Dr. Raymond Moody's pioneering work in the field of near-death experiences has changed the way we perceive dying. He was the first medical doctor to study the near-death experience, and his ground-breaking book Life After Life, which was written twenty-five years ago, is still in print.
In his book Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys, published in 1991, Dr. Moody presents scientific explanations for past-life experiences, but encourages readers to draw their own conclusions about the possibility of existence before birth and after death.
Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones is an important study of making contact with apparitions of the dead. And his forthcoming book, Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope, is meant to offer comfort, hope, and inspiration to those who are coping with the loss of a loved one.
Most recently, Dr. Moody has completed a study on ''nonsense,'' which promises to clarify the full context of his life-long studies of the paranormal.
Research techniques grounded in a philosophical approach
Dr. Moody is driven by curiosity and the thrill of discovering new things. Before going to medical school, he received a Ph.D. in philosophy, and later taught philosophy. His particular interest was in ancient Greek philosophy and the philosophy of language and logic.
The techniques that he employs in his research go back to his studies in this field. ''My philosophy education was really wonderful, and the older I get the more I appreciate those years,'' he says. ''It was just an awesome experience, because studying philosophy teaches you to think.''
Dr. Moody went on to study medicine and psychiatry, and received his medical degree. ''My psychiatry education and medical education opened up a whole different dimension of phenomena. We learned about all the vagaries of the human mind, and then integrated critical and analytical thinking with factual knowledge about the mind.''
Interest in past lives is not simply a fad. . .
it's an on-going rebellion
Since Life After Life was published, in 1975, the area of near-death experiences has been an ongoing interest for Dr. Moody. In the 26 years since the book appeared, people have continually told him that popular interest in this subject is just a fad. But for Dr. Moody, it's not just a fad. ''People have the ongoing illusion that interest in the paranormal is currently on the rise. The paranormal is defined by its contrast with ordinary reality, therefore it attracts a certain kind of rebelliousness. That's one part of its appeal. It's kind of an ongoing rebellion, so it always feels fresh to people.''
Dr. Moody explains that people usually become interested in the near-death experience because of a loss. People who have never had to deal with death before who assumed they were immortal suddenly wake up to their mortality and consult the literature that is available. Since so many baby boomers are coping with the terminal illness and death of a parent, there is currently a high demand for material on this subject. People also become interested in the subject when they have a near-death experience of their own.
In the early 1970s, the British Journal of Medicine said that two-thirds of the widows in their study had had some sort of experience contacting their husbands. Studies showed the percentages of people in other groups having these kinds of experiences were also quite high. ''A number of medical studies show that a remarkable number of people will have apparitional experiences after losing a loved one. It seems to them that they are in contact with their loved ones and with the dead.''
Since coming out with his first book on this subject, Dr. Moody has heard numerous accounts of these experiences. ''When you develop a reputation for this and people know you will listen sympathetically, they will come up to you and tell you personal stories.''
The existence of an afterlife has not been scientifically proven
In Dr. Moody's forthcoming book, Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope, he writes: '' 'Poor Dr. Moody was persecuted by his colleagues for investigating after-death experiences and dismissed as a crank,' would be such a wonderful story born during this phase of my career; however, it was far from the truth. I was embraced by most of the medical community.'' Dr. Moody found that his book Life After Life was highly regarded by scientific, medical, and popular attention, after it burst onto the national scene in 1976. Physicians were interested in the phenomenon, regardless of their belief system about life-after-death, because they were hearing similar claims from their own patients.
Sensationalizing scholarly studies
Although Dr. Moody will never regret turning his attention toward the paranormal, he had to learn to cope with the way that his studies were misinterpreted. ''It's offensive to me as a scholar, the kinds of wild claims that you see regarding the scientific proof of an afterlife. I never said this. It makes titillating stories for people to hear, so these are the kinds of messages that get propagated. The kinds of experiences that I have researched are astonishing just as they are, but to sensationalize them and to say that there is scientific evidence of an afterlife misleads the public and is totally unnecessary.''
Dr. Moody explains that at first he was shocked by these claims, then he was angry. But now, at the age of 57, he finds that it is almost part of the human drama.
The work of the devil
While Dr. Moody finds it particularly tedious when people say there is scientific proof of an afterlife, he has found it even more vexatious to navigate the criticism of Christian Fundamentalists. ''I think probably the most annoying group to me is the Funda-Christians. And incidentally, this is not a bad comment about Christianity. The way I like to say it is, if someone comes up to me and asks if I'm a Christian, I ask, Do you mean Jesus, or 'Jaa-sus?' '' Dr. Moody explains that the Fundamentalists conclude that anything that falls outside of their ideology is the work of the devil.
