Is there life after Death; can it all be a dream?

April 20, 1993

 

 

Denial of Death

            Everyone must eventually die, it cannot be avoided. However, even though death is a fact of life, it is a topic that many people prefer not to talk about. This avoidance of discussion is usually due to the denial of one’s own death and the denial is usually due to fear. The fear is, for many people, a fear of the unknown.

The Big Question

            Even in this day and age of technology no one knows for sure what happens after death. Is death the end, or is there life after death? Research is being done to try to find an answer to this question but it is a question that we still cannot answer.

            Another big question that arises is: if there is life after death what will it be like? There are many theories about life after death but which one could be correct? Who is to say which theory is the true afterlife?

            Throughout my life I have heard many of the theories on life after death and I have developed my own theory. I will attempt to explain my theory and then I will provide information about what others have published on life after death.


Beginning My Own Theory

            It is difficult to trace back in my life and find exactly when or how I arrived at my theory about life after death. It is something that has evolved gradually over time. However, when I was a freshman at Indiana University I took a class called Death and Dying and I was asked to think about life after death and explain my beliefs to the class. The class made me think about my own death and helped influence my theory.

Influences on my theory

            The existential philosophy is a very important part of my life. I agree with this philosophy that humans are free to choose the type of life they live. My parents always taught me that I could do anything if I worked hard enough because I am in control of my life. I have decided that the existential philosophy should include life after death. Since I believe I am free to choose the way I live I also believe I can choose the type of after life I experience.

In My Mind it is All a Dream

            In my opinion, when a person dies, whatever that person believes about life after death will happen. For example:

if a religious woman, who believes in God and believes that there is a heaven, feels that she deserves to go to heaven when she dies, she will. The heaven that she will go to will be influenced by the beliefs she has while she is alive. If she believes everything will be white and she will have wings then that is the way it will be. It will be exactly as she expected because she will create it, as one creates dreams.

            I believe that when humans die, the body and the brain dies, but the mind still exists and it creates our after life according to our own beliefs and expectations. If a person believes there in nothing after death then there will not be a dream, it will be as if the person is asleep forever without dreaming.

Within My Dream

            I think that when I die, I will dream of being in a perfect world. It will be a world without hate, disease, crime, pain or any type of atrocity. I will be able to drink all the alcohol I want and I will not have to worry about being in an accident or having a hangover the next day. Also, whoever I want to be in my world, will be there, even if they have not died. I will have control of my afterlife, just as the existentialists believe that humans can control the life they live.

Not Quite a Fantasy

            The world of my afterlife theory should not be mistaken as a fantasy. Fantasy is creative imagination whereas my afterlife will be influenced by my life before my death. Dreams are influenced by real life and sometimes things happen in dreams that can not seem to be changed because of that influence.

Claims of Near Death Experiences

            Many people claim that they have crossed over just for an instant into the afterlife. Some descriptions of the experiences are the same while many are different. These claims helped me form my theory because of all the differences. I wondered how some death experiences could be the same and yet others could be different. I decided that some descriptions are the same because the people’s beliefs of the afterlife had been influenced by other stories of the afterlife. If one person heard about a description about a bright light at the end of a tunnel and believes it, that person will dream it too. Those claims that are different are different because the people just had different beliefs about life after death.

Reasons for Belief in the Afterlife

            It is important to me to have some kind of belief about life after death because I feel it helps relieve some of my phobias about death and the fear of the unknown. According to Heidegger, it is important to accept death in order to live an authentic life, or to live life to its fullest.

            Beginning at an early age, I knew I was going to die, after all everyone must eventually die. I was so afraid of death around the age of seven that I would cry all the time. Being from a Christian family my parents took me to church to learn about God and heaven in hopes to help ease my fears of death. I was told that as long as I believed in God I would go to heaven but I also believe that we can create our own heaven. Just as God has given us dreams he has also given us the ability to create our own afterlife with our beliefs, but of course they must be true beliefs.

            This existential philosophy about life after death being a dream is just a theory. I came up with this theory as a way to accept my own death and to ease my fears of what will happen after I die. I think it is important for people to accept their own death and I think that having a theory about life after death may help. I like to think that when I die it will be just like I am going to sleep and I am going to dream forever.

Research on NDE

            The book Reflections on Life after Life, written by Ramond A. Moody, JR., M.D., was in the Library of Congress category of Religions and the call number is BL 535.M66. Moody has both a Ph.D. and a medical degree and I believe he is credible. This book is a book reporting his findings on near death experiences.

            Moody does not seem to be objective because after reporting on peoples near death experiences he does not offer other explanations for what the people have experienced. Moody’s school of thought would have to be sensationalism. After reading his book it made my beliefs stronger about my own theory because those people he interviewed all had some difference. I believe those differences may be due to the influences of their own beliefs.

            I found Moody’s book by using the UHCARL and word searching for the words life after death. After seeing the title of the book I believed the book was about life after death which, of course, is what my paper was about. The book related to my theory because Moody researched near death experiences which are, for now, the closest thing to life after death which we can study.

