NDEs In the Press
December 15, 2008
Precious few mainstream British journalists can write sensibly about any aspect of the paranormal. One is Bryan Appleyard, who had a piece in yesterday's Sunday Times magazine about near-death experiences. The article discussed Dr Sam Parnia's new three-year study of 25 UK and US hospitals which aims to interview 1500 survivors of cardiac arrests and find out if any of them report anything. The idea is similar to Penny Sartori's at Swansea (Just Coincidence, June 13): place pictures on high shelves that would be visible only to a patient experiencing an out-of-body experience, and look for patients who can identify them as a means to rule out naturalistic explanations.
Sartori's study was negative, but Parnia's is bigger, and Appleyard is upbeat about its prospects. He speculates that positive results could finally persuade even hardline sceptics to accept the NDE's dualist implications. Against the complaint that a mind independent of the brain is inconceivable, he evokes the non-locality principle in quantum mechanics, which Henry Stapp, a physicist at the University of California, is convinced applies to large as well as small things.
'The observer,' Stapp tells me, 'is brought into quantum dynamics in an essential way not only as a passive observer but as an active part of the dynamics. He make certain choices not specified by the physical dynamics which seem to come from the psychological described realm rather than the physically described realm...'
Quantum non-locality, Appleyard goes on, could mean the mind is capable of being non-local to the brain, of floating to the ceiling of the room.
It can become, as Stapp puts it, 'unglued'. His words 'certain choices not specified by the physical dynamics' are world-changing. This idea would, if widely accepted, end the reign of scientific materialism, replacing it with a new dualism. It would mean the universe is not a 'causally closed' system, locked down since the big bang, as mainstream science has always insisted it is, but open to freedom of choice by the autonomous, floating, matter-altering mind. We would have regained our souls.
Appleyard thinks that positive results from Parnia's survey would be 'seismic'.
First, you'd have to accustom yourself to the idea that your mind is not just the little man inside your skull - he really is out there in the world. Second, you'd have to accept that a lot of the things that now seem like products of charlatans and grifters - telepathy, spiritualism, even psychokinesis - will suddenly seem much more credible. Thirdly, you need not anticipate instant oblivion on death but a series of very weird and very illuminating experiences.
This would be a revolution, Appleyard goes on, but it would also be return to the past, to a world when people lived with a lively sense of the presence of the dead.
Strong stuff, but now Appleyard produces the required 'bucket of iced water'. Scientists who believe in dualism are still a small minority; the evidence remains anecdotal; and the most impressive stories tend to look less convincing on closer examination. Cue Susan Blackmore. 'There are many claims of this kind but in my long decades of research into NDEs I never met any convincing evidence that they are true.' Appleyard also mentions Jason Braithwaite's piece on Van Lommel''s study which I critiqued a couple of months ago ; this refers to evidence that even a brain that is flatlining may still be active. He doesn't try to rebut any of this, but nevertheless concludes that in the present state of our knowledge to assume that what goes on in the NDE is just another delusion is 'crude and premature'.
I first came across Appleyard's name in diatribes by scientists and sceptics complaining about a recent book, which naturally I rushed off and read. Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man is an outspoken but intelligent polemic against hard-core reductionism. There's nothing at all New Agey about it: Appleyard is interested in all aspects of modern culture, and his pieces for the Sunday Times are commentary on the contemporary British middle-class zeitgeist as seen through the prism of new books, art and films. His stance on other paranormal aspects is interested but aloof - a recent book about alien encounter experiences views it purely as a cultural phenomenon, worth exploring for what it tells us about ourselves - and writing about the Scole séance phenomena a few years back he was unconvinced.
Expressing a positive view of near-death experiences holds fewer hazards. This particular article is an elegantly written and accurate snapshot of the debate, and coming from someone with a platform to influence opinion is very welcome. It does of course suffer from the inevitable journalistic shortcomings. The heading - 'The afterlife has long been an article of religious faith. And now scientists are finally putting the idea to the test' - could have been written any time in the past hundred years. It's probably the sub-editor's doing, not his, but it does reflect journalists' obsession with the present, a sort of Memento world in which anything that happened longer than ten minutes ago never happened.
More seriously, I don't at all share Appleyard's optimism. Far from hardline sceptics being forced to throw in the towel I'm sceptical that positive results from this study would change anything at all. He quotes Chris French, who regards this as 'definitely a legitimate scientific inquiry' and offers his full support to refereed proposals of this kind, which considering French's status as a leading sceptic Appleyard thinks is important. But French might have said exactly the same about Van Lommel's hospital study, which nevertheless was the subject of a ruthless put-down in his magazine recently.
It's understandable that there should be such a focus on the veridical element of out-of-body seeing, as it's the kind of thing that ought to settle things once and for all. But by now it's becoming clear that it never does. There is always wiggle room, some objection that the creative sceptical mind can come up with. In the last resort sceptics can simply imply deceit or collusion. As long ago as 1982, Michael Sabom produced some striking evidence that what NDEers observed while out of the body could not remotely be explained by chance, overheard conversations or lucky guesses, but Susan Blackmore swatted it away as if it meant nothing, and she's the one sceptics listen to. Similarly at one time there was speculation that a blind person having an NDE would be truly convincing, but Kenneth Ring came up with some examples, and guess what - it made no impression at all.
I don't mean that Parnia's study isn't important, but any positive evidence will just be another brick in what by now is becoming a very large edifice. The real work that needs to be done, I believe, is in helping to change public perceptions and make paranormal research a legitimate subject for discussion. In that sense, informed journalists like Appleyard with a large audience among the educated elite are just as much players as the scientists they write about.
I'm uneasy about Parnia's programme. I recall he said something along the lines of 'if people don't see the pictures on top of shelves that will show that NDEs are illusorily'. Nonsense. That's an unjustified assumption. If I was having an NDE I would probably not care less about things on top of shelves. Parnia should concentrate his attention on what NDErs ARE seeing and not what they aren't. I fear that he won't, and Appleyard will then be able to say, as I'm sure he would love to, 'there you are, nothing in it.' Same old story.
Posted by: Guy Lyon Playfair | December 15, 2008 at 11:14 PM
I agree with Guy.
It's good to continue studying veridical OBEs, but even if the study gains little to no positive results (and it won't surprise me if it does, seeing as how similar studies in the past have gained similar results, correct me if I'm wrong), that doesn't change the fact that the veridical perceptions do happen.
Posted by: Ronnie Lee | December 16, 2008 at 09:51 AM
I agree with the above. In terms of evidence a witness who doesn't see an event isn't a witness. Not reporting seeing the pictures could mean:
a) The phenomenon doesn't happen;
b) The person's attention was occupied else
where and not in the direction of the picture;
c) The person did not notice the picture;
d) The person did notice the picture but didn't accord it any importance;
e) The person did notice it but failed to recall it.
A friend of mine suggested the sign might say "If you can read this, you're dead".
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 16, 2008 at 10:28 AM
Very well put, Ronnie and Paul. But let's not be too hard on Parnia - he is at least trying and I'm sure he means well. His book certainly gave me that impression. I suspect he may be on the horns of a familiar dilemma - his desire to be a correct scientist and his own private beliefs. Let's hope the latter prevail.
Posted by: Guy Lyon Playfair | December 16, 2008 at 10:34 PM
I agree Guy. I think Sam Parnia is doing a brave thing. I don't think one makes this kind of effort if one isn't genuinely interested in finding out the truth. Risk to his professional credibility=High; Likelihood of conclusive outcome=Low (by that I mean undeniable by any reasonable person).
It seems to me that there have been many studies and reports by eminent scientists in the past eg Lodge which have either been rejected without proper consideration by their peers or simply ignored.
I think perhaps Parnia has simply over-compensated in his comments regarding what can be read into a failure to produce evidence.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 16, 2008 at 11:11 PM
If the study hasn't even been done yet, then it's too early to worry about how positive results would effect society. And, as others said, a dying person might not think to notice and remember the pictures. Why would they?
And why worry about Susan Blackmore anyway? She is a fanatic who doesn't care about evidence.
We need more and better evidence, from serious researchers.
Posted by: realpc | December 19, 2008 at 12:18 AM
Heck, if I recall a radio program posted on the IANDS site correctly, an NDEer who spoke with Parnia on the show said that in her NDE, she had far more concern with watching her children than she would ever have any with some trivial objects mounted on the ceiling.
Posted by: Ronnie Lee | December 19, 2008 at 11:14 AM
True Ronnie, the fact is if I was ou of body too I would be a lot more concern about my lifeless body down below and seeing possible dead relatives then seeing a sign up above. Their is a major problem for these nde experiments and also if someone who was out of body did claim to see a sign above then the skeptics would say maybe they were peaking at it before they went unconsciousness. Look at the show on the ledge case of a woman claiming to see a shoe outside the building. But still the sceptics say well maybe she looked out the window. Even if she did it still wouldn't explain how she was able to describe how the shoelace was tugged into the toe of the shoe.
Posted by: Leo MacDonald | December 19, 2008 at 06:57 PM
Negative results in this study would not prove anything, but if even one NDE-er saw and remembered a picture that would be interesting. Of course, "skeptics" can always say it was a coincidence.
Posted by: realpc | December 19, 2008 at 11:41 PM
I agree realpc some sceptics would however say that its all coincidence. It would be incumbant on the researcher to show how the result cannot or is unlikely to be coincidental and for the sceptic to refute it based on an analysis of the evidence. I listened recently to Rupert Sheldrake and was amazed to hear how some well-respected sceptics were happy to make critical statments publicly, knowing they had not even considered the evidence they were rebutting.
