What dreams may come

Hemant Mehta gleans a piece of news from the Templeton Foundation that must give us pause.

Anecdotal reports of glimpses of an afterlife abound, but there has been no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about near-death and other experiences, or of how belief in immortality influences human behavior. That will change with the award of a three-year, $5 million grant by the John Templeton Foundation to John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, to undertake a rigorous examination of a wide range of issues related to immortality. …

Mehta responds: “There’s no evidence of an afterlife and no amount of research is going to change that.”

Ay, there’s the rub.

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns has not remained undiscovered due to a lack of research funding. And $5 million isn’t going to change that.

Investigating “how belief in immortality influences human behavior” may be a fruitful area of study. But that other business about “near death and other experiences” seems like an ill-conceived, and possibly ill-intentioned, waste of money.

They have Moses and the prophets and the playwrights, they should listen to them. If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets and the playwrights, neither will they be able to learn anything even from “comprehensive and rigorous study” of near-death experiences.

* * * * * * * * *

Speaking of death, Caleb Wilde shares Alan Wolfelt’s “Mourner’s Bill of Rights.”

“You have the right to experience your own unique grief,” this wise and compassionate charter begins. Please do read the rest of it. It’s excellent advice for anyone who is grieving, or who knows anyone who is grieving, or who knows anyone who one day may be grieving — which of course includes all of us.

Wilde is a funeral director, so this Mourner’s Bill of Rights is important to his profession. Pastors and counselors and those in the field of medicine will also have a professional interest in this.

But so should police, prosecutors and judges. And so should potential jurors.

My wife likes the “Investigation Discovery” channel as ambient TV when she’s working in the kitchen. One of things I’m frequently horrified by in the true-crime shows on ID is how often police fixate on a potential suspect due to what they regard as that person’s insufficient or inappropriate expressions of grief. It seems these officers have in mind some standardized, uniform notion of grieving, and anyone who fails to conform to this expected, mandatory pattern will fall under suspicion.

This makes for bad police work that wastes time and resources. It also often results in astonishing cruelty to victims who wind up being treated as perpetrators. And it’s just abysmally obtuse. How does someone get to be the age of these detectives while still imagining that there is a single, typical, “proper” or “correct” human expression of grief?

I’ve often thought that police departments could benefit from training seminars conducted by mental health experts, grief counselors, the chaplains from the local hospice or local funeral directors. It would help them to become smarter detectives. And it would help them to become better humans.

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  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Shakespeare was a prophet now? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/diana.waggoner.1 Diana Waggoner

    Investigating “how belief in immortality influences human behavior”
    may be a fruitful area of study. But that other business about “near
    death and other experiences” seems like an ill-conceived, and possibly
    ill-intentioned, waste of money. …  neither will they be able to learn anything even from “comprehensive and
    rigorous study” of near-death experiences.

    I’m surprised to read this from you, Fred. I can think of lots of things to learn about human psychology and cultural conditioning from studying these experiences.  I doubt if identifying “what really happens after death” is the purpose of this.
     

  • hidden_urchin

    To that Mourner’s Bill of Rights I would add: You have the right to grieve for whatever it is that’s causing your grief.  Don’t let anyone tell you that there are appropriate and inappropriate things to grieve for.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yeah, the urge to regulate grief kind of surprises me. And not just, nor even primarily, in other people: I am often shocked and disheartened by the degree to which I refuse myself permission to grieve, or seek to punish myself for doing it.

    Grief doesn’t respect social boundaries: it can lead us to do extreme and unpredictable things in uncontrollable ways. For a lot of people, that’s unacceptable.

    I suppose it’s a little like love, in that respect. Or lust. Or honor. All of which are also frequent targets for emotional regulation, come to think of it.

    We are so very frightened, we humans.

  • hidden_urchin

    I am often shocked and disheartened by the degree to which I refuse myself permission to grieve…

    One of the hardest things I am learning to do right now is to give myself permission to feel when something hurts me.  After 20-some odd years of being taught that one can only feel negative emotions under certain circumstances and that one must be happy the rest of the time, it’s something of a challenge.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    One of the hardest things I am learning to do right now is to give myself permission to feel when something hurts me. 

    Yeah, this can be hard.

    If in the course of doing this work you discover things that other people around you can do that make it easier for you to give yourself that permission, I’d be interested to hear about them.

  • Magic_Cracker

    It seems these officers have in mind some standardized, uniform notion of grieving, and anyone who fails to conform to this expected, mandatory pattern will fall under suspicion.

