Pam Reynolds: A Pre-emptive Takedown of NDE Skeptics

Question from Kamil:

Hey LX! Question about the famous Pam Reynolds NDE. On the awareofaware website, I found comments on the Pam Reynolds case where a few people who researched it called the science explanation BS because the skeptics lied. Here is a response from a guy who researched the case and found problems with Keith Augustine’s explanation:

“It’s a little bit irritating to read statements like that about the Pam Reynolds case! Meticulous researchers Smit and Rivas and myself (I’m not a researcher) studied this case in minute detail).

Her first veridical perception occurred when she was under burst suppression, a pattern of mostly flat brainwaves in which consciousness is categorically not possible. We have the clear statements from the surgeons who conducted the operation on this matter.

I doubt if you have any real conception of the brutality of the operation that Pam was subjected to. That’s not your fault of course; mischievous pseudo sceptics have been quite successful in spreading misinformation and downright lies about the case because they don’t like the obvious implications.

When surgeons are removing your eye socket (bone flap) to get into an area inside the skull so they can get down to the base of the brain in an area called the circle of Willis (apparently) they don’t want anyone to wake up… believe it or not. That is why they place you in the deepest anaesthetic state possible without killing the patient…burst suppression. Her EEG was monitored all the way through the operation and no brainwaves were detected at that time so it is impossible that she woke up.

However, even if she had been wide awake (as the sceptics prefer she still had
100 decibel clicking nodules (11 clicks per second) securely fixed in her ears which is comparable to hearing the sound of a pneumatic jack hammer several feet away. Pam would have heard these incredibly loud sounds in her ears if she had been awake but she never mentioned them.

Her second set of veridical observations occurred when she was not only without brainwaves, but her heart had stopped when they were starting the process of rewarming her on circulatory by pass. That occurred at 27 degrees C (I discovered that fact) a temperature at which consciousness is not possible. She was dead. And she still had the loud clicking nodules hammering away in her ear canals.

It was previously thought that this veridical observation occurred at 32 degrees C. Keith Augustine has it at 32 degrees C and refuses to change it. However even Gerry Woerlee had to admit that I was right.

So, the Pam Reynolds case is indeed absolutely solid (as it always was) but because there is no law to prevent people telling lies and spreading misinformation online, the popular misconceptions continue to this day.”

My question is, do you think it’s true that skeptics just lie, or hide the truth? Many people who believe in OBEs and NDEs say this. 

Also if it were true that we could not explain Pam Reynold’s case, would you then believe it was really her soul, or would you say we just cannot explain it? I am just really confused on what to believe. I have even heard of people who spoke with the doctor who performed the surgery saying there is no way she should have experienced this and gotten the details correct that she did, including the shaving of her head and the use of a tool with even the correct description (a saw that looked kind of like an electric toothbrush). Do you think this likely demonstrates truth in NDEs and souls?

Answer by SmartLX:

It’s rare that a near-death experience claim has a high enough profile to deserve its own Wikipedia page but here we are. To tackle the case point by point:

  • It is never possible to determine when during the entire period of consciousness a dream or hallucination has occurred, because the subject has no sense of time when unconscious. If there was a period during which the brain was not active enough to form such experiences, such as when super-chilled and bloodless, it probably happened either side of that. Reynolds was under for hours before the procedure.
  • From an NDE believer’s perspective, however, the timing is determined by what was “observed” in the outside world during the NDE. The one unique marker in this case was the use of an electric saw, but since it looked and sounded like a dentist’s drill this is hardly an outlandish guess to make, consciously or unconsciously. As for shaving her head…she woke up with a shaved head, didn’t she?
  • See one of the reference links here: it’s possible to hear through the sound coming from the earphones, and you can test it for yourself if you don’t mind an unpleasant experience. Reynolds was a musician with a trained “ear”, making it even easier to pick something out. If there was any anaesthesia awareness in play, the noise does not invalidate it.

