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CNN Larry King Live

Near Death Experiences Explored

Aired December 22, 2009 - 21:00   ET


JEFF PROBST, GUEST HOST: Tonight, can we come back from the dead?

People who've been there say yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very peaceful. It's very serene. And it's extremely, extremely bright. I mean it is bright.


PROBST: Modern day medicine and 21st century technology have made it possible. But what about other near death experiences -- the ones that science can't explain?

And can those who have passed away return to human form in someone else's body?

It's a life and death hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.

You're watching LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

I'm Jeff Probst from "Survivor" sitting in for Larry. And tonight, we're talking about survivors in a different context.

Medicine and technology are bringing people back from death. There are those who have died, but have lived to share their experience. You'll hear from some of those and about some of those stories later in the hour.

According to the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation -- yes, there is one -- nearly 800 near-death experiences happen every single day in the U.S. alone.

Joining us to talk about it is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent and author of "Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles That Are Saving Lives Against All Odds."

Also, Dr. Deepak Chopra, medical doctor, spiritual teacher, author of "Life After Death".

And Dinesh D'Souza, author of "Life After Death: The Evidence." -- Sanjay, in your book you talk about the idea that what we used to think of as the lines between life and death, this black and white thing, is -- is changing.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean we -- we had this sort of conventional wisdom that it's sort of a binary thing -- one moment you're here the next moment you're not. And I think scientifically, we know that's not true. Death is very much a process. Things happen in the body. Things happen at all different levels of the body.

The good news is that, really, at so many points during that process, things can be reversed. You can start to look at that death as a process and turn it in the other direction, which, you know, I just found incredibly fascinating.

PROBST: Deepak, in a recent Pew poll they -- they discovered that 30 percent of Catholics now believe in reincarnation. And for the first time ever, more people -- 49 percent -- say they've had a mystical or religious experience, more than say they haven't.

What -- what's happening?

What do you make of this change?

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "LIFE AFTER DEATH": Well, lots of things are happening. First of all, there's a lot of interesting science now that is suggesting -- and by no means is this clear. There's a lot of controversy of -- about this. There's a lot of interesting science that our consciousness, which is the place where we perceive, think, emote, imagine, have insight, intuition, choice-making -- that this part of us is not a product of our brain.

You know, scientists have, until recently, believed that, you know, just like your gallbladder secretes bile and your pancreas secretes pancreatic juice, your brain secretes imagination...

PROBST: So you're separating the...

CHOPRA: ...or thought.

PROBST: You're separating the brain and the mind?

CHOPRA: Yes. The -- the -- the mind, that consciousness, the one I'm talking to right now is not a product of the brain, but is localizing itself through the brain, just like people who are seeing us right now on their screens, you know, we're not in their television boxes. We are coming through these airwaves and they are perceiving us. But if they open the box, they wouldn't find Deepak or Jeff or anyone there.

So if I look inside you, I won't find your soul because it's not there. In fact, your body is experienced in your consciousness. Your mind is experienced in your consciousness. And the evidence is pointing out that this consciousness is non-local, which means it exists outside of space-time and therefore, mathematically, it's impossible to destroy this consciousness.

PROBST: Dinesh, what do you make of these numbers? What -- you -- you've studied this. It's a big shift in philosophy of how people are looking at life after death.

DINESH D'SOUZA, AUTHOR, "LIFE AFTER DEATH: THE EVIDENCE": I think the issue is absolutely huge. And a friend of mine who got cancer recently made the observation to me that when something like this happens you discover that the normalcy of your everyday life is a bit of a sham, because we live life as if we're never going to die. And then suddenly we have to confront that.

The question of whether something comes after death -- I don't -- you know, whether you're a believer or whether you're a skeptic, you're going to have to wonder about that. It's going to make a lot of difference in -- in how you live now. And I think what makes our time exciting and unique is that now there's actually some evidence about all this -- not only near-death experiences but evidence from physics, evidence from biology, evidence from the science of the brain -- all of which seem to suggest that the old idea that simply our mind and our brain are the same and -- and -- and when we die our brains obviously die. So, if that's the case, then there's no life after death.

But there are new possibilities created by modern knowledge. And that's really what -- what I think is exciting today.

PROBST: Sanjay, in medicine, you're experimenting with something, even here in New York, I think, with hypothermia -- trying to cool the body down to expand the process of death?

GUPTA: Well, you know, for doctors and any health care professional, it's really about trying to buy time. So if you -- if you buy into this idea that death is a process, it doesn't happen just like that...

PROBST: So the thing we're used to hearing, which is in the medical room, the doctor says, time of death 3:18.

GUPTA: Right. That's exactly right, Jeff. And, you know, it was a profound example experience that I had as a medical student when I watched this -- this person come in -- a patient who was the same age as me -- after a car accident and everyone was working on him -- the trauma surgeons, the neurosurgeons, everybody. And at some point, literally someone said, OK, time of death 2:34.

