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Near Death, explained
April 23, 2012 1:27 PM   Subscribe

"...Pam agreed to die in order to save her life—and in the process had what is perhaps the most famous case of independent corroboration of out of body experience (OBE) perceptions on record...Pam later said, she felt herself “pop” out of her body and hover above it, watching as doctors worked on her body. Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions...with considerable accuracy.

NDE studies [such as these] suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness."
Near Death, explained.

Excerpted from “The Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives.”
posted by anazgnos (111 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
You have to get quite far down in that before the wOoOooOo starts.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


i'm having a near-life experience at the moment
posted by facetious at 1:38 PM on April 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


NDE studies [such as these] suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness."

They absolutely do not suggest that unless you're looking for a reason to believe that they do.
posted by clockzero at 1:39 PM on April 23, 2012 [55 favorites]


Really? There is nothing new in this article, nothing. Same old anecdotal "Well, they saw things, or at least they remember seeing things, and the memories seem vivid, and some of those memories seem to corroborate with what was happening around them". And they neglected to cite any actual studies testing the accuracy of out of body experiences?

I believe there was a recent study testing the ability to observe the real world while having an OBE... something like putting a card or other object on top of a high shelf where the patient would have no way to see it, and testing whether they could identify the object while "floating" above their body during the OBE? And it came up negative. I'll post it as soon as I can find it.
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 1:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Pam later said, she felt herself “pop” out of her body and hover above it

Climbers climbing at altitude without supplemental oxygen have described the exact same thing. Anecdotes such as these suggest the brain does fucked up shit when it's running on fumes.
posted by bondcliff at 1:49 PM on April 23, 2012 [48 favorites]


So, if the “dying brain” is not responsible for NDEs, could they simply be hallucinations? In my opinion, the answer is no. Let’s look at the example of hallucinations that can result from ingesting ketamine...

Wow, good logic. Could rabbits be eating my plants? No, because here are what raccoon tracks look like, and we don't see any of those.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:50 PM on April 23, 2012 [50 favorites]


I hope so much that this is true. But hope isn't science, and strong feelings either for or against an idea can often get in the way of investigation, which is why people need to be careful in discussions like this. It's a real minefield. But the article is still an interesting perspective and a comfort in a this terrible time. Thanks for posting the link, anazgnos.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:51 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Describing a tennis shoe that a person could not have actually perceived with her bodily sensory apparatus is something NOT normally accessible to our senses and awareness by definition, even if you are predisposed to disposing of anything smelling of woo-woo.

Scientific studies of frauds claiming to have the ability to have OBE's on demand certainly do come up with negative results. It is only in extraordinary circumstances such as NDE's that such paranormal experiences seem to occur.
posted by kozad at 1:52 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Instead of hoping for awesome things after I'm dead, I'm working towards having them when I'm alive.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:53 PM on April 23, 2012 [19 favorites]


“The Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives.”

Protip: When a sciency-type person starts talking about This New Discovery That Will Change The Way We Live Our Lives they are usually

1) Selling you something
2) It's probably a book/DVD series

If it was real science you'd read about it in Nature before it shows up in Oprah's book club.
posted by Avenger at 1:55 PM on April 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


You forgot the pseudo-science and metaphysics tags.

Is there anything to discuss here? A single link to an excerpt from a book making wild, unsupportable claims about the nature of existence? No secondary information? Might as well just post a link to a chapter from the Book of Mormon or a Bible Passage.
posted by Anoplura at 1:56 PM on April 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


This shit is horrifying. Man I did NOT need to read this
posted by MangyCarface at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2012


What the BLEEP do we know about life after death?
posted by graphnerd at 1:59 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's hard to know where to go with an article that makes extraordinary scientific claims without citation. And it seems like this is being posted before there's been time for any critical reviews of the book (that I can find), so there's no way to really bring in any context. The best I can find is PZ Myer's review of Mario Beauregard's previous book.

Short version: he's not really a fan.
posted by Honorable John at 1:59 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Kozad, the problem with using a very small number of anecdotes as evidence of a real phenomenon is that people can get things "right" completely by chance. In fact, given enough people having OBEs, you would EXPECT a certain number of completely arbitrary "memories" being somewhat accurate, while of course the 99.9% of negative results are simply forgotten because they're not memorable.

Even in cases where the subject seems to have accuracy too high to be accounted for by random chance, there was absolutely no way to prove their "results" were based on an OBE. The Maria woman who saw the tennis shoe, for example, might have simply seen it from a window in the hospital, or from outside, or overheard someone talking about it, and then those memories incorporated themselves into a vivid hallucination later on. That's why controlled studies that eliminate those possibilities are so important.
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 2:00 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or we could just be vastly underestimating the boundaries and/or definitions of consciousness. There are also a lot of stories about people that should be totally unconscious who are actually experiencing some level of awareness despite being under GA and/or sedation.

2 years ago when I was in the hospital with my collapsed lung and while I was still in the ER they knocked me out cold with propofol so they could make the incision between my ribs for the chest tube. (Incidentally, the same drug that probably killed Michael Jackson. And if he was taking that crazy shit every night recreationally to help him "sleep" or whatever, what the fuck? That's not sleep, that's practically a coma.)

Sure, it knocked me out cold. I don't remember the exact moment I went under, but I do remember the rapid on-set of the effects of the drug - very cold, dark, fuzzy, then nothing at all - and I do remember waking up.

I remember waking up because I woke up talking, but I wasn't just babbling nonsense. I was actually doing a bit of (very limited) critical thinking.

I was in the middle of providing technical support for the nurse who was on the computer in the room. I had overheard someone making familiar frustrated noises about the computer being frozen/hung, so I asked "Do you need to save any data?" "No" was the reply, so I said "Press and hold the power button until it shuts off, then hit it again to reboot." "Hey, that worked!" and then nervous muttering around the ER docs and nurses - about six to eight folks in the room at the time - that amounted to "OK, what the fuck was that? He was supposed to be out cold. This better not come back to bite us in the ass with a lawsuit."

Yet I wasn't really even aware enough yet to even remember I had a body, or that I was even in an ER with a life-threatening emergency. I just remember waking up in the middle of providing basic tech support and being really confused by all the tubes and wires sticking out of me.

Anyway, yeah. The human brain does some crazy, nearly magical stuff when running on fumes. Being clinically dead is probably one hell of a trip.
posted by loquacious at 2:04 PM on April 23, 2012 [75 favorites]


Describing a tennis shoe that a person could not have actually perceived with her bodily sensory apparatus is something NOT normally accessible to our senses and awareness by definition, even if you are predisposed to disposing of anything smelling of woo-woo.

