Monday, December 15, 2008

The Living Dead

Good article on NDEs in the (London) Times.

The afterlife has long been an article of religious faith. And now scientists are finally putting the idea to the test.


Sandy said...

You know, someone just sent me this article via email, and now I find it here…

This bit really bugged me:

“Susan Blackmore argues that we have OBEs all the time. Think about your last holiday. Picture a scene from that holiday. Many will see that scene as if from outside themselves — they will be a character in the picture, as they are in OBEs reported in NDE narratives.”

I just have to point out that what I can imagine about my last holiday, while very nice and all, does not even come close to my experience of an NDE. For one thing, I can describe what I see of my last vacation pretty clearly. The beach, my husband getting stung by a jelly fish, me suddenly avoiding jelly fish at all costs… I have no trouble whatsoever conveying information about such an experience. And just the few phrases describing my vacation that I provided here suggest images that most of you can easily understand and relate to.

An NDE is completely different. And frustrating to describe. Words completely fail to work here. The most amazing experience of my existence, and I’ve never been able to adequately share it with anyone.

Secondly, as much as I enjoyed my vacation, I came back from it pretty much the same person I was when I left. It didn’t precipitate a divorce, a change in career or make me crave knowledge like some kind of incredible drug. NDEs change everything. You just can’t stay the same after that experience, no matter how hard you might try.

Dean Radin said...

Blackmore's suggestion is a common way of explaining away something that is not easily accounted for by the conventional neurosciences. As they say, when all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. The problem is that the world is made up of all sorts of things that are far richer and more interesting than simple nails.

Zetetic_chick said...

I think Blackmore's hypothesis about NDEs'/OBEs only can explain some cases, not all of them. Some cases of NDEs and OBEs strongly suggest that consciousness is not limited to brain processes.

A long critical review of Blackmore's hypothesis as presented in her book "Dying to Live" can be read here:

Also I recommend to hear this excellent interview with professional philosopher Neal Grossman about NDE's, consciousness, scientific paradigms and other very interesting things:

As far I think that scientific research on NDEs will eventually show that in some cases consciousness is actually separated of the brain; I think mediumship research (as done currently by Gary Schwartz and other scientists) will provide a better evidence for the survival hypothesis.

My opinion is that there is exist much evidence (scientific and anecdotal) supporting that hypothesis, even if that evidence is not absolutely conclusive or complete.

The book "21 days into the afterlife" by Piero Calvi-Parisetti offers a very good summary of the evidence for survival/afterlife. This book may be downloaded here:

Bharat said...

Following up on ZC's post, one might also wish to try an interview with Georgia State philosopher, Robert Almeder. He goes into reincarnation studies, as well as some near-death data. A very bright man, like Grossman.

What worried me in the article was that in a preliminary test with Penny Sartori, Dr. Sam Parnia apparently didn't get a single positive result, according to the article. I just hope the study design here is better.

Sandy said...

Thank you for the suggested readings, ZC and Bharat!

I never seem to be able to read enough of this material lately. I’m so curious to know why NDEs change people in the way that they do. I know that many researchers and philosophers are mainly interested in finding evidence for the survival hypothesis, but that isn’t my main concern. Having a NDE has already given me some pretty clear insight in regards to that issue, but I really think that is just a happy bonus to the experience. I think having a NDE is about more than just individual survival. You can lose yourself in this experience… but you gain everything.

qraal said...

Hi Dean

Susan Blackmore gets mentioned and chided for her scepticism and reductionism, but unlike most sceptics she claims to have had OBEs. I think it's important to explain the data the materialists claim - like the drug-trip and anaesthetic induced "tunnel experiences" and so forth. Not addressing that data with our theories of mind makes the dualist or idealist position look less than comprehensive and less than honest too.

The materialists are scared stupid by NDE studies, but they have a swag full of throw-away lines to deflect attention from what they can't explain. Very much a defensive tactic but effective to convince the undecided.

Patrick said...

I strongly lean in the direction that NDEs are "real" for the following reasons:

1. NDEs often (albeit not always) occur when there is no measurable brain activity (no EEG activity, no pupil reactions, etc.)... and yet, NDErs report having had a dramatic *increase* in cognition and lucidness, with constant coherence. It's hard enough to picture a dying brain producing increased cognition, but it is even harder to picture a clinically *dead* brain doing this. The idea that a clinically dead brain could increase a person's cognitive abilities with full vididness stretches the imagination more than the idea of an "afterlife" - which rests on the idea that the mind cannot be reduced to (and is somehow separate from) the brain, an idea that is supported by a mountain of data from parapsychology and other fields. Furthermore, NDErs who were brain dead for 20 minutes or more do not suffer any brain damage, but instead appear to *gain* intelligence. That is striking!

Some skeptics posit that even though there was no measurable brain activity, there may have been some small activity beneath the surface producing the experiences. But again, that would imply that an immeasurable fraction of brain activity produced an *increase* in cognition and lucidness. Even *if* that were possible, the brain would not be able to remember the experience afterwards. These observations suggest that the brain is not responsible for the experience.

2. NDEs with visual aspects have been reported by people that were born blind

3. (a) The NDEs of children too young to have been culturally conditioned are similar to adult NDEs. (b) NDEs have been reported by people with no prior beliefs in (or inclination towards) an afterlife... so the experience is not due to wishful thinking

4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are remarkable veridical details that have been verified in many cases, which adds additional evidence to the idea that these experiences are real and not illusory.

I think other reasons could be added, but I don't want to drag on.

I just wish that these details would be acknowledged by certain media skeptics.

- Pat

Sandy said...

I came across these videos of Dr Bruce Greyson speaking about NDEs at the International Association for Near Death Studies Conference in Durham, NC, October 2008:

What is a NDE?

Are NDErs delusional?

Are NDEs real?

Are NDEs conditioned by culture?

NDEs and life changes:

Aftereffects of NDEs:

NDEs as evidence of life after death: