I received my copy of Chris Carter's new book a few weeks ago, but personal events intervened before I could finish reading it, let alone give it a proper review. I've now read all of it, and I'm deeply impressed. Science and the Near-Death Experience is a major addition to the literature of near-death studies, one of the most comprehensive, exhaustively researched, and intellectually serious books ever to cover this fascinating field.
Even better, it's now available in a Kindle edition!
The book makes no secret of its conclusion; the subtitle is How Consciousness Survives Death. Carter lays out his case methodically and logically, like an attorney delivering a masterful closing argument. The opposing side's views are given their due, but the intention throughout is to show that there is a preponderance of evidence in favor of the survivalist interpretation.
Despite the density of its subject matter, Science and the Near-Death Experience is crisply readable. Carter manages the admirable feat of summarizing complicated scientific and philosophical controversies in just a few paragraphs. Take a look at his analysis of eliminitive materialism:
This may sound bizarre, but since materialism cannot account for consciousness, some materialists simply deny their own existence as conscious beings. They are driven to this act of desperation by their conviction that science, which they understand as applied materialism, supports them. Note the self-refuting nature of this position: If I believe that consciousness does not exist, then how could my belief exist? If my consciousness does not exist, then neither does my belief. And if my professed belief is nothing more than a machine going through its motions, then you have no reason to accept it as correct. [p. 71]
This argument isn't original with Carter, but I've seldom seen it expressed so neatly.
Carter's erudition is phenomenal; he seems to have read nearly everything about NDEs and a great deal about related subjects, ranging from ketamine injections to native American folklore. He covers nearly every major proposed psychological and physiological explanation for NDEs, deftly exposing their shortcomings. He treats us to a review of the history of science from ancient Greece to the present day; a crash course in quantum mechanics and its major interpretations (though omitting David Bohm's "holographic universe"); an overview of nascent hypotheses of quantum consciousness; and a look at theories of life and memory. He also throws in a section on deathbed visions. In some ways Science and the Near-Death Experience reminded me of Irreducible Mind in its scope and seriousness, though Carter's prose is more reader-friendly than the dry academic style of IM. (By the way, for those who were put off by the sky-high price of IM in hardcover, there's now a more affordable paperback edition.)
I do have a few criticisms of Carter's book. For one thing, I felt that it began too abruptly, plunging the reader into a heavy discussion of philosophy and science after only the briefest of introductions. It might have been preferable to move Chapter 7, "Reports from the Brink," to the beginning of the book, so as to present some typical NDEs and set the stage for the in-depth discussion that would follow.
I also found it odd that some of the more prominent critics of nonphysical interpretations of NDEs went unnamed. Two examples are Keith Augustine and Gerald Woerlee. Neither is mentioned in the book or included in the bibliography. In particular, I would have liked to see a detailed response to Woerlee's theory that NDEs are explainable in terms of partial consciousness during CPR or while under anesthesia.
Finally, I found Chapter 3, "Opinions from Neuroscience," rather sketchy. Only two neuroscientists - Wilder Penfield and John Eccles - are cited, and while they're both prominent figures, their work was carried out decades ago. Later in the book, however, we do learn of some contemporary neurologists who are critical of materialist explanations, and the section on quantum consciousness suggests an alternative to more conventional theories.
These are relatively minor criticisms, which I mention mainly for completeness. Overall, Science and the Near-Death Experience is a remarkable accomplishment, deserving the widest possible audience. I can't say it any better than Ervin Laszlo, who writes:
Carter's book is not only an important contribution to this literature; it is its current crowning achievement. For he masters both the theoretical and the evidential approach, showing that belief to the contrary of the survival of consciousness is mere, and now entirely obsolete, dogma, and that the evidence for survival is clear and rationally convincing. A book to read and to remember for the rest of one's life - and perhaps beyond ...
P.S. I intend to post a very abbreviated version of this review on Amazon, and I suggest that readers who enjoyed Science and the Near-Death Experience post their own reviews there, as well. Reader reviews can be highly effective in selling books.