But, if for some reason, she'd glanced at it days before, then it changes to merely a recalled memory, right? And that's the problem with anecdata like this. It seems compelling, but there are mundane answers available, and there's no way we can be sure that she didn't see the shoe -- even if she doesn't consciously remember seeing it in the past, or maybe some nurse was talking about it while she was sleeping and she's remembering that.

It seems compelling, yes -- but it's not a controlled experiment. Thus, it's not compelling evidence.
posted by eriko at 2:05 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


i have near little-death experiences all the time.
posted by whatgorilla at 2:06 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder what's more likely:
1) We don't fully understand how the brain works, or
2) We all have undetectable immortal souls that only reveal themselves for the briefest of instants as we're dying.
posted by pjaust at 2:06 PM on April 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


Let’s look at the example of hallucinations that can result from ingesting ketamine...

Why, thank you. I believe I will.
posted by steambadger at 2:08 PM on April 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


What the BLEEP do we know about life after death?

Nothing at all, and we probably never will. Doesn't mean it's real or not real, it's just something that can't be proven from within life itself. It can always be disproven, because there's no evidence for continued existence of the self past death. But the only way to prove it is to die. If you wake up somewhere else you've learned something fundamental about existence. If you don't wake up you'll never know.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:08 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come on, we all know that your soul weighs 21 grams.
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 2:09 PM on April 23, 2012


More generally, if there were any possible mechanism by which reality could be perceived in a way other than well-understood physical processes, any organism developing that ability to use that would have a nearly unbeatable evolutionary edge. If possible, organic ESP should be as common as vision and hearing (both of which have independently evolved multiple times).

Which of these sounds most plausible?
1. ESP, even in near-death people, is impossible
2. There is a billions-of-billions-of-billions-to-one statistical fluke that has prevented widespread biological ESP from developing on Earth
3. We are on the precipice of an X-Men scenario, where humans are extraordinarily close to developing harnessable ESP powers, but are only able (why?) to access those powers during near-death experiences. By random mutation, someone will soon have the ability to use those powers on-demand
4. Magic. Literal, unexplainable magic, for the first time in human history
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


any organism developing that ability to use that would have a nearly unbeatable evolutionary edge

Don't you read X-Men? Those guys get hunted down, like, woo, all the time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


0xFCAF, I didn't even want to bring up the issues of "If we have a soul, how does it communicate with the brain?" Because if it DOES communicate with the physical brain, science must be able to measure the physical effects, and if the soul doesn't communicate with the brain, how does a "soul" have any relationship to the brain which (experimentally) holds all of our memories, thoughts, and makes our decisions for us?
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm going to stop posting a million comments at this point, except to say I may have entirely fabricated the idea of an OBE experimental study. However, here's some cool anecdotes against OBEs being real, which of course, cancel out the positive anecdotes. BAM!
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 2:18 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This book is all about why people believe this sort of stuff. Also called "Paranormality: Why We Believe the Impossible" but it's the same book.

Out of body experiences are covered in chapter 2 and it goes over the case of Maria. Apparently the Maria case is really popular with proponents of this stuff.

The tl;dr version: the case isn't all it's cracked up to be. When it was investigated, the shoe was easily visible from outside the hospital and could even be seen by a patient in bed in the room where the shoe was. It's likely, and plausible, that Maria saw the shoe at some point and/or heard people talking about it while sedated in the hospital.

Also, Clark didn't publish her account of the events until 7 years after they happened. That's plenty of time for the details to morph and become more exaggerated.

There may be good evidence for OBE's and NDE's out there somewhere, but the Maria case isn't it.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 2:26 PM on April 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


Or we could just be vastly underestimating the boundaries and/or definitions of consciousness.

If anything your anecdote supports the idea that we commonly overestimate consciousness. You didn't even need to be conscious to do your thing. Your consciousness is merely the factory foreman who thinks he runs everything while the workers roll their eyes on get on with the real business.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


pjaust: I wonder what's more likely:
1) We don't fully understand how the brain works, or
2) We all have undetectable immortal souls that only reveal themselves for the briefest of instants as we're dying.


But that's a false dilemma. Either or both could be true, or neither.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:33 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a wise man once said, he was not afraid of waking up in Hell. He was afraid of waking up in the middle of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
posted by delfin at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


More generally, if there were any possible mechanism by which reality could be perceived in a way other than well-understood physical processes, any organism developing that ability to use that would have a nearly unbeatable evolutionary edge.

so, if humans had ESP, they'd totally dominate the planet?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:46 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've died twice in my life, once at five and again when I was thirty-three and I've never had a near death experience. Just I was there, then I wasn't, then I was again. It might be nice if I had one, maybe comforting and my friends wouldn't look so disappointed when I tell them, "Nope no tunnel, no dead relatives just a light switch flipping off and back on again."

I did have a very trippy out of body experience once while getting my wisdom teeth pulled under general antithetic but I would guess that was just my mind making pictures to go with the sounds going on around me.
posted by the_artificer at 2:49 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


so, if humans had ESP, they'd totally dominate the planet?

No, it goes like this: if some humans had ESP, they'd totally dominate the humans who didn't, and by now we'd all have ESP.

When it comes to evolution, a single organism's biggest competition usually comes from within the same species.
posted by Edgewise at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder what's more likely:
1) We don't fully understand how the brain works, or
2) We all have undetectable immortal souls that only reveal themselves for the briefest of instants as we're dying.


whatever makes you feel better?
posted by Avenger50 at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"general antithetic"

Love it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well that is what it sounded like while I still had the gauze in my mouth...
posted by the_artificer at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surveys conducted in the United States and Germany suggest that approximately 4.2 percent of the population has reported an NDE.

A hell of a lot of people believe they have been abducted by aliens and had their lives and values profoundly changed as a result -- that doesn't make it so.
posted by modernnomad at 3:07 PM on April 23, 2012


materialistic SCIENCE!
posted by bystander at 3:08 PM on April 23, 2012


If ESP was real, it would probably already have evolved in lesser animals.
posted by ymgve at 3:09 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Abject ignorance.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:09 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


They proposed to call this other mode of perception mindsight.

one of the many powers that await you BEYOND THE VEIL!!!!!
posted by fuq at 3:13 PM on April 23, 2012


I see where you're going with the ESP argument, and I more or less agree with you on OBEs being non-significant, but I would like to note that just because evolution on Earth hasn't reached something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. If we take the "OBEs aren't real because if they were real, animals would have evolved to exploit them" as a proof of the nonexistence of OBEs, we've also thereby proved the nonexistence of the wheel.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:17 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I knew you'd say that but I didn't want to reveal my evolutionary advantage.
posted by storybored at 3:24 PM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wonder what relationship (if any) this has to victims of sexual trauma, who often recount "floating" and watching their assault from above.
posted by desjardins at 3:41 PM on April 23, 2012


Something else to remember is that we also used to think that there were only 5 primary senses, but that's obviously changed.

