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>> the transcendent interpretation of Alexander's experience depends on two crucial premises: (a) Alexander's cerebral cortex was completely inactive during his coma and (b) Alexander had his NDE when his cortex was completely inactive. <<

No, it doesn't. Even if we grant (for the sake of argument) that (a) Alexander's cerebral cortex was active and (B) that his NDE occurred while his cortex was active, that still would not rule out a transcendental interpretation. It wouldn't even make it less likely.

Perhaps certain endogenous chemical complexes, that may only form or get released during times of crisis, allow the brain to receive information that really *is* (in some sense) "out there" independent of us; perhaps these endogenous chemical cascades enable us to perceive other layer(s) of reality that are all around us but which ordinary brain function filters out.

Rick Strassman, who's been a big player in the idea that endogenous DMT is relevant in our mental lives, leans in this direction; he leans int he direction that DMT allows people to access realm(s) of existence that are real, but which are normally shielded/hidden from us.

If you tinker with the wiring on a television set then you may temporarily get additional channels that really exist. And pointing out that the power was still on (and that the t.v. was still plugged in) does nothing to refute the idea that the T.V. really *did* temporarily receive extra channels/information.

And so, the most we could say at this point (on Alexnander's case) is that we simply don't have enough information to say one way or another. It may or may not have been transcendental.

Of course, IF the cerebral cortex were indeed inactive, and if Alexander had acquired information about earthly affairs that took place during the time of his cortex being inactive, then it seems that the transcendental interpretation would be the best. Or, if Alexander had acquired information about events beyond the reach of his 5 senses (even with a functional cortex) without being informed of those details by people around him, then that too would be best explained transcendentally. Unfortunately, we're not justified in saying that either of these scenarios is what happened. I agree with Harris and Sudduth here.

Harris and Sudduth want us to know that the T.V. was still plugged in and the power was still on when it supposedly got extra channels. Ok, so what? That does nothing to cast doubt on the idea that it actually did acquire extra channels temporarily.

aah, just noticed some typos. I wish I could edit my posts here LOL.

- Pat

I still do not agree with some counter-arguments of Sudduth. In that article he states:

"First, it seemed to me that some of the allegedly devastating objections to appeals to living-agent psi were equally applicable to the survival hypothesis itself, especially since the latter is committed to its own version of “super-psi,” a presumably prodigious and refined kind of psi for which there is supposedly no independent evidence but which would be required if the data are adequately explained by appealing to psychic functioning in living persons."

It is not true that the afterlife hypothesis requires its own version of "super-psi". For example: according to the afterlife hypothesis, someone possessed by a deceased only will have knowledge of the deceased, which implies a limit, but according to the super-psi hypothesis, a gifted could acquire any data from anywhere, time or individual, hence the super.

"Second, it struck me that survivalists had overestimated the explanatory force of the survival hypothesis. This was a consequence of a lack of clarity on their part concerning how rival explanations would defeat the purported explanatory superiority of the survival hypothesis."

That only proves that the living-agent psi hypothesis is a logical possibility, but nothing more; all accepted hypotheses have logically possible alternative hypotheses, but that does not make such hypothesis less likely.

"However, retrospectively, the more important issue I raised in the latter two articles was the role of auxiliary assumptions for the explanatory/predictive power (and hence testability) of the survival hypothesis."

Accept the afterlife hypothesis is not reasonably not for its predictive power, but because it gives sense to a group of seemingly unrelated phenomena.

I was going to respond earlier to Micheal's original post to the effect that it is (as far as I am aware) a common assumption that chemicals/drugs are a gateway to higher states of consciousness. Therefore I'm not entirely sure what this, particular, spat is all about. :/

I have to confess reading Sudduth confuses me. I don't even have a handle on his position regarding survival, Psi, and skepticism from reading his reply.

I vaguely understand he is defending Harris from the viewpoint of wanting to be charitable, in which case I can only smile at the lamb-like innocence of academics.

>> And his flagrant and flamboyant disregard for the need for conceptual clarity <<


All of us will occasionally fail to provide adequate conceptual clarity. That's true for myself, Kastrup, and even Sudduth himself. That aside, I should say that (IMO) Sudduth's use of "flagrant and flamboyant" suggest that he's getting too riled over this. In my experience of Kastrtup's work, he usually does *not* have a "flagrant and flamboyant disregard for the need for conceptual clarity". I'd advise Sudduth to tone it town a bit.

(Sometimes Kastrup needs to tone it down bit too!)

>> is an illustration of why the vast majority of professional philosophers, including those who believe in survival, don't take any of this stuff seriously.<<

To be fair, in my experience of the literature, the vast majority of philosophers (including those who agree with Sudduth) do not discuss Sudduth's work or even mention his name! Does that mean that they don't take Sudduth seriously?

