by Abe Van Luik

*Reading for, and Writing of, this Review was done January-May 2001.

PART 1 of 4


Someone, a friend named Bob Frame who lurks in Nebraska's grandest metropolis, sent me some impressions and quotes from a very recent book on the afterlife, "Life on the Other Side. A Psychic's Tour of the Afterlife," by Sylvia Browne with Lindsay Harrison, (Dutton, New York, 2000).He hinted that I might not like it since I did not like Bettie Eadie's book "Embraced by the Light," Bettie J. Eadie with Curtis Taylor, (Gold Leaf Press 1992) because of its incredible specificity and certainty about afterlife "things" that I had different opinions about. Of course the trap was set. I had to obtain and read the Browne book. I did, I took notes. I did not like what it had to say about some aspects of life after death, but I liked what it had to say about other aspects. I did find it a fascinating read.

To refresh my memory, I went back and re-read the Eadie book, and to be fairer to Eadie I also obtained copies of her two more recent books and read major portions of them. And took notes. Also, while looking, ran across a delightful (to me, I am prejudiced) description of a person becoming one with God in a small book by called "The Other Side of Death"by Jan Price (Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1996).

All of this reminded me, midway through the reading, of two other books. One was "Journey of Souls, Case Studies of Lives Between Lives" by Michael Newton (Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, 1994) recommended some years ago by a person in Texas who knows a lot about these things from her own experience. I looked for my copy at home, but, serendipitously, could not find it. Went to the bookstore and instead found its sequel, "Destiny of Souls, New Case Studies of Life Between Lives" by Michael Newton (Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, 2000) greatly expanded and enlarged in terms of case studies (regressions to lives between lives) and thus in terms of descriptive materials. I liked that book a lot, although I also disbelieve much of what it says.

As I plowed through all this material taking notes, I was amused by the fact that there was a time when I basked in and believed in all of the very same materialisms and specificities that extend the hierarchies and problems of earth life into the spirit world. That sort of stuff bothers me no end, now. But in my decades as a deeply believing Mormon, I was convinced of the truth of many of the very things reflected in all of these books. So, just for completing the loop between my old beliefs and my new un-beliefs, I went on a search for my primary Mormon text on the topic.

Back in the late 1960's, when I was still a relatively new Mormon, I really liked a book called "Life Everlasting" by Duane Crowther (Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1964). Miraculously, as soon as I began to search for it, it fell at my feet off an unstable stack of books in the back of my closet! The book is a mix of near-death experiences, dreams and visitations, official and unofficial pronouncements of men thought of as prophets in the Mormon culture, and cites from the four books of Mormon scripture (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price). I recall being excited and enthused by its descriptions of life after death, in the 60's and 70's, especially in their very specific descriptions of spirit bodies, and the duties and work places of spirits. The doctrines of eternal (monogamous or polygynous) marriage, eternal procreation, and other things pertaining to achieving a deified status was inspiring to me at that time. Now? Well, I covered that elsewhere on my websites.

One thing that is interesting, to me, is that the Crowther book predated the ground-breaking book by Raymond Moody called "Life After Life, The Investigation of a Phenomenon-Survival of Bodily Death," (Bantam Books, New York, 1975). After Moody, it seems everyone, almost, sees a tunnel and a bright light at the end with a loving personage in it, as part of their journey into the world of spirits. The Crowther book, however, skips all of that as if it isn't known, and moves right into the reception of the spirit into the spirit world. One account speaks of a spirit passing through a curtain, or veil.

Moody's book is memorable to me because I recall my father making a long-distance call to me, very unusual. He was excited about something he had seen on television, an interview with Dr. Moody, and said he felt this man knew what he was talking about and was telling things as they were. He had a book out, my father said. I obtained and read the book right away and even exchanged letters with Dr. Moody, telling him about my own experience and, more importantly, letting him know about Crowther's book. I was trying to get him to read, and hopefully be impressed by, the fact that there was Mormon literature on this subject, and I wanted him to be impressed by its content. I was doing missionary work, in other words. After one letter each, that was it. Oh well. But at that time I recall telling my father that I believed in Moody's account of the afterlife.

My own experience? I had a lucid dream in the middle of a normal night that is hard to forget, before Moody's book, in which I moved slowly from a dark area toward an ever expanding region of light (bluish-white) and felt the presence of a person I presumed to be Jesus Christ behind that light. As I approached I became scared that if I moved into it, I would never come back. I knew from that point forward that there was an overpowering love awaiting me when I would leave this world, but I tried my best to turn around and scramble back to the world I was currently alive in. And that ended the lucid dream.

So, to an extent, I am a believer. I have had that little experience, and reinterpreted it many times, but never doubted the reality of it. It pales in comparison with the tales of otherworldly-adventures told in these books. But it is mine, mine to interpret and reinterpret as I see fit. The experiences of others I do not doubt, but their interpretations? Well, much of the interpretive assertions of very sincere and thoughtful people I seriously doubt, just as I came to doubt and thus revise my own initial interpretations of my own minuscule experience!

I also read books, back in the seventies and eighties, by several others, including Kenneth Ring and Melvin Morse. I carried on a bit of a letter exchange with Morse as well, telling him about the Crowther book and suggesting he also look into Medieval mystical revelations. I also told him I took exception to the theories of ... on the creation of consciousness through some sort of breakdown inside the brain that happened sometime toward the beginning of recorded history. I told him that was ludicrous, and have since created several website articles on the subject.

So imagine my surprise and delight while stabbing around in bookstores and libraries that I found recent books by Moody, Ring and Morse. I eagerly read all three and was surprised by their content. Really surprised by two of them, and pleased with the third. Did Morse look into the Mormon near-death experiences (NDEs) and mysticism? Of course. Did he throw over the theory on the bicameral mind breaking down allowing consciousness? Of course not, he restated it so it almost makes sense even to me. But I am getting ahead of myself.


I want to go from the heights of the latest review books by giants in the near-death experience (NDE) field, to the more detailed and personal accounts in the other books I read. It seems a good organizing scheme to proceed that way. So we will look at Moody's last book, Ring's last book, and Morse's last book, and draw some observations from them.