Personally, although it would be interesting, there is already a great deal of evidence to indicate that we survive death - much of it produced by scientists of international repute and at the peak of their professions. If they weren't believed then I fear there are some for whom no amount of evidence will be satisfactory and IMHO such people are best left to their own devices whilst the rest of us assess the evidence for ourselves.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 20, 2008 at 12:53 AM
Claims of coincidence would not be the problem. (Since the doctrinaire skeptics wouldn't even look at the evidence regardless.) Claims of super-psi would be. There is nothing about the experiment that has not already been achieved by remote viewing. The difference between a remote viewing and an NDE are qualitative. It is the intensifying of experience and the clarity of the experience at a time when the brain is dying (or at least is disengaged) that holds the key. Seeing a picture, no matter how much of a "white crow" we may take it to be, won't tell us anything new.
Posted by: Tony M | December 21, 2008 at 01:01 AM
I think you may be right that it won't tell us anything new but if it worked it would add another thread to support a view that consciousness is or can be separate from our physical body. In that respect I think it would be useful.
As far as super-psi is concerned - if one accepts that it is possible then (if my understanding is correct) a consequence is accepting that consciousness is not confined to the physical and hence it is more difficult to assert with confidence that there is no continuity of existence/consciousness without a body.
From my reading I get the impression that most phenomena can be shoe-horned into fitting Super Psi - a theory which looks to me lmore like an attempt to avoid accepting the "unthinkable": that that we simply survive and can sometimes communicate.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 21, 2008 at 12:46 PM
Near death experiencers routinely make comments about what they experienced that parallels, supports,and corroborates what Michael Talbot wrote about in his book, The Holographic Universe, yet hardly anyone takes any notice of it. For instance in the most recent group of new posted NDE's in the NDERF.org site a girl named Nora from the U.K. says, "I was looking down and could see my cousin standing and the nannies frantic talking 'what should we do they said' in Hindi but I understood it ( I don't speak Hindi) at the time it felt weird I could see down at them but at the same time I could see the tiles and the water around me in the pool as if they were all one. I remember looking down and having my whole life explained, to feeling the love of the people in my life,"
The reason she is able to see all around her at once is because in a hologram everything is interconnected and nothing is separate from anything else. I have read literally thousands of NDE's that seem to have this "holographic" flavor to them, which says to me that there is something strange and wonderful about NDE's. The Life Review is a holographic experience par excellance. 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. NDE's are exactly what they purport to be because they oftentimes seem to make statements that support, corroborate, and parallel ideas from quantum physics and the holographic pardigm.
Posted by: Art Riechert | December 22, 2008 at 12:18 AM
Very interesting, but it may point more towards the limits of our bodies and not necessarily the structure of the universe. Our senses are filters. We don’t see 360 degrees around because our eyes set in the front of our heads and focus at a small range of potential vision. We don’t see “all” the colors because we need to reduce information in order to function, and so on. Freed from the filters, our consciousness takes in our surroundings more completely.
As I understand it the metaphor of the hologram is that each piece of the hologram contains the information of the whole. Shine a light on a piece, the image is constructed, although it may be less vivid. The universe may be constructed by focusing our consciousness on it the way that a hologram is constructed by focusing light. Regular perception may be analogous to embodied consciousness being limited to a piece of the hologram. These are very rich ideas. Nevertheless, perception in an NDE may be explained in terms of a more direct perception of and experience of the universe through the casting off of limiting sensory filters and does not necessarily support the Holographic Universe model.
Even so, I think you are probably right. I’m just trying to think it through a bit.
Posted by: Tony M | December 22, 2008 at 05:19 PM
The rationale for this study is sound, but it is concerning that recent reports have stated that Parnia has set up this experiment (due to lack of sufficient funding) in such a way that the possibility of cheating has not been eliminated, as it would have been had this experiment been set up to use the same protocol used in the most recent Greyson-Holden-Mounsey study at the University of Virginia. (No one other than the computers knew what target was where until after the study was complete.)
I fear that if positive results are obtained, they will be inconclusive for this reason. I therefore hope that these reports are incorrect, and that there is some way to ensure that cheating was not involved. Otherwise any results will be the same as with Charles Tart's "Miss Z"--intriguing but inconclusive, and doing nothing to advance the debate. In the case of Miss Z, video monitoring (and perhaps removing a reflective wall clock) would have either demonstrated cheating or lack of cheating when her positive results were obtained.
It doesn't help to tell the world that these symbols will be around at certain hospitals ahead of time; prudence demands you make your announcement only after the study is over, especially if you are not going to control for the possibility of people looking at the targets ahead of time.
If you believe that veridical perception that cannot be explained by normal means really does happen in NDEs, why would you NOT set up your experiment such that there is no possible way that normal means could be involved if positive results were obtained? Why design the experiment to leave such wiggle room for the interpretation of the results? This is true for ANY scientific experiment, and so would be true in the case of NDE experiments as well.
One final point in response to the comment that "Not reporting seeing the pictures could mean" any number of things. That's undoubtedly true.
What one should look for is not absence of reports, but the presence of reports of seeing targets, and then comparison of those reports against the features of the actual targets present. In other words: Are those reports accurate, or not? If all of the people who report seeing the targets are wrong about the actual features of the physical targets present, it would be pretty clear to all but the true believers that NDEs are probably hallucinations. I can't imagine why anyone would object to actually putting these claims to the test. If you think, or doubt, that there really is some paranormal veridicality going on, then you should welcome any sort of conclusive or near-conclusive test of it. Otherwise this debate is never going to advance beyond my opinion vs. your opinion, and I think that such advancement toward reliable data really ought to be the goal here.
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 24, 2008 at 10:10 PM
I strongly lean toward a dualistic implication for NDEs. One of the types of evidences used in research and investigations is Testimonial Evidence. The testimony of people who have NDE experiences is pretty uniform on the fact that they were truly out of their bodies and that they experienced the afterlife. I think it is extremely arrogant to tell them that they are mistaken when in particular it seems that they can describe their medical operations etc. That is one of my biggest concern with skeptical literature is that they refuse to even listen to NDErs. They assume it simply has to be a dying brain explanation explanation and force the evidence to fit that conclusion. For example Keith Augustine insisting that Pam Reynolds description of the medical tool used on her was incorrect, when medical experts insisted it was or Augustine's refusal to accept that blind people ( and in some cases blind from birth)had visual based NDEs. This is clearly a case of letting philosophical bias affect the handling of evidence and studying of evidence. He will not accept that evidence for any more reason then it ruins his argument.
I do have concerns with this study though. I do not suspect ever NDEr will be able to see the target goal for the simple reason they don't know that they are looking for it. For example today my family and I were driving to a Christmas Party and I saw on the side of the road a huge Santa Claus. I saw it immediately but it took my family another minute to see it. If it is this easy to miss a huge Santa how much easier would it be for a displaced consciousness to miss something written in a odd place? To ask the question is to answer it.
I do not think this study would change skeptics minds. We all know they would somehow rationalize away around it and some certainly have too much vested in a particular world view to ever be considered objective. For example a certain Executive Director of Internet Infidels.
Posted by: Kris | December 26, 2008 at 03:56 AM
Kris: I think all of this talk about worldviews is the pot calling the kettle black. I have no emotional investment in the answer to the survival question one way or the other. So I would like to know on what basis you conclude that I would rationalize ANY evidence away--especially when I've gone out of my way to let people know what sort of evidence would convince me.
I'm open to being convinced that I am wrong; I'm just not going to be convinced by shoddy evidence. I'm sorry, but "stories" just don't cut it, whether the topic is NDEs or Bigfoot.
In fact, I can't imagine why I (or anyone else, for that matter) would NOT want to survive death in the form that NDEs imply if they are taken as evidence for survival--"pure joy" and being unconditionally loved sure beats the hell out of ceasing to exist forever, never to return. I just think that permanent personal extinction is most likely to be true in light of the sum of our historical and scientific knowledge; and because that is the most likely fate for us, I think we should at least try to "deal with" that likely reality instead of denying it. If I turn out to be wrong, I will simply be pleasantly surprised when the time comes. But there is nothing to "rejoice" in the mortalist position, whereas the message of survivalist interpretations of NDEs is practically a message of salvation: Death, where is thy sting?
So in all due respect, the emotional investment on this issue seems to be primarily among (at least some of those) at the other side of the table. It explains why I see so many believers responding almost reflexively to ANY skeptical critique of survivalist positions in the same way: compiling lists of purported "fallacies" committed in such critiques. It is as if a skeptical critique must be inherently fallacious: as if taking a skeptical position is in and of itself a mark of erroneous reasoning and is simply not allowed. Instead of agreeing to disagree, or showing exactly where skeptics go wrong in their arguments, time and again I see believers attacking the mere premise that one should be skeptical of certain types of claims. Sadly, it is typically the skeptical position that is objected to, not the reasons for holding that position. And all of this despite the admission by the maintainer of this blog that it really is the believers in the paranormal who hold the burden of proof.
If you acknowledge that the burden of proof is on you, then surely you must agree that is a reasonable for others to doubt that you have met that burden, given that the survival hypothesis is not a widely accepted scientific theory like plate tectonics?
From my POV, individuals can believe whatever the hell they want; it's just that if believers expect ME to believe what they believe, they are going to have to give me convincing reasons to believe what they do. They are going to have to show me how personal survival after the complete destruction of the brain is plausible when a merely partial destruction of the brain in lobotomy is enough to destroy one's personality. And so on.
In my experience it is the believers who are insistent that all others must believe as they believe--and that's why they get upset when anyone challenges that belief, whatever the grounds (good grounds or bad ones) for the challenge. It's just an us-vs-them mentality writ large, and it does nothing to provide evidence that would move the survivalist position closer to fact than "just another opinion." On the other hand, I have no desire to convince everybody to believe what I believe--I just want those who mouth their opinions to support them instead of just soapboxing them, as if he who yells loudest or most frequently wins.
The reason I bother to provide skeptical critiques is because believers dominating the discussion rarely draw attention to the holes in their cases, and I think impartial readers should see more than just one side of the issue before drawing their own conclusions. What do you think the ratio of books explicitly arguing in favor of survival is to those explicitly arguing against it? In the last hundred years, I can count the number of books that do the latter on one hand, whereas there must be have been tens of thousands of pro-survival books published in the same time period. Why object to providing a little balance?
