Life After Death? Exploring Immortality

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Research from The Immortality Project at the University of California, Riverside, was outlined to the public during the project’s capstone conference, which was held in downtown Riverside from May 28-May 30. The investigations, supported by a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, have focused on near-death experiences, the nature of heaven, explaining the aging process, and other related topics.

John Martin Fisher, distinguished professor of philosophy and principal investigator, and his team have been examining these aspects of immortality and the afterlife for the past three years. “Some people think we’re on the verge of much greater longevity or even immortality, so it’s a great time to think of these [questions],” Fischer says. “You could say technology travels faster than philosophy and we’re trying to get the philosophy to catch up.”

Some of the findings reported at the conference include:

  • Near-death experiences can be simulated through immersive virtual reality.
  • The life-review component of near-death experiences has a physical basis in the brain.
  • There are important relationships between beliefs about the mind (whether it is physical or nonphysical) and attitudes toward death and the afterlife.
  • There are important relationships between human tendencies to attribute mental states to individuals who have died and beliefs about their moral characters.

Fischer and postdoctoral fellow Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin have written a forthcoming book based on their research, No Proof of Heaven: The Significance of Near-Death Experiences. “The people who’ve had these experiences are incredibly sincere,” says Fischer. “You just have to conclude that they are correct in their experiences…but you also have to try to explain them in a way that does not give up on science and naturalism.”

“As far as we know, this is the largest research project ever that seeks systematically to investigate immortality from scientific, philosophical, and theological points of view,” says Fischer. At least three documentary films about research supported by the Immortality Project, as well as many books, anthologies, and articles are expected in the future.

  • Miguel Marcos

    This is a fascinating project. I am curious if the research will look into Buddhist philosophy and experience about death.

  • Sarah S. Knox

    Knee surgery can be simulated on television but it does not mean that real knee surgery doesn’t exist as an important clinical intervention. The problem with the argument about ‘giving up science’ to believe that NDEs reflect true experiences of life beyond death, is that the current paradigm in science (here defined as biomedicine), namely that of materialism, is out of sync with modern physics and has been for about 90 years. If the assumptions of ‘science’ are inaccurate, there’s a problem. The current biomedical paradigm assumes that matter is the cause of everything, which means that something biological in the brain causes NDEs. Current psychiatry is based on this concept, which we call, “the medical model”. Brain = mind. That is why drugs are prescribed to deal with emotional problems, despite the fact that this has not proven very effective. Our belief that if we just find the ‘magic bullet’ – neurotransmitter, gene, inhibitor, etc., we will be able to solve all of humanity’s emotional issue has not been fruitful. Data in support of this underlying assumption continue to elude us. Although we can map the blood flow of the brain, locate brain areas associated with responses to different types of stimuli (e.g., using evoked potentials), and determine neurotransmitters associated with different emotions, we cannot define a thought. Strangely, this does not seem to be causing any concern in the neuroscience community about the underlying veracity of their assumptions. The problem as I see it, is that there is a huge field of data points and the materialists are focusing on only a very small group of them, but extrapolating these few points to represent the whole.

    Despite the obvious discrepancies between physics and biomedicine, materialists continue to dominate the dialogue on what is ‘real’ in science. This is unfortunate because there are other scientists – myself included – who have expanded their analyses to include a much larger set of data points and come to entirely different conclusions. My book, ‘Science, God and the Nature of Reality’ (written for lay people but referenced for scientists), deals in depth with how a misunderstanding of the underlying nature of reality has hindered biomedical research. NDEs are only a small part of the misunderstanding. Cancer is another. The world of science has tried to negate NDEs by attributing them to hypoxia in the brain, anesthesia, or some other biological cause. However, unlike drug induced hallucinations, NDEs have life altering positive effects on many who experience them. “Life’ is not DNA. It has been experimentally demonstrated that you can remove the DNA from a cell and it still lives. The whole field of bioenergetics in human physiology, well established in the field of biophysics, has not yet penetrated the field of medicine. Scientists interested in this should see a 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Oncology titled ‘Oncology and Biophysics: the Need for Integration”.

    As scientists, we have for so long propagated the myth that we are
    objective, that we have come to believe it ourselves. However, inherent in our
    humanity is subjectivity. When we recognize and acknowledge our beliefs, it is easier to collaborate with others who can balance them with other beliefs. so that we begin to address scientific questions from multiple perspectives. The reason this is important is that our
    belief systems determine the content and form of the scientific questions we ask. Only so many variables can be included in an equation. If you don’t ‘believe’ that a variable is relevant, you leave it out. The learned men of Galileo’s time refused to look in the telescope to observe the movement in the heavens because they were convinced that the earth was the center of everything. Religion told them so. Now the new religion is the science of materialism and the learned of our time are still refusing to look through the telescope. SCIENCE NEEDS A NEW PARADIGM that is more open, more objective and more collaborative. Since we are all biased, we need to transdisciplinary research to transcend our biases and move science forward..
    Respectfully submitted,
    Sarah S. Knox, Professor, West Virginia University

  • Thomas Stewart

    What the ? All they did was reported on things we all ready knew there was no real head way made. What a waste of 5 million dollars. I am disappointed.

  • http://adventtime.com Aleksandar Popovski

    This is what the Bible says about death:

    Ecclesiastes 9:5
    For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

    Psalms 115:17
    The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.

    1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17
    For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

    There are many more verses on the subject. If anyone is interested in what the Bible says abut life after death here is a great resource: http://www.truthaboutdeath.com