Ladies and gents, I'm very happy to announce that my new book, Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife, is now available from the Amazon Kindle store for just $5.99! And for the launch, I'm looking to use the Grail army to my advantage, if you'll be kind enough to join in. More details after the blurb:
Did Steve Jobs have a vision of the afterlife on his death-bed? Does quantum physics suggest that our mind might survive the physical death of our body? How do some near-death experiencers 'see' outside of their bodies at a time when they are supposed to be dead?
In Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife, author Greg Taylor covers all these questions and more. From Victorian seance rooms through to modern scientific laboratories, Taylor surveys the fascinating history of research into the survival of human consciousness, and returns with a stunning conclusion: that maybe we should stop worrying so much about death, because there probably is an afterlife.
Now, to try and make the maximum splash on entry into the eBook world, I'm asking interested Grail readers to grab a copy as soon as possible to push the book up Amazon's charts and thus make it more visible to other buyers. Here are the relevant Amazon links:
- Amazon U.S.: Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife
- Amazon U.K. Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife
If you can help out by hitting Amazon hard, I'd love to see the result. To add a bit of incentive, I'll give away a couple of limited edition hardcover versions of the book, which will be randomly drawn from those who comment beneath this story letting me know that they've purchased the eBook.
Update: I'll cut entries off on Sunday night, 10pm U.S. West Coast time, to allow non-daily readers a chance at a hardcover) and make the draw soon after. Don't forget to comment beneath when you've grabbed a copy to be in the running!
(For those that still prefer paper to electronic books, the 274-page paperback should be out next week sometime, and will retail for $11.95. Alternatively, if you're a collector I will be selling signed and limited hardcovers directly in the near future as well.)
It's been a long time coming, but I've finally finished the book I've been working on for the past couple of years, Stop Worrying! There Probably Is An Afterlife. It should be available to purchase in the next week or two, but today eBook copies were sent out to those people who contributed to the crowdfunding effort for the book on IndieGoGo. If you were one of those people, but haven't received an email (due to spam filters, change of email address etc), please get in touch with me so that I can get your long-awaited copy of the book into your hands (I'm greg, and I'm at dailygrail.com)!
I'll of course post an update here when the book is available for purchase on Amazon, for those interested.
Surviving Death is a beautifully produced 12-minute-long mini-documentary featuring the near-death experiences (NDEs) of Kimberly Clark Sharp, Roland A. Webb, and Louisa Peck, told in their own words. The interviews are part of a longer series titled Consciousness Continues, the first episode of which will be released on on Amazon instant Streaming in January 2014.
This 'documentary', put together out of various clips of near-death experiencers and NDE researchers, does an excellent job of listing many of the common elements of these strange experiences through first-hand testimony. Definitely worth your time.
Our good friend Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America and an upcoming book on the positive thinking movement, has previously written about the history of the Ouija Board, both for our print anthology Darklore and also here on TDG. For those with tl;dr syndrome though, the above 6 minute video that Mitch helped create as part of the Midnight Archive series is a nice little introduction, charting the development of Ouija through to its heyday in the 1960s when it outsold Monopoloy, as well as including fascinating anecdotes regarding the board's influence on some well-known poets.
On a related note, readers might also like to check out a recent BBC Future article which attempted to answer the question "What Makes the Ouija Board Move?" in terms of modern consciousness research, and also this response: "Ouija Board Explained, Magicians Unsurprised"
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Near-death experiencs (NDEs) were in the news for all the wrong reasons last month, with journalist Luke Dittrich's 'exposé' of bestselling author and NDEr Eben Alexander in Esquire spreading far and wide across the internet. Dittrich painted Alexander as a medical professional of dubious reputation (on the basis of several malpractice suits) who was more than a bit 'creative' when it came to the facts of his case.
