Wednesday, May 7, 2014
If consciousness is just the workings of neurons and synapses, how do we explain the phenomenon of near-death experience? By some accounts, about 3% of the U.S. population has had one: an out-of-body experience often characterized by remarkable visions and feelings of peace and joy, all while the physical body is close to death. To skeptics, there are more plausible, natural explanations, like oxygen deprivation. Is the prospect of an existence after death “real” and provable by science, or a construct of wishful thinking about our own mortality?
Neurosurgeon & Author, Proof of Heaven
Psychologist, Medical Doctor & Author, Life After Life
Physicist & Writer
Academic Neurologist, Yale School of Medicine
Author & Correspondent for ABC News
Neurosurgeon & Author, Proof of Heaven
Eben Alexander, M.D., is a renowned academic neurosurgeon. A transcendental near-death experience (NDE) during a week-long coma from an inexplicable brain infection completely changed his understanding of how the brain worked. He has spent the years since his NDE reconciling his rich spiritual experience with contemporary physics and cosmology. His book about the experience, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (2012), has spent more than a year atop the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list and is contracted for publication in over forty countries. Alexander has taught at Harvard Medical School, and has authored or co-authored over 150 chapters and papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. A pioneering scientist and thought leader in consciousness studies, he has been a guest on Dr. Oz, Oprah, and many other national and international media programs.
Psychologist, Medical Doctor & Author, Life After Life
Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., PH.D., is a psychologist and medical doctor. He is the best-selling and award-winning author of twelve books, including Life After Life (1975) in which he coined the term “near-death experience” (NDE), as well as numerous articles in academic and professional literature. His research into the phenomenon of NDE had its start in the 1960s, and the New York Times has since hailed him as "the father of the near-death experience." In the three decades since receiving his M.D., a PH.D. in philosophy, and a Ph.D. in psychology, he has lectured for audiences all over the world and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio programs. In addition, he trains hospice workers, clergy, psychologists, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals on matters of grief recovery and dying.
Physicist & Writer
Sean Carroll is a physicist and author. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, and is now on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. His research focuses on fundamental physics and cosmology, especially issues of dark matter, dark energy, and the origin of the universe. Carroll is the author of The Particle at the End of the Universe (2012), From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time (2010), and Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity (2003). He has written for Scientific American, New Scientist, and The Wall Street Journal. He frequently consults for film and television, and has been featured on television shows such as The Colbert Report, PBS's Nova, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.
Academic Neurologist, Yale School of Medicine
Steven Novella, M.D., is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the founder and current executive editor of Science-Based Medicine, as well as the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. Novella is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, the philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society.
This shouldn't even be a question in this day and age. It's time for humans to grow up and accept a non-magical universe.
Regarding a previous commenter's statement, "As for Eben Alexander, he was stunningly disingenuous when it came to the Carl Sagan quote..."
Actually, Alexander's claim, though an exaggeration, is closer to Sagan's words that Novella's flat-out dismissal of them.
Here's the relevant extract from The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan, page 302:
"At the time of this writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generation in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images "projected" at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they're like to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong."
Now Alexander's statement "Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is overwhelming" is clearly an exaggeration. If he had said "compelling" instead of "overwhelming", it would be closer to the real quote.
But Novella is also disingenuous, and imo dishonest, when he replies "I've read that book a hundred times. Carl Sagan did not believe in past lives. He did not believe in anything paranormal or supernatural. That is just not true."
Novella has read that book ONE HUNDRED times? Really? Okay, let's assume he has read it 100 times. Then I would question his comprehension abilities and/or his intellectual honesty since he flatly rejects the assertion that Sagan mentioned past life memories in children in a credible context. And Sagan did frame it as "deserving serious study."
Eben Alexander's claim about Carl Sagan admitting "overwhelming" evidence for past life memories in children was stated completely out of context and, when you read what Carl Sagan actually wrote, is downright FALSE. Here's the entire, unedited paragraph from Carl Sagan's book:
"At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion,deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images `projected' at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they're likely to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong."
As you can see, Carl Sagan clearly stated he did NOT believe those claims were valid, so Dr. Alexander use of Sagan's writing to support his theories is very dishonest.
The skeptics' views were based on theories, not facts.
Alexander and Moody were sharing cases that happened and verified through documentation by medical records, etc.
