I'm very interested in the upcoming movie Hereafter, which touches on a few of my favourite research areas - namely, near-death experiences (NDEs) and mediumship. Plus, it's directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood! Here's the trailer:
And the blurb:
Hereafter tells the story of three people who are touched by death in different ways. George (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar American who has a special connection to the afterlife. On the other side of the world, Marie (Cecile De France), a French journalist, has a near-death experience that shakes her reality. And when Marcus, a London schoolboy, loses the person closest to him, he desperately needs answers. Each on a path in search of the truth, their lives will intersect, forever changed by what they believe might - or must - exist in the hereafter.
Wonder if Eastwood's interest in this script is an outgrowth of where he's at in life (having turned 80 this year), although in this recent interview he said he didn't have a theory as to what might (or might not) lie beyond the veil of death.
Hereafter is released on October 22nd in the United States.
The New York Times has an interesting piece on reincarnation and the current hipness of past-life regression. Towards the end of the article they talk to Dr Jim Tucker, who has continued on the work of Dr Ian Stevenson at the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia:
On the fringes of legitimate science, some researchers persist in studying consciousness and its durability beyond the body. Though Dr. Tucker, who directs the Child and Family Psychiatry Clinic at the University of Virginia, has few kind words for regression therapy or its practitioners, he continues to be committed to the scientific study of what can only be called reincarnation.
He is carrying on the pioneering research of his mentor, Dr. Ian Stevenson, who beginning in the 1960s collected more than 2,000 accounts of children between the ages of 2 and 7 who seemed to remember previous lives vividly without the help of hypnosis.
...Dr. Tucker studies American children and in one case found a young boy who started to say, around the age of 18 months, that he was his own (deceased) grandfather. “He eventually told details of his grandfather’s life that his parents felt certain he could not have learned through normal means,” Dr. Tucker wrote in Explore, which calls itself a journal of science and healing, “such as the fact that his grandfather’s sister had been murdered and that his grandmother had used a food processor to make milkshakes for his grandfather every day at the end of his life.”
Dr. Tucker won’t say such cases add up to proof of reincarnation, but he likes to keep an open mind.
“There can be something that survives after the death of the brain and the death of the body that is somehow connected to a new child,” he said. “I have become convinced that there is more to the world than the physical universe. There’s the mind piece, which is its own entity.”
Below I've embedded a little video of Jim Tucker discussing his research into 'spontaneous past-life memories' in children:
For more on the topic, see also this recent TDG story about Ian Stevenson's life work linking to a bunch of articles.
Here's a truly evocative gallery of photoshopped images by Sergey Larenkov, blending photos taken during World War II with images from the present. A reminder that time is all that separates us from the billions that have come and gone before us - we walk amongst temporal ghosts every day, as others will walk with our ghosts in the future.
(via Boing Boing)
Scientific investigation of the near-death experience (NDE) seems to be a hot topic lately - earlier this year, Dr Jeffrey Long's Evidence of the Afterlife sold bucketloads with some major mainstream coverage, and just last week I noted that Pim van Lommel's Consciousness Beyond Life has now been released in the English language. Now there's an addition to that list: the upcoming book by Chris Carter, titled Science and the Near Death Experience:
Predating all organized religion, the belief in an afterlife is fundamental to the human experience and dates back at least to the Neanderthals. By the mid-19th century, however, spurred by the progress of science, many people began to question the existence of an afterlife, and the doctrine of materialism--which believes that consciousness is a creation of the brain--began to spread. Now, armed with scientific evidence, Chris Carter challenges materialist arguments against consciousness surviving death and shows how near-death experiences (NDEs) may truly provide a glimpse of an awaiting afterlife.
Using evidence from scientific studies, quantum mechanics, and consciousness research, Carter reveals how consciousness does not depend on the brain and may, in fact, survive the death of our bodies. Examining ancient and modern accounts of NDEs from around the world, including China, India, and tribal societies such as the Native American and the Maori, he explains how NDEs provide evidence of consciousness surviving the death of our bodies. He looks at the many psychological and physiological explanations for NDEs raised by skeptics--such as stress, birth memories, or oxygen starvation--and clearly shows why each of them fails to truly explain the NDE. Exploring the similarities between NDEs and visions experienced during actual death and the intersection of physics and consciousness, Carter uncovers the truth about mind, matter, and life after death.
