Erasing Death: A Review That Can Change Your Life
Plus the Reviewer’s Hypothesis
By: J. Marlando
Most of us were raised with a pretty grim view of death regardless of our religious or philosophical backgrounds—while we might have kept the faith, so to speak, that heaven’s light shined brightly on the deceased, with few exceptions, we also thought a lot about the existential reality of being and nothingness.
Then in 1975 a psychologist/physician by the name of Raymond Moody wrote a book with title, “Life After Life.” because of his work, he would become the recipient of the human Relations Category at the New York Film Festival and later he would receive the World Humanitarian Award. Beyond all else, his research and book gave most virtually countless people a new view of…well, life after life.
In 1965, ten years before Moody’s inspirational book, I had experienced what he was calling a near Death Experience (NDE) in a drowning accident that kept me under water for between 5 and 10 minutes…longer…at any rate long enough to have died in the incident. I had never thought too much about my near-death-adventure until I learned that what I had experienced others had experienced as well; the tunnel and being returned to my body.
In the mid-1970s the tabloids carried story after story of people who experienced NDEs based on the success of Moody’s incredible book—he sold 13 million copies!
It was interesting for me to see that a great many scientists and doctors began spending a lot of time either scoffing at Moody’s observations or flatly denying that anyone survives death—to them, death was unquestionably final and to believe otherwise was to believe in religious superstition or plain old quackery.
None of Moody’s adversaries had experienced a near death experience however and so they were guilty of doing exactly what they were accusing Moody of. That is, giving unfounded, subjective opinions but Moody had one up on them—he had the reports from thousands of near-death-survivors in his portfolio of research and information. (Nevertheless, the doubters claimed that the people who had told their NDE stories were merely reporting hallucinations and therefore their tales of NDEs and OBEs were ever as invalid as Moody’s theories of afterlife).
Reports or no reports, the typical scientist of the day was basically a reductionist, a person convinced that we human beings and other living things are the mere total of our physical parts and nothing more. When we die, we are akin to a piece of tree branch on a campfire.
The idea of an afterlife was simply made taboo by the so-called intellectual community and for a great many in that arena the idea of life everlasting has remained there to this day.
In spite of all the professional skepticism, however, a new, inspiring view has leaped into the forefront of these negative scientific reviews with authentic stories of heart attack patients being clinically dead for as long as forty minutes and still being revived and talking about what Doctor Sam Parnia has called Actual Death Experiences (ADEs) in his amazing book, Erasing Death.
This article will attempt to give an overview of Doctor’s Parnia’s insightful, awe-inspiring work on subjects that touches us all—the mysteries of life and death.
The Parnia Perception
Dr. Sam Parnia
There are two major subjects throughout Dr. Parnia’s book: being resuscitated after clinically dying and the continuum of life through the death experience. I will not attempt to play doctor here but most basically we are told that death is a process and not an event; that even after a person’s heart has stopped working and his/her brains cells are not getting the necessary oxygen, they need, by “cooling” the body they can be revived. That is, they slow the brain’s metabolic activity and so prevent the enzymes from working and thus stopping the chemicals reactions for cells to die In other words, the term “dead” no longer has the same meaning as it did only a few years ago. Only a short time ago doctors believed that once the heart stopped and the brain, in a term, went dead, resuscitation was impossible. Dr. Parnia tells us this is not so, that depending on the cooling process absolute death can be postponed and the patient—even after hours of being “dead”—can have his/her consciousness returned to brain function and his or her life reinstated. Remarkable to say the least!
You will have to read the book to get the details of how it all works to save a life after it has clinically been lost but the bottom line is, because of Dr. Parnia’s work and others in the medical and scientific fields, people are literally being brought back to life after actual death.
A great many of these people share similar stories of what happened to them during the time of their ADEs with most of the stories corresponding with few exceptions: They, along with millions of other worldwide, end up in a tunnel, see a bright, light, Some are met with deceased relatives and other interpret the light as being a holy personage who brings peace and love. The person of light is named many things by different people—for Christians, God or Jesus but for others the light was given the name of their deity or some religious/spiritual figure depending on their culture; while some people simply called the image “a being of light and love.”