As for "Pam Reynolds description of the medical tool used on her"--all one needs to do is look at her description, and then look at the tool actually used, and the discrepancies are there for all to see. It doesn't matter what I or anyone else SAYS about the description.
And as for your claim that I "will not accept that evidence for any more reason then it ruins his argument"--that's incorrect. I won't accept it because it doesn't establish the conclusion you want it to establish--it's not good evidence for that conclusion. If Ian Stevenson's ghost revealed to a medium a keyword that opened the combination lock he set before his death and communicated to no one while alive, or NDErs could see hidden visual targets, I would grant that you have good evidence for your position. But so far, such direct tests have not yielded such evidence. Why not? The simplest explanation is that nothing survives which could communicate such decisive information.
The claim that skeptics would never change their minds about X is ridiculous: historically, there have been many phenomena scientists were rightly skeptical about given what they knew at the time, and their skepticism was rightly abandoned once good evidence was procured to alleviate it. The bottom line is that believers still need to work on procuring good evidence.
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 26, 2008 at 11:03 PM
I am agnostic myself so if anyone has less of a worldview to be beholden to then it is me.
You have to really think people to be gullible if no one is going to be skeptical of you claiming objectivity. For the same reason I do not consider a clergymen to be an objective when it comes to their religion I am not going to consider an executive director of a Atheist association to be objective toward anything that would seem to argue against Atheism. It is not human nature, things don't work that way. It is the exact same reason why no one except Atheists takes Richard Carriers work on Jesus seriously, he is obviously guided by an extreme prejudice against the subject that is clearly world view related. He comes to the opposite conclusion of any remotely objective historian.
Or let me give you another example. Would you ask a Ford dealer if Fords are better then say Toyotas? Lets say you were car shopping and the Ford dealer said his car was the best on the market for safety, would you listen to him or car mechanics ( someone who clearly knows more about cars) who says the Toyota is safer . Now add onto what the mechanics say you have the testimony of many people who have used both cars and they tell you the Toyota is better safety wise. Which care are you going to buy?
First off Keith my basic problem with your arguments is that when I read it I feel I am reading something akin to creationism.
a.) You do not even listen one bit to the people who have had the experience. If anyone should know be able to tell us what happened it should be them, if not why not? You have said we need to listen to these people but you refuse to listen to the fact they know what happened to them was not inside their head, they are adamant on the fact they experienced the here after. Heck many of them are adamant that they experienced the here after in a way they did not expect, which is very hard for a dying brain to explain. Some of them report having psychic abilities after this experience. These people are not Sylvia Brown's. They seek no profit from that claim. Why make it up? Do you honestly think they are lying? I honestly think I would know if I became psychic or not, are you telling me that they wouldn't know?
b.) You distort the evidence. No one but you came away from the Pam Reynolds thinking she misdescribed the tool used on her. You were corrected by Dr Greyson on this issue and you still cannot admit being wrong. You ignored the testimony of people who were blind who reported visual based NDEs.
c.) You make grievous leaps of logic. You conclude that just because 1% of NDEs have possible hallucinatory material then all of the experience for everyone ( despite them insisting it's not a hallucination) is now a hallucination. I will note the women who saw Elvis might not have been hallucinating, after all she did meet the King before they died! As for the one with mythical creatures again no rule per say that the here after cannot have mythological creatures. If it can't, why can't it? So strictly speaking these are not clear cut hallucinations. I remember one time while in advance training with the army in a real stressful situation I hallucinated, should I know suspect everything I see and everything everybody else sees is now a possible hallucination.
Keith, what you are asking us to believe is that the brain, when it is either completely not functioning or virtually not functioning can produce indescribable beautiful images, meet long dead loved ones, sometimes based on NDEr testimony discover family secrets, return to life, and accurately describe medical operations done on them while they were completely unconscious. Now you are asking us to believe that doctors who have forgotten more about medicine then you will ever know who proclaim themselves to be stumped by this phenomena, proclaim it to be a mystery that they do not have a clue what causes it are in fact mistaken and you a philosophy student have the answers that have long eluded medical science. Come on, who are you kidding?
In my analogy with Fords v Toyotas you are clearly the dealer. You are trying to sell a product, Philosophical Materialism. The doctors and researchers are the mechanics, they are saying your claims are baloney. Many of them of leaning toward the Toyota, some outright endorse it. Of course the users who say the Toyota is the safer car are the NDErs themselves, the people who clearly endorse the afterlife hypothesis.
I have so much more I could say but I think I said enough. Last thing, who should I listen to NDE researchers who are real scientist, or no offence a nonscientist such as yourself. Who claims on NDEs should I consider more credible, yours are that of the people who had the experience who say the exact opposite of your conclusions? To ask the question is to again ask it.
Posted by: Kris | December 27, 2008 at 02:00 AM
I meant to say to ask the question is to again answer it :) opps
Posted by: Kris | December 27, 2008 at 02:46 AM
Last post for now
Keith, how well would your explanation on NDEs handle the following if even one of them was true? http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research08.html ( look at the part about scientific discoveries)
I remember when I read your paper you critiqued NDE prophecies as obviously not occurring. I meant to write you a lot early on that, because one thing one learns from reading NDE accounts is that prophecies function as a warning of a POSSIBLE FUTURE, not a guarantee that the events shown will happen. I realize this is a unfalsifiable argument and I do not expect you to have to refute it, but again this is from NDErs account and would refute your argument from failed prophecy because you do not use the NDE definition of prophecy. I will say now while this is logically possible it is unfalsifiable and I do not expect you to have to refute it. I just bring it up because it is what the NDErs themselves say.
Howard Storms account:
We have free will. If we change the way we are, then we can change the future which they showed me. They showed me a view of the future, at the time of my experience, based upon how we in the United States were behaving at that time. It was a future in which a massive worldwide depression would occur. If we were to change our behavior, however, then the future would be different.
Margot Grey's NDE research subjects stated:
During my experience ... I was also shown events that are likely to happen in the near future, but was made to understand that nothing is absolutely fixed and that everything depends on how we choose to use our own free will, that even those events that are already predestined can be changed or modified by a change in our own way of relating to them.
Dannion Brinkley was told how the future is conditional upon human beings:
If you follow what you have been taught and keep living the same way you have lived the last thirty years, all of this will surely be upon you. If you change, you can avoid the coming war. If you follow this dogma, the world by the year 2004 will not be the same one you now know. But it can still be changed and you can help change it. (Dannion Brinkley)
During George Ritchie's NDE, Jesus said that Ritchie had 45 years to accomplish a particular mission:
It is left to humanity which direction they shall choose. I came to this planet to show you through the life I led how to love. Without our Father you can do nothing, neither could I. I showed you this. You have 45 years.
Posted by: Kris | December 27, 2008 at 03:10 AM
Keith, how would your views on NDEs explain this form the Sartori study?
Sartori then countered that the information some patients came up with, apparently while they were unconscious, did seem to have been acquired paranormally. One reported that he had met his deceased grand-daughter and that she told him to tell her mother not to believe everything that mediums told her. This meant nothing to him, but his daughter later confessed she had been regularly consulting mediums without his knowledge. In another case, staff in the unit watched a dying man sitting up and gesturing at the wall for half an hour - he later said his sister and come to visit, although she had died the previous week, a fact which his family had decided not to reveal to him.
Posted by: Kris | December 27, 2008 at 05:19 AM
First, although you claim to be agnostic (either about whether survival after death occurs, or whether NDEs represent evidence for survival, or both), you seem pretty confident in your response that nothing I have said on these issues is of value, at least in the following sense: all of your comments have criticized aspects of my (or any skeptical) POV on NDEs, and none of them have been supportive of any aspects of my (or any skeptical) POV on NDEs. That doesn't strike me as particularly impartial; if you were truly agnostic in the sense of being unsure of what to think one way or the other, then you would be unsure about whether to agree or disagree with me, and yet all of your comments so far have disputed my position. Clearly, you are advocating a particular POV yourself--not that there's anything wrong with that. Being objective doesn't entail being neutral; it just entails that your position be informed by the facts in an impartial way.
You seem to think that because I work with others who share my general POV I am somehow more biased than you are; but I see no reason to assume that working with others who agree with me entails that I did not come to my own conclusions; in fact, I came to those conclusions before working with them, and independently of anyone else, really. (And in any case, if that WERE an indicator of bias, then near-death researchers and parapsychologists would be "as" biased as I purportedly am, since they don't work as lone wolves either.) My conclusions are solely my own, and have been solely informed by my own research into these issues. And for the sake of argument: If you happened to have a POV that no one else in the world shared with you, that would be no indication that your POV is based on the evaluation of evidence rather than, say, your personal predispositions. Indeed, most objective evaluations entail that others will agree with you, because the facts point in a certain direction that others will see as well.
In any case, I don't want to belabor the point because it's not particularly important, but it is simply incorrect to presume that I advocate everything published in the Secular Web library. As a library the Secular Web represents a diversity of views that do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone formally associated with Internet Infidels. We've even published material critical of naturalism, such as by James Hannam, Derek Barefoot, and Victor Reppert, and if you think I'm biased, feel free to ask any one of them how I handled the publication of their papers. I'm quite capable of separating my own take on the issues from what the issues are, and what are the pros and cons of various positions on them.
(You mention Richard Carrier, but his views are solely his own, and while I agree with him about some things, I also disagree with him about others. There is no orthodoxy within Internet Infidels; indeed, it was once remarked that I used the word "probably" when saying that this life is probably the only one we'll ever have, as if that was a chink in the armor--as if I am somehow required to believe everything with absolute certainty rather than merely, as David Hume would have it, "proportion my beliefs to the evidence." That atheists claim that God does not exist with absolute certainty is just a stereotype. The issue is one of probability. In fact, the Secular Web takes Paul Draper's definition of naturalism as our starting point, when Draper himself is agnostic about whether naturalism is true (he sees points supporting it, as well as different points supporting theism), and Draper defines naturalism as a "hypothesis"--and we all know that hypotheses can be true or false. We just happen to think that the evidence at present overwhelmingly supports the idea that the world we live in is naturalistic; and my own masters thesis deals with what evidence could falsify that hypothesis. Maybe there will be compelling evidence falsifying it in the future, but that has yet to happen, and so I take naturalism to be the best bet until strong evidence suggests otherwise.
