Another View of Near Death Experiences and Reincarnation: How to Respond to Reductionistic Thinking
by Steve S.
Creator of In Another Life
Reductionism is defined as "1) a theory that all complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components" and "2) the analysis of complex things into simpler constituents". In practice, however, reductionistic thinking becomes a means of summarily dismissing anything that doesn't admit of a materialistic explanation. It seems straightforward, but it is really quite subtle at its root. There is a basic assumption that
reality is material and that anything to do with consciousness is a by-product of that material reality. This assumption is a belief. It is largely unexamined. If it is challenged, the same kinds of emotional response arises (whether acknowledged and admitted or not) that arise when all beliefs are challenged.
An example is the scientific explanation of "near-death experiences", or NDE's, which concludes that they are hallucinations caused by residual brain activity. (see "The Ketamine Model of the Near Death Experience". These studies give as evidence the fact that they can create (as they interpret it) similar experiences in the laboratory with the chemical ketamine. The author of the study linked to above states: "Irrespective of religous beliefs, NDE's are not evidence for life after death on simple logical grounds: death is defined as the final, irreversible end. Anyone who 'returned' did not, by definition, die - although their mind, brain and body may have been in a very unusual state."
Well, the problem with this logic is the author's definition of death. I don't agree with it, and neither does a very large percentage of the population (including the well-educated population, and many of history's greatest thinkers). This definition of death assumes that man is his physical body and only his physical body. My definition of death assumes that man is a spirit which takes on and sloughs off a body, and thus I define death as a transition.
Has this scientist carefully thought through his definition of death and the assumptions behind it? I would guess he has not-he just assumes it is correct, and that everybody agrees with him (i.e., everybody educated and intelligent, not counting people easily swayed by various mythologies). THEN, everything that comes after this assumption is quite logical.
Using a chemical like ketamine to reproduce NDE-like symptoms also rests on a hidden assumption. That assumption is that the brain causes consciousness, and that there are no higher, independent spiritual realities beyond what the physical brain generates.
There is, however, another point of view, and that is that spiritual reality comes first and creates the material world. Spiritual reality is the "blueprint" for the physical world, including the brain. The old metaphysical principle states, "As above, so below", or in the Lord's Prayer, "On earth as it is in heaven". This means that a drug such as ketamine can produce NDE-like symptoms because in the brain, as in all of nature, there are reflections of the higher realities. The brain, like everything else, is a mirror reflecting the higher mind. It should be no surprise that when stimulated in certain ways, it can produce effects which are reminiscent of experiences of the higher spiritual realms. It is said that "the false implies the existence of the real". Therefore, the false ketamine experience points to the real NDE experience.
If you accept this mystical set of assumptions instead of materialistic assumptions, the ketamine experiments do not lead to the conclusion that NDE's are hallucinations-or more precisely, that they are merely hallucinations. In fact, under the mystical set of assumptions, one would expect ketamine to produce a poor knock-off of the NDE experience, something which has elements of the NDE experience but isn't really identical. And this is what the researchers do find in these experiments, except that they are so eager to conclude NDE's are hallucinations, they decide it's "close enough".
This kind of reductionism can be extremely frustrating to deal with for those who do not view the world through the glasses of the materialistic paradigm. Reductionistic thinkers seem to be able to explain away everything spiritual and non-material. It is possible to take apart these arguments, but only if you can address their underlying assumptions. And if you do that, you run into the same reactions you'd encounter if you challenged anyone's core beliefs--denial, derision, projection and other ego-defense mechanisms, deliberate sophistry, and so-on.
It's helpful, in this regard, to take a hint from the Eastern spiritual teachers who nearly always transmute a person's path rather than trying to block it. Swami Vivekananda would say, "Not from bad to good, but from good to greater good." You have done well, but now you can do better.
So, the basic idea of reductionism is not mistaken in and of itself. It simply is being applied in an unripe or immature form. Reductionism has been held back by materialism. It has been chained to the limited quest for the most basic *material particle*. Whereas, if the larger universe of spiritual reality (from which the material manifests) were included, reductionism would come into its own as the quest for the most basic *spiritual unit*.
The most basic spiritual unit is the soul, meaning, the Atman or true Self.
Even if we understand this principle, how will it help us in responding to
people who use materialistic/reductionistic thinking to try to explain away
First, I think that having a clear understanding of the aforementioned
principle will change the dynamics of the interaction on a mental and
spiritual level, even without any words being spoken. If you understand that
the person is using the right principle but applying it incorrectly, you
won't get pulled into his paradigm. If you understand that he is engaging in
various ego-defenses and sophistry, from a process standpoint, in defense of
an emotionally-held belief (rather than seeking the truth regardless of
where it leads him), you can make a conscious decision how to respond to
The best response may be nothing at all. It may be briefly putting forth an
alternative view, something the person can refer back to in the future when
they may be more receptive. Doing nothing at all, outwardly, is not really
doing nothing, because on a mental/spiritual level you have not been sucked
into the other person's reality. They will be able to feel and perceive that
on some level. If you can stay centered and not get drawn into an argument,
the ball is in their court. They can wall themselves off (usually achieved
with derision or sarcasm), or they can entertain the possibility of a
different viewpoint. Either way, you have not interfered with their path or
committed any kind of psychic violence toward them. Your understanding has
"tugged" at them, and they can respond as they choose.
Steve Sakellarios has studied reincarnation in conjunction with Eastern philosophy and comparative religion since his late teens, around 1973. He began
studying the Western research in earnest about three years ago for the documentary and website titled "In Another
Life." He has a masters in Counseling and Human Systems from FSU (1981), during which time he studied the hospice movement and taught a free class on "death & dying". He served on the board of
an organization which started the first hospice in Tallahaseee, FL. Email Steve at email@example.com.
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