NDE Claim: Al Sullivan and the Flapping Doctor

Question from Mirek:
Most convincing NDE of all time. I want skeptic atheist opinions.

I feel that if we do have a soul, this NDE describes it best. Perhaps you all have heard of it. Please give me your input, I want honest opinions about this amazing testimony. It sounds great at the surface, could this prove the existence of a soul?

The Case of Al Sullivan. Bruce Grayson.
Al Sullivan, then a 56-year-old truck driver, almost died on January 18, 1998. A few days earlier he had experienced an irregular heartbeat and was rushed to the hospital for diagnostic testing, during which one of his coronary arteries became blocked. Doctors were forced to administer an emergency quadruple bypass surgery. It was at this time that Sullivan felt himself leave his body. In an account two years later, Sullivan would describe what he came to think of as—and some researchers came to label as—his near-death experience, or NDE:

I began my journey in an upward direction and found myself in a very thick, black, billowy smoke-like atmosphere … I rose to an amphitheater like place … I was able to grasp the wall and look over it into the area the wall was blocking. To my amazement, at the lower left-hand side was, of all things, me. I was laying [sic] on a table covered with light blue sheets and I was cut open so as to expose my chest cavity. It was in this cavity that I was able to see my heart on what appeared to be a small glass table.
This beginning, on its own, is a generic-enough surgery scene. It’s one that anyone with a television has likely seen, in high drama and vivid gore, 20 times over. Whether one has had real life experience witnessing (or undergoing) a surgery or not, the stage is set and familiar. Were this all that Sullivan had remembered, it would not be an especially intriguing account. But there was more.
I was able to see my surgeon, who just moments ago had explained to me what he was going to do during my operation. He appeared to be somewhat perplexed. I thought he was flapping his arms as if trying to fly.
Sullivan goes on—his deceased mother and deceased brother-in-law are there, and so is a tunnel lit in a “golden hue,” and so, too, a pervading general sense of euphoria and peace—but, at the risk of sounding callous, it’s that weird part about the arm flapping that really means something. That’s the part that Sullivan, were he as unconscious as one is surely meant to be during a quadruple bypass surgery, should not have been able to see. That was what Sullivan’s surgeon, Dr. Takata, looked like (as he later admitted) before putting on his gloves. He was in the habit of holding his hands to his chest—to keep himself from touching anything—and giving instructions to his assistants, using his elbows to point at various surgical instrument. Sullivan was clinically dead, eyes taped shut, sheets over him. How could he have seen this?

Answer by SmartLX:
The thing about well-known NDE claims is that there’s inevitably been a lot of discussion. A lot of detail is here and here but very briefly:
– The flapping motion could have occurred when the patient was only under a local anaesthetic, before the general was administered. In other words he could have seen it before he went under. The doctor also can’t confirm that he did it at all during that operation.
– No one admits to explaining the behaviour to the patient before or after the surgery. That’s not confirmation that no one did mention it.
– The operation was a complete success without any major complications. The patient was clinically dead in a sense while the heart was stopped, but no more than during any heart surgery. If that’s all it takes, wouldn’t NDEs be far more common? Heart disease is currently endemic worldwide.
– The claim wasn’t made publicly until two years afterwards, and the surgeons weren’t interviewed until nine years afterwards. That’s a long time to let Sullivan get his story straight.

Generally though, the crux of this argument is the rhetorical question, “How could Sullivan have known about the flapping motion unless he was out-of-body?” You’re supposed to accept that explanation if you personally can’t come up with an alternative. Argument from ignorance, right there. This is the problem with any argument for the supernatural which relies on something remaining unexplained: even if an explanation is never found, it’s fundamentally weak, but potential explanations usually turn up. So keep a close eye out for the word “how”.

3 thoughts on “NDE Claim: Al Sullivan and the Flapping Doctor”

  1. As usual, it is the usual theist BS try to seize upon anything, no mater how absurd, as “proof” of a deity. It’s sad they are so desperate for any evidence at all that they will repeat the same old nonsense to convince anyone that they have “facts”.

    Come on theists, lies about a paradise and threats of a hell have been working for you for thousands of years. Stick with what you know.

    I understand, it’s easier to say “God did it” than to think; especially when you are not well-equipped for thinking.

  2. Mirek, you seem particularly determined to get someone around here to accept NDE claims as proof for a god creature, based on your repeated posting of NDE stories to LX over and over again. The same arguments that refute your previous attempts also work here. LX has already lined them out for you, so I won’t waste your time doing the same. Until you can provide some empirical data and evidence, or give us a case involving a controlled and documented situation, no one is going to believe claims made years after the fact that cannot be corroborated or checked.

  3. According to this account, Sullivan is supposed to have seen a stage of the operation (his chest cavity already open and heart exposed) simultaneously with something that happened *before* the operation (Takata making the strange arm movements). So, this account is clearly bogus.

    (I’m also very suspicious about this whole idea that pointing at things with his elbows would make the doctor look as if he was flapping his arms and trying to fly. I mean, picture the scene – he’d move an elbow to indicate one instrument while he talked about it, then move that or his other elbow in a slightly different direction to indicate another instrument… if you imagine what those sorts of movements might look like to someone who couldn’t hear what was being said, they would look rather odd, but they wouldn’t be at all the sort of movements that would make you think he was ‘flapping his arms and trying to fly’, which sounds much more as though someone was moving the whole of both arms energetically up and down straight out. But, even apart from this, the two aspects of the scene that Sullivan is claiming to be seen wouldn’t have occurred simultaneously, because his chest wouldn’t have been open at the point where the surgeon didn’t have his gloves on.)

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