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Near Death Experiences

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In your opinion, what explains near death experiences? I am not exactly an atheist, but I don't build my life in any way around a belief in a God. I simply sense that the soul or mind exists in some way outside of the body. Part of what has led me to this is my father's tale of a near death experience in a car crash when he was a child. He got a really bad head injury, and claims that he was starting to float outside of his body, and was seeing everything that was going on, even though he was knocked out.

As a very young child, I also said very peculiar things about living before and coming from somewhere else. I also asked my mother why there is a heaven because we get reborn when we die. I could not have heard this anywhere, I was a four year old child and my media intake was strictly limited to barney and disney.

Edited by Dreamspirit
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I don't know much about near-death experiences, but nothing that I've heard or read about them can't be explained physiologically. Given that we know neurological malfunctioning can produce images of the paranormal and religious experiences, I see no reason to believe in any soul or supernatural explanation for these phenomena.

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I don't know much about near-death experiences, but nothing that I've heard or read about them can't be explained physiologically. Given that we know neurological malfunctioning can produce images of the paranormal and religious experiences, I see no reason to believe in any soul or supernatural explanation for these phenomena.

Yes, but there have been people who were totally unconscious (and physicians say that they would be phisiologically unable to dream) who claim to have felt that they were floating above their body, and observed whatever was going on below. People in surgery have been able to recall exact things that happened in the operating room that they couldn't have possibly noticed coming in, like where nurses put their stuff or what surgeons said.

I felt the same way you did until I learned this.

Edited by Dreamspirit
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I'm not talking about dreaming; I'm talking about the abnormal neurological activity that can result when the brain is drugged or under stress. Additionally, even when sedated or dying the brain can respond to stimuli like sounds or movement. There are also cases of machines failing to detect brain activity in supposedly brain dead patients. Add to this the anecdotal nature of most documented near-death experiences, and there is again no reason to postulate the supernatural.

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Dremspirit, I'm certain NDEs are the result of common changes in brain physiology close to the point of death. I know of no studies that suggest that people close to death have special "psychic" senses. Obviously, conducting such a study would be unethical or extremely difficult, but regardless, NDEs can be explained using perfectly unsupernatural language that involves dissosiative states, "jumbled" memory, and the like.

I don't know if you have any personal familiarity with mind-altering drugs, and I'm not asking. But it is important to note that people who have never taken drugs often don't understand how radically different one's perception of reality can become after small adjustments to brain chemistry. For instance, dextromethorphan (DXM) is a drug that seems to invoke a set of experiences that I have trouble distinguishing from the experiences reported after an NDE. You can read about DXM experiences HERE. This information is anecdotal, but it does give you a sense for similar experiences that we know to be the result of biology. If you just want to skim it I'd suggest focusing on sections 8.2.1 to 8.2.5.

For a more scientific approach to NDEs, look HERE. The gentleman writing the blog refrences several studies, one of which links NDEs to elevated CO2 and Potassium levels with depressed pH levels. Of course, you might say that these chemical explanations are just a physical expression of a psychic phenomenon. But nothing I have heard has lead me to believe that NDEs are any different than ghost stories. I know my share of otherwise trustworthy people who claim to have been haunted. While I wouldn't say for certain that they are lying, I am sure that they have at least misinterpreted their experiences.

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FeatherFall’s linked to article on DXM tends to tell against his point, for it concludes: “Explaining OOBEs [out of body experiences] is difficult and is in my opinion currently beyond neuroscience.”

I don’t have much to offer on this subject except to say I’ve always found the debunking of vitalism a boor. You only have to experience the death of a loved one to realize that life is more than a body. (Added: I don't mean to imply that there’s life after death though.)

I don’t think there need be any contradiction between that and the unity of mind and body, or with the Greek idea expressed by “a healthy mind in a healthy body.”

Edited by Mark2
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FeatherFall’s linked to article on DXM tends to tell against his point, for it concludes: “Explaining OOBEs [out of body experiences] is difficult and is in my opinion currently beyond neuroscience.”

