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.
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.
I was put off a bit by the insistence by the for side that because you cannot say in a sentence the mechanism by which the brain creates consciousness that it therefore discredits that idea. Yet the for side simultaneously has no mechanism by which consciousness can exist without the brain and can continue on without. That hypocrisy tells me the for side hasn't really considered their position as strongly as they'd like to pretend.
Profound feelings or experiences, like Alexander's, might teach you about what your mind is like, but that's as far is it goes.
For comparison, I had a friend who did a lot of acid. While tripping he experienced "really serious sh!#" which convinced him that the US government suspected him of murder and was building an elaborate case against him (which, for example, involved listening devices hidden under a park where my friend often slept).
I tried to convince him (unsuccessfully) that whatever he had felt - no matter how persuasive or dripping with truth and mystical significance it had seemed - it had just been fireworks in his head, and that's not a good way to learn about government plots.
Near-death experiences cannot be proofs of life after death simply because near-death is not death.
My opinion of Alexander and Moody have diminished so much, it's sad. Really it was quite pathetic. Moody might as well have stayed home. Alexander, my god, just stop; it's pitiful. They offered no rejoinder to the powerful 'soft-problem' argument, where the supposedly "non-physical" mind then somehow illogically and inexplicably interacts with the physical brain. How does this work again Dr. Alexander? Can you provide even the first sentence of such an explanation for us? In attempting to distinguish between the physical and non-physical the Cartesian dualist inevitably ends up digging his own grave, and as of yet, hasn't yet managed to find a successful way back out, and this is basic philosophy 101 folks. And of course a corollary to this is the fact that physical things, such as say, being 'physically' knocked unconscious, sedated, drunk, high, etc. all somehow affect the non-physical brain...hmmmmm, I wonder why that might be... Again, please explain Mr. Descartes, Dr. Alexander, Mad eye Moody, et al. how can a ghost get high, drunk, or knocked unconscious?
Therein lies the power in such debates: the potential of showing just how ridiculous things are, in spite of the fact that they're paraded around as truth by a man with a PhD and an even more misleading bow tie.
It's hard to believe that learned men cannot accept that the mind is beyond the brain. I need no convincing as I experienced the Truth of the above fact. I did not almost die, however, it was after deep meditation that I noticed as I looked out the window that I was ONE with the blades of grass and the rocks in the road. I was enveloped in a LOVE I could not put into words. This Divine Love was in everything and in me. At the core of my being I was this LOVE and so was everyone else. In this higher state which I refer to as a state of grace, there was no right or wrong, no good or bad, no judgement whatsoever. Fear was non-existent! There was no death and I knew that we all live forever. Everyone I met was LOVE It did not matter what they looked like, behaved like. I was them and they were me. We are all connected. The utter JOY is indescribable. I knew we did not end at our fingertips. The PEACE and BLISS are beyond words. I became aware that a Presence other than what I usually think of as myself was looking through my eyes. I had become ONE with this INFINITE AWARENESS that simply sees without judgement. It is the very essence of life, eternal life. I wanted nothing, needed nothing. It was PEACE that passeth understanding. I pray that an NDE or mystical experience occurs to a skeptical scientist for only then could they be convinced that there is so much more to us than what our senses tell us. We are SPIRIT! Thank you. Helen
Kevin Williams of Near-Death.com provided a comprehensive list of resources pertaining to evidence supporting the survival of consciousness after death. Additional resources can be found on NHNE Pulse:
NDEs Absolutely, Positively NOT Caused By Malfunctioning Brains
Among other things, the Pulse resource page includes many provocative videos.
NHNE Pulse also features a page on the Intelligence Squared debate, which includes background information on Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Eben Alexander:
The phenomenon of Anomalous Acoustic Events is not even mentioned. This provides replicable physical evidence of intelligences outwith physical existence.
I predict that within the next decade we will see how irrational the anti position was, and such debates as this will be so unimportant as to no longer attract much attention in the religiously tolerant world.
And many of the antis will say, 'Well .. of course I knew it all along...
Which is why I have got this substantial rsearch grant....'
