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Has the Near-Death Experience Been Debunked?

Posted on 19 September 2011, 14:08

The headline of a September 12 article at the Scientific American website reads, “Peace of Mind:  Near-Death Experiences Now Found to Have Scientific Explanation.”  The writer, Charles Q. Choi quotes neuroscientist Dean Mobbs of the University of Cambridge as saying that “many of the phenomena associated with near-death experiences can be biologically explained.”  He also references an article by Caroline Watt, whose mission seems to be to “demystify” the NDE and other psychic phenomena.

I don’t think there is anything really new in Choi’s article.  Scientific fundamentalists have been offering mechanistic explanations for various features of the NDE for years now.  And while the headline of the article suggests that an important discovery has been made, leading the uninformed reader to infer that the spiritual aspect of NDEs has been totally debunked, the explanations given are of the “possible” and “might be” kind.   

As examples of the “possible” and “might be” explanations, it is stated that that reliving moments of one’s life “might be” the result of a stress hormone being released in high levels during trauma.  Meeting deceased loved ones might be similar to Parkinson’s disease patients seeing ghosts as a result of abnormal functioning of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that can evoke hallucinations.  But let’s assume that there is a link between these things and the NDE.  Does that debunk the spiritual implications of the NDE?  It seems to me that it just explains the trigger of the NDE.  If there is some intelligent design behind the spiritual component of the NDE, why wouldn’t it have a biological trigger?  Shouldn’t we expect some kind of biological release mechanism in the separation of the physical body and the spirit body?  A bullet becomes independent of the gun after the firing mechanism is effectuated, but the firing mechanism of the gun doesn’t explain the damage done by the bullet. 

During the mid-1800s, when the early form of spirit communication was by means of raps coming through a table or from some mysterious place around the sitters (one rap for “no,” three for “yes,”  one rap for each letter of the alphabet),  Michael Faraday, a renowned scientist, concluded that the raps were simply the result of the “medium” being able to slip her toe joints and make cracking sounds.  Apparently, many scientific fundamentalists of the era accepted Faraday’s explanation and had a good laugh. Yet, many astute observers of the raps said that the raps were so loud that they sometimes shook the house. Moreover, the “toe joint cracking” theory did not explain how the medium got the evidential information that was coming through to the sitters.  Of course, the pseudoskeptical scientists concluded that the medium did a lot of research beforehand.

Faraday finally said that he had too many important things to do to waste his time in investigating such phenomena. Thomas Huxley, another famous scientist of the 1800s, said that even if it were all true, it would not interest him.  Sir David Brewster, still another leading scientist of the era, claimed that various phenomena he had witnessed with medium D. D. Home, including levitations, were “impossible” and so they could only be the result of some imposture that he, not being a magician, could not understand.  What might be called “Faraday-Huxley Syndrome” and “Brewster Syndrome” persist today in mainstream science.

In the September/October issue of Explore magazine, Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, examines the current resistance of some scientists to paranormal phenomena The article is titled “Why are (Some) Scientists So Opposed to Parapsychology?”  Leary begins by pointing out that many of the pioneers of psychical research were noted scientists of their time and that they all were professionally attacked and personally ridiculed by those who viewed their work as misguided and opposed to a progressive society. 

Although Leary does not mention the pioneers, one such scientist was Dr. Charles Richet, professor of physiology at the University of Paris and winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Medicine.  Richet had earlier criticized Sir William Crookes, a prominent British chemist, for validating the mediumship of D.D. Home, but after doing his own investigation of mediums, Richet apologized to Crookes.  Dr. Julian Ochorowicz, professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of Warsaw, similarly apologized to Crookes. He wrote:  “I found I had done a great wrong to men who had proclaimed new truths at the risk of their positions. When I remember that I branded as a fool that fearless investigator, Crookes, the inventor of the radiometer, because he had the courage to assert the reality of psychic phenomena and to subject them to scientific tests, and when I also recollect that I used to read his articles thereon in the same stupid style, regarding him as crazy, I am ashamed, both of myself and others, and I cry from the very bottom of my heart. ‘Father, I have sinned against the Light.’”

