Looking through's extended 'Afterlife Books' section recently I came across several excellent customer reviews of three important new books on the Near-Death Experience, two of which have been published this year (2010), and the third in 2009.

Over the last five years the study of near-death experiences (NDE) and of spiritual regression or 'Life Between Lives' (LBL) have been my consuming passion. Yet I never cease to be amazed at how current interest into these two phenomenal fields of consciousness research is still so little known by the spiritual community at large: especially since the topics of mind-science, quantum mechanics and neuroscience are now popularly becoming integrated with the philosophical concepts and doctrines of Vajrayana Buddhism. In a recent conversation with my agnostic friend, Stephen Batchelor, we both felt that the current vogue for Buddhist mind-science dialogues derived from a need to redefine or reclaim spiritual meaning within an ever-changing universe of theoretical possibilities. An attempt to unify the mystical sciences of the past and present into an alchemical amalgam, a philosopher's stone that will no longer enable its possessor to metaphorically produce gold, but metaphysical immunity from uncertainty and fear. Historically, such a quest has never been easy, even though much less refined material essences are often distilled in the process.

The titles of these three new books are:

SCIENCE AND THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE: How Consciousness Survives Death. By Chris Carter (Paperback, 2010)

CONSCIOUSNESS BEYOND LIFE: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. By Dr Pim van Lommel (Hardcover, 2010)

THE HANDBOOK OF NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: THIRTY YEARS OF INVESTIGATION (Hardcover, 2009) Edited by Janice Holden, Bruce Greyson, and Debbie James.

In this section below I have copied and pasted on four Amazon customer reviews of these books, written by Robert Perry, Michael Tymn, and Ken Vincent, who all are highly knowledgeable about NDE research and equally capable of expressing their valuable reviews of these books in a far more concise 'nutshell' than I am able to do. Then in the following blog section (Afterlife 5) I have included a separate review of Chris Carter's book by Dr. Larry Dossey, along with a link to the various books on holistic medicine and healing that Dr. Dossey has himself written and listed on his official website. Dr, Dossey's review, entitled 'Carter Hits (Another) Home Run!' is a superb piece of writing, and to my mind the most clear and inspiring book review on the subject of NDEs that I have ever had the pleasure to read.

SCIENCE AND THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE: How Consciousness Survives Death. By Chris Carter (Paperback, 2010)

Amazon review by Robert Perry (Arizona)

After reading Carter's masterful 'Parapsychology and the Skeptics: A Scientific Argument for the Existence of ESP', I eagerly awaited the second book in his three-book series. 'Science and the Near-Death Experience' builds a powerful and compelling case that the mind is not dependent on the brain and can exist independently of the brain.

To build this case, Carter postpones discussion of near-death experiences (NDEs) and survival of death until after he has spent the first hundred pages discussing the fundamental question underlying these issues: Does consciousness exist independently of the brain? After an eye-opening, extremely lucid tour of neuroscience, quantum physics, memory storage, and theories of life (what animates and organizes living organisms), he concludes that empirical evidence and the known laws of science fully permit the filter theory. This says that the brain doesn't produce consciousness, but rather acts as a filter that allows it through, as Aldous Huxley put it, only "a measly trickle" of consciousness.

He then moves on to Part II: The Near-Death Experience. In my view, the strongest part of the book consists of several chapters in this part that explore and refute the proposed psychological, physiological, and pharmacological explanations of NDEs. These chapters are a real tour de force. He examines each of a dozen proposed explanations in detail, finding in each case that the phenomenon that supposedly explains NDEs (e.g., dissociated states, oxygen starvation, ketamine) is simply not a good match for the actual characteristics of NDEs. I particularly like how he dispatched Michael Persinger and his "God Helmet" and Susan Blackmore and her contrived, patchwork "dying brain" theory. By the time he is done, all of the proposed alternative explanations look so weak and flimsy that they appear to really rest on the underlying confidence that a materialist explanation simply must be true.

Then come chapters on NDEs that contain veridical perceptions from an out-of-body perspective and NDEs in which those born blind experience sight. These appear to be direct refutations of the mind's dependence on the brain (drawing on Karl Popper's idea that science advances by refutations). In the end, the common equation of science with materialism comes out looking like an ideology, like its own kind of dogmatic faith.

This deserves to become a landmark book in the survival debate. Carter has a real gift for presenting complex, technical issues in simple, layman's terms. And he has an even more impressive gift of total fearlessness in the face of prevailing dogma. He never flinches, yet he meets this dogma, which depends so heavily on ridicule, without ridicule of his own. His arguments have the feel of a Zen swordsman, dispassionate but deadly accurate.

I am simply glad that Carter is out there writing. His book shows that those who believe in survival do not have to apologize, be timid, or take refuge in the mystery of "faith." On strictly scientific grounds, they are in the stronger position. With more books like this one, our society may start slowly waking up to that fact, with all its immense implications.

