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One of the most consistently interesting books that I’ve read on the subject of near-death experiences—and I’ve read quite a number of them—is Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences (New York: HarperOne, 2010), by Jeffrey Long, M.D., with Paul Perry. Dr. Long is a practicing radiation oncologist and the founder of the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF). Early in the book, he lays out his basic methodology and summarizes his chief arguments as follows:
“By scientifically studying the more than 1,300 cases shared with NDERF”—that was the total in the Foundation’s still-growing archive at the time the book was written more than a decade ago—”I believe that the nine lines of evidence presented in this book all converge on one central point: There is life after death.
“The convergence of several lines of evidence—like the nine presented in this book—builds a much stronger case than only a single line of evidence.
“For example, suppose we had only two lines of NDE evidence. We may not be 100 percent convinced that these two lines of evidence prove an afterlife, but perhaps each line of evidence by itself is 90 percent convincing. Combined, these two lines of evidence by mathematical calculation are 99 percent convincing that the afterlife exists.”
As for Dr. Long’s nine distinct lines of evidence, here they are, in his own summarizing words:
- The level of consciousness and alertness during near-death experiences is usually greater than that experienced during everyday life, even though NDEs generally occur while a person is unconscious or clinically dead. The elements in NDEs generally follow a consistent and logical order.
- What NDErs see and hear in the out-of-body state during their near-death experiences is generally realistic and often verified later by the NDEr or others as real.
- Normal or supernormal vision occurs in near-death experiences among those with significantly impaired vision or even legal blindness. Several NDErs who were blind from birth have reported highly visual near-death experiences.
- Typical near-death experiences occur under general anesthesia at a time when conscious experience should be impossible.
- Life reviews in near-death experiences include real events that took place in the NDErs’ lives, even if the events were forgotten.
- When NDErs encounter beings they knew from their earthly life, they are virtually always deceased, usually deceased relatives.
- The near-death experiences of children, including very young children, are strikingly similar to those of older children and adults.
- Near-death experiences are remarkably consistent around the world. NDEs from non-Western countries appear similar to typical Western NDEs.
- It is common for NDErs to experience changes in their lives as aftereffects following NDEs. Aftereffects are often powerful and lasting, and the changes follow a consistent pattern. (199-200)
In “Evidence of the Afterlife,” Dr. Long sets those nine converging lines of evidence forth in some detail and provides substantiating cases, evidence, and analysis that I, at least, find compelling. I’ll offer just a few specimens here in this short space, and for only some of his lines of evidence:
With regard to Dr. Long’s first evidential line, patients who are unconscious, comatose, under sedation, or even clinically brain dead shouldn’t be perceiving anything at all and then recalling vivid memories, let alone reporting enhanced perception. They shouldn’t be accurately perceiving persons, events, and conversations not only in the room where they’re located but in other locations, sometimes at a distance. And yet they continually report precisely such experiences: “I am slightly hard of hearing,” says one. “During that time, I could hear everything. Superhearing would be a better term.” “Colors,” says another, “were electric, smells fantastic.” A third reports being able to see “360 degrees.” “I had never been more alert,” says yet another. “The colors on the other side,” declares one account in Dr. Long’s collection, “are the brightest colors; our most fluorescent colors on this earth are muddy (compared) to the brightness and vividness of the colors that are in Heaven.” “I saw colors I could never explain,” remembers one account. “A shade of red that I will never forget.” “I was taken to a beautiful meadow with the most gorgeous plant life and colors so vibrant that I’ve never seen anywhere; it was amazing!” “I was sensing, seeing, feeling, on another plane. It is like trying to explain the colors of the rainbow to a blind person.”
Dr. Long’s third line of evidence represents the extreme case of such enhanced perception: Highly visual near-death experiences not only among those with significantly impaired vision but among the legally blind and, astonishingly, among those blind from birth. He calls this “blind sight.” (The classic treatment of this subject is Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper, “Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind,” the first edition of which was published in 1999.)
“Everything was very bright and sharp. I am legally blind without my glasses, but the nurse took my glasses before they took me to the delivery room, but I could see clearly what the doctor was doing.” “Clarity, bright lights. Looking back, I had perfect eyesight (I am terribly nearsighted); everything was solid.”
Of course, skeptics might challenge such claims by saying that they reflect mere pleasant dreams—though those reporting what happened to them in these cases regularly push back, insisting that the clarity and lucidity of their experiences is completely distinct from dreaming. Even more problematic, though, for those who would reject these accounts is that many experiencers recount with remarkable accuracy events (such as their own resuscitation) that happened in and around their accidents or their operating rooms. Typically, these are events that they were in no position to observe, commonly seen from vantage points quite separate from the locations of their physical bodies. This is Dr. Long’s second line of evidence:
One example: “Suddenly, my consciousness rose above (my bed in) the ICU. I remember having told myself that I had not had an out-of-body experience so this could not be happening. As I rose, I told myself ‘Well, here it is.’” Another: “Lying on my back. Awake. Suddenly I am looking down at myself from the ceiling. \My position is reversed; that is, my head is opposite to my feet on the bed. I see myself very clearly.”