I am on the side of Alexander and Moody...why? For one thing, I myself have experienced something very similar to an NDE. There is new research coined by author Sarah Hinze known as Pre Birth Experience or PBE, where our consciousness, our soul or spirit existed before we were born into our present mortal physical world. I myself had such an experience when I was eight years old. I am now almost 56. The conscious memory, the expressions of indescribable joy, the experience of higher felt consciousness and super-enhanced brain capacity beyond my eight year old cognitive physical capacity, is still quite vivid after all these years and is clear evidence to me personally that I had a remarkable similar phenomenon such as an NDE. The other side claimed that a table is made up of particles of atoms, yet they admitted they don't completely fully understand what the atom physical makeup is beyond protons / neutrons (how is it that these finer substances exist? An atom is finer than the physical object it creates. Protons and neutrons are finer materials beyond the atom. Science has now began to discover that the physical world is made up of "light" particles. It is my opinion that LIGHT and Consciousness or in other words, the SPIRIT are one and the same. Albert Einstein gave us the theory of relativity, which is based on the speed of light. In our physical world we comprehend time. In our state, we understand a beginning and an end to all things, yet when it comes to infinity or eternal principles, this is beyond our physical experience. Einstein basically stated that if we could travel the speed of light, we would never die. TIME WOULD STAND STILL. We would essentially be immortal. I believe immortal beings appear to have a body of substance like a physical human form, yet they are made up of a FINER material or MATTER, just like an atom is made of matter, yet the proton and neutron composite of an atom is of a finer material substance than the atom itself. I am LDS (The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints), also known as Mormons. We believe our souls (or spirit matter or consciousness) existed before we were born. We believe this finer material which creates the consciousness of our Physical bodies are literal spirit children of God. Since my PBE, I certainly am convinced such is the case. Here is an interesting scripture as revealed by God to a great early spiritual of our faith...Doctrine and Covenants 84: 44-47
44 For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
46 And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
47 And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
We may not fully comprehend this debates question until after we part from this life into the spiritual realm. Here is another set of scripture found in our Doctrine and Covenants... D&C 93:28-30
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
Death is probably final. The 'experience' of death is probably identical to the state of being that conscious entities 'experience' before birth.
Some computerl 'experts' contest the proposition that life is a prerequisite to consciousness. Without concrete evidence to the contrary they're probably wrong.
'Probably' covers a lot of territory. Without concrete evidence to the contrary, the simplest explanation of life and consciousness is by far the most probable.
Since answers to questions about life and death can't be known with absolute certainty and fear and personal ego are major factors influencing people many people believe different concepts regarding death than the one that's most probable.
It was nice to see Dr.Eben Alexander in this debate, as I have much respect for him and his blessed experience. There was a point in the debate that caught my attention though and I wanted to comment on my experiences with this, it might shed some light into the topic. I experienced first hand the reality of ghosts.. Since this seems to be a puzzling thing for those that hold an exclusively materialistic worldview to explain away, especially when the witnesses are healthy normal unsuspecting people I thought it would be helpful if I chipped in my two scents. Im not a scientist, but I do believe that what I am about to write merits an explanation...
( I apologize for my long reply! )
For about more than a year I worked as a custodian during the night 9-12:00 a.m. at a beauty academy to earn some extra cash. During my time there, I could see the sudden tension in people as their closing hour came up. It came to my attention that a few decades before this building was used as a beauty academy it was an old theater, one that was closed down after an awful murder had taken place in the womens bathroom. Apparently a child had died there and a woman as well. It was all over the news back then.
You can imagine the chill running down spines as the kids attended their classes! Oh the stories were plentiful. The faculty had seen a woman in white clothing walking through the narrow half lit isles that led to lonely classrooms. Lights turning on and off suddenly, during classroom hours. Trashcan lids literally levitating during class meetings.. hearing a childs laughter in an empty academy as the faculty were getting ready to leave.
Find it shocking or not, but sometimes those brave souls worked longer shifts that went into the night. Sometimes they would be there before the custodial staff would arrive, and they would hear a child bouncing a ball in the downstairs lobby. They would peek closer and see the dark shadow embodiment of a childs figure. People reported seeing a child running up and down the stairs, playing games and well being a kid. During Halloween, the supervisor said that as she was upstairs filing some papers, getting things ready, a doll that hung by the wall beside her started shivering and violently thrusting, the hairs of the doll began to move in an electrified fashion. She told us she soon bolted out of there as soon as she could. The supervisor has been reluctant to stay after hours.
