I was pleasantly surprised this week to note that a new book about near-death experiences, Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences, had shot into Amazon's Top 10 (and is comfortably sitting within the top 100 a few days later). The book is written by Paul Perry and radiation oncologist Jeffrey Long, who is on the board of directors of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), and is an active researcher in the field of NDEs. Dr Long set up the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website more than ten years ago, which provides information about this fascinating phenomenon, and also requests that NDErs report their experience through a form on the NDERF website. The data collected through this form has been compared and analysed by Dr Long, and he believes it shows evidence that human consciousness survives physical death:
Evidence of the Afterlife shares the firsthand accounts of people who have died and lived to tell about it. Through their work at the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, radiation oncologist Jeffrey Long and his wife, Jody, have gathered thousands of accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) from all over the world. In addition to sharing the personal narrative of their experiences, visitors to the website are asked to fill out a one hundred–item questionnaire designed to isolate specific elements of the experience and to flag counterfeit accounts.
The website has become the largest NDE research database in the world, containing over 1,600 NDE accounts. The people whose stories are captured in the database span all age groups, races, and religious affiliations and come from all over the world, yet the similarities in their stories are as awe-inspiring as they are revealing. Using this treasure trove of data, Dr. Long explains how medical evidence fails to explain these reports and why there is only one plausible explanation—that people have survived death and traveled to another dimension.
No doubt helping the success of the book was Dr Long's appearance on The Today Show last week, which I've embedded below:
However, it does show that interest in this subject is high, as long as people are pointed in the right direction. While this book, with national publicity, has shot to the upper regions of Amazon's charts - indicating that people are open to the idea - other authoritative works on the topic such as The Handbook of Near Death Experiences (which Long is a contributor to) remain languishing in purgatory. Meanwhile, other works with perhaps even more importance from an evidential point of view, such as Robert Crookall's The Supreme Adventure(which looks at the the crossovers between early NDE accounts and descriptions of the afterlife 'through' mediums), aren't even available for sale.
Perhaps, with the original publication of Raymond Moody's seminal Life After Life being 35 years ago, new generations are only now discovering that there is in-depth research being done on this topic...and that, despite what skeptics say, it is worthy of consideration. I'm hopeful that is the case, as I think thus far (apart from the blip occasioned by Life After Life), the topic of afterlife studies is one that has been largely ignored by scientists and the public alike.
Previously on TDG:
According to this recent Pew poll, roughly 1 in 5 Americans claim to have had ghostly experiences. Though I'm sadly not part of the 18% (or even American, so all-round fail on that one), the topic does interest me greatly. In a happy coincidence, at the end of last year Public Parapsychology posted an intelligent, multi-part primer on apparitional experiences - if the topic interests you then it's definitely worth a read:
- Types of Apparitions
- Characteristics of Apparitions
- Spontaneous Cases and Field Research
- Apparitions in the Laboratory
- Characteristics of Experiencers
- Theories and Perspectives on Apparitions
Anybody out there got an 'apparitional experience' of their own to share?
I was bemused to see an article in the last issue of Skeptical Inquirer titled "NDE Experiment: Ethical Concerns", by Sebastian Dieguez, a PhD student in Neuroscience. The article criticises the AWARE study (which we've covered here on TDG previously in the past), where researchers will study whether people who have an NDE can see 'hidden targets' during the OBE component of their experience. The author claims that because the targets are there during the crisis situation (even though hidden from 'normal' vision), they represent an experiment being done without the consent of the subject.
In short though, Dieguez's real issue with the AWARE study is that *he* thinks it is nonsense - therefore involving critically ill patients in the research is disrespectful to them and their families. This is most obvious when he acknowledges that, despite his own concerns, the AWARE study must have done what was necessary to jump through the hoops of ethical review boards and the like (which are very strict in patrolling these matters):
My point in this article is not to charge anyone with not having done the appropriate paperwork; I take issue with the very approval of such a study: I simply deplore the use in parapsychological studies of patients with acute cardiac arrest who cannot give their consent.
