Tag: science

185. Dr. William Bengston’s Hands On Healing Research Ignored by Cancer Industry

Interview with St. Josephs College sociology professor Dr. William Bengston examines his extensive scientific research into hands on healing. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. William Bengston about his book, The Energy Cure: Unraveling the Mystery of Hands-on Healing.  During the interview Bengston describes his experiments with hands-on healing: Dr. William Bengston:   …starting from these clinical that, for example, malignant growths respond quickly and benign growths don’t respond so quickly, I thought to myself, ‘How are we going to get a handle on this? How are we going to go from spontaneous clinical experience to very controlled conditions?’ I wanted an absolute air-tight, no question about it, experiment that if it worked you didn’t have a viable counter-hypothesis… So, we looked at treating cancer in mice. At the time we started this, the longest lifespan for a mouse with this particular type of cancer was 27 days. No mouse in literally thousands of experiments had lived longer than 27 days after injection with this particular mammary cancer. And you knew exactly how many mice would die and what particular day after injection because it’s again, very well documented, found in labs all over the world. …So I put my hands around the cages of the mice for about an hour a day. I suspected at the time that healing, if it were to work, would be something analogous to radiation. But instead, the cancer started to grow and I thought it was failing. So the tumors grew and I said, “Let’s call it off. Why put the mice through this?” But I got talked into going a little longer. The tumors kept growing bigger and bigger. Then they developed this ulceration on the tumor and I really thought it wasn’t working. The ulceration grew and the tumor imploded and the mice were completely cured. Alex Tsakiris:   And this was unprecedented medically in this particular experiment with these particular mice, right? Dr. William Bengston:   Never happened before for any reason. So the world’s longest living mouse after being injected with this particular cancer was 27 days.  In our experiment the mice went through this process of growth then ulceration then implosion, and the mice were cured. I used to say they remitted but that’s the wrong word because remitted means a reduction in symptoms or temporary disappearance. These mice are cured for life. So we watched them and we leave them for two years and they live out their normal lifespan hanging out, being completely happy. Alex Tsakiris: Let’s finish this story, Bill. So, the world changes. You received the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Cancer treatments around the world are revolutionized and this has become the most highly researched area of medicine, right? I got all that right? Dr. William Bengston:   Uh, except for the entire scenario. This isn’t something where because we’ve cured a bunch of mice, therefore the cancer industry folds their tent. William Bengston's Website Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Play It: Listen Now: Download MP3 (68 min.) Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today Today we welcome Dr. William Bengston to Skeptiko. Bill is a Professor of Sociology at St. Joseph’s College in New York where he specializes in research methods and statistics and is the author of The Energy Cure: Unraveling the Mystery of Hands-On Healing. Here’s the real interesting part: Dr. Bengston is an amazing healer himself. For the past 30 years he’s compiled a series of carefully controlled scientific experiments that challenge not only our ideas about healing and medicine but about energy, about belief, about science in general, and how we practice it, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I hope we can get to. Bill, welcome to Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me. Dr. William Bengston:   Thanks for having me on, Alex.

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184. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake Sets Science Free From Dogma

Interview examines how scientific assumptions about materialism and consciousness have constrained us. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with biologist and author Dr. Rupert Sheldrake about his new book, Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery.  During the interview Sheldrake explains his post-materialist worldview: Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s part of the problem. I think all these questions of the spiritual are not buried deep in these scientific questions you pose -- they’re right there under the paper-thin surface of them.  Take survival of consciousness, if we just look at the data and we say, “That seems to suggest that consciousness survives death,” well, for any man on the street, as well as any scientist, that proposition immediately launches us into deep questions of the spiritual. I don’t know how you can get around that. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake: I think it’s quite important to decouple these.  Although the science is very relevant to these issues it doesn’t map in such a way that to be an Atheist you’ve got to be a Dawkins-style materialist or to be a religious person you’ve got to be a dualist. I think what we’re heading for is a post-materialist worldview which is what my book is trying to point the way towards. We could have a holistic way of looking at things, a scientific investigation into things, which leaves these bigger questions open. For example, in one chapter of the book where I’m dealing with the dogma that memories are stored as material traces inside the brain that becomes the question, are memories stored as material traces in the brain? I’m not confident memories are stored in brains. I think that brains are more like tuning devices, more like TV receivers than like video recorders. Now that’s really a scientific question, how is memory stored? We can do experiments to try and find out how memory works. So for materialists it’s a simple two-step argument. Memories are stored in brains; the brain decays at death, therefore, memories are wiped out at death. Whereas, if memories are not stored in brains then the memories themselves are not wiped out at death. They’re potentially accessible. That doesn’t prove they are accessed, that there is personal survival. It just means that’s a possibility whereas with materialism it’s an impossibility. So one position leaves the question closed and the other leaves it open. Rupert Sheldrake's Website Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Play It: Listen Now: Download MP3 (38 min.) Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome back to Skeptiko biologist and author, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. He’s here to talk about his latest book, The Science Delusion. If you’re here in the U.S. you’ll find it at Amazon under the title, Science Set Free. Rupert, welcome back and thanks for joining me. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake:  It’s very good to be with you again.

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170. Dr. Daryl Bem Responds to Parapsychology Debunkers

Interview with Cornell University Professor Emeritus Dr. Daryl Bem looks at the reaction to his groundbreaking parapsychology experiments. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with noted psychology professor Dr. Daryl Bem. During the interview Bem discusses the reaction to his research among parapsychology opponents: Alex Tsakiris: What do you think is going to happen with this latest round of debunking? The skeptics have risen up and it seems like a very well-organized, concerted effort to knock down your research. What do you think their game plan is? What do you think is going to happen? Dr. Daryl Bem: Well, I think the flurry of activity in the popular media will just sort of die down. When I look at Google News on it there are still four or five articles that pop up in which it just shows how successful Wiseman is at getting his point of view out. I have been replying to people who’ve asked me to reply to blogs and things of that sort. Without accusing him of actually being dishonest, he has now published the three studies that he and French and Ritchie tried to get published in several journals that rejected it. I replied with a comment on that. If there’s anything dishonest there, it’s when you publish an article, even if it’s of your own three experiments—they did three experiments that failed trying to replicate one of my experiments—you always have a literature review section where you talk about all the previous research and known research on the topic before you present your own data. What Wiseman never tells people is in Ritchie, Wiseman and French is that his online registry where he asked everyone to register, first of all he provided a deadline date. I don’t know of any serious researcher working on their own stuff who is going to drop everything and immediately do a replication... anyway, he and Ritchie and French published these three studies. Well, they knew that there were three other studies that had been submitted and completed and two of the three showed statistically significant results replicating my results. But you don’t know that from reading his article. That borders on dishonesty. Dr. Daryl Bem's Website Play It: Download MP3 (45 min.) Read It: Today we welcome Dr. Daryl Bem to Skeptiko. Dr. Bem is a very highly regarded social psychologist and Professor Emeritus from Cornell who created quite a stir last year with his paper, “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect.” Alex Tsakiris: Dr. Bem, it’s a great pleasure to have you on Skeptiko. Thanks for joining me. Dr. Daryl Bem: Good to be here.