We will then look at one more review book, one highly praised by Morse. Then we will go into having some fun with the more personal books. Fun? Oh, in case you don't know me, I am even going to have fun with, or poke some fun at, the reviewed books. But I am sorry if it offends you, but I must get this off my chest: there are some ridiculous things in some of these books, as well as some wonderful and sublime things. In my opinion, of course. But I'll call them as I see them, and am ever ready to express my displeasure when someone, I believe, is self-deceived and wishes to share that deception or even insists it must be believed.


I need to make two confessions, the first is that I am not convinced that there is either a God or an afterlife. I cherish and believe in the reality of my experience, yes, and intuitively interpret them in a way that suggests I believe in both. But setting aside intuition and concentrating on the analytical tools of my brain leads me to confess that I do not see my experiences as proof in the accepted scientific sense of that word. As you will see after the first two books are reviewed below, this puts my in Raymond Moody's camp intellectually, and in Kenneth Ring's intuitively.

These two questions about God and afterlife existence are related, and we will explore the latter to a greater extent, but always in the context of the former. And there is no bottom line that you can fast-forward to. This is simply an exploration of recent work on the God-brain connection, some work that tries to make the opposite point, and then a more detailed exploration of several books on life after life from two differing perspectives: the Near-Death Experience or NDE perspective, and the psychic perspective. At the end? Well, wait and see. 


That it is now high time I wrote this piece that I have been looking forward to, and dreading, for so long. It has been about 6 months now of reading and taking notes in many books and a few articles.

What makes it high time is this: an article appeared, with a companion article, in the May 7, 2001, issue of Newsweek. The lead article was "Faith Is More Than A Feeling" by Kenneth L. Woodward. In that article, Woodward observes, quite astutely I believe, that "Skeptics used to argue that anyone with half a brain should realize there is no God. Now scientists are telling us that one half of the brain, or a portion thereof, is 'wired' for religious experiences. But whether this evolving 'neurotheology' is theology at all is doubtful. It tells us new things about the circuits of the brain, perhaps, but nothing new about God." The article finishes with this additional insight: 

Science, of course, does not deal with the immaterial (though aspects of modern physics come pretty close). The most that neurobiologists can do is correlate certain experiences with certain brain activity. To suggest that the brain is the only source of our experiences would be reductionist, ignoring the influence of other important factors, such as the will, the external environment, not to mention the operation of divine grace. Even so, it is hard to imagine a believer in the midst of mystical transport telling herself that it is just her neural circuits acting up. Like Saint Augustine, who lived 15 centuries before we discovered that the brain makes waves, the religious mind intuits that 'Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.'

The companion article in this same issue of Newsweek is similarly enlightening and enlightened. It was entitled "Religion And The Brain" and written by Sharon Begley, with Anne Underwood. The article begins with an account of a 'mystical' experience by a neurologist, Dr. James Austin. The salient point is this: 

Call it a mystical experience, a spiritual moment, even a religious epiphany, if you like - but Austin will not. Rather than interpret his instant of grace as proof of a reality beyond the comprehension of our senses, much less as proof of a deity, Austin took it as proof of the existence of the brain. He isn't being smart-alecky. As a neurologist, he accepts that all we see, hear, feel and think is mediated or created by the brain.

In 1998, Austin wrote a book called "Zen and the Brain" which was published by MIT Press, states Begley, and since then: "more and more scientists have flocked to 'neurotheology,' the study of the neurobiology of religion and spirituality." Begley then lists several prestigious associations and universities active in this field, and their publications, but what is of interest to me is this statement at the very end of the well written and informative article that describes the successful mapping of heightened religious or mystical experience onto the brain through sophisticated observation of what areas are activated and at the same time deactivated to mediate or cause such experiences. And it is the mediate OR cause part of the article that is emphasized in this statement from the middle of the article, which in turn cites a Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania:

. . . just because an experience has a neural correlate does not mean that the experience exists 'only' in the brain, or that it is a figment of brain activity with no independent reality. Think of what happens when you dig into an apple pie. The brain's olfactory region registers the aroma of the cinnamon and fruit. The somatosensory cortex processes the feel of the flaky crust on the tongue and lips. The visual cortex registers the sight of the pie. Remembrances of pies past (Grandma's kitchen, the corner bake shop ...) activate association cortices. A neuroscientist with too much time on his hands could undoubtedly produce a PET scan of 'your brain on apple pie.' But that does not negate the reality of the pie. 'The fact that spiritual experiences can be associated with distinct neural activity does not necessarily mean that such experiences are mere neurological illusions,' Newberg insists. 'It's no safer to say that spiritual urges and sensations are caused by brain activity than it is to say that the neurological changes through which we experience the pleasure of eating an apple cause the apple to exist.' The bottom line, he says, is that 'there is no way to determine whether the neurological changes associated with spiritual experience mean that the brain is causing those experiences ... or is instead perceiving a spiritual reality.'

Toward the end of the article, this appears as a quote from a Robert Forman, scholar of comparative religion at Hunter College in New York City:

And whatever light science is shedding on spirituality, spirituality is returning the favor: mystical experiences, says Forman, may tell us something about consciousness, arguably the greatest mystery in neuroscience. 'In mystical experiences, the content of the mind fades, sensory awareness drops out, so you are left only with pure consciousness,' says Forman. 'This tells you that consciousness does not need an object, and is not a mere byproduct of sensory action.'

The article's authors underscore this thought with this very appropriate conclusion:

For all the tentative successes that scientists are scoring in their search for the biological bases of religious, spiritual and mystical experience, one mystery will surely lie forever beyond their grasp. They may trace a sense of transcendence to this bulge in our gray matter. And they may trace a feeling of the divine to that one. But it is likely that they will never resolve the greatest question of all -namely, whether our brain wiring creates God, or whether God created our brain wiring. Which you believe is, in the end, a matter of faith.

That is exactly where Carl Jung's claim of there being a God-archetype in our subconscious left me: wondering if the archetype created God for us or was created for us by God. Since the God envisioned by humans is so diverse between cultures, in the same culture over time, and between individuals in any given time and culture, the argument is weighted away from a God having created this archetype to reflect a specific idea of Deity in us. Or is it? Is the reality of God so immense and ineffable that our interpretational ability of what we deeply feel about God comes out in so many different ways, conditioned by who we are, what we think, and what our experience is? It could go either way, still.

