EVER since I started reading Swedenborg twenty years ago, I have been interested in
communications purporting to come from those who have died. Swedenborg himself, an
eighteenth century scientist and mystic of great distinction, claimed to be able to leave his body
at will and travel in the spiritual worlds, returning to record his impressions in such books as
Heaven and Hell. There is a widespread popular fallacy that all mediumistic utterances are
trivial and inconsequential babble. Nothing could be further from the truth: such remarks merely
betray a complete and perhaps wilful ignorance. There is much talk about the fear of death, but
less about the fear of life after death. Many psychologists argue that a belief in life after death
is a childish wish-fulfilment, but they would soon retract their remarks if they could gain some
insight into the probable conditions in which they themselves might exist in a post-mortem
state! If you knew that you would one day be making a journey, the most basic preparation
would be to consult whatever maps and guide books might be available. I regard the Nowotny
volumes as one such guide book.
One of the basic premises of modern science is that consciousness is a by-product of brain
processes. Hence the death of the brain means the extinction of consciousness. By this logic,
no communication with the post-mortem world is possible because such a world cannot exist
by definition. Any writings claiming to come from these sources must therefore be nothing
more than the imaginative meanderings of the author’s unconscious mind. Dr Nowotny himself
admits to having shared this kind of view during his lifetime, and was more than a litUe
surprised to find himself consciously surviving the death of his body in 1965. All this is
described in detail in volume one. But what if this assumption of modern science is not only
misleading, but radically false? There is another way of conceiving of the relationship between
mind and brain: the brain does not so much produce consciousness as transmit or filter it. This
view was developed a hundred years ago by William James and others. It does not spell the
automatic extinction of human consciousness at brain death, but rather suggests that death may
be a transition from one kind of consciousness to another.
The above two approaches can be applied to the near-death experience. The orthodox view
must insist that the experience is produced entirely by the brain as a result of oxygen deprivation
or other biochemical and perhaps pharmacological factors. The transmissive theory admits that
there must be correlations with brain processes, but argues that correlations do not amount to
causes. One of the most puzzling phenomena for the materialist interpretation of the near-death
experience is the veridical out-of-the-body experience, where the subject accurately reports
events which are simply invisible from the position of the physical body, itself clinically dead
at the time. If there is any perception at all, it must be extra-sensory. The out-of the-body
experience helps one appreciate the possibility of the mind surviving independently of the
physical body: in this sense, death is a permanent out-of the-body experience.
In my books Survival? (1984) and Whole in One (1990), I have compared elements of the
near-death experience with reports of postmortem experience. It became clear to me that the
second is an extension of the first and that the phenomena can best be understood in relation to
each other. If we now return to Nowotny’s experience of death (volume one, p.61), he was
walking with difficulty, having been in ill health for some time, when he suddenly felt himself
walking freely and without pain. On turning round, he saw his own dead physical body on the
ground, and ascertained that the heart had stopped beating — yet he was still alive! Moreover
(and I find this an amusing and significant aside) his dog was most confused, because he saw
his master in two places at once, and did not know which way to turn! By all accounts, Nowotny
came suddenly out of his body at death when he experienced a cardiac arrest. When he started
communicating, his medium was soon convinced of the genuineness of his identity, but it does
pose a problem for the discarnate sceptic. There is good evidence that Bertrand Russell, a
materialist in his lifetime, communicated through the medium Rosemary Brown, and remarked
that he would not have believed this to be possible had he still been alive in his physical body!
As a neurologist, Nowotny is aware of these difficulties in relation to how his messages
may be received by his former medical colleagues. The standard models in the neurosciences
and psychiatry are materialistic and reductionist so that any talk of possession or attached
entities would be regarded as a return to mediaeval superstition which has long since been
discredited by advances in anti-depressant drugs and sophisticated forms of psychotherapy. It
is ironic to note the remark of the Cypriot sage, Daskalos, that the success of some electro11
shock therapy is due to the fact that it expels entities from the patient! Nevertheless, some
psychologists are becoming open to the notion of past life therapy, where obsessions and
phobias are effectively treated apparently through reliving a trauma purporting to come from a
previous incarnation. Dr Nowotny, in his writings, takes the notion of reincarnation for granted,
and even explains some of the mechanisms: he outlines, for instance, the idea that we each
come to earth with a blueprint for our life’s work, and hence the importance for parents to
recognise the blueprint and potential gifts of their children.
He insists, rightly in my view, on the necessity of an adequate philosophy of life, which
includes an understanding of the influence of subtle worlds on the physical and that the
underlying purpose of earth life is spiritual growth. As he puts it: matter is subordinate to the
spiritual sphere. Our materialistic culture gives no inkling of this, encouraging young people to
aspire to the TV lifestyles of dubious soap opera characters. This is a far cry from the patient
development of spiritual qualities and the embodying of love and wisdom. Nowotny defines
the maturity of a spirit exactly in terms of knowledge combined with all-embracing love.
Throughout his work, he encourages the reader to cultivate discrimination, and not simply to
accept anything which claims to come from a discarnate source. One comes to realise the
importance of thoughts and the need to control them if one is to make real progress.
In my work with the Scientific and Medical Network, we are trying to expand the horizons
of science and medicine beyond its current materialistic and reductionist assumptions. In the
medical field, this involves exploration of so-called subtle energy systems, as well as
recognition of well-attested paranormal phenomena and appreciation of the universality and
value of mystical experience. Our attitude is to combine intellectual openness with scientific
rigour. The Nowotny volumes can help in this process, since I believe that he exhibits these
very qualities in his writings. Readers have already expanded their horizons by accepting the
possibility of discarnate communication. This is taken one stage further by reflecting on the
robust and compassionate advice which he gives.
I hope that it will not be too long before his messages are taken seriously by his medical
colleagues to enable them to broaden their diagnostic scope beyond currently recognised
biochemical and psychological factors.
David Lorimer was born in Scotland, and educated at Eton College and the Universities of
St Andrews and Cambridge. After a short spell in merchant banking, he switched to education,
teaching languages and philosophy at Fettes College, Edinburgh, and at Winchester College,
Hants. In 1986, he became Director of the Scientific and Medical Network.
He is author of “Survival? Body, Mind and Death in the Light of Psychic Experience” and
“Whole in One — The Near-Death Experience and the Ethic of Interconnectedness.” Mr
Lorimer is also the editor of “Prophet for Our Times” and ‘The Circle of Sacred Dance — Peter
The Scientific and Medical Network is an informal international group consisting mainly
of qualified scientists and doctors, together with psychologists, engineers, philosophers,
therapists and many other professionals.
The aim of the Network is to deepen understanding in science, medicine and education by
fostering both rational and intuitive insights. Founded in 1973, it now has around 1,200
members in over 50 countries.
Full Membership is by invitation, usually only open to university- qualified scientists,
doctors and other professionals. However, anyone sympathetic to the Network’s aims and
concerns can become an Associate Member and receive its newsletter, “Network.”
Further information from David Lorimer, Lesser Halings, Tilehouse Lane, Denham,
Uxbridge, Middlesex UB9 5DG.
EVER since I started reading Swedenborg twenty years ago, I have been interested in