Dead, or Mostly Dead?

There's dead, and then there's mostly dead: the most recent eSkeptic newsletter features an article by Mark Crislip titled "Near Death Experiences & the Medical Literature". The article primarily looks at NDE studies - in particular the famous Lancet paper published by Pim van Lommel et al, which is one of the most important of the NDE literature.

I read the article from the perspective of a practicing physician who spends all his time in an acute care hospital and has been involved with many cardiac arrests over the years. The NDE question in this study hinges on whether the [sic] were dead or nearly dead. In the article the authors “defined clinical death as a period of unconsciousness caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain because of inadequate blood circulation, breathing, or both. If, in this situation, CPR is not started within 5–10 min, irreparable damage is done to the brain and the patient will die.”

Crislip's article brings up some good points in regards to how we define death, and is intelligently written. Nevertheless, there are elements of nonsense debunkery which should be set straight:

a) The whole article appears to take on the validity of the Lancet paper, on the basis of the "clinically dead" definition ("The NDE question in this study hinges on whether the [sic] were dead or nearly dead"). However, this is only a part of the paper. In fact, the Lancet article explicitly points out that NDE's happen in contexts that are not related to brain-death, such as "fear-death" situations in which bodily health is never affected...the experiencer just believes they are about to die.

a) Crislip points out discrepancies in reports over time, noting that "Some of the NDEs were, it seems, implanted memories." While this may be so, historical surveys show quite clearly that the NDE is a real phenomenon, not simply implanted. NDEs have been written about well before they entered the public consciousness. Crislip's statement may be of note though in giving percentages of people who have had NDEs - but not in the reality of the experience (reality as in 'it occurs', not that what is experienced is real).

b) Crislip finishes by saying "I am certainly not going to disagree with the idea that nearly dying is transformative..The knowledge that you are truly mortal is life altering. Cancer survivors can have the same epiphany without the cardiac arrest." However, the Lancet article explicitly notes that "The process of transformation after NDE took several years, and differed from those of patients who survived cardiac arrest without NDE", discussing these findings in detail within the article based on a longitudinal study. The study notes that the transformation was not because of the knowledge of mortality, but "a significant increase in belief in an afterlife and decrease in fear of death compared with people who had not had this experience"

There's a few other things, but just wanted to point out these items while they were in my head. Both articles are well worth the read though.

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Robert McLuhan's picture
Member since:
21 May 2008
Last activity:
5 years 30 weeks

The 'clinical death' question does seem to offer possibilities for the skeptic - ie, how do we know exactly when the individual was 'clinically dead', and how can we be sure that something isn't going on in the brain that instruments don't register? Chris French had quite a lot to say about this during Penny Sartori's recent SPR talk, while plugging a piece in the next issue of The Skeptic, which he edits. It could well be Crislip's piece that the mag is picking up. Thanks for flagging it up, will head over and have a look.

earthling's picture
Member since:
22 November 2004
Last activity:
1 week 3 days

There are some people, who slowly die. Alzheimer's victims are one example. These people have moments of recognition, of sudden activity - some can say something insightful after years of not being able to speak at all.

Perhaps some of those researchers who insist on the NDE being so real should look at that? Or perhaps some have.

----
The large print giveth,
The small print taketh away.

greenlantern2814's picture
Member since:
1 July 2008
Last activity:
6 years 8 weeks

I had a NDE as I was taken out of the ambulance and brought into the hospital. My body did not die, but I left my body. I was not given any drugs or pure oxygen (I asked the paramedics and doctor this) and I am a very logical person. When the feeling started I immediately thought "Oh Sh!t! I'm dying!" I was looking around but my body was not moving. I started to leave my body and floated toward the ceiling outside of the emergency room. The voices of the medical personnel were crystal clear. It was a very wonderful feeling as I wondered where I was going and the journey I was about to begin. I started to think of how I would miss my mother and my family. All of a sudden I was pulled through the building back to my body and everything became loud. It is an experience that is hard to describe unless you have had it. I did not meet any Beings or relatives, but I do know there is a soul. I am not afraid of death.
Interestingly my friend and one of my brothers is skeptical of the whole thing.

red pill junkie's picture
Member since:
12 April 2007
Last activity:
10 hours 39 min

Thank you for sharing your experience greenlantern.

May I ask if you experienced any deep changes about your views on life and the world, or perhaps an increase in your spirituality?

When I was a kid I once ingested a liquid that my mom used to disinfect vegetables (I wasn't THAT stupid, it's just that my mom left it at arms length and I was a very big kid for my age). I dozed off and was hurried into a hospital while my mom coaxed me not to fall asleep— once there they didn't want to treat me until my father put forth some cash in deposit, but that's another story—anyways they tell me I came into a coma and came back hours later. But I don't have any NDE from that incident... although sometimes I fantasize that my former self died that day, and my body was then possessed by an evil spirit who took my persona ;-)

-----
It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie

Michael H's picture
Member since:
19 December 2007
Last activity:
3 years 49 weeks

. . . that until a Michael Shermer, James Randi, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Pinker or another prominent defender of materialism actually experiences an NDE or another sort of spontaneous experience of the higher consciousness, they will not accept the validity of these reports.

