In this fascinating 27 minute video, parapsychologist Barry Taff discusses the beginning of his career and subsequent involvement in the famous 1970s poltergeist case of Doris Bither, the story of which was adapted into the film The Entity (which Martin Scorcese listed as #4 on his list of the scariest horror films of all time). Taff himself experienced paranormal phenomena as a child, but retains skepticism about the majority of cases that he has investigated. But this particular case he describes as one of the highest peaks from his casebook.
(via The Eyeless Owl)
One of the more rational writers out there on the paranormal is Chris Carter (no, not that one, or that one) - his books Parapsychology and the Skeptics (now titled Science and Psychic Phenomenona) and Science and the Near Death Experience are cogent, well-argued explorations of the research into parapsychology and the evidence for an afterlife. So I'm eager to get my hands on his latest book, Science and the Afterlife Experience, released last week. Here's the back cover blurb:
In this book Chris Carter shows that evidence of life beyond death exists and has been around for millennia, predating any organized religion. Focusing on three key phenomena - reincarnation, apparitions, and communications from the dead - Carter reveals 125 years of documented scientific studies by independent researchers and the British and American Societies for Psychical Research that rule out hoaxes, fraud, and hallucinations and prove these afterlife phenomena are real.
The author examines historic and modern accounts of detailed past-life memories, visits from the deceased, and communications with the dead via medium and automatic writing as well as the scientific methods used to confirm these experiences. He explains how these findings on the afterlife have been ignored and denied because they are incompatible with the prevailing doctrine of materialism. Sharing messages describing the afterlife from the dead themselves, Carter reveals how consciousness exists outside the parameters of biological evolution and emerges through the medium of the brain to use the physical world as a springboard for growth. After death, souls can advance to higher planes of consciousness or manifest once again on Earth. Carter’s rigorous argument proves - beyond any reasonable doubt - that consciousness not only survives death and continues in the afterlife but also that it precedes birth as well.
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"There's nothing paranormal about near-death experiences." So said the title of a journal article last year that got widespread, uncritical coverage (e.g. Sci-Am, Boing Boing). I mentioned a few criticisms of the article here on TDG at the time, and just a few weeks ago another academic article labeled it a "prejudicially skeptical review" of the research into the cause of NDEs. And now, some of the heavyweights of NDE research have also had their say.
In a letter that can be found in the latest issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences (the journal that published the original article), Dr Bruce Greyson, Dr Janice Miner Holden and Dr Pim van Lommel - three of the most respected names in the near-death experience research field - have taken the paper to task, most notably for the misleading nature of its title:
In a recent article in this journal entitled ‘There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences’, Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt concluded that ‘[t]aken together, the scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of the near-death experience have a neurophysiological or psychological basis’. We suggest that Mobbs and Watt explained ‘all aspects’ of near-death experiences (NDEs) by ignoring aspects they could not explain and by overlooking a substantial body of empirical research on NDEs. In a subsequent radio interview, Watt acknowledged that they had avoided looking at any evidence for veridical out-of-body perception, resulting in their being unable to evaluate whether or not there was empirical evidence of anything paranormal about NDEs (http://bit.ly/MITeGP). But if Mobbs and Watt did not consider the evidence for possible paranormal features, then their claim that there is nothing paranormal about NDEs is not evidence-based.
Ouch. The researchers suggest that scholars should respond to "all relevant data, not just data supporting the a priori assumption that NDEs must be reducible to known neurophysiology", but also voice their belief that NDEs are "entirely lawful and natural phenomena that can and should be studied by scientific methods, rather than dismissed without investigation."
In the same issue, one of the original authors (Dean Mobbs) has responded to the criticism, saying that while Greyson et al should be "congratulated for their highly respected research in documenting these experiences", they (and others) "have not provided any compelling evidence concerning NDEs that contradicts what we already know about the brain."
Dr Melvin Morse, well-known for his research and books on the topic of near-death experiences in children, was arrested on Tuesday along with his wife, on charges related to the alleged 'water-boarding' of their 11-year-old daughter.
Morse was originally arrested last month after a neighbour reported he grabbed the 11-year-old girl, who is his step-daughter, by the ankle and dragged her across a gravel driveway, taking her inside to spank her. After being released on bail, he was arrested again this week after detectives interviewed the girl at the local Child Advocacy Center, where she had told them that her father had "disciplined her by what he called “waterboarding” — holding the daughter’s face under running water, causing the water to fill her nostrils and over her face", while her mother watched on.
The daughter told police she “could never understand what she did to be punished” and felt scared, court documents reported. Once, she said, her father told her he “was going to wrap her in a blanket and do it so that she could not move.” In another instance, she said Melvin Morse told her that “she could go five minutes without brain damage.”
“Melvin would sometimes look away while he did it and (redacted) would become afraid that he would lose track of time and she would die,” police wrote in court documents.
