By J. Francis Wolfe via Listverse
There is very good reason for all of humanity to have a healthy curiosity relating to near-death experiences. Death is the one experience we are all guaranteed to ultimately share. The field of science has therefore made numerous attempts to explain the near-death phenomena that so many people have independently described.
10 • The Temporoparietal Junction May Be Responsible For Out-Of-Body Experiences
Among the more common elements of near-death experiences is the distinct feeling of an individual having left their worldly body. Those who have had an “out-of-body” experience often report floating above themselves while being able to see their body and the people surrounding them. There have even been a few reports in which those who have had an out-of-body experience can identify objects and events occurring during times in which they were considered clinically dead, but there have also been studies demonstrating that this all could be due to damage in the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
The temporoparietal junction is responsible for assembling the data collected by the body’s senses and organs to form the perception of an individual’s body. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is possible that this results in the “out-of-body” experience that so many people have reported.
Though the experience may appear to be incredibly vivid and real, scientific studies have been able to reproduce this phenomenon without bringing the subject close to death, simply by electrically stimulating the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
9 • Excess Carbon Dioxide May Create The Tunnel And White Light
Nearly every individual who has had a near-death experience discusses the existence of a bright, white light and a tunnel that seems to lead to the afterlife. The white light seems to take on an otherworldly quality and is often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and welcoming.
A 2010 study of patients who had heart attacks revealed that there may be a correlation between this type of near-death experience and the level of CO2 in the blood. Out of the 52 cardiac patients studied, 11 reported a near-death experience. The levels of CO2 in the blood of those 11 patients were significantly higher than the patients who did not report having a near-death experience.
The feeling among researchers is that the excess CO2 in the bloodstream can have a significant effect on vision, which leads to patients seeing the tunnel and the bright light.
8 • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain Causes Hallucinations
Many near-death experiences include the presence of long-dead friends and relatives appearing and perhaps even guiding the individual as they pass from the world of the living to the afterlife. Memories from every part of life are recalled in rapid succession, and there is an overwhelming sense of comfort, yet it appears that scientific research has provided an explanation for this phenomenon as well.
While excess CO2 has an effect on vision during a near-death experience, a lack of oxygen to the brain also plays a contributing role. It is well known that oxygen deprivation can lead to hallucinations and may even contribute to the feeling of euphoria that is often reported. While the sample size available to researchers is limited, studies have indicated that individuals who reported a near-death experience during cardiac arrest also had lower levels of oxygen.
Researchers believe that oxygen deprivation could well result in people “seeing their lives flash before their eyes” or being transported to a place where they are surrounded by friends and relatives who have long since passed on. This remains just a theory, however, as the other available research seems to indicate that multiple factors contribute to the near-death experience, which include the aforementioned CO2 levels as well. It makes sense in this regard that near-death experiences are commonly reported by those resuscitated following a heart attack, as a heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain.
After my father died suddenly five years ago, I found myself sitting in the upstairs alcove of a high ranch in Kings Park that was decorated in gaudy crucifixes and adorable cherubs. Across from me sat the medium a friend had sworn by. A medium who had told my husband the day before that she’d been visited by my father and that he wanted to talk to me.
She wasn’t the first psychic medium I’d been to. And most certainly wasn’t the last. She described my father as a veteran (he was), who liked to cook (he did). She gave details about how he died, and described how he’d lived. The message she said he wished to relay to me resonated, quite deeply, but it was what she said to me as we were talking about my budding writing career that turned me into a believer.
“She gets it from me,” the medium told me my father had said. As a joke.
A wiseass even in the afterlife? That was what cemented the unbelievable truth to me that my dead father was right there in the room with me.
And so it was with an open mind that I attended Theresa Caputo Live! The Experience at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on December 17. The packed house was rife with nervous laughter and quiet murmurs as the audience filed in an hour before she came onto Westbury’s iconic round stage, set with a high table draped in white cloth, holding lit white candles and a white floral bouquet.
Caputo finally walked out in sky-high sparkly Christian Louboutins and a flouncy dress to thunderous applause. She briefed the audience about what to expect, counseling us to please accept anything we could connect to our lives as messages to us from our departed loved ones from “beyond the physical world.” She said she couldn’t stress it enough, and she was true to her word, as she continuously reminded the audience throughout the next two and a half hours to interpret her words as direct messages, especially if she failed to address each of us individually.
“It’s so nice to be home,” the Hicksville mom told the Westbury audience. “Everybody understands my accent!”
The audience laughed in recognition as she enunciated words like “feather’ and “father” as “feath-ah” and “fath-ah.”
Whenever the discussion of a dualist vs materialist model of the mind comes up, one common point made to support the dualist position (that the mind is something other than or more than just the functioning of the brain) is that the brain may not be the origin of the mind, but rather is just the receiver. Often an explicit comparison is made to radios or televisions.
The brain as receiver hypothesis, however, is wholly inadequate to explain the relationship between the brain and the mind, as I will explain below.
As an example of the brain-receiver argument, David Eagleman writes in his book Incognito:
As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.
He argues that the Bushman might falsely conclude that the wires in the radio produce the voices by some unknown mechanism, because he has no knowledge of electromagnetic radiation and radio technology.