My boss would often times be left alone in the largest classroom in the academy, (it was one that was used for instructing and cutting clients hair) and as he cleaned the lockers in that room, now keep in mind there was an estimated hundred or so, they begin to pound loudly and aggressively in the corners of the room... Moving from locker to locker as if there was some sort of angry dog or animal inside them.
This place is scary enough, with a chandelier, classical 8ft frames hanging from the sides of the lobby, the deserted and isolated feel of everything, since it was a theater originally..
The one that really took any shred of skepticism away for me though was when I actually heard the ghost for myself. I wanted to maintain my skepticism, in part because in any other way I think I would have been to afraid to go back, but after I actually heard it I dont know if I could explain it away.. Late midnight as I was resting in my chair in the lonely hallway near the exit, I heard a very audible groaning, but it wasnt a passive groaning, the one I heard was a suffocated, tired and violent groaning as if to say "I cannot take it anymore, I am enraged, someone help me.." After I got my nerves back I went and checked the empty locker hallway next to where I was, just to check if anyone was actually there... there was no one. My boss was upstairs and apparently I finished too early and I assumed we were done so I waited.. The sound could not have come from outside because there was a very real sense of the audio sounds bouncing from the walls of the locker hallway. It happened about fifteen feet from where I was!! It sounded really disturbed to be honest.
As the months went by they decided on getting the school a new paint job, you know for the coming year and because the aesthetics were beginning to show its age. They remodeled and brought in new equipment. And at night came a group of painters that were hired to give the walls of the school a new paint job. The first week into the job the painter lost his whole crew and got stuck finishing the job by himself. The crew fled that week in fear. Also a skeptic, he scoffed at the idea of ghosts and at his workers for being "cowards". From what he tells, that is one night he wont soon forget. I must assume he is now a somewhat changed man as well due to the trauma of his experience.
As he was left painting the remainder the building from the inside, right in the same spot that I heard the grueling voice, he said a body clung to his back as he was benched over painting and gathering his supplies.. He felt it was some sort of playful wrestling that tossed his body around and pulled from the neck. After the four hours of work he came home a shivering person, shocked and confused. Denouncing that place and swearing he would never go back there no matter what they payed him..
I could go on and on about the stories and experiences.. But this is why I simply am not okay with hearing that these things dont happen.. These things need to be accounted for and need to be taken seriously as they affect people and can leave them traumatized..
This is why I think its unwise to dismiss these things or to treat them without respect. The debaters in opposition claimed to be coming from a level headed and respectful position but I dont think this is true... There was a lot of sarcasm and explanations given in a joking tone from the opposing debaters that made me cringe when in the same debate they claimed to be respectful as well.. It might be only my opinion, and I could be wrong on this, but that is the attitude I perceived during the debate.
I think it is naive at best, to believe that looking through this limited filter of the materialistic position can solve all discussions. It is important to view these things with humility and simply accept that we do not yet have all the answers. That somethings might be within our reach and others might simply not be within our reach, now or ever at all.
I think the scientific community needs to have a perspective of self criticism and humility and to simply say, "we dont know and our proposed hypotheses are not adequate to explain supernatural phenomena, but we still acknowledge its importance and presence in our everyday lives. " It would be nice to hear scientists saying this more and more often. That the materialistic perspective is but a small portion of the entire amount of knowledge.
If there was nothing there, there would be nothing there. Considering western scientists... can't even measure 96% of the Universe, the most unscientific thing one could do is assume anything about it. Some of us didn't have time to argue, it's easier to just do it.
Death is the ultimate personal experience. I do not personally believe death is final. But one cannot "know" until one has the experience. I'm content to wait and find out for myself. The talking heads can argue ad nauseum. They'll find out soon enough.
Science continues to equate, and confuse, "mind" with "consciousness." In the eastern sciences, which do not deny life after death, mind is indeed produced by the brain; but it is Consciousness that exists independent of the brain. Until science is able to sort out its own definitions, debates like this one will continue on false premises.