In my original story about the Esquire exposé I urged some caution in taking it all at face value, and in a follow-up piece noted one example of how Dittrich himself seems to have a been a bit 'creative' (or at least selective) in quoting the Dalai Lama about Alexander's case. But NDE researcher Robert Mays has gone one step further and put a blowtorch to a number of the claims in the Esquire article (PDF), and discovered that it seems to have distorted the facts of the case. Along with the out-of-context Dalai Lama statements that I covered, Mays gives statements from a number of those involved that corroborate facts which Dittrich claims were fictions by Alexander. Perhaps the most important of which is a statement by Dr. Laura Potter, who was used by Dittrich as the hammer to drive the final nail into the coffin of Eben Alexander's credibility. Dittrich's article squashes Alexander's claim that he was essentially without a mind during his illness in the following words: "I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious. 'Yes', she says. 'Conscious but delirious'." But Mays says that Potter was in fact alarmed by the way her remarks were twisted, with the doctor making the following statement via email:
I am saddened by and gravely disappointed by the article recently published in Esquire. The content attributed to me is both out of context and does not accurately portray the events around Dr. Eben Alexander’s hospitalization. I felt my side of the story was misrepresented by the reporter. I believe Dr. Alexander has made every attempt to be factual in his accounting of events.
In the 15-page article, Robert Mays makes clear his dismay at what appears to be a long list of serious errors and/or misrepresentations made by Dittrich and Esquire, and further aggrieved by the fact that Esquire made a point of asking online readers to pay $1.99 because "great journalism isn't free". Mays concludes:
Dittrich's article was irresponsible because of the impact — the real harm — the resulting distortions have caused. I am sure Luke Dittrich and his editors felt completely justified, based on what they felt was a solid case against Eben Alexander. They probably also considered the negative effect that Dittrich's article and its conclusions would have on Alexander and others, and similarly felt justified. In their minds, Eben Alexander is a complete fraud and deserves to be exposed as such.
But did Luke Dittrich and his editors exercise sufficient care in building their case? In my opinion they did not: the facts presented in the article were distorted or completely wrong and the conclusions are totally unwarranted. And the result has been devastating to those people who know the facts and how utterly wrong they were portrayed in the article. They include all of the people I mentioned two paragraphs above, especially Dr. Laura Potter whose statements were misrepresented and distorted by Luke Dittrich to establish the central fact of his case. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be quite dismayed that his warm, supportive statements to Eben Alexander have been so cleverly distorted into the exact opposite of his meaning.
But the person most harmed is Dr. Eben Alexander, whose reputation has been severely damaged on the basis of Dittrich’s erroneous, distorted judgments. From now on, many people will associate Eben Alexander with altering records, embellishment, fabrication and delusion.
Mays goes on to note the irony that Dittrich used the malpractice suits against Alexander to sow seeds of doubt about the surgeon's character in his readers' minds, and yet "Mr. Dittrich's actions in investigating and writing the article and Esquire's unabashed endorsement of it rise to the level of malpractice" themselves.
Link: "Esquire article on Eben Alexander distorts the facts" (PDF)
LOTS of news coverage today (BBC, Discovery, Wired, Livescience, Daily Mail, The Telegraph, io9) for some recent experiments conducted on euthanized rats, which appears to show a coherent "surge of synchronous gamma oscillations" that occurred in the first 30 seconds after cardiac arrest in the animals. According to the paper's authors, this data suggests "the mammalian brain can, albeit paradoxically, generate neural correlates of heightened conscious processing at near-death". In interviews with news outlets, they put this into layman's terms, noting how their data might be linked to the near-death experience: All the data, they said, "show the fingerprints of neural consciousness at near-death is at a much higher level compared to the waking state. That explains the realer-than-real human experience".
Coverage, of course, concentrated on what this might mean for the mystery of the 'near-death experience' (NDE) - and most of it took Olympic-sized leaps of logic. For instance, the Smithsonian website wrote that the research shows "near-death experiences are most likely a random jolt of activity in our brain just before it shuts down permanently", while some 'skeptic' sites didn't even blush in proclaiming "Goddidit and supernaturalism sidle into the corner of explanatory power as the march of science proceeds".