Where I have a harder time is thinking my way into believing that it is all just biology, the result of mutations over time bringing us to the state of having an innate belief system and ability to simulate (rather than 'have') experience outside our normal person, space, and time limits. Evolution created this archetype or set of archetypes as a sedative salve for the open wound created by a conscious self-awareness, sentience, with no answers. It makes purposeful life possible in a purposeless universe. Unless, of course, the universe's purpose was to create, over a very long time, a life form out of itself with the adaptability and capability to eventually determine a purpose. But that means the God archetype is an empty vessel waiting to be filled, rather than a tool for discerning something that is already in existence.


These imponderables are directly related to the study of whether there is life after life or not. Here is my line of reasoning:

2 If, on the other hand, there is already a God and a purpose, then and only then is there likely to be the sort of an afterlife that looks out for us as individuals and keeps us forever in some state of being, or merges us into the ultimate Be-ing that is Life, and is God, perhaps.

You may notice a reticence on my part to say "God, He" ... or "God, She" . . . That is because I think the idea of a personage as God misses the point of God's being an ineffable, unexplainable-in-words, concept. In fact, I am very much in awe of, and strangely comforted by, this declaration by a person named Katrei (or Catherine), a Catholic mystic of the High Middle Ages (for more information on who the revelator is and the context of the revelation, see my "A Women's Movement In The High Middle Ages" - Part 3, (click to go there):

"I had concentrated all the faculties of my soul.
When I looked into myself, I saw God in myself and
everything God ever created in heaven and on earth....

I have nothing to do with angels or saints or anything 
that was ever created. More: I have nothing to do with
anything that has ever become word.... I am confirmed in 
naked divinity, in which never image nor form existed.... I
am where I was before I was created; where there is only
bare God in God. In that place there are no angels or
saints or choirs or heaven. Many people tell of eight
heavens and nine choirs; where I am that is not. You should
know that all that is put into words and presented to
people with images is nothing but a stimulus to God. Know
that in God there is nothing but God. Know that no soul can
enter into God unless it first becomes God just as it was
before it was created.

"You should know, that whoever contents himself with what
can be put into words--God is a word, the kingdom of heaven
is also a word--whoever does not want to go further with the
faculties of the soul, with knowledge and love, than ever 
became word, ought rightfully to be called an unbeliever.
What can be put into words is grasped with the lower senses
or faculties of the soul, but the higher faculties of the
soul are not content with this; they press on, further and
further, until they come before the source from which the
soul flowed....

"You must understand this thus: The soul is naked and bare
of all things that bear names. So it stands, as one, in the
One, so that it has a progression in naked divinity.... So
you should know that as long as the good person lives in 
time, his soul has a constant progression in eternity. That
is why good people cherish life." 

The above is taken from Buber, Martin, "Ecstatic Confessions," (San Francisco, Harper and Row Publishers, l985) Edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr, Translated by Esther Cameron, pp. 155-156.

Well, that said, what is there possibly left to say? 

A lot. Now that you know some of my prejudices, let's launch immediately into a review of some books that are salient to this general theme of Deity, and Death.

The first one discusses the scientific approach that should be, but is not being, pursued when it comes to researching life after death. I think the Newsweek articles dispel this negativity somewhat and do show serious scientific work is in progress after all, but Moody's perspective is different, and needs to be aired.

The second book is one by Melvin Morse that is quite delightful in that it postulates a theory that makes the Newsweek articles seem like 'me too' statements rather than reports from the frontiers of neuroscience and neurotheology. It is definitely the opposite of the Moody book in its evaluation and approach.

More in the middle of the road is the second book: the latest offering from Kenneth Ring. Between Moody, Morse and Ring we have captured the three who are either the pioneers, or at least are very prominent among the pioneers of the world of NDE studies. 

After these three books it will be time to recapitulate and regroup before going to a very different genre of books.


What can one say about Raymond A. Moody's "The Last Laugh, a new philosophy of near-death experiences, apparitions, and the paranormal," (Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, VA 1999), except that it is a diatribe? Interesting? Yes. Informative? Yes. Diatribe? Also yes.

An enigma of the first order is why Neale Donald Walsch wrote the Preface when the book pokes fun at him (on page 69, whereas he is more kindly treated on pages 55 and 56). Walsch says Moody has written a blasphemous book: "here comes more blasphemy from Raymond Moody." Of course the blasphemy is against "conventional wisdom," taking near-death experience (NDE) accounts at face value and interpreting them literally. About Walsch's alleged conversations with God, in fact, Moody recommends we put away the unanswerable question as to whether or not Walsch ever had a conversation with God, and instead focus on the message, play with it, and see what it can do for us (see pp. 55-56). We will visit with Walsch's God later in this series of reviews.

Walsch does in a few words what it takes Moody a chapter to reveal: that the millions who think him the author of "an entire cosmology about life after death," upon reading this book find out "that Dr. Moody himself never intended to give us an answer about life after death and other things paranormal, but merely sought to reopen the question." (p. vii)

Moody isn't quite as kind. He blasts his co-author (who made his first book readable, I can now see) and his editors and publishers for making him say things he never really believed himself, largely by not allowing him to say what he, as a properly skeptical scientist, felt compelled to say to caution runaway interpretation of his work in a literalistic way. On pages vii and ix, he is extremely critical, and stays that way for the rest of the introduction, spewing venom on three groups that he has come to loathe over the years, unscientific and literal-minded parapsychologists, skeptics, and especially fundamentalist Christians who take everything literal and seek to find Satan at work in NDEs to satisfy their need to bolster their religious beliefs. He says NDEs and the paranormal are entertainment in modern society (see pp. 11 and 15, but much of the book is dedicated to this theme).

