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My further thoughts on the "near-death experience":
Chinthamani Chary's profile photoCliff Bramlett's profile photoC Chaos's profile photoDiego Fernandez's profile photo
This is as dignified a response as Alexander or an annoying, unscrupulous host deserve. Although it's always edifying reading your take on current events, you should refrain from responding to these instigators and finish your book, I'm looking forward to it. =)
+Sam Harris You do a great job of demolishing his claims: can you sketch out what is actually happening here in terms of the subconscious and conscious experience? It may be obvious to you, but without your expertise, I can only guess.

BTW, I'd like to add my name to the long list of people who were tickled to see that your home page proudly proclaims that FREE WILL is now available. This was not my understanding of your position. Thanks for levering a smile out of me this morning.
This (to me anyway) seems to classically resemble the epoch of many other religious belief systems. A profound experience, rich story, and a strong suggestion that the answers to 'life' are known by the teller; backed by good PR and media. If anything, it suggests that many remain susceptible in the face of a great NDE story and will put aside rational reasoning in order to indulge the fanciful story. Sad.
+Gerard Dunning I see no problem with spreading the profound experience and rich story. That seems to me to be a quite proper act of a religion.

Where I lose sympathy is where the  experience is treated as if it were a simple observation of an external fact rather than an internal state.
The video is a great watch.. A story about a girl with an unforgettable face that he fails to recognize straight away.. 
There is so much wrong with this. What struck me about the video is that his mannerisms are quite typical of Christian 'authority' types like pastors or so, recounting experiences from their everyday lives in order to illuminate some spiritual point or experience. That's just a curiosity, but it struck me. The video series Peacemakers, for instance. Same periods of misty eyes, etc.
Your point about being able to correlate the NDE with a period of suspended brain activity poses an immense problem for their, and DR Alexander's, credibility. As you state, how would he know exactly when the experience occurred, or be able to recount it, if his brain wasn't functioning to record his experience? More than that, though, is that it is a subjective recounting, so how can the reports, of timing, be regarded as accurate in the first place? Libet and Haynes had criticisms over the viability of subject reports about the specific time they experienced awareness of intent.
There is the ad populum appeal he uses. He talked with his parents about his sister previously, also! Plus, being loving is a very common description by family members of relations that have died.
Yeah, the thing that bothers me the most is that, in general, the audiences uncritically accept these tales as 100%, inarguable fact, of what happened. <snark>In fact, how does he know that it wasn't really an alien abduction he experienced?</snark>
I find it refreshing that neither Mr. Harris nor the commentors seem to expect the human system of memory to continue to function even though the brain does not. Thank you, good people, for being rational.
Either you mistook my comment or I wasn't clear. I absolutely do not believe that memory does not .../sigh
I absolutely do believe memory resides in the physical brain. Hope that is clear.
I've subscribed to Newsweek since 1970.  I read part of that BS article and wrote to Newsweek that I wanted real information like the old days, not spectacle, and would not renew this October.
can we have all the Twitter updates show up in Google+?

not a Twitterer, I.
+Bryan Lepore "Google+ API is not yet public, so there's no way to auto-update Twitter posts to G+."  Everything I found basically shows that.  I have seen where you can update Twitter/FB via G+ posts, just not the other way around.
C Chaos
btw, still hot off the press... looking forward to that debate Sam. i'm gonna buy me a tub of popcorn! :)

"In October,a Newsweek article featured an excerpt from neurosurgeon Eben Alexander's new book, Proof of Heaven. Several skeptics wrote articles critical of Dr. Alexander's Newsweek account, notably neuroscientist Sam Harris. Harris disputes that Alexander's cortex was shut down which allowed the “hyper-real” experience of heaven Alexander reported. While the severity and duration of the meningitis infection, the resulting coma, an enhanced CT scan and neurological examinations all indicate global impairment of the neocortex which would not support consciousness, to Harris these constitute only secondary evidence and consciousness could still have been possible. For Harris, complete brain inactivity can be demonstrated only by brain imaging like fMRI and EEG. It should be noted that while he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Harris does not practice neuroscience and is not a clinician."

Eben Alexander answers skeptics' criticisms
ohhhh, I think I misread your intentions +Gurudatta Raut. You were criticizing the people that believe in NDE?
Did you bother reading the article? If you did, try a Google search on "How to read for comprehension".
+Gurudatta Raut If you're having trouble getting your point across here (and I for one am not sure where you stand after reading your comments!), then please set out your conclusion as clearly as possible.

For instance: "Fortunately we have evolved far enough to understand that thoughts and thinking activities need energy, and so I agree with Sam Harris.".

Or: "Fortunately we have evolved far enough to understand that thoughts and thinking activities need energy, therefore I believe NDE's are messages from God!".