Clever, clever undecideds
Near death critics should watch Pim van Lommel's video.
I don't really care for the format of these debates with the voting from the audience. There's too much bias potential from the audience. What if they vote "undecided" beforehand even though they have a definitely opinion on the matter, just so they can make it seem as though more people have been swayed by their side? How are we to know if the audience is actually balanced? Even though it turned out that the 'against' side garnered more votes in the end, I don't believe for a second that it's a accurate reflection of how convinced the audience was of the arguments.
Alexander's entire argument is based upon an argument from ignorance. He doesn't have any other explanation for what he experienced, therefore it's the afterlife. It's just one huge logical fallacy. It doesn't exactly help that he believes in remote viewing and such....that just adds to my confidence that he's not a person to be taken seriously.
Eben (a name he gave himself, not his birth name) was thoroughly debunked in a fine journalist piece (in Vanity Fair or the New Yorker, I think.) I read it a while ago. The guy's got a scam going. He lied about a lot of things and got busted by a thorough journalist.
Wathcing this program, every movement on the screen and every sound from the speaker correlates with electronic activity within my PC. Therefore the entire program was generated by my PC and ceases to exist when it breaks down.
The 'against' side deserved to win, Steve Novella and Sean Carroll did the side of naturalism and reason proud.
To the Spiritualists out there,
You need to understand that you have not met the burden of proof yet (the plural of anecdote is not data). A discovery of an afterlife would be the biggest finding in human history but you have to put in the time and do the rigorous research first, stop making bald assertions.
With that said I am still waiting for a clear definition (that means no hand waving, deepities, etc) of a spirit. I personally cannot take you seriously until you can come up with a working definition (that others agree upon) of the 'thing' you are talking about. It is so tiresome reading comments regarding mystical occurrences, infinite awareness, divine love and the like. None of this means anything, I understand we can be limited in our vocabulary at times but these statements are not profound, it is just word salad.
As for Eben Alexander, he was stunningly disingenuous when it came to the Carl Sagan quote. He was obviously trying for a 'gotcha' moment that could swing the vote. The problem with us skeptics is we investigate (everything) it turns out Alexander butchered Sagan's quote. On top of that even if the Carl Sagan with all his fantastic skeptical and scientific work had also believed in the credibility of such claims, this does not change the veracity of the claim itself. We should not make the mistake of appealing to authority. Alexander's credibility has also been eviscerated. Alexander's has documented attempts to cover up potential surgical malpractice, he has distorted the events surrounding his time in hospital for artistic license in his book and included other pieces of misinformation. This of course does not diminish the accuracy of other NDE claims or even the actual events (before he made fundamental changes) pertaining to his experience just that he should not be lauded.
As a skeptic I am open minded but this point needs to be stated; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You are not being close minded if you investigate rigorously the claims being made, it would be nonsensical to think otherwise. Some advice, a book or three and a YouTube video does not cut it. We (reasonable people awaiting evidence) want you to carry out methodologically sound studies in controlled environments. To provide rigorous analysis of collected data and publish in peer reviewed journals. Then establish a body of research and enhance that by meta-analyses and systematic reviews and so on. Then we can have a serious discussion about the NDE and afterlife claims; until this process has been started, such bald assertions are vapid and intellectually bankrupt. If you do all of that (in fairness even some of evidence would be incredible) we will be convinced and your Nobel prize will be awarded. It shouldn't be too hard should it, we've put men on the moon and placed rovers on Mars, solved Fermat's last theorem and found the Higgs Boson; all you have to do is get someone to see a playing card on top of a cupboard. Maybe that's flippant of me, just stop claiming to know things you do not know and do the work required, ok?
can I send my spirit to meet somebody
I am on Dr. Alexander's and Moody's side, and it's unfortunate that they didn't get to make all the points they could've made given the time constraints. First of all, solving the Hard Problem of Consciousness would involve much more than merely identifying a physical mechanism that is correlated with consciousness. The essence of the problem is "how can something as immaterial as consciousness ever arise out of something as unconscious as matter" (assuming, of course, that matter is unconscious as the materialists assert). Defining consciousness as a process, such as a flame, doesn't address the issue because there is a subjective, qualitative component that is inherent in consciousness, and all processes are purely objective and quantitative. How can something inherently subjective/qualitative be fully explained by something entirely objective and quantitative? I don't think it can, and thus I agree with Chalmers that consciousness is probably a fundamental aspect of reality. In my view, materialism in principle can never answer two fundamental questions: 1) why does consciousness exist at all and 2) why do objects, thoughts, and feelings appear the way they do (the problem of qualia). This is already a good reason to be skeptical of materialism and not be firmly entrenched in it the way Novella and Carroll are.
