Dr Peter Fenwick, the neuro-psychiatrist whose views on consciousness and survival of death were dismissed as nonsense by sceptics at September’s annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, is unrepentant.He revealed to The Times, in an interview with correspondent Jane Wheatley (published 5 October) that he was once a sceptic, too. A busy clinician, Fellow of the Institute of Psychiatry, head of the Maudsley Hospital’s epilepsyunit, and also treating sleep disorders and head injuries, he had given little thought to the subject of life after death.But in 1985 a patient was referred to him whose cardiac catheter operation had gone wrong.
As surgeons battled to restart his heart, the patient found himself hovering over the bed watching the pandemonium going on below. He then found himself journeying down a long tunnel towards a bright light, before being “slammed back into my body again, back with the pain.” Intrigued by this account, Dr Fenwick began investigating near-death experiences and, after a TV appearance, received 2,000 letters on thesubject. He’s aware of the arguments that sceptics offer but insists that the light that people report is consistently associated with love, peace and compassion. And he adds: “If when all brain functions are down, the patient is able to receive information, then it follows that the mind can act independently of the brain. We must be able to demonstrate this objectively if we are to move forward; it’s vital for neurological science and for our understanding of human consciousness.”