On pages 4 and 5 he reveals the "new" material in this book: there are "empathic" NDEs that do not involve approaching death from any trauma expect to be close to someone in a state of approaching death. This is also expanded on later in the book (pp. 195-196), but really is a minor part of it. In the main the book is a confession: he is not certain about life after life, about what NDEs really mean, and never meant for his books to indicate otherwise, but they did! (See p. 8)

The main thrust of the book is to skewer, again and again in great detail, his three nemeses. And it is a good read if you are interested in the ins and outs of why it is these three groups (parapsychologists, skeptics, and Christian fundamentalists) do not want closure on this issue, do not want a final authoritative statement on what the NDE or a paranormal manifestation is. (See pages 13-14, 163 especially). I really enjoyed his name calling of the scientific and other skeptics and fundamentalists as "believers" (p. 73, p. 80), as believers in the "military manner (p. 74), as a self-appointed "thought-police" (pp. 48-49), as "cold intellects" like "Commies" (p. 114), and suggests their three different vocabularies assure no understanding between them (pp. 48-49 and 64 especially ). He also pokes his critical fingers at creation "science" believers (p. 82), and new agers who are steeped in the same wishful thinking as the ancient alchemists (pp. 138-139). 

A less critical treatment is given of the NDE and other paranormal purveyors of new insights into life, but he does use them illustrate his central point: this is all entertainment. He characterizes Bettie Eadie (whose books are included in this review) and another NDE story author, Dannion Brinkley ("Saved by the Light," not reviewed here) as NDE showmen and entrepreneurs (pp. 170-171), but softens that characterization by also saying that they are "lovable and endearing people who do good things for others." (p. 177) Among historical icons of the new age whom he paints as naught but clever showmen are the Count of St. Germain (pp. 30-31) and Nostradamus (p. 45).

But what does Moody think, then, it all means? His basic message is that the paranormal and NDEs are "nonsense from nowhere" (p. 109), but as he states clearly on the next page, it is important, as essential life as are "play, humor, and entertainment" which provide "consolation, enjoyment, and release" (p. 110). On page 118 an important statement is made: even though it is nonsense, it "incubates truth" and brings "new knowledge" into the world. So, it is a serious thing for human progress, this entertainment. He describes the contributions of Descartes and Socrates as paranormally aided or inspired contributions to world knowledge (pp. 120-123).

Moody is adamant that the paranormal and NDEs are legitimate subjects for scientific study, (p. 136, pp.152-153 and many others). Surprisingly, to me, he has done scientific study and experimentation in this area, involving "scrying" for example, and shows it a common ability (pp. 158-162). But his call for serious scholarly study is interrupted, of course, by decrying the "hero's clubs" of students of a single individual's insights or philosophy, based on paranormally obtained insights. Again, one of the persons painted into this corner is the person who wrote the Preface, Walsch, whose devotees have founded study clubs. That is not scholarship (pp. 136-137).

Pages 145-152 characterize the paranormal as a treasure chest, and the subjects he used for his scrying experiments came away with some of that treasure, real, tangible changes in their lives from experiencing similar, healing encounters as reported in NDEs! (pp. 160-161) As Moody concludes on page 162, the paranormal is both fun and valuable, and on page 165 he exclaims that he has pursued these studies with passion, and that passion is behind every true discovery and process miracles of love and understanding. And love is a great promise of, and the greatest attractor to, the paranormal (pp. 193-194).

All that said, here are what I thought were genuinely important observations from this book by Moody, important to my desire to understand the accounts of paranormal knowledge of the afterlife I am currently reading in copious quantity:

These are some of the enlightening and at times sobering "facts" I derived from this book. I think they are for food for thought as we approach several other books on the subject of life after death and see them proclaiming absolute truths that seem strangely tied to the cultures and expectations of the revelators, and that fundamentally contradict one another in significant points of declared "fact." 

BUT: we must not forget the very serious suggestion made by Moody after he pokes gentle fun at his Preface author's claim of having seen and conversed with God (p. 56): "The playful paranormalist is inclined to look past the question of whether an actual communication with Deity took place (a question that can never be resolved in any event), and to look instead at whether there is anything of wisdom and value in the communication that was received. The playful paranormalist is willing to 'play with the idea' that Walsch might have talked to God, and then ask: If he did, would it not be interesting to see what God had to say?" Exactly.


So Moody believe NDEs are not evidence, they are entertainment, but entertainment that can bring new truth into the world. He applauds the effects of NDEs, generally, and ends his book with a suggestion that by learning to have these types of experiences without approaching death, the world can be revolutionized by love: . . ."we do not have to die to get a glimpse of the love that awaits us in the light beyond." (p. 196)

Before we get into Ring, however, it would probably be good to note here that there was some material in the Moody book that struck me while reading this next book on my list:

Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino, "Lessons from the Light, What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience," Insight Books, New York, 1998.

Raymond Moody's book "The Last Laugh," where he is talking about the IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies) organization (see page 169) and says he is no longer welcome there because he has moved on. Moody says he is beyond staring at the same old Near-Death Experiences, and the IANDS adherents seem to want to hear the same things over and over and over again, thousands of times, and actually resist anything that is new and unfamiliar. On the next page he gently chides them for having become in some respects like a religious organization, although he praises them for their support network and journal.

I quote this only because the book I am now reviewing by Ring and Valarino is a book by an IANDS member and enthusiastic supporter. Maybe what Moody complained of is a basic aspect of human nature. The message comforts them, assures them of life after death exactly the way they want it to be. So anything that challenges what they want to have continually reaffirmed is met with dismay at least, rejection at worst. Moody's chiding is a little pointed on his page 169: "A good sense of humor is the best tool a playful paranormalist can use to dispense with the numb-minded conservatism about peri-mortal visionary experiences that, incredibly, has set in so quickly among lots of folks who devote themselves to the subject as a pastime. Those fans want all their near-death experience entertainment fare to be just as they are used to enjoying it. They want more of the same old, same old, and they want more and more of it. . . . If you ask me, some of them have gotten hung up on NDEs. They are too touchy about someone going outside the bounds of what they think they already know about the subject." 

Kenneth Ring, another giant in this field, and his coauthor Evelyn Valarino, explain why they do not go beyond NDEs, and it is a very good reason: to go much beyond the experience of the light and the love it gives and teaches can be a distraction from life and its purpose. The minutiae described by some in the attempt to go beyond the NDE is distracting and can be deadening, removing wonder by describing all in mundane this-worldly symbols and language, and finally it may well give wrong impressions. That latter caution is not unlike Moody's caution to not take these accounts as evidence for anything. But both Moody and Ring know that that is exactly what they are, evidence, to the experiencers and those who believe them: evidence for an afterlife, and for a God of love.

