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  • A couple of years before he died, Ayer told me, at a dinner party, that he had argued Copleston out of his belief in God and that Copleston was now an atheist as a result. I found this incredible, but Ayer repeated it and insisted on it. On this basis, I stated in an obituary of Ayer published in The Economist (on 8th July 1989) that he "was fond of claiming that he had argued Father Copleston out of his belief in God." Copleston then wrote to The Economist to say that it was not true that he had given up his belief in God, and his letter was published in The Economist.

    Posted by Anthony Gottlieb on Thu 18 Mar 2010

  • It has been speculated that DMT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimethyltryptamine) plays a role in both dreaming and "near-death experiences". The brain produces it, but it is also found in nature (i.e. plants which can be smoked to achieve a certain state of consciousness). The University of New Mexico has done some testing on human subjects. Every user experiences a similar trip, involving roughly what Ayer described.

    Posted by Trevor McLoughlin on Sat 20 Mar 2010

  • No doubt God is illusion but the idea of God so inherited in man`s psyche from childhood, what may atheist say in public in his innermost psyche it is still live as it is.Every atheist experienced this.Only on last moment of death we can understand it well.So there no surprising that Ayer remembering it as nostalgia

    Posted by Ramesh Raghuvanshi on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • So Ayers aspirated a chunk of salmon and his brain was subsequently oxygen deprived for a period of four minutes. It's not surprising that he had a 'religious' experience. There is sufficient research showing that brain damage and severe physical trauma can, and sometimes do, result in hallucinations and so-called supernatural experiences.

    Humans have the capacity to dream, and yet, few people confuse their dreams with reality. Why then do some of us make the illogical leap that in near-death experiences, the dreams created by our brains are somehow different from the dreaming that most of us engage in every 24 hour cycle?

    As for the friendship between Ayers and Father Copleston, there's nothing surprising there either. It is perfectly possible for people with opposing views on religion, politics, sports, and even beers, to enjoy each other's company.

    Posted by R. Morris on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • R. Morris - good question. Was Ayers being stupid? Or do you think the good doctor lied when reporting these remarks by Ayer?

    Posted by Thibaud on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • Two weeks ago as I headed to a medical clinic in Moscow, I pulled out Ayer’s Central Questions of Philosophy from my library to read while waiting my turn. I found his exposition of Hume on induction to be just as brilliant and dazzling as my first encounter with Language, Truth and Logic as a college freshman. Although reading Wittgenstein helped me to see the limits and untenability of Ayer’s rejection of theological and metaphysical claims as meaningless, I never lost my respect and admiration for him.
    Now what I find most compelling about Ayer’s near death experience and his account of intimations of divinity is the way it affected his conduct and relations with other people. It bears the marks of a kind of religious conversion.
    I have a professor friend whose militant atheism from college days has only been slightly tempered by his close brush with death. But the change in character, the many acts of kindness, and his new passion for probing the mind of the metaphysical poets tell me that in spite of his atheistic protestations, something salvific is happening deep within that, at this point, he is not ready to ascribe to the divine agency. The work of divine grace far surpasses the limits of our understanding. Or, more to the point, our flawed humanity bound by pride still recoils from giving glory to the Creator.
    Krister Rajendra Sairsingh, Moscow, Russia.

    Posted by Krister R. Sairsingh on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • I remember, not long after this event, Ayer was interviewed on BBC Radio 3. My recollection of the interview is that he said he had changed his mind not about the existence of God, but about the meaningfulness of God. As the article states, although Ayer was known to the general public as an atheist, that was not technically accurate, since his argument was that "God" lacks any meaning, and hence "God exists" and "God does not exist" also lack meaning. My impression after the interview was that Ayer had come to the conclusion that the word "God" had a meaning, hence one could truly say "There is no God." His description of what he experienced - even under the assumption that the experience is non-veridical - would seem to support that.