This isn't a point in supernaturalism's favor. Our ignorance of a natural process doesn't mean we're entitled to assume a mystical explanation. And a full explanation of a phenomenon isn't necessary to conclude that said phenomenon is naturalistic.

I don’t have much to offer on this subject except to say I’ve always found the debunking of vitalism a boor. You only have to experience the death of a loved one to realize that life is more than a body. (Added: I don't mean to imply that there’s life after death though.)

Huh? The tragic death of loved ones has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not life can emerge from physical processes.

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In your opinion, what explains near death experiences? I am not exactly an atheist, but I don't build my life in any way around a belief in a God. I simply sense that the soul or mind exists in some way outside of the body. Part of what has led me to this is my father's tale of a near death experience in a car crash when he was a child. He got a really bad head injury, and claims that he was starting to float outside of his body, and was seeing everything that was going on, even though he was knocked out.

As a very young child, I also said very peculiar things about living before and coming from somewhere else. I also asked my mother why there is a heaven because we get reborn when we die. I could not have heard this anywhere, I was a four year old child and my media intake was strictly limited to barney and disney.

I think there is a strong argument in favor of reincarnation, from the existence and the non-physicality of mind. (Since mind exists, is non physical, and its sufficient cause cannot be matter, then it has to be reincarnated from a previous lifetime, ad infinitum).

I would somewhat be skeptical of specific reports of NDE - even if some are valid, obviously some are mere delusions. How do you distinguish the valid ones from the dellusions? If you don't have a valid tool, then how can you asess?

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I think there is a strong argument in favor of reincarnation, from the existence and the non-physicality of mind. (Since mind exists, is non physical, and its sufficient cause cannot be matter, then it has to be reincarnated from a previous lifetime, ad infinitum).

On the contrary, neurology has definitively linked thought processes to brain processes, so there's good reason to believe the mind arises from physical actions. Even if consciousness were somehow matter-independent, that wouldn't prove the existence of reincarnation. And the soul, if it existed, could not be reincarnated from a previous lifetime ad infinitum because there are only finitely many generations of humans - we evolved from simpler organisms.

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On the contrary, neurology has definitively linked thought processes to brain processes, so there's good reason to believe the mind arises from physical actions. Even if consciousness were somehow matter-independent, that wouldn't prove the existence of reincarnation. And the soul, if it existed, could not be reincarnated from a previous lifetime ad infinitum because there are only finitely many generations of humans - we evolved from simpler organisms.

When I talk about the non-physicality of mind, I

do not adress the question whether it is somehow linked

to physical processes or not. I think that in its nature, mind is not physical. The question of what is the nature of mind (does it exist? Is it physical? ) is a different question of the link between it and the physical.

For example, one could argue that mind exists, it is not material BUT it has no causal efficacy of its own AND the sufficient cause for it is the brain.

It was a clarification.

----------------------------------------------------------

A question to you - how can you be an objectivist given your ideas?

If the mind arises from physical actions, do you think there is a space for cognitive choice?

Edited by samr
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FeatherFall’s linked to article on DXM tends to tell against his point, for it concludes: “Explaining OOBEs [out of body experiences] is difficult and is in my opinion currently beyond neuroscience.”

Yeah, the guy who wrote the article seems to be on the fence. No matter, entertaining notions that NDEs are supernatural is still an arbitrary activity. Consider the lack of documentation and the close nature of the NDE experience to drug-induced delusions. Or, more pertinant to Dreamspirit's post #3, the ability of some people to confuse and convince others. Mentalists can get people to believe in the supernaturality (is tha a word?) of perfectly unsupernatural things. Without documentation of both a surgery and a post-surgery interview, it's impossible to know if a medical practitioner remembered things correctly or if his memory changed to conform to the patient's report.

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When I talk about the non-physicality of mind, I

do not adress the question whether it is somehow linked

to physical processes or not. I think that in its nature, mind is not physical. The question of what is the nature of mind (does it exist? Is it physical? ) is a different question of the link between it and the physical.

For example, one could argue that mind exists, it is not material BUT it has no causal efficacy of its own AND the sufficient cause for it is the brain.

It was a clarification.