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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.

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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.

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162. University of Chicago Biology Professor, Dr. Jerry Coyne, Fails History

Interview with historian and Alfred Russell Wallace scholar challenges evolutionary biologist, Dr. Jerry Coyne. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Professor Michael Flannery, author of, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life.  During the interview Flannery discusses Wallace's contributions to the theory of evolution: Alex Tsakiris: During the last episode of Skeptiko we were talking to Dr. Jerry Coyne and he had a number of things to say concerning the history of the theory of evolution and the relationship between Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.  In particular, Jerry was emphatic in claiming Alfred Russel Wallace never connected biogeography to evolution, “Wallace did not use biogeography as evidence of evolution. I mean, never!” That’s not how I remember this history, so I decided to check with Wallace biographer Professor Michael Flannery. Professor Flannery: Well, he seems to really be unfamiliar with Wallace’s body of writing on that topic. The famous paleontologist and geologist, Henry Fairfield Osborn, he’s sort of an icon in the field, referred to Wallace’s Sarawak Law Paper as “A very strong argument for the Theory of Descent and a bold declaration from a strong and fearless Evolutionist.” And actually if you’d like sort of an icing on the cake reference, Ian McCalman, who has written a pretty good book recently called Darwin’s Armada, refers to Wallace’s Sarawak Law paper as, “The first ever British scientific paper to claim that animals had descended from a common ancestor and then produced closely similar variations which have evolved into distinct species.” Alex Tsakiris: All this might seem like a lot of minor detail that no one cares about, but this little bit of history is actually quite important in the culture war debate over the theory of evolution. Why does an otherwise smart guy like Dr. Jerry Coyne say these things which are so obviously incorrect? What’s the real agenda here? Professor Flannery: Well, my guess is that he is either just unfamiliar with Wallace’s work, although that’s kind of hard to believe… I actually think that it just doesn’t serve his purpose.  When you look at his book, Why Evolution is True, one of the things he’s writing against is Intelligent Design. To bring Wallace into the picture becomes problematic for him because Wallace himself came to view evolution as being guided. Professor Michael Flannery's Alfred Russel Wallace Website Reply to Dr. Jerry Coyne on Biogeography Roy Davies: In terms of biogeography Coyne doesn't know what he is talking about Play It: Download MP3 (21:00 min.) Read It: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on this episode of Skeptiko I have a short follow-up interview with Professor Michael Flannery from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He’s the author of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life. Now you’ll recall that at the end of the last episode of Skeptiko I told you I was going to do this interview because when we were talking to Dr. Jerry Coyne during the last interview, he had a number of things to say about this relationship between Darwin and Wallace, and in particular about whether or not Alfred Russel Wallace ever connected biogeography to evolution. This sounds like a little bit of inside baseball and detail-oriented stuff that you may not care about in the bigger picture of science, but it turns out to be pretty central to this culture war debate surrounding the theory of evolution. Here’s my interview with Professor Michael Flannery: Alex Tsakiris: So I’ve managed to get Professor Mike Flannery on the phone here and Professor Flannery was nice enough to actually review the interview that we had with Jerry Coyne when I sent it to him. I thought there were some kind of direct points about the Darwin versus Wallace thing that he certainly knows a lot better than I do. I thought we’d have Professor Flannery back on here. Mike, thanks for joining me. Professor Flannery: Sure.

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161. Outspoken Atheist Dr. Jerry Coyne Sees No Connection Between Consciousness Research and Evolutionary Biology

Interview with University of Chicago professor and author of, Why Evolution is True,  Dr. Jerry Coyne. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Jerry Coyne, author of, Why Evolution is True.  During the interview Dr. Coyne discusses the connection between free will and the theory of evolution: Dr. Jerry Coyne: My interest in free will did not really grow out of evolution. It’s just something I’ve been interested in lately trying to ponder human behavior. Alex Tsakiris: Okay, but I think it is pretty important when we talk about what are the agencies of evolution. One of the articles that I sent you was on the research of Jeffrey Schwartz at UCLA. He studied Obsessive-compulsive disorder and found that self-directing thought could actually rewire their brain, something called neuroplasticity. This research fits into this broad category of research that shows that intention, mental thought, can actually change the physical. Doesn’t that have an impact on the overall picture of evolution? Dr. Jerry Coyne: I’d have to be convinced by reading this article that brains can change themselves without any external inputs from either the other parts of the body or the environment. Alex Tsakiris: But it sounds like you are open to the idea that that would be directly relevant to evolutionary theory? Dr. Jerry Coyne: No, I’m not. Again, I don’t understand why you keep trying to connect evolution with free will. Free will is, I believe, an illusion that we have that we can somehow affect the workings of our brain and free them from the laws of physics. My answer to that is no, we can’t arrange the subject of the laws of physics because they’re material entities. The feeling that we have free will, which of course we all have, we all have that feeling of agency. Whether or not that’s proactive evolution or whether it’s an epiphenomena or anything like that is something that I don’t know. None of us know the answer to that question. Jerry Coyne's Website Play It: Download MP3 (57:00 min.) Read It: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on this episode of Skeptiko we’re going to dig into evolutionary biology. I have to tell you, I’ve never been that interested in really exploring evolutionary biology. The reason is from the very beginning I saw the issues of consciousness being much more central to these core big picture science questions that we want to talk about. I mean, consciousness trumps evolution when we want to ask the questions of who are we really, where did we come from, what happens to us after we die? Consciousness more directly gets to those questions. The people who are on the cutting edge of consciousness research really, I think, have a lot more to say about these things. For example, when we look at former guests like Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and his Morphic Resonance theory, his idea that somehow there is a habit that’s formed in this field of consciousness that we have and it drives us in a certain direction. He has some pretty interesting experiments that he’s put together that establish that that may in fact be happening. When you look at what the impact of a theory like morphic resonance is on evolutionary biology, it kind of relegates evolutionary biology to a mere sideshow in this larger question of how did we come to be who we are? The same can be said for a lot of the guests that we’ve had on Skeptiko. Dean Radin, for example, and his presentiment work. What might it mean if our actions right now are somehow influenced by the future? And then there’s the larger question of mind equals brain. Are we just biological robots? Again, Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne will tell you that you don’t have to look any further than evolutionary biology to answer those questions. But it just seems obvious to me that we want to ask those questions more directly and look at direct evidence, for example, the near-death experience science that we’ve looked at on this show. I think anyone would have to acknowledge that it certainly is more direct in getting to that question of whether or not our mind is something more than just this biological brain that we have. So these are the connections I was trying to make when I set up this interview with Jerry Coyne. These were the topics around evolutionary biology that I think are most interesting and I wanted to ask him about. But as you’ll see, we never quite got there. Here’s my interview with Dr. Jerry Coyne: Today’s guest is one of the leading authorities on evolutionary genetics and speciation. Dr. Jerry Coyne is a professor at the University of Chicago. He’s published many popular as well as many scholarly articles on the Theory of Evolution, free will, science and religion, and Atheism. He’s also penned several popular science books including, Why Evolution is True. Dr. Coyne, welcome to Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me. Dr. Jerry Coyne: My pleasure.

