Universalism, Near Death Experiences and the Afterlife

Universalism and NDEs / Near Death Experiences with Steve Locks and Daniel White and Ed Babinski

ED: Thanks Steve, glad I was included and could add something to the discussion. NDEs as well as visions in general remain fascinating to me, though I admit not much in the way of solid rational knowledge appears to be gained from any of them since they are all so varied and found in all religious traditions. But then, maybe that IS the lesson to be learned from them, namely that either the phenomenon is real and universal and God is many things to many people (maybe so as not to frighten those who have recently passed on?) Or it's a mentally fabricated realm and one's cultural identity plays a major role in what is "seen" during the NDE and it's an illusion. Interestingly, from what I have read, the percentages of folks who "meet" "religious figures" is very small, i.e., far more NDEs involve seeing a bright light, meeting beings of light, or even meeting other "people" -- all of which happen with more frequency than meeting "religious figures."


Hi Steve,

Thanks for your reply!

STEVE: Oh yeah - hell! There are so many absurdities, but the phenomenal sheer cruelty of it is what really bugs me, and to think that human beings promote it as a "just" end to people is truly disturbing. However, as I say at times throughout my site, I think this is from the same psychological root as the abused spouse making excuses for her husband, or even worse the spouse who looses her rag with the children when they confront about the father's abuse! Such things really happen and are a part of the human psyche. However they are a travesty of a real relationship and it takes repeated strenuous self-convincing for Christians to remain believers in what they have with their god is a good relationship!

As for hell being binary - of course Catholics believe in purgatory which is something like the semi-hell state one can progress out of. Likewise Dante envisaged many circles of hell, from the shadowy limbo, which isn't an abode of pain, just devoid of the divine radiance (virtuous pagans go there) down to Satan devouring Judas and Brutus (if memory serves correctly) at the centre. This structured hell was very popular in the middle ages.

DANIEL: Yeah, even this sort of 'compromise' is very disconcerting. It would be far better to rehabilitate people in a nice environment (like you sort of say on your site somewhere).

The only time some kind of 'punishment' would be acceptable is if it was the only means to make that person better. But I assume that there are far more efficient and kinder methods.

STEVE: The whole idea of the "sin of disbelief" is truly absurd to me. I have asked many Christians how anyone can honestly "choose" what they believe, or how it is psychologically possible to believe something you don't. Not one has ever answered or even acknowledged the question. So I have no idea how not believing something is true is meant to be deserving of a punishment - it is an absurdity surely!

DANIEL: Absolutely, I couldn't agree more here.

STEVE: Not to mention the fact that people from other religions are sometimes banned from even reading the Christian bible. How unfair on those people to go to hell.

Some Christians claim that those who haven't had the chance to "hear the word" will not be sent to hell. When one told me that recently I told him that he had better stop evangelising then, or else people might hear about Jesus and make the "wrong choice!" They are safe until someone tells them about Jesus - better nobody knew!!

DANIEL: Lol!! That's classic - how did he reply? Put it on your site somewhere ;)

STEVE: My favourite argument of all though is the way people in Heaven (particularly close family relatives) would forever be mourning the ones who didn't 'make it' (unless we all become like the borg from Star Trek ;)

Christians tell us that we would become like the Borg. The Catholic Truth Society pamphlet of the late 1960's had as part of it's Catechism: "What will it be like for a mother in heaven who sees her son burning in hell? She will glorify the justice of God."

It is that disturbing!

DANIEL: Very sad...

ED: Can you verify the above info futher? I'd like to know more to include it in my collection of quotations!

If you want an estimate, then I would guess (but I don't know how to estimate, so it is just a pure guess) about 10%. But that may just be wishful thinking, as I would be very interested to find that there really was something after life. However I am dubious, even of blind people "seeing" during NDE's. Here's why:

As it mentions at the URL you gave, blind people given sight have great difficulty understanding what they are looking at. So blind people's sighted NDEs are evidence against what they have being "sight."

