Fallible Memory
Silly Sceptic Tricks

'Dying Brain Hypothesis' Not Dead

Interested to see The Skeptic magazine taking a pop at Pim van Lommel's hospital study of near-death experiences in its recent issue. This study, originally published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2001 has been hugely influential, so its not surprising the mag wants to cut it down to size.

Van Lommel and his team spent 13 years interviewing patients in ten different Dutch hospitals who had been resuscitated following a cardiac arrest. The aim was to see whether they had experienced an NDE. Eighteen per cent reported some memory from their period of unconsciousness, and 12% - one in eight - experienced several of the classic features: out-of-body perception, the tunnel, the light, blissful feelings, panoramic life review, and so on. Van Lommel concluded that medical factors could not account for the phenomenon. If purely physiological factors resulting from cerebral anoxia were the cause, he reasoned, most of the patients should have had an NDE.

This piece is by Jason J. Braithwaite, a researcher in visual cognitive neuroscience. He argues that survivalists like van Lommel have 'repeatedly misunderstood and misrepresented the dying-brain hypothesis when trying to argue against it'.  According to this theory, as formulated by Susan Blackmore and others, it's not the mere presence of anoxia that causes vivid seeming hallucinations, but the rate of its onset. If it comes on too rapidly, the patient will lose consciousness and black out, so no conscious experience or memory could occur.

However van Lommel made no attempt to measure the level of anoxia, so is in no position to make claims regarding its effects or the lack of them. He also, Braithwaite claims, ignores the way that anoxia impacts on different parts of the brain, and how some areas will be more susceptible than others. In any case, he goes on, it's not anoxia itself that is said to cause the NDE, but neural disinhibition, which can also be caused by drugs, epilepsy and so on.

Braithwaite also takes issue with the idea that a flat cortical EEG is an indication of total brain inactivity. Recent research with epileptics shows that large scale seizure activity can occur in deep sub-cortical regions that does not register at all on scalp-based EEG traces - an indication that an EEG is an unreliable measure of neural activity. In other words, there still lacks any reliable evidence that a person who reports an NDE was literally brain-dead at the time. He cites evidence that inter-ictal discharges in the hippocampus or amygdala alone are more than sufficient to produce complex meaningful hallucinations - no involvement from the cortex is necessary.

In short, he concludes that the dying brain hypothesis lives on - van Lommel's data notwithstanding. That should be pretty cheering to the Skeptic's readers. The article is forcefully argued and will leave them with the impression that all the fuss about van Lommel's study has been overdone, that it provides zero support it provides for the claims of survival, and so there's nothing to worry about.

Will it impact on the wider debate? Braithwaite knows his stuff, and his points about anoxia and EEG read-outs are probably quite relevant. It confirmed my feeling that the whole business of trying to prove that an individual could not possibly have had the experience since nothing was going on in his/her brain at the time - and certainly nothing that could have accounted for it - is fraught with difficulty. To that extent he's done a good job, and he's certainly a forceful advocate for the sceptic position.

But those of us who get our information from other sources besides sceptic magazines will not be left much further on. It's all very well to beat off attacks on the so-called dying brain hypothesis, but I've never been very certain what this ever actually amounted to. It's a rather grand term that implies to the uninitiated that the entire pantheon of effects in the near-death experience - any one of which is pretty surprising on its own, but which in combination many people justly find to be hugely meaningful and impactful - can somehow be explained away on the basis of neurological activity, whose effects we can only describe in very general terms. What the patient saw wasn't there, so it must have been a hallucination, and anoxia is implicated in neural disinhibition which causes hallucinations. There's your explanation. What more do you want?

I often wonder whether sceptics understand the enormity of what they are trying to explain away. (I remember coming across Michael Shermer somewhere referring to the near-death experience as 'obviously a wishful hallucination' - what magisterial certainty!) At one point Braithwaite raises the subject of the 'vivid and meaningful experiences' that are reported by patients undergoing brain stimulation, and which van Lommel argues are quite unlike the near-death experience. Van Lommel says:

These recollections ... consist of fragmented and random memories unlike the panoramic life-review that can occur in NDE. Further, transformational processes with changing life-insight and disappearance of fear of death are rarely reported after induced experiences. ... Thus, induced experiences are not identical to NDE...