More likely, they just don't know who Sudduth is. Likewise, I'd be that most philosophers just aren't familiar with Kastrup's work, rather than simply refusing to take it seriously.

(I wouldn't be surprised if a small handful don't take Kastrup seriously. But then I could find a handful who don't take Sudduth seriously either. This is starting to get personal and also fall into the trap of argumentum ad populum on an academic level-- even IF the majority of philosophers were familiar with Kastrup's work and still didn't take it seriously, that in itself would not be an rgument and wouldn't give us reason for dismissing Kastrup's arguments. So let's stick to discussing the actual arguments.)

I fear that this may start to get too personal :( And I hope that, moving forward, the two can have a gentleman's debate. Perhaps they can channel their inner William James and deal with dissenting views the way James did

(James occasionally lost his cool with unfair skeptics, but in general he was cool as a cucumber when assessing or replying to critiques)

- Pat

P.S. I'm actually a big fan of Sudduth's work, even when I disagree.

Hi n/a

Apologies if I am missing the point, but if we were to accept that Eben Alexander's 'TV set' was on so to speak, in the absence of good veridical content (which I understand was largely missing - happy to be corrected) I can't see how his experience can tell us anything at all about other planes of existence (if such exist).

If I correctly understand the point Michael Sudduth was making, we can't be sure at what stage in his illness Eben Alexander's experience occurred and therefore can't be sure it was at point where his brain was so incapacitated that it couldn't have facilitated the kind of experience he reported.

Am I right?

I hate not being able to edit too :)

Paul,
There is one very strong piece of veridical experience in Mr. Alexander's book. If I remember it correctly, Mr. Alexander saw a picture of a young woman after his experience who was an exact match for the woman he met in the spiritual world, and subsequently learned that she was a sister he had never known (she died before he was born, and his parents never talked about her).

I agree that it's possible that chemicals (whether occurring naturally in the body or ingested) can serve as a gateway to transcendent experiences. But these chemically induced experiences are not near-death experiences.

Alexander clearly had a powerful subjective experience of some kind. But was it an NDE? I suspect not, since a) he was not clinically dead, only comatose; b) the extent of his neurological impairment is debated; c) the time when the experience took place is impossible to nail down, meaning it could have happened during his recovery; and d) his experience doesn't match up with the vast majority of reported NDEs.

I also agree with those who find it hard to follow the nuances of Dr. Sudduth's reasoning in some respects. For instance, he writes, "I don't say that the current evidence is inadequate. What I've consistently argued over the past few years is that the arguments purporting to show that the evidence is good are unsuccessful at showing this."

I simply don't understand this distinction. This may be a failing on my part.

I agree with Juan that super-psi is not required by the survival hypothesis. Let's say the deceased John Smith purportedly communicates through a medium and talks about things that happened to John Smith in his life, the intellectual interests of John Smith, secrets that John Smith held, etc. If we attribute the John Smith communicator to super-psi, we have to assume that the medium's subconscious can gather all these details from a variety of sources via very robust telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, etc. If, on the other hand, we believe that John Smith is actually communicating, then he alone is the source of all of this information.

@Pat: What I believe Sudduth is referring to is NDEs rather than Kastrup, regarding what philosophers who believe in survival as a possibility take seriously.

I think most Christian philosophers are concerned with logical arguments for the soul's survival, not sure how many of them are interested in parapsychology.

So outside of Braude, who I do respect as a philosopher and who I also know is a supporter of super-psi at least as a possibility, I'm not sure who Sudduth is referring to.

Ian wrote, "There is one very strong piece of veridical experience in Mr. Alexander's book. If I remember it correctly, Mr. Alexander saw a picture of a young woman after his experience who was an exact match for the woman he met in the spiritual world, and subsequently learned that she was a sister he had never known (she died before he was born, and his parents never talked about her)."

True, but there are two problems here. First, this detail still does not provide a time-anchor for the experience, which could have taken place at any point during his comatose or semicomatose state; and second, memory has a way of playing tricks on us, especially in a case like this. You have a haunting impression of a stranger's face, and then you see a similar face and conclude that it's the same one. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. You may have subconsciously filled in the earlier, hazy memory with the newly discovered face. Bottom line: for me, this is too subjective to count as strong evidence of veridicality.

"I agree that it's possible that chemicals (whether occurring naturally in the body or ingested) can serve as a gateway to transcendent experiences. But these chemically induced experiences are not near-death experiences." - Michael

I will limit my contribution to the discussion to this one point as I am really enjoying what all the intelligent thoughtful people here have to say and I don't have the time or free mental energy now to formulate any thoughts of my own that would be up to par.

As one who has extensively used psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, DMT and Psilocybin) over a 30 year +/- period, and who has had OBEs while totally sober, I will emphatically state that the psychedelic experience is NOT the OBE experience and bears only superficial resemblance to descriptions of the better documented NDEs.

