Science Can Explain the Near Death Experience

Welp, that's one mystery solved. According to Scientific American, "Near-Death Experiences Now Found to Have Scientific Explanations":

Near-death experiences are often thought of as mystical phenomena, but research is now revealing scientific explanations for virtually all of their common features. The details of what happens in near-death experiences are now known widely—a sense of being dead, a feeling that one's "soul" has left the body, a voyage toward a bright light, and a departure to another reality where love and bliss are all-encompassing.

...Recently, a host of studies has revealed potential underpinnings for all the elements of such experiences. "Many of the phenomena associated with near-death experiences can be biologically explained," says neuroscientist Dean Mobbs, at the University of Cambridge's Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.

The article is based on a new journal paper, "There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences: how neuroscience can explain seeing bright lights, meeting the dead, or being convinced you are one of them", by the aforementioned neuroscientist Dean Mobbs, and co-author Caroline Watt (well-known 'psi researcher' from the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh).

I haven't seen the full paper (but given the offers of help regarding the Paul Davies paper last week, I'm sure a copy might find its way to me soon...*ahem* sorted, thank you!), but my first thought when reading the Sci-Am article was basically "this isn't really news". For years many neurological explanations have been offered for various elements of the NDE, and on their own they are interesting enough. The intriguing aspect to the NDE though is why all these particular elements would combine at the time of death, and then coincidentally just happen to provide 'the illusion' of a glimpse into an afterlife.

I don't know of any researchers that consider the NDE to be 'purely paranormal' - they all seem to agree that the experience would be at least mediated by the brain in some way. As I said, I haven't read the paper at this stage, so am reluctant to say too much about it, but given the title ("There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences"), I will be interested to see how Mobbs and Watts manage to not only point out the brain's involvement in the NDE (which is, as I said, basically a given), but also disprove any paranormal element to the phenomenon.

Focusing on a couple of the things mentioned in the Sci-Am story: firstly, as for expectation creating the experience, I'd note that I've written an article previously on NDEs reported well before there was any public knowledge about its phenomenology ("Death Before Life After Life), and as for Olaf Blanke's "out-of-body experience" research, we've covered that previously as well. For a very detailed counterweight to the Sci-Am article though, I'd recommend the paper "Explanatory Models for Near-Death Experiences", by Bruce Greyson, Emily Kelly and Edward Kelly (found in The Handbook of Near Death Experiences), in which they cover most of the elements mentioned and explain why they don't really work as explanations, as well as bringing up salient points about the non-explained factors - such as enhanced mentation at a time when the brain is supposed to be shut down, as well as the anomalous aspects of the NDE, including reports of veridical out-of-body experiences. From the paper:

Despite shaky foundations for assertions that NDEs are similar to experiences associated with abnormal temporal lobe activity, anoxia, ketamine, or endorphins, several multifactorial theories, based on these foundations, combine these putative causes at will to account for whatever constellation of features is observed in any given NDE...

Although physiological, psychological, and sociocultural factors may indeed interact in complicated ways in conjunction with NDEs, theories proposed thus far consist largely of unsupported speculations about what might be happening during an NDE. None of the proposed neurophysiological mechanisms have been shown to occur in NDEs.

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kamarling's picture
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Perhaps it is just the way I'm feeling today but I read this and my spirits sank. Not because there may be some authoritative proof against a fondly held belief but because it is as though I'm standing in front of a carousel and seeing the same old fairground horses bobbing past my eyes over and over again.

No doubt there will be a rebuttal to the SciAm piece quoting Chris Carter and any number of other books and papers that have picked apart the only-physical, brain-centric hypotheses. And likewise, when these rebuttals are dealt with on another forum, such as JREF, some smartass will list them all bullet-point style, with a note against each saying "debunked" or "logical fallacy", etc.

Again, perhaps it is my particular mood today, but I'm starting to despair about the prospect of this ever being resolved (except by actually dying). The arguments are so entrenched now, so polarised according to worldview, that I can't imagine any piece of evidence would sway the debate one way or the other.

In my naivety, I once thought that what would tip the balance would be for respected scientists to come up with evidence that other scientists would have to take seriously. Of course, all that happens is that those scientists suddenly lose respect. Not only are their present findings trashed but their reputations are picked apart and their previous work made to look suspect. They become marginalised (at best). Daryl Bem was one such respected figure until he published his findings from a series of precognition experiments. Not only did the findings cause outrage but his right to publish such findings in a peer-reviewed journal was challenged.

Wikipedia - that all-knowing oracle of unbiased information - reports upon this controversy. It lists follow-up "studies" by some of the usual CSICOP suspects: James Alcock, Chris French and the ubiquitous Richard Wiseman all dismissing Bem's original work as flawed. Yet Wikipedia gives no space to Bem's response to those debunkers nor to any other learned opinions in support of Bem's work.

For me, it is summed up by this response to Bem's paper on a blog called Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists:

I don't believe a word of it because a) let's face it, it's about precognition and b) there's simply no effort to propose a mechanism that might support such an outrageous claim (and no, 'quantum mechanics' is not a mechanism).

A.Muse's picture
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kamarling wrote:

I read this and my spirits sank... because it is as though I'm standing in front of a carousel and seeing the same old fairground horses bobbing past my eyes over and over again.

I get this same feeling around election time every year! I'm 32 and the thought of living 50 more years and watching this repetitive carousel... Ugg.

But deep inside I know that this can't be the way things play out indefinitely. Nothing is sustainable forever. Carousels break down. And that applies to these polarized NDE arguments as well.

In my opinion, there's the truth and then there's the falsehood that's being propagated (consciously and unconsciously) by those of a certain limited worldview. Unbeknownst to many of them (but probably not all) their worldview is dying, and I think these extremely polarized debates are evidence of its final death throes. These physical-only, brain-based theories are like the Hoover dam if it were riddled with holes. A group of individuals can try to plug these holes, but eventually there will be too many and the whole thing will burst open. Either that or our timelines will split in 2012 and we can each be on our merry way. :-)

I saw an interesting movie recently by Miranda July called "The Future." At the end of the film, one of the characters who has abandoned his corporate job and is confused by the state of the world, speaks with a stranger. He's trying to convince the man to donate money to buy a tree - but even that seems pointless. The character goes on to liken this instant, our instant in time, the one we're all living in, to the moment in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon after a wrecking ball slams into the side of a building. Nothing happens for a second or two - there's a pause - before everything cracks and crumbles. The character concludes that our current society exists in the moment just after the wrecking ball has hit.

This resonated with me because I, too, am bored of the carousel.

Inannawhimsey's picture
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Ah yes, life is quite ordinary. Canadian, in fact :3 Where even something as marvelous as a Supernova or precognition is The Beachcombers :3

The Romantic Marxist need to place these things in some special space or place...is giving its last gasps. The Creator of universe, 'discovered' by Physicists. 'Psi' discovered by model-agnosticists and empiricists. Life after death already found out to be true in more than one way. And so on.

Everything that exists is natural and not aberrant; there are less places for people to wallow their beliefs in self-pity :3

universe is full of grace, not some silly inescapable, 'objective' thing, but an alive, mutable, interactive experience.