SCIENCE AND THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE: How Consciousness Survives Death. By Chris Carter (Paperback, 2010)

Amazon review by Michael E Tymn (Kailua, Hawaii)

A day or two before I started reading this book, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking publicly declared that God did not create the universe. After finishing the book, I turned on the TV to catch the evening news and heard the newscaster talking about an upcoming debate between Hawking and a Catholic priest on the God question. Assuming that the priest would say it is all a matter of faith while Hawking would say it is all a matter of science, I wondered what would be accomplished by the debate and how many believers would be influenced by Hawking's opinion.

More than that, though, I wondered why the question of God's existence always takes precedence over the question of whether consciousness survives physical death. It seems much more logical to look at the evidence for survival and then let God, whatever He, She, or It happens to be, emerge from that rather than assume that finding and identifying God must precede a discussion of the survival issue.

This book is about some of the best scientific evidence for the survival of consciousness at death. In some 300 pages, author Chris Carter found it necessary to mention God only one time and that was only an incidental reference.

As Carter points out, the most basic issue is whether mind and brain are one and the same or whether the mind operates independently of the physical organ we call the brain. If the former be true, we apparently live in a mechanistic world that has no real purpose or meaning. If, however, the latter is true, we have reason to believe that consciousness continues after death and that life does have meaning.

The near-death experience (NDE) offers some very compelling evidence that mind and brain are separate. Carter astutely examines the evidence for the hypothesis that mind and brain are separate while carefully scrutinizing the various arguments made by scientists in opposition to the hypothesis. The subtitle of the book, "How Consciousness Survives Death," leaves no room for any suspense as to Carter's conclusion. "The NDE proves false the notion that the mind depends on a functioning brain, and so allows us to conclude that consciousness can continue to function, at least temporarily, after brain activity ceases," he writes in concluding Part II of the book. "The NDE suggests the existence of a continuing afterlife, and of those people who have had this experience, the overwhelming majority are convinced that life continues long after the body has died."

Having read a number of books about the NDE, I needed no convincing, but I did find it reinforcing. What I found most interesting was Part I of the book, in which Carter explains quantum mechanics and how an understanding of this "modern physics" permits us to make sense of a non-materialistic world. I have often struggled with understanding quantum mechanics, but Carter presents it in an easy to understand manner. Thus, I think I now have a much better handle on the subject.

Part III deals with deathbed visions, a phenomenon which also lends itself to the survival hypothesis. Having previously authored "Parapsychology and the Skeptics," Carter promises to explore additional evidence for survival in a third book.

If only more people would focus on the evidence for survival, as presented by Carter, rather than the existence of God, we might see less turmoil and chaos in the world.

Put the title of the book and/or the author into a search engine and you can find some interesting excerpts from the book.

CONSCIOUSNESS BEYOND LIFE: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. By Dr Pim van Lommel (Hardcover, 2010)

Amazon review by Michael E Tymn (Kailua, Hawaii)

It is difficult to understand how mainstream science can continue to ignore or reject the implications of the near-death experience (NDE) in light of the evidence and arguments made by Dr. Pim van Lommel in this most comprehensive book. Dr. van Lommel seemingly touches all bases in exploring the various phenomena related to the NDE.

Having grown up in an academic environment, van Lommel, a world-renowned cardiologist practicing in The Netherlands, writes that he was of the reductionist and materialistic mindset before he began studying the NDE and the nature of consciousness. He has closely examined all the arguments made by the scientific fundamentalists and now has a more positive outlook. "That death is the end used to be my own belief," he writes. "But after many years of critical research into the stories of the NDErs, and after a careful exploration of current knowledge about brain function, consciousness, and some basic principles of quantum physics, my views have undergone a complete transformation. As a doctor and researcher, I found the most significant finding to be the conclusion of one NDEr: `Dead turned out to be not dead.' I now see the continuity of our consciousness after the death of our physical body as a very real possibility."

About the time I started reading this book, reports were appearing at various internet sites stating that there is now evidence that the NDE is nothing more than a brief spell of abnormal brain activity resulting from oxygen deficiency. This theory has been going around for years, but seems to get resurrected every few years as if it is new science. Van Lommel dismisses the theory, pointing out that the NDE is "accompanied by an enhanced and lucid consciousness with memories, and because it can also be experienced under circumstances such as an imminent traffic accident or a depression, neither of which involves oxygen deficiency."

Van Lommel also addresses the skeptic's theory about the tunnel effect reported by many NDErs being caused by the disruption of oxygen supply to the eye, which gradually darkens one's range of vision. He points out that such a theory cannot explain the reports by NDErs that say that they meet deceased relatives in the tunnel. He tells why carbon dioxide overload, various chemicals, and other physiological theories do not account for the NDE. "When new ideas do not fit the generally accepted (materialist) paradigm, many scientists perceive them as a threat," van Lommel writes. "It is hardly surprising therefore that when empirical studies reveal new phenomena or facts that are inconsistent with the prevailing scientific paradigm, they are usually denied, suppressed, or even ridiculed."