    Posted by Ben Murphy on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • R. Morris-Do you have a citation regarding hallucinations and physical trauma? I am unaware of any association between the two. Global hypoxia, drugs and Lewy bodies disease can produce hallucinations. More on this later.
    I've often speculated that humans would not have an idea of the Divine if they did not dream. The daily experience of a life outside of waking life seems to plant the seeds for the concept of the afterlife. Our language is rife with allusions to "making our dreams come true" and "living the dream", so I think your contention the people readily separate the dream world from reality is not as firmly based as you might suggest.
    But what is difficult to explain is the occasion when a dream becomes true, that is, serves as a warning or gives unexpected direction. Despite being irrational the dream message delivers instructions that lead to some unexpected outcome. I personally have experience this on one occasion regarding a surprisingly trivial matter. Other instances are mentioned in religious texts as well as by secular writers.
    Which leads me back to the link between physical ailments and hallucinations. I have never seen a patient with hallucinations as a result of intoxication or progressive disease experience a moral reordering because of these hallucinations. I have seen several (roughly a half dozen) patient radically alter their behavior for the better as a result of death and subsequent revival. This is not the case with those who have been simply resuscitated without an interval of death in between, so this change appears to be the result of contact with the infinite, not just a brush with the concept of mortality. And while those who hallucinate from other causes have a variety of experiences, the consistency of experience of the revived dead is intriguing. Generally one considers a uniform accounting from multiple sources to be a sign of reliability.

    Posted by M. Miller on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • What a marvelous story of transformation. I choose to believe that Dr. George was not lying about what Ayer reported to him in confidence. We are all alike. We gravitate toward what we like, what we are intrigued by, and Ayer was drawn to Copleston because he was a seeker after truth. Thirty one years ago, I was blind and in prison, not literally but figuratively. I believed in God because I had been blessed in my life-good parents, great wife and three kids and practicing in my chosen profession. What I couldn't understand was that if God do the impossible, then why did he need a son. Wasn't that redundant? Then I had to come face to face with the reality of God. I was unable to cure my own blindness, sin, and escape the prison of my making. I read Psalm 51 in the Old Testament and the words of David, who was King and slayer of Goliath, ask for forgiveness for his transgressions and for a new and right spirit and a cleansed heart. Then I read for the first time the declaration in John 14:6 that Jesus Christ made that "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me." I had to throw off my own blinders and my pride and my wife and I knelt down by our bed and I asked God to forgive me for 31 years of separation from him, for forgiveness of my sins, and a new life. I asked God if Jesus was his son, would he please come into my heart and reveal himself to me. We stood up and hugged. My wife said that God had taken control of our lives. I woke up the next morning and without a shadow of doubt I knew that Jesus was the son of God and the greatest secret of the universe. My life was forever transformed-not made perfect, but I now had a personal relationship with the living God and he cared about me not because of who I was, simply because I asked him to come into my life. Ayer was seeking after God and that is why he sought out and found Copleston. I look forward to meeting him when I am called out of this body. The truth is available to anyone earnestly seeking God. Try it.
    Sincerely, Harold Jacobi 3/22/10

    Posted by Harold Jacobi on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • Thibaud:
    "Was Ayers being stupid? Or do you think the good doctor lied when reporting these remarks by Ayer?"

    I'll give the doctor the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was being truthful, however, as I say below, out of body and near death experiences recounted by various people may simply be the normal product of the human brain functioning under severe stress. There's still a lot we don't know, but filling in the gaps with unsubstantiated faith-based wishful thinking isn't the best way to get to the truth, in my opinion.

    M - Miller:
    "Do you have a citation regarding hallucinations and physical trauma?"

    R. Morris:
    Google "brain damage and religious belief" or anything similar and you'll find emerging research that draws a tighter circle around the association between the brain, brain injuries, and religious belief.

    M. Miller:
    "...so I think your contention the people readily separate the dream world from reality is not as firmly based as you might suggest."

    R. Morris:
    But in fact people do know the difference. While dreams and and their symbolism often reflect our desires and fears, both conscious and subconscious, we nevertheless understand that they are dreams. We know, for instance, that a dream where we are being pursued by a dragon may be a metaphor for some fear or anxiety in our lives, but we never come away from the dream believing that dragons are real. Likewise, dreams of an afterlife are more likely to reflect our fear of death and social conditioning rather than be a window into a supernatural realm -- a realm for which there is no evidence in the waking world.

    M. Miller:
    "But what is difficult to explain is the occasion when a dream becomes true, that is, serves as a warning or gives unexpected direction."