    I’ve noticed — and been appalled by — that same thing. I remember one where a guy was basically convicted of 1st degree murder because he was an asshole. There was no physical evidence (no weapon, blood, fingerprints, or body — which the prosecutor spun as, “Of course not! He’s a doctor! He’s too smart to leave evidence!), but the detectives felt he seemed too unconcerned about his ex-wife’s disappearance, plus there was a parade of the missing woman’s friends who all testified under oath to what colossal dickhead the defendant was and how he behaved like a complete ass during his divorce from the victim several years earlier. When the guilty verdict came in, the defendant started bawling, and the prosecutor was all smug and mugging for the camera, pointing to the defendant’s tears as further proof of guilt.

    Anyway, it seems not a few detectives on this shows subscribe to Beria’s “Show me the man, and I’ll find you the crime” school of policing.

  • Turcano

    A similar case was that of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was pretty much executed for being a fan of Iron Maiden.  I understand that that should be punished, but that’s a bit extreme to say the least.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Fans of the Insane Clown Posse are considered a gang by the FBI. Literally. If someone is a fan of ICP and commits any crime, they can be tried as a member of a gang, simply because they’re a fan of ICP.

    If the FBI is going to declare fans of a certain kind of crappy music to be criminals, I’d like to see all fans of Justin Bieber declared a gang. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    But if some Bachmann-Birther-Overkill fan shoots a bunch of brown people, it’s an isolated incident.

  • Tricksterson

    No, they should be declared a terrorist group.

  • The_L1985

     This Iron Maiden fan fails to see your point.

  • AnonymousSam

    After reading the article on this research into immortality, all I can say is “We’ve already got this. It’s called Patheos.com. And no one paid Patheos five bloody million dollars to exist.”

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    If we didn’t research subjective material, there would be no meaningful psychology, sociology, history… Actually everything is to some extent subjective.

    If this study exists in order to prove or disprove an afterlife, it’s ridiculous. However, if it exists in order to study what NDEs are like, taking into account lots of variables like culture, age, etc., then it sounds really interesting and like it could be a valuable window into the ways we think and die.

  • AnonymousSam

    Fully agreed on the first paragraph, tentative agreement on the second. The frequency of which that people somehow manage to get sums of money in order to push their own theology while reporting little to no useful data is incredibly frustrating though — how many millions of dollars have been spent proving and reproving and reproving again that prayer doesn’t cure AIDS, for example?

    I feel like I can’t trust anything related to theology if money is being promised somewhere in the equation.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com/ Rebecca Trotter

    I’m surprised at the out-of-hand dismissal of near death experiences. Many years ago, I started reading them during a time of extreme doubt. Mostly just for the re-assurance that there was something there. Over the years I’ve probably read hundreds of them. I don’t think anyone who has seriously looked into the matter can just dismiss them out-of-hand. Many people are able to report details of what happened while “dead” that they had no way of knowing. It’s fairly common for people to encounter someone from their past who they hadn’t known was dead. There are all sorts of odd things like that which objectively look like good reasons to at least consider that there’s something to them.

    I’ve read quite a few NDE’s from atheists who were shocked to discover that they were still “alive” after leaving their bodies. Also, almost uniformly those who have them insist that these are not the dream-like experiences that many of us presume them to be. Almost to a person they insist that their near death experience was far more real than anything they experienced in this life.

    There’s actually been some research into NDEs in Europe. I’d have to look them up, but the one thing I do remember is that those who had in-depth near death experiences and were revived after a heart attack were much more likely to die within the next 6 months than those who had very brief NDEs or no NDE.

    Yes, these experiences are subjective, but all experiences are subjective. One of the things I believe firmly is that everyone has a right to tell their own story without others telling them that what they experienced wasn’t really what they experienced. Look at how long people ignored gay people when they said that they didn’t choose their sexual orientation. Look at how we want to meet claims of discrimination with dismissals – “that’s not really what happened.” I think that when you have tens of thousands of people (probably much more than that, but at least tens of thousands) claiming to have had near death experiences, it’s wrong to simply wave it off as nothing serious.

  • Pat B

    The problem with saying that NDEs and Out of Body Experiences should be taken seriously, is that the evidence doesn’t support it. Scientists can induce Out of Body Experiences and NDEs with brain electrodes, and the same theory of the brain which explains people feeling phantom limbs adequately covers these as well.

    Like other areas of ‘paranormal research’ the only evidence the proponents of the theory can provide are anecdotes or interviews after the fact. People are very suggestible and have powerful imaginations; especially after an altered state of consciousness even unconscious leading by well-meaning researchers could create false memories. 