Remember though, the 'consent' part is just the hidden target - the patient is given the option afterwards whether to participate 'further'. It amazes me that Skeptical Inquirer would even print this sort of thing as a valid argument - it just goes to show how unscientific SI and CSICOP often are when confronted with research moving outside the materialist paradigm. But all is not lost in modern skepticisim - prominent skeptics Susan Blackmore and Chris French both responded to the article, taking issue with its stance on parapsychological research. Blackmore explained that "anecdotal reports of veridical NDEs may be 'unconvincing' to Dieguez, but they convince many people...if experiments can show that paranormal claims are unverifiable (which I expect they will) and can also explain why people have these experiences even if nothing leaves the body, then this would greatly improve people’s understanding of death and dying." Chris French pointed out that Dieguz's argument "rests on the assumption that the outcome is already known...While it is clear from my own writings on this topic that I think this is almost certainly true, I think it is important for skeptics to acknowledge that they just might be wrong."
I spoke to NDE research authority Dr Bruce Greyson about the article, but he had little to say other than being surprised that SI printed it - he thought that Blackmore and French both covered the arguments against Dieguz's criticism fairly comprehensively and so had little else to add.
Speaking of Dr Greyson, I'm currently reading The Handbook of Near Death Experiences (available from Amazon US. It presents a number of scholarly articles by authorities in the field (Greyson, Carlos Alvarado, Jan Holden, Peter Fenwick, Ken Ring etc) summarising various elements of NDE research over recent decades. Quite dry, with plenty of statistical analysis of various aspects, but I think essential reading for anyone genuinely interested in the phenomenon as it brings you 'up to date' with what has been discovered thus far.
For those that missed it when I posted it earlier this year, here's Dr Greyson with a short summary of mind-brain anomalies deserving of further scientific research:
Previously on TDG:
Earlier this week I mentioned an upcoming book release, The Handbook of Near Death Experiences. I've just received further information from the book's senior editor, Jan Holden, about the book and some related free content on the web:
In 2005, I was president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), and Debbie James, a nurse educator at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was the IANDS conference director. I realized it was the 30th anniversary of the publication of Raymond Moody's book Life After Life that opened the field of near-death studies. I approached Debbie about making our 2006 conference a 30-year retrospective of the field and learned she had been thinking of hosting a conference at M. D. Anderson. This seemed like the perfect marriage of ideas.
IANDS did hold the conference in the fall of 2006...I invited the leading NDE researchers from around the world to present comprehensive, critical reviews of all research to date on these topics; their presentations comprised the first two days of the four-day conference. DVDs of those presentations are available for sale at the IANDS website. Most of the chapters from The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences derived from those 2006 conference paper presentations. Bruce Greyson, the leading active NDE researcher, was a shoe-in to serve as second editor, and Debbie James, 2006 conference director, as third editor. Veteran NDE researcher Ken Ring, now retired from the field of near-death studies, wrote the Foreword to The Handbook.
For your additional information, anyone interested in a 1 hour, 15 minute online introduction to NDEs may access such a program at no cost at http://www.iands.org/education/education... The program first reviews the field of near-death studies (addressed in Chapter 1 of The Handbook), then addresses the topic of the contents of pleasurable Western adult NDEs, the most researched subtopic in the field (the topic of Chapter 2 of The Handbook), including audio and video clips of NDErs describing their experiences. Right now, Texas mental health professionals can earn CE credit for viewing the program and passing a quiz; we're in the process of becoming able to offer CE credit to a larger range of health professionals. This program is the perfect accompaniment to The Handbook.
The book is scheduled for release later this month, and is available for preorder from Amazon. Contributors include Bruce Greyson, Peter Fenwick, and Carlos Alvarado. Sounds like a definite for my bookshelf.