    R. Morris:
    This isn't difficult at all. In some instances it's called a coincidence. In others, the 'warning' is simply the product of our conscious or subconscious mind continuing to work a problem even while we're asleep. The reason we give these 'message' dreams more credence than they deserve is because we are selectively remembering the positive 'hits' -- that is, the dreams that correlate positively with real world issues, while forgetting the many more numerous dreams filled with random nonsensical imagery.

    M. Miller:
    "I have seen several (roughly a half dozen) patient radically alter their behavior for the better as a result of death and subsequent revival. This is not the case with those who have been simply resuscitated without an interval of death in between, so this change appears to be the result of contact with the infinite..."

    R. Morris:
    Are there any bona fide studies that document this altered behavior over time? Do we know whether these changes in behavior are temporary or whether they last for the patients lifetime? Where's the evidence? And how do we know that a dead patient has had an encounter with the infinite? Given that the patient's respiration, circulation, and brain activity has stopped, we have no methods by which to ascertain what, if anything, is going on with that patient. To suggest that the patient is in contact with an infinite intelligence, God, etc. is pure conjecture based on an absence of fact.

    M. Miller:
    "the consistency of experience of the revived dead is intriguing. Generally one considers a uniform accounting from multiple sources to be a sign of reliability."

    R. Morris:
    True, but again, to conclude that a patient has engaged in an interaction with the supernatural world is nothing more than an unsubstantiated guess based on cultural and religious preconditioning. It is far more likely that near-death experiences are part of the normal functioning of the human brain or that humans have some, as of yet, unknown biomechanical ability to 'die' and 'reboot' under specific circumstances.

    Posted by R. Morris on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • Thanks for the many perceptive comments. Obviously my account of Freddie Ayer's self-reported encounter with "the masters of the universe" has struck a chord. For those who may care to speculate further, I've just listened to a fascinating -- and to my mind disturbing -- item on a BBC World Service Radio program entitled "HEALTH CHECK". It concerns apparently prevalent and thus presumably statistically significant "end-of-life" experiences -- as distinct from "near death" experiences -- as recounted to an academic psychiatrist by workers in several British hospices for the dying. Astonishing stuff -- and well worth checking out.


    Posted by Peter Foges on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • In 1965, when the Wykeham Professor of Logic was in full possession of his razor-sharp faculties, he gave an electrifying (to me at least) lecture about his belief in extra-sensory perception, or as he preferred, paranormal cognition. His explanation, which seems relevant to the dreams/reality discussion, was that the possibility of perceiving events in a different dimension of time or space could certainly, and very probably did, exist, but that the danger that normal cognition of the everyday world might suffer as a result would lead to the suppression of such a faculty. If Freddy Ayer was prepared to believe the normal brain possessed that latent capacity, I can well accept his ratiocination of what he perceived when his brain was oxygen-deprived.

    Posted by Andro Linklater on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • I'm not sure why my very to the point comments was not posted, perhaps because I left my signature which is rather long. Otherwise let me know and I won't visit again.
    Some other commenters raise the issue of dreams, oxygent deprived brain,the unconscious, so called "out of body experiences" and that Ayer himself appears to have taken Freud's positions that there may well be other forms of cognition. Now that we have some clues that autistic persons suffer from extra sensory input due to their increased sensory abilities, but the lack of buffers and processors we may be able to gain further insight into sensory / mind capacities that would certainly be useful in the wild, and that animals appear to possess. An oxygen deprived hallucination is to be dismissed as little as any dream; however, if you have never had one, and perhaps don't keep track your dreams, or are too severely repressed by your ego to even recall them... it will certainly shock the bejesus out of you, as it did Ayer. However, his logical mind left him indeed at the moment he needed it most. I believe he was quite honest and the religious was of course glad at finding a possible convert. but both religious and confirmed atheist are wasting their time, and seem unable to live in a state of uncertainty. a firm belief in logic is as much of a dose of opium to part of the brain as is religious conviction. Michael Roloff

    Posted by michael roloff on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • Perhaps Freddie, bemused by his vivid dream, was in the mood for a little irony with the good doctor.

    Posted by thomas hefferon on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • sounds like a DMT-trip. not god--just biochemicals.