Then we'll know what you tried to say.

I just hate it when someone who appears completely irrational turns out to be rational and able to think critically after all.
It means I have to apologize for those snarky comments. ;)
So, apologies for the snarkiness, +Gurudatta Raut. Thanks for offering a thought out and considered option on the subject. That would be an interesting test. I wonder if it's been done by someone?
+Gurudatta Raut Thanks, now I see what you mean. Good(ish) point.

I would go so far as to say, though, that since the person that's experiencing the "NDE" or "DE"/"Death Experience". is in no position to know when exactly they had the experience, they can't assume it happened at any specific point in time - unless they had an out-of-body experience in that, while their brain was reliably documented to be "off", they learned details about stuff that was reliably documented to be happening at that exact instant (say in the operating theater) and didn't have access to that material before being questioned about it.

Therefore you can't prove that the NDE didn't happen while the person was waking up (as Sam pointed out before). In the case of Dr. Alexander, that (or something similar) is almost certainly what happened (assuming his brain was ever "off" enough to not have dreams/thoughts).

I find it strange that people don't see this and other problems with these stories. They either really don't see it, or pretend (real hard) not to. The world is full of wierdos, obviously.
Thank's for sharing your personal experiences. You've been someone whose enlightened my life in various ways. From breaking me away from fundamentalist Christianity, to introducing me to the likes of skeptical eastern philosophy. You've made a huge mark on my life.
+Gurudatta Raut  Hence we see mainstream science rejecting the whole idea of a soul (or something that can live without the body/brain). This is all pretty standard as far as I'm concerned.

> Do Out of Body Experiences coincide with NDEs ? 
> and if so, at what percent.

An NDE is an OBE, since, in an NDE, the soul is leaving the body to go to heaven (or whatever), presumably - although this is semantic and not really the point. OBE and NDE are linked in that they both claim the brain is unnecessary to some extent or another, where the soul (or whatever we choose to call it) can leave the body and return, apparently.

To begin with scientists would, I presume, try to prove things like this in stages, and to me one of the first (easiest, maybe?) stages would be to confirm that an OBE (as I described in my previous post) was possible. Otherwise, how do you prove that the visions someone saw were real, if you have no way of confirming them (since all accounts are so different)?

Thanks for the discussion.
+C Chaos most of your blog post isn't related to Eben Alexander.  The only new point you bring to the discussion is the issue of whether an active CT scan is sufficient to determine brain activity.  Have you looked into this, or are you simply taking Eben Alexander's position because he claims to be better qualified?
C Chaos
interesting stuff from NDE researcher PMH Atwater on Eben Alexander III's book, "Proof of Heaven"

"There is one factual error in the book on page 78, where he states that he was allowed to die harder, and travel deeper, than almost all other NDE subjects.  Almost all?  Well, not exactly true, but sort-of.  Come to find out his editor insisted that this line be in the book, even though Eben did not agree and felt it was a stretch.  Seems to be the way of publishing these days - when in doubt, exaggerate.  There are several who evidenced medical conditions similar to Eben’s.  The record holder I know about is Walter Russell.  I carried some of his case in a number of my books.  You can look it up if you wish on page 129 and 130 of The New Children and Near-Death Experiences.  In a nutshell, Walter’s first near-death experience occurred when he was 7 years old.  It prepared him for the financial disaster his family would soon suffer.  Every seven years after that he had another one, each filling him with more knowledge and guidance, until, at age 49, he was suddenly enveloped within the fullness of cosmic consciousness and left “wholly mind,” dead or nearly dead to his family, his brain non-functional.  For 39 days and nights he existed similarly to how Eben did.  His family was on the verge of committing him to a hospital for the mentally ill and insane when he finally revived.  Eben got his mind back, all his scientific work, his family memories, everything that made him who he was, as well as all the “new stuff” - a new understanding of reality, of spirit, of God.  Water was not that lucky.  He was incapable of language afterward, nor could he even hold a pencil or walk normally.  It took him some time before the world inside his brain returned - along with so much more that eventually he was recognized as a genius specializing in chemistry, physics, and electromagnetics.  He was the first to predict black holes, and had an ongoing correspondence with Albert Einstein.  Read any of his books, especially The Secret of Light or the huge Universal One.  All of his work, his theories, his books, and his scientific experiments came directly in content and power from that 39 days and nights “without a brain, hovering at the edge of death - wholly mind.”  Link to or google him.  He and his wife Lao Russell founded the University of Science and Philosophy.  It exists today only via mail and Internet."

