Why Dr. Parnia’s NDE Test Will Likely Fail
Posted on 10 January 2011, 15:00
Many people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) report having out-of-body experiences (OBEs) – floating near the ceiling, even traveling some distances while they are clinically “dead” or just unconscious. What this out-of-body phenomenon suggests is that we do have a spirit body, energy body, etheric body, astral body, double, phantasm, parasomatic body, subtle body, whatever name be given to it, that leaves our physical body at death and lives on in another realm of existence or in another dimension. The NDE is seen as a mimic of the true death experience, the difference being that the so-called “silver cord,” the counterpart of the umbilical cord, connecting the two bodies is not severed in the NDE, and thus the spirit body is able to reunite with the physical body.
Some people undergoing surgery have reported watching the procedure from above. A number of them have given very veridical reports that are hard to discount, identifying unusual happenings while they are “dead” or unconscious, but there is always a “maybe” or two connected with it. Maybe she saw a similar procedure on TV. Maybe she was not completely unconscious and heard someone in the operating room make a remark of some kind. Maybe a nurse in ICU told her about it before she mentioned it to the physician. Maybe this, maybe that.
A study being conducted by Dr. Sam Parnia, the lead investigator in a research project coordinated by Southampton University’s School of Medicine in England is designed to see if the “maybe” factor can be eliminated. The study involves pictures, symbols, words, or numbers being placed face up near the ceiling in emergency-care areas of hospitals in both the U.S. and U.K., the objective being to determine if a person having a near-death experience or out-of-body experience will, upon regaining earthly consciousness, report seeing the target object. Less ambitious studies than that being carried out by Dr. Parnia have apparently yielded no positive results.
It is my understanding that the target is being placed only about six inches from the ceiling, which seems much too high if there is any similarity between normal vision and spirit vision. It assumes that the spirit body will hover right next to the ceiling and remain there, while having a very panoramic view of things.
Another problem I see is that of the NDEr seeing the target object but not recording it in his or her memory bank. We all see numerous things that have no special interest to us. When I walk to the coffee shop in the morning, I pass a gas station with a large sign displaying the cost of a gallon of gas that particular day. I usually see the sign but do not record the amount in my conscious brain. I pass many other signs, symbols, and objects which I see but don’t store away as I have no real use for the information. When I met my new neighbor recently, I heard his name but two minutes into our conversation I realized that I failed to record it and had to ask him to repeat it.
I know that there are people who are more attentive, more focused, and have sharper memories than I have and there are those who have trained their minds to remember names and numbers. Perhaps there are some who don’t need to train their minds in this respect and have some innate ability to remember names and numbers without making any effort. However, they are atypical.
Many of the NDE reports suggest that the person is in awe of finding himself out of body and more focused on what is happening to his body. Since the person is unaware of the test, he is not looking for the target object in the first place. He may see it in a panoramic view, but be more concerned about other things to really take note of it. It would seem that if the target object caught the individual’s attention, he might become curious as to why such an object is displayed in a place where nobody can see it, and zoom in on it. However, it is not really clear that consciousness in that state works that way.
Whatever it is about the brain mechanism that allows us to see and hear things and yet not record them will, I believe, likely contribute to the failure of Parnia’s study.
An even bigger obstacle to positive results may be remembering it when consciousness is restored. “As I have said, for some reason beyond my ken these memories of the discarnate experiences are peculiarly evanescent, even more fleeting than ordinary dreams,” said Oliver Fox, one of the pioneers of the out-of-body experience in his book, Astral Projection. Fox learned to leave his physical body and travel to other places, some quite distant from his physical body. He wrote that he had to make a record of what he saw as soon as he returned to his body, otherwise he would quickly forget what he observed. Even then, much of it was fragmented, blurred or fuzzy.
In his 1927 book, The Astral Body, Arthur Powell says much the same thing. “…the man in his astral body may succeed in making a momentary impression on the etheric double and the dense body, resulting in a vivid memory of the astral life,” he wrote. “This is sometimes done deliberately when something occurs which the man feels that he ought to remember on the physical plane (emphasis mine). Such a memory usually vanishes quickly and cannot be recovered.” Therefore, it may be that while the NDEr becomes curious as to the picture, symbol, or word appearing near the ceiling, he may not realize that he “ought to remember” it when he regains consciousness.
True, many NDErs have reported very vivid recollections of their out-of-body experience, but if we can equate these recollections to dreams, the recollections represent a very small percentage of what was really experienced. Most people don’t remember their dreams, but occasionally they will have seemingly meaningful dreams which stick with them for some time after awakening. These dreams are rare with most people and then only fragments of the dream are remembered, perhaps those which are really meaningful or stir some emotions.