In addition, a quick Google search reveals that the "measurement problem" of quantum mechanics is still an unresolved mystery (which is why they are many contending interpretations of quantum theory). It is true that not all interpretations explicitly posit a role for consciousness. However, regardless of the interpretation, quantum theory clearly shows that quantum reality is inherently informational. Anyone who doubts this can check out a simple description of the quantum eraser experiment on this wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_eraser_experiment. Briefly, the properties quantum energies manifest depend on the information that we (the observers) are trying to elicit via our experimental setup. If there's no way we can know a particle's position, it stops being a particle with a definite position and becomes a "wave of possibilities." If we place a detector screen to determine its position, the wave of possibilities "collapses" and the particle becomes a particle, i.e. manifests a specific position. How and why this occurs remains a mystery. One thing is clear: on the quantum level, our so-called material reality is not what we would imagine it to be and what many materialists still imagine it to be despite their (apparent) knowledge of quantum theory; it is not tiny bits of inert matter chaotically bumping into each other in meaningless ways. Rather, it is energy and information interconnected in mysterious and meaningful ways and on the large scale creating the familiar material world that we (mistakenly) assume to be fundamental. The idea that the source of material reality is subtle energy and information is in complete accordance with the world's mystical traditions, and suggests that in a more general sense, consciousness is woven into the very fabric of reality and that Mind is behind this reality. The founders of quantum theory realized this, and Sir James Jean famously said "The universe begins to look more and more like a great thought than a great machine." The reason a lot of modern physicists do not openly make such statements is because they have learned to ignore the philosophical implications of quantum theory (which they feel are beyond their field) and stick with the mathematical formalism and practical applications, which is much less problematic. This is well explained in the book "Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness." The founders of quantum theory saw it with fresh eyes, and realized the profound implications. Modern physicists, on the other hand, have become desensitized to the mysterious nature and take it for granted.
There is a solid possibility that mind and consciousness manifest in the physical brain via quantum effects, in which case no laws of physics are violated. The significance of quantum effects in the brain has not yet been experimentally established; however, Quantum Biology is revealing that quantum effects play a larger role in living organisms than previously thought. It was found that they play a crucial role in photosynthesis, and might also be involved in bird navigation and in the human sense of smell. Quantum effects make photosynthesis much more efficient than it would have otherwise been, which shows that they are purposeful rather than meaningless and inert. These findings make it more likely than quantum effects play a similar role in the brain, which opens the possibility that mind and consciousness use the brain as a vehicle via these effects.
Novella suggested that just like the concept of "vital energy" became obsolete, so will the idea that consciousness is something more than a physical process. In light of Quantum Biology, which is a new field and still has a lot to discover, it doesn't seem that "vital energy" became obsolete. There's no doubt that physical life obeys the laws of physics and chemistry; in fact, it would be surprising if it somehow did not. But that doesn't undermine the possibility that life and consciousness come from a deeper and more subtle level of reality, and manifest in the physical through quantum effects. When they do so, they become bound by the laws of physics and chemistry, but just like Quantum Theory does not contradict these laws but instead includes them within itself, so are life and consciousness not reducible to these laws but can manifest in them and temporarily become limited by them. When the physical organism dies, life and consciousness can no longer operate through it so it goes back to its original form, which is more subtle and less restricted, but which cannot easily influence the physical world. The question of "vital energy" is not a question of whether or not life obeys the laws of nature. It is rather a question of whether or not there's something behind living organisms that led to their existence as organized, purposeful structures and that helped them to evolve. Science, being reductive as opposed to holistic, does not take "form" and "purpose" into account. It assumes that the whole is just the sum of its parts, and when the details of biological processes are explained, the mystery goes away. But it doesn't, because it seems extremely unlikely that structured and purposeful organisms would accidentally arise and evolve in a dead, meaningless universe. Just like photosynthesis would be very inefficient (and maybe non-existent) without purposeful quantum manifestations, so would life itself.