DANIEL: Unless they were given some kind of knowledge pertaining to seeing. There aren't necessarily the same brain/mind limitations in a possible afterlife. For example, people report how their whole life is flashed before them in a 'life review'.

STEVE: Rather it is likely to be a perception that is perceived as sight. What after all do we know of what a blind person "sees?" How can we or they know if it is the same experience that we have?

DANIEL: Good points. Though, I seem to recall reading that this kind of analysis has taken place, and that they have described their 'sensation' as a sighted person would have. Here's a quote.

"As you will see, apart from the fact that Vicki was not able to discern color during her experience, the account of her NDE is absolutely indistinguishable from those with intact visual systems."

Out of interest, was that paragraph indented on your screen? I'm testing out the HTML 'ul' command...


"Such reports, replete with visual imagery, were the rule, not the exception, among Ring and Cooper's blind respondents. Altogether, 80% of their entire sample claimed some visual perception during their near-death or out-of-body encounters. Although Vicki's was unusual with respect to the degree of detail, it was hardly unique in their sample.

Sometimes the initial onset of visual perception of the physical world is disorienting and even disturbing to the blind. This was true for Vicki, for example, who said:

I had a hard time relating to it (i.e., seeing). I had a real difficult time relating to it because I've never experienced it. And it was something very foreign to me ... Let's see, how can I put it into words? It was like hearing words and not being able to understand them, but knowing that they were words. And before you'd never heard anything. But it was something new, something you'd not been able to previously attach any meaning to.

Actually, it often goes further. NDER's (blind and normal-sighted) often describe being able to see from every focal depth at once (and even new primary colours!).

STEVE: However your examples were blind since birth, so it is intriguing, but who knows what the brain is doing under such extreme circumstances, or what is really being "seen" i.e. is it what we would see if we were positioned where the NDE-er was claimed to be? It is a shame that the URL does not give specifics if they are as convincing as they say. That sort of leaving out the crucial evidence always makes me feel a little suspicious since if it is so convincing why is the important evidence left out?

DANIEL: If you're interested in reading further, then there's a whole book dedicated to the born-blind NDE phenomenon by Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., (Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut).

STEVE: Likewise colour blind people usually do not know they are colour blind until they are given a test. They just assume that they see like we do. I would like to see the specifics of what blind people see - something they could not have known without true vision. It is not too surprising to "see" your own rings - it would already have been known that one was wearing them. Likewise I doubt the other patient was unaware that it had been snowing, or what a furrowed field was. I saw a documentary about someone, blind since birth, who had his sight restored. He could describe landscapes and animals whilst blind in much the same way that a sighted person would describe them but was quite surprised to see what they really looked like (particularly an elephant!) when he was given his sight. So what did the NDE-ers see? It is intriguing, but still an open question, and given the lack of the convincing crucial detail, leaves me suspicious!

DANIEL: Fair enough...

By the way, there was one case shown on TV which took place in almost ideal scientific laboratory conditions. The patient was completely 'flatline', and yet described much of the operation procedure in great detail. This was confirmed by the surgeons present at the time who were astonished to hear what she said afterwards. Yes, true, this doesn't prove the afterlife as such, but it does strongly hint at a transcendental soul - itself hinting at an afterlife. By the way, she also experienced a 'typical' NDE when she wasn't 'observing' the surgery.

STEVE: However there is a very important argument against NDE's. Not only do people have similar experiences during the taking of drugs,

DANIEL: NDEs are usually described as being much more vivid though.... I think.... Actually, I may be wrong. The 'worst nightmare' for the NDE phenomenon as far as drugs are concerned is the 'ketamine' drug. (The second best might be the LSD drug, but this usually makes the experience more 'psychadelic'). Apparently, the ketamine drug produces effects which are suspiciously similar to the NDE experience. You might want to take a look here.

However, he does say: Unfortunately, the study in which persons who have had NDE's are given ketamine and asked to compare the two experiences has yet to be carried out.