That seems the very least one can say, but Braithwaite thinks 'this claim is not entirely accurate'. He suggests that the context of the two events - one when the patient is relaxed and enjoying a constant controlled interaction with the surgeon and receiving constant feedback, the other where the patient is possibly undergoing some form of trauma, confusion, disorientation, etc - may play a part.

It is certainly not unreasonable to assume that the small experiential differences between NDE and brain stimulation studies can be explained, to some degree, by these large differences in context. This is certainly a far more probably conclusion than that of mind-brain dualism.

It's a nice try, but...  small experiential differences? Braithwaite quotes several sources, among which I recognised Wilder Penfield, the neurosurgeon whose book on this subject I read some years ago, and whose work poking around in the brains of conscious epileptics I'm certain produced nothing remotely comparable to the panoramic life review or the ineffable feelings commonly described in the NDE, to name only two.   But that's the nub of all this - for some people, absolutely anything is more probable than mind-brain dualism. Like all paranormal debunkers, the author radiates indignation at the idea, and the irresponsibility of those who dare to suggest it.

The fact is, for those who can recognise the challenge here, the dying brain hypothesis is not really a hypothesis at all - it's a set of defensive stratagems based on inaccurate comparisons and speculative generalisations.   Some of it sort of hangs together if you don't look too closely at what experiencers actually say - Blackmore's idea of the dying cells in the visual cortex causing the tunnel effects has certainly gained traction in this regard. But in other respects it just relies on bluff and misinformation - Blackmore's chapter on out-of-body perception in Dying to Live being a prime example.

What I find so interesting is that in the sceptical analysis the transcendental and transormative element hardly gets any mention at all. OK, there may be something going on at some deep level of the brain, beyond the ability of instruments to detect. But is that really the point? Patients aren't just continuing to have experiences, something happens to them so powerful that when they return to existence they think and behave differently. What possible, meaningful neurological explanation could there be for that?

My feeling is that no materialist account of the NDE will be complete until we address this. We should surely all by now be able to recognise that it's a coherent and relatively common human experience, and one that has relevance to the human condition, on a personal and on a cultural level. So let's stop pretending that it's simply some weird nonsense that happens when the brain winds down, and nothing really to worry about. Let's instead ask ourselves why, if we are the creatures formed by natural selection that believe ourselves to be, something as odd and yet as meaningful as the near-death experience could ever have evolved. What's the purpose of it?


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The dying brain is like a faulty barrier -- it unlocks and allows more of reality to pass through to the experiencer...

The experiencer finds he does not "need" a working brain in order to have experiences...

The so-called skeptics fear to follow the road where it goes -- to the fundamental independence of the human being from his physical expression -- so they focus on the brain and distract us away from contemplating the brain's owner and operator.

Obviously, the rule that a good theory should not involve too many contradictions doesn`t apply to the skeptics: I remember an article by Keith Augustine in which he on the one hand used Susan Blackmore` s arguments about the physiological basis for the tunnel effect, on the other hand he refered to cultural differences like Asian people having NDEs don`t experience the tunnel-effect, do not have a life review - both aspects for which he offers an explanation basing on events in the brain. It is highly unlikely that brains of people from the West die differently than those of Asian people so if there was a purely physiological explanation cultural differences shouldn`t be expected. But obviously, a debunking theory needn`t be totally coherent...Another aspect is that people citing Wilder Penfield`s research and research on induced OBEs is that those OBEs/memory flashbacks arem`t experienced when a part of the brain is "stimulated" but when its activity decreases because of the stimulation which is very well compartible with the "brain-as-a-filter-theory". In addition to this, important parts of the brain serve to prevent us from constantly experience memories which would prevent us from living our lives (more or less) in the presence. Furthermore, I have no problems if certain brain-states correlate with NDEs: Brain function is also involved when I am seeing a flower but no one would argue that because of that, the flower isn`t "out there" as well...

