From the video description:
Transcendent experiences that were once attributed to gods, angels, muses, or even possession, are now being demystified by neuroscience. Jamie Wheal, Director of Programs at the Flow Genome Project, explains that each culture has unique rituals and narratives when it comes to non-ordinary experiences of consciousness or ‘altered states’, whether that’s mediation, flow state, psychedelic experiences, or others. A farmer in India, a peasant in Mexico, and a coder in Silicon Valley will all have vastly different ways of approaching altered states, and will give vastly different descriptions once they come out the other side – perhaps they saw a vision of Ganesh the elephant God, received a message from the Virgin of Guadalupe, or produced a brilliant line of code while in a Matrix-like binary blur. However, those experiences are more alike than we think. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler devised a functional framework so they could compare non-ordinary experiences across cultures. Here, Wheal explains that they identified four common elements of altered states of consciousness, which they coined as STER: selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler’s book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (goo.gl/m3Quy0).
By K.Fane via Listverse
Humankind has long dabbled in the supernatural, lured by the promise of obtaining power and enlightenment. Several texts have been devoted to this practice, outlining complicated and mysterious rituals that were presented as the key to achieving communion with otherworldly spirits.
10 • Greek Magical Papyri
The Greek magical papyri from the second century B.C. listed spells, rituals, and divinations. These included instructions for how to summon a headless demon, open doors to the underworld, and protect yourself from wild beasts. Perhaps most tantalizing of all, they describe how to gain a supernatural assistant, an otherworldly entity who does your bidding.
The most commonly found spells in the Papyri are divination spells—ceremonies that offer you visions of the future. One of its most well-known passages provides instructions for how to forecast upcoming events using an “iron lampstead,” “an offering of frankincense,” and an “uncorrupted and pure” child. After being placed into a deep trance, the child sees images flickering in the flame.
Among the Papyri’s most famous components is the Mithras Liturgy. This ceremony describes how to ascend through seven higher planes of existence and communicate with the deity Mithras.
9 • The Black Pullet
Originating in France in the 18th century, The Black Pullet focuses on the study of magical talismans, special objects engraved with mystical words that protect and empower the wearer. It was reportedly written by an anonymous officer in Napoleon’s Army, who claimed to have received the contents from a mysterious mage while on expedition in Egypt.
The Pullet includes detailed instructions for how to construct talismans out of bronzed steel, silk, and special ink. Among these invocations is a spell to call upon a djinn, a creature made of smoke and fire who will bring you true love. If your ambitions are slightly more cynical, then the Pullet also provides talismans that will force “discreet men” to tell you their secrets, allow you to see behind closed doors, and destroy anyone who is plotting against you.
The apex of the book’s mystical teachings is acquiring the Black Pullet itself—a hen that can find buried treasure.
8 • Ars Almadel
The Ars Almadel is Book Four of the Lesser Key of Solomon, also known as the Lemegeton, a significant grimoire of demonology compiled in the 17th century by an unknown author. This particular book of the Legemeton provides a blueprint for constructing an Almadel—a magical wax altar, somewhat like a ouija board, that allows you to communicate with angels.
The Almadel is composed of four Altitudes, or “Choras,” each of which corresponds with a unique set of angels with different domains. The text provides the names of the angels of each Chora (Gelomiros and Aphiriza, for example), the proper way to direct your requests to them (ask only what is “just and lawful”), and the best calendar dates for invoking them. It also includes brief physical descriptions of these angelic manifestations. The Angels of the Third Chora, for example, come in the form of “little women dressed in green and silver” wearing crowns made of bay leaves.
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Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience like the examples that we list in this FREE PDF booklet? If so, you know how compelling they can be. A life can be changed or an entire religion founded on the basis of a single brain-generated hallucination. These phenomena are so powerful that throughout history seekers of knowledge have sought to induce them. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be more than a waste of time and energy. It can be dangerous for both the individual and larger society.
While science has made considerable progress in discovering how the brain is hard-wired to produce these illusions, the public is largely unaware of much of this research. This is where your Skeptics Society comes in—we provide the scientific explanation.
A new film about a young boy’s near-death experience, “Heaven is For Real,” made a splash at the box office this past weekend, pulling in over $22 million. The film, based on the best-selling book of the same name, is about a father whose young son, Colton Burpo, visits heaven.
Burpo’s experience, though unusual, is not unique: There are dozens of people who have claimed to visit heaven — or, less often, hell — during near-death experiences. The best-selling 2010 book “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” tells the story of another young boy’s near-death experience:
“In 2004 Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered a terrible car wreck. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex — and it seemed impossible that he could survive. When Alex awoke from a coma two months later, he had an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious … Of the angels who took him through the gates of Heaven itself.”
