Think about this; The majority of top books about near death experiences are not written by fringy New Agers, but rather accomplished medical doctors or highly respected mainstream academicians.
Take that, skeptics!
Raymond Moody M.D. blew the doors open on the NDE issue with his monumental book Life After Life which came out in 1975. Professor and psychologist Kenneth Ring scored in 1980 with Life at Death. Of course, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross M.D. became practically the patron saint of the NDE movement, even though her ground-breaking 1969 book On Death and Dying never dealt with NDEs, per se. In fact, Kübler-Ross wanted to include this kind of information in her book, but her peers urged her not to, saying it would destroy the credibility of her book.
And they keep coming – the latest mega-best-selling NDE book is by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon of fine reputation, credentials and pedigree. His book PROOF OF HEAVEN published in 2012 was on the New York Times best seller list for four weeks.
But now enter PMH ATWATER: She is an Idaho woman who began her career as a housewife, secretary and prize-winning county fair cook. But early on she began writing copy for the Idaho Department of Commerce and Development and then started contributing to a regional publication, Sunset magazine. In 1976 at age 39 she found herself suddenly a divorced mother of three – but the next year is when her life was shattered and changed forever.
In 1977 Atwater suffered a miscarriage which resulted in massive internal hemorrhaging. She experienced clinical death and a brief NDE. Two days later a blood clot brought her to the brink of death again, and another much more involved NDE ensued. Then about three months later a possible heart attack or stroke sent her beyond the veil one more time.This time she experienced an NDE of epic proportions.
As Atwater likes to say: “I died three times in 1977.”
She reports many of the standard features of the NDE – a journey to a heavenly realm, meeting deceased relatives, even a conversation with none other than Jesus. (Although this is not a Christian-oriented book). She also experienced the overwhelming cosmic and universal love that composes the very fabric of all reality.
These experiences were so profound it launched her on a lifetime investigation of the NDE. Even though Raymond Moody’s book had been on the shelves for a couple of years by that time, Atwater claims to have known nothing about Moody’s work or any other NDE work that had been going on at the time.
To this end, Atwater interviewed (interrogated?) more than 3,000 people who claimed to have experienced their own NDEs, and so this book, her 10th on the subject, describes her theories and conclusions about NDEs.
I have taken some pains to point out that Atwater is different from others in NDE research because it suggests her work offers a fresh look at NDEs. We might consider Atwater something of a maverick within the field. This is interesting for two reasons:
1. Unlike most others in the NDE field, she is an “experiencer” herself, and thus is coming at the subject from the inside, so to speak, rather than as an outside objective observer.
2. She is not shackled by the “group think” or materialistic bias I think we can fairly attribute to the scientific community.
Of course, not being bothered by the scientific method is both a benefit and a drawback. Science has been successful because the scientific method works and brings results. (What would you rather have when the chips are really down; hands-on faith healing or a shot of penicillin?)
On the other hand, the exploration of the NDE might be one of those areas that simply isn't accessible to the scientific method; at the very least, applying a rational-materialistic overlay to the NDE may be akin to fixing your car's transmission with a roll of duct tape.
To this end, Atwater scores a couple of major body blows against scientific skeptics of the NDE, including:
• The universal acceptance of the “tunnel phenomenon.” Atwater points out that perhaps less than 10% of all NDErs report traveling through a tunnel on their way to the “other side.” Yet, the skeptics apply this tunnel experience universally to the NDE phenomenon. They say the "tunnel" can be explained by the way brain cells shut down as their oxygen supply is depleted. But as Atwater found, most people don’t experience the tunnel – how then are they still experiencing full-blown NDEs?
• The skeptic’s explanation for NDE relies heavily on the idea that an NDE is extremely brief, and that people don’t truly die during their experience, but rather, are thrust into a deep state of unconsciousness with loss of brain function. However, Atwater points out that some people who “return from the dead” do so not after a minute or two – but sometimes after several days. There are cases of people waking up on slabs while in a morgue cooler. They displayed no vital signs or brain activity for days at a time, yet they return to normal functioning.
• Severe oxygen deprivation does not always result in brain damage. Many people have been resuscitated well beyond the point where damage to the brain can be expected – yet they return without a hint of brain damage. Atwater contents the brain-oxygen connection is not well understood and is often misinterpreted by medical science.
• Scientists are coming at the issue with the assumption that all knowledge and experience is generated from within the brain – while there is good evidence from a variety of fields to suggest that knowledge and information may originate outside the brain, and the brain rather works like a radio receiver and organizer of knowledge that is “out there.”
And there’s more – including Atwater’s extremely excellent point that skeptics are failing to consider all the evidence – especially in documenting the long-term after effects of the NDE. That includes the deep personality changes that are displayed over a lifetime. Typical of science, it tends to focus in on and look too narrowly at certain factors, points of data and observed phenomenon. The method is radically reductionist– and this causes skeptics to simply disregard vast sums of data that are relevant to the overall phenomenon.
Unfortunately, Atwater in the later chapters veers off wildly into Fruitloop-O-Topia, making larger observations that, from my point of view, border on the bizarre.
For example, Atwater contends that millions of people experiencing NDEs is actually a form of consciousness evolution and is responsible for a new breed of advanced, highly intelligent children (born since 1982) emerging into our society with superior abilities. That’s complete and unsupportable nonsense.
But she makes other bizarre claims as well – such as suggesting that the downfall of Maoist China was triggered by Tangshan earthquake in 1976 which killed more than 242,000 people. Atwater contends that potentially thousands of people who survived the quake experienced NDEs and thus fueled with their expanded consciousness the transformation of China. Well, if that’s true, then Atwater must also explain why China today is veering toward large-scale environmental collapse as it pursues an aggressive, militaristic, paranoid and virulent form of hyper-capitalism that is rapidly polluting our beautiful green earth -- and on such a massive scale that it may push the entire planet to the brink of a black, gritty, dystopia.
There are other 100% inane observations as well –such as saying that Pluto has suddenly changed its color and that the other planets are also brightening – say what? – and even if this is true, how is this relevant to the NDE?
It’s not. It’s just nutty.
The good and the fascinating of NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE: THE REST OF THE STORY far outweigh the flights of fancy and the David Wilcock-like lunacy that comes forth in the final chapters.
Even so, I say you buy it and read it. It’s a significant and worthy contribution to the NDE field of literature.
Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA
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