Richet was one of many scientists to observe ectoplasm, a substance that flows from some mediums and gives rise to physical phenomena.  “If one reflects upon the many confirmations to which the ectoplasma of Eusapia (Paladino) have given place, one is astonished to see the doubts that they have provoked,” Richet wrote.  “Scientists of all countries, France and Italy, the United States and England, Germany and Russia, Holland and Spain have turned her about, this poor Eusapia, in every manner, and they have all, finally, if they have prolonged their study at all, concluded that these phenomena were authentic.”  Richet went on to say that to deny various psychic phenomena is “to lower oneself.”  Yet, few mainstream scientists of today will admit to the reality of ectoplasm. They write it off as nothing more than cheesecloth regurgitated by some tricksters posing as mediums.  No doubt there were such tricksters, but to jump to the conclusion that all ectoplasm was cheesecloth regurgitated is to view the subject with a very closed mind. 

Although fully accepting such psychic phenomena, Richet was reluctant to admit that they were the result of spirit operation.  He admitted that it was a possibility, but said, somewhat indirectly, that he feared for his reputation if he were to give support to the spirit hypothesis.  Thus, Richet preferred to see it as the workings of the subconscious which science could not yet understand.

Not so fearful was Sir Oliver Lodge, a professor of physics and one of the pioneers of electricity and radio.  Lodge fully supported the spirit hypothesis.  “Science is incompetent to make comprehensive denials about anything,” Lodge wrote.  “It should not deal in negatives.  Denial is no more fallible than assertion.  There are cheap and easy kinds of skepticism, just as there are cheap and easy kinds of dogmatism.”

As Leary sees it, not much has changed since the days of Crookes, Richet, Ochorowicz and Lodge. While a small group of researchers continue to investigate psychic matter, many other scientists remain disdainful.  Much of the resistance, he says, “has a tenor that is rarely heard in other scientific circles, involving caustic, dismissive attacks on not only the research but also on the researchers themselves.”  Leary believes the resistance and closed-mindedness is a result of parapsychology falling outside the scope of more strict and pure science, a failure by the critics to understand the mechanism, a tendency for the critics to associate psychical research and parapsychology with religion and occult beliefs, and fear and discomfort with uncertainty.

“Unfortunately, in the minds of many critics, the phenomena studied by parapsychologists are lumped together with ‘fringe’ and ‘occult’ topics, such as alien abduction, astral projection, astrology, crystal healing, ancient astronauts, nature spirits, Bigfoot, and Tarot – topics that they also dismiss,” Leary offers, adding that if they were to look at the evidence, “they would find that parapsychological phenomena have far more scientific support than most of these other topics.”

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.

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Will Simon Cowell Regret His “Insurance Policy”?

Posted on 05 September 2011, 13:51

According to a recent Web report, Simon Cowell, (below) the popular American Idol and X-Factor judge, wants his body frozen by cryogenics upon his death.  He was quoted as saying that he sees it “basically as an insurance policy” that might pay off in about 300 years when science figures out how to restore life to a human body.
I think it goes without saying that anyone who opts for cryogenics is a pure materialist and philistine, fearing death and not believing that he will “live on” in a greater reality.

As Cowell appears to see it, he has nothing to lose beyond the cost of the cryogenics, and since he is obviously a very rich man that is of little or no concern. In other words, if science doesn’t figure out how to restore bodies to life, he will, in his view, be no worse off than if he had chosen burial or cremation. 

Since Cowell apparently has made up his mind that life is nothing but a march into an abyss of nothingness, it is unlikely that he is open to various messages purportedly coming to us from the spirit world which say that magnetic currents can hold the spirit body close to the physical body after death and that separation can be expedited somewhat by speedy disposal of the physical body, as with cremation.  If these messages are credible, and I believe they are, Cowell’s “insurance policy” could turn out to be the worst investment of his life, as his frozen remains may keep him in an “earthbound” condition for a long time, however time is measured in that realm.

According to a number of esoteric teachings arising out of spirit communication, the magnetic currents hold the spirit body close to the physical body during earthly life and continue to some degree after death depending on the degree of spiritual consciousness achieved by the individual while alive in the flesh. That is, the more spiritual consciousness the person develops, the quicker the magnetic currents are destroyed.  Conversely, the soul who has not developed much spiritual consciousness will be slow in breaking the magnetic bonds, thus lingering around his or her physical remains in the earthbound condition, indefinitely, not completely comprehending the fact that he/she is “dead.” 