I also have some doubt as to whether people like these, who are fortunate enough to know everything already, would actually experience an NDE in the first place - there are numerous mystical sources that indicate that our beliefs inform our experience following death, and if this is true, those who are absolutely certain of no survival of consciousness may not maintain any awareness in the earlier moments of the transition. So if they were to be revived following cardiac arrest, they would be among the 85% or so who report no experience at all, which would of course validate what they are already so certain of.

I've read enough of both NDE accounts and mystical testimony from numerous schools of faith, both Eastern and Western, to see exceptionally strong parallels from both sources. Either NDE accounts are reports of genuine experience, or there are one hell of a lot of people out there who go to a tremendous amount of trouble, including extensive research of esoteric mystical traditions, all in an effort to mislead others.

I'm a tad more skeptical of the latter scenario than the former. Or does the term 'skeptic' no longer have validity as to its original meaning?

Kathrinn's picture
Member since:
10 August 2004
Last activity:
1 week 4 days

If a confirmed, declared skeptic DID have an NDE, would they ever admit it? Doubtful, in my opinion!

Regards, Kathrinn

Michael H's picture
Member since:
19 December 2007
Last activity:
3 years 49 weeks

There are many NDE survivors who claimed to have been dedicated skeptics prior to the event, but none that I'm aware of who had achieved any sort of notoriety through their identification with skepticism prior.

I actually think that if one of these people did have a profound realization, either NDE or another onset of cosmic consciousness, they would admit it - though it may take years for them to figure out how to do so. The emotional component of the more powerful realizations is such that the individual feels an overwhelming obligation to share with others, despite the risk of ridicule.

Of the prominent skeptics, it would appear that Sam Harris might be a candidate for experiencing the transcendent consciousness, though I guess any of them could experience an NDE. Harris has already begun shifting well away from the purely materialist worldview of the others, is continuing to question reality, engages in meditative practice, appears to grasp that the religions are artifacts of genuine transformative experience, and seems to suspect that consciousness is involved in experience on numerous levels. That's a pretty good start. Of course, if that happens, the other skeptics will just say that he's totally lost it.

It's a strange little planet we're on. The materialists are as blind as their dualist opponents, and neither group appears to be willing to ask if they might both be wrong.

earthling's picture
Member since:
22 November 2004
Last activity:
1 week 3 days

So you are saying that skeptics are by nature, or by persuasion, dishonest, with themselves and others?

----
The large print giveth,
The small print taketh away.

Michael H's picture
Member since:
19 December 2007
Last activity:
3 years 49 weeks

What I am suggesting is that every single one of us on earth is confusing our perception of reality for reality itself.

That goes for me, too.

The world appears to the skeptic exactly as the skeptic describes it - there is no malfeasance. The same world appears very different to the mystic. The skeptic might conclude that the mystic was being dishonest with himself and others, but they would reach that conclusion only because they are yet to experience the perception of the world the mystic has. Both are viewing the same world, what changes is point-of-view.

And NDE's are a window into the reality perceived by the mystic, which is why so many return with a different and often enhanced perspective on life.

earthling's picture
Member since:
22 November 2004
Last activity:
1 week 3 days

My guess is that there is a part of the world that we cannot perceive. So the description we get from mystics are much too earth-bound. They (maybe) get a glimpse of parts of the bigger world around ours, but (probably) their perception is skewed by our limits of understanding.

I said this before, we are like the 2-dimensional creates in the book Flatland. Except that the added dimensions are probably not spatial, nor temporal.

----
The large print giveth,
The small print taketh away.

greenlantern2814's picture
Member since:
1 July 2008
Last activity:
6 years 8 weeks

I wasn't thinking about NDE or anything else when I had my breathing seizure. I just called the ambulance and wanted to get to the emergency room. I was skeptical about a lot of things and had read a book about reincarnation. But I was rational when it happened and my mind was alert. I have been much more spiritual toward myself and very tolerant of others. I also do not make fun of anyone's experience with paranormal or UFO phenomena. I know they were not looking for it to happen to them either. I can't talk for the skeptics who make money debunking, but I for one would tell everyone. Remember, J Allen Hynek was a skeptic and when he started believing there was more to UFOs, told about it at the risk of his reputation.
PS I don't think anyone is looking to die to find out if NDEs are real.

Michael H's picture
Member since:
19 December 2007
Last activity:
3 years 49 weeks

I haven't experienced an NDE, but I have experienced a higher level of consciousness (for lack of a better term). I know exactly what you mean about not questioning other peoples attempts to describe their own paranormal experiences.

I know enough to know that there's much more going on than we actually know. The skeptics have been sweeping anecdotal reports into the corner for so long that one can barely see over the pile. NDE's are just one aspect of experience in that pile. Sooner or later we will need to develop an understanding of existence that accounts for all human experience.

I, for one, hope it's sooner. Thanks, again.