    Posted by myers on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • Ideal resolution is impossible for most applicants. Suddenly required to reconcile space, time, and identity, the newly-dead igtheist cannot enjoy full functionality, Aparokshanubhuti. In life one deprived of communion with white light in death is supplied with red.

    Posted by Peter Trump on Mon 22 Mar 2010

  • (1) Fr. Copleston says in his memoir that his first debate with Ayer on the BBC in 1949 was on logical positivism, not the existence of God. A few years later they had a TV debate on the nature of the self (for which both of them were quite drunk). In any case, Fr. Copleston most pointedly draws the contrast between the 1949 debate on logical positivism and his more popular debate with Russell on the existence of God.

    (2) Interestingly, Fr. Copleston says nothing about these later meetings with Ayer, although he does note that an American friend of Ayer's told him that Ayer had claimed that he, Ayer, had succeeded in convincing Copleston to abandon his Christian faith. Fr. Copleston denies this most emphatically, not least by noting that he and Ayer never discussed the Christian faith.

    (3) It's "Stephen" with a "ph," not "Steven," Hawking.

    Posted by William M. Klimon on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • The ontological concept of God, ie, in 'existing' or 'not existing' is logically empty; the concept of being does not apply to the concept of God. Trancendence however is an immanent possibility of philosophy: the source of values, the source of justice, the source of goodness are also not to be explained or proved ontologically. In other words: the foundation of human coexistence, ethics and politics, are beyond ontology and maybe should, with Levinas, be considered as first philosophies. The history of religious, especially catholic, philosophy is based on this fallacy which finds its source in the basic paulinian-christian dogma that to believe precedes pursuing justice. This grafted on Aristolian metaphysics created this maddening fog.

    Posted by Jesse Kamphuijs on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • Pride it seems prevented Ayer from having a public conversion after so many years as a champion of atheism.

    Posted by Conor Fitzgerald on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • Here are some interesting comments about Ayer's possible modifications to his views on the proposition, 'God exists'. His old view was that such a proposition lacks any meaning as it lacks any method of verification or falsification.

    Is what is being said that Ayer, after choking on his salmon, entered a place where there did seem to be some possibility of verification or falsification (he was not sure which)of such propositions?

    I have heard similar arguments in relation to 'God is a loving father' propositions. That after death one will be able to count up the bodies, as it were, and make some kind of determination one way or the other.

    Such quasi-empirical 'other side' research provides a whole new arena for logical positivists.

    Posted by Michael Johnson on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • R. Morris, everything we see in this life is no more than waves at a certain frequency exploding on our eyeballs.

    If you discuss any sense of perception you can do so in such a way that makes that perception seem to be silly and ultimately inconsequential. If you follow this train of thought to its necessary end then this entire universe exists for no reason, as every sense of perception is rendered pointless by its own lack of reliability.

    The truth quite obviously is that all realms of perception have value to them. Some of my most morally upright behavior has been after having woken up from a scary dream which mystifyingly makes me to fear continuing the immorality that I truly did possess at the time outside of the dream in "real reality".

    You make the amateur scientist's/philosopher's mistake of believing that your sour opinion of the way in which one of the processes God designed is carried out somehow makes that process a fairy tale or a fantasy, devoid of real meaning. The truth is that all of the "believable" senses of perception (sight, smell, sound, etc) are no less handicapped by their own limitations than a dreamstate sense of perception.

    Your talk about chemicals in the brain is more tired than Pascal's Wager (one of the greatest philosophical thoughts of all time) as a definite proof one way or the other about God...."so if chemicals control the brain, then who made the chemicals and who designed and built the system that the chemicals control?"

    Brains are what St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine used (and sometimes misused) to give us a good portion of the deep theology we believe in. A Creator of a universe this incomprehensible and massively detailed would surely be capable of imparting wisdom to His creation through their brains--even when their brains are "half asleep" or "half dead".

    Posted by J. Ford on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • A brief riposte to Myers above: who is to say that God is not a chemical or a chemical combination. The only thing interesting that any religion that ever said about God was that he/she/it ought not to be named! That's Hebrew. Freud's notion of the super-ego, one sort of another is part of every mammal is far superior, though a bit disenchanting to some folk it appears: actually at that point, as with Darwin, matters become interesting, the opium is beginning to wear off.

