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.