There are mystical teachings that say we do a lot of out-of-body travel while we are sleeping. The sudden muscle/joint jerk we occasionally experience when awakened is the astral body jumping back into the physical body. If that is true, it may very well be that every person unconscious, whether “dead” or not, while undergoing surgery is out-of-body but simply doesn’t remember it when consciousness is regained. The small percentage who do remember it recall the experience to varying degrees, just as dreams are recalled to varying degrees. This does not mean that the NDE/OBE is a dream, only that the effect on the physical brain is much the same.
If the NDE/OBE is just a dream or an hallucination, one has to wonder why they aren’t as diverse as regular dreams. Why are they all so similar? Why do so many people meet deceased relatives and friends during their NDEs? Why do so many of them have life reviews?
Since mainstream science doesn’t even recognize a difference between mind and brain, it can hardly offer any guidance in this respect. Clearly, there is so much about consciousness that is not understood. For example, in the famous “book tests” conducted by C. Drayton Thomas, a British researcher, the communicating spirit was able to tell Thomas what was inside a number of randomly chosen closed books on a specific page. In one test, the communicating spirit said that on page 149, three-quarters down, Thomas would find a word conveying the meanings of falling back or stumbling. When Thomas opened the book to that page and place, he found the words, “to whom a crucified Messiah was an insuperable stumbling-block.” The spirit informed Thomas that he was able to get the appropriate spirit of the passage but not the exact words. He called it more “sensing” that “seeing.”
He further stated that objects on the earth plane are not as real to them as those on their own plane. “To us they appear misty and cloudy,” he explained. “You have heard of the aura. We can see your aura when we cannot see you, and we can see it before we see you. At times, I am only just able to see your chair, or perhaps a corner of something which I guess to be a table; things sometimes are very vague to our sight.”
Not long after his death in December 1905, Dr. Richard Hodgson, who had studied Boston medium Leonora Piper for some 18 years, began communicating through Piper. “I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying to find his hat,” the discarnate Richard Hodgson told Professor William Newbold in a July 23, 1906 sitting. When Newbold asked Hodgson if he could see him, Hodgson replied that he could but that he could feel his presence better. (emphasis mine)
Soon after he died in 1925, Sir William Barrett, a renowned British physicist, began communicating with his wife, Dr. Florence Barrett, through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard. He explained to his wife that when we die, the consciousness and subconsciousness join to make a complete mind, but that when he has to come back into the earth vibration to communicate with her the mind again separates and he has a difficult time remembering things. When he then withdraws from the earth vibrations, he immediately remembers things that he wanted to tell her but didn’t.
“When I am in my own sphere I am told a name and think I shall remember it,” Barrett related on another occasion. “When I come into the condition of a sitting I then know that I can only carry with me – contain in me – a small portion of my consciousness. The easiest things to lay hold of are what we may call ideas. A detached word, a proper name, has no link with a train of thought except in a detached sense; that is far more difficult than other feat of memory or association of ideas.”
Whether these same things apply to the spirit body still connected to its physical body as to a spirit body disconnected is a matter of speculation, but it does provide food for thought and make one wonder if Parnia is assuming too much in believing that celestial vision is the same as terrestrial vision.
The skeptics and debunkers are already claiming that lack of any results in such NDE studies proves that they are no more than hallucinations of one kind or another. They don’t consider the possibility that celestial vision and terrestrial vision are different. Since they don’t believe in a celestial world in the first place, how could they?
As time goes on with no results in the Parnia test, we can expect the skeptics, debunkers, and other spiritually-challenged people to wave their victory banners of doom and gloom. If, however, there is a positive result or two, they will still have reasons to dismiss it. The janitor dusted just before the surgery and told someone about the target picture, or one of the nurses got a ladder, found out the nature of the target, and told the patient as she wanted the test to be a success, or the symbol reflected off one of the machines. The debunkers will always find a reason to reject the results.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Mike, I too am concerned and have written to Janet Holden to forward to Parnia. My suggestion was to put a sign on or adjacent to the body in large letters that said. Look around the ceiling and come back and tell us what you see. The one constant in all NDE’s is the seeing of the body. And it will take many more crows than one to make an impression.
I got the impression from somewhere that Parnia was also having the operations telivised and recorded so that any NDEr’s descriptions could be validated that way
Bill Stoney, Sat 14 Jul, 02:34
I love all your comments about skeptics. The IANDS was critical of Parnia’s set-up of his experiment from the very outset. I get really frustrated when supposedly intelligent people can be so short-sighted. Had I made a mistake liek that at university I’d have been jumped on very quickly.