Returning to your other comments: I really don't give a damn whether believers think my assessments are objective or not. In my experience, most believers equate arguments that agree with their POV as objective, and those that disagree with their POV as biased, and nothing you can say will ever change that. Fortunately, it doesn't matter anyway, because I don't make arguments from authority; I don't argue that NDEs are hallucinations, say, because I said so. Rather, I appeal to arguments and evidence, and easy accusations of bias are pretty shallow in the face of real argumentative work that needs to be dealt with. So you, or others, can accuse all you want; diverting the issue won't make inconvenient facts for your own POV go away.
I could just as easily throw your words back at you: "For the same reason I do not consider a clergymen to be objective when it comes to their religion, I am not going to consider someone posting on a blog advocating the paranormal to be objective toward anything that would seem to argue against the paranormal." But all of this is totally irrelevant to the real meat of the issues. The problem with your analogy of the car salesman vs. the mechanic is that you equate skeptics with the salesman, and believers with the mechanic, when someone with a view opposite yours could just as easily reverse the equation. After all, it is largely believers who lambast skeptics for failing to agree with them, as if skeptics are somehow obligated to agree with your opinions merely because you advocate them, instead of forming their own opinions. Why does everyone have to believe as you do? Why the lack of tolerance for differences of opinion? Skepticism simply represents a failure to be convinced; it is the believers who seem to be crusading their POV against any dissenting ones. If I'm OK with your belief, why can't you be OK with my disbelief? Why make such an issue of it, instead of talking about the topic under consideration itself?
Comparing me to a creationist is just plain prejudicial, not to mention pointless as far as the issues are concerned. Unless, of course, I haven't been paying attention to the news: Did a consensus of psychologists affirm survival after death, in the way that a consensus of biologists affirm descent with modification, while I was sleeping?
Perhaps psychologists are the wrong people to speak with authority on the survival question anyway. Who, then, is the proper scientific authority? Parapsychologists? If you think so, answer me this. If a consensus of UFOlogists believe in extraterrestrial visitation, does that make extraterrestrial visitation a scientific fact? If a consensus of cryptozoologists think that Bigfoot exists, does that establish the existence of Bigfoot? Of course not. The reason that no one can speak about these issues with the authority of, say, physicists on the properties of lasers, is because the evidence for survival after death does not come close to the evidence for the phenomena that physicists deal with. Or biologists. Or chemists. And so on. If it did, there would be no need for this debate--the issue would be as resolved as whether the second law of thermodynamics accurately describes what happens to energy in physical systems.
Your comments about "listening" also miss the point. You say that I don't "listen" to NDErs; but the reality is that I do listen to them, I simply don't share the interpretation of their experiences held by the majority of them. If I were an NDEr convinced that I had glimpsed the afterlife, I'd know full well that non-NDErs were perfectly in their epistemic rights not to be convinced by my personal, nonevidential revelation. As Thomas Paine wrote centuries ago:
"But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it."
The vast majority of "alien abductees" strongly believe that they were literally kidnapped by aliens. Does their confidence provide a reason for nonabductees to take their accounts at face value? Of course not, for the reasons Paine notes--and for reasons having nothing to do with "materialist paradigms" and other such rhetorical bluster. I use that example precisely because there is no inconsistency between extraterrestrial visitation and "materialism," and yet one should still be skeptical of abductee reports in the absence of hard evidence for extraterrestrial visitation. The issue is what counts as good evidence, and the failure to obtain good evidence for certain phenomena, not worldview biases. The latter is just a distraction from the real issues.
If NDErs really have psychic abilities post-NDE, that is something that could be easily shown by a controlled demonstration of them. Instead of guessing at what could possibly motivate their claims, you ought to be interested in what could possibly verify them.
I distort no evidence. I went out of my way to quote the actual descriptions Reynolds gave (and elsewhere, the actual NDEs as they were reported, verbatim) precisely to avoid such false accusations. Did I put quoted words into speakers' mouths? And you are wrong that I am the only person who ever suggested that their were discrepancies in Reynolds' reported visual OBE perceptions. Sabom himself noted them in Light and Death (hell, I even quote him using the word "discrepancy"!), Mark Fox noted them, Gerald Woerlee noted them, but of course they don't count, because they aren't people who agree with you on this issue.
As for claims that I make leaps of logic like "Some NDEs are hallucinatory" therefore "necessarily, all NDEs are hallucinatory," that is a caricature of my actual position, which I clarified in print and subsequently explained in endnote 4 of the online version of my essay. Since you ignored that point there, you'll likely ignore it here, so I won't waste my time repeating it.
I'm not asking you to believe anything about how a 'virtually nonfunctional brain' can generate conscious experiences--you are the one assuming that NDEs occur when the brain is virtually nonfunctional, when the evidence itself does not support that. (I refer you to Jason Braithwaite's long-overdue critique of the van Lommel et al. study on why it does not support that--not that you'll pay any attention to that critique's conclusions.)
To anyone not already a believer, the extant "confirmation" for paranormal features of some NDEs is at best questionable. You already know my assessment of why such claims have not met the burden of proof, so there's no point in me repeating them here (including how I would account for Sartori's examples--use your imagination: if you approach such reports skeptically for just a moment's reflection, it is not hard to fathom how such reports could be explained without invoking the paranormal). Suffice it to say that that burden could be met--cross your fingers that target identification experiments will do the trick.
You say that "doctors ... proclaim [NDEs] to be a mystery that they do not have a clue [as to their] causes ... [while I as a mere] philosophy student [purportedly claim to] have the answers that have long eluded medical science." But there are two points here. First, since the question of whether we survive death is not a medical question akin to whether vitamin C helps allieviate the common cold, why should (some) doctors' opinions be given more authority than mine? (And see my comments above about exactly who is an authority on this issue, if anyone.) Second, which doctors and scientists did you have in mind, exactly? Even if you (erroneously) think that my arguments can be dismissed out of hand simply because I am not a scientist, who are you kidding? Plenty of doctors or scientists have advocated the general position that I do: Susan Blackmore (psychologist), Christopher French (psychologist), Jason Braithwaite (cognitive psychologist), Sean Mulligan (neurologist), Olaf Blanke (neurologist), Sebastian Dieguez (neurologist-in-training), and Gerald Woerlee (anesthesiologist), among others not as vocal about this particular issue.
The truth is that the doctors or scientists who advocate the same position as you take your position, and the doctors or scientists who do not advocate it do not take your position, so the best case scenario for your position is a draw as to whether your position has the support of doctors and scientists--and relevantly most doctors and scientists, those who don't deal with NDEs or the survival question directly, do not believe in survival or the paranormal. So appealing to doctors and scientists to support your case looks like a bust to me.
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 27, 2008 at 10:45 AM
Keith, some interesting points here. Yes, believers can be just as mouthy and unreasonable as skeptics, and it’s good to be reminded of that sometimes. Skeptic arguments need to be understood and answered.
I do have one or two questions. ‘I just think that permanent personal extinction is most likely to be true in light of the sum of our historical and scientific knowledge…’ Could it be that this knowledge is incomplete, a work in progress? Most of it has accumulated in a few hundred years, a tiny fraction of human history, or even of that fraction of it that humans have been thinking and explaining. It seems final to us because we see ourselves at the end of that process: we can’t see into the future, and we don’t know where it’s going to take us.
A Kuhnian view would be that parapsychological data such as NDE research is marginalized because it is incompatible with the materialist paradigm. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily wrong, or that it won’t contribute to an emerging non-materialist paradigm in which survival of consciousness is unremarkable.
‘They are going to have to show me how personal survival after the complete destruction of the brain is plausible when a merely partial destruction of the brain in lobotomy is enough to destroy one's personality.’ This might be an example of what I mean. The problem arises from a materialist perspective, but it would not be an issue in a dualist model such as the filter or transmission theory of consciousness. A damaged cortex would compromise the expression of personality, but the source of that individual mind, personality, soul, whatever, would be unchanged, as it is external to the organism.
You might argue that dualism is a busted flush, but again, that may be a perception artificially generated by the fact that anything indicative of it is marginalized, and not just from parapsychology. There’s a lot about this in Kelly and Kelly’s Irreducible Mind.
‘The claim that skeptics would never change their minds about X is ridiculous: historically, there have been many phenomena scientists were rightly skeptical about given what they knew at the time, and their skepticism was rightly abandoned once good evidence was procured to alleviate it.’ An interesting one, this. A lot of people who take psi seriously, in one or other of its various forms, started out as skeptics. They became convinced because they saw the evidence, repeatedly and up close. What they haven’t been able to do is bottle it and market it to the rest of the scientific community. The question then becomes, what counts as ‘good evidence’?
‘If Ian Stevenson's ghost revealed to a medium a keyword that opened the combination lock he set before his death and communicated to no one while alive, or NDErs could see hidden visual targets, I would grant that you have good evidence for your position. But so far, such direct tests have not yielded such evidence. Why not? The simplest explanation is that nothing survives which could communicate such decisive information.’ This is a common skeptic argument, and I do think it’s seriously fallacious. Far from being ‘good evidence’, such proofs would be brushed aside as if they didn’t exist. All kinds of objections could be cited, including fraud, collusion and methodological incompetence. The alternative ‘simple’ explanation is that our natural incredulity obliges us to explain away anything of this kind.