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160. Dr. Christof Koch on Human Consciousness and Near-Death Experience Research

Interview with Cal Tech professor and author of the upcoming, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist,  Dr. Christof Koch. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Christof Koch, author of, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.  During the interview Dr. Koch discusses the limits of near-death experience research for understanding consciousness: Dr. Koch: …once again it’s all about the details. The only way you can do such an experiment would be to have a near-death experience while your brain waves are being recorded, while you’re in a brain scanner. Because otherwise, how do I know? Otherwise, the guy wakes up an hour later, right, and then you ask what happened to his brain an hour before. Of course, an hour before he wasn’t in the brain scanner. So the only way to do the experiment is while you’re having this near-death experience. Alex Tsakiris: Great. And that makes it impossible to do the experiment. We’re back to ground zero. But hold on. I don’t think that’s the case. You referenced the GLOC experiments with the pilots. Well, by deduction you’re incorporating in human experience. You’re saying that of course, which is obvious, people can say what happened to them. The other thing about it is that they have this continuity of experience, right? They say, “Oh, I was awake and then I started blacking out and then this happened and then I woke up.” They have a continuous experience. Now you can say they recreated that continuous experience after they woke up but the burden is really on you, especially when it’s consistently reported as a continuous experience. Why would we assume that it’s not continuous? That’s the way it’s being reported. Dr. Koch: When I go to bed I suddenly wake up inside and I fly. I just did this tonight. I have no experience of the intervening two hours, right? So suddenly I’m flying. Well, wonderful. So now what? So now you’re going to say it’s not up to you to find out through which space that I flew? No. I have this experience every night. My brain gives rise to all sorts of experiences. Of course I realize them. I don’t deny them for one second. But they’re caused by specific brain activity. Christof Koch's Website Bernardo Kastrup's Response Play It: Download MP3 (47:00 min.) Read It: Today we welcome Dr. Christof Koch to Skeptiko. Dr. Koch is recognized as one of the world’s leading consciousness researchers. He has a very distinguished academic career and was a Caltech professor before becoming the chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Christof, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko. Dr. Koch: My pleasure, Alex.

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158. Bernardo Kastrup’s Controversial View of Consciousness Research

Author and scientist sees pattern of decreased brain activity during peak experiences. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, author of Meaning in Absurdity.  During the interview Kastrup discusses his beliefs about human consciousness: Alex Tsakiris: You make some interesting connections between the "fainting game", erotic asphyxiation  and some new research with psychedelic mushrooms. You suggest that when we really look at what’s going on in the brain we actually see a dampening down of brain areas – the opposite of what we would expect. So what are the implications of this in terms of this idea of filtering of consciousness? Bernardo Kastrup: The current paradigm says that conscious experience is an epiphenomenon, a by-product, of brain activity. So you should always be able to find a tight correlation between conscious states as reported by the subject and measurable brain states as measured, for instance, with an FMRI scanner. Usually this correlation is there, but there are instances, like this study you mentioned, where this correlation is not there in a very spectacular and repeatable way. What it suggests is that we have to find another model of reality, if you will, to accommodate this. A model that accommodates both the fact that normally, ordinarily, conscious experience is modulated by brain states, but also sometimes there is a lack of correlation in a spectacular way. Alex Tsakiris: So these anomalies you’re talking about, for example, with psilocybin and reduced brain functioning, or brain injuries that lead to increased consciousness, these have to be explained. We can’t just sweep them off the table and say, “well, materialism seems to work pretty well in the general sense,” right? Bernardo Kastrup: These anomalies are major anomalies. They are gigantic anomalies. The only way we can get away with them and still honestly believe in the materialistic paradigm as many of us do is because that paradigm embodies an approach of looking upon the world that is a third-person perspective. In other words, it’s not through personal experience but through reports and measurements. Metaphysical Speculations Website Play It: Download MP3 (48:00 min.) Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today’s guest is an author, blogger, an entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in computer engineering and all-around fascinating guy, Bernardo Kastrup. Welcome to Skeptiko. Bernardo Kastrup: Thanks, Alex. It’s a pleasure to be here.

