Leslie Purnell Death and the Afterlife Dr. Posman Essay 1 September 25, 2011 The subject of life after death can be a difficult topic of discussion for some people. Envisioning what happens to your body after you have passed on can cause unwanted emotions and thoughts. Raymond A. Moody Jr. M.D., author of Life After Life, challenges his audience to think about what can happen when a person has a near death experience. Over a period of eight years, Moody had many discussions with people all over the United States about their own near death experiences. After going over the results of his conversations, Moody then proposed there are fifteen elements that occur during a near death experience. Along with the description of those fifteen elements Moody also discusses parallels, answers common questions, and alternate explanations. After reading and discussing Life After Life in class, Moody essentially provides weak evidence for life after death. Throughout the preface and introduction of the book, Moody does not state information to make him seem like a credible source for life after death material. The book was first published in 1975, and this leaves a 36-year gap of scientific studies and technology to help support his claims in society today. Before even explaining his take on near death experiences, the preface stated that, “In 1995 Moody developed a technique for inducing the near-death experience without actually having to come close to death” (Morse 1975, xvi). Right away the reader can become puzzled, because this book is supposed to be about people who have either been pronounced dead and come back to life or had a close encounter with death. If the elements that occur during the near-death
experience can be induced readers can believe that the experiences are not natural and is a side effect of another variable. Another way Moody presented himself as not a credible source is when he stated that a near-death experience has never happened to him. His emotions have become involved in his project. And that he is not broadly familiar with the vast literature on paranormal and occult phenomena. (Moody 1975, xxv-xxvi). Moody does not do a good job convincing the reader in the beginning that this book provides a lot of credible evidence for near death experiences. After listening to his project’s reduced number of 50 people about their near-death experiences, fifteen common elements were established; ineffability, hearing the news, feelings of peace and quiet, the noise, the dark tunnel, out of the body, meeting others, the being of light, the review, the border or limit, coming back, telling others, effects on lives, new views of death, and corroboration. Moody found four main parallels that involved the various elements of the fifteen stages of the dying experience. Those main parallels were the Bible, Plato, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Emmanuel Swedenborg. Out of those four parallels, the Tibetan Book of the Dead provides Moody with the best supporting evidence of near-death experiences. “The wise men who wrote the book regarded dying as, in effect, a skill—something which could be done either artfully or in an unbecoming manner, depending upon whether one had the requisite knowledge to do it well” (Moody 1975, 111-112). That claim supports how Moody can induce a near-death experience without the person coming close to death. “The Tibetan Book of the Dead contains a lengthy description of the various stages through which the soul goes after physical death” (Moody 1975, 112). Multiple descriptions in the book match up with Moody’s subjects. Some of the common elements are feelings of peace
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and quiet, meeting others, and the being of light. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is common among Buddhists, and Buddhism is not necessarily a largely practiced religion in the United States. So for the 50 subjects to have similar accounts to a book written in the 8th century A.D. can add some credibility. The one parallel that does not provide strong cohesion is the Bible. There are two elements Moody discusses, the being of light and out of body. Some of the subjects, who have had a Christian background, report the being of light as Jesus himself. Moody also alludes to the story about the apostle Paul seeing a bright light, yet states that Paul was nowhere close to having a near-death experience. The comparison between the spiritual soul and the out of body is also a weak one, because the Bible never says anything about the soul coming back into the body once it is dead. All in all, the Bible revealed weaker support than the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the questions chapter of Life After Life, Moody points out that this book is not the result of a scientific study. His subjects were not of a random sample, and that there are no cross-cultural cases. (Moody 1975, 132). Moody later goes on to state that he has no knowledge of any historical examples of near-death phenomena. If he found certain old scriptures and writings that went along with his fifteen elements, the reader could question why he did not relay any historical examples. A question was asked if any of his subjects were really dead, and so he gave three definitions of death. The first is the absence of clinically detectable vital signs. Second, is the absence of brain wave activity. Lastly, death is an irreversible loss of vital functions. Most of his subjects were defined dead within the category of the first definition. Doctors and scientists cannot be sure the experience is happening at the time of the absence of brain wave activity, so the second
definition cannot be used. The third definition would never be able to relate with neardeath experience because all of the subjects are eventually resuscitated. Using the first definition of death Moody stated, “Both the testimony of physicians and the evidence of medical records adequately support the contention that “deaths” in this sense did take place” (Moody 1975, 135). This in turn can show that his subjects that retell their stories were in fact dead. For the alternative explanations chapter, Moody gives light to other possible causes for near-death experiences such as supernatural, scientific, and psychological. Pharmacological explanation is the one that best fits his argument. Critics of near-death experiences allude to the fact that the cause could be from the drugs administered to the subjects in the hospital. To defend that claim Moody writes, “the most significant explanation is simply that in many cases no drug had been administered prior to the experience nor, in some cases, were drugs given even after the near-death event” (Moody 1975, 145). Nonbelievers tend to think that the experience is a trip or vision caused as a side effect of the drug, but this explanation helps to disprove that claim. Neurological Explanations can hinder Moody’s argument. “People can have seizures that can take the form of visual images that were incredibly vivid and were actually three-dimensional”, Moody stated (Moody 1975, 150). “There are also some hallucinations that can cause subjects to see a projection of themselves into their own visual field” (Moody 1975, 150-151). The seizures and hallucinations can explain the review, ineffability, and out of body. Those components are key to the stories of the subjects’ near-death experiences.
Purnell 5 After reading and discussing Life After Life, a reader can make the decision as to
whether Moody provides ample or not enough evidence of life after death experiences. I believe this book would be appealing to college-aged students who are very open to new ideas and phenomenons. Audiences least appropriate for this book could be the senior citizens. Generally, senior citizens are very set in their ways and beliefs, and do not take what they read as cold hard facts. This book alone does not convince me of near-death experiences. In his last words Moody still does not write confidently of this phenomenon. He wrote, “If experiences of the type which I have discussed are real, they have very profound implications for what every one of us is doing with his life. For, then it would be true that we cannot fully understand this life until we catch a glimpse of what lies beyond it” (Moody 1975, 165). Adding the word if in his statement does not prove to be very confident in his words which helps me to continue to belief there is not enough evidence for life after death.
Bibliography Moody, Raymond A. Life After Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1975.