And I remember thinking, that's it?

I mean, it just seemed so arbitrary even back then. And I think, in many ways, you know, that -- that's been the hunt for me. That's what I've been searching for.

But with regard to hypothermia, it's this idea that, look, if your heart has failed, you have one of two things that you can do. You can either restart the heart to get oxygen through the body or you can decrease the demand of the body for that oxygen. Hypothermia sort of decreases demand. It sort of lowers the set point a bit, buying doctors and the health care team more time. PROBST: And, Deepak, if that's -- if that's right, then it ties into what you believe, I think, which is that life and death is just -- there is no beginning or end. It is this long continuum.

CHOPRA: Well, birth and death are space-time events in the continuum of life. So the opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth. And the opposite of birth is death. And life is the continuum of birth and death, which goes on and on.

And life is -- is, as he said, it's a process. It's one process. It's perception, cognition, emotions, moods, imagination, insight, intuition, creativity, choice making. These are not the activities of your networks. You orchestrate these activities through your synaptic networks. But if I ask you to imagine the color red or look at the color red, there's no red in your brain. There's just electrical firings.

What's the relationship between the subjective experience you have in your consciousness and what happens in the brain?

This is what is called the hard question in science today.

PROBST: I'm a little lost right now, which is a good thing, because we're going to come back and figure this out. But I'm fascinated by this topic. We may not be able to prove life after death.

But the other question is, can we disprove it?

A skeptic joins us with the other side.

And that's next.

We'll make sense of all of this.


PROBST: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.

I'm Jeff Probst from "Survivor" sitting in for Larry tonight.

We're talking about coming back from the dead.

Joining us Michael Shermer, Ph.D. Founder, publisher of "Skeptic" magazine. He's also the executive director of The Skeptics Society and columnist for "Scientific American."

Welcome, Michael.

You're a skeptic. In fact, we're just going to refer to you as the skeptic.

What is your take so far on this discussion?



PUBLISHER, "SKEPTIC" MAGAZINE: Well, a couple of things. First of all, when it comes to the afterlife, I'm for it, of course.

I mean, who wouldn't be?

But what I'm for and what's true are not always the same. So I think there's essentially three different lines of evidence that lead us to conclude that the idea of the afterlife is probably a product of our brains, starting off with our brains. That is, we're natural born dualists. We tend to think that mind is separate from brain because our brains can't perceive themselves. So we naturally think there's something else sort of floating around up there.

But we know for a fact that if you remove part of the brain through stroke, surgery, injury, from an impact or whatever, whatever the function was that was destroyed in that part of the neural tissue, that function is gone. That part of the mind...

CHOPRA: That's not true. That's not true.

SHERMER: gone forever unless it's rewired.

Two -- you're going to have to wait on this, Deepak.

CHOPRA: OK. OK, I'll wait.

SHERMER: On your -- on the second point is that our -- our primary function of our brains is to run our bodies. And we have a neural network in our left hemisphere that coordinates all the inputs from the body into a cell. So we have a sense of self that we can decenter. We can imagine being somewhere else. Close your eyes and picture yourself on a beautiful California beach. Almost everybody will see themselves -- their bodies down on the sand, not looking out through their eyes but actually seeing their bodies. So that's kind of what happens in an out-of-body near-death experience.

And three, we know from extreme sports, from maintain climbers, from Arctic explorers, that they have a third man factor. They have a sense of presence, like there's somebody else nearby, even though there clearly isn't. This could be oxygen deprivation, it could be cold, it could be starvation, it could just be loneliness. So our brains concoct this alternative person -- another sense presence that we can't sense being inside of ourselves, so we think of it out there -- an extension of ourselves. And in a way, a mind that continues into the indefinite future of an afterlife is like that.

PROBST: All right. My -- my -- first, Deepak, you took issue...

CHOPRA: Well, I have to say of Michael that he is very superstitious. He's addicted to the superstition of materialism. The first thing he said about the brain, you know, that you destroy a certain part of the brain and that function will not come back -- he hasn't kept up with the literature. There's a whole phenomenon called neural plasticity. There's gene regulation.

SHERMER: Yes, but that's still neurons firing.

CHOPRA: No. But what -- if your mental activity can change the activity of your neurons, then what comes first?

D'SOUZA: I think there's also -- there's also a deeper...


PROBST: Go ahead.

D'SOUZA: There's a deeper point here and that is that a correlation doesn't establish causation.

CHOPRA: That's right.

D'SOUZA: There's no question that the mind and the brain go together.


D'SOUZA: But then the software and the hardware on my computer go together. If you think of your mind as a kind of software and your brain as the hardware, sure, if you damage the hardware, the software won't function. But that doesn't mean that the hardware caused the software. You could take the software out and run it on a different computer or download it into your iPhone.

