As mentioned a couple of weeks back, I'm currently writing a book exploring the evidence for an afterlife - which you can help me out with, by pre-ordering eBooks, or signed paperbacks/limited edition hardcovers. One of the reasons for this project is to correct some of the misinformation that is spread by scientism-ists and the mainstream media, and I haven't seen much more of a better (worse?) example than this article in Washington Monthly, in which Art Levine 'channels' the spirit of Christopher Hitchins to debunk any idea of an afterlife. In doing so, he seems to take particular aim at the near-death experience (NDE):
What was clear enough before my death was that visions of an afterlife were no more verifiable than any other bedtime tales designed to offer false hope to toddlers frightened of the dark. They are the ultimate embodiment of the solipsism at the heart of all religions. This infantilizing fiction comes in various guises, from orthodox religions with their fabricated consolations of fairytale heavens — whether it is the Islamic fanatic’s seventy-two celestial virgins or the Christian fantasia of winged angels — to the modern pseudoscientific “research” into so-called near-death experiences (known with ridiculous technicality as NDEs). These hallucinatory claims, originally popularized by a Dr. Raymond Moody for Me Generation readers of the 1970s, rest on numerous banal and repetitive testimonials about floating above one’s body, hurtling through a tunnel toward a bright light, vividly reviewing episodes from one’s past as if watching a holiday slide show, and encountering various beings lit up with an unearthly glow. These latter apparitions can range from one’s surprisingly youthful-looking relatives to an omniscient spiritual guide, including the ubiquitous Jesus if you’re a Christian, not-so-coincidentally matching your own faith or lack thereof.
There’s nothing in these visionary tall tales that can’t be either simply explained through an understanding of basic science or discounted as the unprovable “revelations” of individuals with no legitimate claim on our belief. That was my position before I experienced my own peculiar hallucinations after death, and I have seen no evidence since then requiring me to recant my position. Was I wrong on the afterlife, as so many among the bien-pensant brayed for me to admit that I was wrong on Iraq? Plainly, no.
As the psychologist Susan Blackmore has persuasively shown, the near-death experience is a product of the dying brain and shaped by the individual’s cultural expectations. The temporal lobe is especially prone to inducing hallucinations, memory flashbacks, and other visions after death when undergoing anoxia, or oxygen deprivation. In concordance with this understanding, virtually every one of the phenomena I experienced after my own death has a clear-cut neurological or biological cause or an obvious cultural antecedent. As Blackmore wrote recently in the Guardian, “If human consciousness can really leave the body and operate without a brain, then everything we know in neuroscience has to be questioned.”
I really don't know where to start with the sheer number rebuttals this thing demands, and the book is definitely where you'll see me detail all of that. From the anoxia explanation, to claiming that Susan Blackmore has "persuasively shown" the near-death experience is a product of the dying brain, Levine gets everything wrong apart from the final statement in the blockquote above.
I should remark though that the book will *not* be a simple propaganda job for the afterlife conclusion. The goal will not be to assert that any particular conclusion is "true" - just that, on the current evidence, any rational person could certainly 'believe' that there is some sort of existence beyond death, and so perhaps we should all be discussing this possibility.
Here's an interesting documentary on 'The Enfield Poltergeist', featuring commentary from the researchers involved and critics of the case, including Guy Lyon Playfair and Ciaran O'Keefe:
In case you missed it last week: I'm writing a book about 'the afterlife' (/echoeffect)! Help me out, and pre-order the book. I recommend the $20 eBook gift pack - you get the book yourself, plus you get to give it to 10 other people, absolutely free! Not a bad deal, surely?
Plus, supporting this project also supports The Daily Grail in a big way. From a quick $5 contribution which gets you a complete book, through to a special sponsor pack with plenty of benefits, EVERYTHING helps. Please do take a look, and join with me in exploring this mystery.