As for your other question about the behaviour of skeptics, the idea that they lie and conceal the truth is something believers in the disputed phenomena often claim. An X-Files-esque conspiracy to suppress evidential support for one’s own beliefs is easier to accept than a simple lack of evidence, because it makes it seem far less likely that one is just wrong. Perhaps some skeptics have been deceitful (they’re only human), even in the particular case of Pam Reynolds, but even with the facts “corrected” to what the advocates would like, there is not enough evidence to suggest anything supernatural. It’s possible that these accusations have been leveled at Augustine et al not just to rebut specific points but to discredit anything else they’ve written about the case, and reassure believers that even the refutations that seem legitimate must have holes in them somewhere. Saves them thinking too hard about it.

A Question, Initially About Amino Acids, Evolves WAY Faster Than the Acids Did

Question from Barbara:

I just looked at one atheists’ answer for how amino acids can come together to form cells. The presumption was that the AA’s were already here. Where did the AA’s originate? “Out of thin air” is not correct: where did the air come from? All “backing up” has to lead to ID. 

Since no one thus far has unequivocally DISproven Biblical accounts and eye-witnesses, what if atheists simply thoughtfully, without presumption, STUDIED the Scriptures and humbly put the existence and role of GOD between themselves and GOD? For real. If claims cannot be proven untrue in a reasonable, applicable fashion; notwithstanding the historicity of actual dates, rulers, events, prophecies, and 180 degree life-change, how would one suppose to believe proponents of the naysayers of all GOD says, and has revealed about Himself? 

Just honestly study what atheism bases its worldview and their subsequent eternity exposing and even imposing. 

There MUST be proof of something, or this life and all its’ machinations are illogical and meaningless: a morbid, hopeless, dead way of seeing all of existence. 

What is a life without purpose? Where is meaningful purpose found? A purpose and meaning beyond the seen and comprehended.

Answer by SmartLX:

That amino acids were always there is, happily, one of the things atheists do not have to presume. The Miller-Urey experiment in 1952 is often criticised by creationists (and ID proponents, who are invariably creationists) for not replicating abiogenesis fully, but what it undeniably did was produce amino acids when a strong electrical jolt (representing lightning) was introduced into a chemical environment approximating the atmosphere of the early Earth. Over time it was discovered that it produced several times more types of amino acid than Miller and Urey even detected. Our understanding of the pre-life atmosphere on Earth has changed over time, as the linked article says, but ultimately not in any ways that challenge the likelihood of spontaneous amino acid production with lightning as the catalyst.

There are all manner of claims that have not been proven untrue. In the religious sphere alone, your attitude towards the Bible could be applied to the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and the core texts of any number of other religions; they can’t conclusively be proven false simply because they’re too old and describe things impossible to witness or detect. This by itself is no reason to accept their claims.

When the non-devout do study the scriptures, which happens a great deal, you typically get laundry lists of serious concerns and not a lot more belief. One of the most famous of such responses is the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. Another is Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (full and concise text in the link). The Bible, and most apologetics, are advocated to you as a Christian by your authority figures in the faith (whether your local preachers or online evangelists) as a means of reassuring those who already believe, because that’s about all they’re good for in terms of defending the faith.

You throw a lot of other truncated arguments in there, but these have already been considered – for instance refer here for my take on claims about prophecies. As for purpose and meaning, this comes up a lot so have a quick browse.

Dealing with Depression

Question from Sam:
I have been very, very depressed lately. Many factors attribute to this: My dad’s cancer, difficulty in finding a job, Trump, racial tension, global warming, plight of migrants etc. The world seems very bleak, and as a result, it’s getting harder and harder for me to resist religion as a means of comfort. I try so much to rely on science and logic for my troubles, but none of it makes me happy. I love movies but I’m scared that if I turn to that, I might hurt somebody in some way (b/c of the whole plight of child actors). Everything in me seems broken and hopeless. Is there anyway I can still be happy again?