This point also came up several times in the 600+ comments following my post on the Afterlife Debate. Commenter Luoge, for example, wrote:
“But the brain-as-mediator model has bot yet been ruled out. We can tamper with a TV set and modify its behaviour just as a neurosurgeon can do with a brain. We can shut down some, or all, of its functioning, and we can stimulate to show specific responses. And yet no neurologist is known to have thought that the TV studio was inside the TV set.”
There are two reasons to reject the brain-as-mediator model – it does not explain the intimate relationship between brain and mind, and (even if it could) it is entirely unnecessary.
To deal with the latter point first, I have used the example of the light-fairy. When I flip the light switch on my wall, the materialist model holds that I am closing a circuit, allowing electricity to flow through the wires in my wall to a specific appliance (such as a light fixture). That light fixture contains a light bulb which adds resistance to the circuit and uses the electrical energy to heat an element in order to produce light and heat.
One might hypothesize, however, that an invisible light fairy lives in my wall. When I flip the switch the fairy flies to the fixture where it draws energy from the electrical wires, and then creates light and heat that it causes to radiate from the bulb. The light bulb is not producing the light and heat, it is just a conduit for the light fairy’s light and heat.
There is no way you can prove that my light fairy does not exist. It is simply entirely unnecessary, and adds nothing to our understanding of reality. The physics of electrical circuits do a fine job of accounting for the behavior of the light switch and the light. There is no need to invoke light bulb dualism.
The same is true of the brain and the mind, the only difference being that both are a lot more complex.
More importantly, however, we have enough information to rule out the brain-as-receiver model unequivocally.
The examples often given of the radio or TV analogy are very telling. They refer to altering the quality of the reception, the volume, even changing the channel. But those are only the crudest analogies to the relationship between brain and mind.
A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama? Can you change the dialogue of the characters? Can you stimulate one of the wires in the TV in order to make one of the on-screen characters twitch?
Well, that is what would be necessary in order for the analogy to hold.
Right now, the best candidates we have for finding alien life are some sort of fossilized bacteria on Mars. If we’re lucky, there might be microbes on Europa, though it won’t be easy to get to them.
In centuries past, people knew a lot less about space, so they came up with significantly more elaborate possibilities about the aliens we might find there.
10 • Camille Flammarion’s Alien Afterlife
French astronomer Camille Flammarion supported Percival Lowell’s theories about canals on Mars. When some scientists did an experiment suggesting Lowell was seeing an optical illusion, Flammarion repeated the experiment to try and prove them wrong.
He believed Martians would be superior humans, due to how low a bar we’d set through our habit of war and how “we cannot even agree on a universal calendar.” He suggested creatures on the red planet may have tried to communicate with us when we were still hunting mammoths, but they got no response and gave up. He concluded, “I would like to go to Mars, it must be an interesting place.”
He believed the Moon was likely inhabited. He speculated about aliens in light of Darwin’s groundbreaking theories and came up with the idea of a race of sentient plants that combine digestion and respiration into one process. A mystic, he believed that after death, the soul would travel from one planet to another in pursuit of perfection. That belief had started in the Enlightenment, and Flammarion kept it alive into the 20th century.
This belief is reflected in a piece of fiction he wrote, in which he describes a dead man named Lumen finding himself on a far world. Lumen arrives at a mountain, covered with palaces woven from trees, from which he can see the Sun and planets as distant stars. At the summit of the mountain town, 20 or 30 old men stand staring into the sky, criticizing the terrible human violence their magical eyes can see going on in Paris.
9 • Mormon Moon Men
Many tales relate to Mormon beliefs of life on other worlds, some more reliable than others. The most common, often put forward by critics of the church, is that Joseph Smith claimed that the Moon was inhabited. These Moon-men dressed like Quakers and lived for 1,000 years. The story was first told by a Mormon named Oliver Huntington, who’d written it in his journal in 1881.
It’s not a reliable record of what Smith believed, but it’s not implausible. Sermons from Joseph Smith’s brother Hyum in 1843 said: “Sun and Moon is inhabited.” Brigham Young, the church’s second president, preached in 1870 that there was “no question” that the Sun was made to give light to its own inhabitants, as well as to those on Earth and elsewhere.
8 • William Herschel
British scientist William Herschel is one of the most important astronomers in history. Among his discoveries were Uranus, several of Saturn’s moons, infrared radiation, and binary star systems. He was also obsessed with the idea of extraterrestrial life, particularly on the Moon.
In the 1770s, he wrote in his journal that he’d seen forests and pastures on the lunar surface. He later believed he’d seen canals and patches of vegetation. Yet it was craters that most caught Herschel’s imagination. He built the largest telescope in history to that point, and he saw perfectly round structures unlike anything anyone had seen before. He called them “circuses” and pondered “perhaps, then on the Moon every town is one very large Circus?”
Herschel’s thoughts on Lunarians (as he called them) weren’t known until after his death. Some of his contemporaries were less shy. Franz von Paula Gruituisen published three papers in the mid-1820s detailing the colossal buildings, animal tracks, roads, cities, and temples he’d found. Yet they all paled in comparison to the discoveries attributed to William Herschel’s son John, himself a famed astronomer, who was said to have built a telescope powerful enough to study lunar insects. Sadly, those claims were part of one of history’s most infamous hoaxes.