Psi research literature offers many, many examples of proofs that were blinding to the people involved, and collectively have convinced many other so-called ‘believers’, including myself. I’m sure there’s something that would convince you, for instance a medium who was able to tell you substantial and significant details about your intimate personal affairs that you are certain no one else could know, and are too particular to be guesswork. It might at least start you thinking and researching. But if that helped turn you into a believer you’d find yourself in the same position as the rest of us, unable to communicate your new knowledge to anyone not predisposed to share it.
Posted by: Robert McLuhan | December 27, 2008 at 11:50 AM
Whilst this debate is probably interesting to (some of) the participants, perhaps I could make a prediction? "nobody participating in it will change their view". It looks to me like intellectual wrestling.
I would say that if I am going to believe any account of a person's experiences I agree with the earlier comment by Kris that one should start by really listening to the people who actually experienced it,this is what many researchers have done it appears to me. Whether it is an NDE or an intrinsically more objective phenomenon such as "independent direct voice" mediumship or even materialisation. If you didn't see it and weren't present then any debate about the cause of it or about what actually took place is pure conjecture and should be admitted as such. If we are hearing from someone who did experience or witness it then we ought to consider the quality of the information given and the reliability of the witness. Other than by direct personal experience as far as I can see there is no other effective way of assessing phenomena such as NDE etc.
An adversarial approach will not get at the truth of the matter.
I think Robert's point is well made at the end "start... researching". Why not get into the pool instead of elegantly pontificating about the merits of different swimming techniques whilst never getting wet? If one is already involved in some kind of research (even if it's just reviewing past research findings) - tell us the facts instead of philosophising and offering opinions about things one hasn't even seen with one's own eyes.
Those who have not witnessed the phenomena will be either impressed or bored by the wordplay but not advanced much (if any), those who have witnessed it will be shaking their heads at the futility of this type of debate. There is little value in debating endlessly with people who are entrenched (either way) they will not change by this process.
Facts are the only currency here in my humble opinion. Let's debate them if we have to 'debate'. I'd prefer a rational discussion of established facts rather than and pointless debate about opinions.
Facts are the acid test. Facing facts and trying to explain them rationally is how we will advance but garnering a few and then extrapolating a framework which doesn't address all the facts is pointless.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 27, 2008 at 01:47 PM
for the avoidance of doubt - by direct personal experience I include interviewing experients with a view to establishing any discernable facts.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 27, 2008 at 07:42 PM
"I just think that permanent personal extinction is most likely to be true in light of the sum of our historical and scientific knowledge"
Depends how you define "knowledge", doesn't it? Centuries of insights by artists, poets and mystics about nature and psychology have been proven "true" by science. (For a popular book along these lines, I recommend Proust was a Neuroscientist by Johan Lehrer) Yes, insight was often wrong - just as science is often wrong. But you are defining the sum total of knowledge by restricting everything outside materialistic science as "not knowledge". And by doing so you are denying most of human history.
Posted by: Tony M | December 27, 2008 at 08:12 PM
I rather appreciate the last comments here by Robert McLuhan and Paul Welsh. In particular, I appreciate you addressing me as a rational human being who happens to disagree with you about a few things, and likely agrees with you about a whole host of other things. But most of all I appreciate that fact that you addressed what I actually said, and not some caricature of that, and addressed me as an equal rather than demonizing me.
Most of Paul's questions were rhetorical, or otherwise taken literally, are questions that I would grant are good ones. Of course there is much to be known; but if I can't say that the future will hold no decisive evidence for the paranormal, you can't say that it will, either, and so we are at a draw on that. Yes, reality is likely much bigger than any of us realize--in fact, that's virtually guaranteed. But that doesn't entail that it is anything approximating what advocates of the paranormal think it is. There are probably features of reality different from anything any of us can imagine right now; I doubt anyone in Newton's time had any inkling of the sort of world relativity theory would later portray. But in the absence of good evidence on the issue, there's no positive reason to think one kind of speculation about the unknown is more likely than any other. That's why I stick with the known, and don't believe beyond that.
I would just like to comment on Robert's final thoughts: "I’m sure there’s something that would convince you, for instance a medium who was able to tell you substantial and significant details about your intimate personal affairs that you are certain no one else could know, and are too particular to be guesswork.... But if that helped turn you into a believer you’d find yourself in the same position as the rest of us, unable to communicate your new knowledge to anyone not predisposed to share it."
That's certainly conceivable. But as someone who is not one of the select "chosen ones" who gets to have personal paranormal experiences, I have to ask: If the phenomena is real, and a medium could really provide such decisive personal information for me, what prevents mediums from providing equally decisive information that is publicly accessible? Why couldn't a medium who might be able to know things about me that there's "no other way" to know than some paranormal process also reveal, say, encryption sequences, or lottery numbers, or the codes to launch nuclear missles--or what have you? In other words, from the POV of someone who has not been chosen to receive a revelation, why is it that specific information that is revealed is always the sort that can only be verified by particular individuals, and never the sort of information that could be verified by the entire world? If a medium can accurately report how I spent my day, could not a medium also accurately report the numbers that would open a bank safe (say)--something closely guarded for security and something that could be tested against reality? The information shouldn't be any harder to get than information about how I spent my day; a ghost could just hover around the bank when it opens and watch the manager move the dials, if it can watch what I'm doing. Why is there never any publicly verifiable information like this, if this stuff is real? Why do people fail to come back from NDEs, for instance, with the formula for how to make a feasible fusion reactor, or how to cure cancer or AIDS, or any sort of verifiable knowledge that would actually be useful to humanity? If such cases existed, there would be no debate. If some NDEr who dropped out of school in the sixth grade reported the cure for cancer, you can be pretty sure a lot of people would be paying attention to what he has to say. But that never happens. Why not, if your interpretation of NDEs is correct?
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 27, 2008 at 08:18 PM
I am glad you don't think we are demonising you Keith :).
I would be interested to know specifically what you have read (if you have the time to list a few sources) in terms of the investigations carried out over the last 150 years or so parapsychological research up to and including Gary Schwarz (both by scientists and people such as Arthur Findlay)
In terms of your lack of experience of parapsychological phenomena, I'd also be keen to hear what research you have carried out or what experiences you have actively sought (I ask this out of genuine curiosity and not in a sarcastic way - honestly!).
Having read numerous works by prominent scientists I would find it difficult to dismiss their findings out of hand or to infer that they were simply victims of fraud or their own desire to "believe". In fact one or two (including Crookes I think) set out to prove that mediumship was fraudulent and revised their opinions when confronted by phenomena that appeared to support the mediums contentions. Often at considerable reputational cost.
It could well be that you have read many of the books that I have and simply formed a different conclusion but I should be interested to hear why that is the case as if I have missed something significant in reading them I would appreciate correction.
The answer to your "why can't they.." questions (which I think are reasonable unless one accepts the answers given from purported communicators) seems to me to be that one prerequisite of good communication is an emotional connection with an individual and the desire to prove their individual existence to those they love, not prove the continuation of life per se. As for cures for illnesses one would be assuming that those who claim to communicate have access to vast reservoirs of knowledge or are much smarter than we are and that is clearly not the case in most examples I have come across. I guess it also presupposes that our concerns on Earth for curing disease and extending quality and length of life are as important to those who have passed on.
Another factor, if we jointly assume these communications take place for one moment, is the nature of the link; we know for sure almost nothing about the nature of the communication method or the physics involved in it. We don't know what spirit (assuming they exist) can or cannot see or the criteria for clear vision. We do not know what constraints are placed on their ablity to communicate information that might be helpful to us on earth.
As an aside - you are right my comments were intended to be rhetorical in the earlier comment but not in this one :)
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 27, 2008 at 10:16 PM
I am agnostic. I do not claim to have the ultimate answers for the universe, heck I do not claim to have the ultimate answers on the question of NDEs. However, without knowing everything about the universe I can very firmly say the moon is not made out of green cheese and I would very vocal in opposition to someone who seriously wanted others to believe that it was . I consider your explanation on NDEs to be the equivalent to the moon is made out of green cheese. It is demonstratably false. Anyone who has a done any reasonable amount of reading on the subject will know this. Are NDEs afterlife experiences? I do not know. Could it be a hallucination? Possibly. But I know enough about the subject to know that your explanations simply do not work.
I do not question your objectivity because you are an Atheist. I question your objectivity because you are a deeply committed Atheist, committed enough to get a Masters in Philosophy and to be the Executive Director of Internet Infidels. This will give anyone with a lick of common sense extreme doubts toward your objectivity on the issue of anything remotely related to theism and the paranormal. Would you consider William Lane Craig an objective expert on Jesus? Would you consider the late Charleston Heston to be an objective source on gun control. Would you interview a Klan Wizard on the question of Negro intelligence and expect a objective answer? To ask all these questions is to answer them.
Keith I do believe some paranormalist can be open minded, same with atheist etc. But lets say the paranormalist being interviewed was the director of a ghost hunting association. Wouldn’t you be very skeptical on anything they say about ghost? If not, why not? You clearly would be highly skeptical of his objectivity because he clearly has a deep vested interest in this. See Keith again I want to repeat what I said. I do not consider your lack of objectivity to be because of your Atheism but because you have way too much vested in Atheism.
I do consider many NDE researchers to be less committed to a worldview then you are when they started their research. Some started off their research as agnostics, others like Sabom are Christian, but in his book Recollection of Death he seems to indicate he was more a social Christian then anything else. Again and again while these people do obviously have worldviews they are not nearly as entrenched in them as you are.
Yes your points do stand on their own merits, I will concede that now but because of your deeply entrenched interest in Atheism I am going to be very suspicious on anything you say about this subject for the simple reason I do not think you could possibly be objective. And you quickly confirmed my suspicions by the way you handled research on NDEs. In your argument from failed prophecy you failed to mention prophecy according to NDErs is a warning, not something guaranteed to happen. That alone destroys that argument of yours and now you had to come across that before I mentioned it. Your argument from hallucinations in NDEs is also problematic as I noted earlier. Your arguments against visual based NDEs in the blind essentially comes down to I do not believe it. Fine enough ok, but hardly open minded research if you ask me….