Chris Carter is the author of the excellent Parapsychology and the Skeptics (but is not, it should be noted, the creator of a very cool TV show), so I'm looking forward to seeing how he lays out the case for the NDE in this new book. You can download a short excerpt as a PDF here. (Hat tip to Subversive Thinking for the heads-up.)
In 2001 the field of near-death experience (NDE) studies got a huge boost when medical journal The Lancet published "Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands", by a group of researchers including Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel. The surprising results of the study included long-term transformational effects on NDErs, and a tentative conclusion that the NDE might offer a glimpse of "a changing state of consciousness (transcendence), in which identity, cognition, and emotion function independently from the unconscious body, but retain the possibility of non-sensory perception."
As a cardiologist, Pim van Lommel was struck by the number of his patients who claimed to have near-death experiences as a result of their heart attacks. As a scientist, this was difficult for him to accept: Wouldn't it be scientifically irresponsible of him to ignore the evidence of these stories? Faced with this dilemma, van Lommel decided to design a research study to investigate the phenomenon under the controlled environment of a cluster of hospitals with a medically trained staff.
For more than twenty years van Lommel systematically studied such near-death experiences in a wide variety of hospital patients who survived a cardiac arrest. In 2001, he and his fellow researchers published his study on near-death experiences in the renowned medical journal The Lancet. The article caused an international sensation as it was the first scientifically rigorous study of this phenomenon. Now available for the first time in English, van Lommel offers an in-depth presentation of his results and theories in this book that has already sold over 125,000 copies in Europe.
Van Lommel provides scientific evidence that the near-death phenomenon is an authentic experience that cannot be attributed to imagination, psychosis, or oxygen deprivation. He further reveals that after such a profound experience, most patients' personalities undergo a permanent change. In van Lommel's opinion, the current views on the relationship between the brain and consciousness held by most physicians, philosophers, and psychologists are too narrow for a proper understanding of the phenomenon. In Consciousness Beyond Life, van Lommel shows that our consciousness does not always coincide with brain functions and that, remarkably and significantly, consciousness can even be experienced separate from the body.
For a short introduction to the author's thoughts, check out his article "Continuity of Consciousness" over at the IANDS website. Not only does van Lommel speculate about how consciousness might operate separately from the brain, but he also brings interesting (and controversial) questions to the table, noting that such an idea would necessitate "a huge change in the scientific paradigm in western medicine, and could have practical implications in actual medical and ethical problems such as the care for comatose or dying patients, euthanasia, abortion, and the removal of organs for transplantation."
The purpose of this quantitative study was first to investigate the comparative incidence of electromagnetic aftereffects (EMEs) during the past year among near-death experiencers (NDErs), people who experienced a close brush with death without an NDE (CBrs), and people who reported never having experienced a close brush with death (LCErs). The second purpose was to investigate a possible change in EME incidence among the three groups before and after a critical life event. The third purpose was to investigate the relationship between the reported overall depth and specific components of the subjective experiences of people who have had a close brush with death--NDErs and CBrs--and their reported incidence of EMEs.
...Findings from this study show that NDErs have a strong possibility of experiencing electromagnetic interferences when close to electromagnetic devices such as cell phones, computers, lights, and watches after their NDEs. This phenomenon can be a stressor in the lives of NDErs and their families and friends.
You can download the full dissertation as a PDF from here. Note that Nouri's advisor on the dissertation was respected NDE researcher Janice Holden, past-President of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS), who I'd imagine would have provided some good insights and criticism on this particular topic.
Real effect, or just a crazy self-confirming idea that NDErs take to after their experience?
One of the more fascinating facts about near-death experiences is that they are sometimes reported by very young children (somewhat confounding the 'cultural expectation hallucination' explanation). Here's an interesting short clip featuring the near-death experience research of Dr Melvin Morse which focuses on the NDEs of children:
Love the opening quote:
I used to think when you died, you just sort of died...that was it, you just sorta checked out into the darkness.
And when you've had a small child pat you condescendingly on the wrist, like I've had, and say 'You'll see Dr Morse, heaven is fun'...you can't help but be fascinated by these experiences.
And here's the NDE that kick-started Melvin Morse's interest in the topic:
You can learn more at the website of Dr. Melvin Morse, follow @NearDeathDoc on Twitter, and/or pick up a copy of Morse's book Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children (Amazon US and UK).