Of course neither Colton Burpo nor Alex Malarkey offered any real evidence of entering heaven, encountering angels or meeting God. These are two of many seemingly inexplicable examples of people who have been gravely injured and yet, upon recovery, later presented apparently accurate descriptions of things they should not have been aware of in their condition. Sounds, smells and snippets of conversations that occurred in the emergency room when the patient was assumed to be unconscious, comatose or even dead are offered as evidence of out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences.
A Scientific Explanation?
A recent study offers evidence that patients who are in a vegetative state may in fact have more awareness than previously thought. This research may also help explain near-death experiences. If, as this study suggests, apparently unconscious and vegetative patients are more conscious than assumed, their recollections are less mysterious.
An article in “The Scientist” reports:
“Some brain injuries can leave patients awake but unresponsive with little hope of regaining consciousness. But the gold standard of bedside evaluations, including shining light in the person’s eyes among other tests, may miss some subtle brain activity in patients in vegetative states — those thought to have little to no chance of ever recovering. According to a study published this week (April 16) in The Lancet, positron emission tomography (PET) scans can help clinicians detect with greater certainty these faint hints of consciousness even in patients thought to be hopelessly vegetative.”
PET scans, which can detect more subtle brain activity than the more frequently used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, found that . . .
The world-wide appetite for paranormal stories is a magnet for hoaxes. Some hoaxes are simply light-hearted fun but others have more serious consequences such as contaminating genuine research, wasting public money and destroying careers. Love them or hate them, here is our pick of the top ten paranormal hoaxes of all time […] …
# 10 • King Tut’s Curse
When Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered early in the 20th Century, a curse was found inscribed over the entrance: “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king”. Before long, stories were being told about unnatural deaths of workers on the site. “King Tut’s Curse” eventually found its way into popular culture and set the stage for a whole sub-genre of horror stories and movies.
In 1980 the security officer for the original excavation site admitted that stories had been circulated to scare away thieves. Historical records show that most excavation workers went on to lead long and healthy lives.
# 9 • The Cottingley Fairies
In 1917 and 1920, young English cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith produced a series of photographs depicting themselves interacting with fairies. In modern times it is hard to imagine how anyone could be fooled by these obvious fakes, but in the early 20th Century they were convincing enough to attract a huge following and dupe such notables as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
It was not until 1981 that Wright and Griffith admitted the hoax, although they continued to claim that they had indeed seen fairies and that one of the photos was genuine.
More info: The Cottingley Fairies
# 8 • The Cardiff Giant
In 1869, workers digging a well in Cardiff, New York, uncovered what appeared to be the petrified remains of a giant 3-metre (10-foot) man. Archaeologists declared the body to be fake but the public reaction was more accepting, especially among those who considered it evidence in support of biblical history. The body became a business asset as crowds paid for a glimpse. Showman P.T. Barnum tried to acquire the body but eventually made his own replica, causing additional controversy over which was the genuine giant.
In December 1869, tobacconist George Hull confessed to the hoax. The body was sculpted from concrete and buried a year prior to the well-digging.
# 7 • Uri Geller’s Spoon-Bending
During the 1970s Uri Geller enjoyed huge success with his mentalism acts, based largely on his alleged ability to bend spoons with his mind. Geller staunchly defended his claim to supernatural powers until hard evidence finally caught up with him. A 1982 book by James Randi exposed Geller’s tricks, and Geller was caught numerous times on camera manipulating stage props (e.g. pre-bending spoons). He has since earned a reputation for frivolous litigation after a series of failed lawsuits—mostly against people who publish unflattering material about him.
Despite never officially “outing” himself, Geller has tacitly confessed to the hoax. In 2007 he expressed the following change of heart: “I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer….My entire character has changed.”
More info: Uri Geller
#6 • The Amityville Horror
In 1974 Ronald DeFeo Jr shot and killed six members of his family in Amityville, New York. A year later the Lutz family moved in, only to move out 28 days later claiming they had been terrorized by ghostly presences. Their story became a best-selling book by Jay Anson and the basis of a series of films. The franchise has been highly successful, banking on the claim of being a true, verifiable story.
On closer investigation, however, it seems that not much if any of the story can be verified. Police and other records contradict the book’s account and many holes have been found in the story. In 1979, lawyer William Weber claimed: “I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.”
A man we’ll call Joe recalls plunging into darkness and seeing a bright light. He remembers a field of flowers and a figure in white who spoke to him about his future. The next thing he recalls is awakening to discover that during the time he’d experienced this vision, he’d actually been lying on an operating table with doctors hovering over him, frantically trying to restart his stopped heart.