Answer by SmartLX:
My wife is going through something similar. Assorted life challenges coupled with large-scale global tragedies and threats completely out of her control (Trump is a major focus, and we’re not even in America) lead to frequent bouts of depression in someone already prone to them. Honestly I wish I could do more to help her, because you never want to see the people you love suffer.

The difference between her and you is that she’s Catholic. She doesn’t seriously doubt God to my knowledge and never has. That’s why I can tell you that religion can be no help at all at times like this. Her thinking is not that God has a mysterious plan that somehow requires all this suffering for some greater good, but rather that God is punishing her specifically for past unidentified wrongs while allowing all this awfulness to happen. Faith is no comfort whatsoever in the day to day.

Perhaps if you gave in to religion you’d bring a different attitude. You’d tell yourself that God loves all of us and has a grand plan, or will come down and fix all this mess eventually, or at the very least everyone will get their just deserts after death. But as you know there’s no evidence for any of this, you would need to live with the fact that anything positive you claimed about God was your own naked assertion, either ignoring it as you prayed or trying to brainwash yourself into forgetting it. And frankly, if you have the kind of mind that generates depression from such disparate sources, God would probably become part of the misery in some way, just like he is for my wife.

Meanwhile, science and logic can be comforting (e.g. by telling you that there is no supernatural force driving the world to ruin, and each misfortune big and small has tangible causes which can potentially be addressed) but they can’t make real problems suddenly unreal, and their power to reverse depression has a natural limit as a result. You’re going through some awful things and so is the world, and the normal, expected reaction to these is sadness. Unemployment especially can feel worse and worse over time, I know.

First thing I can tell you is to go and see a damn movie. If it’s an old movie, it won’t affect the “plight” of any now-grown child actors who were in it. If it’s new, at least you’re helping everyone involved get more work, and it’s a lot better than reality television where child subjects lack even the meagre protections child actors have won over the years. Getting to know about particular child actors and their work can in a small way raise their profile and increase the chances that people will notice if they’re mistreated. Most importantly, if you need to feel some joy and you know one thing that’ll do it for you, and you can only imagine it hurting people in the abstract, don’t go looking for reasons to deny yourself. By all means choose your films carefully, but there are so many.

Next thing is to focus, as the famous Serenity Prayer says (in a sentiment dating back to Greek philosopher Epictetus), on the things you can control and not the things you can’t. There’s probably very little you can do about your father’s cancer, but you can greatly affect his comfort and state of mind, so be a good son. Potential employers make up their own minds about who to hire, but you can get out there and present the best possible version of yourself, taking pride in this regardless of their decision. Politicians have the power to affect national policy on immigration, the environment and so on, but you as a citizen can contact any politician you like, draw their attention in other ways, and even have a hand in their removal. Look into local or online activist groups and see if any are doing good work you’d like to join in. The point here is to give yourself a purpose, however short-term or arbitrary, other than mere survival. Purpose leaves a hole in the mind when it’s not there.

Speaking of joining, we are social creatures and none of us are meant to shoulder the burdens of the whole world alone. You can find groups specifically for your own issues (cancer support, job hunting, human rights, etc.) but joining any group, official or informal, will potentially put you in touch with people you can truly connect with on at least one level. A burden shared is a burden halved, and just knowing there are people you can talk to if you need to can be a very nice thought. If you’re an introvert like me then you may wish to control the amount of time you spend in company, but it’s still important to have that option.

Finally, I realise you’re un- or under-employed but some form of therapy or counselling may be what you ultimately need to get a handle on your runaway thoughts. I have no idea what’s available where you are but some form of pro bono, bulk-billed or volunteer program may exist that will put you in a room with someone who can give better mental health advice than I can. Doesn’t hurt to research it.

For now, just know that I truly hope you can find ways to feel better. There are people who don’t know you at all but feel for people like you and are working to improve the world for your sake. Good luck.

Steve Taylor on NDEs as Trips

Question from Uriad:
LX, I want to know if this sways your beliefs on afterlife.