So the fact that the two go together doesn't mean one causes the other. The -- the brain may be a kind of receiver or transmitter for the mind, in the same way that a CD player is a receiver and transmitter for the music waves.

SHERMER: Ah, but...

D'SOUZA: The radio isn't causing the waves, it is merely the mechanism for the waves to be manifested.

CHOPRA: I'd like to ask Michael...


CHOPRA: ...are we talking to you, Michael, or to your networks right now?


CHOPRA: OK, who...

SHERMER: Well, you're talking to -- you're talking to both.

CHOPRA: OK, well...

SHERMER: You're talking to my individual neurons...

CHOPRA: So what...

SHERMER: ...and my whole self.

CHOPRA: OK. When you said you'd like to believe in an after- death, was that your synaptic network speaking or was it you?

Who's the one who wants...

SHERMER: That was my...

CHOPRA: Who wants...

SHERMER: That was my hope module.

CHOPRA: OK. So what -- you know, when you say I'm skeptical about this, who's the "I" that's skeptical?

Is it your networks or is it -- it you?

Are you confused?

SHERMER: I think it's the...

CHOPRA: See, he's...

SHERMER: You're probably familiar with -- you're probably familiar with Michael Gazzaniga's idea of the left hemisphere interpreter -- our little narrator/storyteller that puts all the inputs in together into a coherent story. And I think what we all do is we all sort of put those things together with ourselves as the central character in our story. There's a difference between...

CHOPRA: Which doesn't exist according to you.

SHERMER: No, no, it does exist. It's just a higher -- it's just a higher order form of neural activity. There's individual neuron firings and then there's patterns of the neurons firing and then there's whole columns of neurons firing. And so we can ratchet up, not in an reductionist way, but in a holistic way, without it being a sort of new age-ish spiritual kind of thing. It's still...


CHOPRA: There's nothing new age-ish about this.

PROBST: The thing I like...


PROBST: The thing I like best about this show so far is I'm not necessary.


PROBST: Was a World War II pilot reincarnated in a body of a little boy?

That's what the boy says. We will meet James in 60 seconds. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PROBST: Was a World War II fighter pilot reincarnated in a little boy's body?

Bruce, Andrea and James Leininger say yes. They are authors of "Soul Survivor." Their book describes how their son James had memories of a WWII pilot who was killed in battle more than 60 years ago. James is now 11 years old.

Andrea, when did you first realize that something was -- was not right, that James was having ideas or stories that he wanted to share about this?

ANDREA LEININGER, AUTHOR, "SOUL SURVIVOR": Well, initially it started off -- James always had a fascination with airplanes. And that seemed just like something that a little boy would be fascinated with, like big trucks or something like that.

The real problem started about two weeks after James' second birthday. He had a -- a night terror, which he had never had before. And this first nightmare began a series of nightmares that started occurring every other night, every night. Four or five times a week he would have these screaming nightmares where he'd be laying on his back, kicking his feet up at the ceiling like he was in a box, trying to kick his way out.

And after several months of this, he was having a nightmare and I came down the hallway and I was able to finally determine what he was saying. And he was saying, "airplane crash on fire, little man can't get out."

PROBST: Well, and Bruce, even at three, he was -- James was drawing pictures of an airplane crashing. In fact, I -- I think we have one.

Do you -- did you talk to him at that point?

He was very young then.

Did he have an idea what was going on?

BRUCE LEININGER, AUTHOR "SOUL SURVIVOR": Well, by the time he started drawing those pictures, he'd been talking about this and -- for several months. That didn't start until seven or eight months after he really began talking about what was happening. Prior to that, in the dreams or after the dreams or before he'd go to bed or in a dreaming state, mostly, he started to tell us things about what would happen. And he essentially gave us three items of information over about a three month period. One, he gave us the name of the ship, which I verified through research on the Internet (INAUDIBLE)...

PROBST: This is this ship the airplane took off from?

B. LEININGER: That's...


B. LEININGER: That's correct. Natoma Bay. He gave us a name Natoma. I asked him one night where his ship came or where -- where his airplane came from, because he told us it was shot down by the Japanese. And he said it came from a boat. So in another question, he then -- I asked him the name of the boat. He said, Natoma. And I did a Google search on the word "Natoma" and found, 300 or 400 hits down, a history of a WWII ship that was in the Pacific.

About a month later, he gave us the -- the name of a guy he said he flew with. When we asked him if there was anyone else in his -- in his dream that he could remember.

PROBST: So I want to be clear on this, Bruce.

He gave you the name...



PROBST: ...of somebody he had flown with?

B. LEININGER: That's right. Jack -- Jack Larson.

A. LEININGER: I kept asking him if he remembered what his name has been -- had been in his last life or in his dreams. And he said his name was James. But that is his name. So I finally gave up on that line of questioning.