    Posted by MICHAEL ROLOFF on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • Everybody is missing the one point... He left his body now Explain this..What left? His Soul

    Posted by John on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • The association of physiological distress and out-of-body experience may not be due to the distress, contrary to the belief of many. An equally plausible explanation is that such distress makes the sufferer more able to be aware of matters which are closed to those not in such distress. An association
    must not be confused with cause-and-effect.

    Posted by David Taber on Tue 23 Mar 2010

  • Atheists exist because God does.

    Posted by nilo p mercado jr on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • I think that Mr. Ayer's comment to Dr. George about the devine person he had met during his near-death experience was absolutely true. Unfortunately, his pride prevented him from recognizing the reality of the event. In the apparitions of our Lady in Medjugorje (Bosnia-Herzegovina)one of the visionaries use to pray with her every month for the unbelievers. But Our Lady does not use the word unbeliever but "those who do not know the love of God". In life there are plenty of moments and circumstances in which any person can recognize this love of God. However, pride is our greatest obstacle to come close to our creator. I am a medical doctor and one of my patient in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, an 8 year old child, had a heart arrest. After the resucitation maneuvers, he said that during this episode he saw himself in the ceiling and was able to report the words and movements of our medical team working on him. I have no doubt whatsoever about the reality of a life outside the physical body as Dr. Long in his book about near death experiences has reported beautifully. We need humbleness to know God and be able to contact him and love him...

    Posted by Juan Hervas on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • Four minutes. The brain begins to die at three minutes of oxygen deprivation, and that is assuming that this was a completely healthy and well-oxygenated brain from the outset. Most atheists I know are of the opinion that once you are dead you are dead and that is it since they deny the existence of a soul. Death occurs when the brain stops functioning. If Ayers was dead for four minutes as the article suggests, and the atheists are right, there should have not only been no revival for Ayers but no experiences at all since the brain waves were not firing and not triggering. Hence the dead part. So how could Ayers, without having any brain function at all, manage to have an experience. Moreover, how did he revive without significant brain damage? This is a small case. There have been cases of others who have been dead far longer - even beyond 18 hours - who have come back to life. You cannot have it both ways. Either there is a soul and an eternity or there is not and there is no explanation for such experiences.

    Posted by Brandy Miller on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • To out atheists out here, justify it as drug, nostalgia or whatever and even deny it but someday when your time is up whether you have believe or not you alone will stand before Him face to face.

    The mere fact that order cannot come out of chaos and anarchy. No amount of time can bring about order unless it is acted upon by an external force. This is the concept of cause and effect. In order for a re-action to occur there must be an initial action, the universe did not come into existance on its own accord.

    Praise be to God!

    Posted by jae on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • Oh the self-centeredness of it all. Just like the movie "Song of Bernadette", the atheist lawyer will never believe even when confronted with a most touchable miracle. There is more than just thought to the equation. It is reality of all the happenings around the globe and not just one man's inbred limited thought.

    The most accurate logical conclusion is to include all the evidence, not just some.

    Posted by Tony Joyce on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • If anyone is interested, you can check out some of the research online (or in book form) for the consistency of Ayers experience with many many other of these NDEs....The remarks by the author about how people noticed how much nicer he was and how much more interested he was in other people after his experience is one of the hallmarks of the recorded NDEs.

    this is the website for the author(s) of the book Evidence of the Afterlife. Another website is http://www.near-death.com/

    Posted by Judith Wood on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • "Out of body and near death experiences recounted by various people may simply be the normal product of the human brain functioning under severe stress."

    And is there anything else they might be?

    I will point out that the following syllogism:
    1. Ayers had a supernatural experience
    2. All supernatural experiences are hallucinations
    3. Therefore Ayers has a hallucination

    Only follows if the minor premise is granted as true. Naturally, such a syllogism cannot be used to prove the minor premise true, or else the argument is circular.

    I know of no other field, outside of arguments like this one, where a recurring pattern of events experienced by many people in similar circumstances is used to support the conclusion that the experiences never happened, and the observations show the observer was mistaken -- even a mistake that, as here, changes personalities, attitudes, and lives.