Okay Grailers, I need your help and I'm hoping you can come through for me! Today I'm launching a crowd-funding campaign at IndieGoGo for the book I'm currently working on, which has the working title Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife. Check it out!
I've got a bit of a description of the project over at IndieGoGo, but here's the TLDR version: I'm tired of religious leaders and outspoken atheists dominating the discussion of one of the biggest questions facing humans...what - if anything - happens at the point of death. Rather, I want to put the focus on those who say they have seen 'the other side', and those who say they can communicate with the departed, and explore the latest scientific research into these phenomena, with an additional focus on the mystery of consciousness. I've got some fascinating material to share, and look forward to exploring these topics with you all.
Here's a quick promo trailer I created, mostly in an attempt to give the vibe of the book (it borrows from a few of my favourite artists in doing so):
So, check out the page for Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife - there's a bunch of good value deals on eBook versions if you have a Kindle, iPad or some other reader (I recommend the $20 gift pack...10 books to give away to friends!). Also have some high end signed, limited edition hardcover packages as well, for the book connoisseurs/collectors among you.
This is a project I've been wanting to get to for a number of years now, and I'm very excited to be on the road to finally creating it! Really appreciate any help you can offer - I'm sure you'll get value for money, no matter what you contribute! And please share with your friends and family, as this crowd-funding campaign absolutely relies on word-of-mouth.
Fascinating documentary looking at the use of mediums/oracles in Tibetan Buddhism:
Cloaked in secrecy for over 400 years, the State Oracle of Tibet has been a strange and mystical aspect of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This ancient spirit, which has inhabited a succession of thirteen human mediums, advises the Dalai Lama on matters of public and religious policy. To witness the eerie spectacle of a medium entering a trance state and being possessed by the Oracle is to confront profound questions about the very nature of human consciousness.
With permission from the Dalai Lama that had never been granted before, The Oracle explores the ancient practice of consulting spirits.
The last 10 minutes of the film features what must be fairly exclusive footage of the Dalai Lama himself consulting with the religion's three main oracles, and then discussing how he uses their 'talent'.
I'm currently writing a book on belief in the afterlife, and came across this wonderful video of a young man recounting his recent near-death experience (of a type) - caused by a heart condition suffered throughout his life - via index cards, accompanied by Gary Jules' lovely rendition of "Mad World". Take a look before reading on:
Such an intriguing story: direct personal experience of something that has led him to an extraordinary belief, which appears to have helped conquer his earlier fears and led him to be sure of a better place beyond death. I immediately resolved to track down the maker of the video, one Ben Breedlove, to talk further with him about his experience and what it meant to him.
But I can't. Because Ben Breedlove died just one week after posting the video on YouTube, on Christmas Day, aged 18. I have to say, this cut me to the bone emotionally. I never knew Ben Breedlove in any sense prior to viewing this video, but his friendly smile, and honesty and willingness to share his strange experience (not an easy thing to do in this cynical world) just made me like him immediately. To just be there, talking about his fear of death and how his recent experience had liberated him, and then almost immediately gone, seemed like a message meant for us all to contemplate. I am so very glad that this experience - no matter what you think of it, reality or hallucination - gave him a personal feeling of peace, and pride in how he had lived his life, before his final encounter with death.
And so beyond that immediate, gut-wrenching moment, what this terrible news brought into sharp relief for me was the simple fact that we are all gifted with something precious: life. Whether you're religious, an atheist, or just of a general spiritual bent, there is far too much to do in our time on this Earth to waste time being negative. Chase your dreams, while appreciating everything you have been given, love and be loved, and perhaps most importantly of all, do good.
Godspeed Ben Breedlove. Thanks for sharing your story.
Kamarling notes on his blog that YouTube now has a 90 minute documentary on the Scole Experiment available for viewing, courtesy of UFOTV. During the 1990s a group of mediums and scientists - including Rupert Sheldrake, David Fontana and Montague Keen (who died during filming) - conducted a series of seances in an attempt to document evidence for paranormal events and even, perhaps, the afterlife.