Last weekend I posted my article from the latest Darklore (Amazon US and UK), "Death Before Life After Life", which looked at accounts of near-death experiences from before the phenomena became well-known through Raymond Moody's book Life After Life (you can read the article in its original format as a PDF at the Darklore website). I was therefore very interested to read a new blog post this week from Michael Tymn - who's a fair expert on afterlife-related literature - titled "A Near-Death Experience to Die For". In his posting, Mike looks at an NDE first published in 1917, in Fanny Ruthven Paget's book How I Know that the Dead Are Alive, which I didn't cover in my article.
Paget's account of what happened to her when she 'died' is a very detailed one, and includes many elements that you don't find in the 'vanilla' NDE report. However, it does contain a number of the standards, including the OBE, the guide, meeting loved ones, and the life review. I had some chills though when I read her description of the "city of light", which she said was constructed of a material that had "the transparency of glass of a variegated whiteness, into which colors, harmonizing in the most delicate way, were coming and going, ever changing". Not only did I touch on this aspect of "transparent architecture" in my article (when discussing the NDE of Leonora Piper), but I have previously written about this in detail in my 2004 article "Cities of Transparent Gold".
Curiouser and curiouser....
There's a few fascinating books on afterlife research starting to come out which readers might like to check out. Here's the quick rundown:
- David Fontana, author of the popular overview Is There an Afterlife?, has written a new book discussing descriptions of the 'summerlands' from NDErs and mediums titled Life After Death: The Nature of the Afterlife, which is available from Amazon UK.
- A more personal story of the history of research into the afterlife can be found in Trevor Hamilton's Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death. Fred Myers is an interesting character, and his story of contact with a 'lost love' through various mediums would make for fascinating reading.
- Lastly, on the near-death experience front, later this month The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences will be released. It's got Dr Bruce Greyson's name attached to it, one of the world's leading authorities on the phenomena, so it should be a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf. I've contacted Dr Greyson asking for more information about it, so if I find out anything new I'll let y'all know.
Interesting to see these books about afterlife research coming out, on the back of recent releases of Deborah Blum's excellent Ghost Hunters, Mary Roach's Spook and Archie Roy's The Eager Dead. I'm actually working on my own book regarding afterlife research at the moment, which I'm hoping to have done before the year is out - so stay tuned for that.
A nice little summary on why the Near Death Experience (NDE) is worthy of scientific research, by Dr Bruce Greyson - probably the world's foremost expert on the phenomenon:
For those that might have missed it, I wrote about how NDEs have been reported through history - as well as discussing some of the strange, common elements found in the experience - in the latest Darklore release. You can read my article as a 'free sample' at the Darklore website.
Previously on TDG:
There are few people as respected in the field of 'paranormal research' than Stephen Braude. A long-time field investigator, and the author of books such as Immortal Remains and The Gold Leaf Lady, Steve is also Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and somehow also manages to find time to be editor of the most excellent Journal of Scientific Exploration as well. Oh, and he also had an article in Volume 2 of Darklore, which you can read on the website as a free sample article ("The Fear of Psi").
So this clip is well worth viewing - it's a 15 minute interview from UMBC's 'In the Loop' program, with Steve discussing various aspects of his 'weird' interest. Not only does it offer some insights into his thinking, but there's also footage inserted in there of the 'Gold Leaf Lady' herself, and the strange phenomena associated with her:
It's all too easy to lose people's character when reading academic essays and scientific investigations, so it's nice to be able to see Professor Stephen Braude discussing paranormal phenomena in a relaxed setting as just a 'regular guy'.
If you found the clip interesting, there is more video of Steve at the Closer to Truth website, discussing the topic "What Would an Immortal Soul Be Like?". It's well-produced, both in video quality and the interview questions (and answers) themselves.
Steve's most recent book The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations is available from Amazon US and UK. You can find an excerpt from the book, regarding his investigation of the 'Gold Leaf Lady', on the University of Chicago Press website.
