Tuesday, August 03, 2010

New book sympathetic to near death experiences

Here is a new book by a philosopher, Dr. Carter, sympathetic to near-death experiences.

I admit, I have never had a near-death experience, but then I have never been near death. Except once when I was a small child, and pictured it only as climbing up to an attic, and God would then take me out to see all kinds of things I did not know about before, the way a favourite uncle would take me out to the fair.

Fun note: I have, however, had what I would call a “near dick” experience. A cop pulled me over on the highway for not having my car lights on near sunset. Like most O’Learies, I have excellent night/dark vision (a neuroscientist once commented that I had the most fully dilated pupils he had ever seen).

Hey, win some, lose some, right? We’re stupid, but we can see.

I was so upset by the encounter that the cop did not even end up giving me a ticket.

Here is what I wrote to a friend:
Near death experiences became an interesting field of study because death became a more complex concept in recent years. More people are around to tell us what they experienced, however we may interpret it. A relative in medicine has sometimes pointed out that when physicians are doing defib or cardio revert, the patient is technically dead, at least if you use the old standard.

- Recent experience dealing with a very elderly relative (nonagenarian, = 90+) who had a stroke and copes with Alzheimer has helped me understand the fluidity of the brain better than anything I ever learned from books. I admit that I am not good at learning from books anyway.

Listening to that old guy carefully, I realized that he had lost contact with words but not concepts. He could not reliably remember my name, but he almost always remembered that I was his daughter.

Various people were pestering him to get involved with memory exercises, etc., but he was despondent, thinking it would do no good, because his short term memory was gone.

Although his short term memory was indeed gone (shot to hell, I would say), his long term memory was surprisingly good. He remembered detailed information from 70 years ago, such as that Fr. Athol Murray had got him into the Regina Rifles when World War II was imminent, and ...

Okay, so we now have something to work with, right?

Finally, his family hit on a strategy: His short term memory is shot, fine. But that is the easiest one to reconstitute, because most of the people involved are still alive, and can just reestablish contact.

So everyone phoned and visited frequently, and - as a result - he has become much better at remembering names, faces, and detailed information. As one relative in medicine put it, "If there are spare neurons, he can just lay down new short term memories."

"Skepticism" - of the usual variety - is much less than helpful because it consists merely in trying to debunk, not to understand. It could also lead to lost opportunities. For example, a merely mechanical view of the brain (it's bust and it won't work any more) could lead to lost opportunities to connect with someone.