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156. Closer to Truth Host, Dr. Robert Kuhn, Skeptical of Near-Death Experience Science

Interview with Dr. Robert Kuhn reveals why he’s reluctant to accept evidence for near-death experience (NDE) science. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Robert Kuhn, host of popular television show Closer to Truth.  During the interview Kuhn discusses the evidence for survival of consciousness after death: Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk about survival of consciousness a little bit -- life after death -- and in particular near-death experience research. It’s a topic we’ve covered a lot on this show.  If there’s consciousness with no brain, then the mind/body debate is really over. Why isn’t this an area you’ve dug into? Dr. Robert Kuhn: That’s a legitimate question and obviously we’ve touched on it because we do deal with life after death in terms of the religious expressions of it. So that’s something I can focus on, because it’s not a question of physical fact as NDE would be, which I am very skeptical of. Alex Tsakiris: Who would be someone you would point to as being an NDE skeptic? Dr. Robert Kuhn: To me, the number of people would be legion. The burden of proof is on the other side. Alex Tsakiris: The burden of proof of what? The NDE evidence is pretty clear.  For example when they’ve studied this in the cardiac ward they know there’s no brain electrical activity and yet there’s this conscious NDE experience. I mean, that’s really the crux of the mind/body issue. Dr. Robert Kuhn: I would find that not compelling at all if that’s the evidence. Alex Tsakiris: What do you mean? Dr. Robert Kuhn: I personally believe that there is more likely than not a need for something beyond the material world as we understand it today to explain consciousness and mind. I would not, though, use as evidence for that the existence of the NDE. Closer to Truth Website Play It: Download MP3 (41:00 min.) Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk about survival a little bit. Life after death. It’s a topic we’ve covered a lot on this show because the evidence for it really cuts to the core of this argument we’ve just been talking about. If there’s consciousness when there’s no brain, then it’s really debate over. And that, of course, brings… Dr. Robert Kuhn: Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that but to be very rigorous in the analysis it does not follow that if there is more to consciousness than the brain, it does not follow that there has to be a guaranteed life after death. It can follow; it is not excluded, of course. It is a fact in that direction…

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149. How Many Dinosaurs Fit on Noah’s Ark, Interview With Evolution Theory Expert Michael Flannery

Professor Michael Flannery explains how the theory of evolution was hijacked, and why Alfred Russel Wallace had it right all along. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with author, historian and evolution theory expert, Professor Michael Flannery.  During the interview Flannery explains how Charles Darwin’s data collection methods led to his ideas about survival of the fittest: Alex Tsakiris: This idea about competition, and how competition occurs, and how it affects the evolutionary process seems to be at the core of what this theory turns into. Explain the differences between Darwin’s view of competition and Wallace’s view of competition? Professor Flannery: Wallace tended to view competition occurring among groups in a demographic sense. Darwin tended to view it as individual competition. Alex Tsakiris: Again, we’re hitting notes that come up over and over again --  class, collectivism versus individualism… to me it seems obvious that Wallace was right. I mean, when it comes to competition for food supply, and what would make a certain species go extinct, it's primarily a group collective kind of thing. That just rings true. Professor Flannery: Right. And it’s an expression of how they collected. Remember, I said Darwin collected individual species and would examine them in great, great detail -- maybe just a few different species -- whereas Wallace was collecting huge numbers, 125,000 species. He’s collecting demographically. So he’s taking a look at how it was that certain plants and animals were found in some places and some zones and not in others. Darwin didn’t have anything near that level of sophistication. Professor Michael Flannery's Alfred Russel Wallace Website Play It: Download MP3 (53:00 min.) Read It: Today we welcome Michael Flannery to Skeptiko. Professor Flannery is Associate Director for Historical Collections at the Lister Hill Library at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He’s here to talk with us about evolution, Darwinism, and his book, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life. Professor Flannery, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko. Professor Flannery: Thanks for inviting me. Alex Tsakiris: Well, as I was just mentioning before, I really have enjoyed learning about some of the wonderful things you’ve discovered about Alfred Russel Wallace. The breadth of your knowledge is really impressive. I was particularly drawn to, I have to say, some of the critiques and reviews you’ve written on Amazon to many of the books that have been published in this area. You’ve done a great service to all of us there just in helping sort out this very complicated and interesting part of history. So thanks for that. Professor Flannery: Well, thanks, Alex.

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145. Stanley Krippner Lends Scientific Weight to Paranormal Dreams

Professor of Psychology and well-respected researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner explains how his research supports the reality of precognitive dreams. Join Skeptiko guest host and paranormal dream expert Andy Paquette for an interview with legendary psychology researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner..  During the interview Dr. Krippner discusses whether or not the evidence for paranormal dreaming is well established: Andy Paquette: You’ve been studying dreams for the most part for the majority of your career. Do you feel that the case for precognitive dreaming is proven? Dr. Stanley Krippner: No, I don’t think anything in science is proven. Science is always open-ended. There’s always a chance of revising scientific theory based on new data. Andy Paquette: Of course, that would work both ways, as well, wouldn’t it? So what you’d really be talking about is what does the currently available information indicate? Dr. Stanley Krippner: That’s right. Andy Paquette: And in your case, from what you’ve seen, what do you think the currently available information indicates? Dr. Stanley Krippner: I think you can make a strong case for precognitive dreams. Stanley Krippner's Website Play it: Download MP3 (35:00 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: Today we’re joined by Andy Paquette, who is a former Skeptiko guest and is also the author of Dreamer: 20 Years of Psychic Dreams and How They Changed My Life. Now, Andy is joining us today because he recently attended the 2011 Study of Dreams Conference in The Netherlands, where he was also a presenter. While he was there he was nice enough to snag a couple of interviews for us and he’s here to share them with us. So Andy, welcome and tell us what you’ve been up to.

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143. Lisa Miller’s Heaven Book Uncommitted to Afterlife, Spiritual Experiences, and Survival of Consciousness

