Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flat line memories

I haven't read Dr. Allan Hamilton's new book, The Scalpel and the Soul, yet, but based on hearing him in a radio interview, I am intrigued. For example, this short video clip describes a striking NDE case in one of his patients. If this clip doesn't work (it seems Firefox doesn't know what to do with this), try this page and scroll down to the link on this line: "To watch a Video Interview..."

I find it refreshing that Hamilton admits that all sorts of miraculous events (meaning extraordinary experiences) occur in hospitals all the time. But as with scientists' psi experiences, most physicians are afraid to talk about them.


lightseeker said...

I love hearing about NDEs like this!

I just finished reading neuroscientist Mario Beauregard’s The Spiritual Brain, in which he relates the case of Pam Reynolds who suffered from a “giant basilar artery aneurysm (a grossly swollen blood vessel in the brain stem). If it burst, it would kill her” but the surgery to repair it could kill her, too. The surgical team, led by Dr. Robert Spetzler at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ, opted for a technique called hypothermic cardiac arrest, in which they would cool her body temp so low that she was essentially dead, perform the surgery, then bring her temp back to normal before irreversible damage set in. During the surgery, while Reynolds had no heart beat and her EEG brain waves were totally flattened, “the surgeon began to cut through her skull…[reporting afterward, Reynolds said she] felt herself ‘pop’ outside her body and hover above the operating table.” She observed the peculiar way they had shaved her head, described in detail the Midas Rex bone saw used, what the nurses had said – all was verified later, and she had remembered all these details while “she was fully instrumented under medical observation and known to be clinically dead.” Just as Dr. Hamilton says in the video, how can the brain itself create memories when it is clinically dead?

Reynolds also recalled floating out of the operating room down a long tunnel with a light where, at the end, deceased relatives and friends greeted her. “She entered the presence of a brilliant, wonderfully warm and loving Light and sensed that her soul was part of God and that everything in existence was created from the Light (the breathing of God). Her deceased uncle led her back to her body, and she compared reentering her body to “plunging into a pool of ice,” which makes sense considering the doctors had cooled her body well below normal temperature!

This is hard evidence, which materialists are hard-pressed to deny or explain away, that consciousness can exist and operate outside and independently of the brain – and likely does so after complete physical death (no resuscitation). Thanks to the will and courage of doctors and scientists such as Hamilton, Spetzler, Beauregard, Moody and Greyson who do the research and come forward publicly with such accounts of NDEs that fly in the face of conventional, materialist science and medicine. The time is long overdue for western medicine to treat body, mind and SOUL, and for western science to realize the existence of a non-physical realm(s) which consciousness can access independently of time/space, that we yet are unable to measure/quantify, and where the laws of physics may not operate in ways that we currently understand them.

As more doctors and scientists publicly come forward, methinks the walls of the old paradigm will soon come tumbling down….

Fifi said...

I can probably imagine that it is a relief for somebody in the scientific/medical profession to admit that those sorts of things do happen, no matter how much the rest of the scientific/medical community tries to push it under the rug.

I was eager to watch the video, but I wasn't able to do so. I thinks something might be wrong with the link, but I'll try it again (or perhaps in a different way) and see what happens then.

I the mean time here are a couple of links that you might want to take a look at.

Here's a link dealing with some studies done with NDE's

And here is a group of videos on YouTube with various interviews of people who have had NDE's

The experiences that this woman has had are particularly interesting...

Enjoy and have a wonderful day!

Dave Smith said...

That white noise at the end of the clip scared the crap out of me! Has someone been using this clip for presentiment studies? ;)

Eric said...

The NDE phenomenon is certainly interesting, but I don't think it is anywhere close to providing robust support for the hypothesis that consciousness is independent of the brain. It's worth consulting Stephen Braude's discussion of these cases.

david said...

Eric: "The NDE phenomenon is certainly interesting, but I don't think it is anywhere close to providing robust support for the hypothesis that consciousness is independent of the brain."

What do you mean by "robust"? The Pam Reynolds case is just the most prominent of many cases with veridicial content where the brain of the person was flatlined. There are a couple of other explanations, but they are quite strained. One is that the reported OBE was actually subconsciously confabulated after or before the flatline period of virtually no brain activity, using information psychically obtained before or after the flatline period. Another alternative explanation supposes that even during periods of no detectable electrical activity some neural structures are still operating, enough to support some form of consciousness. Both alternate "explanations" still have to posit psi, which itself implies some level of independence of consciousness from physical neurological data processing.

Ronnie said...

Actually the Pam Reynolds case is often misinterpreted. Her NDE occurred before the EEG went flat and it wasn't flat for the whole operation if I recall correctly. She also had no veridical perception during the time the EEG flattened, however I am still convinced the experience was genuine, and even if she had no veridical perception during the flatline, the experience still seemed to have continued until the doctors finally finished the operation.

Ronnie said...

Also, Dean Radin uses Firefox? Awesome!

Caecilius said...

ronnie, I'm pretty sure that Pam's NDE occurred after flatline. Her most vivid descriptions include those of the bone saw blade, and that was (I'm _almost_ certain) during flat EEG and zero blood flow.