    I wish more credible scientists would do research on these phenomenon, but the reason this is frustrating is that the money is going to some philosopher rather than a legitimate scientific study. Something like this needs to be challenged rigorously, so that if the results support the supernatural explanation of NDEs they will stand up to scientific scrutiny, and if they don’t support them it will give insight into the actual causes. This guy seems more interested in pushing some metaphysical theory than actually doing science though.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I wish more credible scientists would do research on these phenomenon,

    They have done research; your first paragraph cites what they’ve found. 

    Something like this needs to be challenged rigorously

    It has been! The result of those challenges is that these claims are discredited.

    This guy seems more interested in pushing some metaphysical theory than actually doing science though.

    Yes, well, that would be why the Templeton Foundation is supporting him. They have a well-established track record in that regard.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I don’t think anyone who has seriously looked into the matter can just dismiss them out-of-hand.

    Hmm… here’s someone who has seriously looked into the evidence and dismissed it not out-of-hand, but on a strong rational basis.

    Many people are able to report details of what happened while “dead” that they had no way of knowing. 

    Except when those claims are examined, they fall apart.

    It’s fairly common for people to encounter someone from their past who they hadn’t known was dead. There are all sorts of odd things like that which objectively look like good reasons to at least consider that there’s something to them.

    First, when you say things like “it’s fairly common”… [ citation needed ]. Next, when you present a case like this “encounter past friends who they didn’t know were dead”, there’s context necessary. (i.e. how often do they encounter past friends who aren’t dead?) Failing to provide evidence or context can make unremarkable things into “odd things”, but that does not make them “good reasons”.

    I’ve read quite a few NDE’s from atheists who were shocked to discover that they were still “alive” after leaving their bodies. 

    1.) [ citation needed ]
    2.) So what? Remember what you’re describing: a subjective experience that is interpreted as “leaving one’s body but still being alive”. 

    One of the things I believe firmly is that everyone has a right to tell their own story without others telling them that what they experienced wasn’t really what they experienced. 

    Descartes would like a word with you. He’s waiting outside with a baseball bat. 
    If I ingest a strong hallucinogen, I will “experience” the sight of walls melting. Did I have the experience of seeing that? Yes. Did the walls actually melt? Of course not! If you look at the images on this page, many will appear to move, even though they are stationary images.  Subjective perception is not evidence of objective reality.

    Look at how long people ignored gay people when they said that they didn’t choose their sexual orientation.

    What changed, do you think? What did people accept the notion of a biological element to sexual orientation? Lots of stories? Good rhetoric? Or something else?

  • Lori

     

    It’s fairly common for people to encounter someone from their past who they hadn’t known was dead.  

    I looked at NDEs and out of body experiences as part of a class neurobiology that was required as part of my psychology major. That’s been quite a while ago and I haven’t looked much at more recent research, but what I recall is that things like this were all readily explained by confirmation bias.

    Sure it’s fairly common for people claiming NDEs to report “encounters” with people they didn’t know were dead, but it’s also common for them to report “encounters” with people they did know were dead and people who are still alive. Folks just focus more on the people who they didn’t know were dead because that’s “freaky”.

     

    Look at how we want to meet claims of discrimination with dismissals –
    “that’s not really what happened.” I think that when you have tens of
    thousands of people (probably much more than that, but at least tens of
    thousands) claiming to have had near death experiences, it’s wrong to
    simply wave it off as nothing serious. 

    I can’t recall ever seeing anyone seriously claim that people’s experiences didn’t really happen. The issue is whether the experience happened entirely within the person’s brain or if it took place in the larger world. People haven’t simply waved that question off, there have been studies done on it. The fact that the studies have tended not to support the idea that the experiences happen outside the brain is not the same thing as the experiences being dismissed as nonexistent or not serious.

  • Mrs Grimble

    I believe firmly is that everyone has a right to tell their own story
    without others telling them that what they experienced wasn’t really
    what they experienced.

    Provided they ARE their own stories.  Having read a great many NDE stories, what strikes me as that  virtually all of them are told in print for the first time years after the event, very often after much reading and discussion with others.
    Memory is not a process of irrevocable recording – it’s plastic and can be changed and coloured quite easily.   I have yet to read an account that was dictated or recorded right after the experiencer had woken up from it, while the memory was still fresh and  before there was any time for alteration.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    Provided they ARE their own stories.  [..] Memory is not a process of irrevocable recording – it’s plastic and can be changed and coloured quite easily. I have yet to read an account that was dictated or recorded right after
    the experiencer had woken up from it, while the memory was still fresh
    and  before there was any time for alteration.

