This topic shows just how easy it is for intelligent people to fool themselves. Once fooled it seems that smart people are excellent at defending their position and avoiding the need to change their minds. The most hopeful result was that outsiders watching the debate could change their minds based on the evidence presented.
Since Sagan write those words those ideas have been tested in some detail to the point that I think we can dismiss them with some confidence.
Random number generators – they only achieved success by looking for events that influenced the RNGs after they had already noticed an effect. It’s just your basic sharpshooter fallacy. Read an evening with Dean Radin. Radin just ignores RNG spikes that are not correlated with world events.
You already dealt with the reincarnation claim. Stevenson’s “hits” were either impossible to confirm (eg unknown who the earlier “life” was supposed to be so don’t now if it is true or not) or Stevenson only net the child long after the events had been matched, so no idea what the child knew just by himself.
The third item is the Ganzfeld experiments. Minuscule effects that get smaller when better controls are introduced. Decades of research and all they can point to is tiny statistical differences?
This is what they are still pointing to as evidence?
His research was discussed and criticized many times here are just few links of skeptics about this:
“In another Dutch bestseller titled We zijn ons brein (We are our brain), neurobiologist Dick Swaab praises Van Lommel’s research for mapping patients experiences and opening up the subject of Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s) to the medical world. But he also indicates that Van Lommel’s book ignores (Nobel Prize winning) scientific knowledge including some conclusions from his own research. He does not refute neurobiological explanations, gives no scientific basis for his statements and borrows concepts from quantum physics without ground.”
“In conclusion, I think the paper as a whole is reasonably good. The only conclusion that I think is somewhat overstated they don’t focus that much on. The controlled aspects of the study produce some good insight into several factors involving NDEs and the non-controlled parts raise interesting questions for further research.
I think a bigger issue for this paper is how some people have interpreted it: ie: concluding for example that this paper demonstrates strongly that NDEs aren’t physical. I don’t think it does. It’s a controlled study, but not on the elements that are most hotly debated here – that of whether NDEs are brain based or not.”
Clearly the skeptics won this debate. Dr. Moody and Dr. Alexander were not strong debaters, though seemed very pleasant and respectful – as were their opponents. Chris Carter and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, both fiery “believers” would have put up a fiercer fight in my opinion. Hameroff is a physicist and could counter Dr. Carroll’s points far more strongly.
The debate itself focused on the near death experience, though apparent past life memories reported by children and mediumship communication were briefly mentioned by Alexander, including Gary Schwartz’s Afterlife Experiments. Dr. Julie Beischel has continued studies with alleged mediums at the Windbridge Institute, tightening protocols and improving the experimental design. It is quite the extraordinary claim, but not something I think is fair to dismiss a priori, which some self identified skeptics are apt to do. Surely I am not convinced that these mediums are communicating with the deceased, but I do consider this to be a possibility and worthy of further investigation.
“But if someone wants to spend their time researching very unlikely ideas, more power to them.”
Dr. Jim Tucker, successor to Dr. Ian Stevenson, continues on researching cases of the reincarnation type at the University of Virginia, focusing not on foreign cases but reports from American children. Below I pasted an article from Jesse Bering, skeptic and atheist.
Overall, I notice that both sides can overestimate their cases. As I mentioned on the debate page, Dr. Stephen Braude may have said it best when he remarked that the believers overestimate the evidence and skeptics underestimate it when it comes to the subject of the afterlife.
I was in the audience and was desperately trying to ask a Dr. Alexander if he believed these metaphysical experiences of the afterlife were somehow causing physical effects in the brain — i.e. we have some kind of “soul receptor” analogous to photoreceptors for light. Surely a physical event must be occurring on some level in order to instill memories. And that makes it a quite scientific issue. Dr. Carroll brought this concept up in his introductory remarks but the other side never addressed it.
I find it impossible to deny Drs. Carroll and Novella trounced the other side. Drs. Alexander and Moody came prepared with literally nothing but “I have this experience of mine and it just can’t be imaginary” and “there are all these people with stories and I trust their judgement, I feel there could be something more.” Dr. Alexander even mentioned quantum mechanics — I’m pretty sure I psychically sensed Steve’s groan.
The highlight of the night was Steve’s shocked outburst when Alexander dropped the bomb that Carl Sagan sided with him.
Intelligence Squared US puts out podcasts for each of their debates.
NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. It’s too easy to call everything you don’t like to believe an illusion or hallucination.
