Closer to the Light by Melvin Morse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Carl Jung said, “We should not pretend to understand the world only by the intellect; we comprehend it just as much by feeling. Therefore the judgment of the intellect is, at best, only half of the truth.” Nothing could be truer when speaking of Near Death Experiences and is perhaps the reason Melvin Morse quotes it towards the very end of his book, “Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near Death Experiences of Children.”
From the first word Dr. Melvin Morse’s compassion and self effacing humor is evident. Here is a former “rodent brain” researcher, as he refers to himself, who has found something deep and meaningful in NDEs and sees the dramatic possibilities they possess for transforming modern medical science. Dr. Morse dispenses a prescription to cure our society from the fear of dying and to return us to a more compassionate and enriching way to incorporate the dying experience as part of our living experience.
He makes this point quite eloquently by quoting the French philosopher, Pere de Dainville, who is reported to have looked around at all the tubes and devices attached to his body while he lay dying in intensive care unit saying, “They are cheating me out of my own death.”
Among the most impressive achievements of Closer to the Light is the way that Dr. Morse presents his data and case studies with the integrity of the professional scientific researcher yet, all the while, unafraid to courageously speculate and theorize on the spiritual and psychological realities of the dying process.
Dr. Morse reminds us that once not too long ago humanity viewed death as a natural and integral part of life. Presentiments of death and pre-death visions were part of the process and expected. Today, physicians medicate their dying patients seeing such events as the delirium brought on by the pain of dying. He makes an excellent case for the return to the deathbed scenes of yore when friends and family once gathered around the dying person. This is a great time of healing. Instead in modern times it has been clearly documented that as a person becomes closer to death his nurses and physicians spend less and less time with them; they get fewer visits and phone calls from family and friends. When they do get visits they are of much shorter duration. Thus the understanding and accepting of these events can help us bring back dignity to dying.
The hardened empiricist or reductionist thinker may be inclined to reject the NDE wholesale, as is often the case, as simply the death throes of a dying mind deprived of oxygen or a delusion created by the mind to help the dying person cope with their impending end, but a careful reading of Morse’s book will demonstrate, with good, reason, why the NDE should not be dismissed offhand.
For one thing Dr. Morse, as Dr. Raymond Moody (Life After Life et. al.) and other notable researchers, understands the evidence they are gathering and correlating is anecdotal. NDE’s are not subject to the rigors of the scientific method, yet the careful collection of patient experiences should give everyone but, perhaps, the most dogmatic of thinkers pause.
Dr. Morse goes through the list of objections offered by NDE debunkers such as hallucinations, drugs, anesthesia, and others and explains clearly why these are not NDE’s and why they do not mimic the NDE.
For me the most interesting revelation was that of the Sylvan Fissure, a structure located in the right frontal lobe above the right ear, which has been determined as the physical location where the events of the NDE occur. Patients undergoing neurosurgery have reported out of body experiences, tunnel experiences, “seeing” god, seeing dead relatives, hearing beautiful music etc when the Sylvan Fissure is stimulated with electricity. This gives us a brief introduction into the so-called seat of the soul hypothesis.
Whether or not NDEs are truly spiritual experiences that prove life after physical death is hard to say. Science may not be able to answer that question satisfactorily for some time to come, if ever at all. But, one thing is clear. The NDE is a profound psychological process that does occur and studying it will give us a greater understanding of the dying process. This understanding will lead to more compassion when dealing with dying loved ones and eventually to understanding and accepting our own eventual entrance into that dark tunnel at life’s conclusion.
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