    (shrug) 

    The story I tell about the first time I fell in love now isn’t the same story I told when I was 18 and in the middle of the experience, but it’s my story, and it was my story then.

    Sure, the version of it I tell now is informed, changed, colored, and altered by reading and discussion with others. Absolutely. It is no less mine, for all of that.

    Of course, if you’re looking for a personal account that can serve as reliable evidence that the events I report actually happened in the world the way I report them, my account from 25 years down the road isn’t very useful to you. I have no doubt that what I remember now does not paint a particularly accurate picture of what happened then.

    Though, frankly, my account from right in the middle of the experience isn’t very useful in that case either. Personal accounts don’t really work that way; eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable for events with strong emotional associations.

    If I am interested in whether people actually perceive events in the world while having NDEs, I can set up events in the world that they cannot otherwise perceive, and have them report the details of the events they experience perceiving. If they can report the same details that I set up, that’s evidence of something going on outside of their minds.

    Conversely, if I’m interested in their minds, I can listen to their reports of their experiences and treat them as reports of their experiences.

  • erikagillian

    “Anecdotal reports of glimpses of an afterlife abound, but there has been
    no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about
    near-death and other experiences, or of how belief in immortality
    influences human behavior.” Got that from the UC Riverside press release.  And it’s partly a research grant but also going to fund two  conferences and some other stuff.  I’m actually interested in both questions, I want to know how the near death stuff is reported in other cultures especially.  But neither seem to be anything about whether immortality is real.  Not that some people will cherry-pick the research and claim it does.

    And with grief, the most helpful thing anyone told me when my dad died was your memory will be shot, especially short term memory.  And boy did mine!  It gets better overtime but at first you’d think you’re going crazy.  That and I get to say how long and how I grieve.

  • LMM22

    Those two studies — NDEs and the belief in immortality — seem like very different subjects. And both of them seem fairly poorly defined. The immortality one in particular seems to suffer from a mess of compounding variables.

  • Ross Thompson

    One of the things I believe firmly is that everyone has a right to tell their own story without others telling them that what they experienced wasn’t really what they experienced.

    Tens of thousands of people claim to have been sexually assaulted by aliens. Tens of thousands of people have claimed that witches have stolen their genitals.

    Why can’t we point out that sometimes people misinterpret what they experience? If known science can explain every case that has been looked at with any rigour, why should we look for new explanations, just because people in altered states of consciousness are notoriously bad at interpreting their experiences?

  • Jurgan

    I remember reading Nancy Grace saying that she believed in “behavioral evidence.”  She said that if she were on trial for a murder, she’d be screaming “I didn’t do it!” and panicking in front of the jury.  Therefore, anyone who didn’t act that way was, in her mind, probably guilty.  As if the way you act automatically maps on to everyone else.  Everyone grieves differently.  Another example was- Casey Anthony, I think?  The idea was that her child went missing and then she went to a party, or something.  I guess if she didn’t call the police, that’s pretty suspicious, but a lot of it simply sounded like “she’s not acting right- she did it!”

  • October

    “There’s no evidence of an afterlife and no amount of research is going to change that.”

    Hmmm, that sounds familiar. Actually, it usually reads – “There’s no evidence of… climate change, evolution, or Obama’s birth certificate… and no amount of research is going to change that.” (usually typed in ALL CAPS). I feel more secure now that science isn’t going to change my opinion no matter what it finds out.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    @c86e20f33bc99a4ec4c2d7e1ed13c680:disqus  you don’t seem to understand how critical thinking works.
    There is no evidence of an afterlife because the attempted definitions of an “afterlife” exclude the possibility of evidence. 

    There is a difference between things that can be dis-proven (birth certificates, predictions made with evolutionary theory, data gathered by climate scientists) and things that cannot be dis-proven. ( “intelligent design”, for an easy example) 

    The concept of an afterlife as it’s commonly described is definitionally unfalsifiable, which makes research on it as pointless. There are no testable predictions, no independently-observable elements, no repeatable aspects, no evidence that can be peer-reviewed. 

  • VMink

    Fortunatly not directly related: There has been a shooting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council.  Reports say a lone gunman approached the building, possibly shouted invectives and words against the FRC, and opened fire.  A guard was shot and wounded but is expected to recover.  The gunman was filmed being removed from the building in handcuffs by police.  No further information as to identity or motive of the gunman is available.

    However, rabid invectives against the Gay Agenda, funding pleas from Tony Perkins, and catty snark from certain corners of the online LGBTQ activist communities, on the other hand, are more than available.  Fox is calling the security guard a ‘hero’ who ‘defended the FRC,’ while most other media outlets are not jumping to that conclusion just yet.