    The argument is made from time to time that God does not exist, for is He did, He would reveal Himself to skeptics in a fashion so unambiguous that no ground of doubt would remain. Unfortunately, that argument attributes to skeptics the same degree of rational objectivity that the skeptics themselves claim to possess.

    The alacrity and severity with which skeptics reject eyewitness reports of supernatural experiences is a hint that perhaps they are more credulous than advertised. The skeptic will accept any explanation, no matter how far fetched or unlikely or unsupported, provided only it does not involve God. To disbelieve in God, they will swallow practically anything.

    John C. Wright

    Posted by John C. Wright on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • Are you all afraid of God, or mad at Him?

    Posted by Paul from Brooklyn, NY on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • Man do not create anything but just observe and copy . The only thing they create are humans beings.God is the only reality,the only One who was there before anything. So half of the geniuses who try to discover the existence of God will fail miserably. There is no role model to compare Him with. God live in the Silence of His Creation . He is pure reality. How a simple finite man can profile and "discover" an Infinite Mind?, God is the pure Truth. Atheists are waisting their time trying to compartmentalize God. To discover God Faith have to be in the mix ..Will not cost them a penny. Remember what Jesus said when he was confronted by his opponents. I came to this world to testify to the Truth.. And Pilate who worship many gods, all perplexed in return said, but what is the Truth? Of course he could'nt have the answer.

    Posted by MFB on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • Gosh, well, why don't we throw in reincarnation and see what happens? not only an afterlife, but another after life, and another, and another.....

    Posted by Judith Wood on Wed 24 Mar 2010

  • Curious that some find that the thoughts of a man after a fit of anoxia are more important than his thoughts in the prime time of his life.

    Posted by ridelo on Thu 25 Mar 2010

  • Of course, the prime time of any ones life must necessarily be at the brink of death, where, according to survivors, ones whole life "flashes before them".

    Posted by Frank Arundell on Thu 25 Mar 2010

  • All kinds of reasonable claims, diethylkryptonite and so on, that explain away the Ayers story. Nice.

    Yet, Prof. Ayers was convinced, it seems.

    This story sounds not unusual. I have seen similar transformations in my own family. It's interesting.

    Posted by V for victory on Thu 25 Mar 2010

  • It is amusing to a simpleton like me that after reading most of the comments above, I'm drawn to a bible verse that seems to address the irony:
    Matt 11:25 - At that time Jesus said in reply, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."
    I guess I'm glad to be gifted as the latter. I pray that the simple truth is revealed to all in a timely manner.
    May God bless.

    Posted by lIBERTAS on Thu 25 Mar 2010

  • Why would a confirmed atheist hallucinate about a "Divine being" and "creatures" "in charge of space?" Sounds like angels. Sounds like The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Even stranger the phrase about thoughts becoming persons. Didn't St. Thomas Aquinas explain the Trinity this way? There is more of heaven than hallucination here. God rest his soul.

    Posted by Caroline Niesley on Thu 25 Mar 2010

  • Atheism is a logically irrational position. One can't prove a negative. Only two options are rational: agnosticism and theism.

    Posted by Clarrs on Thu 25 Mar 2010

  • We are so often deceived by our fondness for thinking about lives as rigidly Aristotelian dramas (that is, with a clear beginning, middle and an end); where the final act inevitably is regarded as that crucial point at which fundamental truths are disclosed in such a way as to leave us, the audience, with a satisfying denouement (and even when it doesn't, as in Shakespeare's King Lear, there's nonetheless the sense that aging and death has some significant ontological, almost cosmological significance).

    However, we'd do well to remember that, in reality, aging is primarily a rather mundane process of steady physical and mental degeneration which, to put things lightly, does not tend to produce in one's mind a cognitive environment conducive to analysis of complex philosophical questions. Thus, whatever the frail 78-year old Alfred Jules Ayer's did or did not think as death drew near should be of no great concern to anyone outside his family, and certainly nothing to draw any metaphysical conclusions from.

    Posted by Kristian Egstedt on Fri 26 Mar 2010

  • R. Morris:
    [...] nothing more than an unsubstantiated guess based on cultural and religious preconditioning. It is far more likely that near-death experiences are part of the normal functioning of the human brain or that humans have some, as of yet, unknown biomechanical ability to 'die' and 'reboot' under specific circumstances".