Keith my questions were if the things I showed you about NDEs if they were correct how would they affect your theory. You never answered that. As for Sartori how do you know she didn’t approach it with the same skepticism you are? Why should I presume she misreported it and that she was so stupid as to not realize the obvious possibility of outside influences and not note them? I was not there for the study and neither were you. I am trusting that a women intelligent enough to do such a study would be intelligent enough to accurately report it. Do you have even an iota of evidence the NDErs did not receive the information as they claimed that they did ( which essentially means you are claiming they are now deluded, liars, or possibly deluded liars) , and that Sartori was too incompetent to fail to simply check visitors logs and note possible nonparanormal means to NDErs receiving this info? Do you really think she is this stupid? I don’t. So I am stuck with admitting that if Sartori did her job correctly, which I have no reason to doubt, then NDErs did gain information in verifiable paranormal manner which would seem to buttress other NDErs who have made similar claims.
Keith, I am being tolerant of your point of view. I am not trying to stamp it out. I am not trying to create a pogrom to hunt down you and your dearest and I would be the first to oppose any attempts of doing that to anyone, no matter how repugnant their view is. However, I strongly disagree with your point of view and I am telling you why. I think to a degree you confuse tolerance with acceptance. I compared you with a Creationist because I see you using similar tactics; poor reasoning and misrepresentation of evidence and using conclusions that have again and again been rejected as serious explanations for NDEs. Maybe harsh, but if the shoe fits wear it. Keith do you really consider yourself just a skeptic? Is William Lane Craig just a Christian? Come on, we both know better then that. You are a deeply committed materialist who comes on many, many forums to argue with anyone and everyone who disagrees with your perspective on the issue.
I have no problem with the fact that survival of death is a bit of tentative area. Conceded. If was as established as the points you noted earlier we wouldn’t be having this discussion. My objection toward your arguments is that they are very poor and not very convincing. They have to ignore a lot of issues with NDEs and have to use a lot of “ how it could have been scenarios”
If anyone ought to know what happened to NDErs while they were in a state of crooktatude it ought to be them. If not, why not, I ask again. I would have a bit more sympathy toward your point of view if you said you were not convinced by what they said and left it at that, but instead you ( you meaning in this case skeptics in general) try to tell them what actually happened to them, and when they say no that’s not what happened, you insist that’s what it was. Slight difference don’t you think? I would say they do have evidence of their claim; they have testimonial evidence, they can accurately in many cases describe what happened while they were unconscious and in some cases they bring back new information from their experience. If that should not be considered evidence, why shouldn’t that be considered evidence. I tend to agree with Thomas Paine on many things, but do you think you are simply being skeptical of NDErs accounts or would it be more appropriate to say you are convinced you know what actually happened?
I am skeptical of alien abductions because I do not feel there is much beyond testimonial evidence for this. Do you think it is really appropriate to compare this to NDEs though? Are millions of people reporting being kidnapped? Are alien kidnappings making us question our perception of the nature of consciousness? Are alien kidnappings victim able to describe events they should not have been able to possibly seen, and events that are at times verifiable? On the other humorous side of things perhaps their really are aliens kidnapping people, we will eventually in the future encounter this alien civilization and someone will get to sue the aliens over emotional stress inflicted on their ancestors.
Keith who should do the verifying of NDErs psychic ability? James Randi? Who? Again I am not sure if they have these abilities or not, but why make it up if they don’t? Again they are not in it for the money. And how would they be mistaken about this?
As for the Reynolds case Sabom concluded she described the instrument correctly in the end. So did Fenwick in the IANDS Journal ( I might be mistaken with doctor name on that one). My view on Woerlee and Fox is that they are making a mountain out of a mole hill on this one, as you are. I have read the description, I have read the books, the description didn’t seem perfect but it didn’t seem problematic… People see things all the time and sometimes get the description wrong to a degree. I am not looking for perfection just closeness. Would you demand such a perfect description in any other thing but this? What if you were on a jury, someone reported seeing the defendant using a black 45 caliber pistol, but the pistol found on the defendant was a dark gray 38. Would you throw out their entire testimony because of that?
I will concede to a degree I misdescribed your position on NDEs with possible hallucinations, and I apologize, but I think my salient points remain pretty much intact. I will have to read the critique of the Lommel study but again I have to ask myself who was there for the study, Lommel or the person writing the critique. Who is in a better position to understand the data, the person who actually did the research or a skeptic many years later. To ask that question is to answer it.
Susan Blackmore’s explanations have been destroyed again and again- http://www.near-death.com/experiences/articles001.html
If you read Irreducible Consciousness you will see Woerlee’s arguments equally destroyed.
Out of curiosity Keith have you ever been unconscious for any length of time? I have been twice. Once in advanced training with the army and another time when a road side bomb went off very close to me while I was in Iraq ( luckily for me it only knocked me out) . I can tell you from experience you do not remember a thing during the period you are unconscious and we you come through it’s a blur for awhile. I know I was in way better condition then many of the people who have had NDEs and just from my experience alone I know they could not under any remotely normal circumstances be able to tell what happened to them during that period. Doesn’t work that way.
I have also seen people unconscious while in Iraq. I can assure you they were quite clueless to what was happening around them, and they weren’t much better off when they awoke. That is why it is called unconsciousness.
Keith we can settle this question quite simply. We can blindfold you and plug your ears. ( I will make sure the ear plugs completely block sound, no partial getting through, just like the ones with doctors used with Pam Reynolds. I will be nice though and not have them actually beeping loud noises every second). You will still get to be conscious though. I will now do various things in the room, and I will require you to tell me what happened, exactly! If you do this I will give you five hundred dollars. If you fail to do this, you have to give me fifty dollars, sound fair?
I am willing to double the offer. Here is now a change for you to make a cool grand. We do all the above to you, and you have to describe what is going on around you like earlier. But seeing it is extra money, I get to find the biggest whiskey bottle and hit you upside the head and knock you out. Come on Keith, according to skeptics NDErs do something similar, here is a clear chance to make 1,500 dollars if you past both test. Are you interested in truly testing your worldview and making some cash. If you don’t want the money I can always donate it to whatever charity you see fit. See I think my money is safe for the simple reason unconscious people cannot do what NDErs do! That is why it is a remarkable thing and so far explanations of a dying/stressed brain will not work!
I am sorry if you feel I am coming off harsh on you. Maybe I am, but harsh to a degree is personal. I consider harsh to be snipers, roadside bombs etc. Writing a critique is not harsh in my book. This is my last post on this subject unless you are seriously interested in testing your claims of what unconscious, sensory deprived people can truly do.
Posted by: Kris | December 27, 2008 at 11:55 PM
Kris: I can think of four blogs/forums I've had the audacity to comment on (shame on me!): the former Internet Infidels Discussion Board, the Secular Outpost, Michael Prescott's blog (to which I will not be returning), and this one. And since two of those were formally associated with the organization I represent, meant for a less hostile audience than the other two, your "many, many forums" I visit to "argue" turn outs to be two blogs I posted on, and only in response to one blog post in each case.
I posted on the Secular Outpost to offer a brief commentary on my impression of Chris Carter's "Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain," which true believers converted into an "attack" on that essay, as if no one is allowed to air reasons to disagree with Carter's conclusions without launching an offensive "attack" on him or his essay. What you see as an attack I meant to be educational, i.e., to point out what I though was wrong, in a very general way, with Carter's conclusion. (I never had any intention of providing a point-by-point rebuttal to him, as my response was made out to be; I only intended to respond to two select points I though worth exploring a little further.)
I got sucked into the IIDB thread because Leo MacDonald decided to falsely accuse me of quoting NDE researchers out of context and of ignoring a "Peak-in-Darrien" characteristic of Pam Reynolds' NDE that never existed but which he uncritically accepted from an Internet rumor evidently started by Eteponge. So the only reason I even entered that discussion was to correct those misrepresentations.
I also made the mistake of commenting on Prescott's blog because he and those leaving comments uncritically had such glowing things to say in favor of Neal Grossman's clearly rhetorical propaganda against me which didn't even address any of my actual arguments and evidence, and I foolishly thought that they should be made aware of how prejudical the piece they were endorsing was. (I've since learned my lesson.) Is that looking for a fight? I don't think so.
Finally, Kris, it is you who made accusations about my unwavering bias here and how no skeptics would ever believe any contrary evidence. I never intended a continued discussion here, and I thought my original comment was a reasonable one that both skeptics and believers would be in agreement about--hardly anything that would provoke a fight. Hell, it was just a comment, and a reasonable one at that. You are the one who took the opportunity to pick any fight here.
That said, I see nothing productive coming from continued discussion with you here, Kris, so I'm choosing to walk away from this conversation with you, starting now.
I do want to add one thing in response to Paul Welsh's latest comment, though, the only thing I really wanted to comment on when deciding to add an additional comment in the first place.
Paul wrote that various answers to my "why can't they..." questions included "that one prerequisite of good communication is an emotional connection with an individual and the desire to prove their individual existence to those they love, not prove the continuation of life per se."
But why couldn't someone who wanted to prove survival--and many of those now deceased spent their whole lives trying to prove survival (think Ian Stevenson, or Susy Smith, or Fredrick Meyers, and so on)--communicate clear information to someone with whom they had a personal connection, someone who could pass on their communication to the rest of the world to be tested--such as Stevenson's magic "key word" that would open his combination lock? We are told that people like F.M.H. Myers played elaborate literary games on the other side via cross-correspondences in order to try to prove survival, but they can't even produce a word or two that would open a combination lock? Come on! As for my example of cures for illnesses--by focusing on the reasons those might not be reported by NDErs, you're missing the point. My point is that there are a million different ways in which NDErs or mediums COULD come back with *publicly* verifiable information (not just private revelations) of SOME sort, and nothing they ever come back with seems to be this sort of confirmatory information. A cure for a disease, a lottery number, the combination for the safe at the local bank, a theory of quantum gravity coming from an NDEr who is a middle school drop-out, and so on; these are all just SOME easy examples off the cuff that would do the trick. The point is not that these specific sorts of information are absent, but that NO publicly verifiable information of ANY sort that would clearly demonstrate an afterlife is EVER produced.