(hopefully, the Aussie sense of humour and aplomb will be able to lessen the world's current blight of STDs of Anxiety & Fear -- Socially Transmitted Diseases)

---------
All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

RabbitDawg's picture
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"...it is as though I'm standing in front of a carousel and seeing the same old fairground horses bobbing past my eyes over and over again."

Tiresome, I think you're right. My guess is that it's a rehash of the dying brain/REM Intrusion/hypercarbia/hypoxia/birth canal/neurological surge WeGotItAllFiguredOut horse-squeeze. No matter whatever positive results the AWARE Study may demonstrate in 2012, it'll probably be dismissed.
Everything's gonna be okay though. Be patient, one funeral at a time.

kamarling's picture
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RabbitDawg wrote:

" No matter whatever positive results the AWARE Study may demonstrate in 2012, it'll probably be dismissed.
Everything's gonna be okay though.

I'm not expecting anything conclusive from the AWARE study either. I think that, even among the serious researchers there is a lack of understanding about how these things work. By their very nature, scientists look for objective proof - something that can be pointed to as solid and never-changing. But perhaps that apparent solidity reflects the nature of our physical world where natural laws control the apparent permanence of our environment.

Slip into another dimension, however, and we might find that the external objectivity is far more dependent upon internal subjectivity. So there may be some kind of consensus view of a hospital room, for example, but the details perceived by the individual might not be precisely those that are apparent to those in the physical room.

I came across the following website by a man who has been practising Out of Body travel for many years (I posted a blog entry about it here ar TDG a few days ago). His experiences have some interesting implications for the AWARE study, in my opinion.

http://www.multidimensionalman.com/Multi...

Dave.

Ishtar Dingir's picture
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I'd thought you might like to see my latest article on how shamans conduct the deceased into the Land of the Dead.

Going back into prehistory, the shaman of the tribe would act as the psychopomp, and guide or carry the souls of the dead into the next dimension. The shaman psychopomp appears in the mythology of just about every ancient civilisation. This is because shamanic practises were once worldwide and so people were once taught how to die.

Interestingly, when shamans describe the Land of the Dead, their descriptions are very similar. So I wonder how scientists will find an explanation for that....?

Anyway, this article is here: http://ishtarsgate.wordpress.com/2011/09...

tihz_ho's picture
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Ishtar Dingir wrote:

Going back into prehistory, the shaman of the tribe would act as the psychopomp, and guide or carry the souls of the dead into the next dimension. The shaman psychopomp appears in the mythology of just about every ancient civilisation. This is because shamanic practises were once worldwide and so people were once taught how to die.

Interestingly, when shamans describe the Land of the Dead, their descriptions are very similar. So I wonder how scientists will find an explanation for that....?

Why is this amazing that shamans often describe the land of the dead in a similar way as mind altering drugs were often used? Drunks thorough out recorded history in all cultures all act in a similar fashion.

However if what you stated is a valid argument then Christianity as any sort of valid religion is in doubt simply because the entire myth of Jesus follows, almost word for word, the format of so many other religions; he was born of a virgin, preformed miracles, arose from the dead and he ascended into heaven yada yada ...

Say if one day archaeologists happen to find Jesus's body along with the proof that this is, in fact, THE Jesus of the Christ fame, what then? :O

I suppose the Pope would begin the process of dismantling the Catholic church, right? :P

"Oooo sorry, sorry, and all this time hehehe, who knew? Oh well, no harm, no foul, ya?

- Benedictus PP. XVI

Well that's not going to happen is it? People will believe what they damn well want to believe in spite of any evidence to the contrary. :)

Cheers

:D

PS: Btw, with all due respect, if it was "prehistory" (the period before recorded history) then how would anyone know what shamans thought about anything or even if there were shamans because this was before recorded history?

It is generally accepted that prehistory ended around 3200 BC notwithstanding what many hold as the "true" the age of the Sphinx, pyramids and the underwater thing off the coast of Japan ...

;)

daydreamer's picture
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Hi Karmarling,

Just wanted to say sorry for not replying to your comment on the other post - I didn't mean to be rude and you know I enjoy our chats, even if they are perhaps putting one foot on the carousel. I also didn't mean to be too strident - probably just having a bad day.

I can see this from both sides - from both frustrations. As a person wanting to explore in a certain style the idea that actually there is only really exploration of the self is at once frustrating as hell and very exciting. It's frustrating because I know myself quite well already, believe me I have my quirks and light and dark sides some of which are far outside of normality, I am quite familiar with exploring myself as a journey that parallels my exploration of the 'outside' world.

If it is not even possible - not ever possible - to show that the world is subjective like that. If there is no test, no experiment, absolutely nothing that can show it then we are all doomed to just carry on as normal. There would be an impermeable barrier to our understanding that can only be passed by acceptance without understanding, by experience without understanding. I can say for now that alot of people are never going to accept that, and nor do I think that the argument that they should (or even be forced to) is a good one. Boring or not. That is why I hope you are wrong. I don't mind if reality is partially subjective, or even fully subjective, if there is life after death, or not, but I would like the hope that someday we will know.

Note that I don't mean that I hope I will know. Many people in Earth's history died and went wherever without knowing about plate tectonics or quantum theory - it doesn't matter. I don't need to know everything. I think it matters though if the argument is that something can never be understood. That removes the hope for people like me. Perhaps it shouldn't and I can make arguments with myself that it doesn't. That really all the knowledge we will ever need is functional - how to feed everyone, to fight the evolution of new diseases, cure illnesses, create enough energy for everyone, create transport so everyone can see the people they love - and do it all for everyone equally on the planet without destroying the planet. Achieve that and what does it matter about impassible boundaries in understanding.

I still wait for the results of the AWARE study though. With an open mind either way and without pinning myself on the outcome I am sure the results will be fascinating either way - you are right though, a negative will only disprove the exact condition of the hypothesis (which I think is that people having NDE's can read cards above their heads isn't it?). So we can both lament the results if what we see is skeptics saying it proves NDE's are false, and believers saying it doesn't prove anything. It will do all it can - attempt to prove or disprove its hypothesis.

The website you posted to is interesting though - http://www.multidimensionalman.com/Multi...

There is plenty in his descriptions that would be objectively testable. Maybe culturally, mentally and scientifically we are simply not there yet, which maybe offers us both the different types of hope we desire.

kamarling's picture
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Hi Daydreamer, I'm glad to say that my mood has lifted somewhat since my first post in this thread.

There's very little in your reply that I can disagree with - a very measured and reasonable take on the subject, if I may say so.

Perhaps veering off subject slightly, I was amused to listen to reports of the faster-than-light research coming out of CERN. I kept hearing the phrase "this will turn our whole understanding of physics on its head". Now, the scientists saying this actually sounded quite gleeful about the prospect and were eagerly awaiting the outcome of further research.

Contrast that with paranormal research, where the same "turn physics on its head" argument is used as a blocking device ... i.e. because of that, it just can't be true, so it isn't worthy of consideration. Few in the physics community seems to want to entertain the possibility that the so-called paranormal might also be explained by things happening in other dimensions.

