The Science of Consciousness:

Survival and Near-death experiences


Many people have written to me saying that I am wrong about survival, that mind and body are independent, that something "mental" can survive us after death, that there are ghosts, and that near-death experiences  indeed occur when a person dies, enters the afterlife, and comes back to life.

To those who say I am too embedded in the western materialist tradition, I say you are right, although I am perhaps just a little less certain than I was.

The Bigelow Institute Prize

A recent competition awarded huge prizes to several essays that in the opinion of the judges gave the best evidence for the existence of survival of some form after death.


One theory is that ghosts are in some way a "recording" in the atmosphere rather than a manifestation of survival. The problem then is what is the mechanism of recording? I am particularly indebted to Leo Ruickbie and his entry in the Bigelow Institute competition on evidence for survival.

NDEs (near-death experiences)

There is much more that could be said here. In any future edition I will expand this section. It should be linked with discussion of survival. I think in any future edition I will combine the two topics.

Alexander, E. (2012). Proof of heaven A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife. New York: Simon & Schuster. Eben Alexander's experiences and work in this area is particularly famous and much quoted.

Kelly, EF. (2018). Book review. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 32, 433-445.

Rivas, T., Dirven, A., & Smit, R.H. (2016). The self does not die: Verified paranormal penomena from near-death experiences. Durham, NC: International Association for Near-Death Studies.

Kubler-Ross, E. (2008). On life after death (2nd. ed.). Celestial Arts. Kubler-Ross is best known for her work on the cycles of grief. Some grieving reviewers say it brings them great solace; others call it too religious and pseudo-science. Contains work on NDEs and the Afterlife.

I am particularly grateful to Stephen Mascari and Yew-Kwang Ng for their time and patience discussing NDEs and survival with me.

Recent important papers on NDEs

Martial, C., Cassol, H., Laureys, S., & Gosseries, O. (2020). Near-Death Experience as a Probe to Explore (Disconnected) Consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24(3), 173–183.

Parnia, S., Post, S. G., Lee, M. T., Lyubomirsky, S., Aufderheide, T. P., Deakin, C. D., Greyson, B., Long, J., Gonzales, A. M., Huppert, E. L., Dickinson, A., Mayer, S., Locicero, B., Levin, J., Bossis, A., Worthington, E., Fenwick, P., & Shirazi, T. K. (2022). Guidelines and standards for the study of death and recalled experiences of death––a multidisciplinary consensus statement and proposed future directions. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1511(1), 5–21.

Evrard, R., Pratte, E., & Rabeyron, T. (2022). Sawing the branch of near‐death experience research: A critical analysis of Parnia et al.’s paper. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1515(1), 5–9.

Further review questions

1. Do you need to be religious to believe in survival?