In particular, it would be interesting to see if the feelings of 'profound joy' and other senses (such as multi-focal 360 degree vision and telepathy) can be replicated in ketamine 'trips'. But for me, the crunch test remains in the 'seeing' experiment with the born blind - I wonder if ketamine could trigger something like 'seeing' in these people. In fact, I've emailed the person who wrote that site to see if he has any more information about this.

Hmmm... let's see what near-death.com says about ketamine. I'll just quote a couple of paragraphs from the beginning of the page

Ketamine is a drug which several researchers feel creates effects which are similar to NDEs. However, they have not published controlled studies to substantiate their point of view. Scott Rogo describes similarities between NDEs and ketamine induced visions, but ultimately feels that ketamine often causes bizarre, paranoid visions not seen in NDEs.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Karl Jansen, a ketamine researcher, not only felt that NDEs and ketamine induced visions were the same, but became convinced that BOTH induced real visions of a real god. He has become very spiritual as a result of his ketamine research.

STEVE: childbirth and during frightening circumstances when the heart kept beating and brainwaves kept going, but even worse, children too young to have a sophisticated view of death have reported seeing relatives in heaven who have not died yet. This surely falsifies NDEs?

DANIEL: Perhaps this was done to comfort them? Yes, I know, it seems a little deceptive to pretend to be someone else. But as long as the NDEr knows the truth eventually, perhaps the benefits are justified. Another possibility is that the whole thing is taking place in another time (future perhaps). I would be interested to know the mind state of these people. Were they 'clinically dead'? If this isn't the case, then perhaps they did 'imagine' it, but that this itself is also paranormal.

Okay, I have to admit, slightly unsettling for me was the sentence which said: "Likewise, some NDEs experienced by born again Christians reveal a firey hell and huge talking Bibles in the next life".

"Huge talking Bibles" (!?) Ermmm... ;-)

From the same site, also awkward was the paragraph:

Of course Medieval Christians had it the worst and their visions of the next life contains horrors of both purgatory and hell and were almost always negative, while today's NDEs are overwhelmingly pleasant and remove people's fears of death no matter what their faith.

ED: The guy who saw the "huge talking Bible" was (Ron?) Ebby or Eby, a Pentecostal who fell out of a window and whose skull cracked open. He wrote a book about it. He said that time he went to heaven. Then years later while visiting Jesus' alleged tomb in Jerusalem, and without dying or even getting ill, he was granted an equally stirring and realistic visit to hell. Eby also prophesied that God had told him the final judgment day would occur sometime in the 1970s. I used to own a copy of his book back when I was a fundie. Also saw a book written by a fundie female at Barnes and Noble, titled, MY VISION OF HELL, which was followed by another book by her titled, MY VISION OF HEAVEN. Like Eby that female's heaven and hell book was filled with quotations from the Bible. Apparently everyone over "there" speaks in "Bible speak" just like Eby and that lady.

DANIEL: One could argue that a 'hellish' NDE type experience is useful for character 'building' purposes, but to be honest I haven't a clue. At first glance at least, it does seem like the product of an imagination.

STEVE: If children have NDE's frequently reporting the presence of living, rather than dead, relatives then this is pretty unlikely if they really were glimpsing heaven. Adults, who are more sophisticated, see only dead friends and relatives. Add to this that people have similar experiences during childbirth and when drugged and it seems that these are href="http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/immortality.html" target="_blank">natural brain states rather than external experiences.

There was also a recent experiment where a Dr. placed a sign in his operating room where only a NDE-er could see it. I read about it recently, and nobody managed to see it as far as I remember. I'll hunt for the URL again if you like.

DANIEL: Perhaps they didn't even know there was anything to look for... Do you know how many NDEs were experienced in that room during the time that the experiment was taking place?

STEVE: I've also had a bunch of experiences which lend me to think that these are brain states, rather than glimpses of anything otherworldly. For instance I once had a very striking visitation from a ghost! I saw my girlfriend of the time sitting on my bed (no she wasn't really there!) looking very real, but also translucent. She turned round, looked at me, smiled then dissolved. I could even feel the weight of her body on my legs.