Of course this is not at all what Moody has in mind by going beyond the NDE, he is talking about his experiments with scrying and other ways of bringing on NDE-like experiences and insights. But Ring makes several statements that seem important to me, probably just because I feel I agree with them. (Technically I should always use "Ring and Valarino, but the book is written so that only Ring seems to be writing/speaking, so I will just use his name from this point forward.) What Ring says on his page 280-281 is very important, I believe, in understanding the NDE and also the stories of those going beyond the NDE, even those cited in Ring's book, and several of which who have written their own books which will be reviewed later in this series of reviews.

On his pages 280 and 281 Ring suggests he is reluctant to go too far in recommending the imagining of the post-life journey based on what has been revealed in NDEs so far. Post-life journeys have to be individual, they must diverge after the common introductory elements shown in many NDE's. He further suggests that it may be simply an error to carry the all loving, all accepting nature of the reception into the afterlife, reported in many NDE's, too far. It could be, Ring suggests, that there will be differences in the longer journey depending on the life lived here, despite the initial almost universal reception into what feels like perfect love and total acceptance. Ring is afraid that some persons may think this gives them license to use and abuse in this life with no consequence hereafter, rather than to live in love and compassion as NDE's clearly teach that life should be lived.

But his caution that meant the most to me is this one: what is seen and experienced is ineffable, beyond human comprehension and words, and to describe it all as if it can be systematized into a geography and architecture of the afterlife is turning the sublime into the banal! Amen Brother Ring! Well said. And we will have occasion to reflect on these words when we do, indeed, review some very concrete tales of the landscapes and rules of the next life.

What Ring says about the ineffable reminded me of the words I cited above by sister Katrei whom I cite elsewhere on my websites (see link, above).

In my opinion, what Katrei says underscores Ring's caution against taking things too literally which appears on his page 281: . . . "I would still contend that the essence of these experiences transcends all linguistic or imagistic representation that might be available to us in states of ordinary waking consciousness. Therefore, in trying to conceive of the after-death state too finely, we not only risk a certainhubris, but we also court the danger of transforming an experience full of symbolic shadings and redolent with flashes of higher consciousness into something that is too literal, banal, or otherwise full of conventional stereotyped imagery."

We will have occasion to wave this warning later, when reviewing some other books on the subject of the after life- life. Ring does not mean to say that a person should not read the accounts of psychics and regressions that give accounts of the life between lives, he explains further. But as he concludes on page 282, his only purpose is to show that . . . "NDE's conduce toward a belief in the afterlife." . . . and . . . "to dwell on the nature of the afterlife may divert us from paying attention to this life, where the lessons from the Light need to be practiced.." Ring reminds us that "we are not dead" and admonishes us to: "Live well, and death will take care of itself."

Ring also tantalizes his readers with more than the normal NDE reveals, and mentions an "ultimate journey" type of NDE on page 283 that he dwells on for the next 17 pages, using words for his sources such as "messengers of God" on page 294 and "revelators" on page 300. I cite these words only to show that Ring is a believer, not a skeptic, even though he maintains his stance as a scientist investigating this NDE phenomenon, and describes his experiments and those of others to prove the point. Unlike Moody who scoffed at the idea that NDE accounts are evidence for anything at all, Ring uses the "evidence" word several times (as on page 281).

The ultimate journey accounts were a good read, but I found they left me somewhat cold. Ring says these accounts move us from lessons to treasures (p. 286), and I am only partly in agreement. The first such account has the NDE experiencer stop and query the light and it gave him specific information about its nature, such as that the experience one has of the personification of Love can be Jesus, Krishna, Buddha or whatever one needs or expects (p. 287). Although this may well be so, it seems an easy rationalization of what NDE's from different cultures otherwise present as an enigma.

On page 289 the account is not unlike Katrei's, the person moves into time before time and experiences awareness before existence, and recognizes self as part of all, of God. Where he returns to a commonplace observation, to me, is in saying that God is here, now, and exploring his/her (neither fits) through us. He also is certain that he has moved into the time and space before there was time and space, before the big bang, and sees the creation of all that is after as the unfolding of a web of organic unity (see page 290). To me, he is trying too hard to describe the ineffable in currently accepted concepts and terms, and adds little new insight except that his no doubt ineffable impressions can be squeezed into these effable concepts and observations.

On page 291 a person who is an atheist has an NDE and experiences hell, and is saved through prayer into a place that looks like a galaxy of love with a very bright center made of love-lighted souls. On page 292 is an account of a person coming through a meditation journey into an expanding light, as if from the big bang itself, and he experiences an ecstatic state wherein he knows he is part of all that is.

This is the type of thing Ring continues to bring forward in this very interesting chapter. A journey to the center of the universe, and a view of the stars performing a subtle dance (p. 295) is followed by an account of seeing God as an all pervasive light that teaches in the end that obtaining love and knowledge is the purpose of this life (p. 296). 

Another account (pp. 297-299) has an angel conducting the person into the light where God is encountered face to face (this reminded me of the Beatrice and Dante relationship, but I have an overactive relational database in my head, but as in that Medieval tale, the angelic Beatrice brings Dante close to the Presence, but then disappears as he enters it and comes away uttering words he knows are all inadequate to convey what he really saw and learned and experienced). This particular account also teaches some things that are at once profound and dissatisfying because so many others teach the same things: stars are born at the center of the universe, the universe is one grand object, space-time is an illusion holding us in this plane, fire is the center of stars, the void is richly full, etc. 

This account also suggests all knowledge is to be taken in, which is good. And all injustice has its purpose, which bothers me. Like this experiencer, who was railing against God because of the injustices in this world, I am opposed to the idea that suffering should not be reduced to the extent possible in this life, which is one result of believing that all suffering has a purpose and one should leave it to God. To me what she understood from her experience is simple that the world's suffering is beyond you, focus on your life and trust all will be well in the end. It is what I come to when I realize I have a choice between enjoying the rich life I have ben given, or pining away in misery over overwhelming injustices in the world without helping the situation one iota. This revelation reminds me of the Jungian description of revelation as a response to intense emotional suffering providing answers that allow one to résumé living life.

