Month: March 2012

165. Dr. Caroline Watt Defends, There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences

Interview with Parapsychology researcher Dr. Caroline Watt explains why, despite criticism, she maintains, “there is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences.” Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with University of Edinburgh professor Dr. Caroline Watt, co-author of, There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences: how neuroscience can explain seeing bright lights, meeting the dead, or being convinced you are one of them. During the interview Watt discusses her research into near-death experiences: Alex Tsakiris: The other thing that upset me about the paper was the way it was picked up by so many science publications; Scientific America, NPR, BBC, Discovery, Discovery News. It’s not a strong paper. Yet, it gets echoed back through the mainstream science media as some kind of breakthrough about near-death experiences. Even though it directly contradicts all the leading researchers in the NDE field. Dr. Caroline Watt: The leading researchers in the NDE field may publish their papers and have them reported as well. It’s an open forum. If it says something interesting, then it will be reported.  Everybody can have a say. It’s not like I have some kind of privileged access. Alex Tsakiris: I’m not suggesting that. I’m saying that what gets picked up and perpetuated through the science media is reflective of the current position, even if that position isn’t supported by the best data. I’m saying your paper got traction even though there’s not a lot behind it. I’m saying you cited references incorrectly.  And you referenced skeptics like Dr. Susan Blackmore who admits to not being current in the field. Dr. Caroline Watt: As I said, it was intended to be a provocative piece. It’s not claiming to be balanced. The paper, if it wasn’t limited to two or three pages, I could have dealt more thoroughly with many different aspects because there’s more to near-death experiences then the dying brain hypothesis. It would have been a longer and more in-depth paper, but that wasn’t the paper that we wrote. Dr. Caroline Watt Play It: Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Dr. Caroline Watt to Skeptiko. Dr. Watt is a founding member of the Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and has taught and researched parapsychology for 25 years. She is well published in the field, many peer review journals, and is also the author of the most popular textbook in parapsychology, An Introduction to Parapsychology. If we can add to all that, we can also mention that she has also served as a president and board member of the Parapsychological Association. Dr. Watt, it’s a great pleasure to have you on Skeptiko. Thanks for joining me today. Dr. Caroline Watt: Thanks, very much, for inviting me Alex.


164. There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences, Dr. Jan Holden Disagrees

Interview with NDE researcher Dr. Jan Holden unravels the claim, “there is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences.” Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with University of North Texas professor, Dr. Jan Holden, co-author of, The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences. During the interview Holden discusses her research into near-death experiences: Alex Tsakiris: I wanted you to help me work through this paper titled, “There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences.” Let me start out with the first question, what are they reporting on here?  What’s the news?  Have they done any original research in this paper? Dr. Holden: I didn’t see any original research. What I saw was a compilation of theories and results that have been published for quite some time, and have been answered in—you mentioned The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences. What I noticed about this article is that it’s citing a lot of old sources that have been responded to, and  they did not even mention, let alone respond to, those responses. Alex Tsakiris: Let’s get to the meat of their paper—I’ll give you this quote: “Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that there is nothing paranormal about these experiences. Instead, near-death experiences are the manifestation of normal brain function gone awry.” I know from your continuing education course on near-death experience science there are at least 10 prospective NDE studies with in-hospitals patients. I don’t think one of them would support this conclusion.  What research are they citing to support their claim? Dr. Holden: I don’t know.  The material that’s out there actually supports a different conclusion. To quote my colleague Bruce Greyson, “If you ignore everything paranormal about NDEs then it’s easy to conclude that there is nothing paranormal about them.” And that’s what they have done. Dr. Jan Holden Play It: Download MP3 (56:00 min.) Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today we’re joined by Dr. Jan Holden from the University of North Texas, who is one of the contributors and one of the editors of The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation. Welcome, Jan. Thanks for joining me today on Skeptiko. Dr. Holden: Thank you, Alex, I’m happy to be here.


163. Physician Ian Rubenstein Encounters Spirit Communication, Becomes a Medium

Interview with London physician Dr. Ian Rubenstein reveals how one doctor's encounter with psychic phenomena led to Spiritualist Church mediumship. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Ian Rubenstein author of, CONSULTING SPIRIT: A Doctor's Experience with Practical Mediumship. During the interview Rubenstein discusses how he struggled to understand his psychic abilities: Alex Tsakiris: What you seem to be contrasting is a materialistic, medical paradigm that says there is none of this; this cannot happen. There is no way that the consciousness survives death. There is no way that spirits can influence us. That, I think, is what you’re really butting up against, and yet you seem to give that a lot more weight then I think it deserves in this case, especially given, (1) your personal experience and, (2) the research that you’ve done to see that there’s data to support it. Why do we have to stay with the materialistic paradigm? It doesn’t seem to work. Dr. Ian Rubenstein: I think you’re looking at a guy struggling with this. I don’t come from a religious background at all. I’m a non-practicing, left-wing, Jewish background. All my family was, you could say, very anti-religious. I’m not a religious guy. Spirituality is not new to me. I’m as affected by new-age stuff as much as everybody else, but it’s not native to my culture and background, and certainly not to my education. Western rationalist education is all pervading; it colors the way you see the world. It’s there, and I’m dealing with this every day. At medical school, you were taught how to think. You have to think critically. You do not trust your instinct. Every doctor knows that instinct is very important, and you get a feel for it, but you’re not trained in this. One of the things I develop in my book is that I found that training as a medium, having had all these experiences and then ending up sitting in a spiritualist circle, I actually found that you can train your intuition, that you can to some extent trust it, and it’s very useful. I now use it much more in my consultations. Of course, a skeptic would say, “You know, Ian, you’re an experienced doctor. You’ve been a family physician for 28 years. You’ve been a doctor for 34 years. Maybe this is just ordinary stuff.” I don’t know. Ian's book: Consulting Spirit Play It: Download MP3 (46:00 min.) Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Dr. Ian Rubenstein to Skeptiko. Dr. Rubenstein is a general practitioner in London who’s written a fascinating book titled, Consulting Spirit: A Doctor’s Experience with Practical Mediumship. Welcome to Skeptiko, Ian, and thanks for joining me. Dr. Ian Rubenstein: Thanks, Alex.