But has this study done what these sites are claiming (and certainly, to a fair extent, what the study's authors have concluded)? On his blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong quotes some cautionary words from Steven Laureys, who leads the Coma Science Group at the University of Liège:
It’s terribly hard to make strong claims about what these rats actually perceived, or about possible conscious experiences. But the study definitely shows that there is a lot more electrical activity than expected, and it’s very interesting activity. It’s tempting to link that to what we hear in patients, but we need to be very careful.
I think this is exactly the right response at this time. This research provides some fascinating data, and a jumping off point for future research. It also should instill some caution in commentators and researchers into the near-death experience, when they say the brain "flat-lines" almost immediately after cardiac arrest (and, therefore, the NDE is unexplainable by physical sciences). Nevertheless, as long-time NDE researcher and resuscitation expert Dr. Sam Parnia notes on Yong's blog, previous EEG studies of humans during cardiac arrest haven’t found similar patterns to this latest experiment - is this fact a death-blow for the theory, or have we not detected this brain activity before because previous efforts with human subjects had the EEG electrodes on the outside of their skull? Regardless, we should remember that vaguely similar studies in the past have generated exactly the same headline, but have not gone much further.
There are further reasons to be careful in jumping to conclusions. Firstly, the 'correlation is not necessarily causation' argument - is this the brain generating the last moments of 'mind' before it perishes completely, as most people (or at least, newspapers and science journalists) probably assume, or is this 'mind' interacting with the brain as it leaves the physical body for the last time? People will generally read in whichever conclusion suits their particular reality tunnel.
Secondly, as near-death experience researcher Bruce Greyson explained to me recently, explaining the NDE isn't as simple as just finding a neural mechanism for the reports of a bright light, or the tunnel experience. Too often, he told me, skeptics completely ignore other evidential features of the experience, such as accurate out-of-body perception and encounters with deceased individuals not known to be dead. There is no shortage of both types of case, and these are truly what constitute a major part of the mystery of the NDE.
But all in all, an interesting piece of research that could possibly lead us to a better understanding of the NDE. Just let's not jump to conclusions either way at this early stage.
Update: Interestingly, the researcher doing these experiments was a co-author with DMT researcher Rick Strassman on a paper earlier this year regarding the presence of DMT in the pineal gland of rats.
Link: In Dying Brains, Signs of Heightened Consciousness (Not Exactly Rocket Science)
Floating separate to your physical body. A bright light, travel through a tunnel. These are the well-known markers of the near-death experience (NDE), the mysterious phenomenon that occurs to some 10-15% of people who flirt with death. But while the visual aspects of the NDE are quite well known, not so many are familiar with the auditory aspects of the experience: buzzing sounds, the 'tinkling of bells', rushing wind, angelic singing and beautiful symphonies.
One person that has become more familiar with the sounds of the near-death experience is Melbourne artist Saskia Moore. Over recent years, Moore has been working on a sonic art project titled 'Dead Symphony': researching, traveling and talking to scientists, doctors, people of religion, and in particular NDErs themselves, in order to document and try and reconstruct the sounds heard during a near-death experience. So what do we hear as we die?
It’s a digital, synthetic sound – that's how a lot of people describe it. Very beautiful, often like a choral sound but with sustained notes. Some said it was melodic, almost like chimes but not like church bells and not religious.
It has a cascading pattern, almost like a vibraphone duelling with itself in an endless pattern.
One listener told of 'a hum of electricity...silenced by a crack.’
...Transcribing this music has been an interesting process, devising ways and means to talk with non-musical people to describe, hum, and even at times colour and draw the sounds.
What I have heard and transcribed is a profound similarity of sonic atmospheres people hear during a NDE – it’s wild, fascinating and the stuff of goosebumps.
I read many books, documented people’s accounts of their Near Death Experiences and spoke with many scientists, doctors, people of religion, spiritualists and quantum mechanists.
In a short breath in time, my perspective of death has changed irrevocably. And in equal breath I remain wholly fascinated, confused and curious about it.
In the video above, Moore notes that one of the most fascinating things to her has been the commonalities of the sounds and melodies across NDE reports from people of all different ages, from all over the globe.