You’ve probably heard stories similar to this one, which was recounted in a 2006 New Scientist article. What Joe remembers experiencing is called a near-death experience (NDE). Reportedly, about 10 to 20 percent of people who survive heart attacks experience an NDE (source: Callaway). Written accounts of NDEs go back to ancient times. Usually, they involve euphoria, tunnels, bright lights, ethereal beings or some combination of those phenomena. Some people report seeing a high-speed replay of memories — aka, their lives flash before their eyes.
Nobody really knows what NDEs are, or how and why they occur, though there are widely-ranging opinions. Those who believe in the metaphysical think that during an NDE, a seriously ill or injured person’s soul leaves the physical body and journeys to the entrance of the afterlife. There, for whatever reason, he or she is turned away and sent back to resume Earthly life — sometimes with a newfound insight about life’s purpose.
Physicians and neuroscientists who’ve searched for a less mystical explanation for NDEs suspect they’re hallucinations, somehow caused by the process of the dying brain shutting down. Over the years, some have theorized that NDEs result when the brain is deprived of oxygen, or when a mysterious, yet-unverified chemical binds itself to neurons in an effort to protect them from that deprivation. Still others think that the brain’s impending shutdown triggers a flood of euphoria-causing endorphins, or electrical discharges in the hippocampus (the brain area involved in memory), while others think the state is caused by the side effects of anesthesia or medications.
However, so far, science has failed to come up with an airtight explanation for NDEs. In the largest-ever study of the phenomenon, published in the Lancet in 2001, Dutch physicians interviewed 344 mostly elderly hospital patients who survived brushes with death in which their hearts stopped. Only 18 percent of them reported experiencing NDEs, and the researchers found no link to the amount of time they were in cardiac arrest, or the drugs they were given.
Since then, a 2010 study published in the journal Clinical Care offers yet another possible explanation.
… after scientists discover it was covered in luminous paint
The mystery of the Madonna figure which glowed in the dark, attracting thousands of pilgrims to a sleepy Belgian village, has been solved – and it’s not a miracle.
A team of scientists from the science faculty at Liege university discovered the Madonna was glowing in the dark because it had been covered with paint containing zinc sulphide on an unknown date.
Dr Rudi Cloots, who led the university team said: ‘This chemical has a luminous effect and is the reason for the strange light. It’s no miracle.’
But he could not explain why it took 15 years before the glow appeared.
After the statue was discovered in mid-January, police had to control crowds in the village of Jalhay, near Liege who were eager to touch the figure which suddenly began to glow in the kitchen of an elderly couple’s home.
Over 500 people visited the house in one day, eager to pay homage to it.
Via randi.org written by JREF Staff
We get mail: a Catholic Priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago recently sent a veritable love letter to Randi for his decades of good work exposing supernatural fraudsters. It ends with an appeal for JREF staff to convert to Catholicism immediately. He included two objects with the letter:
- An “Image of the Divine Mercy” (which we are told Jesus gave to St. Faustina Kowalska in pre-WWII Poland) and
- a medal that he says the Blessed Mother gave to St. Catherine Laboure in LaSallette, France in 1832.
The priest’s big point: “The Lord created the you without your consent, but he will not save you without your consent.”
Especially interesting was the talk of Randi’s age and how right now is surely the best time for him to finally convert: “Mr. Randi, you doubt so much that I know you must want to believe!”
He also provides some helpful instruction: “Go into a nearby Catholic Church, sit before the Tabernacle (which Catholics believe the Risen Lord Jesus IS Truly, Really, Substantially Present in the Eucharist Host) and open your heart, saying “Lord Jesus, if You are real, give me the grace to believe.” Then we are told we can “enter into the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity!”
Our question is Since when have Catholics become so evangelizing?
We thought you might enjoy reading Randi’s response:
Are you one of those who is eager for the End Time to begin, so you can get raptured away and watch God pour out his wrath on the unrighteous from the catered sky box of Heaven? If not, you probably agree with me that the whole Mark of the Beast thing is pretty stupid. Here are five reasons why.
James Van Praagh and the Afterlife
by Ingrid Hansen Smythe via skeptic.com
There are a number of different methods of exposing an individual as a liar and a charlatan. One way is to engage the person directly in their self-professed area of expertise and then judge their performance. You might employ an alleged brain surgeon, for example, and pay that person to perform brain surgery on you—and if the surgeon uses a cork screw and salad tongs, and the operation turns into something akin to an autopsy or a dinner party at the Todd’s (Sweeney, that is), you’ve got fairly good evidence against the so-called expert. Alternatively, you could spare yourself the agony of direct engagement and read the published papers of the brain surgeon in question. If the papers are full of contradictions, wild inaccuracies and obvious fictions—if the surgeon believes that the hippocampus is an actual college, for example, or that olfactory bulbs are planted in the spring, or the ventral horn is a member of the brass section—again you have solid evidence that the brain surgeon hasn’t a clue and is not actually all that interested in the contents of your skull but, rather, in the contents of your wallet.