The question of whether or not there is an afterlife
hasn't been put to a scientific test
People who speak of having scientific proof of an afterlife are misguided, he explains. ''The hallmark of a scientifically testable sentence is that it is potentially falsifiable. That means that you have to be able to think of some observation that would prove or show that the sentence is false.''
''Carl Popper, the philosopher, scientist, thinker, and logician, brought this to our attention early in the twentieth century,'' Dr. Moody says, ''that, strangely, science works by falsifying propositions. When you think of a sentence like, There is a life after death, you have to ask what observation could falsify it? It's really conceptually impossible, as far as I can tell, to think of what that could be. It's too early to bring the question of an afterlife to a scientific test.''
Whether you believe or disbelieve is irrelevant
A fatal mistake that a person makes in approaching the afterlife or paranormal phenomena is the trap of belief or disbelief. Dr. Moody explains that the so-called ''skeptics,'' are not skeptics at all. ''The Skeptic tradition goes back to ancient Greece, and it's a spiritual tradition about not drawing conclusions. So when someone says, 'I'm a skeptic about near-death experiences, I think it's just the chemistry of the brain,' they have contradicted themselves. They have said, 'I'm a person that doesn't draw conclusions,' then they have drawn a conclusion. I think that what's important is to be a genuine investigator belief or disbelief is irrelevant. We only need to ask What is the nature of what we're dealing with? I honestly don't believe or disbelieve. I'm not saying it's one or the other, and I haven't made up my mind. I'm saying that belief and disbelief is a concept that is not applicable to this subject. The experience itself is what is important.''
Truth is not relative
Dr. Moody comments that the New-Agers embrace the relativity of truth. ''They say, What's true to me is true to me; What's true for you is true for you. I think there is something independent of what any of us thinks, feels, or sees; but it's a very difficult task to find that out. As a child I was interested in astronomy, and when I became an amateur astronomer I realized that I would never understand the distances and complexities of the universe. I knew I would never have the answers, no matter how driven I was by curiosity.''
Studying the paranormal also means that we have to accept that our studies may create more questions than answers.
The Near Death Experience (NDE)
As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in 1965, Dr. Moody first heard about near-death experiences from Dr. George Ritchie. Subsequently, he encountered a number of other people who also had had near-death experiences. ''My first response to this was that things were getting so out of hand in the world. At that time, there were devastating political problems, including the Cold War, and I felt that there was probably a lot of depression going on with people not wanting to think about these sorts of things. I thought that perhaps they were confronting their own death, and that they projected into the future things that were going on but which they were consciously reluctant to own up to.''
But our understanding of NDE has grown immensely over the past 25 years, explains Dr. Moody. ''Early rumors that NDE's were reflective of mental illness were dispelled they occur evenly throughout the general population. Furthermore, those who claimed that near-death experiences were caused by oxygen deprivation or other chemical changes within the brain have found no evidence to support that theory. Long-term studies reveal that NDE's result in lifelong psychological and spiritual change.''
When I asked Dr. Moody what he thought about the visions of the future experienced by many people who have near-death experiences, he made it clear that he was hesitant to offer an interpretation of these predictions. ''I am a little bewildered that some of these things did come true in an almost uncanny way. For example, back in the early '70s I met a naval officer who told me about an experience he had when he almost died. He saw helicopters in the desert, as if there was a war going on, and he related this to 1990. Years later, you can imagine my surprise when there were helicopters in the desert. I can report what I observed, but I can't make any inferences about it. But, yes, people in extremely lengthy cardiac arrest do see things that they say are going on in the future, though this seems to be a relatively rare feature of the NDE.''
In his forth-coming book Life After Loss, Dr. Moody discusses ''death sense,'' which is a term used when a person intuits the moment of death of another. ''Many people have reported waking up in the middle of the night with a sensation that their loved one has just died, only to discover the following day that, indeed, they had.'' He also discusses the characteristics of death co-incidents, where family members or friends accompany their dying loved one into the other realm, then return to their bodies. ''The characteristics of death co-incidents compare to many of the standard NDE characteristics: co-travelers leave their bodies, view the scene below, sense peace, and return to their bodies. A light, a tunnel, life review, apparitions, and personal transformation are other elements as well.'' Death co-incidents can occur in groups, where more than one individual escorts the departing.
Since the international tidal wave of fascination with near-death experiences has bred some inauthentic claims, Dr. Moody suggests that people who wish to consider the subject further should explore reliable sources. He recommends studies done by people like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, George Titchie, Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom, and Melvin Morse.