Some things are allowed to challenge the status quo, others are clearly taboo.

emlong's picture
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Once again I must interject that there is a fascinating body of real scientific knowledge about these subjects developing right in front of our faces on the lowly TV. Researchers who do not reference these shows are eliminating some of the the best evidence available.

Paranormal Witness

Ghost Adventures

The Huaunted

A Haunting

Ghost Hunters

Haunted Collector

et al

All of these documentary shows are demonstrating irrefutable evidence of an afterlife.

daydreamer's picture
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Hi Dave,

I guess there is a grey area. Some creationists strongly desire to 'turn geology on it's head', which it would do indeed if they we're right.
Actually, as a quick sideline to the discussion, I'll give you a quick geology brain fart since I enjoyed re-reading it the other night. It was to do with the chemical composition and ratios of clay and feldspar minerals to quartz in sandstones deposited in the same environment. Even if you have the same environment, say alluvial, the chemical composition and ratios in the sand can be very different from other sands. Given that the environment of deposition is not responsible the explanation lies in the differing source material that composited the sandstone. Sands with high ratios of feldspars and mica's to quartz are typically seen forming from the erosion of igneous rocks (granite etc), whereas rocks with low ratios and high degree's of abrasion showing on the grains (i.e well rounded quartz grains) indicate the re-weathering of previous sandstones. Further chemical analysis alongside large scale mapping of rock formations (and of fine scale details within the formations) reveals the overall plate tectonic settings in the past. In the instance of the mineralogy above - mountain building and igneous intrusive activity (the intrusions may still be found). The book gave several examples, one was of a plate tectonic event resulting in mountain building around what is now New York, but 3 billion years ago. Other work reveals the related subduction one etc. All inferred from the chemistry and structure of the rocks left behind from the weathering of the mountain chain.

Actually that reminds me, if you look at the New York skyline you will see two distinct sections, one with high rise building's and one without. This is because the high rise buildings are underlain by granite, whereas the low rise section has spread off of the granite intrusion onto a sediment plain, so they are underlain by weaker sedimentary rocks unable to support the load of the massive skyscrapers. Cool hay. - also, there are famous granite boulders in Central Park that were dropped by the last ice age as the ice sheet carved the surface we are now all familiar with. Kids play on them and people picnic on them. Also cool.

So anyway, those creationists want to 'turn science on it's head'. I would put them at one end of the spectrum - a sort of hopeless end really given geology and the theology they wish really happened - such as Noah's global flood.

No doubt it isn't fair philosophically, but we must also have some system for recognising the ridiculous. I think your's works fine though. Creationists are screwed because they have no evidence - everything they put forward is an error, and often a mischievous one, an attempt to make a part of geology sound twistable to the public that never works with geologists. Hell the last Jehovah's Witnesses that came around my house did exactly the same. When I told them I was a geologist they said they didn't know any science or geology and still kept on going telling me it was all nonsense. They've got ball's I'll give them that - however surely most doors they knock on don't have geologists behind them.

Anyway, i'm going off point. A grey area. I see some symmetry there though, which might be expected if it really is grey. New age and alternative beliefs, pet theories, theologies etc can behave in the same way. Discoveries in science are not allowed to 'turn them on their heads' and very often they part ways and head off down their own paths. In the same way you might like to see science be more willing to turn itself over I would also like to see other ideas attempt to incorporate discoveries into themselves.

kamarling's picture
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I smiled at the Jehovah's Witnesses comment because I used to invite them in and try to convince them how they were sooo wrong. Complete waste of time - I was never going to make any converts among them just as they were never going to convert me. I eventually saw that it was my own hubris at work and spared them the pointless discourse.

These days I feel the same way about the super-sceptics - I'm waiting for the knock on the door followed by the offer of a magazine with a picture of a radiant Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer adorning the front cover. But nah ... they have more subtle methods such as hijacking the Dr. Who scripts.

daydreamer's picture
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Lol.

I listened to a podcast with an ex-Jehovah's Witness and he described it well. He used to do all the door knocking and was himself a big believer, though obviously that changed in him as he got older. He said that they are not allowed to listen, worse even, they are taught to distrust and think of it as evil in everyone else. So when I speak about geology they can listen so long as I don't disagree with them, but if I disagree then its the evil in me and stop listening. To that end they are only allowed to read material published by Watchtower. So they cannot read anything you might have at home, so if I open a geology book to show them where they are going wrong they are not allowed to listen and should make a polite exit.

The other thing, the bit that also annoyed me, is their idea that other peoples views don't matter. As a theology they don't care one little bit about your views or whether they convert you. They are not even there to talk to you or convert you. They are at your door for their own souls. Witnessing literally buys them 'points' that add up to a ticket into heaven. It doesn't matter what you do or say, whether you listen, or even whether you are home when they knock on your door, they still accumulate supernatural points towards their supernatural prize.

That is what it is about. They don't care at all if you listen or not - maybe for their ego (if they even admit they have one, although years of knocking on doors hearing people not caring has to mute their emotions). The value of the supernatural points they accumulate does not change according to your opinion - they are rewarded by God just for trying - not for accomplishing anything.

To me it is the complete opposite of what a teacher tries to do. Like a teacher that gets paid, but doesn't give a sh*t.

It was hearing that man tell his story that made me realise that there is no point talking to them.

Of course he also told of how he no longer speaks to his family since they have shunned him, and told of how the Elders control who is shunned; for disbelief for example, though also for real and perceived crimes.

- Lol. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a magazine like that in the future - though probably not through your door. Of course local activism is another thing, and to a degree local politics, such as faith schools, free schools, issues of religious discrimination etc are issues I don't mind being on leaflets, one way or the other. That's politics after all. Just straight up philosophy is another issue though, but i'd have no problem with a local paranormal group putting a leaflet through my door, or a local skeptics group - in fact I would welcome either since I'd like to do both.

I know you see little to bring you comfort at the moment, though supernaturalism is still prevalent in our society. I am quite enthusiastic about the future though. True my generation and younger are perhaps more skeptical, especially of religious claims underpinned by revelation and scripture so I predict a hard future for the churches if they cannot make bills balance using immigration.

If, like you say, super-nature (if I can call that to get away from using supernatural and all it's entangled ideas) is subjective then perhaps we will never see much objective research into it, or belief in it by people who are objective. That might be a bad thing, I don't know, I don't think it is a bad thing if people are not swung by arguments that lack structure and evidence (as opposed to volume, hell, theology has millions of hours of writing that still only sums up to 'I believe because I do and I like it so join in or shut up'). I suppose we might consider it rather sad if reality is in some way inherently non-revealing to the majority. I.e if we do never get objective proof and have to rely on personal opinion of experience - note that what I mean here is that it is the experience of those lucky few that we are asked to take on authority - the prophets or those that bump into Bigfoot and forget to photo it, or aliens, reptile politicians, astral travel, mediumship, telekinesis etc - in general non seem available to the majority - if they were they wouldn't be doubted. In the private sense they convince the individual, but cannot be expected to convince anyone else - especially in a world where other explanations are always possible and where our historical track record of narrative correctly matching phenomena prior to experimentation gives us cause for concern with respect to the likelihood of modern day narratives being correct (consider the disagreement among mediums about what the afterlife is actually like, with each's spirit guide giving slightly different to sometimes very very different accounts - at the least it is a source of uncertainty in the claim of any narrative).

