Book Review: After

(There are some other books titled After. This should not come as a surprise. I’m not talking about those books.)

Image from Amazon.com

After by Bruce Greyson, M.D. is nonfiction. It is a sort of recounting of Greyson’s decades studying NDEs (near-death experiences), from his first encounter and complete dubiousness to many serious studies, research, and affiliations to his final conclusions and further hypotheses. It is broken down into questions that Greyson asked as he journeyed along in his decades of NDE studies, and the way that he answered those questions (or asked new ones) in his career. It is clear that Greyson went on a journey as both a physician and a man that expanded his idea of how consciousness and the brain interact and what exactly consciousness is (or could be). It is also clear that what he now knows (in opposition to much of what seems to be taught to medical students and other students of science) is consistent with theories that are thousands of years old and based on thousands (at least) of anecdotal (and sometimes scientific) information that is amazingly consistent.

I actually picked up this book because I am writing a series of books that, although they are fantasy, use NDEs as a major component of the story. In my books, there is a blending between the fantasy world and the real world, and NDEs are a sort of bridge between them. I didn’t want to get NDEs “wrong,” but I also knew I was going to include many things that either are completely made up or are symbolic for things that we don’t know or can’t be described accurately. At any rate, I wanted to read some of the best literature (for lay people)/do research on actual NDEs. It doesn’t hurt that I have heard two podcast episodes in the past year about NDEs and NDE research and find the whole field of study (including sense limitation, the concept of other dimensions, and the supernatural as actually quite natural) invigorating and fascinating.

Yet, After can be dry, though I found this mostly true when Greyson was being repetitious. (I believe he is repetitious to be clear and also to reinforce points that he made earlier in the book, sometimes even just in the last chapter or last couple pages. In a way, this book could be read as a series of articles, or one chapter could be read independently of the others. Though I am not recommending that, exactly. It is also repetitious in Greyson’s insistence of his ongoing suspiciousness/curiosity and science as curiosity and questions, which I believe is probably reactive to many years of being labeled a pseudo-scientist.) Still, since there are so many stories in this book, it was mostly super-engaging for a nonfiction book of its type. Also, the information is, well, it’s life-changing, ground-breaking. I was at the edge of my seat because I, too, had so many questions and at times I couldn’t believe what I was reading (though I could. But there are so many engaging stories and revealing statistics/patterns).

And while After may not land in any tidy, religious tradition (to the contrary), I imagine most readers will take all this information and run with it—in their own worldview, but also to expand it. Not all of us have NDEs to change how we look at the world (and what’s beyond our current perception and understanding, including that of consciousness and mind (or soul)), but we do have After (and Proof of Heaven and Heaven Is for Real and a few other books, though those are mostly less rigorous and more religious). Ironically, what many people will read into After is that none of this scientific pontification is even going to matter, in the end, but I found that—in the face of many scientific questions that can’t be studied in exactly the way we might want to study (or prove/disprove) them—Greyson goes on a journey of question and possible answer that is extremely fascinating and I’m not the least bit surprised that the mind and brain may be working together in ways that go beyond the Western science (and assumptions) of the past—I don’t know—100 years. We know there are frontiers where we still know very little: deep sea, outer space, the past, time, subatomic particles, and the brain (or perhaps we’re talking more about our mind, our us). Why would we be surprised that our categorizations of them are flat-out wrong, at least in what Greyson calls the “extremes”? Why would it upset people when new scientific findings match up with historical traditions? Perhaps astronomy history has taught us that the church (and therefore believers) and science are enemies, which obviously does not always have to be the case. People’s experiences aren’t false, it’s their interpretation and/or memory of them that is often wrong. People saw the same, straight (to the naked eye) horizon, but their interpretation (flat, disclike) was wrong (instead of gigantic, spherical). (Flat earthers, please take your comments elsewhere.)

I guess what I’m saying is that After is an exciting book. It is full of more questions even than answers, but the information is fascinating. (I apologize for how many times I have used that word.) It is also exciting to imagine where science could take us in the future, if we are willing to let truth, instead of tradition, guide us. Are body and consciousness separate things? Well, they certainly could be, just like time could be a construct and space could be shrunk. Ideas like these come from asking tough and open questions about the outliers, and this all feels very pioneering and energized, to me. I enjoyed my reading of After and I would definitely recommend it, though I am positive that there are many who are not ready to give it a fair reading. On the other hand, one of his concluding sentences from his life’s work is that “NDEs can also transform those who read about them and can ultimately, I believe, even help us change the way we see and even treat one another” (p223).

That would be a strong recommend, if you are openminded or curious.

(For the record, my further questions have to do with NDEs and (various) religion(s) and also the science behind other “extreme conditions” that might indicate a consciousness outside of the brain (like meditation, prayer, visions, drug use, translation, visitations, ghosts, etc.). Greyson does speak to meditation and drugs and maybe something else briefly and comes to the conclusion that the brain is more engaged in these situations, the opposite of NDEs, but I am still very curious about them.)

QUOTES:

“…let’s test those challenging ideas to see whether they are in fact superstitions—or whether they’re windows into a more comprehensive picture of the world” (p11).