Again, there are million different ways it COULD be done, but it seems to never happen. Why not? "Prophecies" might not come true because they're always conditional on the world not changing in some vague just in time to avert disaster, the combination to the safe might be hard to discern because astral vision is poor, and so on, and so forth. There are a million different excuses for why the millions of ways in which decisive evidence could be procured never is, in fact, procured. But at the end of the day, the most likely explanation for why NO decisive, publicly available information like this EVER comes from NDErs or mediums is that none one is returning from an afterlife and no deceased persons are communicating with mediums. This is what I mean when I say the burden of proof is on afterlife proponents, and what I mean when I say that proponents have failed to meet that burden. In light of that, it is incumbent on you to give me reasons to believe what you believe, not upon me to give you reasons to doubt. Survivalists have yet to make a case that can withstand critical scrutiny, unlike those who advocated, say, quantum mechanics or plate tectonics in the face of doubt.
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 28, 2008 at 01:37 AM
I happen to rather enjoy Michael Prescott's blog and I will say you put your foot in your mouth over there. Implying the readers of his blog are not interested in honesty tends not to be wise in making friends. I subscribe to IANDs and my impression Grossman's arguments were that they were directed against skeptics in general. He made some very good points too.
Keith, paranormalist who regularly blog tend to be a smart crowd. Not all of them mind you, but certainly many of them are. Do not be surprised if many of them do not display much kindness toward your explanations for the simple fact that they consider them deceiving and dishonest. Many paranormalist started out as skeptics, read the same material you did and came to the exact opposite conclusions. I will say your position as executive director of internet infidels as I have noted before does not greatly help your claims of objectivity. Also walking away from any conversation when it gets heated seems to be just childish to me. Come on this is not elementary school!
Assuming NDEs are correct I highly suspect the reason you do not get cures to diseases is that in the scheme of all things if there is an afterlife, then disease is not a huge deal. However you are factually mistaken in saying no inventions have come from NDErs experiments, read this link-http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research08.html
They credit these inventions to their NDE, shouldn't they know where they got their inspiration from? If not why not?
Keith I noted that about prophecies because that is why NDErs state!!! Sorry if prophecy in a NDE sense does not have the same definition as you want it to, but it doesn't. Too bad, so sad, oh well.
I am not going to get into mediums as I do not know enough about the subject.
Again would you be willing to take my two challenges and see if you can describe what happens around you just as accurately as NDErs. Surely you are some other enterprising skeptic should be able to do this if you are so willing to use such explanations.
Posted by: Kris | December 28, 2008 at 02:24 AM
Thanks for responding. I was disappointed to see that you didn't respond to my questions regarding the sources you had examined or research you had attempted.
As to your "surely it is possible" question - there are numerous examples of evidence being passed which are hard to disregard - without knowing what you have already looked at it's difficult to know where to point you as I don't know what you have already considered and rejected, nor the reasons for it.
I thought my answer was reasonable - that is: that we cannot be sure what condition people are in assuming they survive, and how easy or not it is to communicate specific information, or what obstacles or conditions may prevent accurate communication. What I have not seen you do so far is rebutt any of the historical reports, experiments and records accumulated over 150 years of research (mostly unfunded)- or even have the courtesy to tell me what exactly you have looked at.
To simply demand a cure for AIDS or Cancer or Cold Fusion, or lottery numbers etc would not prove survival although it might prove prescience or even the ability to tap into unknown skills or knowledge (all of which have been researched and for which there is evidence).In fact why stop there? Why havent they told us how to travel through space and time? Or what happened before the Big Bang? There may be many reasons why this information has not been given as I mentioned (including the fact that the communicators don't have access to it). I would assert that there is a great deal of evidence of factual and well-attested nature that has been passed to us.Either you are not aware of it or it doesn't fit your criteria so you ignore it or you have rejected it for some valid reason - if so let's hear the reason.
There is a great deal of evidence available. It is relatively easily accessible these days. What have you looked at and why have you rejected it? If you can't or won't answer that I'm afraid there is no basis for further discussion really as far as I can see and I see no point in continuing the dialogue.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 28, 2008 at 02:52 AM
One thing I have wondered for awhile. Why do Atheist so oppose the existence of dualism and a possible afterlife?
Food for possible thought:
We do not know how consciousness came to exist.
We do not know how consciousness functions.
To assert that dualism and an afterlife are impossible is very dogmatic in the face of how little we truly know.
I am going to present a possibility.
The same natural forces that created the immune system, the eye etc managed to create a consciousness that was to a degree separate from the brain. Nothing in that statement is impossible. Because of natural law that consciousness survives, man and animal. It would seem probable that only man consciousness is intelligent enough to learn beyond survival and that is why you have a afterlife realm and no afterlife communication with animals.
I am not trying to prove this. I am simply seeking to make the point that dualism, the afterlife is not necessarily incompatible with materialism and naturalism.
Just a thought.
Posted by: Kris | December 28, 2008 at 03:32 AM
Paul: I don't really desire further discussion at this point, as I've already diverted too much of my limited time writing here. I can't keep up writing 3-5 hours a day just to answer questions posed to me, but I do think your question about my familiarity with the literature deserves some sort of answer.
That said, I really have no inclination to spend hundreds of hours rebutting every single case that might have impressed you on a first read here. If you wish, you are free to list what cases impressed you most (that would certainly be interesting to know), and what about them impressed you--but I really don't have the time to critique them now. I have about a month to get a book introduction written and only the weekends to work on it, and then other obligations until mid-March will prevent me from returning to that book project. As I said, I've already spent more time here than I originally intended. Really, given my time constraints I should have let Kris get the last word after making my initial comment here instead of responding to him, since I only intended to make the one comment in the first place and then move on to other things (like working on that introduction). So managing my time responsibly demands that I put some closure to my contributions to this blog entry--not that I haven't enjoyed discussing this. Maybe we can pick up on this in a year or so, if we cross paths again.
In any case, here's a list of the books I have already read, or otherwise are on my already crowded to-do list:
* Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century (2006) ed. Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, and Bruce Greyson
* Is There Life After Death? An Examination of the Empirical Evidence (2005) by David Lester
* Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life After Death (2003) by Stephen Braude
* Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations (1982) by Alan Gauld
* Thinking Clearly About Death (1998) by J. F. Rosenberg
* Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (2001) ed. James Houran and Rense Lange
* Apparitions (1975) by Celia Green and Charles McCreery
* Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences (1992 ed.) by Susan Blackmore
* Flight of Mind: A Psychological Study of the Out-of-Body Experience (1985) by Harvey J. Irwin
* An Introduction to Parapsychology (1999) by Harvey J. Irwin
* Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences (1993) by Susan Blackmore
* Religion, Spirituality, and the Near-Death Experience (2003) by Mark Fox
* Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation (1982) by Michael Sabom
* Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives (2005) by Jim Tucker
* Children Who Remember Previous Lives (2001) by Ian Stevenson
Again, I have not yet read all of these, I've also read some other relevant works that I haven't listed here (for example, those found in my references in "Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences," or those I refer to elsewhere, like Nicholas Humphrey's Leaps of Faith)--but those included here are some of the more important books on the present discussion, IMO. There may well be others I've read or intend to read that I've simply overlooked including in this listing. And a great deal of the important information I've read comes from innumerable articles rather than books. (Again, if you want to know some of them, see what I refer to in my online paper or in the references of my print responses to JNDS commentaries.)
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 28, 2008 at 06:35 AM
I'm already remembering some other books I have not read in quite a long time: Curt Ducasse's A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death (1961), Robert Kastenbaum's Is There Life After Death? (1986), Immortality or Extinction? by Paul and Linda Badham (1982), Death and Personal Survival (1992) by Robert Almeder, and of course Paul Edwards' anthology Immortality and Corliss Lamont's The Illusion of Immortality, no doubt among other books I'm still forgetting.
by Robert Almeder
Posted by: Keith Augustine | December 28, 2008 at 06:55 AM
Since your time is limited and you are clearly busy I would say thank you for the list of books you have read and intend to read (without knowing which is which and what you rejected and why there isn't a lot of value in it regretably). I would have thought there wasn't much point in raising points without support and then not producing any concrete rebuttals when challenged - that would indeed be a waste of your time. I haven't read any of your research, you haven't responded properly to my questions (though you have said you are too busy) and yours is not a name I recognise (probably my own ignorance) so it's hard to decide whether you are genuinely interested in the matter or simply another philosophical wrestler.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 28, 2008 at 01:08 PM
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Posted by: Kate | December 29, 2008 at 08:00 AM
Keith, I’d agree with Paul on this. It makes sense to me to take psi as it is, not as we think it ought to be. In the heyday of spiritualism it was a common complaint that the spirits never communicated anything useful to humanity, like new inventions, cures, etc. But this makes enormous assumptions, that the dead have access to some storehouse of universal knowledge, that these inventions and cures actually exist in the ether somewhere, or that the spirits concerned can use their fabulous new powers to work them out. All the esoteric literature suggests we’re in the world for a reason, and that reason might be to work with the tools we are given to improve our condition. Inventions and cures would be ‘this-world’ business.
There’s a rather interesting case in one of Kenneth Ring’s books – Heading Towards Omega, I think – about a chap named Tom Sawyer, a truck driver with little education, who had an NDE and, apparently as a direct result, got heavily into quantum mechanics. It’s not the great new theory you’re after, but it perhaps underlines my point. The ‘other reality’ – for want of a better term – may be a source of inspiration, but the creativity happens in this one. The Shakespeares and Mozarts may have some direct access that the rest of us lack, but it’s here that they express themselves.