DANIEL: That's kinda interesting. Were you tired at the time? I guess it wouldn't have been a lucid dream?

STEVE: I've also seen a glowing orb in my hallway, a hooded figure in my house, and OBE where I saw myself playing the piano from the other side of the room and other hoopy experiences. All struck me as something my brain was doing, but had I been of a supernatural inclination...

DANIEL: It's stuff like this that makes me skeptical of the OBE phenomenon yeah. Though I have heard that OBEs can be a mix between what's real and imagined. From that link you gave, I also read this:

The experimental evidence is weak. Subjects have been asked to view target letters, numbers or pictures, placed in distant rooms... [and] other studies have tried to discover whether subjects seem to be looking from a specific location during OBEs; however, the results have been inconclusive. Generally these studies provide very mixed results and it is not clear that any paranormal process is involved (Blackmore, "Oxford" 572).

I'm sure you know who (Susan) Blackmore is ;-)
It is fairly interesting that she only said "...very mixed results and it is not clear" towards the end.

ED: What does she mean about "mixed" results? Were any of them positive at all?

DANIEL: The thing about NDEs though is that the patient has absolutely no brain activity during the experience. I quote from:

ED: Yes, that's interesting, but exactly how "absolute" is "absolutely none?" How sensative are the instruments doing the measuring of the brain activity? Again, I don't know, just curious.

Also, the discussion you guys had of people who were born blind, yet being able to "see" during an NDE, was fascinating. Though I was disheartened to hear that one such lady only "saw" things in "black and white." But then, HOW WOULD SHE KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOR IF SHE WAS SEEING THINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME? What questions could you ask to determine to what degrees someone was seeing colors or not if they were seeing them for the very first time? Also, don't even blind people have three dimensional images in their heads of the world around them? They have spatial skills and probably build an image of the world inside their brains, including an image of how they look, their own faces and bodies. Could that be the image that the blind people "saw" during their NDEs? Just wondering.

Also, I recall reading about some Christian kings who locked up children in rooms and commanded no one to speak with such children so the children never learned a language from anyone. The reason was to see if the children would naturally speak a language of their own, all by themselves, perhaps the original language of all mankind that Adam and Eve once spoke. All such experiments however, were utter failures, and only produced children who could not speak at all, just grunted. If such a child had an NDE, could it both speak and understand language when it was over on the other side? But then we wouldn't know, would we, since when it came back to THIS side, it would be dumb again.


"The difficulty with those theories is that when you create these wonderful states by taking drugs, you're conscious. In the near-death experience, you are unconscious. One of the things we know about brain function in unconsciousness is that you cannot create images and if you do, you cannot remember them ... But, yet, after one of these experiences (an NDE), you come out with clear, lucid memories ... This is a real puzzle for science. I have not yet seen any good scientific explanation which can explain that fact." (6)

ED: Yes, clear lucid memories of meeting and speaking with beings of light, or even lucid memories OF NEAR DEATH MEETINGS WITH SACRED TALKING TURTLES (google: Thailand near death experience)

And what about non-NDE "visions" that appear clear and lucid to people, like the way that Catholics see visions of Mary and speak with her sometimes, Protestants usually only hear God's voice, perhaps because they stress the power of his Word, American Indians meet sacred animal totems in their inner journeys, etc. It would appear that the spiritual world is quite diverse and that the sacred knows almost no boundaries. Maybe God has quite an imagination? Or a blind deaf and dumb cosmos without any sense of humor is yet able to laugh at us? (In the last two mentioned cases, God, or, a blind deaf and dumb cosmos capable of pulling pranks like bipedal apes with brains, is one any more or less fabulous than the other?)