By the way, why shouldn`t the experiences epileptics sometimes have during a stroke be quite similar to a NDE? I can very well imagine that the electric chaos in certain brain areas might evoke an extraordinary state of consciousness in which other realities or aprts of one`s own soul (which might be the same) could be experienced...This is compartible with the filter-theroy as well!

With regards to the EEG bit, I actually addressed this in a series of posts I made over at the Mind-Energy board last year (as Godot), here's an excerpt:

With regards to the flatlined EEG question:

by itself, a consistently flatlined EEG isn't conclusive evidence of clinical death (a precursor to actual death), but together with the loss of pupil dilation and oculocephalic, corneal and gag reflexes it is, this is actually how brain and thus legal death are determined.

If one reads Lommel's paper carefully they will see that the NDE experiencers by all indications were indeed clinically dead - flatlined EEG (as indicated by threshold testing during the implantation of internal defibrillators) AND the loss of the aforementioned physiological reflexes.

In other words, they weren't "just" EEG flatlined, their other basic reflexes weren't responsive either, which is entirely consistent with a non-functional dying or dead brain.


"their other basic reflexes weren't responsive either, which is entirely consistent with a non-functional dying or dead brain."

--which suggests that Braithwaite is simply defending the usual philosophical materialist position without proper cognizance of the evidence--

That article has long been expected.
The question is also that we know people who are conscious and are aware have certain EEG characteristics, during NDE's people claim to be aware, have lucid and very clear experiences and the EEG is flat. This is pretty central.
But it is a dead end discussion, it's easy to just call it a complex hallucination, that should about cover everything in life.
i still need to read irreducible mind about this to and I look forward to van lommel his reply

No one has ever been able to explain away to me how it is that people who have NDE's describe them in ways that seem to support, parallel, and corroborate Michael Talbot's book, The Holographic Universe. In fact I'm not even sure it's possible to fully understand near death experiences unless one has read and understood what Talbot talks about in the Holographic Universe. I find the parallels, corroboration, and support between near death experiences and what Michael Talbot wrote about in his book The Holographic Universe endlessly fascinating. It really is amazing. When Dr. Kenneth Ring taught a class on near death experiences at the University of Connecticut he required his students to read The Holographic Universe as well as his books, Life At Death, etc. Feelings of overwhelming oneness and connectedness, feeling like they are literally everywhere in the Universe at once, 360 degree vision, time and space not existing, having all knowledge, things being made out of light, during the life review feeling the emotions and telepathically hearing the thoughts of the people they interacted with, seeing colors they've never seen before and hearing sounds they've never heard, even overwhelming feelings of Love, are all by products or what one might expect in a holographic universe. It really is eerie because Talbot didn't write his book to specifically support NDE's but the connection between the two can not be easily explained away. I'm not sure it's even possible to fully understand NDE's without some grasp of how a hologram works.

Another issue with this article is the assertion that complex mental, emotional and sensory narratives can result from electrical discharges in the hippocampus or amygdala while the neocortex is essentially dead and inert. This issue has been around for years, yet I've never seen any research suggesting that is even feasible, let alone demonstrated. I'd really like to see the author cite some evidence to that effect, or I'm going to assume he's pulling it out of someplace dark.

Not to mention, we're not talking about complex, meaningful hallucinatory experiences. We're talking about cogent narratives of extraordinary depth and impact. To label them as hallucinations is as demeaning as...well, as I would expect from the skeptical stormtroopers.

What I have always found compelling, after reading hundreds of NDE accounts and speaking with relatives who have had them, is the uncanny fact that the persons encountered in NDEs are overwhelmingly persons who have, in fact, died. An NDE experiencer is far more likely to encounter an obscure but dead friend or relative than than a living spouse, whom one would expect to be in the forefront of the experiencer's thoughts. This fact seems to me to be very difficult to "explain away."