Another common experience that NDE and ADE patients had was that they found themselves floating—out of body—above their own operating tables watching and listening to the doctors and nurses operating on them. This same phenomenon has been reported by victims of serious accidents; the telling how they saw their own limp bodies near the car wreck and how the police and ambulance arrived. When I was a small boy I remember a coal miner that worked with my dad who was “almost” killed in a mining cave-in. He said something like: I popped right out of my body and I floated over it watching until they come and got me. When they lifted the rock, I popped back in and that’s all I remember ‘fore coming to. Everyone thought the man was a little crazy for claiming such a tale to be true but today his story would merely be added to millions of other like it. (It’s strange but I had not remembered that miner, until the very moment of writing about him. He was a neighbor of ours in Rawlins Mining Camp).
A great many in the intellectual and scientific fields remain convinced, regardless of the countless reports of NDEs, ADEs and OBEs, that they are mere hallucinations, probably caused by lack of oxygen to the brain or some other malfunction like the final explosion of the endorphins. This is something else that makes Dr. Parnia’s book a work and a wonder: Dr. Parnia new perceptions of death and its meaning daringly goes against all that he has been taught and told by his own teachers and mentors. Even today he has peers who simply call his investigations and studies into death experiences utter nonsense; those folks like Richard Dawkins who call us mere “survival machines.”
Because science has found the nucleic acid molecules, RNA and DNA the basic chemicals of life, a great many scientists tend to believe that we are our bodies and nothing more; that there can be nothing spiritual behind or within the double helix architecture. This view is slowly going by the scientific wayside, however, since more and more scientists are agreeing that consciousness does remain, even after the body has been declared dead.
The Parnia Prospective
One problem with the ADE experience is the moment that science declares anything like, yes there is some kind of life after death, our entire prospective of reality will necessarily have to changed. One theory that is indicated in Parnia’s book is that maybe consciousness lasts for three days before diminishing. This is not Parnia’s prospective but it is an alternative concept offered that would permit science to, if you will, have its cake and eat it too. That is, it would not conflict with the idea that mind is a mere epiphenomenon (function) of the physical brain. However, this concept does conflict with the countless NDE/ADE stories reported by people returning to consciousness who report seeing and even talking to deceased relatives often telling them that their time has not arrived and they have to go back. Such reports are not limited to adults but they have also been told by small children who have died and been awakened. The innocents and naivety of children sharing their afterlife experiences give near and actual death experiences exceptional credibility. Children after all have little preconceived ideas, religious convictions or philosophical principles. They live in the here and now and from one experience to the next.
This is another reason why Dr. Parnia chooses to give a different definition to Moody’s Near Death Experience, pointing out that “near death” is an extremely vague term for those who have passed on and returned to tell about their death experience. The term he favors throughout the book is, “Actual Death Experience” since the patient who has no heart beat and lacks brain activity has been medically declared dead and resuscitation back to life.
A major challenge is keeping the cells from dying with the patient. [Cells], he tells us, “need to be rescued; otherwise they will continue on their own trajectory of death. Therefore, even if heartbeat is restarted and circulation restored, the cell will continue to die through a process of chemical reactions involving activation of various enzymes and pathways. These chemicals and enzyme pathways are quite elaborate and very complex. They involve activation of enzyme pathways inside the cells that usually lead to death either by a process called apoptosis or necrosis. Apoptosis is a programmed code built into the cells that causes the cells to ‘commit suicide’ if something devastating damages them, resulting in their actually shriveling up and imploding. Necrosis is a process by which the trauma to the cells is so extensive that the cell wall and all the cells contents literally explode outwardly. Unless something is done to put the breaks on this cell deterioration and reverse the process, the person whose heart has been restarted will die again. So to survive, a person must endure both the earthquake and the tsunami.”
I believe that Dr. Parnia’s metaphor means that a person brought back to life must not only survive the death experience but the aftermath of revival which includes evading cellular death,
The good news is that doctors now know that human cells can potentially remain in a state in which they can be saved (through a cooling process mentioned earlier) for many hours after we die.
