If consciousness is just the workings of neurons and synapses, how do we explain the phenomenon of near-death experience? By some accounts, about 3% of the U.S. population has had one: an out-of-body experience often characterized by remarkable visions and feelings of peace and joy, all while the physical body is close to death. To skeptics, there are more plausible, natural explanations, like oxygen deprivation. Is the prospect of an existence after death “real” and provable by science, or a construct of wishful thinking about our own mortality? Arguing for the motion is Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon and author of "Proof of Heaven" with Dr. Raymond Moody, medical doctor and author of "Life After Life." Arguing against the motion is Sean Carroll, physicist and writer with Dr. Steven Novella, an academic neurologist from Yale School of Medicine. John Donvan moderates. This conversation was taped on May 7, 2014.
· Human consciousness remains a mystery. People may claim that it's produced by the brain and bound by the laws of physics, but the truth is that the origins of consciousness is a mystery.
· Previously established by respected philosophers, from Plato to William James, mind-body dualism and the immateriality of the soul have been further supported by recent studies on the afterlife.
· Near death experiences (NDEs), as well as psychic phenomena - experienced throughout history - provide strong evidence that consciousness exists independently of the body and thus, independently of physical life.
· Humans, composed entirely of atoms, are part of the natural world and subject to its laws. Individual life and consciousness are not immaterial and thus cannot extend beyond physical death.
· NDEs, the centerpiece of recent research, are purely anecdotal, descriptive accounts, which, despite some commonalities, are not evidence of a universal experience but rather reflect the subject's cultural background.
· NDEs are simply altered mental states akin to the complex brain phenomena that occur in delusions, hallucinations, oxygen deprivation, and drug-induced experiences. There is no evidence that they have occurred while subjects' brains were inactive.