Incidentally, quite a common statement by NDErs is that their minds were briefly illuminated with new knowledge, but that they absolutely lacked the ability to bring it back.
As Paul says, if the deceased are still alive in some sense, that sort of thing may not interest them. I did acid a few times in my younger days, and what I got was, my God, this is a whole new type of experience, a new way of looking at things. Alcohol can do that too, in a quite different and much less coherent way. It’s all about feeling, sensation, impression – and above all, the expression of bonds of love and friendship. In these sorts of altered states the whole calculating type of thinking seems irrelevant, if not actually ludicrous. At the very least, being dead must be an ‘altered state’. It might be easy to identify an item of knowledge that really means something to someone, ie is of emotional significance, but much less so to identify a number.
Thanks for taking part, and do keep coming back – it helps mix things up a bit.
Posted by: Robert McLuhan | December 29, 2008 at 11:50 AM
Look at the link I posted, there are cases of NDErs bring discoveries back. If Keith doesn't want to believe them that is fine, but he should at least acknowledge some claim to have brought back some knowledge from the other side, and they do have patents for their inventions.
Posted by: Kris | December 29, 2008 at 06:26 PM
Thanks for the link. Interesting reading. I think you are wasting your time and energy with Keith.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 30, 2008 at 03:23 PM
I agree Paul, Keith uses to support his case for hallucinations through books made by nde supporters. Also for Keith, don't think he considers the possibly that those cases he presents may simply be misperceiving what they saw instead.
Posted by: Leo MacDonald | December 31, 2008 at 01:19 AM
I know I am Paul, however my purpose is to show people his arguments are without merit. The fact he seemed a bit whinny just made it all the more rich for me.
Posted by: kris | December 31, 2008 at 05:19 AM
So does anyone think Keith or any skeptic is willing to test my method for replicating the affects of the Sabom study?
Posted by: Kris | December 31, 2008 at 05:28 AM
I hear you Kris. In a way I was attempting something similar: "Tell me what research you have seen and why you reject it" - not an unreasonable question. The answer? - virtually nothing. As Rupert Sheldrake said - 'it's very easy to trash years of research with no effort'.
I have seen people do this so much over the past few years I have been examining the evidence. At first I was shocked but I have become inured to it.
On the Sabom thing - why ask a sceptic to test it. Why not run it past someone really interested like Rupert Sheldrake or Schwarz or Parnia etc ?
Posted by: Paul Welsh | December 31, 2008 at 11:50 AM
well skeptics insist it is easy enough for a person to remember what is going on around them if their eyes are closed and ears plugged I figured I would give them the opportunity to prove this first conscious and then unconscious. If you haven'r read my challenge to Augustine read it above.I even am willing to offer cash if he can pull this off.
Seeing they were just knocked out with a beer bottle in my second test they will still have a functional brain. It should easily be able to meet my challenge Cause we all know flat lined NDErs can do this so surely someone just unconsciousness should not have a single problem. If not why not?
Posted by: Kris | December 31, 2008 at 06:38 PM
I wanted to chime in here after much of the huffing and puffing have concluded to make an important point: Augustine's argument about mediums bringing safe combinations or cancer cures out of the ether is completely specious. One doesn't simply gin up a theory on how a phenomenon OUGHT to work and then proclaim that because it doesn't work according to one's liking that it must therefore be false. That's like saying that you think cold fusion ought to operate by dumping Pop Rocks into a vat of Coca Cola, and because it doesn't, cold fusion must be a fraud.
Throughout the history of medium research, there have been cases of unknowable data being provided, such as the book and newspaper tests written about by Michael Tymn (I'm sick with the flu and very tired, so I'm not going to waste my meager energies looking up references; Google them if you want them). However, if Keith were being intellectually honest he would admit that the art and science of mediumship has always been a person-to-person phenomenon: people bringing back information to people. If you talk to the best mediums of today, who do provide some incredible evidentiary information, they will tell you that their practice is all about trust and relationships with the living. It is not about acting as some sort of super-spy.
Since when has anyone claimed that they could find a cancer cure or pluck secret codes out of the afterlife? That's such an empty piece of nonsense I barely know where to begin. If we're talking about discarnate minds, one would have to assume that if you wanted to bring back a cancer cure, you would have to be in contact with a dead person who knew the cure for the disease. But cancer is an incredibly complex disease and I fail to see how a discarnate person, not likely to have access to laboratory facilities, would conduct research, not to mention clinical trials. So how could someone have cured the disease after death and then returned the knowledge to the living? Are you suggesting that there is some sort of all-knowledge field that we come into contact with after we die?
The same nonsense applies to code-breaking. Unless you presume some sort of super-psi that allows a medium to pick up a bank vault code from nowhere, he or she would have to be getting it from a mind, living or dead. But which mind? You're going to tell me that not being able to pick the handful of minds that know a specific code out of six billion living humans (assuming this can even be done at all) is proof that mediums don't talk to the deceased? Give me a break. This argument gets into mega-remote viewing or telepathy territory and abilities that would be terrifying in their power. Some powerful such abilities, particularly in remote viewing, have been well documented, but they have nothing to do with survival.
Finally, what makes such publicly available evidence any less remarkable or evidentiary of survival than private, personal evidence provided to an individual by a medium? My mother contacted a wonderful medium in New England a few years after her father died. As a journalist, and at that time, a deeply cynical skeptic, I counseled her in the ways to conceal her identity from the medium to prevent any research or cold reading (pay cash, not reveal her last name, block caller ID when she called the medium, give only yes or no answers during the reading, etc.). The medium told her about a wooden sailing sloop that my grandfather had apparently built with his brother and my great-grandfather, a boat my mother had never known existed. The medium gave my mother the name of the vessel and described it in some detail. My mother was later able to track this vessel down and find the shipyard where it had been kept as late as 1980. It had been neglected and been torn apart for wood scrap years earlier, but the records of its registration and storage still existed, as did photographs. My mother was able to verify this piece of information with high precision. How is this any less veridical than some half-baked theory about a medium bringing back a secret code?
Augustine, you're a well-read guy, but you can do better than this glib and frankly insulting argument.
Posted by: Pacificwhim | January 01, 2009 at 04:25 PM
Pacificwhim, great story - are there any more details? Might be good to write it up, if you have time, and publish it here or somewhere. It all helps make the case.
Posted by: Robert McLuhan | January 01, 2009 at 05:24 PM
Unfortunately, my mother passed herself before she was able to share any more details; she told me this at a time when I was a pretty dogmatic skeptic and while it helped open my mind a lot more, I was still grappling with how to deal with it when she passed away. So what I've told is about all I've got. Just one more tantalizing tidbit, I suppose, that proves nothing to anyone who wasn't directly involved.
Posted by: Pacificwhim | January 01, 2009 at 07:12 PM
Hi Pacific. Great contribution. I would say that Keith suggested a spirit could just "hover" when the code was being keyed in and report it back (I mention this only for completeness although if you want to address it please feel free).
On your story - I whilst I would agree with your final comment that in itself if doesnt prove survival, unless one was to suggest your mum was either lying or deluded or couldn't remember the details properly then I would say it is evidence. As you rightly imply in your contribution there is a vast amount of evidence of varying degrees of quality - your story was perhaps for your mother conclusive, for you pursuasive and for the rest of us evidential to some greater or lesser degree so thank you.
Remember to take paracetamol, plenty of warm fluids and rest. Happy New Year.
Posted by: Paul Welsh | January 01, 2009 at 08:08 PM
Paul, in the interest of investigating further I called my sister a few hours ago and asked her if Mom had told her the story. She had, and it varied in some details, though the major aspects were consistent. This does suggest that though she was quite lucid when she shared the story, her memory had faded somewhat. So that does reduce the evidentiary value. However, it's still quite persuasive that something interesting occurred, if no one can say exactly what. It's also possible she knew about the boat and forgot that she knew, though that seems unlikely. At any rate, upon closer examination it seems to be just a cool family story with evidentiary value that's marginal. If I were to show it to my editor, he'd send me back into the field for more corroboration. I have stories I may share after I am able to corroborate them with the living.
As to Keith's "hovering" comment, this is again more wishful thinking of how he would like postmortem consciousness to operate. If such a thing does exist, we don't know how it works or what discarnates can perceive. We don't know why some personalities appear to communicate from the afterlife and others do not. It seems to me that the idea of a ghost hovering to scope out a safe combination is another glib, dismissive bit of pop culture flotsam, similar to the inevitable "Well, if she's psychic she should have seen it coming" posts you find on skeptical forums when a story breaks about a well-known psychic being robbed, hit by a car, or whatever.
By the way, has anyone checked out the results from Alex Tskaris' Open Source Science medium testing project? Apparently, they were quite impressive, at least upon my brief review. Find the link at http://www.skeptiko.com/ and click on "probability spreadsheet."
Posted by: Pacificwhim | January 01, 2009 at 08:48 PM
The interpretation of a negative result from the Parnia study will depend on the number of OBE's reported. If a large number of OBE's fails to produce any verifiable veridical perception it's very unlikely the scientific community will undertake another large scale investigation of NDEs. Also if a huge study like this can't reproduce any paranormal claims it will certainly put previous studys like Michael Sabom's in a bad standing. The problem with these small studys usually conducted by one individual is that the authors have good reason to exaggerate their findings - it makes it more likely someone will buy their books after all. I think Gary Schwartz is a good example of such a 'scientist'(I haven't studied Michael Sabom's work).
If on the other hand positive results are reported from the Parnia study I think we are going to see several large studys in the near future wanting to reproduce the stunning claims. A cross nation study involving 25 hospitals and 1500 patients is hard to ignore. Often these days a study involving functional brain imaging and just 30-40 subjects hit the headlines with some peseudo-scientific result like "a computer can read your dreams" etc.. Imagine what a "miracle" claiming study involving 1500 people will do.
Posted by: sbu | January 05, 2009 at 05:25 PM