Month: June 2011

141. Steve Volk Investigates UFOs, Ghosts, Telepathy and Near-Death Experience in, Fringe-ology

Investigative journalist and author Steve Volk seeks a middle-ground between mainstream science skepticism and researchers on the paranormal fringe. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Steve Volk, author of Fringe-ology.  During the interview Mr. Volk discusses his personal experience with poltergeist phenomena: Alex Tsakiris: In your book you do a very nice job of exploring the mystery of the paranormal. But at the same time, I look at the mystery associated with your experience with a ghost in your house. That is, what happened to you when you were a kid growing up and you experienced this poltergeist phenomena. At the end of the day, in the book you come away and say, “Well, it’s a mystery.” Steve Volk: It is. Alex Tsakiris: But that’s a tricky word because it could mean two things. It could appeal to that certain group of people who say, “Okay, we don’t know if it really happened. It’s a mystery.” Or another group of people could process it and say, “Oh, it’s a mystery. We don’t know the precise confluence of paranormal things that happened to cause it.” Are we using a word that doesn’t get us to the underlying question about this mystery? Steve Volk: I think in the totality of that chapter with the fact that I explore the idea of it having been a traditional sort of ghost, along with a range of skeptical explanations from the fantasy-prone personality which is really purely a psychological one to what I consider the more exotic materialist theories like Vic Tandy’s theory of infrasound that there are these sound waves below the level of human hearing that can cause us to even have visual hallucinations, on through Persinger and the electromagnetic energy temporal lobe interaction that he’s been pursuing for a while now, there’s this range of potential explanations right? I wanted to just put them all out on the table because I think that they all have some sort of validity. I think we need to be willing to consider all these possibilities. I suppose, in that respect Alex, I might appear a little bit of a gadfly at times because I’m challenging everyone to look at all the possibilities all the way on through. Steve Volk's Website Play it: Download MP3 (44:00 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: We’re joined today by someone you’ve gotten to know over the last few episodes of Skeptiko as Steve Volk has been a guest host here and brought us three very informative, insightful interviews about the history of parapsychology, neuro-theology, and ghosts. Today Steve is here to talk about his new book, Fringe-ology, a book that covers all these topics and a lot more. Steve, welcome to Skeptiko. Steve Volk: Alex, thank you so much for having me.


140. Dr. Lakhmir Chawla Frustrates Near-Death Experience Researchers

George Washington University Medical Center Professor, Dr. Lakhmir Chawla, answers critics of his near-death experience research. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Lakhmir Chawla.  During the interview Dr. Chawla discussed whether his discovery of a surge in the brain’s electrical activity seconds before death might, or might not, be related to near-death experience: Alex Tsakiris: A moment ago you referenced the discovery of the first black swan as reminder of how science has to be prepared for unexpected discoveries.  Part of the frustration I hear from near-death experience researchers is, “hey, we keep finding all these black swans; where are the rest of you?”  They keep finding cases where patients report a near-death experience during a time when there’s no brain activity -- that’s a black swan. Then they look at your finding, which is interesting and surprising, but is quite speculative as far as being related to near-death experience and they say, “where’s the balance?” Dr. Lakhmir Chawla: I think that’s a very important point. At the end of the day, if near-death experience is going to enter a very durable research area it has to answer some of these questions.  Because right now we know that near-death experiences are very important to patients. So the stakeholders are very interested in it. So it will always have its relevant people who are very interested in it because it’s a big deal and it talks about the aspect of life when life potentially ends. What we’re suggesting in this paper is that we have an interesting finding at the time of death. It may have nothing to do with near-death experience, but the need to understand what this is or isn’t has a lot of value. Now, I’ll tell you, the other important issue is that we have patients who we allow to pass away and then we take their organs. Currently we use EKG as the metric for when they’re dead. Some people have suggested that you should wait and see if they have this spike because that may, in fact, be the border. And this has real consequences for the quality of the organs that are taken from these patients if they’re allowed to sit for even a minute or two minutes longer. So, the implications are beyond the near-death experience. Example of how Dr. Chawla's finding was reported Play it: Download MP3 (41:00 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome to Skeptiko  Associate Professor of Medicine at George Washington University Medical Center, Dr. Lakhmir Chawla.  Dr. Chawla, thank you so much for joining me today on Skeptiko. Dr. Lakhmir Chawla: Delighted to be here. Alex Tsakiris: So, Dr. Chawla, in 2009 you published a paper with the surprising discovery that some of your patients who were very close to death experienced a final surge in brain activity and the paper has gained quite a bit of traction, media attention, mainly because of this quote of yours: “We think that near-death experiences could be caused by a surge of electrical energy as the brain runs out of oxygen.” It‘s been a while since that paper was published.  So first I want to ask you, do you still think that what you saw has anything to do with near-death experience?