"First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study", headlines The Telegraph, going on to say: "Southampton University scientists have found evidence that awareness can continue for at least several minutes after clinical death which was previously thought impossible".
Does this prove that there is life after death and that God exists?
Of course not, but it shows without a shadow of a doubt that there are many phenomena and events that science doesn't explain about the nature of consciousness and of the mind in general.
Someone's answer to that migtht be that science will one day explain everything: but that belief requires a deep faith in itself. Even though the object of that faith is science and not God, faith it is.
What is paradoxical about the way in which atheists - "unbelievers" is a misnomer, as they do believe without empirical or rational foundation in many things -, since 19th-century positivism to today's Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, have associated decline of religion with progress of science is that the advances in the latter, if anything, have demonstrated to us how many things in the universe, life and mind science doesn't understand, most notably their origin. And there are very good reasons to predict that it never will, as they probably require other constructs, other ways of thinking and other kinds of explanantion.
The connection between the brain, a material object, and the mind, or rather how the physicality of the former can produce the non-physicality of the latter, has not become clearer the more it has been studied and researched by science, but in fact the opposite has occurred: the questions have multiplied, while the answers have diminished in proportion.
It's perfectly true that it's in the nature of scientific investigation that every new problem solved, every new question answered gives rise to new problems and questions, which inspired one of the greatest philosophers of science, Sir Karl Popper, to title his intellectual autobiography Unended Quest.
But there is a difference between the type of investigation in which science excels, where satisfactory theories that can survive rigorous tests are reached, and the type of investigation which displays an exponentially increasing discrepancy between problems and their solutions.
What the neo-positivists of the early 20th century, like the Vienna Circle - thinking that they were following Ludwig Wittgenstein but in fact misinterpreting him -, were saying was that questions which cannot be answered by mere logic and empiricism (hence one of their names, "logic empiricists") should not be asked and pursued. Metaphysics and theology were nonsense. This was a way of limiting all intellectual search of knowledge to science.
This position has serious limitations. First a logical one: it is a self-contradictory position. If anything beyond the realm of science is nonsensical, what these philosophers (and their heirs today) are saying is nonsensical too, as it does not limit itself to logic and empirical evidence: they are engaging in metaphysics as well, albeit to oppose another metaphysical view.
And this takes us to its second serious limitation: if even people who have postulated boundaries for intellectual investigation cannot confine themselves to them and remain within them, that by itself is an indication that those boundaries are too narrow and unsatisfactory. And that science cannot provide all the answers that are necessary for a curious mind to be satisfied.
Even more, what if science itself, as it seems to be the case the more it expands and deepens, points to something outside itself?
From The Telegraph article:
The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.
It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.
But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.
And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.
One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room.
Despite being unconscious and ‘dead’ for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.
“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” said Dr Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University, now at the State University of New York, who led the study.
“But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.
“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.
“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”
Of 2060 cardiac arrest patients studied, 330 survived and of 140 surveyed, 39 per cent said they had experienced some kind of awareness while being resuscitated.
Although many could not recall specific details, some themes emerged. One in five said they had felt an unusual sense of peacefulness while nearly one third said time had slowed down or speeded up.
Some recalled seeing a bright light; a golden flash or the Sun shining. Others recounted feelings of fear or drowning or being dragged through deep water. 13 per cent said they had felt separated from their bodies and the same number said their sensed had been heightened.
Dr Parnia believes many more people may have experiences when they are close to death but drugs or sedatives used in the process of rescuitation may stop them remembering.
“Estimates have suggested that millions of people have had vivid experiences in relation to death but the scientific evidence has been ambiguous at best.
“Many people have assumed that these were hallucinations or illusions but they do seem to corresponded to actual events.
“And a higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.
“These experiences warrant further investigation.“
Dr David Wilde, a research psychologist and Nottingham Trent University, is currently compiling data on out-of-body experiences in an attempt to discover a pattern which links each episode.
He hopes the latest research will encourage new studies into the controversial topic.
“Most studies look retrospectively, 10 or 20 years ago, but the researchers went out looking for examples and used a really large sample size, so this gives the work a lot of validity.
“There is some very good evidence here that these experiences are actually happening after people have medically died.
“We just don’t know what is going on. We are still very much in the dark about what happens when you die and hopefully this study will help shine a scientific lens onto that.” [All emphases added]