I want to thank Mountain Xpress for the excellent article on near-death experiences [“Worlds in Collision: Near-death Experiences in WNC,” April 13]. I also want to express my gratitude to those individuals who shared their intensely personal stories. I trust that this article will generate discussions regarding NDEs and, more generally, the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain.
David Chalmers has defined the nature of consciousness as the “hard problem” of philosophy of mind and suggests that it may take a century to solve this problem. This is not to say that the other challenges of cognitive science, such as detailing the many intricate relationships between the brain and consciousness, are easy. It is just that, given sufficient research, these problems seem amenable to solutions.
Like most individuals who have studied this area, I have adopted a world view of materialistic monism. As to the hard problem, I am simply agnostic. However, your article on NDEs, and similar articles on other aspects of parapsychology, have made my agnosticism more open and sincere.
Cognitive science has established a large body of evidence regarding the intimate relationship between the brain and consciousness. Just as the reality of NDEs must be respected, so must the work of these scientists. I believe that to make claims of life after death, based on very real NDEs, is going too far too fast. It is one thing to have an intense, personally transforming experience and quite something else to make an ontological claim about that experience. One problem with this claim is that it implies a fundamental dualism, a philosophical position filled with difficulties.
Central to the process of scientific inquiry is an openness to new data. It appears that our scientific models cannot adequately deal with the data from NDEs and similar events. Perhaps doing this will involve an evolution of our current models, or even the creation of entirely new models. The scientific and philosophical work on these problems will move forward deliberately and methodically, the only path to real progress and knowledge.
— Richard Winchell