It is my opinion that Strassman stretches descriptions of the DMT experience to an unacceptable extent to fit it into his theories regarding NDEs. I would say that he takes a lot of liberties and poetic license to write what he does.

Ignore Strassman and find others who have psychedelic experience and they will tend to agree with my perspective.

The endogenous DMT (or other chemical) argument is a non-starter, IMO. It sounds potentially reasonable if you haven't been there, but if you have, you know better.

Again, this is a fine conversation. Thanks Michael for hosting it!

Hi Paul :)

>> if we were to accept that Eben Alexander's 'TV set' was on, in the absence of good veridical content I can't see how his experience can tell us anything at all about other planes of existence (if such exist). <<

I feel the same way. I suppose I was mostly nit-picking at Sudduth's wording, a kind of nitpicking that Sudduth himself enjoys doing. So it only seemed fair.

My point was very mild-- it was simply that the transcendental interpretation would still be a live option even if Harris were correct, although, as I noted, at that point we wouldn't be able to say with confidence one way or another.

That's all I meant.

gtg

Best

- Pat

Michael P, I do lean more heavily towards survival, but I'd like to chime in a bit anyway:

>> If we attribute the John Smith communicator to super-psi, we have to assume that the medium's subconscious can gather all these details from a variety of sources <<

But what if information is "stored" (for lack of a better term) in a sort of cosmic bank, in which case a medium need only access *one* source (the cosmic reservoir)? Perhaps it's a combination of that impersonal data bank and the sitter(s) in question.

And, indeed, mediums (including mediums with good hits) sometimes say false things that the *sitters* believe to be true, which implies at least partial telepathy between the sitter and the medium.

Although, to be fair, mediums also sometimes contradict the sitters with the sitters being wrong.

So I can see why one may have some sympathy for the LAP alternative, even though I tend to lean more heavily towards survival.


>> via very robust telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, etc. <<

I'm not sure if the psi abilities implied by "super psi" are any more robust than the psi abilities required for spirits to clearly clairvoyantly "see" and "hear" earthly affairs and then clearly telepathically communicate those details to a medium's mind.

The robustness seems pretty similar in both cases.

- Pat

@Michael : I'd agree Eben Alexander's NDE is near worthless from an evidence standpoint.

That said it's a bit odd to me that Sudduth is going to post more about the NDE after consultation with medical personnel and neuroscientists. (Assuming I read that part of his verbose reply correctly)

Wouldn't his efforts be far, far more valuable toward pushing for the acceptance of Psi as reality or at the least strong possibility?

What NDE,S are evidential, let's face it. So many spiritual experiences are personal and difficult to express in common English. He didn't feel he was hallucinating and I think there is a distinct difference between what one deems relevant and what is distorted.

I think of my own experiences, people can't accept anything out of the ordinary. Sure a number of NDE are similar, but I can think of a number that are more extraordinary. And that makes sense to me. Cheers.

There is a typo in my previous comment:

"Accept the afterlife hypothesis is reasonably not for its predictive power, but because it gives sense to a group of seemingly unrelated phenomena."

"But what if information is "stored" (for lack of a better term) in a sort of cosmic bank, in which case a medium need only access *one* source (the cosmic reservoir)? Perhaps it's a combination of that impersonal data bank and the sitter(s) in question."

First, if that were true, then there would be no cases where whoever comes in mediumship session is someone unknown to the presents and that no one present has any motive to contact her / him, but such cases have occurred, are called drop-in communications in the literature.

And second, if that were true, then there would be no cases where whoever comes in mediumship session narrates what he / she has done while he / she was not in session, but such cases have occurred.

I still feel that there are similarities between accounts of NDEs and those of psychedelic drug trips. For instance the reports of expanded awareness and feelings of universal connectedness. Also, there are 'good trips' and 'bad trips' associated with both those states of altered consciousness.

The thing that struck me most about Eben's experience is the fact that, against all odds, he survived that illness with all his mental faculties intact. Similarly, Anita Moorjani recovered completely from the very final stages of terminal cancer. Those outcomes were little short of miraculous and, as far as I'm aware, defy scientifically-rational explanations.

I am embarrassed to admit that Dr. Suddeth's writing is not easy for me to follow. It is somewhat like walking through a forest overgrown with raspberry brambles and I lose my way trying to stay on the path when I have to redirect myself around verbiage that seems very obtuse to me.

That is my lack I suppose.

But I have followed his 'blog' for a while and even though he does not allow questions or comments, I try to understand what he writes on my own without additional clarification from him. For someone like me with ADD in reading I find it difficult sometimes to stay with his writing for any length of time.

