Saturday, July 21, 2007

Near death experiences - a new research area or a happy hunting ground for cranks?

Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I talk about the medical research into NDEs in The Spiritual Brain.

I should confess, I suppose, that at first I was very reluctant to get into NDEs because - flaky as the materialist cranks are - non-materialist cranks are no less flaky. The main difference is that in these times your tax dollars are far more likely to support materialist cranks.

But Mario challenged me to read medical research into on NDEs. As I did, I learned that in recent years, thanks to advanced resuscitation techniques, many more people get revived from states in which they are known to be clinically dead than was true in the past. That is why so many NDEs are reported now. And significant patterns can be found in the experiences.

Anyway, in our book we avoid possibly sensationalized popular accounts and focus on the medically verified ones. Non-materialist neuroscience is in a much better position to understand and deal with NDEs than materialist neuroscience is. For one thing, a non-materialist is not stuck with trying to explain away a growing mountain of information. For another, handling NDEs the right way is important because the person who has one is often much less than thrilled to return to ordinary living. Genuine interest and sensitivity is what is needed right now, not dogma.

Here's an interesting video clip on an account of a near-death experience (NDE). Agnostic pediatric intern and brain specialist Melvin Morse admitted a small girl, Katie, to a mid Western American emergency room. She was said to have been under water for nineteen minutes and was comatose. She was hooked up in the ICU but was not treated. She came to three days later, and remembered the two doctors who worked on her. That is, she watched them at work on her while she had no brain wave activity. She recalled other details that could later be verified.

Morse, who currently practices in Renton, Washington, later wrote up this case and other cases of chindren who had near death experiences in the medical literature. Here's another interesting file of information about NDEs. I have not read it all, and can't vet it, but on a brief scan, it looks like there is a fair amount of reasonable stuff.

Skepticism? Yes, of course. A double helping, please. I always say, when in doubt, doubt, and if it sounds unbelievable, don't believe it. But one must also distinguish between skepticism and dogmatic materialism. The dogmatic materialist knows that it ain't so - and that's all there is to it! That's not skepticism.

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Thinkquote of the Day

"The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why."

- Michael Ruse, ruefully praising Alister and Joanna McGrath's new book, The Dawkins Delusion .

Ruse is well known as a historian of the evolution-intelligent design controversy. I haven't read The Dawkins Delusion yet, but my own conclusion from The God Delusion is that I'd be embarrassed too. By the way, here's Dawkins on how to talk to religious people and other evil morons.

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