NDE: I'm not at all sure that what I experienced fits the definition, but: it was quite similar to the experiences of others whose accounts I have read.

It happened in 1965. I was 22 years old. I was in a dental chair aboard a US Navy ship for an extraction. The corpsman brought in the size 94 chrome needle and injected the novocaine into my gum - at least that was the plan.

My next memory was of riding on a railroad train in a car similar to a second class car on the Japanese railway system at the time. The car was spotless, dark hunter green with blond wood trim and the seats were arranged along the walls rather than in transverse rows.

There were quite a few other people seated in the car. I knew none of them. The seat cushions were also dark green and of plasticized fabric similar to old library chairs of the 1940s. The view out the windows was of gray misted but lighted tunnel walls and we were approaching a bright light ahead of the train.

Then, short of our destination, the train stopped and a kind older gentleman wearing a dark blue uniform of the type then current for wear by railway conductors came to me and said, "Son, it's not time for you to be here yet. You'll have to go back."

I awoke still in the dentist's chair restrained by hollow latex tubing wrapped around my legs and torso and surrounded by dental assistants and the dentist, who was a Navy Lieutenant, bent over me asking me if I was OK... I was.

They said that I had convulsed and was flailing around and they had restrained me to prevent injury, to me or to someone else. I didn't get the tooth extracted then. The corpsman who had given me the injection told me that they thought that he might have injected the novocaine directly into a vein and that the drug had gone throughout my system rather that being absorbed locally.

There was no EEG nor any other type of monitoring in use so no empirical information is available about what was going on with my brain, heart or circulation. It has been forty-three years and the memory has not dimmed much.

Prior to the event I don't remember having heard of "near death experience" but the event did change my outlook on life and death quite a bit.

The strange thing about it is that I accepted being on that train without fear and without even any wonder as to what I was doing there but was a little disappointed when I had to get off and watch it leave without me...

I don't know what it all means, but I'll find out soon because it won't be my turn to get off that train.

Iris writes: "I remember an article by Keith Augustine in which he on the one hand used Susan Blackmore` s arguments about the physiological basis for the tunnel effect, on the other hand he refered to cultural differences like Asian people having NDEs don`t experience the tunnel-effect, do not have a life review - both aspects for which he offers an explanation basing on events in the brain. It is highly unlikely that brains of people from the West die differently than those of Asian people so if there was a purely physiological explanation cultural differences shouldn`t be expected."

"Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences" makes precisely the argument that *neither* a neuroscientific nor a survivalist explanation is necessary to account for the consistency between NDE accounts across cultures, because there is no actual substantial consistency to explain.

"The Case Against Immortality" was written about a decade before "Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences." "The Case Against Immortality" was merely a survey article, and as such was based primarily on the self-reported findings of NDE researchers (and other researchers) themselves. At the time of writing it, *both* skeptics and survivalists were working on the *presumption* of NDE consistency across cultures, only offering differing explanations of that consistency. (Even Bruce Greyson acknowledged in print that near-death researchers did presume this early on in near-death studies.) It was only later, when I dug deeply into the cross-cultural data itself (instead of relying on what near-death researchers asserted), that I *saw* that cross-cultural consistency was really just a *presumption*, and not a *finding*, of near-death research.

What "Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences" has done--or I wish would have done--is correct that demonstrably erroneous presumption. Despite having corrected it, I still see claims being made about how NDEs can be found across historical eras and cultures, which is true if by NDEs you mean "experiences near-death," but false if by NDEs you mean what I called the "prototypical Western NDE"--i.e., what most people have in mind by the term NDE: an OBE, traversing through a tunnel or darkness, encountering a light, having a life review, etc. Bruce Greyson seems to play off such an ambiguity in the meaning of "NDE" when he claims the historical and cross-cultural presence of NDEs in his October 2008 IANDS presentation here:


Commentator Christopher M. Moreman, who falls somewhere in between skeptic and believer, made the same presumption, presuming NDE consistency across cultures because that was what was being reported by near-death researchers, in his 2002/2003 Journal of Religion and Culture article "Is There Proof of a Life After Death? An Overview of the Evidence from Psychical Research." He has since corrected the mistake in his just released book _Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions_. Are we to accuse him of being incoherent because he corrected himself when he became aware of better data?

