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Do Near-Death Experiences Defy Science?

NDEs do not defy science. They sometimes challenge human senses. which are based on our biology

In “Experiences of Heaven?“, a second discussion of near-death experiences (here’s the first), Robert J. Marks discusses with Walter Bradley, after whom the Walter Bradley Center is named, a significant fact about near-death experiences: Many experiencers report that they can see colors they have never seen before and are aware of dimensions that they could not grasp before. Some transcribed excerpts and notes follow:


11:44 | Common threads in near-death experiences

Discussing the work of engineer-turned-pastor John Burke, author of Imagine Heaven (2015):

Walter Bradley (right): If you have enough data, then you don’t have to do a lot of what I would call speculation based on formal training of some kind. The data itself, I think, tells such a compelling story.

Robert J. Marks: Let’s talk a little bit more about the common threads in near-death experiences. one of them is that people described their experiences as “indescribable.” I guess … how do you describe “indescribable”? That’s not possible. The other things was the light emanating from a person. The fact that there were more colors. That the spectrum was actually expanded, that they saw colors that they’ve never seen before. I want to see colors that I’ve never seen before.

Note: If the basic idea of seeing colors you’ve never seen before sounds strange, recall that the physical human eye is equipped to see a specific range of colors. It cannot see all the colors that exist:

“Try to imagine reddish green — not the dull brown you get when you mix the two pigments together, but rather a color that is somewhat like red and somewhat like green. Or, instead, try to picture yellowish blue — not green, but a hue similar to both yellow and blue.

“Is your mind drawing a blank? That’s because, even though those colors exist, you’ve probably never seen them. Red-green and yellow-blue are the so-called “forbidden colors.” Composed of pairs of hues whose light frequencies automatically cancel each other out in the human eye, they’re supposed to be impossible to see simultaneously. Natalie Wolchover, “Red-Green & Blue-Yellow: The Stunning Colors You Can’t See” at LiveScience

If the human eye’s usual limitations were not a factor, previously unknown colors—which we know from science to exist—might be perceived.

Robert J. Marks (left): The other one is the idea of extra dimensions. Now, Hugh Ross, in his works, believes that God exists in higher dimensions. And with higher dimensions, you can explain a lot of things theologically and some of the survivors of near-death experiences come back and actually talk about the fact that there’s extra dimensions, which is really strange.

Notes: Our universe is held together in three dimensions and those are the ones we are aware of. There is no reason in principle that other dimensions cannot exist. But our normal senses would not perceive them.

A nineteenth-century novelist did an interesting thought experiment (free online): What if we existed in only two dimensions? The two-dimensional Flatlanders in his story simply could not understand what a three-dimensional visitor was seeing, doing, or experiencing.

Robert J. Marks: And then they talk about the idea that there’s different manifestations of time.

We know from physics and from the Bible, they’re consistent on the idea that both time and space were created—the physics says at the Big Bang, for example. And the fact that you can manifest different ideas of time is, I think, consistent with the idea that if God created the universe, then he exists outside of time, he can do strange things with time.

Note: There is no rigorous mathematical proof that there can only be one dimension of time. Some physicists have argued that an additional dimension of time would explain some odd facts. Then there is the fascinating question of whether time travel is theoretically possible (the link takes you to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

In the next episode, Robert J. Marks and Walter Bradley will discuss specific accounts of near-death experiences.

Previous episode: Medical scientists take near-death experiences more seriously now and in an earlier podcast, Walter Bradley discusses with Robert J. Marks why that is so. Near-death experiences are generally seen as real, even among hardcore skeptics, and research focuses on how to account for them.

Note: A number of near-death experiences are discussed in Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You (2015) by John Burke. Two free chapters can be downloaded here.

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Do Near-Death Experiences Defy Science?