And I finally asked him, do you remember anybody else that you flew with or any friends?

And he said, Jack. Jack Larson.

PROBST: James, you're 11 now. You're a little older. You've been -- been dealing with this for a while.

What do you make of it now?

Do you still have these dreams?

Can you connect this to anything or are they starting to -- to lessen for you?


PROBST: So you're not remembering it as clearly as you were when you were younger.


A. LEININGER: And, Jeff, it wasn't like he had cognitive memory. It wasn't like he could just sit and I could say, Jeff, tell me about when you were on the last season "Survivor." These memories weren't active in his mind. It was just -- it was usually a trigger or something that would happen or he would see or smell or hear something. And then he would just come out with this little piece of information and that was it.

Then it was pretty much gone forever. There was probably only three or five instances where we were able to sit down and question him and ask him questions. The rest of the time when we tried to do that, if he didn't initiate that conversation, he didn't seem to know what we were talking about. It was a very interesting phenomenon.

PROBST: All right.

Is there a medical explanation for what James experienced?

We will find out.

We'll take a quick break.

We'll be right back.


PROBST: We are back talking about reincarnation with the Leiningers.

And they say a WWII pilot was reincarnated in their son James -- Sanjay, is there anything that comes to mind for you medically that could explain how this could happen?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I think as neuron-scientists, we obviously want to try and explain everything scientifically first.

You know, was there some sort of experience that he had had?

Did someone tell him a story at some point?

Did he watch something or anything that could have, you know, somehow put this memory into his -- into his head, into his mind and his brain?

But I'll tell you, that may -- the answer may come back absolutely no. And at which point, you really have to ask yourself, is it OK not to fully be able to explain things physiologically?

When I was writing my book, that's exactly to the point where I got. I wanted to explain things like the story that we're hearing about James, but there were some things that simply couldn't be explained.

Could his memory exist -- have existed somewhere else besides in his brain, specifically, and was being harnessed at a very young age from, you know, a previous experience that may have even been in a different life?

You know, that -- that sort of stuff is that perfect intersection between science and spirituality, which, you know, is just really interesting.

PROBST: Michael, the skeptic -- let's go to the skeptic.

Have you done any research or investigated anything that might explain why James would have such vivid ideas of another life lived?

SHERMER: Sure. Yes, there's two things there. Of course, as Sanjay said, it's perfectly OK to say I don't know. And in this case, obviously, I wasn't there inside James' head. But when I was his age, I was totally into World War II planes and ships. I built models. I did drawings. I read everything I could. That's what young boys do. We're into that kind of stuff.

So it's not a big stretch...

PROBST: So you're just...

SHERMER: imagine how...

PROBST: Michael, you're just...

SHERMER: ...he might have...

PROBST: Sorry to interrupt you.

You're chalking this up to he's a young kid, he was interested in this, maybe his dad wasn't and that's it?


PROBST: Is that right?

SHERMER: Not just that. I -- I think it's -- it's not a big stretch to imagine how he could inculcate into his dreams a lot of these images. And then you -- you get a couple of selective hits and you spin it into a story.

But my general problem with reincarnation is the numbers problem. There's been about 100 billion people that have ever lived and there's six billion alive today.

Where are all those other souls?

What happened to all the other World War II pilots?

PROBST: Deepak, where are they?

Or Dinesh, where are they?

D'SOUZA: First of all, the numbers problem, I think, is a bogus problem, particularly because, in the views of reincarnation, particularly the Hindu view, there -- there can be a traffic, if you will, between humans and non-humans. So, for example, if somebody is terrible in this life, we'll be seeing you as a cockroach in the next life. It's not just a matter of being reincarnated to other human beings. I think here there's a bigger point here. The bigger point is that belief in life after death is absolutely universal. It's existed from the dawn of mankind. Today, most people in the world...

SHERMER: Biggest question.

D'SOUZA: ...believe in it. The denial of life after death is only in Western culture and only recently.

Now, there are Eastern and Western...

SHERMER: But, Dinesh, where is that boy's soul?

D'SOUZA: There are Eastern and Western views of immortality. By and large, in the Eastern view your soul lives on and it can live on multiple times, life after life after life.

PROBST: A fair question, Michael asked.

SHERMER: But -- yes, where is...

PROBST: Deepak, where is his soul?

SHERMER: Where is James' soul?

CHOPRA: OK, so then I'll -- I'll address that question. It's actually a very good question that he's asked.

Imagine that you're looking at an ocean and you see lots of waves today. And tomorrow you see a fewer number of waves. It's not so turbulent.

What you call a person actually is a pattern of behavior of a universal consciousness. There is no such thing as Jeff, because what we call Jeff is a constantly transforming consciousness that appears as a certain personality, a certain mind, a certain ego, a certain body. But, you know, we had a different Jeff when you were a teenager. We had a different Jeff when you were a baby. Which one of you is the real Jeff?