Who is being casual? There is absolutely no reason we are forced to accept NDEs as something paranormal. All the experiences and hallucinations reported for NDEs are within our ability to replicate or otherwise explain with our physical/biological understanding of the brain. The problem is when the brain/mind does something, you have no way of knowing if it was a real experience or a hallucination.
Besides, in this debate you’ve got one guy claiming PROOF OF HEAVEN. I think all we are trying to say is there is no such compelling proof (or evidence for that matter).
Justin – I have read that paper before. It is just descriptive – they are not controlling for anything. They seem to be saying that because everyone does not have an NDE during cardiac arrest, it can’t be physical. This is profoundly naive. Effects of decreased O2, increase CO2, and drugs can have different effects on different parts of the brain, with different thresholds. Just to give one example, at some level of anoxia memory making will turn off. Above this threshold, you have memories of a OOB experience, below, you have no memories. That alone can explain why such memories of NDE are intermittent.
It makes less sense, if NDEs are spiritual, that they would not just happen every time.
“NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. It’s too easy to call everything you don’t like to believe an illusion or hallucination.
In any case, we can’t criticize anything about the debate if we don’t have a transcript or video.
As I said before, I am a scientist and a naturalist. But I am also a skeptic, and I don’t ignore evidence just because it doesn’t fit into my ideology.”
How is anyone ignoring anything? No one’s pretending that the experience isn’t real. Giving prosaic interpretations (hallucinations) for phenomena that jibe with well known scientific mechanisms (oxygen starved brain) is not ignoring!
Giving fanciful interpretations that have no known mechanisms despite the prosaic alternatives is not science, I can tell you that much.
Skeptico wrote “Random number generators – they only achieved success by looking for events that influenced the RNGs after they had already noticed an effect. It’s just your basic sharpshooter fallacy. Read an evening with Dean Radin. Radin just ignores RNG spikes that are not correlated with world events.”
Radin’s been doing that for decades. In 1987, for my sins, I published a critique of a paper of his in which he violated just about every rule of experimental design and analysis.
I found this whole debate and topic really amusing. The pro side basically amounted to “I had these experiences that I can’t wholly explain, therefore Heaven is real”. Of course the whole experience of an NDE and surviving whatever experience prompted it is so emotionally charged, I can see how some people let their imaginations run away from them – the need to believe in an afterlife and the fear or denial of mortality and loss of self/ego is obviously very compelling for some, against all rational better judgement. If death is anything, it’s a release of all attachments and memories and everything we’ve accumulated as our selves in life. I see value in living each day and not taking life for granted (one day I will not be here to appreciate it) rather than assuming my self will go on in some afterlife where I will meet departed relatives, etc. The whole fantasy of Heaven this way seems so ridiculously self-serving and self-deceiving. I once had a Mormon who was proselytizing say to me about Heaven and the afterlife “but wouldn’t it be nice!” This basically summed up for me the whole fanciful, self-created, wish-fulfilling aspect of it.
Okay, say there is life after death. My question #1 is – Wouldn’t it be boring to live forever? Think of all the things you enjoy while you are alive. Then imagine an afterlife: no sex, no eating/drinking, no hiking, no sports, no TV, no internet, no work, no books, no music, no games, no babies being born, no birthdays, no weddings, no celebrations of any kind to mark important events as we did when we were living. Boring??? I certainly think so.
Question #2 – So – What does one DO after being in heaven for a thousand or a million years?
“Demonstrably not true. I mean, everything you said is the exact opposite of the truth.”
– Steve FTW
Okay, the video of the debate is now up, as is the transcript (PDF link below). I have some additional comments after rewatching the video which I’ll come back to later today or tomorrow, but for now, I just want to copy and paste the portion of the transcript where Dr. Alexander cited Carl Sagan (page 46 of the PDF)
I would say it’s more a question of the information, you know, than the energy. It’s not
a conservation issue around energy.People often use that one to argue against a soul being able to influence the material world. I would say it’s much more a question of the information, and especially when you — as I said, when you — for example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl
Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is
That’s not true. Come on, Carl Sagan, please.
He said that in his book, in his book, “The Demon Haunted World,” on page 302, he says
“if the arrow of causation’s going from brain to mind, then if we change the brain, that should change the mind. And if we damage the brain, that should damage the mind.”
Causation goes the other way also — what happens in the mind has and effect on the brain and body.
It is true that damaging the brain damages the person — how could it not? But is it the mind that is damaged, or the mind’s ability to interact with the physical world?
“there is no practical or functional limit that neuroscientists have encountered so far to the degree which we can mess with your mind by messing with your brain.”
