In 1975, Dr Raymond Moody coined the term near-death experience in his groundbreaking book Life After Life. For half a century, he has researched some of life’s greatest mysteries. As both a PhD in philosophy and an MD, he had a strong interest in how medical realities intersect with the ineffable realm of philosophy.

In his multiple roles as author, professor, public speaker and grief counselor, he documented thousands of accounts of near-death, shared-death and after-death experiences.

“Cultivate the capacity to love and to learn”

RAYMOND MOODY

I was lucky enough to catch up with Dr Moody for a personal chat about his life, work and beliefs. The first thing I noted was how relaxed, energetic and warm he was, he has a distinct aura of joy about his role in pushing the boundaries of knowledge fearlessly. Raymond Moody loves people and his openness to talk about his work was both infectious and erudite. 

How long did it take you to believe in Life after Death, can you talk a little about the moment you realised you were truly dealing with a external phenomenon?

Dr Moody: Well, it was a long process for me, because I did not come from a religious background and so, the idea of an afterlife was very alien to me. I first encountered it actually in a serious framework in Plato’s Republic and the Myth of Ers, and that’s where I become interested in Near Death Experiences.

So basically, for years I’ve been interviewing these people, I never knew what to think. I always realised it was not oxygen deprivation to the brain, because many people have the same experience, when they are near the deathbed of somebody else; so if the by-stander has the same experience and the by-standers are not ill nor injured; obviously the explanation is not based on oxygen deprivation to the brain. 

“I have been pushed into a corner”

I can honestly tell you, I believe, there is no logical way to infer there is life after death, because logic fails us, but at a certain point, I just didn’t know what else to say. I won’t call it a belief in life after death, because I was a professor of logic and epistemology; so those word we use like ‘belief’ I don’t think are accurate enough to account for the situation. 

Personally, I have been pushed into a corner. I have so many friends who are physicians who have emphatically co-lived the near death experience, and in such a way, that they are confident that what they experienced was a reality. 

I figure I am not in a position to question it, to my utter astonishment, I do think there is life after death. But I would not try to persuade anybody else, everybody has to go through their own process. 

Science seems to be based on materialism, when people like Dr. Eben Alexander or Rupert Sheldrake present a different possible picture of reality they are, at best, ignored and more often ridiculed, how was your experiences when you started talking about near death experiences?

Dr Moody: No I didn’t. What has driven me in my life is curiosity, I just want to know what is. I love to write-up my ideas, and to express them as clearly as I possible can, and then, like to invite criticism because  if somebody finds a mistake in what I write, that brings me closer to the truth, by correcting my mistakes. No, I never had any fear about this. 

In terms of the skeptics, before I went to medical school, I had a PhD in philosophy, and since I was eighteen, I studied ancient greek philosophy, and unfortunately the people who claim to be skeptics don’t know what they are talking about. The skeptical aspect of philosophy is nothing like it is portrayed by these people who are primarily  following of scientism. 

Scientism, being the doctrine, that the scientific method is the only rational means of securing knowledge. As I used to point out to my students, in my epistemology courses, the statement of scientism itself is incoherent. I would draw a rectangle around the state and ask them simply, ‘how do you know this statement to be true?’

Now when you think about it there are only two possible answers. 

I know the scientific method is the only reasonable method and I can only know that by the scientific method, which is mere reasoning inside a circle. This is a logical fallacy.

On the other hand, if you ask somebody, how do you know that method is true and they respond by another method like philosophy, history, literary theory or law, then that becomes a contradiction in terms.

There is not one method of finding the truth, but numerous ones. In the year 2O20, life after death is not a scientific question. For the time being, it is a philosophical question. For the moment there are no clear method, where we could establish the truth, but that could change in the future. 

As we come to understand the possibility of a life after death, we have to reflect on the purpose of life itself, what would you consider to be the meaning of life? 

Dr Moody: I used to encounter that question a lot from my philosophy students. What is the meaning of life? As I’m sure you know, that’s a very complicated question, with all sorts of dimensions. You would want to ask if the meaning of life is transcendental, external to the human being, some higher order of reality or if the meaning of life is something internal. If we each have our being unique purpose in life.

 In terms of where I have reached on that question at 75, I can’t get much clearer than what the thousands of people, with whom I have talked with, who have had near death experiences. The purpose of living is to cultivate the capacity to love, and also to learn. Many say, in their life reviews, that what they had been told, by spiritual beings, would indicate to them that the pursuit of knowledge continues on after death. That is a very appealing prospect to me. I hope that’s true.

And there is another aspect, that there is a certain ammount of recreation in living. A hindu swami told me once,   the life we are living is a kind of play. I think that’s a very interesting concept. The philosophical problem that constitutes the personal identity is very profound. I guess the view that came into the west, being Plato’s view, namingly, the personal identity consists of the immaterial soul, but subsequently objections have been raised. And Locke, for example, tried to make it a matter of our memories. Our personal identity is constituted of our memories; but where I have come on it reflects the views of the author Elie Wiesel’s, a wonderful kind-hearted man, who was sent to Auschwitz Concentration camp during the war, and survived and then became a nobel prize-winning writer. He said once, ‘God made man because he loves stories’. If you think about it and when I ask this question to other, people usually respond that their identity is their life story. 

But in answer to your question, I don’t think we can really get the answer or whole picture. My own suspicion is that when we die, things will become a lot clearer. We simply can’t know the meaning within this framework.

How has researching Near Death Experience changed your life, and if there was one life lesson to pass on to people for living what would it be?

Dr Moody: It’s really hard for me to separate who I might have been and who I am now, I mean I learned about near death experiences when I was young, and they have been with me, in my professional life, it’s hard for me to imagine what I might have been like, because I would have gone on a different life course. I probably would have ended up a professor of logic. 

But I will say it does seem that talking with all these people, was the love they gave to other is what came back. I am probably a more loving person in 2020 than I would have been, if I hadn’t come across near death experiences. At the same time, I have a long way to go. Many people who have NDE see the importance of learning to love, and yet, it’s very hard to put that into practice. 

I was a forensic psychiatrist for a while, working with serial killers and mass murderers and that was another influence on me. So I got to know that side of life as well,  so I do realise it’s hard to get through the average day without wanting to kill somebody (laughs)… even if you see the importance love it’s hard, on a daily basis, to practice. However I do think I’m better of than I would have been if I had never heard of near death experiences, let’s put it that way. 

“it’s hard to get through an average day without wanting to kill somebody”

Have you experimented, personally, with altered states or out of body experiences, what personal practices have you tried in your life?

Dr Moody: Well as a phyciatist, obviously I’ve experimental with a lot of altered states of consciousness, both for their inherent interest and also because it gives you some interesting of self. 

This gives you some insight into what your patients are experiencing, but not I have never done any experiments with near death experiences, except for in the realms of philosophy of language. I am interested in unintelligable communication.  What I have developed over the years is a system which enables people to reformate their mind to think logical about the sentences that don’t make sense.

This takes a long time to detail, but we can now prepare people’s minds in advance, so that subsequently when they have a near death experience they are able to come back and tell us about it in entirely new ways. 

It has already happened once, and I’m confident with more people trained to do this, eventually we will be getting new cases with an entirely new view of life after death. 

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