E.g If we take a look at many of the popular and successful mediums right now we find that they disagree on what lies after death. Sure they agree it is out there, but their narratives on what it contains differ (often depending on their religion).

Perhaps that is reality and is what we are stuck with. If so fine, there is plenty of other things to be getting on with and when we die we will know.

I guess my question would be, what would you like the world to look like (geopolitically, scientifically etc) if you are right and our experience of the supernatural is unapproachable by science? That leaves it up to relativism and culture to my mind, in which case fracture and disagreement would seem inevitable. Personally I hope it is not intractable.

emlong's picture
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"E.g If we take a look at many of the popular and successful mediums right now we find that they disagree on what lies after death. Sure they agree it is out there, but their narratives on what it contains differ (often depending on their religion)."

They also disagree on what lies before death. An afterlife or perhaps more appropriately another dimension is not going to look the same to all people just as life in the here and now does not.

kamarling's picture
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daydreamer wrote:

E.g If we take a look at many of the popular and successful mediums right now we find that they disagree on what lies after death. Sure they agree it is out there, but their narratives on what it contains differ (often depending on their religion).

Perhaps that is reality and is what we are stuck with. If so fine, there is plenty of other things to be getting on with and when we die we will know.

I guess my question would be, what would you like the world to look like (geopolitically, scientifically etc) if you are right and our experience of the supernatural is unapproachable by science? That leaves it up to relativism and culture to my mind, in which case fracture and disagreement would seem inevitable. Personally I hope it is not intractable.

To some extent, beliefs are the determining factors when it comes to the subjective experiences we are speaking of. For example, in a near-death experience, one might report being met by angels while another might say it was uncle Harry. It was probably neither ... more likely some entity taking the form of whatever would be of most comfort to the "newly dead". But this whole subject gets far more complex than that. You have to go right back to first principles and ask: "Is reality essentially objective or subjective?".

I have found it of interest lately to watch to some of the YouTube videos produced by Tom Campbell, a nuclear physicist who has formulated his own Theory of Everything (TOE) based upon his own Out-of-Body experiences over many years. He argues that we inhabit one of many virtual realities which are created and maintained by our individual and collective thoughts. The physical level is the most consistant and difficult to alter just by thinking.

This is what happens when scientifically trained minds become involved in metaphysics. No beliefs, no religious overtones ... just objective reporting of what is essentially not objective.

I can almost hear the obvious objection from the geologist: "the rocks pre-date humans by billions of years so who thought them up?". My own answer to that would be that the whole universe is conscious, not just humans. And secondly that linear time is also an illusion so billions of years in the past is only relevant to the reality in which we are presently focused.

Clearly, Tom Campbell can't take his scientific measuring paraphernalia along with him on his excursions out of body, so he can only report his impressions and can't objectively prove his theory (at least I don't think he can). So where does that leave us? With anecdotes, I guess. And it is up to you whether you accept that many anecdotes suggesting something similar equates to evidence. I think they do but we have to be careful of prejudices and beliefs when assessing such evidence.

daydreamer's picture
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Hay Dave,

I can look past the rocks you know!!!

Your argument about subjectivity is much more nuanced than the normal mind spasms that people have that leads to things like creationism etc. I use geology to disprove that because they let me. If they want to argue that the world is real then I will show them some geology.
However, what good is geology in talking about reality if the world is no more real than a dream.
It might well be the case that each portion of reality has its own rules and we leave the non-physical because of potentials offered by the physical. Perhaps if the non-physical is entirely subjective people get tired of it and so gravitate to exploring the unknown that is defined by more than their subjective minds. Like how we might choose to wake from a dream, even if we were offered our dream world for long periods - especially if we can just go back again travelling as many times as we want between the two. That would be dividing both realms into real entities, both with positives and negatives compared to the other.

Scientists and philosophers have also pondered on whether we might all be computer simulations in an alien super computer. I can see nothing in the paranormal, subjective, or objective that can disagree with that idea. OBE's could just be part of the program.

To an extent though I think ultimately we strt talking about the poeple we are, not the world we inhabit, when we start talking about things like that.

Your subjective potentially immortal and non-illusory reality, in the sense that existence is still a property we personally 'own' simply becomes an optimistic viewpoint among a sea of possibilities. An alien computer simulation where we are not 'real' simply becomes a pessimistic viewpoint.

With these interpretations we start to display our personalities instead of talking about the world since the only aspect of this interpretation we understand is ourselves. There are so many imaginable interpretations that fit we end up just revealing ourselves.

kamarling's picture
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I have to stop reading these pages first thing in the morning ... now I feel the need to reply when I should be getting ready for work:)

Just a quick response then. We need to be careful about what we consider to be real. When we use words like dream we are implying that there is something more real awaiting us when the dream ends. That we will return to the real reality. Something similar could be said when we use the term virtual reality, or even subjective reality. We imply that an objective reality awaits our return.

Thus we have the Matrix hypothesis with aliens creating a world so that the human mind can roam within it but the audience know that the "real" human is sedated and plugged in to the Matrix generator.

What I am suggesting is very different. I am suggesting that all reality is virtual. There is no objective reality to which we return. We are essentially creative consciousness ... creating realities in a collective mind. Some of these creations are more "solid" than others so, like the Matrix, while we are in that reality we experience it as entirely objective.

Again, this is the old philosophical debate between materialism and idealism. To an idealist, the world is an idea, a thought. That doesn't mean it is any less real.

Sorry if my thoughts are a bit jumbled - still very early in the morning.

Dave.

daydreamer's picture
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I'm on night shift, so this is my morning time!

I agree that we end up playing with the terms 'real' and 'virtual'. Perhaps before we can go much further they need defining.

Quote:

I am suggesting that all reality is virtual

But are you also suggesting then that consciousness and subjectivity are also virtual? To me it raises the question of what 'is'. Can everything be a simulation? Even what the simulation is occurring 'in', or 'on'.

Perhaps these words are not really adequate to describe this - with too many connotations rested in, or underpinned by, other concepts.

I do wonder what is so hard about thinking something might be 'real'.

When I saw driving earlier it did occur to me that most standard physical and material phenomena, from lightning to earthquakes and volcanoes, through to the planet itself, has been subject to narrative and subjectivity. It seems to me just as easy an explanation that it is we who are subjective. That when in a situation of lack of understanding historically it has been our way to fall into a subjective mode of understanding perhaps due to the strength of imagination to colour experience when something is not understood.

I do not find easy fault with this idea either. It seems perfectly parallel in terms of evidence and possibility to an idea of absolute subjectivity.

