Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

A world where chips are healthy ... now that really would be heaven

Chips!
Chips!

I've always thought "near-death experience" a pretty good definition of life at any given time. Nearer thy god to me, of course, depending on where fate places you on the globe.

But, wherever you live, you could get killed by a bus or donkey at any time. Then what?

Well, for two short words that's a pretty big question. Near-death experiences, as conventionally understood, usually refer to being brought back from actual death, often with accounts of the afterlife.

You know the drill. Tunnel, bright light, loved ones, puppies, flowers, scented breezes.

You'll be surprised to learn, given my weekly pannings of Jehovah the Merciless, that I've an open mind on this.

Logically, I don't know of any matter that dies, though you could say we live on by providing compost for the daisies.

But what of matters more ethereal? To wit, the mind or, if you will, the soul. Is all that accumulated knowledge of a lifetime just thrown away?

Has it all been, literally, a waste of time? I hope not. My own theological belief – that life on Earth is a form of Hell, created by a low-ranking, bureaucratic deity who is useless at his job and given to sadism – is not one that's widely shared. With anybody.

But who cares? Different strokes for different folks. A survey out this week – by the University of Rochester – shows that religious people are less intelligent than non-believers.

I don't know about that, and it certainly gets more nebulous when religious becomes non-religiously spiritual. The weight may still lie with non-believers, but logic isn't everything.

When we were communistic students, the trendy phrase was to take an argument to its "logical conclusion". It's a recipe for disaster. Had our logical cogitations become public policy, the place would be bankrupt and soup kitchens would be opening up everywhere.

I'm getting a message in my earpiece. Oh, the place is bankrupt and soup kitchens are opening up everywhere? Well, there you are. Never saw that coming.

So, what's coming after life? Not more of the same hopefully. Nor any family reunions. Couldn't think of anything worse.

Something better would be good. A world where chips are healthy, neds don't blast doomphy-doomphy music from passing chariots, and cats are still cuddly but do not kill.

Alas, the latest research gives comfort only to those who proclaim gleefully that all we become upon death is food for "the mould and the maggot", as someone on yon internet put it.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say a surge of electrical activity in the brain could explain the vivid experiences described by near-death survivors.

We've heard this kind of thing before. The inference comes from experiments on rats which, shortly before death, experienced a doubling of power in the gamma band. The gamma band, madam. It's over there. Between your right ear and the toaster. Gamma oscillations indicate levels of consciousness in the brain.

But this detectable surge of power before death proves nothing. The argument that it explains near-death experiences is neither hereafter nor there. It's mere inference.

You might as well say it's a last surge of power before we blast off heavenwards, there to bathe in pools of chips, drunk on champagne-air, in a glorious world free of banks, bicycles and scary insects.

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