I think that super-psi has less chance to be proven than communication from the dead. Stephen Braude, to whom Suddeth reached out for support in his above comment deserves some recognition for his thoughts about survival and super-psi but I lost some respect for him after reading his book "Gold Leaf Lady" and after reading his comments about Patience Worth in his book "Immortal Remains". I think Braude and Suddeth are struggling with the concepts discussed here as much as any of us are struggling with them and super-psi may be an easy out when all else fails.

Suddeth says: "Alexander's experience depends on two crucial premises: (a) Alexander's cerebral cortex was completely inactive during his coma and (b) Alexander had his NDE when his cortex was completely inactive."

Well, if a non-functioning cortex is the make or break criterion to validate NDEs as evidence of another reality, then I am guessing that most if not all reported NDEs would not qualify as evidence of any sort, since few if any of those cases can prove that their cerebral cortex was non-functioning at the time of their NDE.

I also think to rely on functional MRIs of SPECT scans to prove a "functioning" cortex may be somewhat wishful thinking in that those tests detect blood flow through parts of the brain and it is assumed that blood flow somehow relates to neuronal activity and that neuronal activity equates with some conscious or unconscious state. I think that those assumptions may be quite a leap. - AOD

I may have misunderstood what has been said here so far but (eek!) I fail to see how brain chemicals explain consciousness at all if we assume that consciousness somehow predates the formative human conception in the womb or can exist after the brain and body expires. It is true that if the brain is damaged or chemically altered that consciousness can change, even in drastic ways. But the idea that DMT explains anything at all is ridiculous to me.

I think I read Alexander's book on kindle shortly after it came out. I wasn't impressed AT ALL by his account. It seemed to lack warmth. I don't believe he met a being of light (God) and the whole account really does have a total and general character of a dream.

DMT and Melatonin are secreted in to the pineal gland when we are sleeping. But they do not explain dreams. Even a low level or even lack of those chemicals would not explain sleep and dreams. Certainly it cannot be theorised that DMT was in his pineal gland when his cortex was apparently inactive unless the level of chemicals in his brain was somehow able to be measured at that time. And I could be wrong (usually am too) but I don't see how it is even possible to measure the level of chemicals in the brain, especially when a person is in a state of coma.

He certainly must have had a near death experience though. We know this because he survival prognosis was highly unlikely 1) at the time he was in the coma and 2) afterwards (complete full recovery). This is one of the chief features of genuine NDEs - a complete healing. Also, he was having conscious experiences when he should not have been. Most people that have death experiences, including cardiac arrest, comas, and the immense variety of them out there in other categories, do NOT have any recollection of their experience while they were "dead" after they come back from it.

This means that we are dealing with an unexplained phenomena.

But yes, his account reads like what we would commonly think of as a dream recitation. To my way of thinking, this is a bit dubious. No doubt he experienced SOMETHING, but I do not believe that the argument is about that at all - because the problems of consciousness being synonymous with the brain seem to me to have been debunked generally for quite some time now. This can be seen in the entire range of human experience, not just NDEs. To me, that is completely moot. I am not interested in arguing with people that dismiss anything unexplained with the wave of their hand and a smug, arrogant know-it-all attitude of "skepticism". It really just reminds me of children in playgrounds engaging in bullying, despite the apparent mature growth of the bodies of those people sitting on chairs speaking in a debate on a stage.

I thought I would add: a coma, a state of unconsciousness, a morgue, a live burial, a resuscitation, an accident - NONE of these designate a state of death and coming back to life later on. In every single one of these instances, a person's body is intact physiologically - otherwise it would be presumed dead.

It's easy to miss the forest for the trees in what I just wrote. But read it again and ask yourselves some questions.

I'm bewildered by Michael Sudduth's musings. Does he think Alexander cares what he thinks ? Apparently this philosopher used to believe in personal survival...but now he doesn't. He might do in the future I'm guessing ...if it takes his fancy and then he'll presumably let us know via his blog. To be fair to him he seems like a nice guy but he's a religious philosopher.

Alexander was a hands on distinguished neurosurgeon who worked with real sick patients, knows full well when a brain is dying, dead or on standby.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense can surely see "that level" of hyper real experience shouldn't have happened as he was going into coma, thrashing about.... or "in coma" with his meninges full of puss, dolls eyes, fingers and toes curled up, machine breathing for him etc. Nor should it have happened just as he was waking up, there's too much to it, too much that he remembered. He shouldn't have remembered anything. Alexander is perfectly placed to judge whether or not he went somewhere else because "he" had the experience, Michael Sudduth (as far as I know) hasn't.

I'm with you on the Suddeth issue, Amos: I don't much like long sentences or too many syllables; they make my eyes glaze over. Perhaps I'm just lazy, but I prefer simple, direct use of language. It saves an awful lot of unnecessary use of mental energy. :)

"Broad once humorously pondered which personalities in cases of multiple personality would survive death, that is, if any of the personalities should survive death?"