Magnetoception may still be on the list for homo sapiens, for one example.

This is entirely anecdotal - and not meant to be a claim of powers of woo at all beyond being weird - but over the years I've learned I sleep better with my head oriented roughly north. I can and have oriented my bed in any/all other directions, but I'll eventually I'll twist and turn in my sleep until I'm pointed north. It doesn't matter where the headboard actually is, I'll eventually start waking up pointed north.

I also have a pretty keen directional/spatial sense and have been known to be able to point to north give or take about 5 degrees on request even when it's dark out or I'm in a confusing space.

Point being that ESP-like behaviors aren't always about fantastic things like telepathy, perhaps some of them or their symptoms) are simply undocumented and perfectly natural senses.
posted by loquacious at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


You are all going to feel silly as you slowly realize that magic is being reintroduced into the world, just like in Westeros.
posted by Falconetti at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


In all seriousness, if someone is truly interested in OBEs, there are drugs that will do it for you. It's really not mysterious. You can have spiritual experiences on demand.
posted by jet_manifesto at 3:48 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only reason this whole business is under discussion is because for hundreds, if not thousands of years people have been telling each other that death's not the end, without good evidence.

And now suddenly some people are claiming that shoes or playing cards or whatever on top of filing cabinets in ER rooms are suddenly supportive evidence of claims dating back that far?

It shouldn't even be a question. Either weak evidence has had hundreds of years to accumulate to enormous strength (which it clearly hasn't as it's still a topic of discussion), or strong evidence has suddenly sprouted up just right now that supports preconceived ideas (which it hasn't - it's still weak enough to be a source of argument) - or it's still a load of cobblers.

It's part of the definition of pathological science - "The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results."

You wouldn't be taking this as a serious suggestion at all if people hadn't been insisting on it for no reason at all for generations repeatedly.
posted by edd at 4:04 PM on April 23, 2012


Near-death experiencer Joe Pfluger described in great detail a kite in a tree, stuck in a spot that he could not possibly have seen unless he was hovering in the air above it.

He was wrong and this event was never reported.
posted by zippy at 4:05 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is the same kind of silly nonsense as homeopathy, climate change denialism and creationism. Bullshit, all of it.
posted by dave78981 at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the same kind of silly nonsense as homeopathy, climate change denialism and creationism. Bullshit, all of it.


I mean, that's pretty much it. I don't what else I could add. This is utter crap, and the book attempting to reignite the crap is also crap. So yeah. What dave78981 said.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:16 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a light. And it's beautiful.
And that's all I have to say on that for now.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:25 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


There was a bit about the testability of near death experiences recently in New Scientist magazine recently. That article is behind a paywall now, but a copy of the text can be read here. Paragraph 18 refers to near death experiences.
posted by DarkForest at 4:42 PM on April 23, 2012


We don't yet have the scientific ability to concretely determine anything about this subject, beyond the usual measurable body and brain functions. That's not exactly a fact I'd think so many people would be quite so smug about.
posted by hermitosis at 4:46 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


A control would be inducing an NDE in someone who has never read or heard anything about NDEs. Such a person would be rather hard to find in our culture. Even if you don't read NDE literature in particular, you've all seen movies that use the imagery.

Even someone who strenuously disbelieves in NDEs in conscious life might confabulate the imagery through familiarity with it.
posted by bad grammar at 5:13 PM on April 23, 2012


NDE studies also suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness.

I tend to agree with most of the posters here; this seems like nonsense to me.

Anyway, yeah. The human brain does some crazy, nearly magical stuff when running on fumes. Being clinically dead is probably one hell of a trip.

The human brain does crazy magical stuff when it is not running of fumes. How can the existence of experience/experiencer, i.e. consciousness, be explained materialistically/scientifically? I can't imagine how. Can we even explain what the color red is scientifically (the experience not the photon/EM radiation wavelength) other than pointing to which neurons happen to be firing in the visual cortex when the color red is experienced?

"The sensation of color cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so." Erwin Schrödinger

There is no need to resort to reports of NDE to assert the mystery of consciousness.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:23 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The stuff we understand, compared to the stuff that we don't yet know exists, much less have any comprehension of, is likely to fit into a thimble, surrounded by a space the size of our star. Our entire awareness of everything, as a species, fits in the thimble, the reality that we could comprehend, given the time and evolution, the inside of the star, and the actual content and meaning of the totality of reality, as vast and varied as everything immediately on the other side of a nice-size shell around our star, say, within the orbit of Mercury.

THAT is how much we probably know about anything outside of our nice little ride on this planet, and the bits of wisdom accumulated through a few thousand years, a true drop in the cosmic bucket.

We currently know enough about the structure of the brain to know that oxygen deprivation can indeed induce the types of stimuli that sometimes accompany NDE experiences. But to think that means that all NDE accounts are invariably nothing more than hallucinations is certainly convenient for conventional analysis, but likely less than accurate in some cases.

But I'm a bigger idiot than most to even bring any of this up, so weigh my opinion accordingly.
posted by dbiedny at 5:44 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


> ...Pam agreed to die in order to save her life—

Never worries me what mind altering antics people get up to, but I do worry that we remove 'irreversible' from death's definition.
posted by de at 5:47 PM on April 23, 2012


wouldn't it be nice
posted by 200burritos at 5:49 PM on April 23, 2012


His comparison to ketamine hallucinations is weak and self-serving, just because these NDE's don't correspond to one type of drug induced hallucination doesn't mean these experiences aren't some form of hallucination or recreated memory.

When exactly are these experiences reported by patients? And who is recording them? How many believed in these types of experiences beforehand, or attribute them to magic spirits afterwards? The article doesn't really address that all.

You can take in a lot of information before your brain shuts down and after it starts again, even if your not fully conscious, and when you do regain consciousness it's about as likely that your mind, after a serious trauma, has created a memory. Then we add in the biases, conscious or unconscious, of the patient and the people recording these experiences, even if they aren't trying to skew anything, and this experiences while interesting aren't as fantastic as they may seem.