Author and Newsweek’s religion editor Lisa Miller offers mixed messages about what lies beyond death. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek magazine and author of, Heaven.  During the interview Ms. Miller discusses survival of consciousness: Alex Tsakiris: Do you believe that the best evidence we have suggests our consciousness survives our death? Lisa Miller: I don’t believe that’s the best evidence we have. We’re back to where we started. Alex Tsakiris: So you don’t believe consciousness survives death. Lisa Miller: I’m saying that it’s possible but I don’t know for sure. Alex Tsakiris: Well, I don’t know for sure either. And no one… Lisa Miller: Well, that’s where we all are. That’s where we all are on this stuff. We don’t know. We don’t know whether consciousness survives death. We don’t know what Heaven looks like. We don’t know whether our grandparents are there. What we have is a hope. Alex Tsakiris: That’s not where most of us are living our lives. Most of us are living our life from making some kind of conclusion from the data we have. So why is it unfair to ask you whether or not… Lisa Miller: I didn’t say it was unfair and I answered your question.  I said I think that there’s a possibility but I don’t know. I think that it’s a great hope of many people. Alex Tsakiris: Why so noncommittal? I don’t understand that. Lisa Miller: I’m not noncommittal.  I’m answering your question as best as I can. Truly I am. Alex Tsakiris: No, you’re not. You’re answering a different question. You’re answering the hope question, but you’re not answering whether you personally, based on the evidence you’ve looked at in doing this work and writing this book and being the Senior Religion Editor at Newsweek Magazine, you haven’t told me whether the evidence that you’ve taken in has persuaded you one way or another. Lisa Miller: I said just as I think about Heaven, I think that it is a possibility and that it is something to hope for. Lisa Miller's Website Play it: Download MP3 (26:21 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome award-winning journalist and senior editor for Religion.net, Newsweek Magazine, Lisa Miller. Miss Miller’s first book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, was published in 2010 and she joins us today here on Skeptiko. Lisa, welcome. Lisa Miller: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. Alex Tsakiris: Well, it’s great to have you. I want to jump right into this because I have to tell you, as I was reading your book and listening to some of your interviews, I couldn’t get past that you as a self-described skeptic and I don’t know if it would be fair to say a non-religious person, why you are the senior editor for religion at Newsweek. Lisa Miller: Religion has always interested me, from being a very young child. Religion talks about the human experience in a way that I think captures all of the mystery and magic and transcendence that comes with being human--inexplicable things, irrational things. When you ask people about religion you’re in a way asking them to tell you what matters most to them—what they think about their families, what they think about their children, what they think about their existence, what they think about what matters to them, what’s most meaningful. So religion for me has been a way into what I think of as the most important questions in life. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. But can we really study it from the outside? I guess I think of one of the religious scholars who always inspired me was Houston Smith, from Berkeley, and of course he went and experienced all these different religions. He experienced life and dove as deeply as he could into the religious experience. Can we really understand religion from the outside, from a journalist? I mean, I understand there are these culture war issues that we care about—why people strap bombs to their waist and blow themselves up. That culture war stuff I get. But are we really getting at the core of the religious experience from the outside? Lisa Miller: I would say I can hear some skepticism in your question, and I would strongly say that trying dispassionately to understand other people’s beliefs is one of the most productive things we can do with our time. I think that in America there are these culture war issues and we know what they are and we can name them and we can turn on MSNBC or FOX and see people screaming about them. But beyond that I think there is dramatic mistrust and fear in the worlds between believers and non-believers and also amongst different believers. So they say 11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. What that means is, Atheists think believers are weird and creepy; believers think Atheists are weird and creepy. And not just that but Born-Again Christians, people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, think that people who have a more abstract or intellectual idea of Jesus Christ are weird and creepy and vice versa. It goes on and on and on. What I’m trying to do in my work and in my book is to say let’s leave all of that weird and creepy stuff aside because that just makes us mistrustful of each other. Let’s talk about what it is we do believe, why we believe it, how we exercise those beliefs, and try to understand it. We don’t have to love it; we don’t have to believe it ourselves. We don’t have to buy into it. We just have to understand that in America, 90% of people say they believe in God. So let’s figure out what they mean when they say that. Alex Tsakiris: I guess that’s my point. To me, you’re not setting that all aside. You’re really making that front and center of the debate. To me, the interesting thing is what is the spiritual experience? In your book, Heaven, you talk about a visitation that you had from your Jewish grandfather before your wedding. Then you quickly kind of brush that off as well, I don’t know if that’s real or not. Do you believe there’s such a thing as a genuine spiritual experience? Do you believe the encounter you had with your grandfather was, in fact, real? Lisa Miller: I think you’re asking the wrong question. I don’t think that religious experience and transcendent experience and spiritual experience can be measured empirically. I just don’t. Otherwise, we would know for a fact what Heaven looks like and where it is and whether it exists or not and who is there. And we don’t know those things. We just simply don’t know them. So I can’t measure whether this visit I had from what seemed to be the spirit of my grandfather was real, whether it was more real than a dream… Alex Tsakiris: Why can’t you? I mean, I think that’s such a copout. We measure these things all the time. This is the whole basis of psychology. Open up Newsweek Magazine and every article on psychology asks, “Do you like this more or this? Was this experience dream-like? Was it illusionary?” These are questions we ask people scientifically all the time. Why can’t we ask you about that experience and whether you think it was real, whether you think it was a hallucination, what you think it was. Doesn’t your experience matter? Lisa Miller: Um, yes. It matters very much. And it felt real to me, as I said in the book. Do I actually believe that my grandfather came down to Earth from some other place in a physical form? No. Do I believe I saw or felt something like him in that moment? Yes. Alex Tsakiris: So why do you believe that he did not come down in some kind of physical or spiritual form that was able to interact with you? Lisa Miller: Because I don’t believe that people come back to life. I say that very clearly in my book. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Let’s delve into that topic right there from another angle because I think, to me, that’s the other thing that’s missing in this discussion, and that’s science. If we do have any chance of sorting through this spiritual stuff and getting some distance from it, some objectivity on it, we do have to look at the tools and methods of science. In your book, Heaven, you say “Near-death experiences I view as inspired stories, not factual accounts.” I’ve got to tell you, near-death experience is something we’ve covered quite a bit on this show. We’ve had a chance to talk to many, many of the world’s leading researchers as well as skeptics. Skeptics I’d say on both sides, religious skeptics and Atheistic skeptics. But your opinion there just doesn’t really conform to the scientific evidence we have on near-death experience. It really says just the opposite, that these accounts do seem to be factual, do seem to be verifiable. I mean, that’s what the science is telling us. Lisa Miller: No. Actually, the scientists don’t completely know what these experiences are. And there are some scientists—I’m thinking particularly of a group at the University of Virginia—who study near-death experience. Alex Tsakiris: Bruce Greyson you’re thinking of, right? Lisa Miller: Yeah. Well, not him anymore but his acolytes, the people who picked up where he left off. Alex Tsakiris: Why not him anymore? He’s still an active researcher. Lisa Miller: He has people who are much more active than he. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Go ahead. Lisa Miller:   Working in his lab. And they say, when you push them the way you’re pushing me right now, they say, “I can’t say.” And I commend you to do so. They say, “I don’t know what that was.” I know these experiences seem really real. They will say exactly what I just said. Alex Tsakiris:   No, they won’t because all you have to do is listen to a dozen of our shows where we’ve had them on from Jeff Long to Sam Parnia to Peter Fenwick. And I’ve talked to Bruce Greyson on many occasions. Haven’t had a chance to interview him. And you’re just simply not correct. Again, the point I was making was whether these accounts are factual, and the evidence comes in over and over again that these accounts are factual, verifiable. We may not be able to… Lisa Miller: Verifiable how? Excuse me. Verifiable how? Alex Tsakiris: Verifiable in the way the research I… Lisa Miller: Can you go to the place where the people said they went and corroborate their visions? Alex Tsakiris: Well, that’s what folks have done. I mean, if you look at the research… Lisa Miller: No. Alex Tsakiris: Well, I was just going to share with you some research. I don’t know if you’re aware of Dr. Penny Sartori in the UK. She’s a colleague of Peter Fenwick and Sam Parnia, two of the most well-known NDE researchers in the world. Dr. Sartori did a very simple project where she interviewed near-death experiencers that had survived cardiac arrest. She asked them to recount the resuscitation and everything that happened during it. Then she was in a medical ward, a cardiac arrest ward, and she interviewed folks who had experienced cardiac arrest, recovered from it, but had not had a near-death experience. She compared the two. This is the kind of science that folks do all the time. She found a statistically significance in the group that had a near-death experience. They really did know what happened during the resuscitation and the other group didn’t. Greyson published a similar study in his most recent book. So there is scientific evidence that verifies that the information that’s coming back is accurate, is factual. Lisa Miller: I spoke to many scientists, both before my book and since then and I have not found a scientist who can tell me that he or she knows for sure that there is another realm. All they will say is that there’s a possibility that there is another realm. Alex Tsakiris: Sure, Lisa, but I’m just telling you where the research is pointing us. This is science. No one is going to come out and say conclusively… Lisa Miller: