A repost from 16 December 2012 with minor edits.
The easy explanations—dreams or hallucinations—I could discount quickly, because my experience—and the experience described by anyone who's had a near death experience or other experiences that involve God directly—is different in quality and memory from a dream or hallucination. It's just entirely different. The memory is as precise and accurate now, years later, as it is when it's happening.
So then I thought it must be due to chemical changes or chemical releases in a dying brain. I did a lot of reading about that. If my experience had lasted five, six, seven minutes, maybe even eight minutes, I am sure that no matter how real it seemed to me, I would have said that's a reasonable explanation. But the people who resuscitated me would say that I was without oxygen for up to thirty minutes.
It took them ten or fifteen minutes to figure out, first, that I and my boat were both missing. Then once they identified where they thought I was, they started their watch. They're used to doing this—you have to know the timing so you can recognize whether you're trying to rescue someone or you're trying to go for body recovery. So on the watch it was fifteen minutes, but about thirty minutes in all. I tend to stick with the fifteen minutes, because that's an absolute timing. But even at fifteen minutes, that is way longer than can be explained by a dying brain. The human brain can hang on to oxygen for maybe five or six minutes, and so even if you give it another four minutes to go through its dying process, that still doesn't add up to fifteen minutes. And so after I looked at all that, my conclusion was that my experience was real and absolute.
To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, there is light enough for those who want to see and darkness enough for those who don't. Atheists and mortalists will of course not be convinced by Neal's report. Consider her first paragraph. She underscores the unique phenomenological quality of OBEs. Granting that they are phenomenologically different from dreams and ordinary memories, there is nonetheless a logical gap between the undeniable reality of the experiencing and the reality of its intentional object. Into that gap the skeptic will insert his wedge, and with justification. No experience, no matter how intense or unusual or protracted, conclusively proves the veridicality of its intentional object.
Phenomenology alone won't get you to metaphysics. Everything I am perceiving right now, computer, cup, cat, the Superstition ridgeline and the clouds floating above it (logically) might have a merely intentional existence. How do I know I am not brain in a vat? If I cannot prove that I am not a brain in a vat, how can I know (in that tough sense in which knowledge entails objective certainty) that cat, cup, etc. are extramentally real? The skeptic can always go hyperbolic on you. How are you going to stop him?
The other consideration Dr. Neal adduces will also leave the skeptic cold. Her point is that her brain had to have been 'off-line' given the amount of time that elapsed, and that therefore her experiences could not be the product of a (mal)functioning brain. We saw in an earlier post that Dr. Eben Alexander employed similar reasoning. The skeptic will undoubtedly now give a little a speech about how much more there is yet to know about the brain and that Neal is in no position confidently to assert what she asserts, etc.
The mortalist starts and ends with an assumption that he cannot give up while remaining a mortalist, namely, that there just cannot be mental functioning without underlying brain activity, and that therefore no OBEs can be credited if they are interpreted in a manner to support the claim that consciousness can exist without a physical substratum. How does the mortalist/materialist know this? He doesn't. It's a framework assumption. He certainly doesn't know it from any natural-scientific investigation. It is clear that some brain changes are followed by mental changes. That shows that embodied consciousness is dependent on the brain. But it says nothing about consciousness in its disembodied state.
In the grip of that materialist framework assumption, the mortalist will do anything to discount the veridicality of OBEs. Push him to the wall and he will question the moral integrity of the reporters. "They are just out to exploit human credulousness to turn a buck." Or they will question the veridicality of the memories of the OBEs. The human mind can be extremely inventive in cooking up justifications for what it wants to believe. That is as true of mortalists as it is of anyone. To paraphrase Pascal again, there is enough darkness and murk in these precincts to allow these skeptical maneuvers.
Our life here below is a chiaroscuro.
There is no proof of the afterlife. But there is evidence. Is the evidence sufficient? Suppose we agree that evidence for p is sufficient just in case it makes it more likely than not that p. Well, I don't know if paranormal and mystical experience is sufficient because I don't know how to evaluate likelihood in cases like these.
So let's assume that the evidence is not sufficient. Would I be flouting any epistemic duties were I to believe on insufficient evidence? But surely most of what we believe we believe on insufficient evidence. See Belief and Reason categories for more on this.)
Those who believe that it is wrong, always and everywhere, to believe anything on insufficient evidence believe that very proposition on insufficient evidence, indeed on no evidence at all.