Understanding Life after Death

Franz von Stuck • Helios

I cer­tain­ly would­n’t have read this book if it had­n’t been for the rec­om­men­da­tion of the philoso­pher Bernar­do Kas­trup. Already the title may raise some eye­brows – Why an After­life Obvi­ous­ly Exists : A Thought Exper­i­ment and Real­er Than Real Near-Death Expe­ri­ences near-death expe­ri­ences more real than real) –, and the cov­er is decid­ed­ly sweet.

The author pro­pos­es a thought exper­i­ment which can be summed up some­what sim­ply here by this :

Imag­ine a room designed by a team of bril­liant sci­en­tists and infi­nite­ly fund­ed by the ultra-rich. You see, the project is pharaon­ic. From this room, no one can enter with­out being invit­ed. The input mode is secret, as is the out­put. It is impos­si­ble to cir­cum­vent the sys­tem. The piece is a tech­ni­cal mas­ter­piece. It is also impos­si­ble to know who will be able to enter the room.

The selec­tion is ran­dom, sci­en­tif­ic. We do not omit any stra­tum of soci­ety, any region of the plan­et, and social sta­tus, any type of per­son­al­i­ty, healthy peo­ple, sick peo­ple, crazy peo­ple, poets, politi­cians, etc.

No one knows what’s in the room, not even the sci­en­tists. We don’t know if there real­ly is any­thing. The con­tent was designed by an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence whose mem­o­ry was sub­se­quent­ly erased (here, I extrap­o­late the exam­ple of the author). The AI​had all the means to invent some­thing (it’s pharaon­ic, I tell you).

The expe­ri­ence lasts for years. Peo­ple come in, spend some time in the room, and are tak­en out. All they are asked to do next is to report what they saw. Note that there are four types of “vis­its.”

  1. A per­son is giv­en every­thing need­ed and enough time to vis­it the room.
  2. Anoth­er is giv­en every­thing to vis­it the room, but very lit­tle time to do so.
  3. The per­son is giv­en lit­tle time, but with the means to explore.
  4. We give very lit­tle time and very few means to do it.

Peo­ple will say to me, all this is impos­si­ble. You are wrong ; it is all in a thought exper­i­ment. Many dis­cov­er­ies have come out of such exper­i­ments. But any­way, back to our sci­en­tists and their rich sponsors.

The results are being col­lat­ed as we go along. It appears that all of them, with­out excep­tion but to vary­ing degrees, report the same thing.

  1. The expe­ri­ence was grip­ping, real­er than real.
  2. Many saw a pink ele­phant in the room.
  3. For some, see­ing the ele­phant was ter­ri­fy­ing, but most were fas­ci­nat­ed and came away changed.
  4. Peo­ple in the first two cat­e­gories had a clear­er expe­ri­ence than others.

Our sci­en­tists are puz­zled because they did­n’t real­ly expect this. There is no such thing as a pink ele­phant, and how come it has such an effect on peo­ple ? Some peo­ple find some­thing oth­er than an ele­phant, and the more peo­ple you bring in, the more con­fus­ing it becomes, but by extrap­o­lat­ing the expe­ri­ences, you can bring it down to constants.

  1. A won­der­ful thing exists.
  2. It is an expe­ri­ence beyond what is per­ceived in a dream or dur­ing a hallucination.

You can prob­a­bly guess the con­nec­tion with the theme of the book.

  1. Thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of peo­ple every year, but also through­out the cen­turies, have had a near-death expe­ri­ence (NDE).
  2. These peo­ple come from all shades of life and have had their expe­ri­ences in equal­ly ran­dom ways.
  3. In research­ing the expe­ri­ences of these peo­ple, a scale can be estab­lished that mea­sures var­i­ous con­di­tions that define an NDE. The total is out of 32 : 
    1. The pro­found expe­ri­ence (24−32 points)
    2. The mid­dle expe­ri­ence (15−23 points)
    3. Sub­tle or fuzzy expe­ri­ence (7−14 points)
    4. The incon­clu­sive expe­ri­ence (0−6 points)

The results are as fol­lows and are of course grad­ed by the mag­ni­tude of the experience :

  1. Peo­ple live in a real­i­ty that they describe as more real than real. It is not like a dream. Every­thing seems log­i­cal, clear, unruffled.
  2. Every­thing is bright, sublime.
  3. There are oth­er peo­ple, beings.
  4. Peo­ple with scores of more than 23 points are con­vinced of the exis­tence of life after death. Those between 14 and 23 are also fair­ly certain.
  5. Even those who scored between 7 and 14 are shaken.

The pur­pose of this book is not, despite the title which seems to say oth­er­wise, to prove that life after death exists, as near-death expe­ri­ences raise more ques­tions than answers. The author sug­gests that it would not be at all irra­tional to lis­ten to what these peo­ple have to say, since their tes­ti­monies point in the same direction.

The book reads well, the tone is calm, with­out arti­fice. The man is a philoso­pher and invites us to listen.

Those who come back from such expe­ri­ences prob­a­bly have to fil­ter the wide range of their expe­ri­ences with the igno­rance attached to their words. It seems that many remain silent because they can­not express what they have expe­ri­enced or because they are laughed at.

I want to hear these peo­ple. But I feel like Job and I’m already com­plain­ing. Why should this exist ? Why must we suf­fer, enjoy, cry, and laugh in this world if it is to return in the end to a uni­verse more won­der­ful than all par­adis­es ? Why this cycle, this fall and rise ? Too much hap­pi­ness up there, it’s bor­ing ? Many reli­gions have tried to for­mu­late expla­na­tions that always break on the rock of ulti­mate incomprehension.

And the fly that I just knocked out to the point that its lit­tle heart stopped for a while before start­ing to beat again, what did it expe­ri­ence ? The same light ?