According mediumship, all personalities remain as parts of a greater whole that would be the higher self, so I see no problem. And no need to resort to multiple personality disorder, because an individual throughout her / his biological life has several personalities, as a child, as a young, etc., which of these biological remains after death? All these personalities as parts of a whole.

"Our essential nature is non-differentiated consciousness or pure awareness, of which the body-mind is a temporary and finite manifestation."

Besides the psychic evidence points to an individualized afterlife, no one has shown me that a pure awareness is not a contradiction, because it seems to always be aware is to be aware of something, like an object will always have a form.

"As Broad noted, there might be a postmortem personal stream of experience (which originated from an earlier antemortem personal stream of experience), but it might not constitute numerically the same person as the person who died."

But mediumistic cases tell us that we will be the same after biological death, but changed.

And here I come.

Juan, yes, the drop in cases are really fascinating. I actually wrote a short movie script based on the drop in phenomenon. :D

David r writes: "I may have misunderstood what has been said here so far but (eek!) I fail to see how brain chemicals explain consciousness at all if we assume that consciousness somehow predates the formative human conception in the womb or can exist after the brain and body expires."

My assumption is that brain chemicals act as governors on the window to the soul when incarnate.

@Juan (or anyone really): I may have asked this before, but if someone wanted to start from the beginning and read the best evidence what books should one be purchasing?

Thanks in advance,

Saj/Sci

@Pat - thanks for replying. Point taken. :)

@Ian - thanks for replying too. My view is pretty much the same as Michael's. I can see its value to Eben Alexander.

no one said:

"psychedelic experience is NOT the OBE experience and bears only superficial resemblance to descriptions of the better documented NDEs. . . . Ignore Strassman and find others who have psychedelic experience and they will tend to agree with my perspective."

It's my impression that nearly all the most experienced psychedelic authorities—people like Albert Hoffman, Grof, Shulgin, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, Christopher Bache, James Oroc, Aldous Huxley, Bernardo Kastrup, not to mention the guys who did the recent research at Johns Hopkins—would agree with me when I say this:

While psychedelics and near-death trigger different sorts of events, they can both lead to what is often considered the core mystical experience—a merging with all of existence and the profound sense that the entire universe is one vast, eternal, loving, being.

So while you're right to point out the differences, to claim only a "superficial resemblance" is certainly misleading.

Saj Patel wrote, "If someone wanted to start from the beginning and read the best evidence what books should one be purchasing?"

I put together a preliminary list in 2006. Some additional suggestions were made by readers in the comments thread.

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/10/words_words_wor.html

These days I would substitute Greg Taylor's "Stop Worrying: There Probably Is an Afterlife" for David Fontana's book. I would also include "Irreducible Mind," by Kelly et al.

This is a ten-year-old list, so I encourage people to add their own favorites.

Thanks Michael. You might appreciate this favorable view on Psi posted on Skeptiko. It's from an LARB review of 2 parapsychology books:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/the-real-science-behind-paranormal-phenomena

"The evidence is impressive. I say this with some confidence, even in the face of the claptrap often associated with claims of the paranormal and the dull or cunning shysters who try to sell bogus “psychic readings” or inflated “remote viewing courses.” There’s substantial evidence — both anecdotal and laboratorial — for some paranormal phenomena, but it takes scientific savvy to sort out the trustworthy from the vast piles of dross."

Bruce, we can look at volumes of descriptions of DMT experiences and very few have overlap with the NDE.

If DMT was involved in NDEs then a majority of people should be coming back from NDEs with descriptions that better fit the majority of DMT descriptions. We don't. The DMT as trigger for NDE theory is a non-starter.

Hi Michael,

Could I add the "Science and the Paranormal, Altered States of Reality" book by Prof. Arthur Ellison? The good Prof. was the Department of Electrical Engineering head at City University, London and a colleague of Prof. David Fontana, ("Is There an Afterlife?" book above).
A practical man, it's clear reading this what he believed in (with the wonderful Prof. Fontana). I just happened to know them briefly with Montague Keen (who I spoke to at an informal group dinner in Kensington) in the late 1990's in London while the Scole experiments were being investigated - both serious men, both knowing they were witnessing real phenomena along with real physical phenomena.
I just wish some philosophers today would come down a bit and "get their hands dirty" and do some investigations themselves as certain anthropologists are doing at present. Once other "dimensions of mental existence" are accepted, there's an open door here (I often wonder that many wish such investigations would just go away, but alas for them ... no!).
For Dr. Alexander, for his brain state at the time, perhaps less is more is apt, as has been said before - the quietening down of brain states which can reveal the extraordinary. Perhaps it's just this way?