I’m going to have to disagree with you. I’m sorry. I think the most they will say is that there’s a possibility that there’s another realm and that we need to open our minds to that possibility where some kind of consciousness exists without bodies. But that is a non-mainstream belief among scientists and there is no corroborating evidence that the visions people have when they are not conscious actually describe something that is, as you say, real. There is no evidence of that. Alex Tsakiris: Well, I just presented to you some evidence of that. I actually cited two different studies. What you’re relying on is the conclusions of these scientists which have to be guarded and have to be measured. But if you really look at the evidence as it’s presented as it’s published, it’s consistent with what I’m telling you. And I’d go on to say that really when you say this mainstream view—what we’re talking about here, and what I’m giving you is the mainstream view among near… Lisa Miller: No. It’s really not. Alex Tsakiris: Well, you can jump in there and say it’s really… Lisa Miller: Among people who study near-death experiences? Alex Tsakiris: Exactly. This is the age of specialization. Why would we expect a neuroscientist who hasn’t studied near-death experience, hasn’t studied end of life, to be an expert? Why would we go to him on what happens to people when they die? Wouldn’t we go to well-qualified people? Lisa Miller: Well, because there is a range of scientific expertise and my book is not for people who fervently believe in near-death experiences. It’s for people who are struggling with that they think about Heaven, which is a completely different thing. If people want to read the so-called science on near-death experiences, then I commend them to the experts that you just quoted to me. If people want to think about what they believe about Heaven, if they were brought up with a belief about Heaven that they aren’t sure they’re comfortable with, if they yearn to believe in Heaven but don’t know what their tradition tells them, if they have visions of Heaven but they don’t know where they come from historically, culturally, sociologically, then my book is for them. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. And you just drew out another distinction that you make in the book and that’s the difference between Heaven and the afterlife. Maybe you want to tell us a little bit about how you see that distinction and then we can talk a little bit about that. Lisa Miller: Okay. Heaven, the way we use it for popular discourse, means a lot of things that the ancients didn’t mean it to mean. It means a place in the sky where God lives; it means the place we go after we die; it means the place where our grandparents and our pets go. And it also means something about the Resurrection, although what it actually means is unclear. So in the broadest popular definition, Heaven is all of those things. We’re up there with our bodies and our grandparents, with God in the sky forever and ever. But that, I argue, is a very unserious vision of Heaven and it’s sort of perpetuated by greeting card manufacturers and sort of thin spiritual purveyors of sort of a shallow spirituality. I argue that in ancient times all of those different definitions meant something else, meant something specific, and that you could believe in one without the other. You could believe that you would live with God forever and ever but that place would not be populated with the souls of other people. Or you could believe that you would have some kind of body in Heaven but it wouldn’t necessarily be like your flesh-and-blood body. You get what I mean. We tend to lump all of this together. Afterlife is a much, much older concept than Heaven. I mean, almost every creature before Biblical times had some kind of afterlife where pre-humans buried their dead with seeds and tools and stuff that they might need in another life. So the difference between afterlife and Heaven is everybody’s always having some kind of afterlife and Heaven in this place in the sky with God and other people and your body maybe. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. But I guess that gets us back to the first topic we were talking about, these culture war issues and the way we parson and hammer out the semantics. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of differences that need to be explored there. Those definitions do matter and they certainly fuel this debate and they polarize us when we don’t really know what we mean when we say “Heaven” or “God.” At the same time, I have a sense that we are getting away from the real issues that drive most of us, and that’s that we don’t care about the definition of Heaven. What we care about is this continuation of consciousness that is captured in this idea of an afterlife. So are you really drawing a distinction there that matters very much to people? Lisa Miller: I think so. I mean, I think that my book forces people to grapple with all of this. What you’re talking about—the two questions that really interest me in the area that you’re talking about and the sort of the continuation of consciousness is individuality—if you continue in some way are you you in a recognizable way? And if you’re not, how do you understand the continuation of consciousness? And the other thing which is part of this conversation that I find very interesting is this question of eternity because in all ancient and medieval conversations and writings about Heaven, about afterlife, Heaven is eternal, right? It’s forever and ever and ever. In many descriptions of Heaven it’s changeless. So what does that mean to an organism that biologically is characterized by change? We change every second. We learn things; we forget things; we grow old; we fall in love; we have children; our bodies change; our memories change. What we know changes. How does that exist? Alex Tsakiris: Okay, but Lisa, now you’ve thrown me for a loop because you’re interested in continuation of consciousness. Do you believe that the best evidence we have suggests that consciousness does survive our death? Lisa Miller: I don’t believe that’s the best evidence we have. We’re back to where we started. Alex Tsakiris: So you don’t believe consciousness survives death. Lisa Miller: I’m saying that it’s possible but I don’t know for sure. Alex Tsakiris: Well, I don’t know for sure either. And no one… Lisa Miller: Well, that’s where we all are. That’s where we all are on this stuff. We don’t know. Alex Tsakiris: No. That’s… Lisa Miller: We don’t know whether consciousness survives death… Alex Tsakiris: …that’s unsatisfactory. Lisa Miller: We don’t know what Heaven looks like. We don’t know whether our grandparents are there. What we have is a hope. Alex Tsakiris: No. We have……that is not where most of us are living our life. Most of us are living our life from making some kind of conclusion from the data we have. So why is it unfair to ask you whether or not—you just said it’s the… Lisa Miller: I didn’t say it was unfair and I answered your question. Alex Tsakiris: Okay, how did you answer it? Do you believe that… Lisa Miller: I said I think that there’s a possibility but I don’t know. Alex Tsakiris: You think there’s a possibility—well, that would kind of cover all the bases, wouldn’t it? Well, what would you think the possibility is? Would you be leaning more towards the evidence that you have suggested that consciousness does survive death or would you be leaning towards the evidence we have that suggests that consciousness doesn’t survive death? Where would you weigh in? Lisa Miller: I think that it’s a great hope of many people. Alex Tsakiris: Why so noncommittal? I don’t understand that. Lisa Miller: I’m not noncommittal. I’m telling you what I believe. And I don’t think… Alex Tsakiris: But it’s indirect. It’s not answering a direct question, which is--you can choose not to… Lisa Miller: I’m answering your question as best as I can. Truly I am. Alex Tsakiris: No, you’re not. You’re answering a different question. You’re answering the hope question but you’re not answering whether you personally, based on the evidence you’ve looked at in doing this work and writing this book and being the Senior Religious Editor at Newsweek Magazine, you haven’t told me whether the evidence that you’ve taken in has persuaded you one side or another or if it’s left you… Lisa Miller: I said just as I think about Heaven, I think that it is a possibility and that it is something to hope for. Alex Tsakiris: I don’t get it. Lisa Miller: Well, you’re just going to have to move on to the next question. Alex Tsakiris: I will, I will. I’ll move on. Lisa Miller: That would be great. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. So you were saying a minute ago that you think I’m skeptical and I guess I am skeptical. And I’m skeptical in a different way than you are because I’m skeptical of the real message behind your book, because I hear this hope message and I read it in the introduction that it’s really about hope. That sounds really good. And then I watch you on media outlets like the Colbert Report and you say, “Heaven is a silly idea yet everyone…” Lisa Miller: No, that’s not what I said. Alex Tsakiris: That’s your exact quote. I’ll play it. Lisa Miller: No. I say that in our culture Heaven has become a silly idea. I do not think Heaven is a silly idea. I think it’s a very important idea. I think it’s a fundamentally important idea which is why I wrote the book. Alex Tsakiris: Okay, tell us what you mean then when you say that in our culture Heaven has become a silly idea, yet everyone says they believe in it. Lisa Miller: Right. So what I mean is when a pollster calls somebody on the telephone and says, “Do you believe in Heaven,” 81% of us say yes. But I think that if you ask them, “Okay, what do you mean by that,” I know for a fact that they’ll say something like this: “Oh, Heaven is that feeling I get when I’m walking on the beach and it’s a beautiful day and I feel the sand between my toes.” Or, “Heaven is just like this trip I took to Disneyland with my family and we had all the cotton candy we could eat.” Or here’s one you hear a lot. “Heaven is a place where you can eat as much as you want and never get fat.” Or even, “Heaven is a place where the streets are paved with gold and there are gushing fountains and trees that have a million kinds of ripe fruits.” Okay, so those are fantasies of human life that have nothing to do with some of the more important questions about Heaven like, What happens to our bodies? What happens to our individuality? Where is God in this picture? Does God exist? What does it mean to live eternally? What does it mean to see your parents again? That’s what I mean by silly and I think that our culture perpetuates these silly ideas of Heaven in jokes, in New Yorker cartoons, in movies, in popular fiction. And I think that what that does is it stimulates a lot of people to go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I believe that. I believe that Heaven is a place with white shag carpeting. It’s like a penthouse or apartment.” Or any number of examples. But those ideas of Heaven are shallow and they are not intellectually serious. If you study the religious tradition, the Christian tradition, the Jewish tradition, the Muslim tradition, if you study scripture, if you study narratives of Heaven, you will see that there are these questions that keep coming up over and over and over that these silly 21st Century conceptions don’t cover. Alex Tsakiris: Yeah. Well, it’s certainly an interesting book. Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife. Lisa, thanks for joining us today. Lisa Miller: Thank you so much. Alex Tsakiris: Okay, take care.

