical explanations, making it unnecessary to reach for unproven additional interpretations. The authors, both philosophy professors, are nicely positioned to comment on the subject of NDEs: both participated in a three-year research project on immortality (Fischer was the project leader). Repeatedly protesting that they do not intend to debunk a religious understanding of reality, Fischer and Mitchell-Yellin nonetheless spend a lot of time arguing for the superiority of the physical explanation for NDEs. The book only veers from a lecture-hall tone at the end, when the authors reflect on awe: "Dull explanations are unsatisfying because they leave us without a sense of the significance of what is being understood." They rightly understand that humans appreciate the thrill of story as well as the truth of explanation. Unfortunately, their explanation of NDEs is written in a most dull manner.