Ronnie said...

I suppose so. I can't say for sure what really went on, so I could be wrong on what really happened, but like I said, I do think the experience was genuine regardless.

david said...

I agree, Caecilius. Parts of the experience appeared to have occurred during flatline. It is just that the skeptic can say that possibly there was no actual experience, just a later confabulated hallucination using psychically derived information.

Eric said...

"What do you mean by "robust"?"

Personally, I think the evidence obtained from remote viewing, ganzfeld, and reincarnation research is much more compelling. The variables in NDE research are more uncertain and unknown than in the other areas of study. Even Moody is willing to admit this:

But once again matters aren't so simple. First, as Moody (1975/1976) observes, in clinical emergencies physicians generally have no time to prepare anyone for an EEG; usually their concern is to resuscitate their patients (pp. 102-103). So even if a flat EEG is obtained with a near-death OBE patient, that evidence would still be difficult to interpret. Moody writes:

"... resuscitation attempts are always emergencies, which last at the very most for thirty minutes or so. Setting up an EEG machine is a very complicated and technical task, and it is fairly common for even an experienced technician to have to work with it for some time to get correct readings, even under optimum conditions. In an emergency, with its accompanying confusion, there would probably be an increased likelihood of mistakes. So, even if one could present a flat EEG tracing for a person who told of a near-death experience, it would still be possible for a critic to say - with justice - that the tracing might not be accurate." (p. 102)

Besides, as Moody also notes, even when the equipment has been set up properly, flat EEGs have been obtained, in non-near-death OBE cases, for persons who were subsequently resuscitated (for example, in cases of drug overdoses and hypothermia). So it is doubtful, in any case, that a flat EEG reliably indicates physical death. And as if that weren't enough, Moody recognizes that NDEs are, at best, only roughly contemporaneous with the cessation of vital signs. But then we can't be certain that those experiences occurred after the vital signs disappeared. Our ability to date the time of mental activity in NDEs depends entirely on the experiencer's retrospective testimony, and that measure is simply too crude for us to know when, exactly, the near-death OBE occurred.

But what if the experiencer accurately reports events that occurred, say, more than fifteen minutes after the cessation of vital signs? Forgetting (at least for now) the possibility of reasonable guesses or precognitive ESP, that would seem to indicate that the near-death OBE occurred some time after the onset of clinical death. I am aware of only one near-death OBE case in which perhaps the most sensitive measure of clinical death, a flat EEG, was detected for any significant amount of time. Sabom reports the case of a woman who, for about an hour, had all the blood drained from her head, and her body temperature lowered to 60 degrees. During that time her heartbeat and breathing stopped, and she had both a flat EEG and an absence of auditory evoked potentials from her brainstem (Sabom, 1998, chapter 3). Apparently, during this period she had a detailed veridical near-death OBE. But, even in this case, it would be hasty to conclude that the woman had died, or that mental activity clearly persisted independently of bodily activity. There are several reasons why we must be cautious here.

First, as Moody notes, our criteria for determining clinical death are also crude, and there may be no justification for declaring a person dead at all if the person subsequently can be resuscitated. Perhaps death can only be an irreversible loss of vital functions. Cook et al. (1998) agree:

"... out-of-body experiencers, including near-death experiencers, are in fact still alive at the time of their experience and have not existed independently of their bodies. Even those persons who may have been pronounced dead by medical personnel were physically intact enough to have been revivable. Consciousness may therefore seem to be detached from the physical body, but it may still remain dependent on it for its continued existence." (p. 380)

Sabom concurs as well, arguing that "loss of biologic life, including death of the brain, is a process and does not occur at a single, definite moment" (Sabom, 1998, p. 50). He then cites several recent studies indicating the persistence of brain or related organic activity up to a week following the careful diagnosis of brain death, and he concludes:

"These findings indicate that even when a person is deemed 'brain dead' by strict clinical criteria - that is, showing no spontaneous movements or respiration; no response to painful or auditory stimulation; and no brain stem, cough, gag, or respiratory reflexes - brain activity can often still be demonstrated days later, raising the question of when, if at all, death had actually occurred." (Sabom, 1998, p. 51)

Fortunately, we need not now debate the complex topic of what counts as physical death. We need only concede the following reasonable point made by Moody.

"In order for resuscitation to have occurred, some degree of residual biological activity must have been going on in the cells of the body, even though the overt signs of these processes were not clinically detectable by the methods employed." (Moody, 1975/1976, p. 103)

Eric said...

Sorry, I forgot to cite the source:

Eric said...

You guys might be interested in Dennis Quaid's wife's premonition:

Tor said...

Yes, the video clip is intriguing.

Does anyone know if the NDE he talks about is the Pam Reynolds' case? The procedure sounds similar.

Dean Radin said...

Does anyone know if the NDE he talks about is the Pam Reynolds' case? The procedure sounds similar.

To the best of my knowledge this is not the Pam Reynolds case.

david said...

Eric, your points are well taken. By definition, NDE accounts are from individuals who did not completely die during their cardiac arrest or other crisis. Their brains and bodies didn't irreversibly stop functioning. They couldn't have, or they could not have been revived to tell about it.

