While I have nothing less than respect (and just slightly less than utter awe) for my alma mater of Edinburgh, I cannot help being bemused at times by the alumni magazine. Between my wife and I, when we fail to cover our tracks adequately, we receive almost as many alumni magazines as exclusive credit card offers. Anybody intelligent enough to graduate realizes that these magazines are attempts to raise money, but they maintain the illusion of giving actual news. Thus it was I found myself facing a pithy piece stating in no uncertain terms that “Near-death events are ‘tricks of mind.’” The rationale given is that psychologists at both Edinburgh and Cambridge have decided it is so.
Now, I’ve never had a near-death experience, nor do I really ever want to. I don’t know what to make of the stories of those who claim to have “crossed over.” The problem is, there can be no winner to the argument of authentic experience versus mind trick. Those who know, by definition, can’t tell. Each side has good points to make. Some religions, particularly those of western orientation, tend to offer an afterlife anyway, so when someone appears to have slipped over the edge and claims they saw a great light, well, why not? Scientists often make the equally valid point that the rapid images that occur in the brain may seem to stretch on into minutes or hours and may incorporate images that our culture lends us of what to expect when the darkness falls. The near-death experience is, they say, final jolts of electrical “noise” just before brain activity ceases.
Some things we just can’t know, even if we attended Edinburgh. “Near-death experiences are not paranormal but are triggered by a change in normal brain function, according to researchers.” So the article says. There seems nothing paranormal about death—it is as natural an event as exists. It is common to us all, including pets and pests. The “paranormal” is the idea that something continues after death. If that something includes a deity or two, it becomes “religious” rather than “paranormal.” Whether religious, psychological, or paranormal, intelligent people continue to debate what is actually happening to those who have been briefly dead and have the medical records to prove it. For my part, if there’s something on the other side, I hope it’s a lot like Edinburgh. Maybe with a few less alumni magazines, however.