DANIEL: It would be a real shame if there wasn't an afterlife though, as music, art, places, and just about everything could be so much better than it is on Earth now. From a mathematical perspective, maybe I could argue that I've already 'beaten the odds' by existing in the first place. Therefore, it seems 'infinitely' likely that I'll exist again at some point in the future. Whether this'll be in a 'reincarnated' form or otherwise remains to be seen though ;-)

ED: Interesting, though odds don't seem to be the point. Everything that exists, even a wounded worker ant, if it had a brain, would probably feel the same way about it's own "odds" in the cosmic scheme. What about monkeys that cannot tell the differences between their own image in a mirror and another monkey? Yet at some point in evolution such a recognition developed, since primates, like chimps, can tell their own image in a mirror and not confuse it with another chimp. Elephants can paint flower art when instructed by a chinese art teacher (google "elephant art" on the internet). Chimps can draw round circles for faces and add two dots for eyes. At some point consciousness of "self" arose, triggered by the need for social creatures to recognize each other and to try and guess what others are thinking in order to interact with them.

STEVE: wouldn't you say there's a chance there's a greater 'intelligent force'?

Certainly, but why would it be a "god?" Super advanced aliens maybe - even creating universes in their labs (modern physics even says that is

DANIEL: A possibility indeed, but something would have had to 'create' their universe too ;-)

STEVE: possible in principle) but what exactly is a coherent notion of a "god?" That's the trouble with being asked to accept that I can't be sure there is no god. What exactly is a god? I've never heard a coherent definition so I don't even understand the question!

DANIEL: Broadly speaking, one definition could be - "that from which from all else came", or maybe "a single sentient being who 'started' everything".

Interesting what you pasted about the negative and positive mass-energy balancing out. But it still leaves me with this question how there is all this 'stuff' anyway, or what started the first 'quantum fluctuation' (if indeed it did exist). At a tangent to this, science still can't properly explain what it's like to see the colour say... 'red', or hear a minor chord, or the aesthetic effect of the diatonic scale.

On your site, you describe a feeling of 'existential shock'. I see where you're coming from here. It seems like one divided by infinity that 'I' could exist at all.

STEVE: To me it's like asking is there a chance there is a "hjkjhroiuyt?" or any other made up incoherent thing (like the famous invisible pink unicorn).

Of course, I may be wrong, and you may be right, but once again, give a number from 0 to 100% to reflect your belief :) Make it 0.1% if you have to, but you can't make it 0% ;)

I don't want to be pedantic about the notion of "belief" but again a "belief" is not something I can choose.

DANIEL: I see what you mean, but otherwise it would've meant saying something like: "give a number from 0 to 100% to reflect the estimated chance that you think [whatever]" :-) In this context, I meant 'belief' as the sum of your scientific (and emotional) knowledge and experience to form an opinion. Maybe there's a better word though...

STEVE: I "believe" that the universe is not designed, and I "feel" certain about that - so it is 100% as far as how I believe.

ED: I have no idea whether the universe as a whole is the product of some greater design. It might be a self-designing system, but even those might have to come from someplace else. So far as the cosmos goes, it appears relatively wasteful, a lot of destruction and potentially destructive forces throughout it, and energy and land just going to waste. Most people agree it's not "heaven." But at least the cosmos is so real that people of all religions, or lack thereof, can study the cosmos together and come to similar scientific theories regarding how bits of it work and agree on the apparent regularity of how things interact in it, interactions repeating themselves over and over again.

DANIEL: But for it to be 100%, every piece of evidence that you have come across would have had to be for a designer-less universe. Surely the few question marks that arise would drop this to about 95%? (with even an approx 50% margin of error ;-)

STEVE: Guth and Weinberg argue convincingly that it is not designed IMO, and theologically speaking I feel what stupid b*stard would have designed it with so much suffering and waste?

DANIEL: Yeah, this is the most disturbing part for me too. Why weren't we put into a nice utopia kinda world to start with? I don't have the ultimate answer for this (surprise ;-), but maybe the fact that it is such a relatively short time (compared to infinity) means that any suffering is relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things. I know what you mean though. It seems bizarre that God wouldn't 'let us know' why we are here to give us some kind of reassurance and knowledge of his existence. Again, all I can say is that 'as long as we know the truth eventually...'.