  • Anton_Mates

    It was the DC police chief who first called the guard a “hero,” apparently.  Which I don’t particularly object to, guy did his job and got shot for it and continued to do his job. Seems praiseworthy.

  • MaryKaye

    Content warning:  rape

    I know second-hand of a case where a rape victim reacted to the trauma by becoming dissociative and seemingly unemotional, and the police, who apparently expected a different reaction, refused to believe that she had been raped.

    Better training seems as though it should help here.  Unfortunately my impression is that many police forces hire trainers who are not themselves qualified, often because those people offer to confirm the biases they already have (there is a horrible pattern of this in police/Pagan interactions).

  • Worthless Beast

    I don’t think I’ve wept at a funeral I’ve been to. I tend to react right when I hear the news, cry, get angry, take walks, (pray – yes, I do that, though I’ve been slammed for mentioning that I do that here before… you may be comforted to know that my grief-praying tends to be a bit angry)…  Then, a few days later, at the funeral, I’m fine. I may even look “cold,” but I’ve tended to use my calmness to hug people who cried, so I suppose it’s all good.  I’ve always been self-conscious about it, like “I’m supposed to cry at a funeral, why can’t I cry? Why am I cried-out already?”  I tend to stress out more when I have a worry over the immediate future, say – someone I know is very sick… I was *happy* and went to work the day my beloved maternal grandmother died. She was in pain.  I didn’t want her to linger in it.   Seeing her wasting away in the hospital bed having clearly given up her will to live was the thing that I grieved over, so the funeral was much easier for me than it was for my mother and other relatives, and I’m pretty sure I’m not a sociopath…  I just saw things in a relieved way.
     
    As for the near-death stuff… I think consciousness-studies are kind of interesting, but, in the end, sometimes a subjective experience is just that.  If I wake up from sleep and tell people that I was just in a world where I was being chased by tigers in my underwear, I don’t want someone to tell me that “No, it was really hummingbirds and a ball-gown because that’s how I want it to be,” or “You did not dream because dreams are irrational and I can’t stand irrationality.”  I *know* that dreams are just things your brain does when you’re asleep to organize information and whatnot and that I don’t have to worry about tigers in the waking world, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the dream.  Similarly, if I ever have a weird experience when on the brink of death or having “died” for a few minutes before being revived by a fairy (too many videogames…), if the experience is meaningful for me and helps me to face life and eventualities better, don’t poop on me for it.  You’re free to see something you’ve never experienced as “not real” but if something “not real” genuinely helps someone, I don’t see a problem.
     
    I once wrote a short story (not sure if it’s any good) taking place in another world where scientists have cracked the ability to manipulate people’s dying dreams.  A pair of particular jerks working at a suicide-clinic to take care of society’s “trash” promises the suicidal protagonist that they’ll help him die easy. Instead, they send him to a hell he never believed in just because they could.   Probably one of my nastiest attempts at horror.
     
     

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Sounds like one of the stories from the old Hellraiser comic, so great minds and all that.

    Keeping with the comic’s formula, the folks who were manipulating people to experience hell thereby summoned Pinhead and Co. to congratulate them (not) on their good works. 

  • Worthless Beast

      Never saw it, but I’m pretty sure mine is different because in my world, some people have antlers. It’s on my blog… kind of worried about linking here, but I could if you want. I wrote it a long time ago and am not sure it’s really any good. It’s the second story of that world dealing with my death-guide beings, the first story being about a young man who didn’t believe in an afterlife who became a ghost only to be snarked at by a small supernatural cat (who tells him that it might all be in his head). 
     
    I actually wrote some of those stories to deal with my thoughts on just this kind of thing after reading stuff.  NDEs are a subject that I feel like… it’s one of those things that I kind of don’t care if it’s objectively real or not.   I want something rather than nothing to be real, but I hope if nothing is the thing, that I won’t care when it’s my time because my brain will be in its own “reality.”  I hope I’m not weak for wanting to see “the light” rather than “the darkness.”  I really don’t think it’s too much to ask –  of my brain, if nothing else.  I honestly cannot see how the brain can process it’s own non-processing, so I figure, if I’m dead and that’s really all there is, I won’t know it when it happens.
     
    The thought that I find funniest about this is that… if it’s ever proven that “the afterlife” or “the soul” does not exist, it actually wouldn’t kill religion.  There are some groups out there that have agreed with that all along – including some Christian sects that believe “dead is dead until the Resurrection” at the end of Time and that body/soul are inseparable.  I think Jehova’s Witnesses are like this, and, if I’m not mistaken, Seventh-Day Adventists.

