Many people who have gone through near-death experiences recall a "light at the end of the tunnel". Such cultural aspects will be studied as part of the research funded by the grant.

Many people who have gone through near-death experiences recall a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Such cultural aspects will be studied as part of the research funded by the grant.

Consciousness is considered the prime driver for superior intelligence, and was initially considered the definite barrier which separates man from beast, although other animals, like fellow primates, have been found to exhibit sings of consciousness in the past years. There’s one big question, however, that follows the epiphany of “I am”, and that is “what happens when I no longer am?”. Consciousness breeds spirituality, and eventually religion to comfort man and relieve him from constantly seeking an answer to this question, which might never be answered. Even to this day, after thousands of years and the writings of history’s greatest free thinkers, we know little more than our ancestors who first set out to explain their existence.

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Recently, the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation — founded by the late Wall Street mutual funds pioneer to help explore spirituality – has awarded a grant worth $5 million, to be centered at UC Riverside, which will support the study of “immortality” and after-life. John Martin Fischer, a philosopher with UC Riverside most famous for his work on free will and determinism, is leading the project. According to the project’s website, the funding, will be split as follows – $1 million of that to host conferences on campus about the afterlife, to support post-doctoral students; while the rest of $4 million will be awarded to various researchers worldwide in the sciences, social sciences, philosophy and theology who will be studying the subject.

“The main questions there are whether it’s technologically plausible or feasible for us, either by biological enhancement such as those described by Ray Kurzweil, or by some combination of biological enhancement and uploading our minds onto computers in the future. I think another more interesting and important question is would we choose to be immortal in that sense, or does death and finitude give life meaning? So that’s kind of the philosophical side of the question of never dying.

But then there’s the religious notion of immortality, which involves an afterlife. So we’ll be looking at a full range of questions about Judeo, Christian and also Hindu, Buddhist, and other Asian religions’ conceptions of the afterlife to see if they’re theologically and philosophically consistent. We’ll look at near death experiences both in western cultures and throughout the world and really look at what they’re all about and ask the question — do they indicate something about an afterlife or are they kind of just illusions that we’re hardwired into?” said Fischer in an interview for Business Insider.

Of course, such a huge grant has already attacked a wave of criticism. Some of the project’s contestants claim that the foundation backing the Immortality Project is biased, and intends on blurring the line between science and theology.

“If the intent is to do “serious scientific work” then why include theologians? They aren’t a discipline with scientific methods at the base of their field and it’s pretty safe to say they’ll tend to come to this topic with some pretty huge preconceptions and biases, and arguably even conflicts of interest,” reads a comment on the Chronicle discussing the subject.