Near Death Experiences are controversial. According to the established, scientific world view they either should not happen or they are merely hallucinations produced by dying brains. But those who undergo them generally reject this attempt to write them off and consider them very real, and very different from hallucinations. Penny Sartori, whose PhD thesis was a study of Near Death Experiences, sees them as positive experiences that enhance the lives of those who have them. Her book is an authoritative study of a fascinating phenomenon that might happen to all of us one day.
The Wisdom of Near Death Experiences: a review
Penny Sartori's book is well researched, informativeand challenging to conventional materialistic thinking.
Penny Sartori is a highly skilled nurse specializing in the treatment of seriously patients in treatment unit. In the course of her many years experience, Penny has seen many patients die, but some also recover. Those who have recovered have sometimes reported near death and out of the body experiences. She notes that these are not common, but in fact are rare. Unwilling to write them off, rationalize them or explain them away as hallucinations or delusions, Sartori approached the issue of these experiences with an open mind.
The book is well written and informative. It is clear that Sartori has undertaken detailed research into her topic, research that earned her a Ph.D, but she does not fall into the academic trap of writing in an abstruse style. Her work is always readable, clearly written, but not to the point of oversimplification.
She includes a large number of individual testimonies, which she has approached with an open mind, along with analysis/discussion. Towards the end she breaks new ground in Near Death Experience research by including a section on the implications of NDEs to clinical practice in the care of the terminally ill and people in intensive treatment units.
The book is well-referenced, as befits an academic work, and there is an extensive bibiolgraphy, which has been carried over from her Ph.D. This, is impressive, as doing this indicates that she respects the readers' intelligence.
Near Death Experiences
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What can be learned
The intensive study of NDEs across the world raises interesting points. Sartori's gathering of cases from a variety of cultures is important, as it enables us to identify the cultural elements in the experience, but also the transcultural ones that cross all cases. It is clear that the NDE experience is influenced by the culture of the recipient. Sartori, however, pays less attention to the details of the encounter with the being of light than might be expected from the prevalence of this experience in NDEs. She subsumes this into the life review, and this may be a weakness in her work.
However, she does deal well with the many objections to the validity of the Near Death Experience, demonstrating that the many explanations offered are at best unsatisfactory and at worse rationalizations of thinkers unwilling to accept a challenge to their precious world-views.This part of her work demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy of the whole academic exercise of explaining away difficult and challenging data and experiences.
She does make an important philosophical point, though the book is not primarily philosophical. This is that the whole issue of Near Death Experiences and one's belief or otherwise in them, is determined by the attitude that one takes to the relationship of consciousness and brain. She rightly points out that rejectors of NDEs are often wedded to the view that brains generate consciousness, and she correctly regards this as an unjustified metaphysical assumption. She then asserts her belief in the view that brains merely mediate consciousness. However, she lacks time to develop this insight. Similarly she observes that consciousness rather than matter might be primary, and this is in keeping with the views of some physicists, but she does not develop this, possibly as it would be diffifcult to do so in a book of this nature. The book lacks philosophical analysis, but is strong on therapeutic insights.
Near Death Experiences
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Religion and the Experience
It is clear that Sartori is not anti-religious, in fact she does not appear to be anti-anybody. Nevertheless, there are strong religious implications of the NDE. Subjects do claim to encounter a being of light, and sometimes to have met Jesus, angels or other religious figures. This experience is mentioned in the book, but it is not discussed in much depths. You feel that Sartori is determined not to be seen as one taking sides in a religious discussion. She wants to keep the discussion on the level of therapy in a non-denominational context. This is comemndable in that she wants to take as many people as possible with her, but the religious issue will not go away.
This is a good book well worth reading. It is not the final word on the topic, and there are aspects of the NDE issue that need to be dealt with from a different standpoint, such as the religious and philosophical implications. But the book makes an important contribution to the debate.