How Materialism Has Restricted Our Understanding of Death
Natalie L Trent, PhD
June 10, 2018
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science
becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the
Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in
the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
– Albert Einstein
One of the most difficult things that every human has to deal with is the loss of a loved one. There is tremendous grief associated with loss, including lingering mental health issues and loss of life meaning, and some people never fully recover.
Because of this universally human pain, it is really important that we invest time and money into studies that help to reduce this suffering while also increasing our understanding of what happens after death. This includes studies of mediumship, communicating with those who have died, as well as treatments for grief itself, such as spiritual practice or psychedelic therapy that can help bring meaning and connection back into the person’s life. Instead, the materialist paradigm closes the door to these experiences and their potential healing.
To the Materialist, There is No ‘You’ After Death
Under the materialist paradigm, there is no awareness after death. Period. This is because under the materialist paradigm, consciousness requires the brain to exist, since awareness is seen as merely a product of brain activity. Therefore, materialism firmly closes the door to any study of consciousness after death, pinching us off from a greater understanding of death beyond the physical process of dying. So in this limited view, all investigations and evidence for mediumship, visitations from deceased loved ones, near death experiences, and past life memories are void to begin with. As postmaterialist scientists, it is our job to open that door.
The materialist paradigm is a dogma, which is met with many fierce defenders. So anyone who studies these phenomena often face severe ridicule from colleagues and peers, which perpetuates the program, and keeps other scientists in the postmaterialist closet. Even more damaging is nonscientists who encounter incredible experiences that show perhaps there is consciousness after death, and the scientific community devalues that experience as mere fantasy or wishful thinking. It’s tragic really.
Thankfully, many scientists are publishing about the need for postmaterialist science . In a recently published article, Drs. Mario Beauregard, Gary Schwartz, and I argue that the field of psychology needs to adopt a postmaterialist perspective if it is to progress. We will also be publishing a book this year called Expanding Science: Visions of a Postmaterialist Paradigm, which includes over 20 world renowned postmaterialist scientists, including Drs. Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin, Larry Dossey, Charles Tart, and Amit Goswami.
Spirituality for Coping with Death and Grief
We know from scientific research that spirituality is incredibly important for coping with death and grief. Those who have spiritual experiences, including near death experience, often become less afraid of death. A systematic review has shown that the vast majority of studies, around 95%, investigating the link between spirituality and the grieving process show positive effects of religious/spiritual beliefs on bereavement. For example, with parents of children who have passed, the greater the use of spiritual activities the lower symptoms of grief and mental health problems, particularly for mothers.
Reducing Death Anxiety
In addition to spiritual experience and practice, multiple studies at top institutions, including Johns Hopkins, NYU, and Harvard Medical Schools have shown that many psychedelics, including psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, MDMA, ketamine, and LSD, have all shown reductions in anxiety associated with death in individuals close to death or with terminal disease. These effects seem to be long lasting as well, at least up to one year, which is as long as the participants were tracked. This research stretches back over 50 years ago, but recent resurgence in psychedelic research has reaffirmed this finding. Of course, I want to be clear that psychedelic therapy should always be approached with professional assistance.
My research with salvia divinorum (diviner’s sage) revealed that 25% of those in the study reported feeling as if they had died. When we look at the qualitative data, the written reports of the experience itself, individuals have likened the salvia experience to a near-death experience, or a death experience itself. In fact, participants that have also had a near death experience remarked on how identical the experience was with salvia. It is also paired with a strong sense of familiarity, and a feeling that they had been there before, beyond the veil of this aspect of reality.
Energy Medicine and Visitations
During energy healing, loved ones often come through, both for the individual receiving the session, but also for the practitioner, and sometimes messages are relayed this way. Energy medicine, particularly Reiki and other spiritual healing techniques, connect the practitioner and the receiver with a greater intelligence. The theory behind this may be that practitioners are connecting through universal love to the one mind, the shared consciousness of all humans and perhaps other minds as well. In this nonlocal space, we have access to information we otherwise do not during normal waking consciousness. In fact, qualitative reports from my research on Reiki have revealed that the Reiki experience is a spiritual experience, often an experience of unconditional love, peace, and understanding envelops them. They no longer feel alone, and they feel the presence of their past loved ones. It can be a very powerful multilevel healing experience. This research study was conducted at Harvard with the Center for Reiki Research and will be published this year.
When I practice energy medicine, I deliberately connect my consciousness with the one universal mind through stillness and embodying universal love. This is a nondual state of being. The degree to which I can achieve this state is the degree to which I can connect with information about the person I am working with. When this occurs, often any energies that are strongly connected with the person are brought forth into my awareness, including sometimes loved ones that have passed. This is how psychic abilities work, we nonlocally go up the fractal pattern so to speak, to where we are all connected and all information is accessible. But the good news is that this is done through love and awareness, so it cannot be easily used malevolently because that is inherently a disconnected energy.
Post-Materialism for Positive Societal Change
The postmaterialist paradigm fosters positive values such as compassion, respect, and peace because it promotes an awareness of our interconnection. Additionally, it acknowledges spiritual experiences, which relate to a fundamental dimension of human existence and are frequently reported across all cultures. These experiences offer an enlarged perspective on the nature of the self and reality that cannot be accommodated within a materialist framework. There is mounting evidence that spiritual experiences are often associated with better mental health and greater compassion and life meaning. These are very today as poor mental health; loss of meaning and a lack of compassion certainly contribute to the violence and unrest around the world. Lastly, by emphasizing a deep connection between ourselves and nature at large, the postmaterialist paradigm also promotes environmental awareness and the preservation of our planet.
It is a very fortunate time for science and society. We are at a tipping point, where the old materialist paradigm is not holding up for much longer. This is exciting because it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for understanding ourselves, the earth, and our connection to the greater whole of existence and each other.
For more information on postmaterialist science and scientists, check out the Manifesto for a Postmaterialist Science: http://opensciences.org/about/manifesto-for-a-post-materialist-science
For information on our upcoming book, Expanding Reality: http://www.parammedia.com/books/expanding-science
 Trent, N., Beauregard, M., Near-death experiences in cardiac arrest: implications for the concept of non-local mind. Archives of Clinical Psychiatry (São Paulo), 40(5), pp.197-202.
 Beauregard, M., Schwartz, G.E., Miller, L., Dossey, L., Moreira-Almeida, A., Schlitz, M., Sheldrake, R. and Tart, C., 2014. Manifesto for a post-materialist science. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10(5), pp.272-274.
 Beauregard, M., Trent, N. L., & Schwartz, G. E. (2018). Toward a postmaterialist psychology: Theory, research, and applications. New Ideas in Psychology, 50, 21-33.
 Wortmann, J. H., & Park, C. L. (2008). Religion and spirituality in adjustment following bereavement: An integrative review. Death Studies, 32(8), 703-736.
 Hawthorne, D. M., Youngblut, J. M., & Brooten, D. (2016). Parent spirituality, grief, and mental health at 1 and 3 months after their infant’s/child’s death in an intensive care unit. Journal of Pediatric Nursing: Nursing Care of Children and Families, 31(1), 73-80.
 Reiche, S., Hermle, L., Gutwinski, S., Jungaberle, H., Gasser, P., & Majić, T. (2017). Serotonergic hallucinogens in the treatment of anxiety and depression in patients suffering from a life-threatening disease: A systematic review. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.
 Trent, N.L. & Sherfey, J.S. Subjective effects of salvia divinorum: a mixed methods approach. Psychedelic Science, San Francisco, CA, USA – April 2017