The writer's bias is pretty blatant even before it turns into an outright argument for turning back the clock to a world where the mind and body, spirit and materialism, were considered meaningful distinctions beyond psychology. The writer practically scoffs at science and skepticism, as if they were ruining the party.

I don't know what the standards are here, but I'm surprised this even got posted.
posted by PJLandis at 5:51 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


But to think that means that all NDE accounts are invariably nothing more than hallucinations is certainly convenient for conventional analysis, but likely less than accurate in some cases.

Couldn't you apply that argument to UFO abductions, Bigfoot sightings, claims of telekinesis, spiritual healing, etc...?
posted by Bort at 6:03 PM on April 23, 2012


That NDE's are not magical spirit rides is called the null hypothesis, and if you truly believed that we as species know almost nothing then you would be wholeheartedly agreeing with the skeptics.

Hallucination's are only one explanation, and I also believe that we as a species know little to nothing which is why I don't invent wild fantasies to explain phenomena that can be explained by much simpler explanations, explanations based on things I do know, to whatever infinitessemal degree, and not things I have to imagine beforehand.

The fact is, floating out of your body is some spirit form is outrageously more unlikely than some kind of hallucination or some other brain process that kicks in before and/or after being near-death.
posted by PJLandis at 6:03 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


The questions of life after death, existence beyond the physical, and so on are all accidental consequences of the real questions: is there life before death? Does "I" exist? Assuming an easy answer to these questions are what lead to these empty questions regarding an afterlives.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:28 PM on April 23, 2012


From the ages of about 10 to 15 the focus of my consciousness used to slip out from behind my eyes (my pov if you will) and move about three or four feet behind and above my head, I could "see" my body as if I was standing behind it. This basically always happened when I was reclining, but not fully flat on my back. During this period I also had completely realistic full on sleep paralysis/night terrors on a regular basis (demon/alien/witches smothering me for the most part). In fact one of these experiences was, without question, the most terrifying experience of my life.

Now I've done (more than my) my fair share of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs including your exotics, DMT and so on, and nothing I ever did was as freaky, as real and as alien as those night terrors and when I left my head three feet feet in front of me, stone sober for all of those by the way. My subjective opinion is that these events were all generated by my brain and my brain alone with no external influence.

I've also died, had to be resuscitated via the paddles and everything. I don't recall a thing, no tunnels, no life montages, no machine elves or Saint Peter or anything, just nothing. I don't doubt under other circumstances I might have seen something, but when I was actually dead, nothing, nothing at all. Now I might have missed out on all that due to the circumstances (pharmaceutical, neurological) of my untimely temporary demise and eventual reanimation, but I just gotta say nothing. Nor am I asserting that if I had any experiences that they would have been anything other than my whole nervous system basically shitting the bed in a major way.

This is just one dude's experience and I make no claims otherwise, but I will say this: The human brain is one fucking funky ass piece of equipment.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:32 PM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I tend to agree with all the skeptics here, but the interesting part of the article to me was the description of Ms. Reynolds surgery using deep hypothermic circulatory arrest (DHCA). Over the years I have done the anesthesia for a number of these operations. Nowadays coil embolization has replaced this incredibly invasive surgery for most giant aneurysms. There are still situations in heart surgery (especially congenital heart surgery) where this technique is used, but it is becoming less common as techniques for cardiopulmonary bypass incrementally improve over the years. It is quite technical and a few years old, but this is a good summary of the state of the art.

So on to my critique of the article. I wonder why Ms. Reynolds had her surgery in Arizona when she lived in Atlanta; despite what the article implies, hypothermic cardiac arrest is something that at least three hospitals I know of in Georgia employ. There are other considerations in choosing a surgeon for this sort of thing, so I assume it was reasonable for her to go to Arizona for her surgery.

After that, the descriptions of what went on in the OR are kind of interesting (although typical of the breathless journalism describing medical procedures that may or may not be routine.)

They lubricated Pam’s eyes to prevent drying, and taped them shut
Anesthesiologists do that to pretty much everyone under general anesthesia. Once anesthetized a patient loses their corneal reflex, making corneal abrasion a risk of anesthesia, especially if their eyelids don't close well. I generally eschew using a lubricant because they make for blurry vision and many patients will immediately try to rub their eyes to get it out, perhaps causing the aforementioned corneal abrasion in the process. In the case of a patient who will end up on a ventilator (not a respirator, dammit!) in the ICU, though, a lubricant is a good idea.


They attached EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of her cerebral cortex. They inserted small, molded speakers into her ears and secured them with gauze and tape. The speakers would emit repeated 100-decibel clicks—approximately the noise produced by a speeding express train—eliminating outside sounds and measuring the activity of her brainstem.
This sounds like auditory evoked potentials, probably combined with other EEG information, especially looking for burst suppression (periods of electrical activity alternating with electrical silence/flatlining on the EEG, a common measure of pharmacologic neuroprotection) to insure adequate sedation to minimize cerebral oxygen consumption. These are reasonable monitoring techniques for this sort of surgery.

Next the article describes the patient's recall of a number of events early in the operation. Although anesthesiologists try their best to avoid any type of recall during surgery, critically ill patients may not tolerate the depth of anesthesia that will guarantee amnesia. The sort of operation described is certainly one that would have a high risk of having recall postoperatively (in case you are interested, emergency c-sections and trauma surgery are other situations with high risk for recall). I have no idea what was really happening at that time, but what is described is nothing magical, but intraoperative awareness in a critically ill patient.

At 11:25 a.m., the team tilted up the head of the operating table, turned off the bypass machine, and drained the blood from her body. Pamela Reynolds was clinically dead.
"Clinically dead" is one of those terms that annoys me. Although some medical professionals must use it, I have rarely if ever heard it used outside of articles like this. Although the ECG and EEG were both silent, that only means the metabolic activity of those organs was too faint to detect with skin electrodes. Both heart and brain were continuing to metabolize, thus the 30-minute to 1 hour limit that is usually cited for this technique. The kidneys continue to function, although urine output may stop at the lower temperatures. The liver continues to function, as do muscles; in fact, the muscles can be a real problem as they will shiver and consume vast amounts of oxygen (which is in short supply at this time) unless they have been shut down with neuromuscular blockers (very commonly used in anesthesia). In 1991 she would likely have been given a large dose of thiopental for neuroprotection; currently drug shortages dictate that something like propofol be used instead, as loquacious mentioned above (my brief comment on propofol and Michael Jackson here).