When we're in mid-life and lose our parents and watch our bodies change, we become interested in whether there is life before life and life after death. It's an important and unavoidable question of human existence. Past-life regressions sometimes happen to people spontaneously, explains Dr. Moody. ''I've gotten calls from a travel agent friend of mine, who was conducting tours to other countries, just with ordinary Americans from different phases of life. On occasion it would happen that some of these people would just break down in a country they had never been to before, because they had memories of a previous existence there. If you ask, 'Is that evidence of reincarnation?' I'd have to say that there's a rational method that I know of that can lead to that conclusion but that doesn't mean that those experiences aren't very meaningful and important for the people to whom they've happened.''
In reading all 12 volumes of Arnold Toynbee's study of history, Dr. Moody was particularly drawn to the last volume, which explains the reason that Toynbee became an historian. In the early 1900s, Toynbee was a young man traveling around Greece. On several occasions, Toynbee wrote that he ''dropped through a pocket in time.'' It actually seemed that the regular physical environment was disappearing and he was seeing things that were transpiring in ancient times. Toynbee said that the things he saw regarding sin and human affairs made him determined to become an historian, so that he could write about it. Dr. Moody comments, ''You needn't look at these kinds of stories as potential evidence of an afterlife to appreciate their power and the importance to the people that they happen to.''
At the University of Virginia, Dr. Moody read the classics of Ancient Greece. He became intrigued by the experiences of the ancient Greeks in the oracles of the dead, or psychomanteums, where people journeyed to consult with spirits of the deceased. These accounts made him realize that visions of departed loved ones were far more accessible than he had previously believed. Dr. Moody built his own psychomanteum in Alabama, which he calls the Theater of the Mind. By sitting in a room, cut off from the rest of the world by dimmed lights and heavy curtains, people were able to access visions of spirits by looking in a mirror. In Reunions, Dr. Moody writes, ''The study of facilitated apparitions may also yield insight into the psychology of bereavement. . . . It is common for those who spontaneously experience apparitions of deceased loved ones to have a reduction, even complete resolution, of their grief. . . . Many of these people considered the event to be a healing of their relationships with lost loved ones.''
Aldous Huxley said, ''Nonsense is the assertion of humanity's spiritual freedom despite all the oppressions of circumstance.''
Nonsense has had a long and distinguished history in the field of philosophy, and Dr. Moody has been focusing on this subject since 1963. Nonsense is the logic of the unintelligible. ''The very concept of life-after-death, or a world-beyond-death, is a form of nonsense,'' says Dr. Moody. ''We assume these remarks are literal and intelligible, but after just a little analysis, you realize it is actually a form of nonsense.''
Nonsense was almost the subject of his doctoral dissertation in the '60s, but one of his professors advised him not to pursue that topic because it was too vast. Now he has returned to this subject, which he believes is one of the most productive concepts in Western thought and one of the central notions of philosophy from the time of the ancient Greeks. Up until 500 or 600 B.C., the concept of truth that we have today didn't exist. ''That's surprising to us,'' says Dr. Moody, ''since we grow up believing that there is something that is the case, independent of anyone's opinion.''
Dr. Moody describes nonsense in terms of the books, written by authors such as Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, that we read as children. ''Children from the age of three to six go through a period of making up nonsense words. That signifies that they have mastered language, since they can play with language. Unfortunately, as we get older we forget the wonders of nonsense, and that helps generate pseudo-science. People succumb to the delusion that we are going to be able to use the scientific method in its present form to be able to prove things like life after death. I'm not saying that this subject probably won't eventually yield to rational investigation, but I think the necessary first step is to get clear on how the words operate. A lot of conceptual work needs to get done before we can ask rational human questions about whether we live after we die.''
Dr. Moody's forthcoming book brings together all the ancient lore about nonsense, and shows how nonsense can be used to alter the mind. He believes that nonsensical utterances can transform people's consciousness. This new book, which he's been laboring on for forty-something years, sets out the logic and rules of nonsense.
At the very end, it offers exercises that will give a person the sensation or the feeling that they have passed over to another dimension of reality. ''That's really what I've been working on for a long time, it's called the 'wisdom of nonsense.' The things I'm known for, the paranormal, are subdivisions or corollaries of this more complete project. Once it comes out, people will see the context for which all these things fit.''
- Since Dr. Moody made the comments in this article concerning proof of life after death, the situation may have changed. Whether the results will be accepted or not by the scientific community is not known because the work is too new, but there does now seem to be proof that cognition continues when the brain is dead. See Scientific Proof That Consciousness Goes On.
Suggestions for further reading
- Life after Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon Survival of Bodily Death, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D.
- The Light Beyond, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., Paul Perry
- Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., with Paul Perry
- Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., with Paul Perry
- The Last Laugh: A New Philosophy of Near-Death Experiences, Apparitions, and the Paranormal, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., Preface by Neale Donald Walsch
- Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., on-sale date 11/27/01
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