Answer by SmartLX:
Why would it sway my beliefs?

What we have here is Steve Taylor the psychologist and NDE advocate rejecting the conclusions drawn by a group of psychedelic researchers (from their study, not the psychologist’s, and he doesn’t even link to it) on whether a specific psychedelic, DMT, gives experiences akin to near death experiences and therefore a psychedelic state might actually be a part of that experience when it happens. So it’s an attempt to eliminate one possible (partial) natural explanation for NDEs, in between plugs for Taylor’s book on spiritual “science”. This would only advance the case for supernatural NDEs significantly if it were the only possible natural explanation, which we can’t say that it is.

Even within the scope of what this piece is trying to do, it doesn’t get far. It argues that DMT has not been found to occur in the human body in large enough quantities to have this effect; the researchers do not suggest this, but rather that any psychedelic chemical (check the list) might work similarly. It differentiates between NDEs and deliberate psychedelic experiences on the basis of their after-effects, without even trying to separate the effects of the dream/hallucination from the life-altering consequences of almost dying, regardless of the experience at the time.

So you tell me, why would this sway any skeptic as opposed to merely reassuring believers?

Mary in the Sun

Question from Jacob:
Hey, a friend showed me this video. I’d like to know what you think.

Answer by SmartLX:
Looks fascinating, whatever it is.

It’s a pity this footage is the best we have. It was in 2011 but that’s still well into the age of smartphones. The shape that appears within the sun varies in its prominence, and at times seems to move slightly relative to other objects. I’m not inclined to think the video itself is a complete hoax, as the reactions of those present seem genuine enough. Without really knowing what the image actually looked like in detail, we can say very little about its source, so there’s no telling whether it was naturally or deliberately generated somehow.

The conclusion the local Roman Catholics (majority religion of the southern Ivory Coast) immediately drew was that it was an apparition of the Virgin Mary. People from another area might have interpreted it very differently, as the impression one gets is merely of a robed, hooded figure. Regardless of who it resembled, given that this was seven years ago widespread belief does not seem to have been significantly influenced by it, so as a hypothetical, literal sign from God it does appear to have failed in whatever large-scale goal it had.

Quite apart from everything else, I hope no one’s vision was damaged by staring directly at the centre of the sun for as long as the image appeared.

Lotta Stories ‘Bout Jesus, Ain’t There?

Question from Kole:
Hello, I have seen testimonies lately, about people meeting Jesus. A few are: Nasir Siddiki, (former Muslim who had really bad shingles and claimed Jesus saved him)

Afshin Javid (former Muslim who claims Jesus spoke to him in a jail cell)

A story of a former Muslim woman who claims she had gall stones so bad she was in the hospital, she was in so much pain, she called out to Jesus, he appeared, cured her. Then when the doctors came later, she had no gall stones, everyone was baffled

Many NDEs where a person has a hellish experience, they call out to Jesus, he suddenly transports them into a positive place.

The thing is, there are many examples of people claiming to have interacted with Jesus, and many claims state that when they call to him, a bright light appears right away. One man said he was in hell and when he started to say Jesus, before he could finish the light appeared. Afshin and Nassir, plus the former Muslim woman all describe a bright light appearing right away, after they call out to him, and they can talk to him, he helps them. There was even a few NDEs I came across where Muslims say they were in hell, or in a life threatening situation called out to Allah, no response. Then they tried “Jesus” and suddenly a light appeared and rescued them. Does this to you prove that Jesus is the correct way to go? Does this prove Jesus to you? If you were to google it I assure you that you would find similar stories. I just don’t get how this can be.

Answer by SmartLX:
As you can see I’ve added a couple of links above to where I’ve already addressed the claims of some of the people you mentioned. The woman, Amy Ghazal, is new to me but it’s similar to other tales we’ve had here, Siddiki’s in particular. Like what’s come before, we have only her word and not her hospital records.

