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$5 Million Grant Awarded by Private Foundation to Study Immortality

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    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2012
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      By Bettye Miller
      UCR Today
      July 31, 2012


      Original Link <http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/7496>

      For millennia, humans have pondered their mortality and whether death is
      the end of existence or a gateway to an afterlife. Millions of Americans
      have reported near-death or out-of-body experiences. And adherents of
      the world's major religions believe in an afterlife, from reincarnation
      to resurrection and immortality.

      Anecdotal reports of glimpses of an afterlife abound, but there has been
      no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about
      near-death and other experiences, or of how belief in immortality
      influences human behavior. That will change with the award of a
      three-year, $5 million grant by the John Templeton Foundation to John
      Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University
      of California, Riverside, to undertake a rigorous examination of a wide
      range of issues related to immortality. It is the largest grant ever
      awarded to a humanities professor at UC Riverside, and one of the
      largest given to an individual at the university.

      "People have been thinking about immortality throughout history. We have
      a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death," said
      Fischer, the principal investigator ofThe Immortality Project
      <http://www.sptimmortalityproject.com/>. "Much of the discussion has
      been in literature, especially in fantasy and science fiction, and in
      theology in the context of an afterlife, heaven, hell, purgatory and
      karma. No one has taken a comprehensive and sustained look at
      immortality that brings together the science, theology and philosophy."

      The John Templeton Foundation, located near Philadelphia, supports
      research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution and infinity to
      creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will.

      Half of the $5 million grant will be awarded for research projects. The
      grant will also fund two conferences, the first of which will be held at
      the end of the project's second year and the second at the end of the
      grant period. A website will include a variety of resources, from
      glossaries and bibliographies to announcements of research conferences
      and links to published research. Some recent work in Anglo-American
      philosophy will be translated for German philosophers who, in the last
      30 years, have been increasingly studying the work of American philosophers.

      UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White said Fischer's research "takes
      a universal concern and subjects it to rigorous examination to sift fact
      from fiction. His work will provide guidance for discussion of
      immortality and the human experience for generations to come. We are
      extremely proud that he is leading the investigation of this critical
      area of knowledge."

      Noting Fischer's renown as a scholar of free will and moral
      responsibility, Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the College of Humanities,
      Arts and Social Sciences, said, "There is perhaps no one better suited
      to lead a multidisciplinary research project on the question of
      immortality and its social implications. The Templeton Foundation's
      generous support will enable scholars from across the world to come to
      UCR to investigate how the question of immortality affects all cultures,
      albeit in different ways."

      Anecdotal reports of near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and
      past lives are plentiful, but it is important to subject these reports
      to careful analysis, Fischer said. The Immortality Project will solicit
      research proposals from eminent scientists, philosophers and theologians
      whose work will be reviewed by respected leaders in their fields and
      published in academic and popular journals.

      "We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other
      phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an
      afterlife or are biologically induced illusions," Fischer said. "Our
      approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We're not
      going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports. We will look at
      near-death experiences and try to find out what's going on there -- what
      is promising, what is nonsense, and what is scientifically debunked. We
      may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not
      glimpses into an afterlife."

      Fischer noted that while philosophers and theologians have pondered
      questions of immortality and life after death for millennia, scientific
      research into immortality and longevity are very recent. The Immortality
      Project will promote collaborative research between scientists,
      philosophers and theologians. A major goal will be to encourage
      interdisciplinary inquiry into the family of issues relating to
      immortality -- and how these bear on the way we conceptualize our own
      (finite) lives.

      One of the questions he hopes researchers will address is cultural
      variations in reports of near-death experiences. For example, the
      millions of Americans who have experienced the phenomenon consistently
      report a tunnel with a bright light at the end. In Japan, reports often
      find the individual tending a garden.

      "Is there something in our culture that leads people to see tunnels
      while the Japanese see gardens?" he asked. "Are there variations in
      other cultures?" What can we learn about our own values and the meanings
      of our finite lives by studying near-death experiences cross-culturally
      (as well as within our own culture)?

      Other questions philosophers may consider are: Is immortality
      potentially worthwhile or not? Would existence in an afterlife be
      repetitive or boring? Does death give meaning to life? Could we still
      have virtues like courage if we knew we couldn't die? What can we learn
      about the meaning of our lives by thinking about immortality?

      Theologians and philosophers who examine various concepts of an
      afterlife may delve into the relationship between belief in life after
      death and individual behavior, and how individuals could survive death
      as the same person.

      "Many people and religions hold there is an afterlife, and that often
      gives people consolation when faced with death," Fischer said.
      "Philosophy and theology are slightly different ways to bring reason to
      beliefs about religion to evaluate their rationality. If you believe we
      exist as immortal beings, you could ask how we could survive death as
      the very same person in an afterlife. If you believe in reincarnation,
      how can the very same person exist if you start over with no memories?

      "We hope to bring to the general public a greater awareness of some of
      the complexities involved in simple beliefs about heaven, hell and
      reincarnation, and encourage people to better understand and evaluate
      their own beliefs about an afterlife and the role of those beliefs in
      their lives."

      For example, "We think that free will is very important to us
      theologically and philosophically. And heaven in the Judeo-Christian
      tradition is supposed to be the best place. Yet we arguably wouldn't
      have free will in heaven. How do you fit these ideas together?"

      At the end of the project Fischer will analyze findings from the
      Immortality Project and write a book with the working title "Immortality
      and the Meaning of Death," slated for publication by Oxford University

      The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for
      discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate
      reality. The foundation supports research on subjects ranging from
      complexity, evolution and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and
      free will. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists,
      philosophers and theologians, and between such experts and the public at
      large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. The
      foundation's vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton's
      optimism about the possibility of acquiring "new spiritual information"
      and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related
      scholarship. The foundation's motto, "How little we know, how eager to
      learn," exemplifies its support for open-minded inquiry and its hope for
      advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.



      .How Near-Death Experiences Are Changing The World
      .Quick List of Prominent NDErs
      . NDE Stories <http://ndestories.org/>
      .NHNE's Collection of NDE Testimonials
      . NDEs NOT Caused by Malfunctioning Brains
      .NDE Take-Aways <http://nhne-pulse.org/nde-take-aways-by-david-sunfellow/>
      . Pulse on NDEs
      . NHNE NDE <http://nhne-nde.org/>
      . NHNE NDE Network <http://nhneneardeath.ning.com/>
      . NHNE NDE on Facebook <http://www.facebook.com/nhnende>


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