Few souls within NDE research acknowledged the lack of consistency between NDE reports in different cultures before "Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences," with the only clear example of such acknowledgement I am aware of now being Allan Kellehear. I document quotations of other researchers asserting just the opposite:

"What is seen [in NDEs] appears to be cross-cultural, but how it is named depends on the religious or non-religious background of the believer." -- Paul Badham, March 1997

According to James McClenon in a 1991 article, what is at "issue between 'believers' and 'skeptics' is not whether common elements exist cross-culturally," but whether that alleged fact "supports belief in life after death.... [or whether] commonalities within NDEs are produced by physiological factors associated with death trauma."

This is demonstrably false if one looks at the cross-cultural data. It's not just that tunnels aren't typical of non-Western NDEs, NONE of the elements that have come to be associated with NDEs in the West are typical of non-Western NDEs. This is why I do not offer a neurophysiological explanation of NDE elements in "Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences," as at best the jury is still out about whether there are any real commonalities to explain. Extant data suggest there are no substantial commonalities that require an explanation of any sort, normal or paranormal.

In addition, if you actually look at the content of "The Case Against Immortality," I never actually argue that NDE commonalities necessitate a physiological explanation of those commonalities. Instead, I merely summarize some facts, facts which are "more consistent with physiological and psychological models" of NDEs than models which assume that something leaves the body. These include "physiological and psychological factors affect the content of the NDE," something that I elaborate on (not eschew) at the end of the Psychophysiological Correlates section of HNDEs. I also noted in "The Case Against Immortality" that "a tunnel experience is a common form of psychedelic hallucination"--which is true, and again something I talk out in HNDEs (where I discuss form constants).

Moreover, in the earlier essay I wrote that "computer simulations of random neural firing based on eye-brain mapping of the visual cortex have produced the tunnel and light characteristic of NDEs." This is again true. The question is whether these facts have relevance to the content of NDEs or not, and that is something that is difficult to determine given the data we actually have at this point. In "Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences" I point out that what these facts mean is ambiguous because the cross-cultural data is ambiguous:

"Evidence of substantial consistency between different NDEs in the West but only trivial cross-cultural consistency opens up two avenues for future research: (1) a sociological search for more compelling links between NDE motifs and possible cultural sources within Western tradition; and (2) more anthropological studies of NDEs in a greater variety of non-Western cultures with larger sample sizes. The latter avenue is paramount: If more robust studies confirm the existence of little or no cross-cultural consistency between NDE reports, the need to search for NDE motifs within Western tradition will become more pressing. But if more robust studies establish that specific NDE elements are cross-culturally consistent, searching for a Western source of NDE motifs will become unnecessary, and knowledge of which NDE motifs are universal or at least widespread would provide us with better data to develop and test specific neuroscientific explanations of NDEs."

In other words, the available data suggests that there is no substantial consistency between NDE elements in different cultures, but that could reflect on the limited data we have about non-Western NDEs, and not what happens in non-Western NDEs. That possibility can only be resolved if more robust non-Western studies are done.

Finally, you mention electrically stimulated OBEs and what, if anything, they have to do with spontaneous OBEs. This is, again, something I touch upon in HNDEs when I discuss Bünning and Blanke's theory of OBEs, right before the section on "Bodily Sensations."

If you think that there is something wrong with my arguments or evidence, by all means, please enlighten us as to what it is, specifically. Where do my arguments go wrong, specifically? What evidence do I rely upon which is dubious? If you are interested in the truth of the matter, and not just parroting others who also don't happen to like what it is that I argue, then you should stick with the arguments and evidence, and not worry about who the author is, or whether the author is a survivalist or a skeptic. Such irrelevant details shouldn't matter to you any more than what the author's race is. It is only through the examination of arguments and evidence that you are going to arrive at the truth.