Ring, after cautiously tantalizing his readers with a look beyond the light from very advanced NDEs, interprets their collective lesson in a way I can fully agree with: now that you have all this testimony of the love, live it and light the world! (P. 300) The purpose of all this knowledge is to live what is learned (p. 301). He says NDEs do not challenge, but revitalize the existing faiths, and warns against turning it into a religion, and suggests that like everywhere else in human relations, here too there are liars (pp. 302-303). Like a preacher, he ends the book with a benediction (p. 304): "May the Light guide your every step and lead you to enlightened action in the world." Amen!

But a striking point is made two pages before, where, not unlike Moody, Ring says: "I want to urge here a criterion of utility for the Light's offerings and not dissipate its value in fruitless discussions over just what it represents, which brings us back to the fundamental theme of this chapter: How to engage with the lessons of the Light so as to put them to practical use in your daily life." (P. 302) Remember Moody's similar sentiment about the value of another person's lessons from supposed revelations from God, se if the message is useful, forget arguments about the reality of the account of the phenomenon that brings the message (Moody's pages 55-56).

So, we have finished Ring (and Valarino's book without reading it all? No, there were many interesting things in that book prior to the later chapters just discussed. Examples are the idea of the NDE as a benign virus that can be caught by persons simply being exposed to the content of such experiences. This is introduced on page 5 as part of a longer discussion of the powerful changes that are wrought in both NDE experiencers and those who learn from hearing or reading those experiences. The benign virus notion is revisited on page 278 in the context of experience with students in a class on NDEs taught by Ring. 

Pages 70 and 71 are interesting in that a comparison between persons imagining a resuscitation and NDE accounts shows the former to be inaccurate, the latter accurate including unknowable (to a person not conscious) information.

The chapter on blind persons' NDEs was extremely interesting to me. Not knowing a blind person well, I always wondered if they saw in dreams. Apparently they do not see in dreams. But the do in NDEs!!! (See chapter starting on page 73, especially pages 80-81.)

It was of interest to me that Ring cites accounts that mention reincarnation (pp. 136-137) and generalizes that some NDE experiencers are convinced there is reincarnation (pp. 126-127). As we shall see later, some other witnesses categorically state there is no such thing, while others say it is obviously so. If this interests you too, stay tuned!

Ring's purpose in writing the book is to allow others to benefit from, and have their lives changed by, the NDEs teachings. This is a central theme, stated at the start of the book and discussed again in greater detail after many accounts have been cited, especially on pages 275-279. On that latter page Ring says NDEs are persuasive testimonies, and on page 281 as already noted he mentions the word evidence in the context of NDEs. I believe he means that these accounts are definitely both of these things to the ones experiencing them, and he documents case after case to show this is so. He also means they can be persuasive and evidence to others, and shows by his pre- and post-course surveys that this is so. He also cites several other researchers doing more formal experimental surveys to the same end. This makes Ring's view of NDE's very different from Moody's, as previously cited. Or does it?

Moody, like Ring, says to judge them for their insights, not by their descriptive "facts." In that vein, Moody says this much more strongly than Ring, when he says that though they are "nonsense from nowhere" they are doors through which new knowledge enters the world. And he proves this from historical accounts of inventions that were seemingly direct results of revelatory insights.

So, in the end, although Moody and Ring come from very different degrees of belief in the veracity of the NDE-type experience, they agree these types of experiences are sources of revelation with resulting messages that need to be taken serious, even though it is tempting to sometimes take issue with the descriptions of the experience that brought the message. Test the message for usefulness in enriching your life, don't sweat the details. Good advice!

Ring suggests it is psychic travelers who add minutiae, and that is very true as we will shortly see. But what about several recent NDErs who do the same thing, like Eadie first and foremost?

Eadie sees a hereafter colored with Mormon cultural accouterments. No wonder, one of the two churches she alleges she needs to be happy is the Mormon one. This is made quite clear in the official description of the book as corroborating much that is distinctly Mormon in the copies of the book sent to Mormon outlets. Nothing wrong with that, but it does show the coloration of what is seen by ones expectations.

And this is carried to an absurd degree by the totally eclectic account by Patricia Kirmond, in my opinion. OK OK, this will have to wait until after we examine the book by Melvin Morse.


The full title of Melvin Morse, M.D.'s latest book with Paul Perry is"Where God Lives, The Science of the Paranormal and How Our Brains are Linked to the Universe," (Cliff Street Books, New York, 2000). A quick overview of the approach and message of the book is available on the back of the dust jacket covering where it has an endorsing quote from Raymond Moody, but this book is very different from anything Moody has written, or Morse for that matter.

Maybe I shouldn't be so hasty in that pronouncement. Moody, in a book with Paul Perry called "Coming Back, A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys" (Bantam Books, New York, 1990) also, like Morse, says he doesn't know what these regression experiences really mean. Although he has experienced them, they are real experiences: like NDEs the results stay with you, they are very therapeutic and help resolve problems in current life therapy, but they are not of certain pedigree. Moody gives insights from his own experimental work, including work with scrying which he shows can bring on a similar experience, and suggests the reader make up their own mind as to what these strange experiences mean. It is significant, to me, that in his "The Last Laugh" this "Coming Back" book that he wrote is never mentioned! Maybe it is because in it he does clearly retain his objectivity, whereas, as he claimed, in the NDE books he was made into an NDE true believer and his scientific side was buried. Or so he says now.

It is also interesting to me that although Moody endorsed Morse's book, Morse never once referred to Moody's "Coming Back" book, even though Morse's chapter four covers some of the same territory and asks similar questions as were asked in and addressed similarly by Moody.


But we are discussing Morse's latest book here, not Moody's past writings, and on page 9 Morse says that after 15 years of experience with NDEs as well as other paranormal types of experiences he has come to believe in his own intuitive side and its powers. He has come to believe in his . . . "right temporal-lobe abilities - telepathy, remote viewing, and mind-body healing. I have learned to trust my instincts and to see intuition as an asset that is biologically hardwired into our brains.