As for rumours, my daughter saw a news report of a woman saying she’d seen an image of a green ball during her resuscitation. Shame she can’t remember where she it.
John Brunney, Mon 23 Jan, 21:01
Thanks for the clarification, Michael. One more thought on AWARE: What bothers me is not the study itself but the way it’s been hyped as the be-all and end-all of NDE research. This attitude strikes me as possibly appropriate in the physical sciences, where a single experimental outcome can falsify a theory, but not appropriate in the social sciences, where outcomes are not nearly as regular or predictable.
Could a single experiment or field observation establish the truth of a principle of psychology or anthropology? I doubt it. There are too many variables when dealing with human beings and societies. The same is probably true of paranormal phenomena, which seem to depend on the vagaries of individual moods, beliefs, emotions, etc.
Michael Prescott, Thu 27 Jan, 08:55
Thanks for the comment. I think the two blogs I mentioned were referring mostly to the earlier tests along the line of the AWARE study.
Michael Tymn, Thu 27 Jan, 04:02
“I have already seen two blogs in which the materialistic blogger mentioned the lack of results in support of his reductionistic beliefs.”
If they’re saying this in regard to AWARE, they’re jumping the gun. As far as I know, no results (positive or negative) have been announced. Results are not scheduled to be announced until late 2011 at the earliest. Even if dozens of people have correctly reported the images (unlikely), we wouldn’t know it yet.
I agree with davidm that there is enough evidence from parapsychology to invalidate materialist assumptions. (The book “Irreducible Mind,” by Kelly et al., makes this case very well.) Because materialism is often conflated with science, some people think that science itself has been invalidated. It hasn’t been. Science is a method, not a body of results. The scientific method can be, and has been, fruitfully applied to paranormal questions, though the specific methods that are required are more in line with those of the social sciences than the physical sciences.
Michael Prescott, Thu 27 Jan, 00:46
Nullifidian: ....The default is to assume that such things don’t happen until given scientific evidence to think they do.
.....So why the resistance to even seeking scientific evidence? Don’t you want your belief to have more going for it than tribalists belief in bends-spirits? Wanting scientific evidence is scientific, not ‘scientistic’
No “scientific” evidence? As is usual for scientistic skeptics, a huge body of empirical evidence supporting though of course not absolutely proving the existence of non-physical entities or souls and a non-physical or spiritual realm is presumptuously dismissed probably without even investigating and perusing in detail. A partial list of areas:
Drop-in communicators and cross-correspondences
Death bed visions
At-death remote appearances
This evidence has been developed over more than a century of parapsychology research much in the lab by hundreds of well qualified investigators. It is all claimed to be worthless anecdotes, bad research, fraud, etc. etc. Sure.
davidm, Wed 19 Jan, 03:54
I was about to respond to your comment when Craig’s comment came in. He has said it much better than I could have, so I will just refer you to his comment below.
How disappointing. I read Craig’s comment as saying, in the end, no test will ever be worth making. Leave this as a matter of faith because no scientific test is possible. How else am I to take the answer: don’t bother, ‘any experiment set up to measure these phenomena using designs established to measure physical phenomena will likely have difficulty or fail’?
Then there’s some mention of a ‘science of eternal consciousness’ but without any attempt at scientific testing it won’t really be science, will it? It will no more be science than astral projection occultism or trying to get rid of engrams with scientologist rituals.
davidm, I don’t think the default is that an encounter between discarnate minds is impossible until experimentally demonstrated. The default is that an encounter between discarnate minds is not proven until experimentally demonstrated. The default is to assume that such things don’t happen until given scientific evidence to think they do.
Without that we don’t have very good reason to think that they happen. It’s not like some current scientific theory predicts there will be discarnate minds (like the Standard Model predicts there will be a Higgs boson). The idea has roots in ancient superstitions, not modern science. Tribal peoples still believe that evil spirits cause the bends, but we know, without a doubt, it’s nitrogen bubbles in the blood.
So why the resistance to even seeking scientific evidence? Don’t you want your belief to have more going for it than tribalists belief in bends-spirits? Wanting scientific evidence is scientific, not ‘scientistic’.
Nullifidian, Tue 18 Jan, 14:13
I doubt that Parnia’s test can be improved much, although several people have said that having the target only six inches from the ceiling might be placing it out of the panoramic view of the OBEr.
I agree with Michael Prescott and others that it is seemingly a worthwhile project. However, lack of positive results only lends itself to the naysayers. They see the lack of results as “proof” that there is nothing spiritual about it. I have already seen two blogs in which the materialistic blogger mentioned the lack of results in support of his reductionistic beliefs. As time goes on with no results, Randi and Shermer, et al, can be expected to really use this to spread the gospel of extinction.