Okay, but you would need consciousness to be independent of matter to successfully argue for reincarnation. And even then, it wouldn't be enough.

A question to you - how can you be an objectivist given your ideas?

If the mind arises from physical actions, do you think there is a space for cognitive choice?

Objectivism says that mind and body are integrated. Of course there is space for cognitive choice. A biological explanation of volition wouldn't suddenly render volition nonexistent.

Edited by Zoid
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I cannot provide a successful positive case that consciousness can be independent of matter.

(It is necessary in the time between consciousness moving from one body to another). And I cannot think of a mechanism how the consciousness would "sense" a body to be reincarnated to, having no sensory information. Tibetan Buddhists posit that consciousness has extra-sensory perception at the time between the different lifetimes)

But thinking in basic principles - where does our consciousness come from, does seem to suggest it comes from a previous reincarnation.

A consciousness would have to be created EX NIHILO (from nothing), or from matter, or reincarnated from another consciousness.

I do not see how something can be created from nothing (if something is created FROM something, then there should be a reason why it is this thing that is created and not another. This reason should be interaction between nothing, and the conditions. But since "nothing", cannot interact, something cannot be created from it).

And I do not see how could matter be _transformed_ into consciousness. So, I have to assume it came from another.

And there is the issue of Mozart, for example. Where did his genius come from? I don't think genius can be "encoded" in genes. It is just not that type of thing that can be created by something physical. It has to be created by a spiritual process (spiritual in the best sense of the word. Like Howard Rork was "spiritual").

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I cannot provide a successful positive case that consciousness can be independent of matter.

(It is necessary in the time between consciousness moving from one body to another). And I cannot think of a mechanism how the consciousness would "sense" a body to be reincarnated to, having no sensory information. Tibetan Buddhists posit that consciousness has extra-sensory perception at the time between the different lifetimes)

But thinking in basic principles - where does our consciousness come from, does seem to suggest it comes from a previous reincarnation.

A consciousness would have to be created EX NIHILO (from nothing), or from matter, or reincarnated from another consciousness.

I do not see how something can be created from nothing (if something is created FROM something, then there should be a reason why it is this thing that is created and not another. This reason should be interaction between nothing, and the conditions. But since "nothing", cannot interact, something cannot be created from it).

And I do not see how could matter be _transformed_ into consciousness. So, I have to assume it came from another.

And there is the issue of Mozart, for example. Where did his genius come from? I don't think genius can be "encoded" in genes. It is just not that type of thing that can be created by something physical. It has to be created by a spiritual process (spiritual in the best sense of the word. Like Howard Rork was "spiritual").

Forgive me if I'm citing research that doesn't mean anything, but bodies have been weighed the second before they've died and come out lighter when they pass away. That is, the bodies are all the exact same amount lighter, I'm not sure how much though. This probably doesn't mean anything, but it is a bit hard to explain.

Edited by Dreamspirit
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Forgive me if I'm citing research that doesn't mean anything, but bodies have been weighed the second before they've died and come out lighter when they pass away. That is, the bodies are all the exact same amount lighter, I'm not sure how much though. This probably doesn't mean anything, but it is a bit hard to explain.

One reference to this phenomenon would be outlined at this snopes.com report. Wikipedia also references this as well. It appears it is a difficult sell at the movie theater as well. If MacDougall's 21 gram hypothesis does not mean anything, it could underscore why it is a bit hard to explain.

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I don't know much about near-death experiences, never looking into the subject.

But I did have an interesting discussion with a gal I know this spring: when I saw her one day, she looked distressed (not usual for her) and was visibly sweating. I asked her if she were feeling ill, and she told me no, but that there would soon be a "great flood and many souls would be separated from their bodies". That was a bit off-the-wall, but I said that no doubt she must be worrying about the flood levels on the Mississippi (our little town is on the Mississippi, and there was a lot of discussion about worse-than-usual flooding this spring). She said no, that it wouldn't be here (and in fact the flooding here was less than expected) but would be far away in Japan, and it would be huge.

The next week, the tsunami hit Japan.