Of course that is true, but it does not answer the question. All our sensory information about the physical world gets to us through the brain. Of course the sensory data influences our mental states — how could it not, and why would it not?
The evidence shows that the mind depends on the brain for its information about the physical world. We know that, and no one would deny it, and it is not relevant to this topic.
Novella’s mistake has been made by all the scientific materialists. Because we need a brain to interact with the physical world, they conclude that the mind is nothing more than a brain. They are confusing necessary conditions with sufficient conditions.
I do not think that mind is anything unnatural or supernatural. I just think we don’t yet know what it is. In my opinion, the brain is part of the mind, but not all.
It does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is more inclusive than the brain. It is incredibly narrow-minded to think that all the laws of physics have been discovered and are well understood by science.
It doesn’t provide any sort of ‘smoking gun’ as to whether or not he is a reliable witness to his own experience,but it does raise some questions in my mind about whether he took liberties with the facts,and possibly introduced some hyperbole into the narrative for his ordeal in order to make it more compelling.
For instance,one of the doctors involved in his treatment stated that she put him in a medically induced coma,rather than his implication that meningitis directly caused the coma. Maybe a small detail,but why then would he change the facts if not to make the story fit his narrative a bit better.
And if he changed that detail,what other things were changed,either consciously or unconsciously to make it a better fit for the idea that the book was supporting?
In any case,it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day for people who understand that these kind of experiences,no matter how faithfully they are recounted,do not provide any real evidence for an afterlife.They are no more trustworthy than any other sort of eyewitness testimony (and probably worse,under the circumstances),but they have that magical element of the slim possibility that we may yet escape our certain mortality,and people have been pinning their hopes on much less for centuries.
It does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is more inclusive than the brain. It is incredibly narrow-minded to think that all the laws of physics have been discovered and are well understood by science*.
Why introduce new unknown variables to a problem that is not completely understood yet with the variables that we do know?
Find some concrete evidence that we have exhausted all currently known pieces of the puzzle before hypothesizing new ones from out of whole cloth. Either that or provide evidence for some new physics.The Nobel awaits!
*BTW,your second sentence was clearly a straw man.No one thinks that.
You keep claiming to be a scientist. I’m interested in your credentials as such since they continue to come up in every thread you post in.
You also continue to try to introduce evidence that doesn’t exist and you argue from a credulous position so often it’s becoming ridiculous. We’ve establish that if you change the brain, you change the person. How would you defend against that if the mind is something more? What’s your evidence for something more other than like the pro guys in this debate, anecdotal evidence. Surely is you’re a scientist as you constantly claim you understand what place anecdotal evidence has in science?
I was able to listen to the initial comments and the first 15 minutes of the debate. I found it enjoyable and compelling. Dr. Novella is a great debater and I think his side gave a better argument, such as it was. However, I must contend that the question of an afterlife is the same as the question of God. There’s just no way to know if something exists that’s not a part of our own existence. The rational and logical response is: agnosticism.
And, by way of introduction; I’m a loooooonnnnnnng time lurker, but an even longer time(r???) listener to SGU, been listening since ohhhhh, round about ought-five. Back in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ‘em. Give me five bees for a quarter, we’d say. Anyway, the details of my life are inconsequential. Hey guys.
” However, I must contend that the question of an afterlife is the same as the question of God. There’s just no way to know if something exists that’s not a part of our own existence. The rational and logical response is: agnosticism.”
Depends on how you define “agnosticism”.
If, by your definition, you’re also agnostic about faeries, then I think your definition is not a useful one.
Dr. Novella wrote – “They seem to be saying that because everyone does not have an NDE during cardiac arrest, it can’t be physical.”
Everyone’s heart does not go into the ECG (ElectroCardioGram) rhythm of VF (Ventricular Fibrillation) when they die, therefore it can’t be physical?
Everyone’s heart does end up in asystole – a flat line, which indicates (as long as the leads are properly connected, . . .) that there is no electrical activity in the heart. Does that mean that the electrical activity has gone to ECG heaven, where it can be with the other heart rhythms?
hardnose wrote – “NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. . . .”
Requiring evidence is not casually dismissing NDEs.
Requiring evidence is just the opposite of casually accepting NDEs.
“If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction – a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory – who will find it? Only someone who has sacrificed himself by teaching himself quantum electrodynamics from a peculiar and unusual point of view; one that he may have to invent for himself. I say sacrificed himself because he most likely will get nothing from it, because the truth may lie in another direction, perhaps even the fashionable one.”
Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech provides a reason to continually question that which is currently accepted – but not to accept something without valid evidence.
We are asked to accept NDEs without valid evidence.
It does not help the NDE side that one of the proponents of NDEs misunderstands what Carl Sagan has written about assessing the quality of evidence.
It may be worse if Dr. Alexander misrepresented what Carl Sagan wrote, but I prefer Hanlon’s Razor – “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
I did not get the impression that Dr. Moody presented the evidence that he had. I got the impression that he is open to both possibilities, but has faith in NDEs for philosophical reasons, rather than based on any particular evidence. I do not make my money doing cold readings, so I could be way off.
hardnose wrote – “I do not think that mind is anything unnatural or supernatural. I just think we don’t yet know what it is. In my opinion, the brain is part of the mind, but not all.
It does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is more inclusive than the brain.”
You claim to be contradicting what Dr. Novella presented, but what he presented is that we have thousands of people being resuscitated in the US alone – and yet there is no evidence that NDEs are real.
If the NDE is an opportunity to temporarily commune with greater minds, why does the only communication seem to be that, “The Dude abides”? I do not intend to start a flame war over the quality of the movie, but I do expect a bit better than platitudes from Heaven. Polonius might have made me suicidal, too.
It also does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is the brain.
Without valid evidence to the contrary, we have no reason to assume properties the brain does not possess.
With the dramatic increase in the resuscitation rates since the focus on continuous high-quality chest compressions, there have been many more opportunities for people to experience NDEs and provide something more than some platitudes.
Therapeutic hypothermia is also a treatment that seems to offer protection to the brain and may be able to allow for more accurate reporting of any possible useful information the person might have obtained from those in Heaven.
This may be limited by the use of benzodiazepines for sedation, since they can cause retrograde amnesia. However, if the person really is out of body, then the benzodiazepines should not affect the mind.
I still do not see any evidence to support NDEs, but a lot of evidence to discredit the possibility that NDEs are the mind actually leaving the body.
Mlema, misses the point. His concepts are under attack so often here for being irrational and in scientific, gotta throw him a bone on occasion.
If it helps mlema, logically and rationally there’s no evidence for god, God’s or the afterlife. The evidence so far is overwhelmingly against so I’ll sit comfortably in atheism unless someone comes along with evidence that suggests otherwise.
“We’ve establish (sic) that if you change the brain, you change the person”.
If that were true then that would prove the brain produces consciousness. In order for that person to change into someone else, then the person post brain damage would have to feel that he’s suddenly popped into existence, have no feeling of connection whatsoever to the person prior to the brain damage etc.
Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.
“If it helps mlema, logically and rationally there’s no evidence for god, God’s or the afterlife. The evidence so far is overwhelmingly against so I’ll sit comfortably in atheism unless someone comes along with evidence that suggests otherwise”.
grabula, it revolves around what what means by “god” and what is it that is being supposed could survive death.
In my experience atheists have an absurd anthropocentric conceptualisation of God, rather reminiscent of the type of “god” I entertained when I were around 10-12 years old. Atheists do not appear to have done any further thinking about this concept after that age. I’m entirely in agreement with them that it is highly unreasonable to suppose such a “god” exists.
Likewise in the issue of an afterlife they smuggle in their materialist conception of a “self”, show that such a “self” could not exist given that such a “self” changes with brain damage, then conclude there’s no “life after death”. However the thinking non-materialist does not share their conception of the “self”. In fact materialists cannot believe in a self at all. They just use the word “self” to refer to the sense of self.
I find it troubling that you try to throw the old “childish thinking attack” at atheists, and you can do that because you seem to think you have some kind of elevated reasoning because you can conceptualize god in ways that nobody else can. Yeesh. Even if you can, that doesn’t mean god is real and that you are right or somehow above everyone else.
As far as this statement goes:
“Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.”
Holy cow, that is quite an uniformed statement. Traumatic brain injury can change a person in so many ways. There are a ton of cases out there where a person who has suffered a brain injury suddenly becomes “dark,” depressed, angry, and/or suicidal when before they were not at all that way. A quick google search will show you how wrong your statement is.
No Hoss it doesn’t change my mind at all since I’ve already incorporated all that evidence in coming to my beliefs. And just to stress I’m not saying that there is definitely an afterlife, however after weighing up all the reasons and evidence for and against, I gravitate towards believing we survive. However I might well be wrong. This whole subject is extraordinarily complex and confusing.