MP wrote:
I also agree with those who find it hard to follow the nuances of Dr. Sudduth's reasoning in some respects.
Amos Oliver Doyle wrote:
I am embarrassed to admit that Dr. Suddeth's writing is not easy for me to follow.
Julie Baxter wrote:
I'm with you on the Suddeth issue, Amos: I don't much like long sentences or too many syllables; they make my eyes glaze over.

There is nothing to apologize about here folks. Sure, sometimes making the case for an argument can get eye glazingly complicated and nuanced, but then, verbose gymnastics can also be a cover for a strained, weak position. A great example would be religious apologetic treatises - famous for their tortured logic.

For me, a prime example of mind-numbing, yet comprehendable writing would be Edward and Emily Kelly's book, Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the Twenty First Century.
A thick, ponderous textbook, but a work that can be understood if one take their time reading it.

I love deeply thought-out presentations, but they need to be cogent at some point. When someone eventually can't plainly make their case, even if I'm inclined to agree with them, I dismiss their work as little more than mental masturbation.
If that's my bad, oh well...

No one said:

“Bruce, we can look at volumes of descriptions of DMT experiences and very few have overlap with the NDE. If DMT was involved in NDEs then a majority of people should be coming back from NDEs with descriptions that better fit the majority of DMT descriptions. We don't. The DMT as trigger for NDE theory is a non-starter.”

I was making a different point entirely.

I agree that trying to explain away the NDE in terms of chemistry is misguided. But while you said that experiences triggered by psychedelics and near-death are only superficially related, I think that misses their profound common ground.

Michael wrote:

“Alexander clearly had a powerful subjective experience of some kind. But was it an NDE? I suspect not, since a) he was not clinically dead, only comatose;”

A cardiologist might agree, but to a neurosurgeon the ability of the brain to function might be considered a more valid criterion of “clinically dead.”

“b) the extent of his neurological impairment is debated;”

Skeptics can always contrive elaborately creative explanations as to how a brain deprived of blood flow for several minutes can nonetheless kick in to one last crescendo of neuronal frenzy yielding the vivid hallucinations recalled in NDE accounts. Thus, a brain soaking in pus is trivial to dismiss in comparison.

“c) the time when the experience took place is impossible to nail down, meaning it could have happened during his recovery;”

The current mainline belief is that the brain must be functioning to have conscious experiences and store memories therefore, by that reasoning, all NDEs must occur and be stored (in magical memory bits) before the brain shuts down or when it boots back up.

“and d) his experience doesn't match up with the vast majority of reported NDEs.”

There is some really wild stuff in NDE stories that makes riding on the back of a butterfly through paradise seem pretty tame. I scored Alexander’s account against the Greyson NDE scale and he scored a 27, out of 32 possible points on the scale. 7 or higher is considered an NDE for research purposes. The mean score among a large sample of near-death experiences is 15, so 27 is up there in the “You shook hands with the big guy” territory. Where Alexander’s experience deviated was question #3 “Did scenes from your past come back to you?” (He had no memory or sense of being human) and question #9 “Did scenes from the future come to you?” (He had no awareness of anything outside his immediate experience.)

Alexander’s experience didn’t “match up with the vast majority of reported NDEs”, it far exceeded most all of them.

Rabbitdawg,
'Irreducible Mind' is a ponderous textbook but you're right, it can be understood if one takes the time to carefully read through it. I didn't find 'Irreducible Mind' to be off-putting in any way while Suddeth's writing---well, I need to be nice here but I will say if his goal is to communicate his thoughts, in my opinion he falls short.

Prices are all over the board for his latest book A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival . They range from $67.29 up to $392.91 for hardcover versions on Amazon. ( I couldn't find a justification for the disparate pricing.) I don't think I will be coughing-up that kind of money for a book that causes me so much agony to read, let alone understand. Most likely he spent a lot of time putting that book together so perhaps as they say, 'time is money' and there may be good value in the effort. - AOD

David Chilstrom wrote, "Thus, a brain soaking in pus is trivial to dismiss in comparison."

There's an ongoing controversy about how serious Alexander's neurological impairment was. A good summary of the back-and-forth between Alexander and Sam Harris is provided here:

http://iands.org/news/news/research-news/888-eben-alexander-answers-skeptics-criticisms.html

David also wrote, "I scored Alexander’s account against the Greyson NDE scale and he scored a 27, out of 32 possible points on the scale." It's been a while since I read Alexander's book, so I've probably forgotten some details. But as best I recall, he did not see any deceased relatives (unless you count the sister he didn't know he had - but I find this memory problematic for reasons Harris gives at the above link) or religious figures. I also don't remember his having a sense of ESP, unless one counts his impression of telepathic contact with a woman who was trying to get through to him (also problematic in my view). Many of the other Greyson scale elements involve feelings of peace, joy, unity, etc., which seen to be common to all kinds of transcendent and mystical experiences.