Previously on TDG:
It is said that one in every five people will, at some stage, experience the terrifying phenomena that accompany 'sleep paralysis'. One of the most authoritative and fascinating books on the topic is David J. Hufford's The Terror That Comes in the Night (Amazon US and UK - preview available at Google Books). Here's a good video of Hufford discussing his research on (and personal experience with) sleep paralysis:
That clip is from a new documentary, Your Worst Nightmare: Supernatural Assault, which looks well worth checking out (and at $9.95 for a DVD, is pretty affordable). Experiencers and experts are interviewed, and advice offered on how to live with these waking nightmares, which in some cases come to dominate the lives of those experiencing them:
Victims wake to find that they are paralyzed and unable to move or speak. Many experience frightening visions of demons, shadows, or an old woman known as "The Hag". For others there is simply the unmistakable presence of evil. In extreme cases, these potentially supernatural attacks can occur for decades. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and entirely alone, victims can lead shattered lives dominated by the fear of social stigma. Those who seek medical advice are often misdiagnosed and labeled psychotic or schizophrenic.
The DVD's website has further video excerpts available for viewing, and also a forum for discussing the phenomenon. Worth noting as well is that Tim Binnall interviewed the guys behind the documentary - Andrew Barnes and Paul Taitt - last month on BoA Audio. At over two hours, it's a good, detailed discussion on all aspects of sleep paralysis and the associated supernatural aspects of the experience.
Any TDG readers suffer from sleep paralysis? Would be good to hear from you, what it is you experience, and how you deal with it.
Popsci.com.au currently features an interview with Stacy Horn, author of the new book Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory (Amazon US and UK). Amazon's blurb for the book reads:
Rain barrels that refill themselves. Psychic horses. Mind-reading Cold War spies. For many, these phenomena are evidence of an unseen world just beyond the grasp of our five senses. For a group of scientists at Duke University, such mysteries demanded further investigation. From 1930 to 1980, under the leadership of Dr. J. B. Rhine, often considered the Einstein of the paranormal, the scientists at the Duke Parapsychology Lab attempted to test the bizarre, the frightening, and the unexplainable against the rigors of science.
In Unbelievable, Stacy Horn reveals the strange, lost history of these first attempts to prove—or disprove—the existence of the paranormal, bringing to light a half-century's worth of ghost stories, poltergeists, and paranormal activity. The Duke scientists were queried by the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Nixon, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Helen Keller; the U.S. Army and blue-chip corporations such as IBM and Zenith seized upon their findings.
Investigating telepathy, clairvoyance, ghosts, poltergeists, and the myriad other strange phenomena that people claim to have experienced, the scientists did find proof that the human mind can exhibit telepathic powers—but their discovery would put them at odds with both the scientific community and the community of believers at large, beginning a multidecade battle among unyielding critics, die-hard believers, and scientists themselves. Yet Horn reveals that between the power of belief and the promise of scientific investigation, there is room for everyone to acknowledge that the truth is out there.
Horn also has a blog devoted to the topics in the book on her website, on which she's posted plenty of interesting material - some really fascinating looks back in history at what was going on at Duke all those decades ago. For instance, the latest entry looks at J.B. Rhine's stance on the 'Jim Crow' laws and the 'Little Rock Nine':
In 1957 Rhine wrote a letter to the editor of Life Magazine in response to pictures they’d recently published of the Little Rock Nine...“The desperate courage of the storming of the Bastille and the riots of Poznan burst spontaneously from the ignition of group emotion. But these children have to walk calmly and coolly out to meet tormenting and humiliating attacks that hurt to the very soul. I cannot recall that there has ever been a more inspiring demonstration of courage by the children of any race, any age … Salute them and I think others will take heart and go over and stand beside them. It may help us to believe this is the home of the brave, perhaps more than it is the land of the free.”
Plenty of other interesting entries, covering topics from ectoplasm and exorcisms, to psi under the influence of drugs. Can't go wrong with that really, can you?