A chapter of the book is devoted to quantum theory, which includes non-locality, or the idea that the mind operates outside of time and space and that what we in the physical plane interpret as reality is not reality at all. As van Lommel sees it, many aspects of the NDE correspond with or are analogous to some of the basic principles from quantum theory. "The findings of NDE research suggest the possibility that (non-local) consciousness is present at all time and will therefore last forever," van Lommel offers. "The content of a near-death experience suggests a continuity of consciousness that can be experienced independently of the body."

Something I have found particularly troubling over the years is the possibility that organs are being harvested before bodies are actually "dead," even though the person might be pronounced "clinically dead." Van Lommel devotes several interesting pages to the debate on this subject, pointing out that when brain death has been diagnosed, ninety-six percent of the body is still alive. While not in principle opposed to organ transplants, van Lommel suggests that more consideration should be given to the nonphysical aspects of organ donation, including the fear of death.

Over the past thirty-five years, NDE researchers like Drs. Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom, Bruce Greyson, Melvin Morse, and others have build a very solid wheel, one that supports the survival hypothesis. Close-minded skeptics keep trying to make the wheel collapse by bending the spokes. Fortunately, we have newer researchers like Drs. van Lommel and Jeffrey Long ("Evidence of the Afterlife") coming along to demonstrate that the spokes are solid and the wheel secure.

THE HANDBOOK OF NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: THIRTY YEARS OF INVESTIGATION (Hardcover, 2009) Edited by Janice Holden, Bruce Greyson, and Debbie James.

Amazon review by Ken R Vincent, author of "Visions of God from the Near-death Experience."

This book commemorates the research into near-death experience (NDE) that has transpired since the publication of Raymond Moody's classic book LIFE AFTER LIFE in 1975. Its content is based on material presented at the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) Conference at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, in 2006.

The editors, who form a near-death studies 'dream team' are: Bruce Greyson, M. D., professor of psychiatry and Director of the University of Virginia Medical School's Division of Perceptual Studies (the premiere center for scientific research into life after death); Jan Holden, Ed.D., Professor of Counseling at the University of North Texas and Interim Chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education and an expert in all research done on NDEs since 1877; Debbie James, R. N., Senior Instructor of Nursing at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Nursing Education Department who has orchestrated almost all of the IANDS conferences ever held.

Normally an edited book that is based on a conference is simply a collection of the papers presented. However, this handbook of NDEs is a much more cohesive and coherent product due to the extensive editing and consolidation of the presented topics. The editors have successfully presented the exhaustive data in a logical and smooth, readable style.

The first chapter covers scientific NDE research for the past hundred and fifty years. The second chapter is a presentation of pleasurable adult NDEs, followed by a chapter on the after-effects of pleasurable NDEs.

In my opinion, Chapter Four on distressing NDEs is one of the most important in the book. Its author, Nancy Evans Bush, is the world's foremost expert on the 'dark side' of NDEs, and she has data! In her analysis of 21 studies, 9 of the studies had no distressing NDEs, but the other 12 had a 23% rate of distressing NDEs. One of her blockbuster findings is that - not just 'evil' people - but anyone can face a 'time of trial'. In this sense, the distressing NDE mimics the ordeals mentioned in the afterlife and mystical experiences of the world's religions.

Chapter Five deals with NDEs of Western children and teenagers. This is followed by Chapter Six on Western NDE characteristics. In Chapter Seven on non-Western NDEs, Allan Kellehear argues that the 'tunnel' sensation and 'life review' are not universal, although encountering deceased and/or supernatural beings is. The main problem with this material is that (with the exception of the Chinese and Indian data that do include a 'life review'), the numbers for hunter-gatherer societies are miniscule and, in some instances, whole cultures are represented by a single case study.

Chapter Eight on world religions and the NDE is a treasure with its author, Farnaz Masumian, comparing the NDE with seven of the world's religions. Masumian quotes chapter and verse from the Holy Books of these religions to show their similarity and, occasionally, minor differences regarding afterlife and the NDE.

Chapter Nine covers veridical perception and NDEs. Jan Holden reviews the modern literature on apparently non-physical veridical perception (AVP). Holden notes that attempts to place targets in hospitals for NDErs to see during their out-of-body experiences have, to date, been unsuccessful; however, the sheer volume of AVP anecdotes described by a number of authors over the last hundred and fifty years suggests that the AVP is real.

Chapter Ten deals with explanatory models of NDEs and is written by Bruce Greyson, Emily Williams Kelly, and Edward Kelly. They offer a mountain of data to counter the claims of skeptics. They also point out that, in many cases, the skeptics have only 'explanations'. In virtually all cases, the authors counter with data.

The final chapter deals with practical applications of research on NDEs and is written with medical personnel, mental health personnel, and chaplains in mind. This book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the facts about research into NDEs.