Death and the limits of what we can know

I just came across this TED talk about end of life experiences collected by a doctor. As a recovering skeptic, I found it interesting and wonder what others here may think of it.

To be clear, I am still skeptical about a lot of things but I am more and more trying to avoid dismissing everything which can’t be demonstrated scientifically out of hand. This is not about NDE’s which I still dismiss when people use them as evidence of what they think awaits us all after death. It isn’t that I know with certainty what is and isn’t possible but I do recognize when suggestive evidence has been used to represent as certain a conclusion which is anything but obvious.

Whether one sees stories such as those shared by this doctor as explained by religion or stemming from something not entirely understood about our humanity, it points out for me why traditional beliefs concerning afterlife may have arisen. In a time when death was more frequently present in people’s lives these sorts of stories would probably have been even more common. In our times it is common to think there is a factual basis for deciding every question but that just isn’t true. I have been inclined to make some pretty broad sweeping assumptions about what is or isn’t possible but I am currently deconstructing my certainty where it it is unwarranted.


Thanks for this video, Mark. I’m looking forward to hearing from others, who broaden this discussion. My experience with the dying is limited, but exists. I haven’t heard of these dreams, but I think people don’t always tell everything that’s on their mind.
I was grateful for the speaker’s emphasis on meanfulness. Except for birth, death is the most significant thing we experience in life.
I imagine a good deal of excellent poetry will show up here soon. And books. I thought the speaker’s point about the humanities providing valuable insights was important. There are many things we simply can’t know by data but only by feel.
As disconcerting as that can be, there is no other way of knowing until we experience it ourselves.

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“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

― Woody Allen
Interesting video, and I think it is well done and accurate for many, but certainly not an universal experience. Over my medical career, I have probably watched a few hundred take their last breaths, and been with hundreds more through their final illness and eventual deaths. One of the big reliefs of retirement was not being my friends doctor when they die and signing their death certificates, something sort of unique about small towns.
I think that for those who die slowly and who have the mental acuity to comprehend, his stories are typical, and may represent some of the coming to terms with death. One thing that I wonder, is that those patients also are typically on hospice care, and typically also have benzodiazopines, and morphine or other opioids on board, so you wonder if some of the dreams and visions are drug induced or affected. Tough to separate that out. With more rapid death, it is most often not so dreamy. And with most elderly, they tend to drift off into unconsciousness, often incoherent, especially if they have underlying dementia.
Will think about it and get back later.


The video was touching at first. The story of the man as 12yo with his dying father was a picture of real grief.

What bothered me as the video went on, was how typical it is the spirit in this age that is willing to accept anything that exalts what is human as a drop in an ocean of universal consciousness.

Robin Williams’ 1998 What Dreams May Come came to mind, and watching that as an unbeliever (now that I think about, this was when I was beginning to learn about Jesus), it bothered me even then that eternity would be based on me.

Personally, I’m a believer in many dreams. The video certainly wasn;t about Near-death experiences, just about End-of-life dreams in which deceased family or friends make an appearance; which raises the question: If, when I’m at the End-of-life stage, I don’t get any visitors in my dreams, am I going to hell or does nobody on the other side want to see me?`

Yes I think dreams are more than the ‘equipment’ idling while sleeping. What exactly I don’t know but I’m sure that there is much more going on all the time than what falls in the narrow beam of our conscious attention.

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Thanks for sharing this video, Mark. It was, at least, interesting — even if I do not know how to place many of these individuals’ memories or accounts.

I don’t think any of alive know that. But I think there are some matters which are well documented and understood which any reasonable person should accept. There is also what we recognize to be less well documented and less well under stood about which people clearly hold varying beliefs and it isn’t clear what if anything should persuade everyone. In such matters it does no good to say what must be or what could not possibly be correct. Here what one person cannot imagine possible can be another person’s cornerstone belief, and respect rather than self assertion is called for.

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I am confused by this comment, you or anyone can help me understand this apparent contradiction, or please freely ignore:

I saw nothing in the video to be skeptical about. This is not the case when it comes to NDEs. I am skeptical about those. But then I don’t buy into the idea of a non-physical thing (soul) inhabiting a human body – which I see as connected to this idea an experience of an afterlife in an NDE. I don’t think there is any temporal continuity like that – a non-physical continuation of consciousness in physical time.

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