ED: Maybe "God" lets everybody "know" things in such a variety of ways, a variety of religions, a variety of imaginative personal beliefs, because in the end none of that stuff really matters and because God's own imagination is limitless? On the other hand, if nothing really mattered and the varieties of belief were endless, there must be some distinguishing characteristic perhaps that was essential throughout it all? Compassion perhaps? But if compassion is the most important thing in the cosmos, why is nature so callous? Just look at the way it feasts on itself and stamps out life wholesale in cosmic collisions, volcanoes, etc. Oddly enough, maybe all the pains that flesh is heir to, is yet another way to show us that not even such pains matter, only compassion does. Life feeding on life could be viewed as a form of compassion as well, life giving itself for other living things, and if life simply reproduced and didn't die or feed on each other, then even the tiniest bacterial cell would grow to a colony larger than the earth in a few days.

On the other hand, life does not simply compassionately surrender to other forms of life, it doesn't simply surrender to death either, Living things ENJOY life in and of itself and most animals and people and even plants, do not suffer death gladly. All in all, I find everything a conundrum. Ah, maybe that's it, God is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, seeking to create ever more conundrum-filled objects such as this cosmos? Because the alternative is being omni-BORED? A friend of mine used to say that he was a "god on holiday," he gave up his life on a boring astral plane of godhood to go on "holiday," to "forget himself."

But still, how much forgetting is worth it? Ants have life and brains, as do bees, just a few million neurons in their brains, yet they live lives that a human being would hardly find very comforting or be very happy about.

STEVE: However I accept that I could be wrong. Even if I thought I had proof (which I don't, just arguments that convince me at the moment) it is always possible that I have made a logical error that I haven't spotted.

So is the universe designed? Maybe - somewhere between 0 and 100%, (or maybe something more exotic that I haven't even thought about, like the square root of minus 50%!).

DANIEL: lol! :)

STEVE: Do I believe in design? Not a jot at the moment! Rather I see it as an interesting research project to understand why the universe is the way it is that I expect to lead to ever more deep physics, but I accept I could be wrong. There again, I don't quite understand if it is possible to always be possibly wrong, it's just that I don't know for sure if it is impossible to never know for sure.

DANIEL: A good way of putting it! If not, then the best we can do is form approximate percentages based on past knowledge and experience. Even then, these percentages should themselves have a (guessed) variable margin of error - which itself should /also/ have a guessed margin of error (and so on... ;)

Perhaps mathematical knowledge can be counted as 'certain' though.

STEVE: Certain knowledge is a difficult philosophical question - so I keep it open. What I believe though is easy to state since it is a psychological condition I can report on. I don't believe in the Christian god for many reasons. I am a "strong atheist" as regards Christianity, because of the many severe problems I see with it. Meanwhile, for other deities I think I am technically a "weak atheist" in so far as I am without belief in any deity. I do not claim to prove all deities non-existent, but I do not find I believe in them and also do not know what a deity is meant to be, in the same way I do not know how the divine unicorn is both pink and invisible.

I am technically a "weak atheist"

ED: Eat some spinach! As for myself, I do not know WHAT I am. Heck, I even wonder about an eternal afterlife, what will I become in a trillion years? I don't remember what I was when I was a child, just bare glimpses of memories from back then. Even who I was as a former fundamentalist Christian has vanished to a pretty large degree. I no longer think like that. My brain/mind has changed. In a trillion years from now, if I live eternally will it still be "I" who is doing the living? Or will the present "Ed" be a long forgotten memory of a vanished past? So the question remains, what exactly remains "immortal?" Doesn't everything change?

DANIEL: If I didn't know any better, even that seems more probable to exist than my own consciousness :)

STEVE: Thanks for your interesting points!



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