Moody’s Life After Life

Moody has interviewed many people who have been pronounced clinically dead but then came out of it alive.  He has discovered that while there are some elements that continue to show up in these experiences there are new elements that are arising (p.3-28). For example: While many experience the feeling of leaving their own body some experienced a vision of knowledge or complete knowledge (p.3-28). One person who experienced this knowledge said, “I don’t know how to explain, but I knew. . .As the Bible says, ‘To you all things will be revealed” (p.3-28). Other new elements are the city of lights and a river and much of the imagery in which these scenes are explained seem to be reminiscent of what is found in the Bible (p. I believe that these “new elements” are caused by the inner beliefs of the people experiencing them. That is how I would explain why none of the experiences are exactly the same.

            At the end of his book Moody discusses questions that he has received from certain people. One question read “Won’t the broad public discussion of the details of this phenomenon interfere with the accuracy of future research in this area?” (p.81). Moody did believe that it raises the specter of subsequent experiences being influenced by reading the accounts of earlier ones (p.81—82). So apparently he agrees that near death experiences might be in some way influenced by others.

Swedenborg

            The book Emanuel Swedenborg A Continuing Vision has the Library of Congress category of philosophy as well as its field of discipline. The call number is B4468.582. It is a biography on Emanuel Swedenborg and of the four editors, three of them had received their Ph.D. and it was written in a scholarly tone. I believe Swedenborg’s school of thought would have been sensationalism and because it was a biography it was not objective, it just described Swedenborg’ s ideas.

            This book was difficult to read but I felt that Swedenborg’s beliefs about the afterlife had some similarities to my theory. I found this book using the UHCARL. I was looking for a book through the word search using the word Death and Swedenborg and the title of this book lead me to believe it would be very helpful book to use for my topic.

Swedenborg’ s Vision

            According to his bibliography, Swedenborg believed in a heaven where mental things are the only things that are real. The angels in his heaven transformed according to their inner state and their dramas unfold in the tinted gothic light of the land of Dreams (p.l06). Swedenborg described a mind—made heaven where the ‘Heaven light is not a natural one...it is a spiritual one” (p. 106).

            He recognized to what extent we all live in a mind made universe of our own; how our needs and beliefs color and fill in the details of the world we experience (p.98). Everything that happens comes from the spiritual person (p.98). Need can shape our realities and this view help him address the questions about life after death (p.98).

            Swedenborg believed that people often create their own living heaven or hell by projecting their own personal angels or demons into their environment (p.99). To him, heaven and hell were not physical places but states of minds (p.99).

            He also believed that when a person dies he leaves nothing behind except his physical body (p. He saw the after life as a process of self discovery not an end product.

            Much of Swedenborg’s beliefs are similar to the beliefs which I hold. Such as the idea that heaven is mind-made and depends upon the state of mind. Also he believed that where a person dies he leaves nothing behind except his physical body, I too have a similar belief. I think that when a person dies things from his true life will go with him, his feelings, beliefs and even people he loves. Everything in our present life will be an influence on our after life.

All Beliefs about Life After Death

            The book Life After Death has a religion field of discipline and the Library of Congress category is Eschatology. The call number is BL535.L54. There are several authors of this book and they discuss many of the different religions of the world and their beliefs about life after death. I feel this book was written objectively because it does not lean toward any one belief. I found the book through the TJHCARL by using the word search for life after death. After looking over the book I felt it did not have much impact on my belief because I agreed with her argument.

Illusion?

            Rosalind Heywood wrote the chapter titled “Illusion- or what?” She began the chapter with the question: should we dismiss one’s own real-seeming experiences because some people assume that they have got to be illusions due to silly wishful thinking (p. 203)? she explained that this is a subject that needs to be faced objectively, all sides need to be reviewed. She also wrote ‘we must remember Einstein’s words that all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends with it’ (p. 203).

            Professor Henry Margenau, who is an outstanding physicist according to Heywood, was mentioned in this chapter. He once pointed out that ‘science no longer contains absolute truths; there are fields which are wholly non-physical; that in ordinary perception the conversion of the physiological stimulus into a conscious response is tantamount to a miracle, and that Mach’s principle (that the inertia of all objects on the earth is determined by the total mass of the universe around it) is as mysterious as unexplained psychic phenomena’ (p. 204—205)

           Heywood’s major point was that we all should keep an open mind when it comes to the discussion of life after death. There maybe life after death but we just have not found a way to prove it yet and there are many mysterious things in this world that we cannot explain.

The Images

            The book Images of Afterlife written by Geddes MacGregor, has a religion field of discipline and the Library of Congress category is Eschatology. The call number is BL 535. M23. The author does give all views about life after death including his own, which is totally against belief in life after death. This book had no influence upon my own beliefs. I would guess that Mac school of thought would be positivism. I found the book through the LJHCARL by using word search for afterlife.

 False Images

            MacGregor questions why we should consider the after life worth hoping for (p.4). He believes that many times people see afterlife as a means of redressing the injustices of the present (p.4).  Therefore it is just a wish getting away from an unfair life to a better life.