Have also had a NDE 30 years ago. When I read Dr. Alexander's book so I recognized so much. Though my experience was as clear as I remember it so well. I was in both worlds simultaneously.Now, I also write a book about this experience where I describe my thoughts and feelings in the experience. about how surprised I was when I saw myself lying on the floor. I also paint paintings judgment is wath. I saw when I was "dead." figures, landscape, light, and paintings of myself how it looked. In the book, I also write a lot about death and our strange relationship with the The book comes out this fall, will be called "The woman who met death." I hope you can read this because I'm not so good at English, (I'm from Sweden.) Unfortunately, I have had difficultyalso to read what you have written. But still little understood. Thought I wanted to write a comment for this topic is close to my heart. And I know that death is absolutely not the end but beginning of a new life in another place, another dimention or heaven. in my experience, it was the second dimention or heaven only 5 or 6 feet from the place I fell to the floor.I hope you can read this.
The argument missing from both sides is the concept of the passage of time. If time is viewed as non-linear, and eternity is the same as timelessness, then we are all eternal insofar as if we ever existed we eternally exist. What if 'heaven' is no more than a timeless perception of being--like a filmstrip if you will? In a 'zero time' state, we are all eternal beings. http://www.open-science-repository.com/timeless-existence.html
I understand the “against” side claiming that Dr. Alexander’s experience was not rigorously monitored and documented, that his experience was the result of some residual brain function and that he may have been mistaken as to when it occurred during his coma. Fine, his belief that he had his experience without any neo-cortical activity may be challenged or questioned, but I found his description of a sister that he had never met to be very persuasive. The “against” side ignored this specific example of something that is inexplicable without accepting that his sister’s “spirit” or consciousness was communicating with him.
The “against” side also ignored that so-called “shared” experiences, where people attending someone who is near death recount seeing spirits, apparitions, ghosts, or whatever you want to call them.
The foundation of science is the information provided by our senses. If you conduct an experiment you ultimately have to accept the evidence provided by your senses – whether directly or through instrumentation. If your theory is to be connected to reality it cannot contradict the evidence of the senses. Too many people have had these experiences for this to be honestly denied or ignored. It may be difficult, now, to explain this scientifically, but what new area of science isn’t difficult to explain initially? As Dr. Novella stated we know there is gravity - even if we can't explain it.
It is hypocritical to ask for evidence and then deny any provided in the name of science. This is not science – it is willful evasion of facts. Facts that they do not wish to consider.
At 1:26:13 Dr. Alexander totally ham handedly misquotes Carl Sagan...
“Perhaps one percent of the time, someone who has an idea that smells, feels, and looks indistinguishable from the usual run of pseudoscience will turn out to be right. Maybe some undiscovered reptile left over from the Cretaceous period will indeed be found in Loch Ness or the Congo Republic; or we will find artifacts of an advanced, non-human species elsewhere in the Solar System. 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 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;
(3) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them.
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.”
I follow the blogs of both the speakers against the motion, and was against from the beginning. But it was interesting to hear the arguments for both sides put forward.
It seems to me that the question boiled down to standards of evidence. On the For side the standard of evidence was clearly much lower. They relied on the 50 Million Elvis Fans Can't be wrong argument. But the research they presented doesn't pass muster. The evidence references by the Against side is far more broadly based, subject to scrutiny and rigorously tested.
The best point the Against side made was the inability to begin to describe a mechanism for consciousness as a function of the brain. However their own argument suffers from this same weakness and to a much greater degree. They want to rewrite physics, but they don't say how. As for the idea that something new might come from philosophy I think this is delusional. Speculative philosophy of the kind the ancient Greeks did is not much better than theology. And the proponent of it sounded not only wishy-washy but confused.
I study Buddhist afterlife beliefs as an independent Buddhist scholar with some peer reviewed articles. When I compared them to afterlife beliefs around the world I realised that the evidence for different kinds of afterlife is simply culturally determined. Christians and Buddhists cannot both be right, but they cite precisely the same kinds of evidence (and none of it falsifiable). Nor can the Against side be right at the same time as Buddhists. We Buddhists traditionally deny just that kind of afterlife.
Like Sean I don't necessarily want to believe that death is final. But I think the evidence suggests that it is. The argument about memories is particularly strong. Damage the brain and you damage memory. Kill the brain and how does memory survive?
