My sister Melanie asked me for advice on starting a blog like a year ago. It's a good thing she didn't ask for advice on making a popular blog, because I couldn't have helped her with that. But it looks like she now has a blog with two posts. It's called "Almost Canadian," an obvious reference to us growing up half an hour from the border of Quebec and watching CBC instead of PBS. If you enjoy my sarcasm, snark, anger, and scathing religious and political criticism, I don't think you'll get any of that from her. But she has a strong writing voice and a charming sense of humor. I think she's a better writer than I was at her age (23), even though she only just recently realized it's what she wants to do, but I'm not jealous or anything. Okay, maybe a little. I'm just going to focus on building up my relationship with her in case she gets rich before I do.
I read a few Psychology Today articles about near-death experiences yesterday. NDEs have increased dramatically since the mid-twentieth century as medical technology has advanced to be able to save people who are farther and farther gone. They confirm of one of two things: that our consciousnesses will survive death, or that spiritual experiences are a byproduct of our brains having evolved to screw with us in countless ways. Obviously one of these possibilities is comforting and the other is terrifying. I'm guessing NDEs were all but nonexistent for most of human history when people simply did not wake up after their hearts stopped, so I doubt they influenced religious beliefs. But are they evidence for religious beliefs or merely influenced by them? Many of their motifs are strikingly similar across cultures, but Hindus don't encounter Jesus and Christians don't encounter Hindu gods. So maybe a biological commonality of human brains is being filtered through cultural influences, or maybe the higher power that receives dead souls is manifesting itself in different ways depending on what people expect and recognize.
Many, maybe most neurologists and other scientists are skeptical. One hypothesis holds that NDEs are hallucinations caused by dying brains flooding themselves with the psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine, but there is as yet little evidence that dying brains actually flood themselves with the psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine. I should think that would be an easy thing to check for, but I'm no expert. Another, in my opinion more convincing, argument against the reality of NDEs is that similar experiences can be triggered by non-life-threatening conditions like fever or anesthesia. I'm not sure how a believer would respond to that, but any honest believer in any spiritual phenomena must be compelled to acknowledge that they have a significant neurological component and consequently can be set off by things happening in the brain. Hippies have recognized this for a long time. Why God would make spiritual phenomena so unstable and unreliable if they're meant to be a guide to divine truth, I can't imagine.
One of the biggest counterarguments in favor of the reality of NDEs is the profound effect they tend to have on people. Most people find NDEs very peaceful and pleasant, sometimes so much so that coming back to life is a disappointment. They lose any fear of death they previously had, feel more purpose in life, see more beauty in everyday things, and become less materialistic and more altruistic. Standard hallucinations don't do that to people. I find this point very compelling, though there's still a chance it could just be a twisted cosmic joke, like how the Book of Mormon has a real and powerful spiritual impact on many people despite being a nineteenth-century fraud. A small percentage of people have unpleasant, lonely, or frightening NDEs, and while this would be difficult to test scientifically and I don't want to make insensitive assumptions, I'm dying to know if they're bad people who have reason to fear God's judgment. It would make sense for them to be a small percentage because God is supposed to be merciful and I believe few people are truly evil in their hearts.
Anyway, this is cool stuff, and though none of it is conclusive, it somewhat assuages my anxiety about death, at least until science marches on and ruins it for everyone.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.