Moreover, Carroll claims there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of other realms. This is not true, however. Physicists know that what we call physical matter accounts for only 4% of the universe. The other 96% is dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter is of particular interest, because it implies the existence of a substance that is too subtle to be detected by current instruments but which is known to exist due to the gravitational effects it exerts on a large scale. It is hypothesized that this substance is composed of yet-undiscovered quantum particles, and that these "dark" particles might very well conglomerate into "dark atoms" and "dark molecules," and thus the dark world might be just as interesting and complex as the visible world (http://www.wired.com/2013/05/double-disk-dark-matter/). Is this not preliminary evidence of non-physical realms?
Also, Carroll and Novella have said again and again that reports of NDEs cannot be taken as evidence because as humans we are often mistaken about the nature of our experiences. However, being mistaken about the details of an experience when recalling it seems fundamentally different from being mistaken about the overall reality of the experience. The latter happens during dreams, but when we wake up we know that "it was just a dream." People who have hallucinations might take them to be valid during the experience, but if they recover and are not permanently delusional, they will realize them for what they were. Dr. Alexander recognized that the delusional recovery period was a hallucination. This is not the case with NDEs though. People who are totally sane are completely certain that what they experienced was not only as real as our everyday reality, but oftentimes even "more real." This is because they were hyper-lucid during the experience, which is not the case with hallucinations or dreams. The reason we mistake them to be real when they are happening is because we are in a lower state of awareness, but when we come back to our normal state, we realize that. NDEs, however, are characterized by a heightened state of awareness, which is suggested not only by the hyper-lucidity but also clarity of thought, abstract/complex thinking, and emotions of a very high order (unconditional love, compassion, etc). Almost everyone who had the experience asserts that they experienced a level of consciousness that was above, not below, their baseline state. As such, it is scientifically inappropriate to dismiss them as bizarre hallucinations, for then we might as well dismiss our everyday reality as a hallucination put together by our brain and nothing more.
On a related note, there are a number of people who willfully leave their bodies on a regular basis and have coherent out of body experiences that are informative and allow them to develop comprehensive theories about the nature of reality and the nonphysical realms. There are many authors on the subject, and they are clearly not delusional but are often socially adept and successful (Robert Monroe being a prime example). During their out of body experiences, they are usually as lucid as they are during their waking state, and are convinced of the objective reality of the experience. Occasionally, they are able to verify their perceptions against actual events that take place in the physical. Labeling these reports as mere "anecdotes" with no scientific value is biased and inappropriate. Science is not limited to laboratory experiments, but starts with systematic, careful observations, which is exactly what the out-of-body explorers do. Consistent reports from reliable sources should count as data. It does not conclusively prove anything but should promote open-minded investigation, which scientists like Carroll and Novella are far from doing.
Finally, Novella asserted that Parapsychology has failed to find any solid evidence for the existence of telepathy, etc. This is not quite true. Hundreds of experiments over the years have produced positive results, and these experiments have become more rigorous and well-controlled in recent years. If experimental flaws explain all apparent positive results, we would expect the evidence to decline in recent years, which hasn't happened. Meta analyses have also shown that better--controlled studies do not produce worse results than poorer ones, and publication bias is not enough to explain the overall significant results of meta-analyses. The statistics used to analyze the data is the same basic statistics that is used in most other areas of science, which is why many parapsychologists believe the evidence of ESP has been proven. Of course, skeptics disagree, but that is not due to lack of evidence. It is a matter of whether or not the burden of proof has been met, and that burden of proof is higher for those who believe ESP is impossible or highly unlikely. It has thus been suggested that Bayesian statistics should be used to analyze this type of data since it takes subjective probability into account. The conclusion, therefore, is that there is definitely evidence, but whether or not ESP has been proven depends on your a priori beliefs. Asserting that there is no evidence whatsoever is simply not true at this point, and is the result of mainstream prejudice against parapsychology research. Because most articles of this nature are published in specialized journals, it is easy for the mainstream to simply ignore the evidence and keep asserting it doesn't exist. Occasionally, these articles do make it into a mainstream journal, which is significant given how hard it is to make it through the peer-review process even for mainstream research.