    You sound like the one who is laboring under preconditioning. In your case, you merely accept uncritically what you understand to be the materialist/scientific explanation of things. Your preferred perspective imposes a different set of grids, but it shuts out just as much light.

    Posted by Kevin on Mon 29 Mar 2010

  • After a dream a person knows that it was a dream. Those who have had a NDE know that it is not a dream, but an experience. Most lives are changed follwing a NDE.

    Posted by M. Lyons on Wed 31 Mar 2010

  • Scholarship must be all but dead itself. That this whole discussion could take place with two mentions of Aquinas but no mention of HIS recantation after a brain injury shortly before his death plunges me into despair.

    Posted by Joe Thorpe on Wed 31 Mar 2010

  • I am an Atheist. I grew up in a "hindu" household. I had several meetings with god while cruising through high school and college on a healthy diet of morning glory, mushrooms, cannabis, other staples.... Perhaps if I was bereft of youthful arrogance or if I was vulnerable (due to age or whatever), I'd have gone along with one of many apparitions I had dialogs with and hailed them (as does Jacobi and others here). Fortunately, I've been blessed with a bad memory, lower intellect (than Ayer), and laziness.

    It amuses me to see some commenters' cocky assertion of the christian God (not christian metaphysics, theology, semiotics, metaphor, not the gnostic dimension) - just the base, street-cred American christiana. Given how dramatically apposite their thesis is to the followers of my namesake and hindus of varied persuasions, druze, zoroastrian, jain, pagan, animist, as well as (maybe) to other abrahamic followers, god must be a very convenient product of man's dreams or imagination? Or would you say, followers of jesus, that he - jesus - is right? That the narrative of the old testament, the new one, and the koran more "authentic" (sic!) ? How Convenient!

    Posted by Ram on Wed 31 Mar 2010

  • Ram, people believe what they believe because they believe that it is true. You have made a lot 'cocky assertions'.

    Posted by Rohan on Thu 1 Apr 2010

  • True, very true. It is but one lone (and a meek one) against centuries-old arrogance of the "only god" theses of the 3 main semitic faiths.

    Posted by Ram on Thu 1 Apr 2010

  • Nothing wrong in believeing that there is only one God though many religions. Some might be arrogant, There are are a lot of honest people who humbly believe that. There are also many atheists who arrogantly proclaim their different belief.

    Posted by Rohan on Thu 1 Apr 2010

  • Mr. Forges-

    Can you tell me what data or recapitulation you overheard in the BBC World Service Radio program that you found so disturbing? Thank you, sir.


    Posted by Thomas on Sun 4 Apr 2010

  • Only fitting for the man, what after he teased that horrid postscript out of poor old Kuhn.

    Posted by Ross on Tue 6 Apr 2010

  • As a friend of Freddie Ayer's (having been his last pupil at Oxford), I visited him several times in University College Hospital private wing during the illness described by Peter Foges. One of those occasions was shortly after his resuscitation following the choking incident. My conversation with him on that occasion, which I report almost exactly word for word, began as follows: Me: 'Freddie! you look much better!' Freddie: 'I've been dead.' Me: 'Well, you certainly looked pretty horrid when I was last here.' Freddie: 'No, I've literally been dead, for four minutes. They had to resuscitate me. I'm very cross: now I have to do it all over again.' Me (as a joke): 'Did you have the death experience, of the light at the end of the tunnel and so on?' Freddie (with asperity): 'Certainly not!' In light of this conversation you can imagine how surprised I was to read the Telegraph article later - as were a number of other of Freddie's visitors who asked a similar question and received the same response regarding his resuscitation experience. When I next saw Freddie after the 'masters of space' article it was at a party at Duckworth publishing house in London's Camden district (because there was no elevator to its first floor office Freddie had to be brought in through a window on a book hoist). Everyone crowded round him demanding an explanation of the article, and he was adamant in saying that he put his experience down to the stress and drugs involved in the resuscitation incident. Any suggestion that he had really abandoned his vigorous atheism has to be set against these facts, which any of his acquaintance can attest.

    Posted by A. C. Grayling on Sun 18 Apr 2010

  • really, what's the most the unevolved can hope to gain from this story? "even an educated person can gain religion, if his brain goes without oxygen for long enough"?