Leaving aside the Greyson scale and just looking at NDEs generally, Alexander's experience lacked an OBE, any veridical details, passage through a tunnel, a life review, and meetings with deceased loved ones. That doesn't mean it couldn't have been an NDE, but to me, it has more in common with DMT trips than with most NDEs. (Of course, a DMT trip may itself constitute a transcendent/mystical experience, but that's a separate issue.)

Regarding Sudduth's prose style, I find it pretty typical of academic writing. The price of his book is probably also pretty typical of textbooks today.

I appreciated the link from Michael Sudduth to his "Personal Reflections on Life after Death" post. It helped me understand his position much better.

But did someone say above that he seems like a nice guy? Tell me if the following jibes with that impression.

In his blog post "Response to Titus Rivas" (http://michaelsudduth.com/response-to-titus-rivas/), Sudduth says,

"Speaking of messes and trash removal, enter survival researcher Titus Rivas. His recent review of my book is evidence of just how easily the needed conversation is derailed by low-caliber thinking and shoddy scholarship. Yes, I know: Rivas is a well-known survival researcher. Alas, this is precisely the problem. His review is a striking and disappointing demonstration of the extent to which the field of survival research has fallen into intellectual disrepair."

This is just nasty and, sadly, not out of character. Sudduth regularly comes across as arrogant, supercilious, self-important, and self-involved. He is known to communicate more or less politely with people and then take potshots at them on his blog. I would venture to say that his tone and approach contrast starkly with that of Michael's posts and the comments that typically go with them.*

It's too bad, since it's clear that Sudduth has a brilliant intellect and extensive knowledge of the subject matter. But it's certainly not uncommon for character flaws to reader great ability worthless or nearly so.

I think it would be a blessing if Sudduth had a change of heart, became a kinder and more compassionate person, and took the attitude of working with others to discover the truth. Currently, I think his nasty attitude and, as others have pointed out, the abstruseness of his language, are obfuscating the genuine value of his point of view and many of his arguments.

The cover of Sudduth's book on postmortem survival is gray with the picture of a dead tree. Maybe it's time for a little fresh greenery?

---

*I once was called out (I forget if by name or by implication) as one of Michael's "minions" on Sudduth's blog (one example of Sudduth communicating politely with someone [in this case Michael] and then taking a different, nastier tone on his blog). The truth is that Michael and I often disagree about politics and argue with each other in another forum, so I'm hardly a minion, I believe. I just think he does a stellar job of keeping the tone civilized on this blog and encouraging a salon of similarly civilized commenters.

Michael wrote:
“Leaving aside the Greyson scale and just looking at NDEs generally, Alexander's experience lacked an OBE, any veridical details, passage through a tunnel, a life review, and meetings with deceased loved ones.”

As Alexander had no sense of having a body (or ever being an embodied human), I think it’s safe to call that an OBE. You may be thinking of OBE as the preliminary stage of NDE that some experience where they are hovering about in the ER, or over the crash site, whereas I am thinking about the OBE aspect of the NDE (gotta love them acronynms) as continuous with the transcendental experience. And, I accept his belief that the woman on the butterfly was his sister. As for religious beings, the Om entity in the realm of dazzling darkness would certainly qualify as a divine being. Of course, a life review is not in play if you are detached from personal identity, and tunnels and veridical awareness are hardly universal experiences.

I have a sentimental attachment to Proof of Heaven, as it was just the right medicine for me when I read it. The selfless aspect of the story appealed to my belief at the time that death is the annihilation of the ego and the return of one’s essence to source. I can sympathize with the desire to find a consistent narrative for NDEs and the death experience itself. I suspect, though, that there are a great many ways that the NDE and death experience itself can play out. And, I very much believe that reality is infinitely richer and more varied then our wildest and most expansive conceptions of it.

"There's an ongoing controversy about how serious Alexander's neurological impairment was. A good summary of the back-and-forth between Alexander and Sam Harris is provided here" - Michael

Just wondering if there's a reference for this as I can only find the Skeptiko podcast from 3 years ago which is within the IANDS ref. you linked to. And Dr. Alexander does deal with the DMT possibility within this (a commenter "Joe" from 3 years ago quotes Dr. Alexander's detailed response).

@David Chilstrom

Sam Harris is not in possession of the facts about the Pam Reynolds case. All will be revealed about that in a few months. Also his assertion that Pam wasn't interviewed until two or three years after the event is typical of the "tactics" of sceptics like Harris.

Pam reported her experience the very minute she awoke, all the details flowed out and were duly noted by the Barrow Institute doctors who worked on her. What Sabom did was to "officially" log her NDE later. I'm sure Sam could have discovered this himself with his fondness for accuracy.

@David Chilstrom (again)

Forgot to say, you make some good points about Eben Alexander's NDE. It certainly was an out of body experience for that reason you gave alone and furthermore he describes "coming back down" as I remember (presumably to his body).