...After her father did these things, the girl said she would “go outside and cry,” prompting Melvin Morse to come outside and then “hold her nose and mouth with his hand,” police said in court records.
“He would tell her she was lucky he did not use duct tape,” police said in the documents. “He would not let go until she lost feeling and collapsed to the ground.”
The girl’s younger sister was also interviewed and told social workers she saw this happen to her sister, but that “it has never been done to her because she is too young for it.”
The Delaware Attorney General’s Office has since filed a motion for the emergency suspension of Morse’s medical license, while the children are now in the care of the Division of Family Services.
One leading skeptic, Ben Radford, has suggested that Morse's use of oxygen deprivation as a 'punishment' may have been an attempt on his part to induce a near-death experience in his step-daughter.
These charges, making news around the world, certainly throw a dark shadow over the pediatrician's pioneering work on near-death experience accounts by children, as recounted in books such as Closer to the Light.
Update: This Washington Post article quotes Morse's attorney as saying the daughter has previously made false reports about abuse (at that time, a half-sibling). Please remember this is still an untried case at this time, so it's difficult to come to many conclusions at this early stage.
Yesterday we posted a link to a paper calling for serious, open-minded research into the near-death experience. Happily, today we're posting news that this looks very likely to happen.
The Templeton Foundation - set up by Wall Street pioneer John Templeton "as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality" - has awarded a 3-year, $5 million-grant to Professor John Martin Fischer at the University of California to study the concept of immortality, from both a religious and scientific viewpoint (ie. 'heaven' vs physical immortality):
UC Riverside philosophy professor John Martin Fischer will receive $1 million of that to host conferences on campus about the afterlife, to support post-doctoral students and to run a website for research on the topic. Then Fischer will administer competitions to dole out the remaining $4 million to researchers worldwide in the sciences, social sciences, philosophy and theology, he said.
“It doesn’t mean we are trying to prove anything or the other. We will be trying to be very scientific and rigorous and be very open-minded,” he said. Fischer described himself as skeptical about an afterlife but said he believed that “endless life without death could be a good thing.”
Titled "The Immortality Project", the grant recognizes "the present time as an auspicious one" in which to launch a unified, organized, and open-minded research project into questions such as:
- Whether and in what form(s) persons survive or could survive bodily death.
- Whether and to what extent persons’ beliefs about immortality influence their behavior, attitudes, and character
- Why and how persons are (at least pre-reflectively) disposed to believe in post-mortem survival
- Whether it is in some sense irrational to desire immortality
The aims of the project appear to show a real desire to approach this much-neglected topic from a number of angles, from researching the possibility of an afterlife, through to discussing whether belief in immortality of some kind might be irrational.
On the topic of future research into NDEs, Fischer noted that...
We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions. Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports. We will look at near-death experiences and try to find out what’s going on there — what is promising, what is nonsense, and what is scientifically debunked. We may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not glimpses into an afterlife.
Do near-death experiences (NDEs) offer proof of life after death, or are they just a symptom of a misfiring brain? The debate over this topic has largely become polarized between these two assumptions, but a new paper by two Italian scientists suggests that the NDE remains an unexplained phenomenon, and should therefore be the focus of further unbiased, (truly) skeptical research.
In a new paper published online by the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Enrico Facco and Christian Agrillo of the University of Padova, Italy, work their way through the current set of orthodox explanations for elements of the NDE - including centripetal ischemia of the retina, anoxia, temporal lobe disfunction and psychological expectation - showing how each doesn't offer the answer to these strange experiences had by people facing death.
The authors take issue with the approach of a high-profile scientific paper from late last year that reviewed these same explanations in a far more positive manner ("There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences"), labeling it a "prejudicially skeptical review" of the research into the cause of NDEs. "The idea that NDEs are the mere results of a brain function gone awry looks to rely more on speculation than facts", say Facco and Agrillo, "and suffers from bias in skipping both the facts and hypotheses that challenge the reductionist approach".
The paper also notes that while neurobiological correlations between NDEs and brain locations are worth researching, we should be careful not to over-simplify in looking for a conclusive 'NDE part of the brain':
The neurobiological correlations between NDEs, the parieto-temporo-occipital junction, the limbic system, and the temporal lobe are relevant; however, it is widely known that statistical correlations of mental and biological processes do not imply that the former totally derive from the latter and do not prove any cause-effect relationship between the two. Exactly as our legs are the substrate or correlate of walking, neural networks are necessary for mental phenomena, but this does not imply we decide to run because of legs. Even assuming a casual relation, which is not the case, abnormal activity in the temporal lobe or other locations might be sufficient for the occurrence of some features of NDEs, but concluding that such pattern activities are necessary for NDEs is another thing.