You can find listen to a sonic sample from Dead Symphony online, or if you're in Melbourne you can attend a performance of Moore's piece in the round at Arts Centre Melbourne from the 7th-10th of August.
In 2001, Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel put the mystery of near-death experience in the headlines when a study he co-authored on the topic featured in the top medical journal The Lancet. Surveying 344 patients who survived cardiac arrest, van Lommel and his co-researchers came to the surprising conclusion that "all the reported elements of a Near-Death Experience (NDE) like an out-of-body perception, meeting with deceased relatives or a life review were experienced during a transient functional loss of the cortex and of the brainstem, with a flat line EEG".
In the above recent lecture, Pim van Lommel outlines his ground-breaking research, gives several examples of "veridical perception" during NDEs, and discusses his theory of 'non-local consciousness' that arose out of his research findings.
Link: Pim van Lommel's website
Last week near-death experiencer Dr. Eben Alexander, author of the book Proof of Heaven, was the focus of an exposé by Esquire magazine that claimed, among other things, that he had take some licence with the truth in his book to help sell his story. At one point in the article, titled "The Prophet", author Luke Dittrich describes a scene in which the Dalai Lama cautions against uncritically believing extraordinary tales such as the one told by Alexander.
The Dalai Lama is not a native English speaker, and when it’s his turn to speak, he does so much less smoothly than Alexander, sometimes stopping and snapping his fingers when a word escapes him, or turning to his interpreter for help when he’s really stuck. He is not using notes, and the impression he gives is that of a man speaking off the cuff. He opens with a brief discourse about the parallels between the Buddhist and Shinto conceptions of the afterlife, and then, after glancing over at Alexander, changes the subject. He explains that Buddhists categorize phenomena in three ways. The first category are “evident phenomena,” which can be observed and measured empirically and directly. The second category are “hidden phenomena,” such as gravity, phenomena that can’t be seen or touched but can be inferred to exist on the basis of the first category of phenomena. The third category, he says, are “extremely hidden phenomena,” which cannot be measured at all, directly or indirectly. The only access we can ever have to that third category of phenomena is through our own first-person experience, or through the first-person testimony of others.
“Now, for example,” the Dalai Lama says, “his sort of experience.”
He points at Alexander.
“For him, it’s something reality. Real. But those people who never sort of experienced that, still, his mind is a little bit sort of…” He taps his fingers against the side of his head. “Different!” he says, and laughs a belly laugh, his robes shaking. The audience laughs with him. Alexander smiles a tight smile.
“For that also, we must investigate,” the Dalai Lama says. “Through investigation we must get sure that person is truly reliable.” He wags a finger in Alexander’s direction. When a man makes extraordinary claims, a “thorough investigation” is required, to ensure “that person reliable, never telling lie,” and has “no reason to lie.”
Then he changes the subject, starts talking about a massive project to translate ancient Tibetan texts.
The event at which these comments were made was filmed, and you can watch it via the video at the top of this story (the relevant section starts around the 45 minute mark). What is interesting about it is that Dittrich does not directly quote the Dalai Lama after he "wags a finger in Alexander's direction". This might be because the words he would have had to quote were (as best I can make out): "and in this particular case, there seems no reason to lie”. Which would seem to change the entire vibe of that passage in Dittrich's article...
Strangely, also, where Dittrich finishes by saying “he [the Dalai Lama] changes the subject, starts talking about a massive project to translate ancient Tibetan texts” - he doesn’t. The Dalai Lama actually talks for about 10 minutes at that point on the dialogue in recent years between himself/Buddhism and science on the topics of mind and emotions (in which he says the gap between them is due to one being about individual knowledge, the other about universal knowledge). I'm not sure why Dittrich described it differently.
It does seem though that Dittrich certainly made the DL’s comments seem a whole lot more accusatory than they actually were…
(Note: this post isn't meant as a defence of Alexander, and there are many more points to the article worth discussing. Just making clear that 'skepticism' about authors and intent should cut both ways. For his part, Eben Alexander's Facebook page has noted that "a complete response is forthcoming" to the Esquire article.)