“The moral state of the soul is the condition which determines the ease, or the difficulty, with which the spirit disengages himself from his terrestrial envelope,” explained Allan Kardec, (below) a 19th Century French psychical researcher who communicated with many advanced spirits.  “The strength of the affinity between the body and perispirit (spirit body) is in the exact ratio of the spirit’s attachment to materiality; it is, consequently, at the maximum in the case of those whose thoughts and interests are concentrated on the earthly life and the enjoyment of material pleasures; it is almost null in the case of those whose soul has identified itself before with the spirit life.”


Kardec likened the “earthbound” condition to somnambulism, as in sleepwalking, when the somnambulist who is thrown into a magnetic sleep cannot believe that he is not awake. “Sleep, according to their idea of it, is synonymous with suspension of the perceptive faculties, and as they think freely, and see, they appear to themselves not to be asleep,” he further explained.

If I am interpreting various metaphysical teachings correctly, the “magnetic currents” should not be confused with the so-called silver cord, the connecting link between the physical body and the spirit body.  The silver cord will have been severed at the time of physical death, liberating the spirit body, but the magnetic currents can still keep the spirit body close to the physical body. Moreover, cremation does not undo the gravitational pull of a materialistic life, but it at least mitigates the pull.   

Silver Birch, the eloquent and apparently “high” spirit who spoke through the entranced British medium Maurice Barbanell for some 50 years, was asked if cremation is the preferred method of disposal.  “Yes, always, because essentially it has the effect of putting an end to the idea that the spirit is the physical body,” he replied. 

“By the use of fire, all forms are dissolved; the quicker the human physical vehicle is destroyed, the quicker is its hold upon the withdrawing soul broken,” medium and mystic Alice A. Bailey recorded, adding that the etheric body is apt to linger for a long time on the ‘field of emanation’ when the physical body is interred, and it will frequently persist until the physical body has completely decayed.  Since cryogenics prevents decay, one can only agonize at how long the spirit might be stuck in the earthbound condition, perhaps puzzled at why other frozen bodies are not speaking with him. 

Of course, the skeptic and secular humanist will scoff at all this and argue that a non-believer in the survival of consciousness at death can live a very moral life without believing in anything spiritual.  Certainly, there are many examples of this and there are countless examples of people with surface spiritual beliefs leading lives of low morality or depravity.  As William James said, “If religion be a function by which either God’s cause or man’s cause is to be really advanced, then he who lives the life of it, however narrowly, is a better servant than he who merely knows about it, however much.  Knowledge about life is one thing: effective occupation of a place in life with its dynamic currents passing through your being is another.”

So what then of the very moral person who is a non-believer in God or an afterlife (keeping in mind that one does not have to believe in God to believe that consciousness will survive death)?  Should he be punished by remaining “earthbound” simply because he failed or refused to believe?  Might he not be even a better person than he who led a moral life out of fear of punishment in an afterlife?  The answer to this seems to be that it is not about “punishment” by a God or tribunal of any kind.  It is about what we, through our free will, have allowed ourselves to believe. “A spirit attaches himself all the more strongly to the life of the body, in proportion to his inability to see anything beyond it,” Kardec offered. “He feels that the organic life is escaping him, and he does his utmost, but in vain, to retain it within his grasp.  Instead of yielding himself up to the movement which is drawing him away, he resists it with all his might; and, in some instances, the struggle is thus prolonged for days, for weeks, or for months.”

As I discern the messages, the non-believer who rejects the idea of an afterlife out of intellectual pride or arrogance is much more likely to be earthbound than the person who is shut off from all enlightenment and does not have the opportunity to open his mind to it.  The non-believer’s earthbound condition is not the result of an angry and jealous God (“How dare you not believe in Me!  You are hereby assigned to the mezzanine level where you will suffer for not believing in Me.”), but a matter of how much “light” the person lets in during his lifetime.  If he arrogantly permits his intellect and ego to block the light, then darkness is the result.  We are who we make ourselves.  We are beings of light to the extent that we absorb the light.  We create our own reality.

“They suppose that their state will be forever the same,” a spirit named Clara told Kardec, referring to those who failed to believe when alive.  “They still murmur the words which misled them during life; they are amazed and terrified at their utter solitude; darkness, in truth, it is, this region at once empty and peopled, this space in which, carried forward by a power they do not understand, they wander, pallid, and groaning, without consolation, without affections, without help of any kind…”

Hopefully, Simon Cowell will liberate his ego, open his mind, and let in some light before he transitions, thereby abandoning his plan to “live on” through cryogenics and “live on” in true reality. 

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.


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The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
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