The good news is apparent: Science and medicine, at least in some instances, not only can bring people back from the dead…but have!
It is impossible to envision or imagine what medical science will be able to do even over the next century. In our own times the very meaning of dying has changed from finale to hope thanks to courageous doctors such as Dr. Parnia and his associates and colleagues.
Where the real bravado is, however, isn’t to be found in their belief in science but rather in their acknowledgment that consciousness (call it soul or mind) continues on after death; that the death of the body does not mean the death of the self. This is daring because science and medicine are, by and large, fields that have been denying anything spiritual since the philosopher Descartes (1596-1630), Darwinism of the 1800s and the so-called Big Bang theory of our own times. And so, when physicians, like Sam Parnia dares to present a case for life after life, he becomes subject to all kinds of ridicule from the arena of intellectuals and scholars who believe in the dead-world philosophy; that, as said before, we living things are the totality of our physical parts and nothing more.
In regard to the above, I remember interviewing Dr. Bernie Siegel who announced to the world that “love is physiologic.” The scientific and medical arenas howled with laughter, scoffing at such a way-out declaration and, by a cancer surgeon of all things. Within a few years, however, a great count of doctors and surgeons around the world began agreeing with Dr. Siegel and using his “loving methods of treatment” on their own patients. It simply takes heroic men and women like Dr. Parnia and Siegel to stand alone against the status quo and push forward in their pursuits to save lives and seek for greater truths than what the text books offer.
But does consciousness continue after the body has irreversibly died. This is a question that Dr. Parnia is still attempting to answer and has been contemplating for a good many years. Because I have experienced a near death experience or actual death experience, I have been dwelling on the puzzles of life after life since the 1970s—five years after my ADE and OBE. Because of this, I feel compelled to offer my own thoughts on the subjects.
First of all I can tell you that the after-death-experience is real and NOT hallucination. I have had both. During a serious illness the doctors kept me on the pain killer Demeril for nearly two months. When I began getting well they cut off the drug instead of slowly reducing the dosage and as a result of that shock to my system I began having terrible hallucinations that lasted for nearly ten days.
I share this because I want to clarify the major difference between an ADE/OBE and a hallucination. During the most realistic hallucination the experience is local as it is in a dream. That is, let’s say that you are hallucinating being in a room with wild tigers. Your entire reality is that room and your experiences in it. You are not “thinking” as you do in the here and now, but merely responding to the reality of the situation of which you are involved. And, regardless of how severe the hallucination is, you will, every now and then, realize it’s a mere mindscape, just as sometimes you will be dreaming and your dream becomes lucid and you realize that you are dreaming.
In a near or actual death experience you have non-local experiences just as you do in everyday life. You are in the tunnel, for example, and not only realize that you are where you are, but also that there is another world you’re leaving behind; that somewhere outside the walls of the tunnel ordinary life, as you’ve known it, goes on. This is the vital difference between a hallucination and a real experience such as I am experiencing now. That is, even though I am engrossed in typing these words across the page, I am aware that outside my office window is a yard and beyond the yard a freeway and beyond the freeway an ocean and so forth. I am not stuck in one reality as one is while having a dream or hallucination. In other words, no one says during a hallucination, I hope this ends quickly because I have a dentist’s appointment in the real world as soon as I can get out of this room with all the tigers in it.
In order to give more clarity to the differences between an hallucination and a ADE/OBE is to explain that during the death experience you can still imagine, contemplate, analyze and philosophize, while all you can do in an hallucination is experience.
I will always remember that during my out-of-body-experience having the realization that what I was and what we all are in essence is energy and information.
On any case, with the above said, I am more than convinced that there is life after life, I am sure that whatever lives cannot die. That is, in the ordinary way we tend to think about lifelessness.
One challenge to those of us who believe in life after life is that science is still assuming that consciousness, call it mind or soul, is seated in the brain. And, traditionally it is thought that consciousness somehow evolves in or from the physical brain, creating the personality and so on. To me this is like saying that the life (call it light) of a simple light bulb is “seated” in the filament But, as we all know, the light bulb is empty of life—call it current—unless it is plugged in to its “life-source,” electricity.
