31 March 2017


John C.  Hagan. (editor) The Science of Near-Death Experiences. University of Missouri Press, 2017.

With a title like this, and publication by a university press, one might think that this book would present some new neurological research and insights into NDE’s. This is not the case, as the contents of this book are a series of op-ed pieces from the journal Missouri Medicine, of which Dr Hagan, an ophthalmologist, is the editor.
The papers include an introduction by Raymond Moody, an overview by Bruce Greyson, an essay by Dean Radin putting the experiences in the context of parapsychology, Pim van Lommel reporting on his research in the Netherlands, a study of veridical perception in NDEs, NDE’s in children, a brief section on 'distressing NDEs' and a number of personal testimonies. All but one of the thirteen papers are by promoters of paranormal (or should I say supernaturalist) interpretations of the experience, with only one paper, by Kevin Nelson, looking at possible non-paranormal interpretations. 

The papers add little to the already voluminous literature on the subject. They may serve some purpose in bringing the experiences, however interpreted, to the attention of clinicians, but one would think that after more than forty years since the publication of Raymond Moody’s Life after Life few people, physician or otherwise, would be unaware of them.

The general theme of the majority of the papers is that NDE’s provide evidence of supernatural realms that will overturn secular science and 'materialism'. I suspect that this is our old friend the wedge again, a suspicion not allayed by the fact that editor Hagan is an associate of a right wing think tank called the The Fund for American Studies, and believes that children in America are being indoctrinated into the far left in kindergartens: https://tfas.org/news/featured-supporter-john-c-hagan-m-d/

Of course science has to be secular, as that is the only way that scientists with very different cultural, religious and ideological backgrounds can find common communication. Science balkanised into Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Jewish, Reform Jewish, Sunni, Shia, Druze, Bahia, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon and countless other faith sciences would be impossible. It is often overlooked that Descartes did not introduce his form of dualism as an alternative to materialism, but rather by sectioning off the soul and handing it to the Pope, he sought avoid unpleasantnesses like being burned at the stake while espousing a philosophy far more radically materialist than any held by any scientist today, one which treated animals as mere machines and allowed for the vivisection of live animals.
  • Peter Rogerson.


Anonymous said...

Very poor review, the writer clearly doesn't understand the subject in any depth. There's also a weird misspeling of Pim Van Lommel name in the second paragraph, showing the laziness of the reviewer.

"The general theme of the majority of the papers is that NDE’s provide evidence of supernatural realms that will overturn secular science and 'materialism'."

I really doubt that Dean Radin, Bruce Greyson and Pim van Lommel are against "secular science". They just think that hyphotesis that consciousness can survive death is plausible given the data. It's a bold claim, I admit, on the other hand, they don't want a "christian science", "hindu science". None of them think that science is wrong or useless, in fact, most of them had their work published in important journals (The Lancet, Plos ONE, Frontiers).

Also, I didn't understand the apostophres in materialism like is some undefined concept. Materialism is a well-defined concept in the philosophy of mind with many branches. NDEs are very hard to explain in materialistic terms (especially because there's no well accept materialist theory of mind).

Just to conclude, I don't think that you understand Descartes motivation very well. His point of view was basically that things like experience (qualia) and free will required a soul interacting with the body. However, his dualism is very old. A good and recent "secular" form of substance dualism was advocated by Karl Popper and Sir John Eccles. Also, there are many other forms of dualism, for example, property dualism (popularized by Chalmers). And many other philosophies that are not materialism but are not dualism either, like dual-aspect monism (Schopenhauer,Jung, Nagel...) and idealism (Donald Hoffman).

Magonia said...

I have amended the spelling on Van Lommels' name. editor.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous above. A careful reading of this book demonstrates that Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) are a common and well described syndrome that occur in up to 20% of people resuscitated from the edge of death. As the Editor and many of the contributors state physicians and other healthcare personnel are usually not trained to recognize and treat NDEs, hence the need for both the original series of articles and this concisely written book. The various chapters also show the many deficiencies of Kevin Nelson MD's attempt to explain NDEs on the basis of distressed and anoxic neuro-physicology. The book adheres to the bright line of evidence based research by not attempting to evaluation, repudiate or validate the heavenly redemptive themes of most DNEs or the hellish perdition of distressing NDEs.

Peter Rogerson's inappropriate introduction of the editor's putative political beliefs is lame and ad hominem.

This is a useful text suitable for medical professionals and is being used by several medical schools in the midwest to teach young physicians how to recognize and treat NDEs.