  • Tricksterson

    “in my world, some people have antlers”

    So you’ve accepted Fallout Boy as your prophets and saviours?

  • Worthless Beast

    No, I just like deer.  I have a vulture-race in that story-series world, too. They eat the dead of their own kind (only their enemies, though).

     

    I just had a thought of how a “study in how belief in immortality affects society” can be related to Left Behind and Mr. Clark’s evicerations thereof:

    Everytime I come across a discussion of the NDE phenomenon on ANY forum (except possibly discussing its used in fiction… my guy has a fanfic where he makes fun of them a little – in a world where angels are canon, no less…) ANY serious discussion of them turns into “There’s evidence!” “There’s not!” with one or the other side being majority depending upon the forum. A common thread I see in non-believers (could just be something I’m inferring…) is not only a “get the woo out of my science!” attitude, but a hostility toward the idea of “Heaven” (or anything else) in the first place. I don’t think it’s a case of just wanting to be right about something, as some of the same have expressed that they would be happy if they were wrong and got to somewhere good.  I think a lot of the “hostility toward the idea of Heaven”  stems not only from the annoyance at “You’re going to Hell!” counterpoint, but even if Heaven were commonly seen as Universal, there’d be a problem:  It seems that many people think that if you believe in a Heaven, you don’t care about Earth.

    This is an impression that is cultivated in our culture time and again. Even though no one wants to die (save me when I’m horribly depressed and others like me – you know, nuts), a lot of people who “look to Heaven” seem to only care about getting there and getting others there in Earthly life. They ignore the LIFE in front of them.  Not only have wars been fought, the guys that come door to door are hella annoying.

    This is why people think that if we all imagined there’s no Heaven the world would live as one.  Of course, I’d imagine cosmic battling space-dragons just for spite over being told what I could not imagine, but that’s just me. 

    The Left Behind series exemplifies this view of immortality – with negative affect on society because it was written by people looking looking forward to the Rapture and features protagonists who missed it but are bent toward seeing the Glorious Appearing or whathave you and clearly *don’t care* if the rest of the world goes to Hell around them.  They’re so focused on their own Afterlife that they don’t have any desire to improve the lives of the unwashed masses around the. It’s all “I’m surrounded by idiots” replacing “idiots” with “sinners.”

    Yes, I think in a serious psychological/philophopical/sociological study, fiction ought to be included.

  • ako

    The thing is, lots of things influence human perception. We’re not video cameras, documenting everything that passes in front of our lens. It’s possible to do some pretty strange things to a person’s subjective perception with a relatively small alteration to their brain structure, or the chemicals flowing through their bloodstream, or the electrical charges in their head. Some people will, for reasons poorly understood by modern science, percieve things that aren’t there. (A woman I used to know would see demonic cats even when everyone else in the room would see a complete absence of cat.)

    Memory is even more prone to external influence. How people remember things is influenced by what they’re told. Get someone who’s been exposed to multiple “Near-death experiences are like this!” stories, especially if they’re the main cultural narrative of how those things work, have them go back over the experience in their mind, and there’s a significant chance of them being influenced to remember it in the culturally-expected way.

    And, of course, sometimes people lie. Even people who don’t seem obviously dishonest or untrustworthy.

    If a person wants to talk about their subjective experience, that’s their right. In some cases, it would be downright rude to interrupt a subjective personal account with aggressive skepticism. However, if you want to do science or anything else involving claims of objective truth, you need bring out the aggressive skepticism, you need to to account for all of the possibilities, and you need to treat known phenomena such as lying and recall bias as more probable than unproven ideas about the afterlife.

    If you want a place for people to tell their story without anyone questioning their subjective perceptions or going “What you think you experienced isn’t really what you experienced”, don’t call it a comprehensive and rigorous scientific study.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    you need to to account for all of the possibilities

    Not possible. You can account for many possibilities, everything you can think of, but no one will ever be able to account for all possibilities.

    If you want a place for people to tell their story without anyone questioning their subjective perceptions or going “What you think you experienced isn’t really what you experienced”, don’t call it a comprehensive and rigorous scientific study.

    Telling people “what you think you experienced isn’t really what you experienced” would be breathtakingly bad science in a study like this. I’m at a loss for words about how absolutely disrespectful and even anti-scientific that would be. 