I don't know what to make of that. She's not given to this sort of thing -- she's a financial systems analyst -- and I always saw her as being perfectly level-headed.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Forgive me if I'm citing research that doesn't mean anything, but bodies have been weighed the second before they've died and come out lighter when they pass away. That is, the bodies are all the exact same amount lighter, I'm not sure how much though. This probably doesn't mean anything, but it is a bit hard to explain. "

I doubt this is true. Consciousness has no weight. Even if you would believe in "soul", does it mean that it has weight? If so, it is physical, and hence doesn't fit its own definition.

Zoid, I think mind and body are integrated, but different substances. One affects the other, but in substance they are different. At least, this is the only position that can explain our daily experience. Neurology has only (to the extent of my knowledge, plesae enlighten me if I am wrong) deepened this connection. But the connection is not something we do not know of in daily life. When I drink alcohol or take drugs, my consciousness changes. And feelings have an effect on physiology. From fear to sexual arousal. At least the daily experience is exactly that of two interactive, changing, substances, different in nature, but influencing one another.

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  • 1 year later...

The University of Southampton was launching the world's largest-ever study of near-death experiences Sept. 10, 2008, but a synopsis of what the University of Michigan recently published was found here:

 

Electrical Signatures of Consciousness in the Dying Brain

 

"[W]e were surprised by the high levels of activity," adds study senior author anesthesiologist George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and neurosurgery at the U-M. " In fact, at near-death, many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity during the early stage of clinical death.­­­"

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In your opinion, what explains near death experiences?

Interpretation.

The vast majority of any experience you have is not formed by pure and direct sensations, but how you organize and generalize from them.  See the Rorschach Test.

 

When a psychologist shows you an inkblot (for the aforementioned test), you may see a Tiger if you've been thinking about Tigers.  If you're a religious enthusiast you may see a cross (see that absurd scrap of metal from the World Trade Center- or any number of equivalent examples) or, if you're a hypochondriac, you may see Ebola.

None of these wildly different PERCEPTIONS have anything to do with the true nature of the inkblot; it's all about how you interpret it.

 

Now, there is a wide variety of substances and conditions that suppress or deaden the human senses and neuroscience has shown that, when deprived of external sensation, our brains automatically begin to invent it for themselves- causing dreams, hallucinations, et cetera.

 

And from dreams and hallucinations, the rest is simply a matter of interpretation.  If you take a bunch of acid immediately after going to church, the data fabricated by your subconscious will probably include direct communication with God.

Same thing, by the very same mechanism, whenever someone dies expecting to see Him.

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Part of what has led me to this is my father's tale of a near death experience in a car crash when he was a child. He got a really bad head injury, and claims that he was starting to float outside of his body, and was seeing everything that was going on, even though he was knocked out.

As a very young child, I also said very peculiar things about living before and coming from somewhere else. I also asked my mother why there is a heaven because we get reborn when we die. I could not have heard this anywhere, I was a four year old child and my media intake was strictly limited to barney and disney.

You should reexamine those memories, while deliberately ignoring the conclusions you've since drawn from them.  Interpretation can be an agent of distortion, not only with inkblots, but also our memories of inkblots.

 

Yes, but there have been people who were totally unconscious

So- vegetative?

Because asleep is a different sort of state from comatose, and if a braindead person had suddenly awakened to tell such tales- then I would be impressed.  Otherwise, I would only say that sleeping people can sometimes be aware of their surroundings.

Sometimes, when my alarm clock goes off in the morning, rather than waking up I incorporate it into my dream as ambient noise or some weird plot device.

 

(and physicians say that they would be phisiologically unable to dream)

Physicians sometimes confuse facts with conclusions, as well.

If someone had a dream when they couldn't possibly have been dreaming then someone is mistaken- either the patient or the doctors.  Either they were dreaming or they weren't; either way someone is mistaken.

 

I cannot provide a successful positive case that consciousness can be independent of matter.

Consciousness doesn't exist in its own right, either with or without "matter" (although I defy you to explain what a nonphysical existent is).

Consciousness simply isn't an existent; it's an attribute.  You're reifying it.

 

To discuss consciousness-without-material-form is EXACTLY like discussing whether or not a motion detector can feel the love tonight.

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