In his brilliant exposé of James Van Praagh, author Miklos Jako uses the first method and actually pays the renowned medium $700 for a reading. (Watch the reading with Jako’s editorial.) In tallying up the hits (12) and misses (64), Jako calculates a success rate of 16 percent. This is remarkably low, even for a cold reading, and Jako might have gotten a higher success rate had he engaged Bubbles the chimp. Worse yet, Jako actually feeds Van Praagh a lie about his father being involved in a drunk driving accident, and Van Praagh falls for it hook, line, and sinker. “He keeps going on about how he was very sorry it hurt you,” says Van Praagh. “He knows he embarrassed you on several occasions. He’s ashamed of that. He’s ashamed. He’s sorry, he’s ashamed of that. And please don’t think of him that way.” Jako’s outrage is palpable at this point, and it’s tough for him to remain composed. “My father never embarrassed me,” he says firmly. “Never.” Based on the evidence, Jako goes on to add his dead-on-the-mark assessment of the great psychic. “James Van Praagh,” he says, “you’re full of shit.” This sums things up nicely, I think.
You’d imagine that this masterful unveiling would settle the matter once and for all—but no. The critic can always assert that the old brain tumour was acting up again and that Van Praagh was simply “off” on that particular day, or that he was subconsciously stifled by Jako’s Kryptonite-like skepticism, or that an alleged error was just a silly misunderstanding, or that the spirits were being deliberately impish and uncooperative. None of this is Van Praagh’s fault. Thus, even when a medium is wrong more often than right, support continues or even increases.1
Unlike Miklos Jako then, my approach is to use the second method, examining the writings of Mr. Van Praagh in detail to see if I can detect anything that confirms Jako’s assessment. I’ll be analyzing his book Growing Up in Heaven, Van Praagh’s singular study of the afterlife as it relates, specifically, to the deaths of children. In it, Van Praagh shares his actual conversations with dead children, his interactions with the grieving parents, his philosophical intuitions, and his revealed insights into the afterlife for those of us dying to know what really goes on behind the veil.2
Before proceeding with the specifics, allow me to briefly sum up Van Praagh’s metaphysical position. Each of us is an eternal soul that reincarnates on the earth, and on other planets and in other dimensions, in order to learn all the lessons a soul’s got to know. These lessons are, predictably, things like patience and humility, and not things like how to make napalm or take the temperature of a cat. The ultimate lesson is that “we are all love created by Love,”3 and once we’ve figured out what the hell that could possibly mean, we achieve enlightenment.
- You Too Can Be A Mindreader (randi.org)
A Skeptic’s take on souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens and other invisible powers that be
Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspirators, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Why?
The answer has two parts, starting with the concept of “patternicity,” which I defined in my December 2008 column as the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Consider the face on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, satanic messages in rock music. Of course, some patterns are real. Finding predictive patterns in changing weather, fruiting trees, migrating prey animals and hungry predators was central to the survival of Paleolithic hominids.
The problem is that we did not evolve a baloney-detection device in our brains to discriminate between true and false patterns. So we make two types of errors: a type I error, or false positive, is believing a pattern is real when it is not; a type II error, or false negative, is not believing a pattern is real when it is. If you believe that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator when it is just the wind (a type I error), you are more likely to survive than if you believe that the rustle in the grass is just the wind when it is a dangerous predator (a type II error). Because the cost of making a type I error is less than the cost of making a type II error and because there is no time for careful deliberation between patternicities in the split-second world of predator-prey interactions, natural selection would have favored those animals most likely to assume that all patterns are real.
But we do something other animals do not do. As large-brained hominids with a developed cortex and a theory of mind—the capacity to be aware of such mental states as desires and intentions in both ourselves and others—we infer agency behind the patterns we observe in a practice I call “agenticity”: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. We believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.
Agenticity carries us far beyond the spirit world. The Intelligent Designer is said to be an invisible agent who created life from the top down. Aliens are often portrayed as powerful beings coming down from on high to warn us of our impending self-destruction. Conspiracy theories predictably include hidden agents at work behind the scenes, puppet masters pulling political and economic strings as we dance to the tune of the Bilderbergers, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers or the Illuminati. Even the belief that government can impose top-down measures to rescue the economy is a form of agenticity, with President Barack Obama being touted as “the one” with almost messianic powers who will save us.
There is now substantial evidence from cognitive neuroscience that humans readily find patterns and impart agency to them . . .
- Apocalypse Thinking: All Too Human Pattern Seeking (ritholtz.com)