    In a double-blind study about a medicine, the people who were on a placebo who experienced improvement because of the placebo are not told, “nope, you didn’t experience improvement.” In a psychological study, it’s even more important to be respectful of what people believe. Someone reports they saw their dead mother in an ADE. To say, “nope, you didn’t” — how on earth would the researcher know? Even if this was a hallucination of some kind, the person really did see their dead mother. It’s the researcher’s job to record that. Why the person saw their dead mother is a question that can start to be asked after data is collated and analyzed, not while speaking to a research subject.

    Scientists are not perfect. They’ve gone down blind alleyways before, absolutely determined to keep running into the same walls over and over and over again for decades and even centuries to fit their preconceived notions, all the while insisting they’re being “scientific”. Most studies on human weight are like this today. One reason this has happened so often is that scientists have refused to believe the subjects of their research about what those subjects experienced, and implanted ideas about what the subjects “really” did experience in those subjects’ heads.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com/ Rebecca Trotter

    Oh for heaven’s sake! Of course, I wasn’t talking about accepting people’s experiences at face value as a way of doing scientific research. I was addressing the dismissive attitude views NDEs as so ridiculous as to be unworthy of investigation. Geeze.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Uh, I think you need to double-check either whom you’re replying to, or what I actually said. Because I never argued with you about anything.

    Also, a whole lot of regulars who post here are not Christian, and though most of us are liberal, there are a handful who aren’t. 

  • ako

    Way to strawman me there.  At some point during the research process, there’s a very real possibility that you’ll end up saying what people think they experienced isn’t true, and to do science, you have to be prepared to face that.  That’s not the same as going “No, you’re wrong” to everything they say.

    If it’s an untestable claim like “I spoke with the spirit of my dead mother up in Heaven”, you can’t do science on it, so it’s not scientific to accept or reject it.   However, there are a whole bunch of testable claims involved in reports of near-death experiences, such as people saying they had out-of-body experiences in the hospital where they could see what was actually happening, or people claiming to get information from the afterlife they couldn’t otherwise have known.  If one wishes to do a scientific study on such claims, one must be prepared for conclusions such as “These people incorrectly described what was happening” or “Their initial account of the event didn’t include any information they couldn’t have known at the time, however six months later they say they recall a pile of impossible information” or other things where people are wrong on facts.

    You don’t go “Wrong, wrong, wrong” at everything a person says while researching (or whatever it is you imagine I’m arguing for), but unless you are prepared, at some point, to go “This subjective account is verifiably factually inaccurate”, you’re not doing science

  • ray thor

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  • http://theupsidedownworld.com/ Rebecca Trotter

    Good grief! Apparently the idea that liberal Christians harbor great anomosity to anything “super-natural” (for lack of a better word) is not without merit. Hostile much?

    The facts are that there has been research done in Europe on NDEs. The most comprehensive was undertaken by a PhD candidate which interviewed 300 people while they were in the intensive care unit. (So, no memories discovered years later.) The method was simply that after being unconcious, the person would be asked simply, “do you remember anything from when you were unconcious?” Some said yes and shared hallucinations or their ideas of the medical treatment they recieved. 15 reported NDE experiences. With only 15 reported NDEs, so the numbers were too small be considered representative.

    But what can be said is that in at least 2 cases the patient’s blood gas levels were being monitored as they were receiving oxygen. In both cases their oxygen levels were normal, so oxygen deprivation isn’t a plausible explanation. Also, those cases where oxygen deprivation occured did not necessarily induce NDEs which would be the expected case if this were simply what happened when brain cells were deprived of oxygen. There were two reported cases of someone encountering someone they did not know was dead.

    Several of those who reported NDEs were able to accurately report details about the room they were in and things that happened while dead. Nothing they saw was outside of their range of vision from their beds, but when those who didn’t have NDEs were asked if they remembered their treatment during their live-threatening event, they offered explanations that were riddled with errors – often appearing to be guesses based on things they had seen on TV and such. This was not the case with people who reported seeing what went on in the room during an NDE.

    Further, the when NDE accounts were compared to accounts of hallucinations, they were markedly different. Where NDE accounts had a basic storyline, accounts from hallucinations were bizarre, disjointed and typically made no sense. Those who had hallucinations often forgot that they had even recounted them later or were aware that they were hallucinations and that what they had said made no sense. Those who reported having NDEs were all consistent in their accounts and remained adament through out the study that their experiences were real and not hallucinations. This difference between hallucinations and reported NDEs has subsequently been reproduced in seperate study.