It could simply be that just with earthquakes and volcanoes when mediums (etc) interact with the paranormal the mind naturally injects narrative and subjectivity - just as it has often done with physical and material phenomena in the past.

I'm just toying with ideas and with the philosophy here, but it seems to me that if what we are looking for is an explanation of the subjectivity of paranormal experiences we should at least be cautious of the fact that it has also been very common in the interpretation of the physical and material as well. Therefore the subjectivity itself is a weakened evidence for the reality of absolute subjectivity as opposed to what we already know to be the brains ability to be subjective in situations of poor understanding - especially since the physical and material give historical evidence of this in all cultures and time frames, whereas the notion of absolute subjectivity seems to have no specific evidence at all.

I think I went off on one - consider that as me talking to myself - that is the question I ended up asking myself while driving - I am not proposing that as a solid answer.. :)

What do you think?

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daydreamer wrote:

But are you also suggesting then that consciousness and subjectivity are also virtual? To me it raises the question of what 'is'. Can everything be a simulation? Even what the simulation is occurring 'in', or 'on'.

I'm not sure how to answer this because I am having trouble imagining your alternative: for something to be subjective it must be experienced by consciousness - isn't that so? So what are you saying ... that the mind that experiences is also an experience of another mind? I'm a bit lost.

It comes back to Descartes ... the *only* certainty is the certainty that I am aware; that I am conscious.

daydreamer wrote:

I do wonder what is so hard about thinking something might be 'real'.

Well, what do you mean by real? It seems to me that there is a reluctance to let go of the idea that only the external, material stuff is real. This is not surprising because that's what we have been taught since early childhood. It has been the basis of our western worldview since the time of Newton. It is so difficult to challenge because the only things that we accept as having any validity are those things that can be shown to exist by empirical means. That defines objective reality.

Subjectivity does not lend itself to empirical testing. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. How can you prove that your red is my red? Is your experience of listening to a Pink Floyd track the same as mine?

But after all, whether we are materialists or idealists, we are each making a root assumption: either mind is a product (an epiphenomenon) of matter, or matter is a manifestation of mind. I'd say that scientists, in general, have rigged the game by creating artificial rules based upon empiricism: the only evidence they will accept is that established by the scientific method. But the scientific method inherently assumes materialism. Game over, Sheldon Cooper wins.

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I think what I was asking is whether you think everything is subjective, i.e is absolute subjectivity the reality.

I don't mean here whether our experiences are subjective, because that is obviously the case. It's just that your argument implies that things like rocks are a subjective phenomena - even before any life existed on the planet. I can see why you are tempted to describe all reality as consciousness and place us as an immortal 'fluctuation' in some kind of super-universal consciousness. If consciousness and hence subjectivity are not everything, then you have to describe what the other stuff is in terms of its own subjectivity - or otherwise. It's a corridor your sort of forced down by your line of thinking, otherwise it's open to the sort of question I asked.

With regard to Descartes his argument was tackled. Our sensation of awareness and consciousness is not sufficient evidence for us to claim that our awareness or consciousness exist. All we can claim is that there is something that appears conscious - I guess this is because Descartes didn't consider simulation thoroughly. So 'I think there for I exist' is incorrect, it should be 'I think therefore something exists', the implied personality of 'I' in his argument is a step further than the argument really allows - as a philosopher pointed out to me on a program recently.

I agree that 'whether we are materialists or idealists, we are each making a root assumption'. In light of the symmetry in the argument I think they cancel and remain as just possibilities. Leaving our only course of action to investigate them.

Science does indeed assume the stance, but I think you go to far in claiming science as materialistic how you phrase it. I think it is only materialistic in how I phrase it. That doesn't stop humans being different, but the system of hypothesis, method, investigation, conclusion and peer assessment isn't innately material in the sense you use it - instead people are and institutions are etc That's maybe what you mean, but it is a difference. This is why the scientifically done research into mediumship means more to me than if it is conducted without rigour or controls and claims a positive result and why I am genuinely more open minded to it.

You didn't tackle one of my main points though, which is that subjectivity occurs naturally in situations where we do not understand what is occurring, such as when Amazon tribesmen see an aeroplane fly overhead etc. The fact of this natural subjectivity in interpretation is even what leads to things like parts of the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis where respect for this fact leads researchers to theorise that our religions are subjective interpretations of alien visitations.

The evidence you give for the subjectivity of reality, such as paranormal experiences, might just be exactly the same phenomena - in fact I find it harder than that since I can see no reason to suggest natural subjectivity should not play just as large a role in OBE, NDE, mediumships etc (especially since the brain might be working quite differently and we do not even know the relationship between the brain and the 'soul', whether the brain plays a part in the conceptualisation of the experience using the visual and auditory complex's after the experience for example - which may well actually introduce the subjectivity you use as evidence when perhaps the main experience is actually non-subjective).

What I mean by that is - who knows. At this stage I see nothing much that can elevate it above belief.

I will end with a couple of questions. Since you have me thinking now :)

Is there such a thing as a non-subjective experience? Are there limits to subjectivity?

I am not so sure about entirely non-subjective experiences, but I do accept that there can be massive uniformity of experience. We might not agree on the colour of the curtains in the room I am now in, but when educated on what curtains are humans will almost certainly agree that they are curtains. So what is going on? Are there scales to subjectivity, and if so is that because of a deeper reality to subjectivity?

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daydreamer wrote:

With regard to Descartes his argument was tackled. Our sensation of awareness and consciousness is not sufficient evidence for us to claim that our awareness or consciousness exist. All we can claim is that there is something that appears conscious - I guess this is because Descartes didn't consider simulation thoroughly. So 'I think there for I exist' is incorrect, it should be 'I think therefore something exists', the implied personality of 'I' in his argument is a step further than the argument really allows - as a philosopher pointed out to me on a program recently.

I think I have a slightly different take on the criticism of cogito. While I can see the argument that the "I" is inferred but not logically necessary, I don't see that consciousness itself can be so easily dismissed. Something is aware. What else could be aware? Perhaps I'm at my intellectual limits already but I can't conceive of something that is aware but does not exist. Perhaps you could argue that AI is a case of this sort but I would argue that AI is not conscious or aware but merely a simulation of such. If it were truly conscious, then it would not be artificial.

daydreamer wrote:

Is there such a thing as a non-subjective experience? Are there limits to subjectivity?

Short answer: no. I don't think so.

daydreamer wrote:

I am not so sure about entirely non-subjective experiences, but I do accept that there can be massive uniformity of experience. We might not agree on the colour of the curtains in the room I am now in, but when educated on what curtains are humans will almost certainly agree that they are curtains. So what is going on? Are there scales to subjectivity, and if so is that because of a deeper reality to subjectivity?

Can I return to the Pink Floyd analogy again? If we sat in a room and listened to Comfortably Numb, we would both hear the same notes. If we were skilled musicians, we could both write down what we had heard and the notes on the pages should agree. What we could not do is feel what each other felt while listening to the song. Nor could we guarantee that we would, ourselves, feel the same way next time each of us listened to the same song. In fact no two feelings, whether in company or listening alone, would ever be the same. So that also answers the question about limits to subjectivity, doesn't it?