The first part of his experience in the murky, jello like substance and then the spinning melodic light opening up a portal into the hyper real realm. That's not so different from other NDE's IMHO.

Matt writes of Sudduth:

"Currently, I think his nasty attitude and, as others have pointed out, the abstruseness of his language, are obfuscating the genuine value of his point of view and many of his arguments."

Intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity?

(Careful, Matt. Your comment is on the point of heading in the same direction.) ;)

Off topic. Assuming this is accurately reported, I'd like to see skeptics try to explain away this case!

http://americanoverlook.com/this-3-year-old-told-cops-the-spot-he-was-buried-in-a-previous-life-so-they-dig-what-they-found/77698?utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=cai

Alan wrote, "Just wondering if there's a reference for this as I can only find the Skeptiko podcast from 3 years ago which is within the IANDS ref. you linked to."

If you're asking whether the debate has proceeded since then, I really can't say. I probably shouldn't have used the term "ongoing" in connection with the dispute between Alexander and Harris specifically. Clearly there's an ongoing debate over Alexander's experience, but other people are the ones who are arguing about it (e.g., Sudduth and Kastrup).

I don't know Bruce. The linked reincarnation story according to Dr. Lash(?) is not a very good example of a valid reincarnation case. All of the facts are missing. Names? Dates? Place? The pictures of the axe(s) seemed to be staged to me. Surely they could not have been buried for 4 years. Where are the clothes on the skeleton? Axe mark on the skeleton and birth mark are not a good match. (I guess we are to assume he was hit in the head with the axe.) What was the outcome of the case? It is implied that the confessed murderer was found guilty but was he?

I could also do without them cackle, spooky voice and music. Not good Bruce, not good!---and I am not even a Skeptic! - AOD

Michael Sudduth does seem to have a weakness for unfortunate personal jabs. Here's part of a comment he made on Facebook about his critique of Kastrup: "But as a few philosophers have informed me, the dialectical structure of Harris's argument, as well as my defense, is probably not going to pass through the Walmart cognitive filter adequately intact."

I'm assuming the "Walmart cognitive filter" is the limited mental equipment sported by the hoi polloi - the non-elites who shop at Walmart and are not sophistimicated intelleckzuls. Presumably these same sad sacks also enjoy Pabst beer, NASCAR races, bobblehead Jesus figurines, and the RV park lifestyle.

Now, I shop at Kmart, which may raise me a notch above the big-bottomed, muffin-topped Walmart crowd. Were I to frequent Target, I might make myself even more respectable, especially if I pronounced it "Tar-jay." For real intellectual heft, though, I would have to patronize Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany's exclusively.

Okay, I kid, I kid ... but Sudduth really does seem to think that anyone who fails to grasp his rather abstruse arguments is a dummy. I don't believe this is the best way to argue one's position, though it is prevalent in academic circles.

Interesting story, Bruce. I did a little Googling, and it turns out that this account first appeared 14 years ago in Trutz Hardo's book (mentioned in the linked article). Given that this is the first I'm hearing of it, I'm guessing the story is not very well sourced.

Here is the most detailed summary I found:

----

This interesting real life tale took place in the Golan Heights region near the Syrian border. This area is mostly populated by the Druze, a Middle Eastern ethnoreligious group. The subject of this story, a three-year-old boy, was a member of this community.

When Dr. Lasch met the three-year-old, he was saying that he had lived a past life. This isn't uncommon for children, especially those with active imaginations, but Lasch and the village elders decided to humor the boy.

As the boy told his story, he mentioned that he knew where his former body was buried. Luckily, it was nearby. He led people right to the spot and they started digging.Sure enough, they found a skeleton in the exact spot that the boy pointed out. What are the odds? While this may seem spectacular, it only gets spookier from here.
Upon examining the skull of the skeleton, Dr. Lasch found an axe wound on the skull. The three-year-old boy had a birthmark on his forehead in the exact same spot. The Druze faith states that birthmarks are the physical mark of a past life's death wound.

Though the dead body may seem like a coincidence, the boy decided to take things a step further. He promised that he knew exactly where the murder weapon, an axe, was buried.
Since he had been right the first time, the village elders didn't even question it. They followed the boy to the spot and dug. Sure enough, they found an axe.

The boy then led them to a nearby town where he said he lived in his past life. When the elders talked to those in town and mentioned the name that the little boy gave as his past life, everyone knew exactly who they were talking about. The name corresponded to a man that had gone missing just four years prior.

Finally, the boy pointed out who murdered him in a past life. When the boy and the village elders confronted the person he turned white with fright. They mentioned that they had found the body and the murder weapon, and the man confessed.

http://www.sciforums.com/threads/three-year-old-supposedly-recalls-past-life.152482/

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