But this extraordinary experience ended abruptly, as Reynolds’s deceased uncle led her back to her body—a feeling she described as “plunging into a pool of ice.”
Once again, this sounds more like an episode of intraoperative recall rather than some new insight into the nature of life and death. In particular the "pool of ice" phrase catches my attention. As was already mentioned the patient in this sort of operation is cooled to 15-18 degrees centigrade in order to protect their brain and other organs. What was not mentioned, but is common practice, is that the head of a patient undergoing DHCA is packed in ice during the critical part of the surgery. Not only does this add extra protection to the brain, but it also is thought to decrease the risk of gas embolism in the cerebral microcirculation during rewarming, since gas is more soluble in a colder liquid.

Pam’s life had been restored, and she was taken to the recovery room in stable condition at 2:10 p.m.
I know I am nitpicking again, but in any hospital I have seen, she would have gone to the ICU rather than the recovery room. This isn't a huge distinction, since ICU's to a large extent evolved from recovery rooms. Given the physiologic derangements involved in DHCA, it would not be unusual to leave her intubated and ventilated for several hours, or even overnight; not a typical job for a recovery room.

I have an anecdote in this vein; back when I did anesthesia for adult heart surgery I had a patient with critical aortic stenosis who came to the OR to get it fixed. One of the hallmarks of that problem is that it can be difficult to resuscitate those patients when they arrest (the physiology of aortic stenosis is such that it can drastically impair coronary perfusion). We got the patient asleep without incident, had an arterial line and two IVs in place, and went to place a pulmonary artery catheter (a standard routine for that sort of surgery). As luck would have it the patient went into ventricular fibrillation while we were floating the PA catheter; a complication that sometimes happens, but particularly bad in this patient. Knowing that time was of the essence I grabbed the defibrillator and shocked him 3 times in a row, the first two times before the nurse could grab the conductive gel and put it on his chest (leaving him with a couple of nice , but superficial, burns on his chest). Fortunately things went well and he recovered nicely. Things got interesting a couple of days later when the resident I was working with went by to check on him. He clearly remembered that right after he was anesthetized he came to St Peter as if in a dream. St. Peter was building a wall out of bricks that were events in my patient's life, and when he saw my patient standing there he suddenly sped up, as if he had to finish the wall/the patient's life all at once. My patient remembered telling him "stop! I'm not done yet!", then there was a big bang and the next thing he knew he was in the ICU after his surgery. Definitely one of the more memorable experiences of my medical career. I am convinced that any number of interesting things happen in the brain at the edge of existence (and so do others), but this article takes a story that is not that unique and uses it as a springboard to jump to unwarranted conclusions.

Finally, as a former subscriber to salon.com, I have to say they are moving in the wrong direction every time they redesign their website.
posted by TedW at 6:43 PM on April 23, 2012 [166 favorites]


From the ages of about 10 to 15 the focus of my consciousness used to slip out from behind my eyes (my pov if you will) and move about three or four feet behind and above my head, I could "see" my body as if I was standing behind it.

This is, oddly enough, one of the rare things L Ron Hubbard got right. He discovered (or learned from somebody else & took credit for it) you could fairly reliably induce an OBE by telling your subject to "be three feet behind your head". That one trick is probably responsible for quite a lot of Scientology's success over the years.
posted by scalefree at 7:07 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The writer practically scoffs at science and skepticism, as if they were ruining the party.

A heretic! Burn them!
posted by gimonca at 7:13 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to settle this once and for all by watching Flatliners on Netflix instant tonight.
posted by rh at 7:14 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Science of Out of Body Experiences talks about research that demonstrates how easily our brains can be made to shift our pov outside of our bodies. All it takes is a camera and the right sensory stimuli. There is nothing mysterious about OBEs.

The name Mario Beauregard, the author of the book in the FPP sounds very familiar to me. If i'm not mistaken he had another book published many years ago. It was on ESP as well and had the same methodological problems as this one does.
posted by storybored at 7:16 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe there was a recent study testing the ability to observe the real world while having an OBE... something like putting a card or other object on top of a high shelf where the patient would have no way to see it, and testing whether they could identify the object while "floating" above their body during the OBE?

The study was perhaps this one:

Parnia, S., Waller, D. G., Yeates, R., & Fenwick, P. (2001). A qualitative and quantitative study of the incidence, features, and aetiology of near death experiences in cardiac arrest survivors. Resuscitation, 48, 149-156.

They suspended boards from the ceiling with figures on them that could not be seen from the floor, in the hopes of catching a cardiac arrest patient having an experience of floating at the ceiling, viewing themselves waking up. Four of 63 cardiac arrest patients during the time of the study reported a near death experience. None of the four patients viewed themselves from a floating perspective (so uncooperative!), so, of course, no one reported the figures. Perhaps there was a follow-up with the same methodology, but I don't know of one off the top of my head.
posted by iceberg273 at 7:19 PM on April 23, 2012


I'm of the same school of life experience as Divine_Wino. I've had any number of mystical life changing experiences under the influence of various substances, none that could be described as OBE or NDE although Ketamine has given me very believable sensations of being extremely small and extremely large. I have been resuscitated several times as a result of heart problems and all I can relate is it is like a switch being thrown. You can tell you are going out but then nothing until you are back.

Why do only 4 or 5% of patients undergoing trauma report these occurrences? I mean if we are human beings with a "soul or transcendent mind" separate from the brain/body how is that everyone does not experience the phenomena being related by those who do. Consciousness is a pretty slippery idea it involves rational and irrational components and a mix of them that varies by personality and experience. Throw in our own egocentric "understanding" of reality and it is quite remarkable that we have a consensus reality we can share. If it serves a purpose to believe in the woo I am happy to let people believe, I can only report my own experience and understanding. What I would hate to see is a pseudo-science evolve around the uncertainties of the death experience.
posted by pdxpogo at 7:22 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article is a very tidy litmus test for an understanding of basic scientific inquiry, a.k.a. a skeptical mind.

If you believe, after reading it, you have just read proof that OBE experiences are real, and occur after "death", you do not understand basic critical scientific reasoning.

In fact, if after reading any damn article at all, your first reaction is, "See! Science can't explain that!", you're still Just. Not. Getting. It.

(Hint: there's many things science can't explain, yet.)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:26 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The stuff we understand, compared to the stuff that we don't yet know exists, much less have any comprehension of, is likely to fit into a thimble, surrounded by a space the size of our star. Our entire awareness of everything, as a species, fits in the thimble, the reality that we could comprehend, given the time and evolution, the inside of the star, and the actual content and meaning of the totality of reality, as vast and varied as everything immediately on the other side of a nice-size shell around our star, say, within the orbit of Mercury.

