Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?

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Personalised accounts of out-of-body (OBE) and near-death (NDE) experiences are frequently interpreted as offering evidence for immortality and an afterlife. Since most OBE/NDE follow severe curtailments of cerebral circulation with loss of consciousness, the agonal brain supposedly permits 'mind', 'soul' or 'consciousness' to escape neural control and provide glimpses of the afterlife.

Michael Marsh critically analyses the work of five key writers who support this so-called "dying brain" hypothesis. He firmly disagrees with such otherworldly 'mystical' or 'psychical' interpretations, ably demonstrating how they are explicable in terms of brain neurophysiology and its neuropathological disturbances. The original basis and thrust of Marsh's claim sees the recorded phenomenology as reflections of brains rapidly reawakening to full conscious-awareness, consistent with other reported phenomenologies attending recovery from antecedent states of unconsciousness: the "re-awakening brain" hypothesis. From this basis, Marsh also offers a re-classification of NDE into early and late phase sequences, thereby dismantling the untenable concepts of "core" and "depth" experiences.

Marsh further provides a detailed examination of the spiritual and quasi-religious overtones accorded OBE/NDE, highlighting their inconsistencies when compared with classical accounts of divine disclosure, and the eschatological precepts of resurrection belief as professed credally. In assessing the implications of anthropological, philosophical, and theological concepts of 'personhood' and 'soul' as arguments for personal survival after death, Marsh celebrates the role of conventional faith in appropriating the expectant biblical promises of a 'New Creation'.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199571505
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/26/2010
  • Series: Oxford Theological Monographs Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Professor Michael Marsh read medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford and became an academic biomedical research physician in Manchester. In 2006 he was received a Distinguished Investigator Award for his work on gluten intolerance (coeliac disease) and his classification of the intestinal responses which are now internationally adopted. While approaching retirement he took an Oxford degree in Theology, subsequently returning to Magdalen to write a D.Phil thesis on neurophysiological and theological approaches to near-death and out-of-body experiential phenomenology. He is now at Wolfson College and, in addition, a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent's Park College, University of Oxford.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

List of Figures xi

List of Abbreviations xii

Introduction: Prospects for Life After Death xv

1 Getting a Sense of the Other-Worldly Domain 1

1 Having that Kind of Feeling: Being Out-of-Body and Other-Worldly 1

2 Specific Case-Studies 10

2 Surveying Past Horizons 28

1 Making Sense of the Collective ECE Narrative 28

2 Cultural Relativity: ECE in Historical and Geographical Context 34

3 The Argument So Far 49

3 Authors' Interpretations of ECE Phenomenology 53

1 Authors' Perspectives on Subjects' Narratives: The Big Cosmic Picture 54

2 The Problem of Pre-Cognition and Acquired Psychical Powers 62

3 The Future Task 68

4 Objective Analyses into ECE Subjectivity 71

1 Initial Approaches to a More Objective Account of ECE Phenomenology 72

2 Grammatical Critique of ECE Narrative: Semantics and Syntax 79

3 The Intrusion of Cognitive Activity into the Subjective World of ECE 86

4 Evidence that Pre-existing Cognitive Paradigms Influence the Experiential Contours of ECE 92

5 A Re-Classification of OB and ND Experiential Phenomenology 95

5 Conscious-Awareness: Life's Illusory Legacy 98

1 The Illusory Foundations of Conscious-Awareness 98

2 'Phantom Limb' Phenomenology: The Neurophysiology of Absence 102

6 The Temporo-Parietal Cortex: The Configuring of Ego-/Paracentric Body Space 106

1 The Posterior Parietal Cortex and Body-Image 107

2 Abnormal Disturbances of Body-Image 111

3 The Ups-and-Downs and Ins-and-Outs of Ego-/Paracentric Body Space 117

4 Out-of-Body Phenomenologies: The Experiential Repertoire 121

7 Falling Asleep, Perchance to Dream—Thence to Reawaken 128

1 Sleeping and Dreaming 131

2 The Neuropathology of Dream-State Modes 146

3 The Paediatric ECE/Dream Problem Revisited 151

4 Dreams, Dreaming, and ECE Reviewed 152

8 ECE and the Temporal Lobe: Assassin or Accomplice? 158

1 The Experiential Outcomes of Temporal Lobe Pathologies 159

2 Transports of Joy, Love, and Ecstasy 161

3 The Emerging Critical Relevance of Latent Temporal Lobe Dysfunction 165

9 Other Neurophysiologies! Aspects Pertinent to ECE phenomenology 170

1 Intrinsic Mechanisms 170

2 The Tunnel and Related Phenomenologies 172

3 Extrinsic Factors 174

4 Insights into the Brilliantly Coloured Heavenly Pastoral 183

5 Moving Onwards: Theological Perspectives on ECE 186

10 Anthropological and Eschatological Considerations of ECE Phenomenology 188

1 Biblical Accounts of Human Anthropology 189

2 The Person, Death and a Future Hope 192

3 Personhood, the Afterlife, and the Soul 200

4 Personhood, the Afterlife, and the Resurrection of the Body 206

5 ECE and Afterlife: Not an Enlightening Eschatological Paradigm 211

11 ECE, Revelation and Spirituality 219

1 'Spiritual' Dimensions in a Secular World 222

2 ECE Phenomenology Considered as Spiritual Event 228

3 The Brain and the 'Mystical' Experience 237

12 Subjects' Interpretations of Their Experiences 242

1 The NDE and the Subject: Consequential Outcomes 244

2 NDE Outcomes: The Exaltation of Personhood 252

13 Overview and Recapitulation 257

1 Consciousness and Soul 257

2 On True Resurrection versus a Hallucinatory Metaphysic 260

3 The Forgotten Potential of the Post-Experiential Subject 262

4 The Eschatological Meaning of Salvation 266

Glossary 268

Bibliography 275

Index 305

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