If you go to heaven and you meet your relatives, will we meet the person with Alzheimer's, who died at the age of 100 or will you meet the young teenager?

There is no such thing in the deeper reality as a constant entity called a person.

PROBST: Michael...

CHOPRA: So when he says 6,000 traffic jams, this that and the other, it's all nonsense. It's a very primitive way of looking at it.

PROBST: Michael, I have a question.


PROBST: Why not believe?

Why -- why are you focusing so much -- because if you're wrong...

CHOPRA: Because his neural networks will not allow him to.


PROBST: But the question I'm getting at...

GUPTA: And being skeptical is bad for the heart, as well. I should...


GUPTA: It is bad for you, Michael, to be so skeptical. It's...

SHERMER: I -- I'm really not worried about it. Here's why. I think that we -- we would like to believe things that are actually true. And although I can't disprove the afterlife, neither can the other side prove it. And I think it becomes an article of faith. And, again, I think the preponderance of evidence is that our brains tend to create these sorts of things.

Consider the God helmet that -- that Michael Persinger's lab that I went up and did and had an out-of-body experience generated nothing by -- nothing but by magnetic fields bombarding my temporal lobes. You can create these things artificially in the lab.

PROBST: Michael...


SHERMER: ...pollute doctor.

D'SOUZA: I think that's a fallacy. An experience is not discredited by the fact that you can recreate it. If I'm out in -- on the seashore and I see the sunshine and I say, the sun is blinding me. Michael goes, that's an illusion. I can produce a flashlight and blind you here at home. That doesn't mean I didn't see the sun. I did see the sun.

PROBST: So the fact that you can recreate it doesn't mean it might not be real somehow?


D'SOUZA: Moreover, the normal is an editing device to begin with. You see, if you take kittens and you bring them up in a room that has only horizontal stripes, they'll see only a horizontal world. If you bring kittens up in a room that has vertical stripes, they'll see only a vertical world. Is it (INAUDIBLE)...

SHERMER: But that's because...

CHOPRA: ...horizontal. They (INAUDIBLE)...

SHERMER: That's because their neurons actually atrophy.

CHOPRA: That's right. And they atrophy as a result of an interpretation of an experience. You've conditioned yourself to believe in a certain way and now your neurons will reinforce your belief system.

PROBST: Let's plop back into the Leiningers for a minute.

We're going to break, so just a quick question. Now that James is a little older and these memories are starting to diminish, do you have any doubts of what happened?

A. LEININGER: No, I have no doubt whatsoever. And it's funny to listen to Michael, because the ultimate skeptic going into this whole thing was my own husband.


A. LEININGER: Bruce was completely a non-believer in the concept of reincarnation. And he went about all the research that's in our book to try and disprove and prove that whatever was happening to James was a result of illogical -- something that could be logically explained.

B. LEININGER: And it was something definitely happening that I didn't understand. And we tend to reject what we don't understand to out of hand so...

PROBST: So you guys are still convinced.

B. LEININGER: Right. We're still convinced.


PROBST: The skeptic is -- is convinced it didn't happen. And we have three people on the panel who are ready to...

CHOPRA: I'd like to have a one week debate with the skeptic in front of a live audience with a good moderator...

PROBST: Not tonight, Deepak.

SHERMER: OK, you're on.

PROBST: Here we go.


PROBST: Is there proof of life after death?

CHOPRA: I'll take you on.


CHOPRA: Because all I have to do is...

PROBST: They're going to keep going.

We're going to take a break.

CHOPRA: All I have to do is debate with your synaptic networks, not with you.


PROBST: You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Jeff Probst, sitting in for Larry tonight. We're joined by Dr. Jim Tucker, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuro-behavioral sciences at the University of Virginia. He is a child psychiatrist, and he has studied over 2,500 cases of reincarnation memories in kids. He's also the author of "Life Before Life." And here to explain reincarnation memories and what he's learned from years of research.

You heard the story of James, young boy, thinks he was in World War II. Is this a similar story to what you researched with the kids?

PROFESSOR JIM TUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It is. I haven't studied all 2,500 cases. But at the University of Virginia, we've been studying them for nearly 50 years. And what we have found is that kids from all over the world report very similar things at around the age of two or three. They start coming out with these stories about how they lived before. Some of them give a lot of details like James has. Some give much fewer. But it's a very similar phenomenon. It takes place in places where there's belief in reincarnation, but also in places and in families who have never given it a second thought before in.

PROBST: In some of these cases, the kids have similar scars to the people that they are reincarnated from?