Michael Tymn, Sun 16 Jan, 21:48
Bottom line: I don’t think the benefit of about a 20% chance of success will even approach the damage done by the 80% chance of failure. The media will forever be mentioning the failure and many people will then see NDE studies as just so much wishful thinking.
Craig: ” This experimental design omits the single most important factor in the near-death experience and in any encounters with the reality outside of physical reality: the experiences are encounters among minds, which have no physical laws to which they will conform consistently. The mind of the experiencer, the minds of those who communicate with the experiencer from the other side, the minds of the helpers and guides influencing the drama of the near-death experience, and the mind of God, all control the occurrences. Physical laws have no bearing.”
I certainly agree, but Nullifidian’s criticism seems to come from the scientistic materialist position that until it is experimentally proven otherwise an encounter between discarnate minds is impossible because there is no such thing as a discarnate mind. Of course in this view mind is a function of the physical brain. This appears to be Parnia’s default position as a medical scientist.
Parnia’s multi-hospital study is trying to find in NDEs experimental evidence for independence of mind and brain, and from this materialist position trying to understand the true nature of OBEs is putting the cart before the horse. I wonder how the experiment could could have been improved within its very limiting set of goals and techniques?
davidm, Sun 16 Jan, 01:36
Claudio, Sat 15 Jan, 18:26
>If the initial results include some positive cases, the study team may
install tablet computers to show random images and video recording cameras to record both the resuscitation and
the images to allow verification of perceptions of the resuscitation procedure, including idiosyncratic events such
as the doctor knocking over a bucket of instruments.>>>>>>>>
I’ve read that the images will change automatically and frequently on a random sequence. Will take a look to find out the article.
The President of our Parapsychological Society, told me that once he was in NY City with a skeptic and a friend who’s able to dwarf a spoon. The skeptic said it was impossible but the guy took a spoon and really DWARFED it!
What was the skeptic’s remark?
“No way! The experiment hasn’t been done
UNDER SCIENTIFIC STRICTLY CONDITIONS!!”
Claudio, Sat 15 Jan, 18:07
My friend and fellow Hawaii resident Michael Schmicker, the author of “Best Evidence,” called my attention to the fact that Dr. Charles Tart carried out an OBE experiment some years ago in which a woman in an OBE state was able to “see” a random, 5-digit target number placed on a high shelf above where she layed wired up to electrodes. The number was 25132. Mike mentions it on page 202 of his book.
Although I read Mike’s book 8-9 years ago, I didn’t remember this and apparently few other people have. Thus, I wonder why a success on Parnia’s test would have any more impact on the scientific community than Tart’s test. An NDE is an OBE, after all. I may be missing something here.
Michael Tymn, Sat 15 Jan, 08:09
I was about to respond to your comment when Craig’s comment came in. He has said it much better than I could have, so I will just refer you to his comment below.
I knew they were planning to change the target on a daily basis, but I wasn’t sure how it would work. I suspect that after six months or so of no results, they will not maintain it on a daily basis and there will always be an argument of some kind that the debunkers can latch on to. I hope I am wrong, but I’d put odds of 20-1 against the Parnia test working.
Sandy and Michael,
I appreciate your comments.
Michael Tymn, Sat 15 Jan, 01:48
Mike, your analysis is insightful. This experimental design omits the single most important factor in the near-death experience and in any encounters with the reality outside of physical reality: the experiences are encounters among minds, which have no physical laws to which they will conform consistently. The mind of the experiencer, the minds of those who communicate with the experiencer from the other side, the minds of the helpers and guides influencing the drama of the near-death experience, and the mind of God, all control the occurrences. Physical laws have no bearing.
As a result, any experiment set up to measure these phenomena using designs established to measure physical phenomena will likely have difficulty or fail.
More importantly, this insistence on trying to use physical science designs to study the realms outside of the physical realm is actually stunting the development of the science of eternal consciousness that is outside of physical reality. We haven’t yet been able to develop natural histories of the realms close to the Earth plane, or of encounters with their residents. Natural histories must precede development of theories. The theories that will emerge will be markedly different from those that gave rise to laws in the physical realm. But we can’t develop the theories without the natural histories.
Your work is the best and most complete being done to develop natural histories based on the records available from mediums and those studying mediums since 1844. Crookall’s The Supreme Adventure is a worthy work that is a seminal natural history developed from the records of mental mediums. The researchers today should be adding to these records by transcribing and studying Leslie Flint’s seance recordings and finding patterns in spontaneous after-death communications, near-death experiences, induced after-death experiences, and the other valuable records we have that show us patterns in our knowledge of the realms outside of the Earth realm.