    Posted by misanthropope on Sun 25 Apr 2010

  • For me the crucial assertion of Ayer is "My thoughts became persons."

    What is significant about this? It problematizes the ontology of thought. What exactly are thoughts? Logic and epistemology set foundations that frame our thinking about the "logical content" or "propositional content" of thought. Ayer was confronted in a Near-Death Experience by an altogether unforeseen function of thought. "My thoughts became persons," he says.

    How can this be? What does it say about God?

    Alfred North Whitehead points out in his text "Religion in the Making" that historically Christian nations have utilized Aristotle's "Politics" as a primary exegetical tool for understanding the Bible, whereas Judiasm and Islam have utilized Plato's "Timaeus". In the Timaeus, what is created is a new epoch of social order -- SOCIAL order. In Christian countries the question has always been how to reconcile the Genesis account with a deep history of the cosmos. From the "Timaeus" perspective, what the Genesis account claims is that at some zero-point in history the One True Divine Being declared a new social order. The declaration functioned to create new institutions, new names, new roles, deontologies, and identities.

    You might say God's thoughts became persons.

    The difference I think is that Ayer recognized the true nature of thought only while dying, and even then, in a crippled capacity. Ayer did however catch a glimpse of the true Power of our likeness to the Creator.

    Ayer said, "My thoughts became persons."

    The question is, What does that mean?

    Posted by C.M. Keys on Sun 4 Jul 2010

  • Alfred North Whitehead points out in his text "Religion in the Making" that historically Christian nations have utilized Aristotle's "Politics" as a primary exegetical tool for understanding the Bible, whereas Judiasm and Islam have utilized Plato's "Timaeus". In the Timaeus, what is created is a new epoch of social order-- SOCIAL order . In Christian countries the question has always been how to reconcile the Genesis account with a deep history of the cosmos. From the "Timaeus" perspective, what the Genesis account claims is that at some zero-point in history the One True Divine Being declared a new social order. The declaration functioned to create new institutions, new names, new roles, deontologies, and identities.

    Posted by reneed on Sat 24 Jul 2010

  • One fine old day, so beauteous and bright,
    A child, park strolling, thought he heard a fight.
    Lost and hoping to be home for dinner soon,
    He wandered there, though the sounds roughly hewn.

    He came across two sputtering old fools
    Who, with their short time left, taught each other rules:
    "White wins," said one; "No, Black better," the other.
    "Olbers'?" asked the old dog- of a different feather.

    He sat and listened, seeing who might win-
    But left when he saw circles; heads commenced their spin.
    Both right and both wrong, in the child's view:
    Neither saw the beauty of the sky's deepest Blue.

    Posted by W. J. Thornberry on Wed 15 Sep 2010

  • as someone once said 'it is very easy to be an atheist when life is rosy, but staying an atheist becomes pretty difficult and nightmarish when one is lying on one's deathbed.'

    Posted by kofi on Sat 6 Aug 2011

  • It is quite surprising that A. Grayling above easily seems to "explain away" near-death experiences. Shared-death experiences are now being investigated where the sufferer and carer alike have experiences and there are actually many quite stunning veridical experiences as well, such as here (Pam Reynolds)
    and here (Dr. Lloyd Rudy)

    This is an emerging field of study and materialist philosophers should take note that they are ignoring clear data, thus making any resulting conclusions on what consciousness may be very suspect, to say the least.

    Posted by Alan on Tue 25 Oct 2011

  • Ayer actually never believed that there might be something which is to be called god. I see of his much confidence about the non existence of such kind of reality through his life. But at the end of his life,possibly in a deep coma,he has experienced something which might be called hallucination.He was actually not in a good sense.

    Posted by siddhartha shankar Joarder on Sun 22 Apr 2012

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Peter Foges is a film and television producer. He worked for the BBC in London for fifteen years as a correspondent, anchor, producer, and director, before moving to the U.S. to serve as BBC-TV's Bureau Chief. He later became Director of News and Public Affairs Programming for WNET/Thirteen in New York City, where he has created, written, produced, or executive produced series and specials such as Good Night and Good Luck and Heretic, and co-wrote The Ten Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table, which was awarded the 1987 Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary.
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