TUCKER: That's right. Several hundred of them have had birthmarks or birth defects that match wounds, usually the fatal wound on the body of the previous person. And what we've done with some of them -- Ian Stevenson, who started the work, has done most of this. He was able to get autopsy reports from a lot of the people whose lives the kids seem to remember and to match up just how well the birthmark or the birth defect matches with the wounds the previous person had.

PROBST: Were you able to chart the time between, you know, death and reincarnation?

TUCKER: Well, it varies. The average time is only about 15 or 16 months in our cases. So for the kids who seem to come back with intact memories, the time span tends to be very short. James is an exception of that. We're talking about 50 years. We have others like that. In general, it tends to be quite quick.

PROBST: A study is one thing. Believing in that study that there's a result is another. Has this convinced you these are real?

TUCKER: Well, I think if you look at the strongest cases that they provide pretty substantial evidence that something has gone on here, that there can be this carry-over of memories and emotions that seem to survive after a body has died and then carry-on in another child.

PROBST: All right. Do you talk about life after death? Why some people don't take it seriously and why they should, when LARRY KING LIVE returns.


PROBST: Near death experiences; hundreds of people claim to have them every day in the US alone. We're talking about how and why this occurs. And there are people, of course, who don't believe in them at all. Dinesh, you talk about in your book that life after death, it's sort of the elephant in the room. We're all fascinated by it, but nobody really wants to delve into it.

D'SOUZA: The atheists and the skeptics are always saying, give us some experience, give us empirical evidence. We don't have -- we can't talk to dead people. We can't go to the other side of the curtain. But the near-death experiences are probably the closest thing. There are now thousands of them. They occur all around the world. They have a bunch of ingredients that are very similar: the sense of being drawn through a tunnel, of seeing a bright light, in some cases meeting dead relatives or friends, feeling the presence of a celestial being.

For a while, what the atheists would say, well, this is a kind of mind game, a little bit like if you took hallucinogenic drugs, you'd have weird dreams. That's true. If you give 100 different people hallucinogenic drugs, they wouldn't have similar or the same dreams. It's the uniformity and universality of the near-death experience that makes you have to take it seriously. It's not so easy to write it off.

PROBST: Sanjay, when you look at the study, 2,500 cases is a pretty decent sample. Where do you merge the medical world and the spiritual world?

GUPTA: Well, it's interesting, you know, listening to both Jim and Dinesh. With regard to near-death experiences, if that's the beginning of your spectrum, I think scientists try and explain a lot of things away scientifically. The tunnel, for example, that potentially can be explained away by a lack of blood flow to the back of the eye. You start to lose your peripheral vision, see a tunnel. Bright lights, sort of the same thing.

Even the seeing of deceased relatives, perhaps, that is a very cultural thing, for example, in western cultures. In Eastern Africa, people who are having near-death experiences tend to see things that they wish they had done in life. That tends to be their cultural thing they have.

Having said all that, what's so interesting -- I wanted to tell you and Dinesh -- was that when I was researching this for a long time, I thought I was going to explain it all away physiologically. But things that I heard and validated and subsequently believed convinced me that there were things that I could not explain. There were things that were happening at that moment, that near-death experience moment, that simply could not be explained with existing scientific knowledge.

So I think that's where you have to put the spirituality sort of answer and some of reasoning on the table when it comes to these sorts of things.

CHOPRA: One very important phrase there: existing scientific knowledge. I don't think science and spirituality are things that are enemies. You know? Science has always looked at the world objectively. When we're looking at consciousness, it is our consciousness that's looking at consciousness.

D'SOUZA: The researcher Elizabeth Coobra Ross (ph) had reported years ago that some of her patients who are blind have had near-death experiences. And now there are studies of blind people who have had near-death experiences. And they're able to describe the number and gender of people in the operating room, the kind of instruments that were used, often the color of the drapes, things that they wouldn't ordinarily be able to know.

Now, again, we should look at this skeptically. We should see if there are natural explanations for all this. My point is the weight of the evidence, when you balance it out, is that there is something going on. See, if the atheists are right, these kinds of near-death experiences shouldn't just be rare. They should not exist at all.

What the near-death experience are telling us is that even when the body breaks down -- you are clinically dead; your heart has stop; or there's no measured brain activity -- consciousness and experience seems to go on. It's kind of like saying I've turned the car off, taken the key out, the car is still running.

PROBST: Got to take a break. A man died on a football field seven years ago and came back to life. His incredible story in 60 seconds.


PROBST: I'm Jeff Probst from "Survivor," sitting in for Larry tonight. We have the ultimate survivor story now. Bob Schriever was refereeing a high school football game seven years ago when he went into cardiac arrest, died and was revived. Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke to him. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my goodness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A referee has just collapsed on the field.

GUPTA: For 65-year-old Bob Schriever, that video is sometimes still difficult to watch.

You're suddenly down. BOB SCHRIEVER, HEART STOPPED AND WAS REVIVED: I'm down. I'm dead.