Yet another: “The next thing I knew I was a hundred feet above the river, looking down at the raft stuck against the rocks below. I saw the two men in the raft looking for me to come out from underneath. I saw the other woman, who had been in our raft, downstream, clinging to a rock. I watched my husband and my teenage sister . . . come running back up the hill to find out why all the debris was floating down the river. . . . From above, I watched my husband climb onto a rock in the river. . . . He looked as if he wanted to jump in to try to find me, and I suddenly found myself at his side, trying to stop him because he wasn’t much of a swimmer and I knew there was no point. When I reached out to stop him, my hand went right through him. I looked at my hand and thought, oh, my god, I’m dead!”
(A remarkable and similar story of apparent drowning—her own experience in the rapids of a South American river—is told by the orthopedic surgeon Mary C. Neal in her 2012 bestseller, “To Heaven And Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again.”)
The near-death experiences of very young children constitute the basis of Dr. Long’s seventh line of evidence for the survival of human consciousness and personality beyond death. Why? Because young children haven’t usually been indoctrinated with specific concepts of death or an afterlife and almost certainly haven’t carefully studied the literature on the subject. Thus, their reports are about as uncontaminated by preconceptions as we can hope to find.
Five-year-old Paul was struck by a passing van. “I felt like a hydrogen balloon floating in the air. I was going upward. I slowly opened my eyes, and I saw my body lying on the roadside. I got really frightened. I felt . . . paralyzed and I was going upward, but I felt . . . someone was carrying me very lovingly.” Eleven-year-old Jennifer saw her “limp and lifeless body” below after being involved in a serious car accident. She didn’t want to go back, but a spiritual being not only told her that she must but gave her specific instructions for helping a man who had been severely injured in the same crash.
Three-year-old Katie choked on a cashew. Her grandfather, a firefighter, desperately tried to revive her but couldn’t, and pronounced her dead. “When I died,” she later recalled, “I rose above my body and saw my grandfather working on my body. My body was of no interest to me; instead, I moved out of the room toward a presence I felt in the living room area. I went toward this presence, which was within a brilliant, sun(lit), bright, space. . . . The presence was unbelievable peace, love, acceptance, calm, and joy. The presence enveloped me, and my joy was indescribable—as I write this, I am brought back to this emotion, and it delights me still. The feeling is spectacular. I did not experience this presence as God (I was too young to understand the concept), but I did experience this concept as that which made me. I knew without a doubt that I was a made creature, a being that owed its existence to this presence.”
Near the end of the book, Dr. Long reflects again on his argument:
“If each of two lines of evidence from near-death experiences (NDEs) is 90 percent convincing of the existence of an afterlife, then the combination of these two lines of evidence may be considered as follows: The probability that either of these lines of NDE evidence individually is not convincing of the existence of an afterlife is 10 percent, or 0.1. The probability that the combination of these two lines of NDE evidence is not convincing of the existence of an afterlife is (0.1 x 0.1), or 0.01, which is 1 percent. Thus the combination of two lines of NDE evidence, each of which is 90 percent convincing of the existence of an afterlife, gives 100 percent minus 1 percent, or 99 percent confidence that the afterlife is convincingly felt to exist.”
I’m not sure that I care much about the specific numbers above, or that I’m entirely comfortable with the calculation by which Dr. Long arrives at a confidence level of 99% after just two arguments. But it seems intuitively obvious to me, whether one assigns precise numbers to the probabilities or not, that an argument that has largely convinced you of a particular conclusion is strengthened, not weakened, by adding a second convincing argument to it. And that to add a third corroborating argument to it, and a fourth, and eventually a ninth renders your conclusion all the more plausible and secure.
“All men know that they must die,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith. “And it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and of death, and the designs and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our suffering here, and our departure hence. What is the object of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more? It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night, for the world is ignorant in reference to their true condition and relation.”
I’ve been able to give you only the barest flavor here of Jeffrey Long’s “Evidence of the Afterlife.” But I hope that it’s been enough to interest at least some of you in taking a closer look.
LoraNovember 1, 2022
This article came at the right time! I sent it to my granddaughter who just started working at a hospital and has rejected the church. Since this is scientific, rather than religious, I hope that she will be able to deal with the inevitable life and death that goes on around her in her new job. My mother-in-law was raised as a secular Jewish woman, and now that her husband has died, she's having to face her thoughts about life after death. I've sent it to her, too. It may open the door to some deeper conversations. Thank you for writing this. I like David D's comments, too.
Kathleen N JonesNovember 1, 2022
I am 74 years old. When I was 7 years old and in very bad health (heart) I left and visited Heaven and sat upon the Lord's lap upon His throne. I so plainly to this day can I still see his face, as I placed my hand on his cheek and looked into his un-describable blue eyes. There is of course more to the beginning and end except to say I returned and later left the hospital without any clue to the doctors how I had healed completely. I have also been privileged to witness other events of seeing others enter Heaven more than once. My "job" is not done but I cannot wait to go. No, I do not share this much, but now may be the time.