Roger Ream (TFAS) said...

This is a bizarre review. To attack the author of a book because he has made monetary contributions to an reputable educational organization (and to misrepresent that organization as well) is beyond sloppy and unprofessional. I am president of The Fund for American Studies, but I have never met Dr. Hogan. As far as I can recall, I haven't even talked with him on the telephone. He has made several donations to the work of our educational organization, so we profiled him in a newsletter. We are not a "right wing think tank." We were founded 50 years to provide opportunities for college students to gain experience in government, journalism, and related fields and have partnered with major universities to do so, including Georgetown University, George Mason University, Charles University in Prague, and the University of Hong Kong. Our graduates include members of the U.S. Congress from both political parties, a major network news anchor in the U.S., and public and private sector leaders in countries throughout the world. We don't engage in politics and don't make recommendations or do studies on public policy.

To question in a book review the conclusions of an author because of who he supports with contributions is bizarre.

John C. Hagan III, MD said...

Hello. This is John C. Hagan III, MD, FACS, FAAO the Editor of The Science of Near-Death Experiences. I would first like to say I have no financial interest in this book Any profits go to the Missouri State Medical Association a non-profit organization of physicians for use in their health programs. I have to wonder if Peter Rogerson even read the book. I would compliment the two anonymous postings done here that point out the many errors in his shallow and thoroughly inaccurate review. I wonder what point is being made by referring to contributions to education I have made? As Roger Ream of The Fund For American Studies points out the organization is not political and is educational. Additionally the main point of the book which Rogerson fails to grasp is that NDEs are extremely common but physicians and nurses are not trained in recognition or treatment and that is the point of the book as a teaching course for physicians and healthcare personnel. Second NDEs that have been verified by multiple independent observers in people who have no pulse, no blood pressure, no signs of life and who are covered in surgical drapes seriously challenge the contention of the brain as the origin and organ of consciousness. Physicians who have read the book especially those working in venues where people die or almost die frequently (emergency room, surgery, Intensive Care Units) tell us that they now thoughtfully inquire in all those who have almost died "While you were unconscious did anything unusual occur that you would like to talk about?" For those that describe a NDE they use thoughtful questioning, sympathetic listening and referral to support groups like IANDS or books on the subject. This greatly facilitates the patients physical and mental recovery and is far more therapeutic than the usual course of not inquiring and/or telling patients they imagined the NDE and not to tell anyone about it lest they be thought "crazy and imbalanced". None of the other many books on NDEs were specifically designed to meet this medical educational need. Our series is secular and makes no assessments or assertions on the religious content of NDEs. I very much appreciate the anonymous reviewers comments and those of Mr. Roger Ream who also noted how woefully off key Rogerson's review is.

Magonia said...


I apologise to Mr Ream for misconstruing the “Fund for American Studies” as an education think tank. However Mr Ream is being disingenuous in suggesting that the “Fund for American Studies” is non political. It was founded to counteract the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s and to promote “freedom, individual responsibility and free markets”.


A not unappreciative former student writes…TFSA leans to the right of the political spectrum… The classes and lectures present fundamental Conservative topics from a predominantly Conservative viewpoint without discussing (unfortunately) other viewpoints..”


Several websites both right and centre describe the FAS as a Conservative organisation. Eg From the right:


and Centre


I did not make an “ad hominem” attack on Dr Hagan as I made no attack on his personal morality or professional integrity and competence. I pointed out that cultural conservatives in the US are now using the paranormal as a wedge against “western materialist science” as they formally used “intelligent design”

To Mr Anonymous 1 I make no apologies for putting “materialism” in scare quotes as I doubt that anyone today believes that the ultimate ground of reality is comprised of little billiard ball atoms and as the term is used often in the US in particular as a term of abuse it is best avoided. Personally I prefer the more neutral term “unitary naturalism”, which makes no statement as to the ultimate ontological nature of the unitary natural world.

I don’t deny that “near death” experiences are genuine experiences, whatever their ultimate nature. However I have reviewed a good number of books on this subject over the last 30 years and cannot keep repeating the same arguments ad nauseam, so it a book on this topic does not include new material or perspectives it will get a short shift. This particular book added nothing to the debate and, bar one chapter, presents a one sided, uncritical presentation of the view that NDEs present evidence for a “transcendent reality outside of space and time

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mr Rogerson should move on to a different genre as his mind is closed and his 30 year old arguments are stale, vapid and in his own words they are "ad nauseam"