Because quantum vibrations have just recently been discovered in microtubules in the brain which supports the much derided 1990s theory that consciousness is derived from deeper level, finer scale activities inside brain neurons. Read more about this recent scientific discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm . This theory of "quantum consciousness" is the theory known as "Orchestrated Objective Reduction" (Orch-OR) which was developed by the joint work of theoretical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff. Penrose approached the problem of consciousness from the view point of mathematics, while Hameroff approached it from his career in anesthesia that gave him an interest in brain structures.
Mainstream theories of consciousness use classical mechanics in assuming consciousness is produced from "goo". So they focus particularly on complex computation at synapses in the brain allowing communication between neurons. But Orch-OR assumes classical physics cannot fully explain consciousness. In the June 1994 issue of Discover Magazine, an article ran called "Quantum Consciousness" about how consciousness and quantum physics are intimately connected. This theory of quantum consciousness suggests that consciousness is processed inside the microtubules of brain cells. At death, the quantum information processed inside these microtubules doesn’t disappear; but instead, is retained in on the edge of the universe's event horizon allowing such information to be retrieved after death. One of the fundamental laws in physics, the first law of thermodynamics, states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed - it can only be converted. So if it is true that consciousness is a form of energy, then according to the first law of thermodynamics, consciousness cannot be created nor destroyed. Instead, it is converted into something else.
The reductive materialist model on which conventional science is based is fundamentally flawed. At its core, it intentionally ignores the fundamental component of existence - the nature of consciousness. The pioneers of quantum mechanics demonstrated that consciousness has a definite role in creating reality. But it was the "quantum eraser experiments" (Google it) performed in 2000 and later which strongly demonstrated that consciousness itself is deeply rooted in quantum processes. Quantum eraser experiments by Wheeler and others reveal that an experimenter is able to successfully choose and predict the random outcome of an event even after the outcome has already taken place. Quantum eraser experiments show how the outcome of whether or not a photon of light is a wave or a particle can be predicted after the fact by the experimenter making a random mental choice of the experiment's outcome. In other words, the experimenter's "after the fact" choice of the outcome actually determines the experiment's outcome. These astonishing findings dramatically shows that our choices made today may determine the outcome of our past.
This astonishing finding, where quantum information is processed backward in time as well as forward, is supported by the "Holographic Principle" (google it) developed by Leonard Susskind which theorizes the universe to be a hologram. Just recently this theory has been verified. See this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=universe-really-is-a-holo The universe as a single hologram solves the mystery of "quantum entanglement" which Einstein called "spooky actions from a distance."
This holistic view of the universe (as opposed to the reductionist view) can also be applied to the human brain. A holographic universe and holographic brain also falsifies dualism as it relates to the mind and body. The Holographic Principle was a catalyst towards a theory of "quantum consciousness" called the "Holonomic Brain Theory" (google it) which explains how the brain encodes memories in a holographic manner. The Holonomic Brain Theory originated from David Bohm and Karl Pribram who synchronistically arrived at a holographic model of the universe and mind at the same time. Taken all together, these holographic theories support a newly emerging paradigm called "holism." Holism is the principle of a whole system being more than just the sum of its parts as opposed to reductionism. The best way to study the behavior of many complex systems is to treat it as a whole.
One of the most amazing things about the human thinking process being holographic is that every piece of information is instantly cross-correlated with every other piece of information both inside and outside the brain - another feature intrinsic to the hologram. Because every portion of a hologram is infinitely interconnected with every other portion, the human brain is perhaps one of nature's supreme examples of a cross-correlated, holistic system.
Encoding and decoding light frequencies is precisely what a hologram does best. Just as a hologram functions as a lens which translates meaningless blurs of frequencies into a coherent image, Pribram theorizes the brain also comprises a lens (e.g., our eyes) and uses holographic principles to mathematically convert frequencies received by the senses into the inner world of our perceptions. This holistic and holographic theory of how the brain processes information and stores it in a nonlocal manner becomes more understandable when, according to the theory, the brain acts as a filter which translates the avalanche of frequencies the brain receives via the senses (light frequencies, sound frequencies, etc.) into the concrete world of our perceptions. An impressive body of evidence suggests the brain uses quantum holographic principles to perform its operations. Pribram's theory, in fact, has gained increasing support among neurophysiologists.