THAT is how much we probably know about anything outside of our nice little ride on this planet, and the bits of wisdom accumulated through a few thousand years, a true drop in the cosmic bucket.


In other words...what the bleep do we know?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:34 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even in cases where the subject seems to have accuracy too high to be accounted for by random chance, there was absolutely no way to prove their "results" were based on an OBE. The Maria woman who saw the tennis shoe, for example, might have simply seen it from a window in the hospital, or from outside, or overheard someone talking about it, and then those memories incorporated themselves into a vivid hallucination later on. That's why controlled studies that eliminate those possibilities are so important.

So uh, as someone who has some experience opening the doors of perception back in his 20's, I can attest to shit like exactly that happening ALL OF THE TIME. It's crazy the sort of things your brain will organize together during a psychedelic experience. I remember seeing little photos from magazines I'd glanced at earlier that day popping up into my visual cortex, and just a general blender of subconsciously gathered information orgiastically intertwining itself with my sensory perceptions.
posted by lordaych at 7:51 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Despite corroborated reports, many materialist scientists cling to the notion that OBEs and NDEs are located in the brain.

But ... they are? It's not a notion you need to cling real hard to. And them being located in the brain is the best part about it. Like TedW's fascinating remarks upthread - the human brain is pretty incredible in how it responds to its immediate environment. Why move the focus away from the most immediate evidence, where we might learn more about the brain, and into what amounts to speculation about forces that, even if real, could not be scientifically measured?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:55 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


BTW, never tried DMT though psilocybin is basically "time-release" DMT made bio-available through the oral route of administration as a result of its chemical structure. The pineal gland produces DMT and it's an incredibly potent hallucinogen. There are certain events that can trigger a release of DMT and I think "running on fumes" is one of them. It is interesting to think about a biochemical pathway to transcendence of the physical self. Just fun and interesting to think about, but woo to be sure. ATM :)
posted by lordaych at 7:56 PM on April 23, 2012


The author says Kimberly Clark was a social worker, which is true, but neglects to add that she had her own NDE as a child and was the founder and first leader of the Seattle branch of a NDE association. When Maria had her NDE, Kimberly was a believer, not an impartial third party.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:05 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


loquacious: that sleeping-north-shit just blew my little mind and sent shivers all throughout my body. I'm a fitful sleeper when I sleep in bed with my wife. I find myself draping my arms over her and tossing and turning and being pushed back into my space. If I sleep on my couch or my son's bed (long story) I feel fine and never fall off or anything despite being massive and barely fitting, and in both cases my head points north. I have bad sleep apnea and use a memory foam mattress that I use to change up my sleeping arrangements (keeping in mind I drive my wife crazy in bed), and have tried sleeping in a walk-in closet one night just to change up my routine while being in the same room as my wife (for whatever reason, I wanted to not-be-on-the-bed but she wanted me in the room) and after many attempts I am completely miserable doing this and this north-south-shit makes a lot of sense. I'm a very analytical but intuitive weird bipolar dude who goes through all sorts of "woo" cycles while being very skeptical and disbelieving much of the time.

Also, I pick up magnetic fields when I put my forehead near the forehead of anyone I love. I first noticed that with my wife and she feels it too. Totally. Fucking. Undeniable. Sensation.
posted by lordaych at 8:06 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clearly, the answer is that the 4-5 percent of people who have had memorable near-death experiences are the only ones that have souls. The people who have been clinically dead, came back, but didn't have memories of NDEs lack souls. Sorry, everyone (or should I say, everything) here who perceived it as turning a switch on and off... unfortunately, you perceived it that way because you're automatons.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:07 PM on April 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Instead of hoping for awesome things after I'm dead, I'm working towards having them when I'm alive."

A false dichotomy. You can certainly and easily do both.


"it's not a controlled experiment. Thus, it's not compelling evidence."

I realize that you are likely speaking from a scientific perspective (or from the viewpoint of someone striving for scientific rigor), but this is entirely too high a bar to set for the vast majority of claims about the world. Think about how many claims you think of as absolutely certain and consider how few of them came about as a result of being observe in a controlled experiment. Come to think of it, the conclusions of controlled experiments are some of the least certain that I can think of.


"I wonder what's more likely:
1) We don't fully understand how the brain works, or
2) We all have undetectable immortal souls that only reveal themselves for the briefest of instants as we're dying.
"

As others pointed out, a false dichotomy. (Also questions begs. See below.)


"Which of these sounds most plausible?
1. ESP, even in near-death people, is impossible
2. There is a billions-of-billions-of-billions-to-one statistical fluke that has prevented widespread biological ESP from developing on Earth
3. We are on the precipice of an X-Men scenario, where humans are extraordinarily close to developing harnessable ESP powers, but are only able (why?) to access those powers during near-death experiences. By random mutation, someone will soon have the ability to use those powers on-demand
4. Magic. Literal, unexplainable magic, for the first time in human history
"

Notice that, unless you beg the question by assuming that the world is certainly (or almost certainly) materialistic there is no formal logical reason why 2,3,4 should be less likely than 1. Each of these positions cohere nicely with an internally self-consistent metaphysics. And as noted claiming that only one of those metaphysics is likely to be right, is questing begging, because which metaphysics is right is the question at hand. (OK, fine, in 2 you're probably not question begging the metaphysics. You are, however, assuming that what we know about evolution is accurate enough to rule out this possibility.)

I mean, I don't go to Salon for my science (or philosophy) reporting, and I didn't see a whole lot of citations in the linked piece. So, I wouldn't advise using this in a dissertation (frankly I wouldn't even let Intro to Phil students use this as a source), but if you're going to critique, do it better than Ayn Rand.
posted by oddman at 8:20 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh man I missed this bit:

most ketamine users realize that the experiences produced by this drug are illusory. In contrast, NDErs are strongly convinced of the reality of what they experienced.


"Someone who takes a controlled substance realizes they are high, while someone who loses consciousness believes this is happening."

There's a lot of goalpost-moving in this piece - when the common set of symptoms with exceptions are being used as proof of NDEs, the commonalities are proof that they are real, but when the common set of symptoms with exceptions are being applied to his griping about "materialist scientists", the exceptions are proof that they are wrong.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:23 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, that last clause of the ending sentence was said in a good-natured, friends kidding friends tone.
posted by oddman at 8:35 PM on April 23, 2012


I hereby nominate TedW's comment for the sidebar. Thank you TedW.