Facco and Agrillo suggest more open-minded research is needed into all elements of the NDE, including "odd" aspects that seem "hardly compatible with our present knowledge" (such as veridical OBEs), in case they offer new discoveries regarding as-yet unknown properties of consciousness. In a refreshing take on how science should approach the NDE, they note that "even the oddest facts, if true, should not be neglected but rather received with an open mind and investigated for the sake of coherence with the essence of scientific knowledge."
Read full text of "Near-death experiences between science and prejudice".
One thing I've found while researching the book I'm working on, is that death (and by association, the 'afterlife') is a topic that people don't like talking about, and to all of our detriment. It is one of the biggest, if not *the* biggest moment in our lives (given that it ends it), and there should be far more open discussion of the event and what it means to each of us. So I'm really enthusiastic about the documentary-in-progress Death Makes Life Possible:
What can we learn from the world’s wisdom traditions that helps us understand death and the worldviews people hold? What can science tell us about Life After Death and potential survival of the personality? What about Reincarnation? Heaven and Hell? Do our loved ones wait to guide us across the void at our time of passage? Do dreams help us prepare for our death and beyond? Is it possible to “defeat death” and remove the fear of death so that we may live more freely and more fully? Death Makes Life Possible explores these ideas and shows how contemplation of death may actually result in the achievement of unlimited peace and joy.
The good news is that you can help bring this documentary into the world, and get yourself a copy of the movie in the process, via their freshly-announced Kickstarter campaign. Here's the promo:
Featuring a number of our good friends, including Dean Radin, Stu Hameroff, Rupert Sheldrake, Marilyn Schlitz and Deepak Chopra, I'm sure many readers will be interested in backing this project. If you haven't seen the trailer yet, check it out below...certainly looks like a great feature.
Backing projects such as this helps people create quality content on topics you want to see. So get behind it, rather than enabling the big TV channels and the trash documentaries they are constantly showing.
Wow, after my post a few days ago regarding the faltering crowd-funding campaign for my afterlife book project, the Grailers out there have rallied! As I write this we're now only $84 away from reaching the project's original goal - that means we only need to pre-sell *ONE* more limited edition hardcover to cross the line a winner! Anybody want to take the honour? Click here and select the hardcover option to make my day.
Just to make note of the complete 'package' that you get with the pre-ordered hardcover, for those that haven't clicked through yet: it is not only one of a limited edition, but also signed by myself, and also will include your name within its pages (if desired) for posterity. Not to mention, with the package you also get the eBook gift pack - a DRM-free copy of the eBook version which you have explicit permission to give to 10 other friends/family. Some decent value there surely?
And if the hardcover is out of your range, remember you can still contribute by choosing from a number of other packages which all offer various degrees of awesomeness.
The clock is ticking - only 32 hours to go as I write this. Get in!
Update: Achievement unlocked! We've made the funding goal, with a little over 24 hours remaining - thanks so much for all your support! If you haven't already, make sure you grab one of the special deals before tomorrow if you want one (e.g. getting your name in the book, or the 10 eBooks for $20 package).
Grailers, your help is needed! There's less than a week to go on the crowd-funding campaign for the book I'm currently writing, on scientific research and personal experiences offering evidence for some sort of 'afterlife'. We've done amazingly well to get to 70% of the goal, but without a final effort we're going to fall agonizingly short (the promo on the right side of the page is currently lagging, there are actually only 4 days left!). Are you interested in the topic? If so, chip in a few dollars (or more), and get something awesome in return.
You can get THE ENTIRE BOOK as an eBook, DRM-free and in the format of your choice FOR JUST $5. Or, if you're a collector (or investor), you can grab a limited edition hardcover AND GET A PERSONAL THANK YOU PRINTED IN EVERY COPY, there for posterity. Take a look at all the packages on offer and see what takes your fancy. Even if you can't afford the paltry $5 'entry fee', at least help spread the word by posting about the campaign to your friends, on Facebook etc. You will at least have my deep appreciation!
Here's the promotional video once again to get you in the mood:
Mega-thanks to all those who have contributed so far, and for those willing to do so in the next 6 days to help get us across the line. Here's the link again, in case you missed it:
Cheers, and have a good weekend!
If, like me, you're interested in the field of scientific research into strange experiences at the time of death, then the "Final Passages" conference which took place a couple of weeks ago surely would have been a lot of fun to attend, with talks from the likes of Stan Grof, Raymond Moody, Pim van Lommel, Penny Sartori and Marilyn Schlitz:
The 2012 Bioethics Forum offered two days of thoughtful information-sharing and discussion regarding "Final Passages: Research on Near Death & the Experience of Dying." Designed for the general public, it focused on the sharing of scientific research and the consideration of related social and ethical issues. Many questions related to near death experiences (NDE), dying, and consciousness were addressed by global experts
Welp, here's the good news. All of the talks from that conference have now been made freely available online in video format. Woot, dig in!