After many years of thinking about it, I am convinced that probably the brain’s pineal gland works in us, in a similar way the filament works in a light bulb. That is, our consciousness (soul or mind) is not formed or created by the pineal gland but is processed through it much like electricity is “processed” by the light bulb’s filament. And yes, you, the reader, are absolutely correct. I have nothing to base any of this on except for my own research, opinions and contemplations. Nevertheless, these thoughts remind me of a quote from Doctor Paul Pearsall, who said:
“…the ‘I’, the self, is much more than the
Reverberations of neurons and we are much
More than what we ‘think’ we are. We are
Also what we believe, hope, feel, and sense.
We can tell the brain not only what, but how
This observation is a far cry from the typical scientific opinion that tells us our thinking is a mere process or the physical brain and thus returning us to the reductionist’s view that living things are the totality of their parts and therefore when the parts die they fall into an existential void. One problem is that not even today’s scientist can’t tell us how our psyches work with the “machinery” of our physical bodies and so my suggestion that the pineal gland may serve this purpose is a good as any other current opinion.
In regard to all this I do not think it is correct to suppose that mind belongs to the body’s brain any more than it would be correct to say that light belongs to the light bulb’s filament. I believe it is as the 16th century sage, Wang Shiluai who, tells us: “The universe is all mind and all phenomena.”
And speaking of consciousness (mind or soul) Carl Jung the famous Swiss psychoanalysts (1875-1961) was writing about out of body experiences (OBEs) even long before Raymond Moody’s “Life after Life.” In reference to this, the molecular biologist, Jeremy Hayward, says, “Though ignored or scorned by scientists, these experiences have been reported so often by sane and reasonable people that it seems neither sane nor reasonable to ignore them. Certain Dr. Parnia would agree whole heartily with this. And…slowly…a great many scientists are beginning to seriously contemplate and study what we have been talking about here—life after life!
We have seen how important it is to keep cells alive during the death experience. This leads me to think that it is as Candice Perk, the world renowned neuroscientist tells us that it is. She says our minds are in every cell of our bodies. This at long last breaks from the medical-scientific view that mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain. This concept may be the very reason why when the body’s cells begin to die, irreversible death occurs. Perhaps this is when consciousness (mind, soul) withdraws from the body and returns to its spiritual form?
The book Erasing Death promises to make you think and give you new views of the mysteries of life and death. One thing for almost certain is that once you’ve read Dr. Parnia’s book, you will lose a lot of your fear of dying. But perhaps more importantly, you will become more inspired to live your life to the fullest and…the happiest.
Most certainly as a scientist Dr. Parnia refuses to make value judgments or moralize from start to finish of his book but he does relate one story of emotional value that we all might give a lot of thought to. One woman who explained her death experience as being beautiful and loving. However, there was a time when she went through a certain judgment phrase during which she felt remorseful about. Parnia writes: When I met her, she told me that during the process of judgment she felt uncomfortable and remorseful about the opportunities she had failed to make use of in her life. She described these situations where she could have had a positive effect on others but did not follow through. She also told me that she now hated to do harm to others, as she felt the pain that she had caused others. She now felt that the most important thing in life was to take opportunities to be of assistance to others, even if there were sometimes the more difficult options.”
This passage from Erasing Death reminded me of a quote from the Dalai Lama. He said, “If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true good, the true meaning of life.” And nearly all religions teach that we should treat others as we would be treated. I believe that this summarizes the purpose and meaning of life.
As for Sam Parnia’s book, as an ex-book reviewer I give it 5 stars, not only because it is well written but because it can truly change the reader’s life.
In summary and I believe that Dr. Parnia would agree with this, what we understand from the book is best said in the worlds of Darryl Reanney: Time and self are outgrown husks, which consciousness will one day discard, just as a butterfly abandons its chrysalis, to fly toward the sun.
Erasing Death is written by Sam Parnia and Josh Young—it is available at all major book stores and on Amazon: Hardback and Kindle.
344 pages published by Harper One an imprint of Harper-Collins Publishers
Amazon Price: $25.99 $3.15 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 25, 2016)