GUPTA: What did you experience? Did you have pain?

SCHRIEVER: No. Nothing. Nothing.

GUPTA: Schriever was in cardiac arrest on this very field during a high school football game. A team trainer, armed with the school's brand new AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, shocked him back to life.

SCHRIEVER: It was scary.

GUPTA: Schriever was choking up as he showed me the video that day. Then he started to talk about what he remembered.

What were you experiencing when everyone was seeing this?

SCHRIEVER: It's very peaceful. It's very serene. And it's extremely, extremely bright. I mean, it is bright. And I was -- I saw a place that I was supposed to go. I saw that halo, and something was saying, go toward the halo.

GUPTA: He says he was dead for two minutes and 40 seconds.


PROBST: Powerful stuff. Bob Schriever will tell us more about his near-death experience when we return right after this.



PROBST: Bob Schriever says he died and was revived. We're talking about what happened to him when he went into cardiac arrest and came back from the dead. Bob is the co-founder of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association. What do you remember of that?

SCHRIEVER: Not much. When it happened to me, it's -- I was just following the quarterback on a roll-out and I took two or three steps and took a half a step and started to lean. And that's all I remember.

PROBST: No pain?

SCHRIEVER: No pain. I had a heart attack the night before, where I had some minor pain, jaw pain. I was unaware of it. It was during another game. I was unaware I was having a heart attack the night before until after the fact, when I had the symptoms and I more or less recognized it.

Being the macho guy I was, I refused to do anything about it. But when I went down with SCA, I -- no pain, no nothing. I just blanked out. That's all I remember. PROBST: SCA, Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

SCHRIEVER: That's correct.

PROBST: Sanjay, obviously, you know Bob from doing the story. but you also explore the idea of near-death experiences in your book. Similar story?

GUPTA: Yes. Yes. The stories are very similar in terms of what we hear people who have sudden cardiac arrest, and other things as well, especially, again, in this country, very similar stories. The point I was trying to make earlier a little bit is this idea that as part of what they experience, though, they couldn't have possibly had that experience explained away completely by the brain or explained away completely physiologically. Some of what happened to Bob and what he told me, I couldn't explain it. That's what was so interesting.

D'SOUZA: There's a psychologist, Susan Blackmoore (ph), who has advanced a theory that's widely discussed now. It's called the dying brain. The idea is that when your brain goes into shutdown mode, it generates these kind of experiences.

Bob is a kind of walking refutation of this theory for the simple reason that is if -- all the people who have had near-death experiences are living among us. They drive to work. They function normally. If Bob's brain died, how did it reconstitute itself? How did it repair itself so he's now functioning normally? The dying brain theory, I think, doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

PROBST: Let's get Michael back into this. Michael, if Bob had been hooked up to your machines, what would they have shown?

SHERMER: He wasn't dead. You started this hour off with Sanjay Gupta explaining we can't say somebody's dead at one given moment at a particular time on the clock. That's not how it works. It takes two, three, five, ten minutes to go through a dying process. The ref wasn't dead. He was in a near-death state.

We know from Dr. James Winnerry (ph), from the US Air Force -- he has documented over 700 near death and out of body experiences in pilots going through G-Force loss of consciousness. It's simply apoxia or oxygen deprivation to the cortex.

PROBST: Michael,


PROBST: There's a little bit of semantics going on there. We made the point of saying that the old way of saying you're now dead is being revisited. But there's still the idea that death is a process, and I think what we're saying here, Deepak, is if you go with that, that Bob was in the process of dying.

D'SOUZA: I think also there's a larger physical framework here. You know, 100 years ago, if you said life after death, if you used particularly religious vocabulary, heaven, hell, the idea of having a resurrection, in modern physics, none of this made any sense. Space and time were presumed to extend definitely in all directions. People said, matter, we know what that's like. We know how that behaves. Bodies die. What is there to live on?

Today, a scientist will talk about hidden dimensions, multiple realms, other universes. We know if other these universes exist? Well not a lot. But we know that if they exist, they have laws totally different than our universe.

SHERMER: It's important to remember that -- it's important to remember that before we say something is out of this world that we first haven't gotten a worldly explanation. You said earlier, Deepak, that I can't explain everything naturally. OK. So what? That doesn't mean there's a super natural force. That just means you can't explain everything.

The fact you called consciousness the hard problem. Right. The fact that we don't have a cogent theory of consciousness doesn't mean that altered states of consciousness are something woo-woo or spiritual or supernatural.

CHOPRA: I don't believe in anything supernatural. When did we use the word supernatural?

D'SOUZA: Either there is life after death or there isn't. It's like asking a caterpillar, is there life after being a caterpillar? The caterpillar might say, no way, I can't conceive of what it's like to be a butterfly. But that's just part of the natural order. You don't need supernatural.