"This is demonstrably false if one looks at the cross-cultural data. It's not just that tunnels aren't typical of non-Western NDEs, NONE of the elements that have come to be associated with NDEs in the West are typical of non-Western NDEs. "

Just reading these pages it shows that there are similarities. Being told it is not your time, bright ligth, etc. Tunnel is missing in all indian cases. I do agree much more accounts should be gathered if you compare it with the amount of cases available in the west to see if there is consistency. But the similarities for me are pretty obvious and with that I don't agree with your statement that NONE of the elements from western nde's show up in non-western nde's...


Filip: I should have been clearer on this point in my post, but: NDEs from Arabs living in the US do not constitute uncontaminated NDE accounts. The accounts we must compare with Western NDE accounts are account from non-Western cultures among people with minimal exposure to Western ideas. It is in these "least exposed to the West" NDE accounts that we find few, if any, prototypical Western NDE elements.

All NDEs are hugely different in content, so I don’t see how it matters if there are cultural distinctions. The essential point is that brain dead people (or people whose brains are not theoretically capable of functioning in an alert state) find themselves wide awake with *full consciousness * in another reality. Frequently this consciousness is *much more full * than in “real life” and makes the NDE a life-changing experience.

Efforts to focus on the dissimilarities rather than the similarities of NDEs is typical “divide to rule” science. It reminds me of the man charged with murder, -he had motive and opportunity, but the lawyer got him off because the MO was only vaguely similar., - the case was not proven to the Court beyond reasonable doubt. Typical lawyer’s obfuscating bum-fluff.

On the infidels discussion board (using the name Skeptician)I discussed this variation of the content of NDEs depending on ones cultural background with Keith Augustine. In the relevant thread he argued that the variation of content of NDEs depending one ones cultural background is more consistent with the hypothesis that NDEs are entirely hallucinatory. I think it might possibly be of interest to some people if I paste in what I said on there with my last post on this particular issue:

"I stress again: *everything that we ever see is a hypothesis*. This applies to the normal physical realm and presumably one would imagine will also apply to any afterlife realm. When we see something, it's not the case there is an object out there, and that we give some description of it. Rather we have this implicit unconscious hypothesis about how the world is. The senses, particularly the visual sense, merely provide evidence for the checking of hypotheses about what lies before us.

[i]The very same visual information[/i] can give rise to radically different perceptions. I repeat what I said before (twice):

The experiences are no doubt shaped through our cultural expectations. Indeed even our present experiences in this life are moulded and shaped by an implicit low level theory about how you think the world is. There's more to seeing than what hits the eyeball. Indeed people from different cultures can see different things even when looking at the same object. Think of the necker cube. Would members of African tribes likewise see a cube, or would they simply just see a two dimensional array of lines?

What we actually see is heavily shaped by our experiences, knowledge and expectations. But of course that doesn't mean there is no object out there! Likewise in NDEs it would be extremely surprising indeed if people from differing cultures experienced exactly the same things. What we would expect if NDEs are a genuine glimpse of the afterlife realm would be that the underlying themes of the experience are similar. And this is exactly what we do find.

This obviously hasn't satisfied you because you continue to say the same things. Let's consider it a bit more. [URL="http://listverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/400px-necker-cube.svg-tm.jpg"]The necker cube.[/URL]

Which side of the cube appears to be at the front will vary from one moment to the next. Other people might not be able to see any cube at all but merely an array of lines -- most likely those people who are not used to the custom of depicting 3 D objects by 2D perspective drawings.

Are they all seeing the same thing but describing that thing differently? [i]The question is illegitimate[/i] because it presupposes a certain metaphysical interpretation of reality -- namely that there are objects out there which exist independently of consciousness, and which have definite characteristics which our perceptions more or less approximate.

I think that such a position is clearly false. Reality is largely a creation of the mind. Not wholly a creation of the mind though. What we see normally has an external origin, but the mind shapes and moulds what we see to fit into our implicit prior expectations about what reality is like.

