Consciousness Beyond Life book review

I’ve recently finished reading ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’ by the Dutch cardiologist Dr Pim Van Lommel. The book studies and discusses the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences, when a person is effectively dead for a short period of time, later recovers and then recounts a dramatic experience that occurred while they were clinically dead.

Unlike other books on the subject, such as Kenneth Ring’s excellent ‘Heading Towards Omega’, the book describes Dr Van Lommel decision to set up a study to rule out the possibility that these episodes were fantasised or were caused by the subjects’ brains hallucinating when low on oxygen or affected by drugs.

Van Lommel made sure his study monitored potential NDE patients throughout their NDE episode. Patients that were brought into his cardiac unit were given thorough ECG (electro-cardiogram or heart activity) and EEG (electro-encephalogram or brain activity) tests during their emergency operations. Their heart rate was continually monitored along with other vital signs from the moment they arrived until they had recovered. If a patient’s heart had stopped for a period of time, and they had then recovered from their cardiac event, they were asked if they had undergone a near-death experience. If they had and were willing to talk about it, they were asked what form it took and a detailed description was recorded. Six months after their visit, the patients were asked again to recount the event and what effect it had had on their lives.

The study was a success and resulted in the publication of a paper in the Lancet. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the materialist view of the mind, of the self, is entirely falsified by the Near Death Experience phenomenon. The patients concerned who reported Near Death Experiences experienced them while they were clinically dead. Their hearts had stopped and no blood was flowing to their brains. Their experiences could not have been caused by their brains misfiring or by drugs because the ECG readings showed clearly that their brains were not active at all. No neurone were firing. Furthermore, the patients’ experiences were highly consistent, indicating that a Near Death Experience (or to be more factually correct, a Temporary Death Experience) was not a random hallucination but a standard experience for someone temporarily dead.

I do hold my hands up and admit that I’ve also concluded that the mind is not a consequence of brain activity, which makes me partisan, but Van Lommel has done an excellent job of proving it using a thorough set of professional tests. If you’d like to read my ideas on the topic of the mind and reality, check out Schrodinger’s Shed, which is now mostly complete (and has fun illustrations!)

I heartily recommend ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’. The first half, describing the study and related NDE stories, is accessible and profound. The second half, where Dr Van Lommel explores possible theories to explain NDE’s, is harder going but full of interesting ideas.

In my next bloggeroony, I’ll review another book on this subject with a different slant, and equally fascinating consequences.