BTW, there are so many endogenous explanations for "sober" hallucinations in general and DMT is one of them. Mere "the brain goes nuts without oxygen and all kinds of electrochemical shit just freaks the fuck out" is another. Consider what nitrous oxide does, passing completely untouched through the body while causing an amazing storm of brain activity; nobody really knows exactly how it works but it is more closely related to ketamine than any proper hallucinogen.

But I think DMT plays a crucial role in these sorts of events, and it falls into a completely different class (psychedelic / hallucinogen) from ketamine (dissociative anesthetic).

It's totally disingenous and hand-wavy by any standard to say "ketamine does X therefore all drugs that may bring upon hallucinations cannot cause effects similar to Y" (including drugs that are not classified specifically as hallucinogens like ketamine)
posted by lordaych at 8:41 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I pick up magnetic fields when I put my forehead near the forehead of anyone I love. I first noticed that with my wife and she feels it too. Totally. Fucking. Undeniable. Sensation.

What does this even mean?
posted by dumbland at 8:45 PM on April 23, 2012


You Can't Tip A Buick, that's because watching professional sports makes you dead inside, as we all learned here a few days ago.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:02 PM on April 23, 2012


Also, when I see a post sluglined "Neuroscience" I expect it to be at least 10% neuroscience.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:03 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


dumbland: allow me to rephrase. -1 points for me for being all woo-woo and not sufficiently cloaking everything I say in disclaimers like loq did; -1 points for you for the bad faith "what does x even mean" hipster trope.

Basically it's a feeling of tinging "push/pull/buzz" going on inside my head and my wife's head. I noticed it with her first then picked up on it with my mom and they both confirm the sensation. We are all atheists for whatever that's worth.

I've only noticed it with my wife, children, and mother. I don't get that face-to-face close with other folks, so it was hyperbole to say "anyone I love." And there is certainly no evidence that magnetism has anything to do with it, but that's the closest way to explain the sensation, having been a magnet-collecting dork going on 26 years. Maybe static buzzyiness is another way to put it.

You could say it's caused by oxytocin, endogenous phenethylamines, or totally imagined and a product of suggestion. But it feels distinctly like a magnetic pull an inch or two above my nose and an inch or two inside my skull and I noticed it physically before I started attaching woo-woo explanations to it. Whatever it is, I'm fine with it.
posted by lordaych at 9:04 PM on April 23, 2012


lordaych: As an experiment, try re-arranging your bedroom so you can sleep pointing north and see if it helps.

I'm also not so great at sleeping with others on a regular basis. It's wonderful when I'm into it, I love cuddling and contact, and sometimes I even sleep better with someone than without. There's certainly a bliss, there, to wake up tangled up with someone you love.

It drove one of my exes crazy and unfortunately hurt her feelings, but for my entire life getting quality sleep has always been extremely difficult, tenuous and fleeting and it's really hard to explain that to someone who wants you in bed with them and any other idea is a rejection of them as a person.

And, well, I've learned at this point that if I ever live with a partner again there will need to be A Serious Discussion about my screwy sleep habits, and that the only way it'll work is if we have two beds - if not spare bedrooms, and that it's for their own damn good otherwise I'll keep 'em up all night trying to not toss and turn and sprawl all over the bed or throw covers completely off the bed or sleeping with just one particular body part covered and so on.

As a kid I secretly would sometimes stay awake for days and spend the entire night reading or painting models, go to school, go home and repeat the process the next night and finally crash in the middle of school the next day or whenever I got home.

But the pointing north thing is - for me - real, whatever it is, even as a placebo. But leave me alone in a magnetically transparent windowless box for a few nights or weeks and I bet I'll eventually end up pointing north when I sleep.

It's so important that in my small apartment where I don't have a lot of functional choices of where to put my bed that I sleep with my feet to the wall and my head towards the open end of the bed. At a particular angle, no less, since my building is about 20-30 degrees out of whack with north-south. I don't intentionally choose the angle, I just wake up pointing in that general direction. I've even woken up at friend's houses or in hotel beds completely turned around from where I started if the bed is facing the wrong way.

And no... I'm not trying to be quirky. It's not an affectation or anything, and I'm someone who actually has had to cultivate some affectations of not being so damn weird - I often long for "normal", whatever that is.

It's weird as fuck. And a bit annoying, really, because I'd rather have my bed somewhere else in the apartment, but I tried it everywhere else already.
posted by loquacious at 10:10 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once went to a talk given by a pair of Buddhist monks at a local university. They were members of a musical group of some sort, the name of which escapes me. Anyway, they were doing a question and answer about their philosophy. One member of the audience, a young man, asked several questions along the lines of "what is life after death like?" The monks explained Buddhist beliefs about the afterlife, etc., but stressed that the focus of their devotion was on life, and not what comes after. These answers apparently didn't satisfy the audience member, who seemed to want an exact description of what to expect. He kept asking question after question, until finally one of the monks said [and I am paraphrasing from memory here], You keep asking us what death will be like, and what comes after it. Don't worry it. It will come to you soon enough, and you will experience for yourself what comes or does not come after.

And I was enlightened.
posted by moonbiter at 10:10 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seems like all you would need to be doing is detecting the warmth of someone else's skin in close proximity to yours, and then letting your brain go hog-wild with fancy ideas about that normal sensation. The forehead/nasal bridge area has all kind of weird sensitivity about it. When I wear a new pair of glasses it makes my forehead feel weird, though there is no physical contact there, and I don't conclude that the glasses are magentic.

So yeah as the OP I don't endorse the conclusions of the article in any way, but I thought it was interesting enough to post. I wouldn't say that I posted it solely for the discussion or to have people tear it apart, but I'm happy with this thread.
posted by anazgnos at 10:18 PM on April 23, 2012


Loquacious:

You must have been born on the opposite pole. I sleep pointing south and will settle on pointing west, but my preferences are south or death. Or I guess, just grumpiness. But I admit that I am a bad anecdata point; I need 9 hours of sleep to function even with the southern pole crowning my skull, I cannot concentrate while music is playing, stand the smell of truffle oil, or the flavor of mint and chocolate. These may all be related, but all proven signs that I am a pod person.

The little weirdity about direction of bed always makes me wonder: what if you date someone with an affinity to the opposite pole? Are you destined to smelling their feet? Do you compromise with a west pointing bed or an east pointing bed?