“…which allows us to move beyond the artificial divide between science and spirituality” (p11).

“…the essential tentative nature of science. Science by its very nature is always a work in progress” (p20).

“Respecting things that are difficult to measure, rather than dismissing them as unreal, is not rejecting science. It’s embracing science” (p22).

“I experienced it with this unconditional love that is only God’s eyes, or the eyes of Jesus Christ, or the light of Jesus, or the light of Buddha enlightened, the spiritual entity. No judgmental aspect whatever” (p41).

“The information came in, and then love neutralized my judgements against myself” (p42).

“I saw her beauty, her humanity, and her needs that had gone unattended to in her own childhood” (p43).

“’What I say here is limited by the English language, for no words have been invented to tell this story with adequate beauty’” (p48).

“He saw descriptions of streets of gold, pearly gates, and angelic figures as best analogies others could come up with to convey what is essentially an indescribable experience” (p48).

“Finally, we noted that experiencers almost universally become convinced by their NDEs that some part of them will live after death” (p57).

“The plural of anecdote is data” (p61).

“’My perception of my physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air. I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle’” (p71).

“But what I did find surprising as that, among those who’d come close to death, those who’d had NDEs described less psychological distress than those who hadn’t had NDEs” (p82).

“Finally, NDEs usually lead to an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose in life, increased joy in everday things, decreased fear of death, and a greater sense of the interconnectedness among all people” (p88).

“They must redefine their old model to accommodate things like NDEs, where consciousness continues after the brain has shut down, in order to come up with a more complete description of reality” (p92).

“There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide” (p117).

“’…I felt like I could “fly” towards a great Light that was God, and a future where I was loved and things made profound sense’” (p122).

“’My understanding of “reality” was turned 180 degrees when I learned that at our deepest level of consciousness we are energy beings of pure love and light who are temporarily residing in physical bodies’” (p148).

“So we can’t always take reports of an afterlife environment at face value, but we do need to take seriously those accounts that are consistent across different cultural beliefs and personal expectations” (p150).

“But almost 90 percent of the experiencers I’ve studied say this in their NDE they encountered at least one other person” (p152).

“…suggests that the images of Kwan Yin and Cernunnos were formed partly in Rachel’s own creative imagination as her personal interpretation of what she was experiencing” (p154).

“…one-third identified the being as an entity consistent with their religious beliefs, while double that number—two-thirds—said they could not identify the godlike being” (p155).

“’I was in IT, of IT, yet still simultaneously my individual unique beingness. I knew myself to be preciously priceless …. I simply, totally knew and loved IT, within and about me, as IT knew and loved me. There was no space, no time, no separation, no duality of anything…’” (p156).

“If we claim to be skeptics, we can’t reject the observations that contradict our worldview and accept those that agree with our views, without looking at the data” (p161).

“The important point seems to be not how experiencers identify or label the divine beings, but how they feel in the presence of the divine” (p161).

“’This lack of fear, I feel, has enhanced a hundredfold my enjoyment of living …. I have been dead. I know the truth. And I am not scared’” (p165).

“’It’s true that I’m no longer afraid of death,’ he said, ‘but I’m also no longer afraid of life ….  I understand now that I’m more than just a collection of molecules. I have a profound connection to everything else in the universe. The problems of this bad of skin are not the important. There’s meaning and purpose to my being back here in this body’” (p167).

“…losing the fear of death often leads to a richer appreciation of life, despite the outward circumstances” (p169).

“NDEs often lead to a paradoxical decrease in devotion to any one religious tradition, despite a greater awareness of guidance by and connection to a higher power” (p178).

“’We all know what it is, and though it can be said in a thousand ways, there is only one word that says it all: Love. And the message is this: “Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another”’” (p185).

Owning the Cadillac was never the point. It was all about the thrill of driving it for awhile” (p191).

“’There are not words to describe the depth of its visionary beauty. This is a place of total love and a place where ultimate security exists, forever’” (p198).

“There is no inherent conflict between a physical and nonphysical understanding of NDEs” (p210).

“Knowing that NDEs reduce experiencers’ fear of death may make you think differently about your own death. Knowing that the process of dying is usually peaceful—of not blissful—may mean you don’t need to be afraid of dying. It may also make you worry less about loved ones suffering as they die” (p218).

“The evidence that under extreme conditions we can perceive beyond what our physical senses see and hear, and that we can remember things our physical brains have not processed, comes not just from NDEs but from a variety of research avenues. So it makes sense to me to live our lives as if this is really the way things are…” (p221).

SEVEN LESSONS GREYSON LEARNED FROM HIS RESEARCH:

If you don’t want “spoilers,” then don’t read this next little thing.

  1. “…NDEs are common experiences that can happen to anyone.”
  2. “…NDEs are normal experiences that happen to people in exceptional circumstances.”
  3. “…NDEs lead to a number of profound and long-lasting aftereffects.”
  4. “…NDEs reduce fear of death.”
  5. …”NDEs lead experiencers to live more fully in the present moment.”
  6. “…NDEs raise questions about the relationship between minds and brains.”
  7. “…NDEs raise questions about the continuation of consciousness after death.”
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