Dr Julie Beischel of the Windbridge Institute has recently joined the Grail as a featured blogger. To get better acquainted with Julie and her research, here's her lecture at last year's SSE meeting, titled "Mediumship Under The Microscope: Science And The Afterlife":
This is a topic that personally fascinates me (all aspects, from the serious science through to techniques of fraudulent mediums) - really appreciate Julie taking time out of her busy schedule to post blogs for us here.
Previously on TDG:
In February 2007 I reported the sad news that Dr Ian Stevenson had passed away, aged 88. Known mainly for his perplexing case studies offering tentative evidence for reincarnation, Dr Stevenson was a pioneering and influential researcher in various 'fringe' fields, from parapsychology through to investigations of near-death experiences (he first wrote about the latter phenomenon in 1959, some 16 years before it was brought to prominence by Raymond Moody in Life After Life).
A year after Dr Stevenson's passing, the Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE) devoted an entire issue to reflections and commentaries on his influence in a multitude of research fields - a fitting tribute, given his almost 50 years of exploring these topics, not to mention the fact that he was one of the founders of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). The line-up of contributors to this special issue is first-class, a veritable who's who of 'heretical science' researchers: Stephen Braude, Carlos Alvarado, Alan Gauld, Bruce Greyson, Peter Sturrock, Jim Tucker...the list goes on.
The cool thing is: you can now read this issue online (along with the previous 20 issues of JSE) for free! Head on over to the JSE page at the Society's website and you'll find downloadable PDFs of each article - absolutely top shelf stuff, I highly recommend a browse. You'll come away with not only a better understanding of a few of these fields (parapsychology, NDEs, reincarnation, etc), but a real respect for the life work of Dr Ian Stevenson.
Previously on TDG:
Is there such a thing as the human soul - and if so, is it something substantial that can be weighed? Pondering that question, Dr Duncan MacDougall set out to find the answer at the beginning of the 20th century, in a series of experiments that would have no chance of passing ethical boards in the modern day. MacDougall weighed six different patients in the process of dying from tuberculosis on an industrial sized scale. His surprising result: that, at the time of death, the scales measured (on average) 21 grams lighter.
A recent article on the Fortean Times website ("Soul Catcher", by Paul Chambers, originally from Fortean Times #262) outlines the story of Dr Duncan MacDougall, and ends with the summation that the experimental results are largely worthless:
MacDougall’s correspondence reveals a man with an unswerving belief in the existence of a human soul. At every turn he sought to justify his results in these terms, dismissing or ignoring any evidence to the contrary. It is, for example, possible that he ignored the results of the sixth patient because, in his own words, “there was no loss of weight” measured at the time of death. MacDougall explained in a letter that the negative result was probably due to the patient having been on the scales for only a few minutes, which caused him to doubt “whether I had the beam accurately balanced before death”. This seems like an afterthought used to explain an inconvenient result and one wonders what his reaction would have been should the result have been favourable.
This is hardly a shocking conclusion - MacDougall's methods have come under regular criticism since his anomalous results were published. Explanations have ranged from lack of control of moisture loss to air convection and vibrations from breathing and heart palpitations.
Coincidentally though, the recently-released Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration (24:1) has an article from Masayoshi Ishida rebutting a number of the claimed refutations of MacDougall's experiment. Here's the abstract:
A critical review was conducted on criticisms expressed in books and on websites of Duncan MacDougall's weight measurement experiment upon the death of terminally ill patients; theoretical simulations of MacDougall's experiment using a modern weighting system with load cells and thermohydraulic analysis were employed. The following conclusions were obtained: (1) the uncontrolled escape of moisture from bodies due to insensible perspiration has practically no effect on the conclusion of his experiment that there had been anomalous losses in the weight of his patients upon death; (2) the speculated effect of convection air currents on MacDougall's balance scales does not exist; (3) vibrational disturbances caused by cardiac and breathing activities, which disappear after the death of the patients, have practically no effect if the change in weight upon death is in the tens of grams rather than a few grams; and (4) the speculative tricky role of buoyant force of air on the body can be denied. Therefore, all the cases of his experiment do remain as pioneering cases published in a scientific journal. Theoretical implications of his experimental result and future perspectives of the experimental approach to this subject are discussed.
I do have to say that I think Ishida shoots his article in the foot somewhat by including some discussion of channeled information from 'Seth' in the final section on the experimental approach. While it does relate to the subject matter (whether correct or not), this mention means that no orthodox scientist is likely to take the rest of the article seriously.