THESE DE-RAILS ARE ALL YOUR FAULT LOQUACIOUS!!
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:06 PM on April 23, 2012


That is, the combination of mint and chocolate. Individually: delicious!
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:07 PM on April 23, 2012


I used to know I was taking enough iron supplement when I'd toss and turn all night, and then awake to find myself aligned North-South.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:14 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, man, what magnetically attractive commentary. I had no idea peanuts were so high in iron.
posted by loquacious at 11:30 PM on April 23, 2012


But leave me alone in a magnetically transparent windowless box for a few nights or weeks and I bet I'll eventually end up pointing north when I sleep.

Seems like a doable experiment. Maybe take some video of yourself aligning north when you *do* consciously know where north is, in your sleep?
posted by effugas at 11:40 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kickstarter!!
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:42 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I sleep naked. Hey, maybe it can fund itself on a cam site.

I don't think it's possible to be scientifically rigorous with a sample of one specimen and no control group. What would be the control? Simply the lack of orientation and identifiable orientation information before entering the box? Magnetic blindfolds on a long-winding car ride arriving at an unknown location filled with cameras?

Kinky. I'm going to need a perfectly round, rotating bed.
posted by loquacious at 12:32 AM on April 24, 2012


loquacious--

The first thing is to validate that you fix yourself irrespective of the position of your bed. So, move your bed around, start going to sleep in different positions, see how you end up.

If that works, then the challenge is to strip your own knowledge of what direction is what. That will require a compatriot and somewhere to stay without windows, but that shouldn't be too bad.
posted by effugas at 12:41 AM on April 24, 2012


The first thing is to validate that you fix yourself irrespective of the position of your bed. So, move your bed around, start going to sleep in different positions, see how you end up.

Easier. Have someone put a few decent sized NdFeB magnets on one end of the bed -- making sure that they're all aligned in polarity.* This will easily overwhelm the Earth's modest magnetic field. If loquacious consistently orients himself to one direction or the other, in line with the bed, then have that same someone, on some random night, flip the magnets over. If loquacious realigns (hold on a second, need to make a twitter post), then, well...

1) I would take it as evidence that this phenomenon do doo de doo do needs to be investigated further, and...

2) That would fix the bed orientation issues for loquacious rather nicely.

Of course, loquacious may be figuring out north via other means, which is why a bid of testing is needed.


* Easiest way to do this is to take one of them, mark on side, and make sure that if you hold that side to the others when mounted to the bed, that they all repel.
posted by eriko at 2:33 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, my first trip to the sidebar; I am honored and humbled!
posted by TedW at 5:53 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


From this skeptical article about Near Death Experiences:
[O]ne child.... could see her own body as doctors wearing green masks tried to start an IV. Then she saw her living teacher and classmates at her bedside, comforting her and singing to her (her teacher did not visit her in the hospital). Finally, three tall beings dressed in white that she identified as doctors asked her to push a button on a box at her bedside, telling her that if she pressed the green button she could go with them, but she would never see her family again. She pressed the red button and regained consciousness (Morse 68-69).
I never considered, before, the connection between OBEs/NDEs and alien abduction experiences (regarding the last two sentences). Too, the fact that some people report OBEs during sleep paralysis while others report encounter/abduction experiences (and often times people with chronic sleep paralysis will experience both at various points).
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on April 24, 2012


11 minutes into this Radiolab podcast they talk to a lady who talks about the practical use of an OBE mode in the human imagination.
posted by wobh at 4:50 PM on April 24, 2012


What the BLEEP do we know about life after death?

It's as improbable as sex after marriage.
posted by bowmaniac at 6:42 PM on April 24, 2012


Did no one else but graphnerd see that awful, awful movie or something? Consider yourselves lucky.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:47 PM on April 24, 2012


But the pointing north thing is - for me - real, whatever it is, even as a placebo. But leave me alone in a magnetically transparent windowless box for a few nights or weeks and I bet I'll eventually end up pointing north when I sleep.

You must have been born on the opposite pole. I sleep pointing south and will settle on pointing west, but my preferences are south or death.


And the two of them, laying him east and west, that the mysterious earth-currents which thrill the clay of our bodies might help and not hinder, took him to pieces all one long afternoon--bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp, half hypnotized by the perpetual flick and readjustment of the uneasy chudders that veiled their eyes, Kim slid ten thousand miles into slumber--thirty-six hours of it--sleep that soaked like rain after drought. -- Rudyard Kipling
posted by timeo danaos at 7:04 PM on April 24, 2012


Anyone interested in a scientific* take on NDEs would do well to read "The Ego Tunnel" by Thomas Metzinger. Great stuff. His more academic book, "Being No One" is extremely challenging for the layperson (or at least, this layperson), but also rewarding.

* I think he's technically a philosopher of science
posted by balistic at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2012


Today Salon published biologist PZ Myers' rebuttal to the original NDE article. Myers is a professional who enjoys debunking clap-trap and calls the article's author "a well-established kook." He takes Salon to task for publishing such nonsense.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:09 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Today, Salon published a response from the original article's author. He stands firmly by NDE and points to all the examples in his new book. He also has some words about PZ Myers, calling him "an ideologue (masquerading as a person of science) ... Full of hate and anger.... he behaves like a fanatical fundamentalist engaged in a holy war to defend the materialist doctrine."
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:05 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I confess that I haven't read 'his new book' and probably won't ever, but most reviews indicate that 'all the examples' are just re-tellings of well-known examples of NDE. Note that in the original posted excerpt, the reported NDE occured in 1991. I was reading about it in books on NDE published when I was in middle school in the mid-90s. The story of Maria isn't even dated in the article, but I find evidence that it was viewed skeptically as early as 1996.

Taking old anecdotes of a supposed phenomenon and re-hashing them in a way that makes them seem new and unexplanable (indeed, with little to no mention of new facts which discount the paranormal presentation) is a classic tactic used by paranormal proponents.
posted by muddgirl at 7:41 AM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Today, Salon published a response from the original article's author.

Thanks for posting that. I enjoy reading PZ Myers (even if he can be a bit cantankerous at times) and was wondering if there would be a response to his article. I have to say, Beauregard seems to miss the point that anecdotes are not very good at proving things. In this article the patient supposedly has no brain function because he is in cardiac arrest. The point Beauregard misses is that once CPR begins, there is now blood flowing to the brain and function can return. He does not mention EEG leads confirming electrical silence in this patient and it would be very unusual to use EEG during CPR. The fact that the patient remembers events during his resuscitation is evidence that the CPR was effective, not that anything out of the ordinary was going on.
posted by TedW at 10:54 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And today the debate continues, with PZ Myers explaining that anecdotes are not data and all Beauregard's psychiatric publications and research grants are superfluous if all he has are anecdotes. (He also compares Beauregard to Newton!)
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:39 PM on May 1, 2012


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