Kenneth Ring’s latest book Blogging to Infinity reminds me of an early love I had: the art of the essay. As Ring himself notes, blogging is essay writing. The essay (in French, an “attempt,”) is a personal, free-wheeling literary form. It can be light and witty or profound and probing. Ring, one of the pioneers of near-death research, has produced a book of essays that are personal and profound. He touches on so many ideas and persons, I must be selective in my comments.
My first comment to the reader: take advantage, and lend an ear to a man who made it his scientific life-work listening to hundreds of people who had near-death experiences (NDEs). This is no everyday profession, eaves-dropping on the mystery of death.
In my opinion, the near-death phenomenon is to psychology what quantum mechanics is to physics; both drive us into new modes of consciousness and ideas of reality. This book is especially interesting for the summaries and synthesis of recent research on NDEs . You will come away with a detailed picture of extraordinary facts that point to a human future that transcends the bleak offerings of mainstream materialism.
Along the way, Ring describes the experiences that shaped his curious imagination, citing, for example, the influence of movies. One movie in particular, The Word, by the Dane Carl Dreyer, about a crazy man who thought he was Christ, awakened Ring’s belief in God. Art can sometimes move us in transformative ways, and this is an unusual story about a kind of religious conversion. Ring is not shy about sharing fascinating details of his personal life. For example, he tells a wonderful story about his father, whom he was forced to acknowledge was, shall we say, not a man of sterling character—a con artist, apparently. But the author bears no ill will toward his imperfect father, but looks forward to meeting up with him in the next world.
It was a pleasure to read Ring’s essay on the woman that Mark Twain worshiped and adored, Helen Keller. I too have a crush on her spiritual philosophy, but Ring recounts a less advertised part of her story, her physical beauty and her lifelong but frustrated yearning for what only a male mate could provide. Those who took care of Helen, (she was helpless without them), had a vested interest in keeping her under control and unmarried. Ring reminds us that she was the embodiment of the most progressive ideas, and even had good words for communists and socialists. But she was cheated out the of the fullness of her life, first, by nature; but also by her parents and guardians. Perhaps in the next life she was compensated for her losses. Toward that outcome, I am struck by the ND evidence that suggests the recovery of our senses that Ring underscores. What a bore the afterlife would be without color, sound, texture, light, smell, and touch.
Ring essays the theme of animal life, and reviews some of the leading researchers and philosophers that make the case for animal rights, their inner life and their liberation. The meat industries are a major propellant of our suicidal climate crisis. There is, moreover, the question of the relentless murder and holocaust of innocent animals. Indeed, he bemoans the extinction of mega fauna, and as well the decline of the insect world. Ring admits never being too fond of insects but wakes up to their value, central to the continuity of the food chain and to the pollination of wild flowers. He points out that we can live without mega fauna but not without insects. And for good measure, there is an essay on the horrors of encaged animal life.
Ring has sympathy for killer whales who pale beside the colossal killing propensities of humans; moreover, so-called killer whales are sometimes notably kind. More broadly, he makes the case for the souls and rights of animals. So it’s not surprising that he discusses the afterlife of our pets, and provides a list of deceased apparitions of cats and dogs, to get us thinking. Why shouldn’t all conscious living things have some portion of immortality, the degree and kind depending on the degree and kind of their conscious organization? I was delighted to discover that dolphins are hyper-amorous creatures. In a chapter titled “It’s Reigning Cats and Dogs,” we learn of some paranormal cat and dog stories: telepathic cats that respond to phone calls and are especially sensitive to death; dogs aware of their owners returning home; the wonderful intelligence of crows, and so on.
I recall a philosopher who expressed his doubts about life after death because of what brain disease is known to do to our minds. My mother in her mid-nineties told me to scram when I visited her in the hospital. I had become a complete stranger and a nuisance to her; due to her infarcted brain, her old consciousness was no more, or so it seemed.
In the meantime, researchers have found and named a phenomenon called terminal lucidity. Ring provides a history of recent studies of this relatively rare phenomenon, in which a person like my Mom, just before dying recovers the lost consciousness and memory. What this shows is that the memories and personal consciousness were not destroyed but rendered inaccessible by the brain disease.
Ring provides several stunning accounts of these experiences that seem to speak volumes, underscoring a process of separation, implied by the afterlife hypothesis. Terminal lucidity in dying people is what we should expect if at death our mind and consciousness detach from the brain and its constraining influences, Terminal lucidity adds to the case for an afterlife.
Ring takes us from the metaphysical to the transformative side of the NDE. He is especially interested in one of the recurrent components of the NDE: the experience of recalling the lived details of one’s entire past in a single sweeping acceleration of time and consciousness. But now, and this is the point stressed by Ring, this all-enveloping consciousness takes us into the consciousness and feelings of the other.
So, suppose you recall beating up and mocking a smaller, weaker boy in your life review. You not only become aware of what you did; you also become aware of what it felt like to be beaten and mocked by a bully. Telepathy becomes empathy, enabling you to feel exactly what the other person is feeling. That’s bound to be instructive, and transformative, and Ring underscores this with stories and commentary. This feature of the NDE is special because it points to the possibility of human beings evolving their consciousness in a way that would lead to a more harmonious planetary life. The question is: can we design experimental procedures in which we induce these transformative states of mind?
What can we near-powerless individuals do to heal a world driven by the darkest forces? Our author shows his wisdom here. An essay celebrates the value of simple gestures of good will, kindness and joy, because, it is argued, of the ripple effects of our actions. “One thought,” wrote William Blake, “fills immensity.” It would be very interesting if we could invent the means to put somebody in a state in which he or she became conscious of the ripple effects of their actions on all the people, animals, plants, and world around them. If our minds at a deep level are telepathically and clairvoyantly linked, the ripple effects of our thoughts, passions, and actions may be much wider than we would normally suppose.
Another feature of the NDE that makes it so important is that it sometimes awakens paranormal abilities, healing and cognitive. The experience itself is mind-stretching, revealing the presence of another world of transcendent experience. But it sometimes leaves the experiencer with new psychic powers, healing and cognitive. There is an essay on the futuristic elements of near-death visionaries, “The Life Review in Reverse, Visions of the Future.” These stories of people near death who sometimes receive information about their future lives and mates are quite uncanny. But unlike, say, telepathy and psychokinesis, precognition is, or seems, logically impossible. Weeks before Hinckley tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981, I had reported three dreams of the attempt, which were all accurate; dreams I had reported to a class of my philosophy students. How could I have had a detailed awareness of events yet to have taken place? Impossible, it would seem. The NDE is a hotbed of mysteries.
What is the content of the prophetic visions that researchers find among experiencers? It turns out to be easy to summarize the invariable theme of these visions of the future. Near-death visions of the future, reported by researchers since the 1970s, uniformly describe environmental and economic catastrophe, in short, what is happening right now. Ring regards these prophetic visions as warnings, not forecasts of what must be. They are conditional scenarios that depend on our human response. Throughout history mystics and prophets have been foretelling a day of reckoning, a time of total convulsion and transformation into a new earth, heaven, and humanity. The archetype has shown up in the NDE and in the alien contact and abduction experiences studied by the psychiatrist John Mack and other investigators. The archetype in its fullness is about death and rebirth; it speaks to human individuation and evolution. To get the full story of this strange adventure that is human life and death, I strongly recommend that you look into the pages of Ken Ring’s Blogging to Infinity. (Get a copy from Amazon.)