In any case, it’s been on record since 1979 (see this article in the NMA’s journal) that gallstones can in some cases spontaneously dissolve or disperse. This is exactly why Ghazal was scanned again before surgery; the surgeon already knew he should double-check on the day, and while he would have been surprised to see the gallstones gone he would not have thought it a miracle. That was all down to her.

You hear so many of these conversion stories because there is a way for you to hear them, and it’s hard to miss. The 700 Club disseminated Ghazal’s story, and Javid was trumpeted by It’s a New Day. Christians eat up stories like this, it feeds directly into the “one lost sheep” mentality of redeeming those on the outer. That’s why televangelists and other preachers seek the stories out and parade them before you.

People convert the other way, of course, and it can be an equally intense experience; I daresay you’ll find some fascinating stories on this list. You just won’t hear about it on Western public access TV.

NDEs: The View From The Other Side

Question from Ruslana:

I just browsed some of the recent questions/answers, and I wanted to kind of post a rebuttal to the individuals who claim that folks like Tsakiris, Long, and others are potentially proving NDEs. I would also like to know if you, SmartLX, agree with me, or not.

I myself am not aware of all the protocols being put in place for the “studies” that apparently “debunk” the current scientific theories of NDEs put in place. However, like you, SmartLX, have said– there is a huge argument from ignorance here. Sure these men are able to win debates against scientists who do not study NDEs on a regular basis, they can pull these “facts” of oxygen theory, hypoxia theory being debunked out of their debate hats. Once these “facts” are laid out, the skeptics they are debating do not have the liberty to pull out their phones, and check whether or not these studies cited are credible. I guess that is the fault of the skeptics to some extent, as they should be ready for these kinds of rebuttals. However, even if it were true that NDEs occur at the strangest times, and the non-skeptic side is correct that skeptics have incorrect explanations for the causes of NDEs, so what? Let’s give our opponents the benefit of the doubt here and cross off every single theory that we think could cause NDEs. That would at best get them half way to being correct. However, at the end of the day, we still cannot say that the cause of these NDEs is what they interpret them to be– a spirit leaving the body, only to return. Remember, there are still a whole lot of unanswered questions the skeptics are entitled to ask as well such as:
– why do NDEs contradict each other with their underlying messages? Tsakiris debated McCormack on this very topic, comparing McCormack, a man who claims he visited hell, and the NDE of another individual, who claims he or she was told that hell does not exist during his/her NDE. It cannot be that both are right. Therefore, one of them is right, or both are wrong. How can we determine who is correct, assuming one of them is?
– why does the order of NDEs, and the content within change from person to person? One person may have an OBE, followed by meeting a bright light, while another may have no OBE, but see a bright light and have psychic visions. People who believe in NDEs may argue that each soul is unique, and therefore requires a different teaching, hence why different people see different things. However, that seems like a large assumption given what we know
– some NDEs do have living people in them
– not one OBE has been verified under strict protocols. I remember reading some of the OBEs found in popular literature have been enhanced, embellished, or made up completely. An example is a blind individual who claimed they could see their doctor wearing two different coloured socks.
– why do we need brains if we have these amazing souls that can see, hear, and think more clearly than our “lousy” brains?
– why is it possible to have NDEs when we are not even “close” to death?
– NDEs are just that as well- Near Death, regardless of what hopeful people say, the NDEr did not die!

I admit there are things we cannot explain, and I am not saying NDEs are not real, but when these NDErs and people advocating for a non-materialist universe think that supposedly “debunking” our current theories on the causes of NDEs is equivalent to proving that we have souls capable of leaving the body and returning with information, they need to have a reality check. The fact is that the concept of “souls” or an “afterlife” is not particularly high on the totem pole of importance for science right now. If these individuals are so confident, then I look forward to seeing studies which actually prove that Thomas was able to tell the future from his experience, or that Jenny was really able to travel halfway across the world, and report what was going on while she was really “dead”. This would still obviously hold some subjectivity to it, but it would be a start.
My current answer to the cause of NDEs is: I don’t know –
however, I am not going to start pulling answers out of my butt.