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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.

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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?

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133. Dr. Stuart Hameroff On Quantum Consciousness and Moving Singularity Goal Posts

Human consciousness researcher Dr. Stuart Hameroff describes how discoveries are revealing more brain complexity than artificial intelligence (AI) experts suspected. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Stuart Hameroff. Dr. Hameroff is Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology at the University of Arizona, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies. During the interview Mr. Tsakiris and Dr. Hameroff discuss whether DMT-based psychedelic experiences provide evidence that our consciousness exists outside of the brain: Alex Tsakiris: Your understanding of the quantum mechanics of the neuron really stirs up a lot of angst among the AI singularity crowd. Tell us a little bit about that controversy. Dr. Stuart Hameroff: To look at our brain as 100 billion simple switches -- to look at a neuron as a switch or gate -- it's an insult to neurons. It's just not that simple. If you study biology you realize this.  But a lot of biologists get bogged down with the details and lose the big picture. They see the information processing in the cell as a minestrone soup of chemicals when they're ignoring the solid state system in the microtubules. The bit with the AI and the singularity, there's actually a couple of points of friction here. As I said, I spent 20 years studying microtubule information processing. The AI approach would be, roughly speaking, that a neuron fires or it doesn't. It's roughly comparable to a bit, 1 or 0. It's more complicated than that but roughly speaking.  I was saying no, each neuron has roughly 10-8 tubulins switching at roughly 10-7 per second, getting 10-15 operations per second per neuron. If you multiply that by the number of neurons you get 10 to the 26th operations per second per brain. AI is looking at neurons firing or not firing, 1,000 per second, 1,000 synapses. Something like the 10 to the 15th operations per second per brain... and that's without even bringing in the quantum business. So that alone was pushing the goalpost way, way downstream into the future. Dr. Stuart Hameroff's website Play it: Download MP3 (34:00 min.) Read it: Today we welcome Dr. Stuart Hameroff to Skeptiko. Dr. Hameroff is Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology at the University of Arizona, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies. Dr. Hameroff, thank you so much for joining me today on Skeptiko. Dr. Stuart Hameroff: You're welcome, Alex. It's nice to be here.