"After fifteen years of listening to children describing what it was like when they died, I have learned that what happened to them in what were almost their final moments of life can happen to any of us, at any time throughout our lives. The experiences teach us that we have a large area of the brain - our right temporal lobe - that remains underused. It is now a scientific fact - which I will establish in this book - that when this area functions fully, we receive insight into the meaning of life and a personal introduction to God."

Notice that Moody (and Ring, as we will see in the next book) also gives this message: you don't need to be near death to have a near-death-like experience! Morse, on his page 27 reveals where he is going with this line of thought: (1) NDEs are real, (2) they are transformative, and (3) they utilize brain physiology but are "not limited to or contained by that physiology." This bold statement is emphasized: "Much of what constitutes a mystical or paranormal experience might exist outside the human brain and come to us through a shared fabric of thought and memory."

This is clearly a reference to the Jungian concept of a collective unconscious, a master unconscious which our personal unconscious is linked to. Morse pays respect to Jung's ideas on page 102 especially, and it is a direct precursor to what Morse now reveals as his "unified theory" to explain many related paranormal phenomena.

The things that can all be viewed from the perspective of his "unified theory," which Morse (rightly) describes as "a path no one before me had taken," are discussed on pages 40 through 46. These things, or topics discussed in the bulk of the book include: "Can memory exist outside the body?" "Is reincarnation the act of 'tapping in' to a universal memory bank?" "Are ghosts and angels really 'trapped' energy patterns?" Is there a type of person who can communicate with this universal memory bank more easily than the rest of us?" "Is there such a thing as coincidence?" "And what is intuition anyway?" "Why do prayers help some people who are seriously ill?" "How are mystical experiences like prayer?"

The book is fascinating in its treatments of each of these subjects, and you need to read it for yourself if you have an interest in these things. 


It is fine to skip this part where I mention several things that caught my critical eye just to be mean. I really like the book, don't get me wrong, but little bits of it really spun me into taking a critical stance. For one thing, Morse mentions "theoretical physicists" (p. 42) as assuring him . . . "that the energy we give off in the form of thought and behavior does not disappear but survives somewhere in nature." Morse then says, with a proper caveat: "If this is true, perhaps our energy becomes a part of that universal memory bank, perceivable at times as ghosts or angels by our right temporal lobe." To me, this is unsupportable conjecture, and in citing it I am sorry to have let Morse's cat out of the bag about what he thinks ghosts or angels represent.

Morse really sets me on edge next time he mentions physicists. On page 57 he cites Physicist Nick Herbert as saying: "The world is a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup behind our backs. Every time we quickly turn to 'see' the soup, it freezes, and turns into ordinary reality. Humans can never experience the true texture of quantum reality, because everything we touch turns to matter." Morse interprets this as meaning that: "According to modern physics, what we consider to be real is no more real than a video game screen." He expands on that theme, adding something about "every inch of space" having "the energy of a trillion atom bombs" and being able "to store the information of all the computers on earth." I think this is all nonsense and that it detracts from the otherwise astute and careful nature of the book. But if you want to know how I really feel about this use of physics to support some of the New Age's concepts, you will need to switch over to my diatribe on that subject, also on this web site (click here to go there).

But I don't get upset at every use of physics insights, and remained quite calm at John Archibald Wheeler's assertions, reported on page 58, that . . . "we live in a participatory universe, one in which life and mind are woven into the fabric of the universe. In this theory, memories . . . are stored in the patterns of life" . . . . Morse cites trees and bird's songs, some physicists cite the particles and waves of the subatomic scale. To me theses views are both much too materialistic. There are many orders of magnitude of scale, below the scale of the structural materials that make up the components of atoms, that may be candidate space for such information, or consciousness storage. But just because we are unable to touch those orders of magnitude doesn't mean that therefore these subtle energies of external memory must be located in what we can experimentally touch. In other words, I really find Morse's unified theory of an extra-corporeal memory compelling. I just have a problem assigning that function to that which we can know, physically.

Pages 58-60, where Morse speculates almost without giving me any negative vibes, is good. He feels there is good evidence for external memory, except for short term memory which is brain-captured and localized, and I tend to cautiously agree. Almost? Well there is that referent on page 59 about the idea of there being no time, and he again cites physicists as saying so. In my diatribe on the subject (see link above) I show to my satisfaction that all the arrows of time in physics point in one direction. There is an example often cited to the contrary, but it is an exception to the rule where the experimental information is ambiguous. One ambiguity in the face of many certainties is not a reason to throw away those certainties. It is not a firm counterexample.

Morse concludes that: "It is not a great leap of logic to comprehend a universal memory that exists free of the constraints of time and as part of an evolving universal consciousness." My reaction is that "evolving," and yet not having a time arrow pointed in one direction only, is a logical contradiction. It may well be so, I don't know, but to my physics can be used to soundly argue against the proposition.

Given that now the external longer term memory is established, does this mean that reincarnation memories are bogus and borrowed from the memory fabric of the universe? Maybe, maybe not. Morse admits on page 73 that many cases are in the latter category, but there are a few that are compelling evidence for reincarnation, and so he "probably" believes in it. I like that, cautious even in his own very personal conclusions.

On page 93 he cites Stanislav Grof's "holotropic mind" work, which I have found fascinating to read of in the past. Morse weaves Grof's insights nicely into his own "unified theory" and explains Grof's holotropic mind therapy as being training in using the right lobe of the brain, the intuitive side where the universal memory is connected and contacted.

Morse makes some sweeping statements about soul rescue on pages 90 and 94. Many, many books tell the stories of people visiting the realm of spirits and helping orient lost souls. Morse cites one on page 90 and categorically says she is doing no such thing. On page 94 he suggests that what people believe to be the lost soul is their strong memories in a complex mesh in the universal memory bank. This is a bit heavy handed, I believe. Although it is very attractive: one less thing to worry over in the universe!

Morse loses me again on page 96 in his discussion on quantum holography, mentioning the wave-particle duality that is the staple truth (and undeniably so) of quantum physics in another context where it adds little (in my mind) to the argument being made. That argument is that the universe is quantum holographic meaning that . . . "the entire universal pattern, is contained in every speck of matter." That sweeping statement (see pages 96-97) made me grit my teeth once more. 

