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There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences (We Guess)

“There’s nothing paranormal about near-death experiences.” So said the title of a journal article last year that got widespread, uncritical coverage (e.g. Sci-Am, Boing Boing). I mentioned a few criticisms of the article here on TDG at the time, and just a few weeks ago another academic article labeled it a “prejudicially skeptical review” of the research into the cause of NDEs. And now, some of the heavyweights of NDE research have also had their say.

In a letter that can be found in the latest issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences (the journal that published the original article), Dr Bruce Greyson, Dr Janice Miner Holden and Dr Pim van Lommel – three of the most respected names in the near-death experience research field – have taken the paper to task, most notably for the misleading nature of its title:

In a recent article in this journal entitled ‘There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences’, Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt concluded that ‘[t]aken together, the scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of the near-death experience have a neurophysiological or psychological basis’. We suggest that Mobbs and Watt explained ‘all aspects’ of near-death experiences (NDEs) by ignoring aspects they could not explain and by overlooking a substantial body of empirical research on NDEs. In a subsequent radio interview, Watt acknowledged that they had avoided looking at any evidence for veridical out-of-body perception, resulting in their being unable to evaluate whether or not there was empirical evidence of anything paranormal about NDEs ( But if Mobbs and Watt did not consider the evidence for possible paranormal features, then their claim that there is nothing paranormal about NDEs is not evidence-based.

Ouch. The researchers suggest that scholars should respond to “all relevant data, not just data supporting the a priori assumption that NDEs must be reducible to known neurophysiology”, but also voice their belief that NDEs are “entirely lawful and natural phenomena that can and should be studied by scientific methods, rather than dismissed without investigation.”

In the same issue, one of the original authors (Dean Mobbs) has responded to the criticism, saying that while Greyson et al should be “congratulated for their highly respected research in documenting these experiences”, they (and others) “have not provided any compelling evidence concerning NDEs that contradicts what we already know about the brain.”

  1. Let’s see how there is
    Let’s see how there is paranormal elements in NDEs.

    What does “paranormal”? The paranormal is not what is beyond science, as Mobbs wrote, but what is beyond science today. The paranormal is anomalous, which does not fit the current scientific theories. What elements of NDEs do not fit the current scientific theories, or neuropsychological theories? First, lucidity during NDEs while brain activity collapses, when the model implicitly admitted by modern neuroscience predicts that mental activity has to collapse if collapses the cerebral activity. And second, the acquisition of information that could not be acquired by the known senses, memory, or luck, a point that includes both the veridical extracorporeal experiences as telepathic experiences and encounters with loved ones who believed alive but later it was found that they had died.

    There are reports of NDEs that have these elements, but many scientists do not take into account because they are committed to materialistic assumptions a priori and do not address the reality scientifically, that is, impartially.

  2. It would be nice if Dobbs
    It would be nice if Dobbs specified exactly what kind of evidence has not contradicted what they already know about the brain. This sounds to me like they’re just deliberately ignoring the greater pieces of evidence altogether.

  3. There’s Something Paranormal about There is Nothing Paranormal
    Greg there’s a Neil Gaiman Sandman story about a cat who witnesses her kittens being drowned and decides to revert things back to a time when cats were the giant owners and humans were their mouse sized playthings.

    The reason she’s failed so far though’s because she hasn’t been able to convince a sufficient number of her fellow cats to believe in this story to make the magic take effect.

    When I read one of the authors of a paper called There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences admitting they’ve avoided looking at ANY evidence for the paranormal I find myself half wondering if these people’re try’n’o use the same ‘belief’ approach as the cat to magically conjure interest in the paranormal out of existence.

    Because this isn’t the first example of this sort of thing.

    I remember watching a documentary called something like A Very British UFO Hoax which the BBC even covered on the main news mentioning how the rest of the world’d supposedly been enthralled by its account of how a working model of a flying saucer’d been sent flying round the country and amazingly lots of people reported seeing it.

    There was a lot of back slapping and guffawing over these idiots because they actually believed they’d seen a flying saucer.

    But the point everyone seemed to ignore was these people HAD seen a flying saucer!

    Then there was the Loch Ness monster documentary. For some reason that got little or no publicity in comparison possibly because after spending lots of money on a highly realistic looking robot the unwitting witnesses on the ferry boat merely went “Muh…” and carried on as if they’d seen nothing at all.

    And more recently we had The Body Found mermaid mocumentary.

    Seemingly even before it was released I read on blog after blog how all these yokels’d supposedly believed every word of it and even after being told it was a work of fiction claimed some sort of cover up was now underway.

    I spent ages on line looking for ‘all’ these idiots and the only one I did find turned out to be somebody skitting such yokels.

    In the end I couldn’t make up my mind whether The Body Found was part of a disinformation campaign seemingly designed to retro engineer belief in the paranormal out of existence or merely the work of an astute production company maximising the impact their documentary would have.

  4. I think NDEs are equated with
    I think NDEs are equated with ‘paranormal’ and the term tends to scramble the critical thinking of commentators. Likewise, I think NDEs have been used by some people to go off on diatribes about paradigms, science and materialism. This way, discussion has been pitched along the same lines of that conceited perspective of a believer/skeptic debate.

    Van Lommel and others have offered grounds to look at these studies from a clinical perspective, but the detractors keep thinking ‘paranormal’ and can’t focus clearly.

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