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Afterlife Ethics

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:

  1. Death
    Death is perhaps the greatest mystery in life — and people treat it like a non-event, nothing to see here, move along. What happened to science’s curiosity for mystery?

  2. This is the most telling
    This is the most telling part:
    [quote]Do I want to suppress research? Am I the great inquisitor deciding what is good and bad research? Am I afraid that my (materialistic) worldview might be shattered by NDE research? None of this matters.[/quote]

    The answer to all those questions, despite their stated ‘irrelevance’, appears to be “yes”.

  3. consent
    I bet the patients didn’t give their consent to having their chests shocked to hell to bring them back from the brink. Maybe the hospital should just tack participation in the ‘experiment’ onto the bill and consider it a non-monetary fee for service.

  4. If You’ve Ever…
    If you’ve ever been “out of body” none of this speculation matters.

    Years ago I steeped myself in various books about “astral projection” but none of the exercises for inducing the experience worked.

    Then, when not trying, I awoke from a series of dreams, in stages, only to find myself at ceiling level, above my sleeping body. This scared the heck out of me — instantly, I was back “in” and suffering from a severe case of “sleep paralysis.” (Those old books had warned its readers not to return too quickly, but that wasn’t anything I’d remembered at the time.)

    This was no hallucination, and I don’t need an expert to say that it was or wasn’t. (The dreams began with me as a 9″ sphere, zooming around, then the sphere became a “space ship” external to me, at which point I began to get a bit lucid and grew alarmed at being so close to such an object. That was the moment I attained full lucidity, looked down at my sleeping body, and freaked out.)

    Years later, under somewhat complicated circumstances, I found myself out of body again. This time, I was fearless, and the experience was powerful.

    (Please forgive me if I’m repeating myself — I may have posted a version of this tale here previously.)

    I was with two overlapping groups at the time. The smaller group had been practicing “portaling” live and in person for the first time (we’d done this on-line previously, with great success — this was a group exercise for creating and then entering a portal to somewhere else).

    We did this three times in the course the day, the last time in the living room of our host in the hills north of Atlanta.

    Later that night, the larger group choose to do “energetic” exercises in the same location. We decided to create a whirlpool, as previously an accomplished channeller had spoken for “Charybdis,” the sea monster of legend and a genuine whirlpool, but in this case the name simply stood for the on-line group gestalt.

    I participated, and around and around I went, accelerating as I went deeper and deeper.

    When I reached the bottom of this imaginary or psychic whirlpool I was surprised to find myself shooting out of it, through the portal left over from the previous exercise, and at great velocity, like a circus clown being shot out of a cannon.

    In the portaling exercise, a destination is created by focusing on something — anything; a thought or image.

    As I whizzed by zillions of probable realities (this was all quite vivid, even if I was sitting in the circle, physically, my eyes closed and mind stilled) I remembered to do this. As soon as I focused on a particular thought my apparent motion stopped and I found myself high over the hills of Georgia, but it wasn’t the same Georgia my physical body was sitting in.

    There were no signs of human habitation whatsoever, and the place felt very different. It was thoroughly green with vegetation.

    Eventually I opened my eyes, physically, and the experience was over, but not entirely.

    That night I dreamed of receiving an email from a friend. The subject line was “Re: Emergency” but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t open it.

    The next morning I flew back to Boston, took the “T” to the train station, and got on a train, surprised that my friend was on it — it wasn’t her usual train.

    I was just beginning to tell her about the odd dream as the train began to leave the station when a conductor appeared from the next car, shouting “Emergency! We have an emergency!”

    It turned out someone had had a seizure and the conductor was asking if anyone was trained to deal with it. My friend, a registered nurse, got up and provided assistance.

    (Unfortunately this little “psychic” incident freaked her out a bit — she was always a little uneasy with me afterwards.)

    Bill I.

    1. Thank you Bill
      [quote] If you’ve ever been “out of body” none of this speculation matters.[/quote]

      Thanks for saying precisely what I had been thinking after reading this article. Not that I have ever had an Out of Body experience but because, recently, I have finally acknowledged to myself that if I want to know the truth of these things, no amount of reading, listening or intellectual inquiry is going to lead me to that truth. The only way is to experience it for myself.

      To that end I have begun a daily meditation regime. I have bought some brainwave entrainment CD’s to help the process. Now I have know for a long time that I am a poor subject for hypnosis and have a lot of trouble staying in a meditation exercise but, at last, I have made the decision to give it my best shot anyway.

      I attended a seminar recently and, out of a group of about 50 people, perhaps 10 raised their hands in response to the question “how many of you have already had an OBE?”. I spoke to these people and was reassured to find that these were not cranks or new-age hippy types. They were middle aged housewives and office workers with mundane, ordinary lives and no apparent interest in making outrageous claims. They were attending the seminar in an attempt to figure out what had happened to them and why.

      Also, I listened to the Tom Campbell lectures (available on YouTube) in which he describes his own out of body experiences and his theories arising from these experiences. He also makes the point that in order to know, you have to experience.

      I wonder if Greg would be interested in a poll of TDG readers — how many have had this kind of experience?


      1. To Dave
        The easiest way to meditate is to sit comfortably, relax, and don’t try too hard – let stray thoughts pass by, after a while they will stop coming.

        Best of luck, anyway, it’s a wonderful experience, and may lead to an OBE.

        Regards, Kathrinn

      2. Great idea

        I wonder if Greg would be interested in a poll of TDG readers — how many have had this kind of experience?

        That’s a great idea for a new poll. The shroud poll is quite dead by now —and with no signs of resurrecting 😛

  5. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux
    L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, what is essential is invisible to the human eye…. arum metalicum, all gold is fools gold, all you have to do is smell it?
    What I smell?? The bull shit of science and the bull shit of those who think they know, knowledge is not for the elite or the money makers, the manipulative or etc, define the world for me, go on??? I dare you!
    The definitive answer is this, all gold is fools gold. What is out there, as far and out there as my own experiences are even I wouldn’t dare to say I know or understand anything, best place to be, me I know nothing!
    Not to mention, define ethics in the afterlife when you have inbred mortals ruling the world?? Ethics? Who are these people who dare even mention the word? Ethics, my arse there is a war going on here kids can’t you see it??

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