            MacGregor points out what Lucuis Annaeus Seneca wrote:  “After death nothing, and death itself is nothing” and he was a contemporary of Jesus (p.4). MacGregor feels that this is the out look many people typically have had on death throughout history (p.4).  He sees death as final, once we die that is the end.

            Obviously MacGregor does not believe there is an afterlife and the one good statement he made to get his view across is “What man is capable of the insane self—conceit of believing that an eternity of himself would be tolerable even to himself (p.4)?"

            He feels that it is important to know that there is a difference between what is ‘out there” independent from one’s mind and what one has put into the mind for the purpose of thinking about external realities (p.5). He admits that the imagination is important in preventing people from having a very bound existence, after all this imagination helps distinguish humans from other animals (p.5). Therefore what this is expressing is that ideas about afterlife are just a form of entertainment (p.5-6).

Eternal

            The book Eternal Life, written by Hans Kung, is a book on religions and its Library of Congress Category is Eschatology. The call number is BL535. This book gives different views on the question of eternal life but really had no influence on my beliefs. Again, I found this book using the UHCARL.

There is no Answer for the Big Question

            Kung’s main point in his book Eternal Life was basically that for now there is no answer to the question:  Is there life after death?   Instead, belief in eternal life actually means belief in divinity of man (p.2).  So maybe belief in an afterlife is just wishful thinking. “The idea of God and an eternal life is nothing but purely human imagination a product of our creative fantasy (p.30)."

            To Kung immortality seems impossible because it can not be proved (p.75). The problem is that eternal life is an inward personal experience as he sees it and people may claim to have entered the experience, but he wants us to remember often our dreams turn out to be just wishful dreaming, and our revelations just imagination (p. 75). What Kung is basically saying is that many times we imagine things just because we would really like it to be true.

Studies on Death

            An article from the Death Studies journal entitled Near Death Experiences: An Examination of the Supporting Data and Alternative Explanations was written by Tiliman Kodabough. The Library of Congress category is Psychological Aspects and the field is Psychology. The call number is BF 789.D4D395. I believe the author is not truly objective because for supporting data of near death experiences he just explains that there is not any known explanation for some of the experiences that some people are having but he gives alternative explanations for the case that seem to have other reasons for the experience. I found this journal when I was looking for an article in the Omega journals. This Death Studies journal was just above the Omega journals so I looked through the Death Studies because it sounded like it could be a useful source of information for my topic, then I found this article on near death experiences.

Alternatives to an Experience

            Rodabourh began his article by explaining that the person’s perceptions that are near death have not been studied in depth due to fear of violating substance and methodology of scientific inquiry (p.85).  Also he points out that it is very difficult to come to verifiable conclusions because most of the material on near death experiences has been gathered by using prescientific and sometimes quasiscientific methodology (p.96).

            Rodabough describes Ramond Moody’s Life after Life and Maurice Rawling’s Beyond Death’s Door, as both books about near death experiences.

            According to Rodabough there are no definite answers for the near death experiences but he wants to give alternative explanations which Moody and Rawling failed to provide (p.97).

            The metaphysical explanation is the one Moody and Rawling used. This is the belief that the experience was caused by the actual moving into the spiritual world (p.99).

            Then there is the physiological explanation in which the experience would be explained by physiological changes occurring in the body (p. Starvation and sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations, as well as some medications or fever. Also the disintegration of body tissues can trigger autointoxication (p.101). So maybe some of the near death experiences are just the brain reacting to stress or physiological changes in the body.

            Finally there is the social psychological explanation. This is the explanation in which perceptions of what occurs at the point of death are shaped in part by the responses of others (p. 106).

In the End

            After finishing my library research I feel that my views on life after death are much stronger. I do believe there is some type of after life but as for my theory I would like to believe it is correct but, it is something that can not be proven as fact. The research helped me realize that believing in an afterlife is normal and most cultures have formed some beliefs of their own about life after death. Culture has a large impact on how we each view life after death because it is how we are taught that influences our beliefs. I feel it is very important for people to think about death because it is inevitable, and if having a theory about life after death helps people accept death, I see nothing wrong about it. Much of the information I found during my research was information I had already been exposed to, either in the Death and Dying Class or my Psychology 402 Class. However, I still find it hard to believe that some people do not believe there is anything after death. It seems to me as longs as you believe in something it can be achieved . . . including creating your own afterlife.

 

 

REFERENCES

Kung, H. (1984). Eternal Life?   Garden City, New York:

            Doubleday and company.

 

Larsen, R., Larsen, S., Lawrence, J.F., and Woofenden, W.R. (1988) Emanuel Swedenborg A Continuing Vision. New York: Swedenborg foundation.

            MacGregor, G. (1992). Images of Afterlife.  New York:  Paragon House.

 

Moody, R. J.R. (1978). Reflections on Life after Life.  New York, New York: Bantam Book.

 

Rodabough, T. (1975). Near Death Experiences: An Examination of the Supporting Data and Alternatives Explanations. Death Studies, 9, 95-112.

 

Toynbee, A. and Koestler, A. (1976). Life After Death.  New York: McGraw-Hill.

 

 

 

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