A lot of interest (judging by my email Inbox) about a fresh story in Britain’s The Sunday Times, regarding the new ‘Near-Death Experience’ (NDE) research experiment which is testing to see if cardiac arrest patients can view ‘hidden targets’ while undergoing the out-of-body experience (OBE) component of an NDE:
Parnia’s study is aimed solely at OBEs in cases of cardiac arrest. It uses a technique known as “hidden target”. In the participating hospitals he is placing pictures on high shelves so that they will be invisible both to patients and staff. But anybody floating near the ceiling would see them. A substantial number of accurate reports of the pictures would seem to establish the reality of OBEs. There are numerous problems with this. Parnia’s study does not have enough money to put laptops on the shelves generating random pictures to ensure that cheating is impossible. Furthermore, previous hidden-target experiments by, among others, Parnia himself and Dr Penny Sartori at Morriston Hospital in Swansea have failed to produce a single positive result. In fairness, this may be because the last thing that a floating dying person, with Jesus behind him and his body being pounded in front of him, will notice is some odd picture left on a shelf. This leaves believers in OBEs with an evidential mountain to climb.
This story isn’t exactly news – Dr Sam Parnia has been working on this angle for a number of years (I think there was an article about it in Issue 2 of Phenomena when I worked for them way back), and I reported on the renewed collaborative effort back in September here on TDG. What is news is the treatment it got in a major newspaper – serious, considered, and balanced coverage! Not surprising though, given the writer is Bryan Appleyard, one of the more intelligent journalists out there when it comes to topics at the edge of science. Appleyard has in the past criticised scientism, and has rightly pointed out that science is just one part of the totality of life (hey, anybody that can get called “a pompous kook” by P.Z. Myers is alright with me).
The article is in-depth and covers a lot of ground – Appleyard even talks to physicist Henry Stapp about the quantum mechanics-consciousness crossover. There’s some things I would take issue with (e.g. once again saying Henrik Ehrsson “induced OBEs” in his recent research…err, no), but apart from those few instances it’s one of the best presentations of ‘fringe’ research that you’re likely to see in the mainstream media.
Also: Robert McLuhan has discussed the article at Paranormalia, and as usual it’s worth checking out.