C Chaos
+Chintamani Chary, i'm familiar with NDE literature and the leading researchers in that field. I've read Dr. Alexander's book. I don't necessarily agree with his aftelife interpretation but I think that he has the necessary credentials to at least explain in neuroscientific terms that what happened to him is still a mystery (e.g. ultra-real experience, memory recollection and formation, and miraculous recovery). I also havent seen Sam Harris refute Alexander's 9-Point Hypotheses. Harris' main contention was Alexander's interpretation. this boils down to epistemology and eventually the philosophy of mind. see also my position here. ~

C Chaos
when Sam Harris was interviewed by Steve Paulson on "To the Best of our Knowledge", here's what he said. so I'm wondering why he was so hostile and insulting to Dr. Eben Alexander when Sam is really more like an agnostic on survival of consciousness beyond the brain/body. the bottom line is we simply do not know. the NDE phenomenon is another mysterious puzzle in the hard problem of consciousness.


Paulson: Now the really interesting thing about listening to atheists on consciousness is they're actually all over the map. Sam Harris, who is a neuroscientist, he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, he has a very different view. It's entirely possible that there could be life after death. He is not willing to rule that out.

Sam Harris: There are good reasons to be skeptical of the naive conception of a soul and so that the idea that the brain can die and a soul that still speaks English and recognizes Granny is going to float away into the afterlife, that seems to be profoundly implausible. And yet, we do not know what the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity ultimately is and... For instance, we could be living in a universe where consciousness goes all the way down to the bedrock so that there is some interior subjective dimension to an electron, say.

Paulson: That's interesting, though, because most evolutionary biologists, I mean I'm in particular thinking the, the secular ones would say, "Of course, consciousness can not survive the brain. It will not survive death." You are not willing to make that claim.

Harris: Yeah, I just don't know. If we were living in a universe where consciousness survived death in some sense or just transcended the brain so that, you know, that single neurons were conscious. We would not expect to see it by our present techniques of neuroimaging or cellular neuroscience, and we would never expect to see it. There are profound philosophical and epistimoligical problems that, that anyone must confront who's trying to reduce consciousness to the workings of the brain and this discourse is in its infancy, and who knows where it's going to go?
There are quite a few logical errors being made here. How about we avoid the he said / she said, and stick to facts?
C Chaos
Bernardo Kastrup just posted an addendum on his blog as a response to Sam Harris's footnote on brain as "reducing valve" hypothesis. nice. why don't you guys do a formal debate already! :)

"Harris wrote an addendum to his post, which you can find here. In it, he equates the 'filter hypothesis' to what is known as the 'transmission hypothesis,' according to which consciousness is a kind of radio signal received by the brain. He then proceeds to correctly point out the problem with the transmission hypothesis, which is that we are supposedly the signal, not the radio.

However, although the transmission hypothesis entails the filter hypothesis, the filter hypothesis does notnecessarily entail the transmission hypothesis. As a matter of fact, the filter hypothesis doesn't even entail dualism! My own metaphysical position, for instance, is not dualist. Yet, the filter hypothesis holds well under my views, as I wrote about in this earlier article, which I encourage you to read. According to this article, the brain is the partial image of a process by means of which mind localizes itself, 'filtering' everything else out. Notice how this solves Harris' question: Instead of being an external 'signal' that is no longer being received, but which we still are, in my formulation mind folds in on itself in the form of a vortex, limiting its own breadth. We are mind, and yet mind self-limits. Under this formulation, to say that electrochemical processes in the brain are the cause of consciousness is as illogical as to say that lightning is the cause of atmospheric electrical discharge; or clots the cause of coagulation; or fire the cause of combustion. Fire is the partial image of the process of combustion as viewed from the outside and, as such, correlates very well with the process it depicts; just as electrochemical processes in the brain correlate very well with conscious states.

Currently, I am 2/3 of the way through writing a new book that will explain all this in details, and very specifically. That book will be my ultimate reply to Sam Harris. So please bear with me while I finish and publish it. It should be available at some point in 2013.

It is true that even I have used the radio metaphor when discussing the filter hypothesis. After all, the analogy is a very handy, metaphorical device to convey certain ideas. For instance, I once wrote a fairly elaborate explanation of the filter hypothesis under an implicit dualist metaphor. The article is availablefrom here. But my use of the radio metaphor does not mean that I believe consciousness to be literallysome kind of external signal being received by the brain. I don't. Assuming that would amount to taking the metaphor way beyond its intended scope.

Overall, Harris' understanding of the filter hypothesis seems to be based on an extremely casual and limited reading of it. Huxley wrote two paragraphs about it in The Doors of Perception. When Bergson wrote about it in Matter and Memory, his point was to discuss memory. Before Harris can pass judgment on the hypothesis, he needs to, at the very least, acquaint himself with a proper articulation of it. For instance, he should read my paper on it, and then my idealist formulation of it."

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