Why is this so? Ah well, that goes to the heart of what I imagine to be the purpose of existence: to grow through experience.

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What exactly is consciousness? I personally find it hard to travel these roads in my own mind when what I personally tend to be doing is using the sensation of consciousness as an example of a full blown philosophical metastate. When we talk about consciousness and think about animals from worms through to frogs and dogs, and then also think about rocks and soil and water in the same mode of analysis it hurts my head. I have to as myself whether the sensation of my own perceived consciousness is enough to begin making widescale categorisations.

I think that the revised Descartian conjecture above tries to tackle that problem. We definitely have a sensation of consciousness, yet we have always been tempted to deny it to other animals, and to deny that our philosophical meaning extends to them. In arguing that AI is a simulation of consciousness might you be doing the same? I don't know, but there are parallels - as there also are to us. If simulations of consciousness are possible in matter, through computer engineering for example, then it would be possible to organise matter in such a way as it felt conscious, which is what we have.

I suspect an emotional component to this argument. As such merely changing words to affect the emotional context would have a difference. If a simple re-phrase such as, 'creation imbues consciousness into matter and consciousness can re-imbue through consciousness creation the further revelation of consciousness in other matter' then we play a game. We just said exactly the same thing as 'engineers can program and create conscious artificial intelligence', but a change in language sneaks it past conflicting thought processes.

Quote:

Can I return to the Pink Floyd analogy again? If we sat in a room and listened to Comfortably Numb, we would both hear the same notes. If we were skilled musicians, we could both write down what we had heard and the notes on the pages should agree. What we could not do is feel what each other felt while listening to the song. Nor could we guarantee that we would, ourselves, feel the same way next time each of us listened to the same song.

Er... No. :)
I think the reason we should stay clear of examples like that is that they are a given, but of both the subjective and objective hypothesis. This argument is based on the assertion that the same experience should create the same reaction every single time, but the complexity of the brain gives good reasons to why that is not expected. Even simple artificial neural networks do not elicit exactly the same behaviour every time. There is no reason to expect it in us. So I think the expectation of the same response is something of a strawman.

However, ignoring that it is still falling back on the very easiest part of your argument and as such it isn't challenging to your argument - and so neither of us will learn anything. The difficulties to your argument are not in the fact that we experience things either subtly or profoundly differently each time depending on our moods, memories and states our of brain, they are in taking that and trying to differentiate it from other ideas that also incorporate the same principle, but from another angle, and also trying to test the idea against it's most difficult problems. If is easy to not find the problems in an idea if they are only asked to face their simplest problems and hidden from the most difficult.

Our agreement over the purpose of existence - to grow though experience most probably renders our technical debates somewhat less purposeful, after all, we live, we die and all we can do in the middle is be happy and good to people and try and pass something good onto our children. I enjoy the debate though.

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I think the problem that you're tackling with is that we haven't determined the fixed constant in the argument of Objectivity/Subjectivity.

With Einstein, we were able to move beyond Newtonian's framepoint by stating "All motion/position is relative, except the speed of light." The speed of light was the fixed constant we could all agree on, and base ourselves.

So, if we go on an state "It's all subjective" what then becomes our fixed constant?

Is it consciousness, or information? I kinda lean toward the latter at this point. what do you guys think?

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
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I don't know. Dave and I are debating two positions - idealism (actually Monistic Idealism) and realism, so it's like debating two politics.

When you get two politicans and they argue free market vs socialism, or whatever, sometimes I just want to shake them and just say 'what are you measuring'. Politicians can ignore measurements and just deal in ideology, such as not looking at what creates best patient care or surgical outcomes etc

With regard to your comment idealism does not really allow any fixed constants, except consciousness itself.

Without being ideological about realism or idealism it seems to me that being open minded does not lead me towards strict and unwavering idealism, which is why I think there are both subjective and objective 'realities', but that the main emergence of subjectivity comes from the nature of the mind interacting with objective reality. There may well be subjective portions to a greater reality though, so that is where I differ from idealogical idealism - I don't see a reason to define everything as subjective, rather than just our experience of it - so I am sort of between the two camps - on the matter of subjectivity anyway.

Dave often uses the example of colours etc, which are probably almost entirely subjectively experienced. It is true that we will never know if we see red the same (there is probably a limit that we can measure to determine if we do not, colour-blindness is the obvious example, but it wouldn't surprise me if more subtle differences could be measured). I don't agree that common experience, such as the agreement that Mount Everest is a mountain is formed by education though. You could teach people different words and promote different feelings, such as by causing pain whenever you display an image of Everest to people (that would certainly affect me), but does any of this actually change Mount Everest. Subjectivity says it does. Geology says it doesn't.

Science vs philosophy again. Since science measures things, while philosophy creates ideas (which can be wrong - it is no certainty that just because an idea is conceivable that it is also right) and since if I go to GPS coordinates on Everest and look at the mineralogy and find say 86.374% quartz, 12.876% plagioclase feldspar and 0.75% biotite mica there is no amount of subjective tampering I can do to stop another geologist measuring the same the evidence suggests to me that Everest is a non-subjective entity.

I don't know. Does anyone know of any reason to think that absolutely everything is externally subjective, rather than just our experience of it? It is an ancient philosophy, but I don't think the evidence merits it's level of absolutism. Perhaps there are just something's, or some dimensions of external subjectivity.

With regard to information though I can see that, but with a good definition of information.

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Daydreamer is right in saying that I take the idealist-monist view. I say so while believing that I have some grasp of what that means. It is probably self-evident that I have no training in philosophy - I'm a bit of a magpie really, just picking out the shiny bits that take my eye. So I can't represent myself as a philosopher any more than the average man-in-the-street can.

My starting point is consciousness. I find that all the things that are difficult for science to explain, such as NDE's and OBE's, telepathy and remote viewing, etc., etc., actually make sense if I start with a single, all-inclusive mind. In my view, there is nothing external to that mind.

So, because something seems permanent and fixed - like the minerals on Mount Everest - doesn't mean (to me) that they exist in an external reality. They are also mind stuff. That's the idealist view. Dualists would say that there's the internal (mind stuff) and the external (material stuff) and materialists would say that the mind stuff is really just an epiphenomenon of physical (electro-chemical) activity in a physical brain.

But then you come to the original subject of this discussion: the question of whether science can explain something like the NDE. From all that I have read, the materialist attempts at explanation are pretty lame and don't hold up to deeper investigation. They really do sound like the politicians Daydreamer was talking about: toeing the party line. No doubt I often sound like that too.

Richard Dawkins had his own TV series which he called "The Enemies of Reason". From memory, he defined superstition and dogma as the twin evils that are defeated by science. What he fails to see is the dogma he himself subscribes to and perpetuates. He attacks as ignorant and superstitious those who believe in a spiritual reality but he ignores the fact that there are well qualified scientists who also believe in that reality (or are at least open to the possibility).

