Epistemology of an afterlife

Is there an afterlife? Pim van Lommel, a Dutch cardiologist, thinks so based on his own, empirical research. He recently received a lot of attention when he published his book (2007). This book is a popularized elaboration of an article he wrote in the scientific medical journal The Lancet (van Lommel et al., 2001). In this article Van Lommel and his colleagues studied 344 cardiac patients in the Netherlands who were successfully resuscitated after cardiac arrest. Of these patients, 62 (18%) reported to have experienced a near death experience (NDE). Van Lommel et al. eliminate the viability of several prevailing theories on the origin of these near death experiences, such as cerebral anoxia (absence of oxygen in the brain), religiousness, or use of medication prior to cardiac arrest. This is done by cross-tabulating these characteristics with whether or not a respondent did experience a near death experience, as well as with the nature of the near death experience. No differences between groups in occurrence or nature of the near death experiences were found.

Van Lommel does not write in his Lancet article (2001) about the existence of an afterlife. But, in his recently published book, he does (van Lommel, 2007). The book is titled ‘Never Ending Consciousness’ and contains many stories of people who have had a near death experience. The notion of the existence of an afterlife is all the more present in the reception of his book, and the publicity surrounding it, by the public.

This is the start of a research paper I recently wrote. It is nothing very special, but the basic thought that the way people think about an afterlife and the way people live might be related, is somewhat nice. The paper shows that this might indeed be the case, at least when we compare the Tlingit, the Yanonamö, and the Dogon.

Maybe we can extrapolate these findings to the fact that in our western society we need a medical scientist (amongst others of course) to tell us some about the existence of an afterlife. The paper is to be found below.

Epistemoloy of an afterlife

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