But I relaxed my jaw in the very next paragraph where this sweeping generalization was brought home into the human body "where each cell contains all the DNA information necessary to create the entire body." I found that to be unassailable, but the next step Morse then takes is to suggest that . . . "we need only to speculate that the holographic brain can communicate with the holographic universe. . . . Since our brains are part of the universe, we have in each of us all the information of the universe - everything that ever was, is, and will be." Sorry, to me that is stretching a basically compelling idea to an absurd degree.

As I already mentioned, Jung is mentioned, and his ideas on synchronicity and the collective unconscious, on pages 101 through 107. Morse goes to some lengths to show that the great physicist Niels Bohr collaborated with Carl Jung on his ideas, the implication being that Bohr's quantum physics underlies Jung's theories. Well, in my totally non-humble opinion I think Jung was onto something and Bohr was wrong, Einstein was right. And for a discussion of this sobering thought, again see my other article on the implications of modern physics.

Had enough of my critical nits? Good, me too. Let's get on to the part I liked, a lot.


In a discussion on science and spirituality, Morse concludes that science is, or at least can be, a force for spiritual progress. (P. 119) This is in the context of new information from the scientific study of prayer and placebos as evidence that the mind heals the body. (See pp. 120-123)

God is mentioned on page 121 as being, in some people's minds, the universal energy pattern that is tapped in the healing process. This notion is repeated as a statement Morse endorses on page 132. Morse's chapter 8 is very, very good reading, and is a sweeping overview of the things one can do to make the universal healing processes work in their own lives.

At the end of that chapter, Morse gets back to the NDE. On page 151 he cites a person who feels he was healed by his NDE. But as Morse points out, the lessons that caused healing can be learned without an NDE: "Live life to its fullest; pay attention to what is going on around you; and believe that, in the long run, everything has a purpose and works out for the best."

Morse suggests (still on p. 151) that activating the right temporal lobe is the key to gaining this insight. It is . . . "an inner source of healing - a secret helper - that is always present and operating at an unconscious level." Morse ends this very informative and practical chapter with: "The ultimate message of NDEs is that life has meaning and that we are all connected. It is in finding these interconnections that we find the secret to good health and a long life." Amen. I have had that lesson taught to me from several sources and through several experiences.

Pages 163 through 165 suggest that the connection between the left and right brains is where the voice of God is located. On page 164, intuition is labeled the ability to communicate with God, and is characterized as being the ability to utilize the entire brain. The challenge is made for people to learn to use their entire brain and hear God's voice. On page 165 there is a call for balance between the right and left brains that ends the book on this note: "NDEs are a wake-up call reminding us that we are interconnected spiritual beings as well as unique individuals. Work on your spiritual sensitivity, but be patient. Although our modern brain began evolving more than two hundred thousand years ago, it didn't come with a manual. We are just starting to use it fully." 

So, is Morse a believer? On page 164 he states: "From NDEs we are learning that everyone has the ability to connect with a divine universe. We are also learning that we do not have to wait until we die to connect to this universe. . . . Connecting with this universe is my personal challenge. I do not want to wait until I die to hear God's voice."


If you skipped the previous "nit-picking" section, feel free to leave this one out of your reading list also. In reporting Morse's conclusions, I purposely skipped over pages 158 and 159 where another person, not a physicist, who makes my blood boil is cited at length: Julian Jaynes.

Elsewhere in my websites I have tackled the Jaynes theory about human consciousness being enabled by a breakdown of the bicameral mind. Morse explains this happening as the biological (evolutionary) diminishment of a bridge between the two lobes of the human brain. First, as explained on page 165, people were dominated by their right lobes, hearing the voice of God dictating their every action and having no concept of individuality. Then came the reduction of the capability of this bridge between the two lobes and humanity became dominated by the left brain. Today's societal problems stem from that excessive focus on the individual, and harmony between the two lobes would not only bring the voice of God into our daily experience (page 164), but would also solve many societal problems.

All of this is based on the theory of Julian Jaynes in his book "The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," (Houghton Mifflin. New York, 1976). Morse characterizes this theory in a more credible way then I thought Jaynes himself did. Morse says that "Individual consciousness occurred because of a dysfunction within the human brain. Modern man, in spite of all our accomplishments, is brain imbalanced. Dr. Jayne [sic] has shown that the origins of human consciousness came from a breakdown in the proper integration of the right and left temporal lobes," . . . . "The bicameral mind is the mind that humans had for the first 195,000 years of their existence. It has been in the past 5,000 years that we have suffered from a lack of communication between the two sides of the brain, leaving an unhealthy dominance of the left temporal lobe and a relative atrophy of the right temporal lobe."

Note how different this idealization of the previously integrated brain is from the complaint on page 165, cited above, that early man was too dominated by the right brain leading to a group mentality and allowed domination by those appointed by God to rule over them.

So, what characterized early humans' experience? Are they automatons, or the enlightened role model we should seek to emulate? One would think the latter, according to this description, allegedly based on Jaynes' work (p. 158): "Dr. Jayne [sic] theorized that early humans did not have an individual sense of consciousness. They were so linked to each other and the universe that they thought of themselves as sharing consciousness, not only with other humans but with everything in the universe." On page 163 this is expanded on with a quote from Jaynes: "In man, there is a band of fibers from the left temporal lobe . . . which connects with the other temporal lobe. Here, then, I suggest, is the tiny bridge across which came the directions which built our civilizations and founded the world's religions, where gods spoke to men and were obeyed . . . ."

Morse interprets this breakdown in the majority of modern humans as the cause of the modern idea of religion, based on the recognition that few are now capable of hearing the voice of God, and the definitive word of God came from ancients who had this ability in abundance. But there is a subtle but serious idealization at work here. My reading of Jaynes is more sinister. Besides that, I think Jaynes' evidence inadequate to support his case. I discuss this elsewhere in my web pages (to go there, please click here). There is also an actual organization of persons fighting the religious and New Age calls for a return to a balanced brain, they believe that a return to hearing "God's voice" (Morse p. 164) is part of a conspiratorial attempt to cause a return to the days of despots dominating humanity by claiming to be revelators of God. To see a summary of their website content, and my rebuttal of that content, click here: (It is a strange world after all!) 

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