Richard Dawkins wrote:

The US National Academy of Sciences has brought ignominy on itself by agreeing to host the announcement of the 2010 Templeton Prize (see below). This is exactly the kind of thing Templeton is ceaselessly angling for – recognition among real scientists – and they use their money shamelessly to satisfy their doomed craving for scientific respectability. They tried it on with the Royal Society of London, and they seem to have found a compliant Quisling in the current President, Martin Rees, who, though not religious himself, is a fervent 'believer in belief'. Fortunately, enough Fellows made a stink about it to ensure that the Royal will not flirt with Templeton in future. Now Templeton are apparently trying the same trick with the US National Academy. If you know any officers, or elected members, of the Academy, please write in protest.

Note the phrase "angling for – recognition among real scientists". Who are the real scientists? So Martin Rees is not a real scientist? Pauls Davies? Freeman Dyson?

Science may well be ideologically neutral but scientists are no more neutral than the rest if us, no matter how many times they insist that they look only at the evidence.

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I have been thinking about this more today trying to pick it apart.

Granted I will never be able to do this if we only allow it's philosophy to look upon itself. Just like if we only allow materialism to be the judge then we will only derive materialistic answers, if we only use idealism then we shouldn't be surprised if the outcome is idealistic.

If we start from an equal position, that idealism might be right, or might be wrong and set about looking at the world for evidence to backup absolute subjectivity - well, I cannot see it, nor have I ever read anything that looked like it. There are already explanations as to why we might see colours differently and experience music differently on different occasions that do not require subjectivity in the sense of idealism, so technically they are non-specific evidences in favour of it.

The fact that subjective narrative colours interpretation has historically led to subjective interpretation and experience of things that, with further investigation, show no signs of subjectivity. This is the bit I think is important. We expect subjectivity to occur in the mind - this is part of our normal understanding and is not in question, as such materialism and idealism are in agreement in this and are in essence the same philosophy, indistinguishable from each other, in this area. They only become distinguishable in certain areas and the fact that analysis of these areas reveals subjectivity to be as low as the sensitivity of the equipment (in some areas measured subjectivity appears to be as low as 1 part per thousand trillion) and that subjectivity often must hide below the sensitivity of equipment leads to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that the evidence does not support the idea that subjectivity is an innate part of that being measured.

Thousands of years ago when idealism was first expanded as a philosophy there was more scope for possibility. Today we at least have to deal with the fact that the external world appears non-subjective.

True, that doesn't end the discussion, but I cannot see that it favours idealism, and even monistic idealism to the degree of placing it as the likely leader among all philosophical possibilities, and especially above some form of realism or compromise between idealism and realism, but perhaps not monistic idealism.

As for scientists believing in any religion being evidence for the validity of that particular, or any, religion or spirituality I have never really found the argument appealing. This is because when you listen to them there is a sudden decrease in descriptive ability and it becomes quite obvious that what we are catching is not scientists doing science, but scientists being normal human beings. The argument is sort of similar to saying that the British National Party cannot be accused of being incorrect or ideological since a small percentage of scientists are members. The scientists that are Islamic, or Christian or whatever explain and understand their religion or spirituality in the same way as the general public. This is not comparable to how those same scientists understand cell biology, macro-economics, Devonian micro-palaeontology, or plasma dynamics at a degree far higher than the general public.

Some of this is just politics and philosophy, but I really do think that, at least to a limit, idealism can be tested. Though obviously only up to the possibility that this is all a dream.

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Boy, I do pick the wrong times to read these responses. Either early in the morning or late at night. One last look before I go to bed...

Anyhow, I seem to be noticing that you are throwing in statements that mean nothing to me as I have no idea where they come form. Yet I seem to be required to accept them as indisputable fact :

Daydreamer wrote:

There are already explanations as to why we might see colours differently and experience music differently on different occasions that do not require subjectivity...

Daydreamer wrote:

Today we at least have to deal with the fact that the external world appears non-subjective.

Daydreamer wrote:

As for scientists believing in any religion being evidence for the validity of that particular, or any, religion ...

Excuse me? When did I mention religion? When did I say that any belief held by a scientist validates that belief? The point I was making was that Dawkins characterises those who are open to a spiritual reality [which does not, for me, mean the same thing as being religious] as superstitious and ignorant. And by saying that science defeats such ignorance indicates that he he believes that scientists are above such superstition. The fact that there are people who are his scientific peers who do hold those view shows that he is either placing himself on a higher intellectual level than those who's credentials are every bit as respectable as his own, or that he is merely ignoring them. Either way, he takes an arrogant stance.

By the way, I do not consider myself to be religious - as I have said many times here. Even if I choose to call the primary consciousness "God", that God bears little similarity to the anthropomorphic God of the religious faiths.

This is one of those times when I have to throw my hands in the air and admit that I can't come up with any more than I have already stated at length. My very first post at the top of the page describes how I feel that I am just watching the same old carousel horses go by and I have to say that I still feel the same way.

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OK - had a sleep now, feeling refreshed. I apologise if I sometimes get a bit emotional about this stuff - I just get frustrated with my inability to express myself in the way I would like to.

Anyhow - I wonder if it isn't worth exploring this idea of a virtual reality in more depth. I work with computers but am not a programmer so I might be a bit off the mark with some of my descriptions here but I'll have a go.

Let's imagine a programmer creating a VR game. He designs an environment (a virtual world) and then inhabits it with some characters. In order for the character to interact with his "external" world, the programmer has to build in some sort of awareness of the external objects. In its most basic form, this might be some sort of collision detection. In short - he walks up to a wall but can't go any further because the program knows the precise position of each of the objects in the virtual world.

In essence, what we have so far is data (information) and rules (the program). The character in the game, at this point, is no more conscious than the wall he collides with. He has no free will. You could programme him to wander around randomly and react in certain ways to anything he encounters in his world. But again, there is nothing more than information and rules. You could increase the complexity of the rules so that the illusion of free will is more convincing but really it is just a very clever algorithm, not free will.

So now we could say that we have an objective world even though it is just information and would disappear the moment the computer is unplugged for the night.

To introduce subjectivity, we would need to imbue the character with conscious awareness. With that, he would now know what it feels like to bump his knee on a rock. He might even develop some kind of empathy for his fellow characters. He might like the look of that cutie in the pencil skirt.

The critical question now is what exactly is this subjective awareness? Is it merely an extension of the complexity of the algorithm or is it something that can't be programmed: in short, does the programmer need to project his own mind into his creation and allow that creation the freedom to develop its awareness in its own way by his own choices? For the sake of this exercise, I'll just assume that this mind transfer is possible.

So what I'm struggling to say here is that, even in a virtual world, there is the objective and there is the subjective awareness of that world. If the character in the game could have subjective awareness, then he would experience an entirely consistent and objective external reality. The walls and rocks would be real to him.

What I'm also suggesting is that the mind in the game - the ghost in the machine, if you like - cannot develop independently out of the dataset and rules that make up the game.

Now we can play with this a little further and imagine that the programmer himself is actually a character in a virtual world. Now we have a series of nested virtual realities, each one requiring the mind element to be imbued from above. We could carry on like this ad-infinitum but at some point we have to ask about first cause. How did it start?