Very disappointed that the newest bit of validation of the NDE as a real experience was not mentioned, as surely both sides of the panel are aware of it… "Dr. Steven Laureys is a man who absolutely does not believe in life after death. A director at the Belgian National Fund of Scientific Research, he is firm that all NDEs can be explained away through physical phenomena. Nonetheless, his research into such experiences has thrown up some facts which are difficult to explain away.Chief among these is the “hyper-reality” of NDEs. When Laureys and his team set out to study the memory of these events, they expected to find they worked in the same way as dreams or hallucinations: becoming more faded as time went by. Instead, they found the exact opposite. Rather than become dull with age, they found that the memory of an NDE stayed vibrant and fresh no matter how much time had passed—to the extent that it completely eclipsed the memory of real events.This isn’t supposed to happen. Generally, the only memories that are meant to stay vibrant are the big ones—like your wedding day or the birth of your kids or watching the Twin Towers come down. These patients were unanimously reporting that their NDE was more vivid than all of that combined, with the added bonus that it never faded. They retained perfect recall of that moment, convinced they’d experienced a fragment of heaven. Dr. Laureys doesn’t believe this is anything supernatural. However, he does believe all of us probably go through this when we die: an experience of “heaven” more intense than anything we’ve felt in all our waking lives. In its own way, that might even count as an afterlife of sorts." -http://listverse.com/2014/02/15/10-reasons-there-might-be-an-afterlife/ -This study and the results were published in the highly respected medical science journal THE LANCET. The results, to me, are fascinating especially because I myself had an NDE 25 years ago. The fact that the memories have and retain a quality of realism unlike any other categorical memory, and do not fade in the least with time, fits in perfectly and intriguingly with the reports from NDE's of timelessness in that realm. Also, it fits perfectly with the reports of NDE's that their NDE was more real than waking life. To me this study should only validate on the side of those who are in doubt of the NDE and all it implicates. Besides all of this, there is the common experience of an exponential expanse of rich knowledge, wisdom and feelings of love. The after effects of NDE's are so totally convincing in and of themselves. People who have had NDE's are forever changed, and most often they eschew religion, preferring a perspective of all inclusive love, forgiveness and unity for all of life. Their lifestyles are less destructive to themselves, others, and the planet, because of their changed perspective brought about by the NDE. Its all about LOVE. I, having experienced an NDE, need no convincing.
Novella keeps asserting that all the features of the NDE can be reproduced by drugs and brain pathology and they can't. Drugs, seizures, electro magnetic stimulation, G-lock and all the rest are pale imitations of the profound NDE.
Also his statement that there are no persuasive cases that demonstrate that the mind can function without the brain is also wrong. There are stacks of veridical experiences during cardiac arrest. Every single one has to be incorrectly interpreted ? Horse manure.
Pull the other one, Steve .....got bells on it
There are few, if any, that have experienced an NDE and consider it to be "unreal." Direct experience trumps intellectual analysis - always. The same holds true for those that frequent the "out-of-body" state. It becomes apparent that "real" is relative to the experiencer but not relative to the reality itself or to the "stuff" of the reality.
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." -Albert Einstein
The “hard problem” of consciousness is not hard at all. Our current paradigm is what makes it "hard." The idea that the earth was round was obviously wrong because the people on the bottom would fall off. Obviously, those folks were just missing some key info - gravity. In this case of NDEs, the missing bit of info is that consciousness is fundamental and everything else is derivative.
"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness." - Max Plank
The idea that consciousness is fundamental is not a new idea, but it may still take some time to settle in. To quote Max Plank again:
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
Those that have had experiences as consciousness while seemingly "apart" or "separate" from their body tend to side with the notion that consciousness continues after death, while those that have not had such experiences tend to claim that consciousness is a construct of the brain. That, in and of itself, is telling.
The good news is that we don't have to almost die to experience what it is to exist and function as pure consciousness. Naturally, many will scoff at this, but then, they do so from a stance of limited experience - never having experienced it themselves.
There are ways to begin accumulating direct experience with the matter and begin collecting your very own evidence - though it does require some courage, humility, and tenacity. Direct experience is the one way to find out for certain and to better assess the "hard problem." What better way to understand consciousness, than to start by getting to know your own?
Such excellent comments (from what I've read), nicely extending the scope of the debate
Dr. Raymond Moody mentioned an NDE involving medical staff who also experienced something paranormal during the NDE. Below is a link to the book containing the account:
There is no afterlife and parapsychology is a pseudoscience
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