I could write thousands and thousands of words on this, but like you my time is limited. The point is that when we perceive the afterlife realm then what we see is clearly is going to be hugely influenced by what we have perceived during this life, and also our cultural expectations. Of course we will expect the perceptions of such a realm from people from different cultures to share a certain commonality. Thus people from differing cultures and differing beliefs may all see a beneficent being during their NDEs. But this being might be seen as Jesus, or Yama, or whatever. So is this being Jesus or Yama? Well I would suggest it's neither in some absolute objective sense. Does this mean there is no external origin for their perception? Absolutely not. Of course it's possible that the perception of this being is [i]wholly[/i] a creation of the mind, but what good reason do we have to suppose this?

Indeed should there be an afterlife the main details of an NDE are entirely what we would expect. I certainly would expect people to [i]literally[/i] see different things depending on their cultural background, but for what they see to share an underlying commonality. So far from constituting evidence against NDEs, it is something we ought to entirely expect!

Now let's look at the beliefs of the skeptic. He believes we cease to exist when we die. What makes this hypothesis reasonable are the apparent constant correlations between brain events and conscious experiences. He would expect that as the brain shuts down, then our consciousness awareness will diminish hand in hand with the slow gradual diminishing of activity in the brain.

Instead it seems that quite often the precise opposite occurs. At the threshold of death, when no measurable brain activity can be detected, people report being more conscious than they have ever known. So contrary to what we might expect the extinction hypothesis to predict, there doesn't appear to be a slow diminishing of consciousness in these cases. So what happens here? We perceive ourselves as being dead, we feel more alive and conscious than we have ever felt, realise that we are immortal and that everything has an ultimate purpose, then our consciousness suddenly switches off like a light! This all seems remarkably implausible to me".

Unfortunately Keith never responded to my arguments concerning the cultural differences issue. He merely said:

"I think I will largely bow out of this thread because I really would like to finalize some details concerning my anthology defending the "problematic" extinction hypothesis, . . ."

To be fair it would have taken him some time to respond to my points in detail, and I appreciate that people simply do not have the time to make long detailed posts on a discussion board (I no longer have time myself).

Iris, you said:

"I have no problems if certain brain-states correlate with NDEs: Brain function is also involved when I am seeing a flower but no one would argue that because of that, the flower isn`t "out there" as well..."

I have said this many times myself, especially on the James Randi discussion board! (under the name "Interesting Ian").

Incidentally possibly you and others might be interested in an essay I wrote regarding whether the brain acts as a kind of "filter" rather than producing consciousness. It is here:

Ian: I have nearly the same thoughts on the issues as you presented here. The "skeptics" use to argue about an idea of the "afterlife" the no person who tends to view NDEs (and other altered states of consciousness) as a possible hint to that consciousness is not entirely brainbased would support. From my point of view the "afterlife" is not a place but a state of mind, I even can imagine that people do not actually meet beings there but that they experience the a "world" that they created with their thoughts and ideas, that it is merely subjective and might "overlap" with a collective (un)consciousness. That might happen when the brain stops functioning, people might be exposed to their pure mind and the conscious and unconscious parts mingle...Thus they might very well contain hallucinatory elements. Sorry if this sounds complicated, English is not my mother tongue, I would have done better in German :-). For me it is completely okay if skeptics see absolutely no prove of survival in the NDE but this experience should be at least examined in the context of what it tells about he human mind and its creativity and what it tells about the "soul" of a given culture instead of dismissing NDEs as weird hallucinations...It is an experience of high meaning, no matter what part the brain plays in it!

Art: I have bought "The Holographic Universe" now because I have heard you and others talking about it so often on various posting boards, and it looked great. I am halfway through it - and what a book! Some of the issues seem a bit far-fetched, for instance the theory about lucid dreaming, and perhaps some of the things in the book can be explained by other theories, but all in all, the holographic paradigm makes perfect sense to me.

I look forward to reading what it has to say about NDEs!

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