Answer by SmartLX:
Quite right on the whole.
– Eliminating all available natural explanations merely leaves NDEs unexplained, not proven to be any kind of supernatural or divine.
– The matter cannot be settled in any kind of debate, for the reason you give: all kinds of claims can be made, but not fully researched and responded to in the time allotted. (Creationists also take advantage of this, hence the name of the “Gish gallop” technique of spewing out a huge number of claims exactly when there’s no time to address them all.)
– NDEs vary because people vary, and the doctrines the stories are required to support also vary. One story is intended to instill fear of Hell, another to reassure against the idea of Hell.
– Of course OBEs have not been verified under strict conditions, or else they’d be an accepted phenomenon. That is literally all it would take. To be fair, to engineer an NDE or crisis-related OBE in suitably strict conditions would probably require unethical conduct by any medical personnel involved. Think Flatliners.

Second-Hand NDEs

Question from Remy:
Dr. Peter Fenwick, British neurophysiologist, noted in many cases, that other people in the room of the dying person ALSO see LIGHT coming in from an unknown source. People who know the dying person and lives a thousand miles away, will have a dream of that person telling them they’re leaving now and not to worry, they’re fine and feeling wonderful. The person wakes up and calls the relatives only to be told…”Yes, he passed on a short time ago.” Some, like actress Susan Lucci, actually saw her grandmother or aunt (I can’t remember) appear in her room in a Light and tell her she is moving on….she called and was told the woman had died in the night about the same time as her encounter….so many accounts…

This happened to me, happens to many, how can so many people detect death?

Answer by SmartLX:
I couldn’t pin down any of these stories in short order, even the Susan Lucci claim, but I have heard claims of this phenomenon before. It can be explained pretty well by considering two factors together. Firstly, predictable timing: in most or all of these stories, the deceased was old or seriously ill and the death was not exactly a surprise, though of course the exact date of death was not known beforehand. Such a person is often on the minds of their loved ones as the morbid suspense builds, and will often find their way into dreams. Secondly, confirmation bias: if you have an experience like this and it’s on the wrong day, or features the wrong person, you’d hardly tell anyone even within your family. The only ones we hear about are the ones where the timing happens to be good.

You didn’t actually mention that the experiences are dreams, though I’ve read some described as such. As for waking experiences of soul lights and visions of the dead, these are purely anecdotal, exclusively told in retrospect and attributed to people whose loved ones are dying, which doesn’t put them in the most stable of mental states.

Regarding Fenwick, a scientist who appeared in his documentary on NDEs tore it to pieces afterwards. Others have criticised his assumptions and unwillingness to consider natural explanations. Like many NDE advocates in the scientific community, his main strength appears to be reassuring those who already believe.

Alex Tsakiris on NDEs, and the Impotence of Debate

Question from Uriadka:
Does Alex Tsakiris prove NDEs?

He often uses a variety of NDE researchers and says that all these skeptics and atheists including Sam Harris, Christof Koch, have gone from skeptics to somewhat switching sides in the NDE debate.

Here is a link where he debates Mike Shermer.

He brings up some decent points in all of his debates, about how some studies seem to disprove certain scientific explanations for NDEs, and then he sites doctors and people with high credentials as proof of NDEs being soul related. He just seems to always beat skeptics when they debate. If you have an opportunity, look up some of his NDE debates, and he always seems more well versed, and it gets me to question whether or not skeptics always present things out of context.

Here is an example of a quote by Dr. Long:

“Dr. Jeffrey Long: The key thing is to know a few of the consistently seen elements of near-death experience that are the strongest evidence for their reality. For example, when you’re under general anesthesia, it should be impossible to have a lucidic organized remembrance at that time. In fact, under anesthesia, you’re typically so far under, with general anesthesia they often have to breathe for you. I mean you’re literally, brain shut down to the level of the brain stem and at that point in time some people have a cardiac arrest, their hearts stop, and of course, that’s very well documented. They monitor people very carefully that are having general anesthesia.

