Near Death Experiences and State-Space Consistency

Tyler (and Ryan) ask, Should near death experiences change your life?  The answer is no.  The reason, however, may surprise you.  It’s not because NDEs are unimportant it’s because they are very important.

Recall that a rational choice-plan is time-consistent, you should not plan today to make choices for tomorrow when you know today that you will renege upon those choices tomorrow.  Eating cake today because you will diet tomorrow is not a rational choice if you will not in fact diet tomorrow.  Time-consistency does not require that you always follow through on today’s plans – new information arrives which may cause you to rationally change your plans – but it does require that you expect to follow through on today’s plans which means that if no new information arrives then you should follow through.

The same idea explains why if you are rational you should not change your life if you experience an NDE.  NDEs are not new information.  You know that you are mortal, right?  You know that you could die today.  You know that experiences like Ryan’s are not uncommon.  Thus, if you are rational you should not change your life if you experience an NDE.

Do I advise, therefore, that Ryan get on with his life as before?  No, not at all.  My advice is not for Ryan, it’s for everyone else; Choosing rationally requires that you choose today so that if you have an NDE you will not change your life. 

The fact that many people who have an NDE do change their lives is evidence that most people do not choose rationally.  Thus the ways in which people who have had NDEs change their lives is important information for the rest of us who want to choose rationally.

Do you recall the secret to happiness offered by Gilbert, the one you almost certainly will not accept?  It is to accept that your own anticipations of what you will do and feel if certain things occur is not as good a guide to what you will actually do and feel as are the actions and feelings of other people who actually have experienced those events.  Thus, if near death experiences tend to make people more giving, caring and less fearful of change then this is how you should act today.

Long-time readers will know that I take the idea of reflective equilibrium quite seriously.


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