And many cases don't have EEG data for various reasons, or the flat EEG data can't be correlated in time with the time of the reported OBE. But in many of these cases although there isn't directly applicable EEG data the medical record shows that the brain wasn't receiving enough blood to maintain consciousness.

Also, certainly even the best cases only directly show that (excluding complicated psychic confabulation theories) at that moment the person's consciousness was separated from the brain. Technically this does not show that this continues indefinitely after physical death.

We should certainly be cautious and parsimonious in interpreting the NDE evidence. But I think there is such a thing as being overly cautious and ignoring the clear implications of the evidence. NDEs generally exhibit heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of greatly impaired or absent brain function. Abductive reasoning to the best common model correlating all the varied psychical phenomena seems to me to point to some form of survival.

I think the case you described reported by Sabom was the Pam Reynolds one.

David Bailey said...

David and Eric,

To me, the thing about NDE's is that you just don't expect a brain that is in the process of dying to create an outlandish and vivid fantasy. If every time the brain was injured it generated a similar amazing fantasy, the conventional explanation of NDE's might make more sense, but why would something like this be reserved for the last gasp? Why would the brain go from ordinary consciousness, to a state of deep coma/anaesthesia, and then back to a state of heightened conscious awareness as its physical state deteriorates?

Eric said...

David Bailey,

I agree that NDEs are interesting, but too little is known about the brain at this time to conclude that they provide evidence that "consciousness" was operating independently of the brain. I haven't seen an NDE case where it was sufficiently ruled out that the veridical information was obtained through "normal" means (please don't cite the shoe on the ledge case). These issues may be addressed in the future as we learn more about what seemingly disabled brains can and can't do. Presently, I think there are more fruitful areas in psi-related research.

Book Surgeon said...

I finally had a chance to watch this video and it's quite convincing. However, because the NDE issue is so fraught with disagreement and ambiguity, I think it's responsible to posit the possible non-paranormal ways Gideon could have acquired the information about the nurse's conversation as well as their weaknesses:

1. She was not in fact brain dead at the time. The written account of the operation, which you can read on Michael Tymn's blog on Gaia, specifically states that Dr. Hamilton checked the EEG records against the time the nurse spoke about her engagement and indeed the EEG was flat.

2. Cortical activity was nil, but some deep brain activity, such as in the brain stem, could have enabled her to "hear," especially since it's unknown whether or not her hearing was impeded as in the Pam Reynolds case. I have no idea if this is possible. Does anyone know if auditory input can be processed by the brain stem?

3. Awakening from anesthesia during the surgery. I think this is ruled out.

4. EEG malfunction (she wasn't brain dead). Possible, but unlikely.

5. Confabulation due to the nurse having shared her story with the patient either before or after the surgery, perhaps combined with a confused mental state that made the patient think she had had a paranormal experience. This the most likely non-paranormal explanation, but without testimony from the surgical staff, it's impossible to know if this is...possible.

6. Consciousness being distributed throughout the body, as some research has begun to show. However, would this allow the patient to "hear?" I suspect even with distributed consciousness, the brain would be needed as a central processor. I suppose you could postulate that some sort of cellular consciousness could have received and stored the information until the brain rebooted, but that's stretching things a bit.

7. Remote viewing. Quite possible, but then, what about the inactive brain?

I doubt I've covered everything, but I think this illustrates how confounding a case like this can be. It's certainly interesting. I've ordered the book, and if further details aren't given, I'd love to see some independent investigation of this to answer issues like confabulation. If none of the alternatives panned out, this would be a major case to support NDEs as paranormal events.

Book Surgeon said...

Now it appears that the Gideon case cited in the book is an amalgam of the Pam Reynolds case and at least one other, done for confidentiality reasons. I understand this and as a nonfiction author I have done this sort of thing many times myself. However, it makes it impossible to weigh the validity of the NDE evidence from this case from Hamilton's book or the video. The only way would be to sign some sort of NDA and investigate the cases using the real files.

David Bailey said...

The controversy over the nature of NDE's seems to typify the way that science tries to deal with paranormal results, and it is frustrating because it is so different from normal science.

If for example we were talking about possible volcanism on the moon, people would be quite happy to accept a statement like "Various transient lunar phenomena lend weight to the theory that....."

With an ostensibly paranormal phenomenon, the observations are never accepted on such a tentative basis, a conventional explanation - however implausible - is always used as an alternative.

This means that it is very difficult to assess the weight of evidence for Ψ because every observation is rejected in some way.

Warper said...

My personal experience of death is total relaxation, no need to breath and no need for heart beat.

The blinding white light(tunnel) that appears, I know what it is, it's simply because not enough blood was circulating to the eyes.

Stéphanie said...


English is not my maternal language so I appologize for any mistake.

I'm interested by NDE and precognition and I read that in some NDE, the "Being of light" give to people a vision of their future. I wonder if "near dead" people can also by themselves, see their future (or the future of a living person).

I know that somme people who had NDE says that they can see the future or make telepathy but I can't beleive automaticcaly all testimonies I read. Is there a study about precognition during NDE (and not only after a NDE)?

Best Regard

Stéphanie Leclerc