We also need to abandon the efforts to use physical science methods to examine these other realms because the tools they use are utterly wrong for what we’re studying. The tool we must use to understand mind is mind. Mediums, exploratory methods such as the Monroe Institute’s Hemi-Sync, bilateral stimulation used in induced after-death communications and guided afterlife connections, all enable the mind to more successfully apprehend the other realms. They must be enlisted in these new methods that will be relevant to the study of the minds outside of the physical realm.
Minds must be used to study minds.
Craig, Fri 14 Jan, 23:17
<The janitor dusted just before the surgery and told someone about the target picture, or one of the nurses got a ladder, found out the nature of the target, and told the patient as she wanted the test to be a success, or the symbol reflected off one of the machines. The debunkers will always find a reason to reject the results. >
Claudio, Fri 14 Jan, 19:09
It seems that you forgot that the images put on the screens will vary on a random sequence. Only correlating the exact time of the cardiac arrest with the number of the image shown at that precise moment, Parnia can demonstrate that a patient had really seen it. No room for debunkers to think that someone knew in advance what was the content of the image!
The debunkers will always find a reason to reject the results.
How is this any different from you finding a reason to reject null results? Are you open to the possibility that NDEs aren’t out of the body?
If you are, why are you already looking for outs like people won’t be able to see, or won’t be paying attention, or won’t be able to remember if they do see and pay attention, or won’t be able to see clearly if they do see, pay attention, and remember?
Why do a test at all if your view will stay the same whatever the results?
Nullifidian, Fri 14 Jan, 10:49
When I had my NDE, I only had a brief glance at my body being worked on by the people who rescued me from the wreckage of the head-on collision I was in.
I don’t even consider that part of my NDE. My NDE was a wonderful experience. That glimpse of my broken body was a nightmare in comparison. I remember my NDE with great clarity. I can barely bring myself to think about that other part, the dead body I was supposed to go back to. All that pain I was supposed to endure.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if people don’t remember the hospital room they died in, or pictures stuck up near the ceiling. I can barely remember anything about my time in the hospital even the time after I was awake and cogent again. But I still remember all the details about being dead and talking to my Grandma.
Sandy, Fri 14 Jan, 01:00
Good post, Michael. But from my readings of NDEs, I would say that cloudy or misty vision is rare. Instead, NDErs normally report perception that is more vivid, detailed, and intense than ordinary sensory input.
A typical report (which I’m making up) might go like this: “I never knew what real vision was until I left my body. I could see every hair on a person’s head, every blade of grass and every droplet of dew. I could zoom in on anything that interested me and see it as if under the world’s most powerful magnifying glass. I was aware of everything.”
Even so, will anyone see or remember the targets? Probably not, because (as you point out) the experiencer will be preoccupied with other things.
I still think this large prospective study is worthwhile, but I wish it hadn’t been hyped so much. Some people seem to think it will resolve the issue one way or the other. It won’t.
Michael Prescott, Thu 13 Jan, 14:12
Good point, but the point I was trying to make was that whatever is communicated, whether by the table, the ouija board, trance voice, or direct voice, may not be what actually existed on the earth plane. If, for example, Parnia were to put a picture of a boy fishing from a wharf and with a caption under it, the spirit might get the idea of fishing but not necessarily the boy or the wharf or the caption. What the discarnate “sees” and what the incarnate person “sees” may be different. Or to put it another way, what comes thru the ouija board or the table isn’t necessarily accurate or consistent with what exists in the earth vibration.
Moreover, the discarnate Thomas said that he was able to move from “sensing” to “seeing” as he got the hang of it, so it would appear that it is a matter of experience or learning on that side.
I really don’t know if the example is analogous at all to the Parnia test. I was throwing it out as an example of why we shouldn’t necessarily assume that terrestrial vision and celestial vision are the same or to assume that what is communicated is not necessarily what “is” on this plane.
Thanks for commenting.
Michael Tymn, Tue 11 Jan, 07:29
“...A detached word, a proper name, has no link with a train of thought except in a detached sense; that is far more difficult than other feat of memory or association of ideas”
This does not seem to have been a problem in the early years when the Ouija board was in common use.
jack, Tue 11 Jan, 01:33
E.Katharine Bates, in “Seen and Unseen” recounts how she and her friends got the first 5 letters(DEHAV) of the the name of the man that her relative “Carrie” was to marry in a few years time.
(from the first chapter of her book)
The trance mediums and some “automatic” writers who sometimes have troubles with names do not seem to ever revert to the ouija board or “table knocking”
This requires some explanation
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