    The author of the study reported: “Cases in which blood was extracted at the time of the NDE / OBE did not support the anoxia or hypercarbia theories. The drugs administered to the patients appeared to inhibit rather than cause the NDE. It must be noted that the sample is too small to be statistically significant; however, the combination of all data from recent and retrospective research provides a large amount of evidence, which can no longer be ignored or explained away. Current reductionist arguments are not supported when this phenomenon is examined in the clinical area. It is therefore essential that further research is conducted in order to establish a wider explanation of the NDE.”

    You can read a review of the book created as the PhD dissertation project from this study here:
    http://www.systemsphilosophy.org/publications/Rousseau_Journal_of_the_Society_for_Psychical_Research_75.1_902_47-49.pdf

    It should also be noted that the author offered no metaphysical explanation for people’s experiences. She simply painstakingly interviewed people, documented the medical information available for each patient and reported her responses. This wasn’t a woo-woo “let’s find the meaning of life and death” sort of study.

    I’m not sure exactly what the hostility is towards the idea that the experiences have some validity. But clearly there are people who are working very hard – and willing to provide a good deal of cash – to try and tease it out. Perhaps there’s a reason this research is being supported by a group like the Templeton Foundation while Sasquatch studies are woefully underfunded.

  • Worthless Beast

    Good grief! Apparently the idea that liberal Christians harbor great anomosity to anything “super-natural” (for lack of a better word) is not without merit. Hostile much? I actually just came back here from reading things on your blog. Interesting stuff.  I don’t recall seeing your name here before – I’m only an on and off poster.  You should know that even though this is a progressive Christian blog, the comment-gallery here is filled with lots of different people.  A few progressive Christians, a Jew or two, a passel of Pagans an an army of atheists.  In fact, with how often I see people say “I’m an athiest” here when commenting in regards to a religious view, I suspect that most of Fred’s fans are atheists.  – I also suspect most people came here for the bad book eviscerations and stayed for the political commentary and “woo” causes discomfort. As for me… I persist in believing in a Heaven (though all my beliefs are a bit agnostic more than certain). It’s a personal hope thing.  If the seen will pass away, the unseen is eternal, I’m pretty sure some things will never be “seen” by all in the materlistic sense.  Besides, having had a friend who really, truly wanted to “just end” upon death, I suspect that some people don’t want that “taken” from them anymore than believers want Heaven “taken” away from them – this is why I like the idea of subjectivity – maybe with it, everyone can be happy?  

  • Worthless Beast

    Oh, poo-crap!  I forgot how to edit on here!  Stupid text window ran my paragraphs together!  Help?

  • Lori

    If you’re logged on through a Disqus account there’s an edit button at the bottom of your post (where the “Like” button is on other people’s posts). Hit that and it will open up an edit box with the text of your comment in it. Make the changes you want and hit save. Voila!

    If you aren’t logged in through a Disqus account you’re out of luck.

  • Worthless Beast

    Thanks. It appears I am out of luck. I never really could figure out the login system… I go to other blogs that use it, too. I always just wind up anon commenting with a chosen username.

  • LouisDoench

     That’s too bad. I rejoice when I see Disqus on a blog, it makes it soooo much easier for me to keep all of the comments I have made straight.

  • arcseconds

    I’m seeing a lot of jumping to conclusions about what kind of study this will be like.

    Admittedly the press release is kind of vague, but it looks like it’s going to be cross-disciplinary with broad goals.  It doesn’t sound like it’s primarily a study on NDEs, and to the extent that it is looking at them, they’re also looking at cultural differences in the experiences – Japanese seeing gardens is explicitly mentioned.  So why all this hue and cry about it?

    Fischer is being accused here of having a metaphysical barrow to push.  Do we know this? I’ve just had a look at his website, and he looks like he has a perfectly ordinary  analytic philosophy publication history, and it’s not even in metaphysics, it’s mostly value theory and ethics from the looks of things (there’s a bit there about moral responsibility and determinism).  His book looks similar.

    Now, maybe the study will be complete crap, I don’t know.  Maybe Fischer really is incompetent or ideologically tied to some unchallengable metaphysical belief.  But we can’t just assume that it’s like this because they dare to mention NDEs.

  • LouisDoench

     The Templeton Foundation being involved raises a lots of red flags.  They have a well deserved reputation for funding frivolous and agenda driven research.
    http://goo.gl/FY9yw
    http://goo.gl/Wu3iv
    Plus John Templeton himself donated 1.1 milion smackers to Prop 8 in California
    http://goo.gl/o3fwf
    The Templeton Foundation are not honest brokers and should not be given the benefit of the doubt. No matter what my personal opinions on NDE’s (they can be explained by natural phenomena) there is no reason to believe that anything associated with Templeton can be trusted to be objective science.


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