Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll along with Yale neurologist Steve Novella won this Intelligence Square debate on the proposition "death is not final". An IQ2 debate about global warming was discussed on this blog 7 years ago.
While the "for" motion (defended by the Harvard-affiliated neurosurgeon with his own near-death experience Eben Alexander along with medical doctor and writer Raymond Moody) was favored 37-31 before the debate, many people have changed their mind and the skeptics (believing that the death is final, after all) have won the final vote 46-31. I am pretty amazed that as many as 38% of the audience changed their opinion about the answer to this fundamental question after the 100-minute debate.
Sean Carroll has promoted the debate: before the debate, debate's afterlife.
The positions of both camps were pretty obvious. Even though the "afterlifers" opposed religion and paranormal phenomena, they would argue that there has to be some afterlife because many people, including Eben Alexander himself, have experienced something astonishing. And these experiences seem to match across the religions and cultures. They would still argue that some "critical thinking going beyond science" is necessary to settle these things.
The skeptics would argue that the mind is a manifestation of the functional brain so if the brain stops its functions, the mind has to disappear as well. All near-death experiences are illusions and there seems to be a big diversity in the people's testimonies which suggests that the perceptions are shaped by their culture and experiences from the material world. Science is enough. Even though I may have written many suggestions that according to the right interpretation of quantum mechanics, the perceptions are primary and the objective reality is a derived notion etc., I would still side with the skeptics on pretty much all questions.
Because the two short previous paragraphs capture the content of pretty much the whole debate, you might argue that 100 minutes may have been too much. There were some original yet important enough ideas.
At the very beginning, Robert Rosenkranz (who is Jewish, e.g. a member of the nation with the highest resurrection rate, he boasted), the founder of the IQ2 debates, said that the afterlife might be analogous to the continuation of the life of the embryo who can't imagine there is life outside its mother's organs. It's a nice analogy except that an intelligent enough embryo would be able to figure out that there should be something outside the mother's body – and even find some evidence supporting it. Also, the embryo can't develop any convincing enough model that would imply that it has to "die" when it gets out of the mother's body. We apparently can construct models that imply such things.
Sean Carroll mentioned our 1619 Winter Queen (of Bohemia) Elisabeth Stuart. It was a promising time of our "de facto Czech Aristocratic Republic" which was ended by the lost 1620 Battle of White Mountain. That battle brought the somewhat backward Germans to the government and meant the "dark ages" – several centuries of the suppression of ethnic Czechs.
I think that quantum mechanics combined with neurobiology in some way might make it fair to say that the "fictitious" experiences of the brain in stress could be "equally real" as the healthy and critical brain's experiences. But they still lack all the tight links to the "exterior world" that is full of phenomena and structured information. So I think it's plausible that people's brains feel some love during the last moments, that these moments are psychologically stretched to thousands of years or the eternity etc., and one could even attribute some reality to these feelings.
However, I think that it will always be true that these experiences lack the "richness of information" that we associate with the normal, "material" world. And if there exists another world with a lot of information and structure, it can't affect our world – these two worlds are pretty much disconnected. If it makes sense to talk about afterlife at all, it is very boring. Richard Feynman made similar observations when he was dying and when he said: "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring." In my opinion, this really summarizes the reason why the "skeptics" are morally right even if quantum mechanics forces us to declare all experiences by the brain to be equally real: the tons of new, diverse, structured, unexpected fun we know from the material life just can't occur in the afterlife regime. The "bulk" of the interesting phenomena occur in the "approximately objective" material world that we know. The "other worlds" may be real and feel like large worlds but they're either lacking the information, or they are causally disconnected from our world.
An older local friend of mine had a stroke recently. He's doing fine and speaking almost normally but even though he is a very spiritual guy, he would say that there were no special experiences etc.
The resurrected guy from Harvard has used quantum mechanics as his defense of afterlife around 46:00 – and he was applauded at 1:04:50 when he said that no neurobiologist in the world can sketch how the brain could possibly create consciousness. Of course that to some extent, I would agree with him about the spiritual message of quantum mechanics. In most others, I would not. Sean Carroll is confused about the basics of quantum mechanics but I agree with him that physicists know these matters better than the physicists who lived 100 years ago. Carroll is also right about the need for skepticism, the need to find evidence for claims – especially extraordinary claims – and many other things, e.g. the claim that you can't always get what you want (1:14:00).
Questions from the audience begin at 1:06:40 or so. In the first answer, the spiritualist Moody said that LSD could perhaps give you some access to other (real) worlds. In the second question, the spiritualist Alexander was asked about his ability to draw his sister he wouldn't have seen before. This question was unfortunately banned as off-topic. Third: Why it's just 10% (of people who have been in clinical death) that have these experiences, and why no one remembers the hell? Alexander thinks that the percentage is higher today.