Well, I am making the crucial assumption that mind cannot be generated within the game and therefore must be a pre-existing property. So the first cause must be mind itself. Of course, others will say that my mistake is in assuming that mind is somehow qualitatively different and separate from the data and rules already present when all it is really is an illusion created by the complexity of the algorithm working with the vastness of the data.

I'll leave it at that, I think.

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Quote:

I apologise if I sometimes get a bit emotional about this stuff - I just get frustrated with my inability to express myself in the way I would like to

This stuff is probably much better dealt with if its friends meeting every week for a pint and chat. A couple of hundred words in a blog post is not the easiest way!

I think your description beautifully sums up the problem and the question. In a sense there is a lesson from history to relax about this sort of stuff. When an idea is impossible to tell from it's opposite then you exist in a state in time when the information is not available, so relax, have fun and don't worry. Either that or try and find out the answer.

I don't know whether there is an answer to this question. It falls victim to being untestable in it's most extreme propositions; just like the idea that everything is a dream - how would we tell?

The notion of a first cause is obviously very difficult for philosophy. There is never a reason other than ideology to not ask 'what before?' (possible exception in physics with interchangeable space and time). All I tend to see is people stopping at their preferred choice (even if this is infinity when used as a get out of jail free card), and while that may be ok for them, it is not for me. I want an answer that feels like an answer.

Where is this 'mind' supposed to have come from? What was before it?

It's very easy to ask questions like that, and very hard to answer them. It often seems to me that people arrive at answers they are happy with, but not necessarily answers that answer the bigger question. Use of arbitrary terminators falls into this category - for me.

I guess I am just asking for a maximum reduction in philosophical sloppiness in the general public - something not easily won.

Philosophies should not ignore things, they must grow to encompass every challenge made to them. So realism must cope with subjectivity - it cannot ignore it, and idealism must cope with apparent objectivity.

That is why your description is quite beautiful. In a simulated world where non-subjectivity is simulated perfectly - where every experiment will reveal a non-subjective result there is no way to tell if reality is subjective. In our world there are still subjective aspects amid a sea of non-subjective results, like you say these range from the high probability we see things slightly differently, to the high probability (so high who would question it!) that we experience things differently to each other. However, the realist hypothesis of an objective reality is not mindless - it also features and accounts for the subjectivity we see and experience.

This begs the question - if a question has no answer, then in a sense is it still a question?

I'll leave with a paraphrased quote. 'It is not the destination, but the journey that is important.' It doesn't matter if we feel we are on a carousel, and incidentally I don't feel exactly that, since the journey around the carousel is still important and as the Greeks would say, nothing stays the same. Even with each loop of the carousel little things are different.

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It puzzles me that this debate is not willing to include the amazing evidence coming forth in many of the better ghost busting type shows currently running riot on TV. How these shows can be ignored by anyone who is serious about these subjects is beyind me. The argument as it is proferred here is existing in a contrived and wilfully erected vacuum of ignorance and disregard. The episode of Ghost Adventures in which Michael Shermer found himself eating humble pie probably terrifies the skeptical establishment, and they have understandably chosen to pretend these new revelations don't exist.

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emlong wrote:

It puzzles me that this debate is not willing to include the amazing evidence coming forth in many of the better ghost busting type shows currently running riot on TV.

I'm assuming you live in the USA. I don't see many of the shows you describe in the UK TV schedules (I don't get Sky or Cable either). The few locally produced shows that I have seen over here have been of such poor quality that they really go a long way to justifying the sneers of the sceptics. They were frankly embarrassing to watch. I got the feeling that the producers wanted the audience to laugh at the nut cases.

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...it must be true

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especially when it concerns a topic superficially "debunked" on Penn & Teller's BULL$%*#.. but at least no one can confuse two stage magicians for honest researchers.

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The title could be reworded somewhat and probably wander closer to the truth of the matter...

From: Science Can Explain the Near Death Experience
To: Can Science Explain the Near Death Experience?

In one sense, yes it probably can. But after that, we're still left with the option of accepting it or not because explanations themselves don't automatically make a truth. They are merely fillers for spaces that were previously empty or filled with other concepts that can't yet be weighed, measured, quantified or put into a test tube and heated over a bunsen burner.

In a nutshell, Mr. Science person, did you die, and simply float around in black nothingness since life does end in death? Or did you leave your corporeal body and then return to tell the tale?

No matter because... well, neither constitutes proof of anything.

Okay, let's try this; we have this brain and when it dies it does these strange things that may offer the dead person visions of undeadness until such time as they die some more or are revived to tell about this wonderful, chemically induced trip.

Ahem.

Personally, it just makes a lot more sense to confess that we are not nearly as smart as we like to think we are and that our understanding of life and the universe is still in its zygote stage. Hell, it was only a little over a century ago that some were still proclaiming that heavier-than-air-flight was impossible!

Kind of ironic, in a way... that the speed of light thing is now being looked at again.

Who knows? In a century or two, maybe we'll all go to a death resort, be mostly killed so our souls can go on safari in the next realm and then returned with spiritual souvenirs.

"The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it."

kamarling's picture
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Redoubt wrote:

Who knows? In a century or two, maybe we'll all go to a death resort, be mostly killed so our souls can go on safari in the next realm and then returned with spiritual souvenirs.

Some would claim that, in some sense, they do this already. I'm taking about those who say that the dimension experienced when out of the body is the same as that encountered in an NDE (at least in the initial out of body stages of the NDE).

Rick MG's picture
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NDE researcher PMH Atwater has replied to SciAm's article. She makes some valid points.

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

emlong's picture
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Indeed there is a great paucity of quality ghost busting shows in the UK. Why this is I do not know. I will however caution viewers just embarking on this sort of TV. You cannot just gloss some show once and then think you are seeing the entire picture. It is only after cumulatively taking in the instruments beings used and the many instances of positive "hits" that a real and tangible pattern emerges. For the longest time I paid these show no mind myself. I remember watching one in which Electronic Voice Phenomena were being recorded and all I could think of was "what bullshit," but i did not at that time have any idea of what a huge database of uncanny EVP's has been amassed by these field scientists. You really have to watch a half dozen of the various better ones to get a feel for how the science works currently - and it is real science.

Of course, I also come from a place of personal experience. My dad's spectacularly haunted ranch house in Texas was the scene of many poltergeist goings on in front of many witnesses simultaneously. Really, what needs to happen with these stuck up armchair skeptics is that they need to be plopped down smack in the middle of a Grade A haunting. That can very easily be arranged these days thanks to the small army of ghost busters who have inventoried and explored the more obviously haunted places in the world. That is what happened to Michael Schermer in LA when Ghost Adventures took him along with them to a very haunted abandoned hospital there. The look on Schermer's face as he was confronted with obvious signs of the paranormal was priceless. He looked like he needed to go to the bathroom but couldn't find the keys.

emlong's picture
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I think I remember now the two big UK ghost busting shows you were talking about. They centered around this cast of channelers who put on some very sketchy shows of spirit possession and nothing really paranormal ever happened on the shows I saw. They were indeed horrendous.