CHOPRA: By the way, there are traditions that say the in-body experience is a socially induced collective hallucination. We do not exist in the body. The body exists in us. We do not exist in the world. The world exists in us.

SHERMER: That doesn't work for me.

CHOPRA: I know it doesn't work for you. Who's the you that's talking to me right now?

PROBST: Let's get the you that's here in the room with us, Bob. Weigh in on this.

SCHRIEVER: I'm not a medical person. What they're talking about is over my head. All I know is in our organization, we have many, many survivors who belong, and they tell the same story or basically the same story. I did witness something. I didn't go as far as some members did, because they were dead, clinically dead, if you want to put that term, much longer period of time, thanks to the medical we have today, where they can keep them alive, than I was.

You hear the stories they tell. And before this all happened to me, I was not a believer in this. I have to tell you right now, I am now a believer in this.

PROBST: More spirited debate about a very spiritual matter, or maybe not, right after this.


PROBST: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Jeff Probst. Why can some people die and still go on living? We've been exploring the life and death topic with some experts. Deepak, if there is life after death, then does it matter how you live this life?

CHOPRA: I think just because there's life after death doesn't really change anything in the deeper sense. But it does -- because, you know, when you die, you're not going to be a better person than you are now. You're going to carry-on the consciousness that you have now.

PROBST: There's no hope for me?

CHOPRA: If you do have -- live beyond hope. Hope is a sign of despair. You have to live in a state where you want the truth, OK?

PROBST: We'll do therapy later.

CHOPRA: If there is life after death, the quality of your life tomorrow depends on the quality of your life today. So the best way to ensure a great future for you is to be present now and live it the best way you can, with loving kindness, compassion, joy at the success of others, peace, and equanimity.

SHERMER: Deepak, that's the smartest thing you said today. I have to say. I completely agree with you. Whether there's an after- life or not, that's precisely how we should live our lives. We are in agreement.

CHOPRA: You are saying that's the way our synaptic networks should -- who's you?

D'SOUZA: I do think there's a -- there is implications because --

SHERMER: I am my brain.

PROBST: Let me ask you this. If a -- would a near-death experience of a serial killer be different from that of somebody who's lived --

D'SOUZA: It would be. In fact, initially, the near-death experience seemed entirely positive. But now there have been extensive compilation of nightmarish and hellish near-death experiences, which have shocked people into transforming their life. I think here's the point: if there's no life after death, and we reflect on that, then, in a sense, we are passengers on the Titanic. We can rearrange the deck chairs. We can turn up the music. But the whole ship going down.

On the hand, if there is life after death, then we have a reason to believe in cosmic justice. We will believe that good will be rewarded, evil will be held accountable. We have a sense that we can face death more bravely, because it's not the end; it's a gateway to another life. We can teach morality to our children. We derive a sense of meaning and significance in our life, which is part of this larger framework.

So I think life after death, even if there's residual uncertainty -- I think the preponderance of the evidence supports it. But even if there's residual uncertainty, it's good for me to believe. It makes sense.

PROBST: Sanjay, is there any unethical aspect to the death -- the process of death has begun, and you're going to stop it and bring it back?

GUPTA: Absolutely not. I mean, that's what doctors in the medical community are trained to do. It does raise questions of what do we really know about death, what's really happening? What is death, per se? I don't think we're very good at determining that yet. I mean, even within hospitals, the idea of brain death, which Deepak sort of talked about, it's, for the most part, a clinical exam. So in one hospital they may give you a slightly different answer versus another hospital, which may not seem like a big deal, except the fact we're talking about death here, and it becomes a very big deal. It's not at all unethical to obviously try and reverse that process.

PROBST: Michael, we've spent an hour going back and fourth. Deepak is going to be looking for you somewhere in between wherever you are and wherever we are right now. Have you taken anything from this?

SHERMER: I do think that the preponderance of evidence argument is the way to go, because it can't be proved or disproved like in a court of law. I think we have to look at the preponderance of evidence. In my case, I tend to still be skeptical. In Dinesh's case, he goes the other way.

PROBST: Deepak would say to you, Michael -- Michael, Deepak would say to you, you prove it then.

SHERMER: Well, it's not -- the burden of proof is not on me. I'm not making a positive claim that there is an afterlife, therefore I have to prove. I'm just saying, let's keep an open mind, but we don't know. Why not just say --

PROBST: Thirty Seconds --

CHOPRA: That's the first sensible thing he said: let's keep an open mind.

SHERMER: No, no, second sensible thing. Remember, I agreed with you.

CHOPRA: OK, second thing. There's a difference between cynicism and skepticism. I'm glad that he's a healthy skeptic. Cynicism is a risk factor for sudden death from premature heart disease.

PROBST: I wish we did not have to wrap this up, but we do. Thanks to Larry for letting me sit in the chair tonight. It was a pleasure. "AC 360" starts right now.