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October 14, 2008 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | October 14, 2008 |

It’s probably unfair that I came into this book with a negative attitude, so it was going to be impossible for me to truly enjoy the experience. But I guess that’s kind of the point of the book. The doctor who wrote it knew full well that people were going to think he was bullshit.

Closer to the Light is a study of NDE, near-death experiences, in children by a doctor. The theory is that childrens’ interpretations of the phenomenon will be devoid of any sort of exterior influence. From a rudimentary study of most network programming, people nowadays have a preconceived notion of the whole “light at the end of the tunnel” as much as they do about forensic pathology, courtroom procedure, and surgical technique. I think watching CBS after 10 PM anymore qualifies most people for some sort of Associates Degree from the University of Phoenix in one of four disciplines including taxidermy and gunsmithing.

However, young children don’t necessarily know that when they have an NDE they’re supposed to see a tunnel of light, speak with spiritual beings, or float above themselves. So there’s a certain purity in the research.

When the book focuses on the scientific study, it’s pretty intriguing. That Morse is a doctor, and approaches this from a purely analytical standpoint, really helps the matters. At times, the book almost reads like a grant proposal, bemoaning loss of funding or the degradation of his peers. Morse explains how a certain section of the brain can be electrically stimulated to create NDE, which means that when a person goes into the comforting light, it could actually be a self-defense mechanism naturally created by the brain to protect the person against pain and to help them reach a certain state of enlightenment. That’s kind of neat: that the concept of heaven and the warm light is actually biologically inclusive in most human minds.

Where the book loses me entirely is when it gets spiritual. I’d be willing to accept the concept of a warm embracing light and perfect peace. Who wouldn’t want that? However, most of the people who experience this light assume it’s God. They have to put a name on it, so it becomes a religious rather than a spiritual thing. And I think the book, while not being explicit about it, is playing to the angel crowd on this one.

The scientific study gets boggled down by an insistence on bringing religion into it. And I’m not willing to accept that. I think people use God as a way of explaining things that are beyond the realm of their comprehension. That children would think this is a perfect example of a parent putting an idea in their heads. When a child sees a beautiful warm light, the natural instinct isn’t to assume that it’s God, but that it’s light. God comes into it because that’s how the parents teach them. So a beautiful experience gets used as a means of promoting a religion.

Of course, I don’t know if it is God. That’s the thing. And so because the book is comprised mostly of children recounting their near-death experiences, it’s rather tedious. That might be cold and callous, but honestly, I don’t need to read 100 accounts of “I smashed my head on a rock and was brain dead, but then I was floating over my body and I saw the doctor’s trying to resuscitate me, and then I ended up going down a tunnel where I saw my family and people made of light and so much beautiful light, and then they told me to go back so I could be with my family.”

But the purpose behind the book is that if so many different children can have this same experience despite the difference in their illness and injury, and that the results are uniformly the same, then maybe there is really something to the theory of near-death experience. Also, it’s nice to know that most of these people use the experience to better themselves, and go on to lead enriched fulfilling lives. I just don’t like the fact that it’s automatically God’s plan and God who’s the light. I always liked the idea of the janitor in the clock tower myself.

From what I understand there’s a second book called Transformed by the Light that’s much more scientifically oriented. I guess the sales of this book were positive enough that he could actually get the funding to perform the more scientifically based experiments, like testing blood for endorphin levels, and using an EEG to test whether that specific portion of the brain is stimulated during the NDEs. I just have a hard time reading it, because this one truly felt so insistent on assuming light = God.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. You can read more about it, here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

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