In the particular case of Phineas Gage I have briefly mentioned his case in this paper I wrote a few years back. I’ll quote from it:
“But what about permanent radical personality change such as suffered by the aforementioned Phineas Gage?
“Once a polite and caring person, Gage became prone to selfish behavior and bursts of profanity. Dr. Harlow said it was if Gage lost the balance between “his intellectual faculty and animal propensities.” He had no respect for social graces and often lied about his accomplishments. Previously energetic and focused, he was now erratic and unreliable. He had trouble forming and executing plans. There was no evidence of forethought in his actions, and he often made choices against his best interests”. http://brainconnection.brainhq.com/the-strange-tale-of-phineas-gage/
Indeed Gage changed to such an extent that his friends declared that Gage was no longer Gage. Now I believe the crucial question here is whether Gage himself agreed with his friends. In other words did he concede that his former self prior to the accident had literally ceased to exist, and that his present self had sprung into being after the accident? Although I don’t know the answer to this question, I very strongly suspect that he had not agreed with them and that he definitely felt like the same person despite the fact that his moods and ability to concentrate were now radically different. Indeed it is not clear to me why his case is qualitatively different from a person getting drunk, remaining drunk for the rest of his or her life, and thereby experiencing a permanent personality change. If such a thing were to happen to myself, then other people might declare that “Ian is no longer Ian”. However I myself would be completely convinced that I am still me 100%. It would just be that I might feel more gregarious, might find it more difficult to concentrate on various mental tasks, might be more prone to getting bad-tempered and so on and so forth”.
Ian Wardell wrote – “If that were true then that would prove the brain produces consciousness. In order for that person to change into someone else, then the person post brain damage would have to feel that he’s suddenly popped into existence, have no feeling of connection whatsoever to the person prior to the brain damage etc.”
If you make up your own definitions to exclude things that do happen, but do not fit your conclusion, then you can create the mistaken impression that you are right.
“Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.”
“Now I believe the crucial question here is whether Gage himself agreed with his friends. In other words did he concede that his former self prior to the accident had literally ceased to exist, and that his present self had sprung into being after the accident? Although I don’t know the answer to this question, I very strongly suspect that he had not agreed with them and that he definitely felt like the same person despite the fact that his moods and ability to concentrate were now radically different. ”
If this is your criteria, you don’t have to know what Phineas Gage thought. There are countless cases of people’s disposition and personalty changing from brain damage. Many are very aware of these changes and loss of self. This is not esoteric info. Go to google scholar and you’ll find report after report.
I’m curious how you’re going to rationalize the rejection of this evidence. I might be a little hasty in assuming your rejection of the evidence, but with the pattern of denial you’ve displayed so far on this forum, I think it likely.
grabula – how can you have “evidence against” something you say doesn’t exist?
perhaps you might tell us what sort of evidence for God you would accept?
Rogue Medic – what is this, “who’s on first?” I’ve suggested to grabula that being comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean one is being logical.
steve12, hoss – not all people who believe in a “spirit” think that the personality, thoughts, emotions, etc. constitute the spirit. They don’t believe that, if there’s an afterlife, it’s pretty much like life, but see-through.
To try to draw a corollary in the physical world (which is all we have to draw corollaries in) when the western world equaled Europe and parts explored in contiguous continents, there were those who said “this is all there is because we have no evidence of anything more” Some said “no, there’s definitely more” Others said “I don’t know.”
Now please don’t try to draw an “afterlife of the gaps” argument. As I said, all we have is the physical world to make comparisons to. If something exists “separate from” the physical world (again, for lack of a better vocabulary) tell me – how would we know? Some like to say: what’s the point if we can’t know? I agree. But still, we seem to be fond of discussing these kinds of things more than any other kinds of things. What IS the point of this conversation? If we can’t know, our statements for or against are statements of belief, not fact. People who say “there is” have no evidence (they can’t have evidence). People who insist “there isn’t” are making illogical assumptions that everything we know, and can know, is all there is.
And for another discussion: how are we able to entertain the possibility of things that don’t exist in the universe, or the multiverse, or anything else you want to through in with existence?
Ian – evidence for neuroanatomical correlates are not limited to sensory input. Damage or physical changes to the Brian can change your emotions, memories, desires, cravings, and every aspect of how your brain constructs reality. I defy you to name a type of mental function that does not have a demonstrable neuroanatomical correlate – with the exception of consciousness itself, as that is likely an emergent phenomenon of overall brain function, not a piece of the brain. And of course you can inhibit consciousness by inhibiting brain function.