A good analogy of this theory of the brain acting as a filter of information (as opposed to the brain acting solely as the originator of information) is that the brain acts much like a radio receiver. When death occurs, the brain's receiving and filtering function dies along with the brain; but the nonlocal quantum information of consciousness does not. In the same way, if you destroy a radio, the nonlocal radio frequencies which the radio processes into the radio announcer's voice is not destroyed but continues to exist in the airwaves. In a holographic universe, this nonlocal quantum information of consciousness is stored (i.e., "painted") like all quantum information in the universe as interference patterns upon the two-dimensional edge of the event horizon of the black hole from which our universe was projected from. As with any hologram, it is from these two-dimensional interference patterns that a three-dimensional hologram is produced. So the brain's process of quantum information being stored upon the edge of our universe's event horizon may be the basis for consciousness transcending and surviving physical death as revealed in near-death experiences. This holographic paradigm supports the idea that consciousness does not originate from "goo" (i.e. material brains.) So, in this sense, looking to see how consciousness originates in the brain is much like looking inside a radio for the announcer.
I could go on and mention other interpretations of quantum mechanics supporting a transcendent consciousness such as the Many-Worlds Theory, and its corresponding Many-Minds Theory, and the Zero-Point Field Theory; but I don't have the time or space.
The old materialistic paradigm, prevalent mostly in the West, disregards the possibility of out-of-body dimensions; whereas, the new paradigm supports them. For this reason, open-minded scientists have acknowledged the time is now to abandon the old paradigm and focus on the new one. Disregarding the old paradigm became even more reasonable when, in December of 2001, The Lancet (the United Kingdom's highly respected journal of medicine) published the results of a study by Dr. Pim van Lommel showing 18 percent of clinically dead patients having NDEs. Lommel's study documented verified events observed by such patients from a perspective removed from their bodies - called "veridical perception" - suggesting the existence of a transcendent consciousness. Such studies beg the question of why the scientific community at large remains mostly silent about these facts. Current near-death studies, such as "The AWARE Study" (google it) is trying to determine if consciousness transcends the body after death. The director of this study, Dr. Sam Parnia M.D., is a critical care physician and director of resuscitation research at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York and is recognized as an authority on the scientific study of death, the human mind–brain relationship, and near-death experience. Dr. Parnia has been part of the AWARE study, launched by "The Human Consciousness Project," in which 25 participating hospitals across Europe and North America have been examining reports of patients after their clinical death, several of whom are expected to have an out-of-body experience with physical perceptions of their surroundings. A major objective of the AWARE study is to test whether these out-of-body perceptions reported by these patients can be validated. One method involves visual targets being placed near the ceiling where it can only be seen by someone reading it from above their body. Patients who report OBEs are then asked to describe what they saw. If what they saw matches the target information then out-of-body perception has been scientifically validated..
Near-death studies contain multiple reports of veridical perception of events which were outside the range of the NDE experiencer's sensory perception and, therefore, of brain mediation. In some cases, such perceptions occur while the NDE experiencer has no brain activity. Hundreds of such cases are published on http://www.iands.org, http://www.nderf.org, http://www.oberf.org and http://www.near-death.com. Taken altogether, the evidence strongly suggests the possibility of NDE and OBE perception occurring without the help of the physical senses or the brain. Therefore, for skeptics to refer to NDEs and OBEs in general as "illusions" or "delusions" is ignoring much evidence to the contrary. According to veridical NDE experts Jan Holden and Jeffrey Long: "Even if future research convincingly demonstrated that electrical stimulation of a particular area of the brain consistently induced typical OBEs, this finding would not explain veridical perception associated with OBEs."
The AWARE study will release its preliminary findings in 2014. If cases of out-of-body veridical perception have been scientifically proven, then the hypothesis of consciousness surviving death will come very close to being a scientific fact. Here is one doctor's describing a patient who successfully read a 12-digit number while out of their body: http://www.npr.org/books/titles/263101025/the-death-class-a-true-story-about-life#excerpt
Also note that anyone who doesn't understand these principles of quantum theory and consciousness (usually magician/skeptics) often refer to this as "woo woo." So whenever you read or hear anyone referring this as "woo woo," you know they haven't done their homework.
Hope this helps.
Kevin Williams, B.Sc.
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