The film is narrated by a well known (at least in the UK) investigative journalist called Donal MacIntyre and contains actual footage plus interviews with participants and investigators. The sceptics are represented (briefly, it has to be said) by Chris French: the British media's go-to guy for scepticism. He doesn't actually address any of the (alleged) paranormal events depicted in the film but he does reassure those who might be tempted to believe that, according to science, none of it is possible (of course).
Are ghost sightings actually hallucinations caused by magnetic fields? Over recent years, a number of researchers have put forward this explanation for hauntings, perhaps most prominently Dr Michael Persinger (he of the 'God helmet'). A new paper by skeptic Jason Braithwaite casts a critical eye over some of these claims:
The implication from these studies is that some spontaneous haunt-reports may be explained, at least in part, as magnetically induced hallucinations. However, although this view is very popular, it is often misunderstood by scientists, sceptics, paranormalists and the general public. Quite often in the popular literature and on the unregulated non-peer-reviewed internet this 'neuromagnetic' account is cast as one claiming that strong magnetic fields may exist in reputedly haunted locations as metaphorical 'hot-spots' and as such may be responsible for some anomalous perceptions, that any 'blip' on an EMF meter is meaningful, or worse still, that such fields may well be some physical correlate of the paranormality of a haunting. In addition, it appears to be the case that the idea is being accepted somewhat uncritically by some researchers as its apparent basis in physics and biophysics can be quite seductive at first glance. As a consequence of these observations, it appears to be a good time to take a closer and more evidence-based look at an argument that while tantalising, may well be, at the very least, insufficient as it currently stands. The present paper provides a comprehensive examination of the evidence for an against the neuromagnetic account.
Read the entire paper: Magnetic Fields, Anomalous Experiences: A Sceptical Critique".
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This is an excellent 'amateur' YouTube documentary on the near-death experience, pieced together from various sources, and comprised of the testimony of NDErs themselves. Watching them struggle with the ineffability of the experience, be overwhelmed with the memories and emotions, it really does seem to put into the shade scientific efforts to explain the NDE as simply "manifestations of brain functions gone awry":
The video's YouTube page has a list of the source videos for those who would like to explore further.
In her eulogy for her brother Steve Jobs, writer Mona Simpson closes with the technology guru's final words:
Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve’s final words were:
OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.
When I quickly read through the eulogy yesterday, I assumed that Jobs was referring to his family (and how much he was in awe of them). But Steve Volk pointed out to me that Simpson says he looked at his family and then "over their shoulders past them". Which made me think - did Steve Jobs experience a death-bed vision? This would not actually be all that surprising - in the 2009 paper "Comfort for the Dying" (Fenwick et al), researchers found that almost two thirds of doctors, nurses and hospice carers that they surveyed reported witnessing transpersonal end-of-life experiences such as deathbed-visions. And one of the features of these visions is often looking past 'real' people in the room at 'intrusions' from another realm. For example:
[O]ne lady, about an hour before she died said, "they’re all in the room; they’re all in the room". The room was full of people she knew and I can remember feeling quite spooked really and looking over my shoulder and not seeing a thing but she could definitely see the room full of people that she knew.
I'm also reminded of an account found in Sir William Barrett's Death-Bed Visions - The Psychical Experiences of the Dying (post-humously published in 1926):
A matron was also present, and reported: “Her husband was leaning over her and speaking to her, when pushing him aside she said, "Oh, don’t hide it; it’s so beautiful."
...Her baby was brought for her to see. She looked at it with interest, and then said, "Do you think I ought to stay for baby's sake?" Then turning towards the vision again, she said, "I can't - I can't stay; if you could see what I do, you would know I can't stay."
Probably only Steve Jobs' immediate family would be able to tell exactly whether the words were meant for them, or describing something else that he was experiencing. But it's pretty damn awesome either way.