So, I have dozens and dozens of near-death experiences that occurred under general anesthesia and at this time, it should be, if you will, doubly impossible to have a conscious remembrance, and yet they do have near-death experiences at this time, and they’re typical near-death experiences. They have the same elements and appear to have them in the same orders as near-death experiences occurring under all other circumstances. In fact, a critical survey question I asked was what their level of consciousness and alertness during the experience was.

Well, even under general anesthetics, under those powerful chemicals to produce sedation, if they had a near-death experience under general anesthesia, their level of consciousness and alertness was identical to near-death experiences occurring under all other circumstances.

There’s absolutely no way the skeptics can explain that away, it’s impossible.”

On his shows he has Brain surgeons saying there is no way some brain in that state could create an experience feeling so much more vivid and lucid than real life. It kills me how many atheists have converted due to him:

He engages with Shermer (a skeptic)

: On that last part, I don’t know that that’s really the direction where things are going. The last time we talked to you a couple of years ago, one of the guys you brought up on your team was Dr. Christof Koch, right? A guy I’ve spoken to, interviewed on this show. Hey man, he’s moved over. He switched gears, right?

Michael Shermer: Sort of moved over.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, sort of moved over. The position has shifted. These guys are no longer holding to the mind equals brain thing.

Another clip I was going to play for you, but I’ve played enough clips, you were very nice to do it.

Michael Shermer: Even Deepak says you need a brain.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, hold on. I could play for you the clip of Sam Harris and David Chalmers. So, Sam Harris, I don’t think much of Sam Harris, but he’s a name everybody knows. David Chalmers, one of the leading researchers in consciousness for a number of years, and they’re there talking, and they say, “Dan Dennett, consciousness is an illusion. You don’t really think he believes that, do you? I mean, we’re not still stuck there, right?”

So, this idea that you’re putting forward, this kind of militant, materialism, mind equals brain, we’ve moved past that. All the leading players have moved past that Michael.

Michael Shermer: No, they haven’t. No, no.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, Christof Koch has moved past it. David Chalmers has moved past it. Sam Harris has moved past it. Who are you going to point to?

Michael Shermer: I know Sam quite well, he hasn’t moved past anything, what are you talking about?

Alex Tsakiris: He’s not a strict materialist. He’s not a strict mind equals brain guy, no. He’s totally in the panpsychism, spirituality, something other than strict mind equals brain materialism.

Michael Shermer: We did a public event together in Austin that he’s going to post in a week or two that you can listen to, where we talk about…

Alex Tsakiris: Ask him, bring him on, I’ll have both of you guys on at the same time and I’ll invite the people to talk to you.

What are your thoughts on this? Does it make sense from the brilliant Alex T that souls and NDEs are real?

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s my opinion that before too long there will be an article on this site regarding every prominent NDE advocate, simply because the people sending in the questions appear to be literally working their way down a list. I should go back and check whether they’re coming in alphabetical order.

As far as I can find, Sam Harris and Christof Koch have not said or written a word in support of genuine NDEs, and Sam Harris in particular has certainly not moved an inch on the existence of souls, which is what Shermer is trying to say above despite the interruptions. (Don’t accept that? Comment and post something to the contrary by Harris himself. He’s written about spirituality, sure, but expressly to reclaim the word from supernaturalists, so read carefully.)

What seems to be happening is that at certain times in the supposedly ongoing debate, when people like Tsakiris have made a point which they don’t consider their opponents to have answered, NDE supporters write stuff like this to say Harris et al are beaten and will shortly have to concede. This is invited by Tsakiris himself who asserts as above that his opponents are coming around to his side while they’re not present. This is not the same as extracting any kind of actual concession, but it’s good enough to reassure a lot of believers.

