Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A.J. Ayer, a prominent skeptic's beliefs challenged by NDE

Thanks to Càm for this:

Sir A.J. Ayer (October 29, 1910 – June 27, 1989), was a British philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism, particularly in his books Language, Truth and Logic (1936) and The Problem of Knowledge (1956).

Ayer was the Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at the University College London from 1946 until 1959, when he became Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1951 to 1952. He was knighted in 1970.

Ayer is famous for his philosophical work promoting the idea that metaphysics is meaningless and only that which is empirical (receptive to the senses) during everyday ordinary consciousness is verifiable, otherwise it is 'meaningless'. Like all 'positivists' he was relentlessly skeptical (dismissive) about anything out of the ordinary.

Well, I just heard today, near the end of a presentation I gave on quantum mechanics, from the professor in charge that A.J. Ayer had a near death experience (NDE) during the later years of his life and experienced divinity during that period. After this experience he started suggesting that what he had written (his careers work) was now necessarily all wrong!

"In 1988, Ayer reported having near-death experience, after having nearly choked to death while eating. His heart was said to have stopped beating for several minutes until he was resuscitated. A few years back there was some controversy over Ayer because of accounts given by the attending physician, Dr. Jeremy George who claimed that upon awakening, after his hear-stoppage, Ayer said, "I saw a Divine Being."

Ayer said:
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to revise all my various books and opinions."

Ayer's wife was quoted as having said something like "Freddy is so much nicer since he died," in reference to his near-death experience.

"Did you know that I was dead? The first time that I tried to cross the 'river' I was frustrated, but my second attempt succeeded. It was most extraordinary. My thoughts became persons." - A.J. Ayer's words upon resuscitation

The full description of Ayer's NDE mystical experience:
"The only memory that I have of an experience, closely encompassing my death, is very vivid.
I was confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space.
These ministers periodically inspected space and had recently carried out such an inspection. They had, however, failed to do their work properly, with the result that space, like a badly fitting jigsaw puzzle, was slightly out of joint.
A further consequence was that the laws of nature had ceased to function as they should. I felt that it was up to me to put things right. I also had the motive of finding a way to extinguish the painful light. I assumed that it was signaling that space was awry and that it would switch itself off when order was restored.
Unfortunately, I had no idea where the guardians of space had gone and feared that even if I found them I should not be able to communicate with them.
It then occurred to me that whereas, until the present century, physicists accepted the Newtonian severance of space and time, it had become customary, since the vindication of Einstein's general theory of relativity, to treat space-time as a single whole. Accordingly, I thought that I could cure space by operating upon time.
I was vaguely aware that the ministers who had been given charge of time were in my neighborhood and I proceeded to hail them. I was again frustrated. Either they did not hear me, or they chose to ignore me, or they did not understand me. I then hit upon the expedient of walking up and down, waving my watch, in the hope of drawing their attention not to my watch itself but to the time which it measured. This elicited no response. I became more and more desperate, until the experience suddenly came to an end."

This experience, couped with countless others from people who have had similar experiences is rather strong evidence that death does not put an end to consciousness.

"The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they're rational!" Robert Anton Wilson

From the wiki: Shortly before his death in 1989 he received publicity after having an unusual near-death experience, which has often been misinterpreted as a move away from his lifelong and famous religious skepticism (which is not the same as mystic or spiritual skepticism...). Of the experience, Ayer first said that it "slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death ... will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be." However, a few days later he revised this, saying "what I should have said is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my inflexible attitude towards that belief". Ayer was the BBC's famous atheist front-man. Ayer wrote an article in 1988, "What I saw when I was dead." In 2001 Dr. Jeremy George, the attending physician, told William Cash, who had written a play about Ayer, that Ayer had confided to him: "I saw a Divine Being. I'm afraid I'm going to have to revise all my books and opinions."

Thanks to Càm

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