I’ve written before on the attempts to debunk various scientific explanations of classic NDE phenomena, and here for instance I’ve addressed the undisputed fact that dreams do not occur during periods of very low brain activity, such as anaesthesia, cerebral hypoxia/anoxia, or just plain deep sleep. In order to reach these states from a starting state of consciousness, one must descend through intermediate levels of brain activity during which dreams are possible. In order to wake up to tell the tale, one must then ascend through the same levels, often more slowly. That’s two intervals either side of the “dead zone” that allow for the unconscious experiences people report afterwards. To summarise, there is always time to dream.

Winning a debate is not the same as winning an argument, which is not the same as winning someone over. I think of it in stages.
Stage 1: You win a debate if you appear to be ahead on points, literal or figurative, at the end of an exchange of predetermined length. No one’s mind is required to change.
Stage 2: You win an argument if your opponent cannot respond to your points, given ample time to research and consider, despite actually trying to do so. Still, though your opponent is no longer on solid ground they may cling to their position in the belief that it will eventually be vindicated.
Stage 3: You win someone over if they change their mind and adopt your position.

The religious appear to be good at debates, largely because those who participate in them are trained to be good at them, but this merely allows them to subjectively win the occasional debate even with bad logic and poor (or zero) evidence. Subsequent analysis of what they actually offered reveals how little they were working with, and thus a debate will hardly ever advance a religious viewpoint past stage 1 for anyone who does not already believe.

“Hell Paging Dr Rawlings, Code Blue”

Question from Uriadka:
Does this prove hell and NDEs? This story seems really compelling, and prayer seemed to get a person out of hell, like many hellish reports:

Rawlings told the story of his patient who collapsed during a stress test, and “before we could stop the machine, he dropped dead.”

Well, apparently not completely dead, because in the patient’s own words,

“When I came to, Dr. Rawlings was giving me CPR, and he asked me what was the matter, because I was looking so scared. I told him that I had been to hell and I need help! He said to me, ‘keep your hell to yourself, I’m a doctor and I’m trying to save your life, you need a minister for that.’ … And I would fade out every so often, so then he would focus CPR again and bring me back…Whenever I would come back to my body, I kept asking, “Please help me, please help me, I don’t want to go back to hell.” Soon a nurse named Pam said, “He needs help, do something!” At that time, Dr. Rawlings told me to repeat this short prayer. “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus, save my soul. Keep me alive. If I die, please keep me out of hell!”

The experience of the patient, Charles McKaig, then became pleasant, and he reported seeing his deceased mother and stepmother and being surrounded and comforted by the Holy Spirit. Upon awakening, he was an immediate evangelical Christian.

In Rawlings’ words, “After this was all over, I realized what really happened. It was a double conversion. Not only had this make-believe prayer converted this atheist … it had also converted this atheist doctor that was working on him”

Answer by SmartLX:
“Compelling” is a subjective term. The sincerity of the patient supposedly compelled Dr Rawlings to accept Christianity; honestly I guess you had to be there.

This sounds like a great many NDEs we’ve had described to us here, with the added wrinkle that the patient was repeatedly coming and going. This is a nightmarish scenario for anyone, and during the unconscious periods between consciousness and brain inactivity, what dreams might have come had every right to be hellish as the brain struggled to get a handle on its circumstances. Once it was given a simple purpose – pray for salvation – perhaps it was able to regain some order and return to more peaceful dreams. It worked so well that the sheer contrast between mental states had an indelible effect on both patient and doctor, and the subsequent dreams kept to the Christian theme.

This story doesn’t even attempt to serve as proof of a divine experience, the way some other stories do. McKaig had an out-of-body sensation but didn’t learn anything about his surroundings that he wouldn’t otherwise have known. He came back from clinical death but wasn’t miraculously cured of any conditions; he was a simple heart patient going in and coming out. He had an experience in a traumatic situation, it ended, the world is no different for it except for the opinions of two people. For the rest of us, it’s only the least bit “compelling” if you already believe in what they’re pushing.