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132. Deborah Blum On the Taboo of Paranormal Science Reporting

Pulitzer Prize winning author Deborah Blum discusses the challenges of science reporting and the paranormal taboo. Skeptiko guest host Steve Volk welcomes Deborah Blum author of, Ghost Hunters - William James and the Hunt for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. During the interview Ms. Blum discusses her approach to covering the paranormal: Steve Volk: This is one of the hardest things. Who do we believe? Who do we trust? I want to see somehow people in the middle pick this stuff up and look at it, but that's a very, very rare occurrence. Deborah Blum: I agree. Like I said, I'm a mainstream science journalist and daughter of a chemist. But what was fascinating to me when I started working on Ghost Hunters is that I'd go and give talks at different universities. I mean literally, I was at the University of Florida and they said, 'Oh, let us tell you about our haunted laboratory.' Or I was at a meeting with a bunch of animal researchers and I was sitting next to a very respected scientist from Stanford who immediately started telling me about the telepathic experiences she'd had with a friend of hers who is a scientist at Southwestern University. I thought to myself, 'This whole world exists that really those of us in the skeptic/science community never see because people just don't tell you about it. Steve Volks's website Fringe-ology Trailer Deborah Blum - Ghost Hunters Play it: Download MP3 (58:00 min.) Read it: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris. On this episode, as you just heard, there's a new voice behind the interview so before we get started I thought we'd take a minute and introduce that voice, that being the voice of journalist and author, Steve Volk, who's joining me right now.

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131. Dr. Rick Strassman On Whether Psychedelic Drugs Prove We Are More Than Our Brain

Noted DMT researcher Dr. Richard Strassman describes how DMT allows consciousness to enter an out-of-body, freestanding, independent realm of existence. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Rick Strassman, author of, DMT - The Spirit Molecule.  As a researcher at the University of New Mexico Dr. Strassman received approval to inject volunteers with a psychedelic drug called DMT and  evaluate the effects. According to Strassman, "the most interesting results were that high doses of DMT seemed to allow the consciousness of our volunteers to enter an out-of-body, freestanding, independent realm of existence, inhabited by beings of light who oftentimes were expecting the volunteers and with whom the volunteers interacted." During the interview Mr. Tsakiris and Dr. Strassman discuss whether DMT-based psychedelic experiences provide evidence that our consciousness exists outside of the brain: Alex Tsakiris: Virtually all of the near-death experience researchers, come to the conclusion sooner or later that consciousness must exist outside of the brain. How do we process that? Dr. Richard Strassman: Well, it isn't a new idea. Obviously spiritual traditions have believed it and taught it and have practiced it. It is a new idea within the Western scientific model, so one of the analogies that I make in the DMT book is the brain is a receiver as opposed to a generator of a particular channel of consciousness, Channel Normal, as it were. Under extreme situations then the channel switches and as a result of being given DMT is the brain is now able to perceive channels of information that it couldn't before. If you change your perspective on the relationship between the brain and consciousness then things start to become a bit clearer, but at the same time have been more mind-boggling, too. Dr. Richard Strassman's website Play it: Download MP3 (43:00 min.) Read it: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris. Today we welcome Dr. Rick Strassman, author of DMT - The Spirit Molecule, a fascinating book about his research with a psychedelic drug that causes some amazing out-of-body spiritual experiences. Here's my interview with Rick:

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127. Dr. David Eagleman Explores the Afterlife and the Limits of Consciousness

The author of, Sum: 40 Tales From the Afterlife, discusses his work as a neuroscientist and author. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Baylor College of Medicine Neuroscientist and author, Dr. David Eagleman. During the interview Dr. Eagleman  discusses why survival of consciousness and near death experience (NDE) research isn't a prominent topic among neuroscientists, "I think it should be front and center. I mean, my impression is that scientists have different personalities and some are quite conservative and they like to stick with the party line. Now, I should specify that what the party line is at this moment in history is reductionism or materialism, which means you are just built out of your pieces and parts and that's it. When those pieces and parts break and go away, then you go away. That's a perfectly reasonable hypothesis and may well be right. I'm not criticizing that hypothesis, but I am saying that there are other possibilities, as well." Eagleman continues, "I go all around and give talks to my colleagues at universities all around, and what I see in some universities in some places is you're not even allowed to talk outside of that paradigm. Anything that gets said is really pooh-poohed. So I really admire these guys who are looking for the paradigm-busters." Dr. David Eagleman's website Play it: Download MP3 (18:00 min.) Read it: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris. On this episode of Skeptiko, I have an interview with someone I've been trying to get on Skeptiko for a couple of years. Dr. David Eagleman, as you'll learn, is a neuroscientist from the Baylor College of Medicine who wrote a book a couple of years ago all about the afterlife, but the book was a novel. The book got quite a bit of publicity. I actually heard about him first on NPR, the National Public Radio here in the U.S. The book became a best-seller and he went on to do all sorts of amazing stuff.

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119. Dr. Pim van Lommel Transformed by Near-Death Experience Research

Cardiologist and NDE Researcher Dr. Pim van Lommel discuses how his research with near-death experiencers has changed his beliefs about life and consciousness. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with cardiologist and author of Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience, Dr. Pim van Lommel.  During the interview Dr. van Lommel explains how he began his research, and how what he learned from his patients led him to a personal transformation, "I started to ask my patients who survived cardiac arrest if they could remember something of the period of unconsciousness. To my big surprise, out of 50 patients asked, 12 of them told me about their NDEs. This was the start of my scientific curiosity, how could people have an enhanced consciousness when they are unconscious, when the heart doesn't work, and there is no breathing, and their brain has stopped functioning?"  Van Lommel continues, "When you have spoken to patients who have had a near-death experience, their emotions, their reluctance to share their experience with you... it's so honest. You just believe them because they're so honest. You get convinced that there is more than what we can see, what we can measure." Dr. van Lommel also discusses how his controversial findings have been accepted by the medical community, "The gap is not as big as you presume.  It just looks that way because the Skeptics are very active. The Skeptics have their own truth and they don't listen to somebody else who has a different opinion. So there's a gap and there will always be a gap. There is no discussion possible with Skeptics because they have the truth.  But a lot of physicians are a little bit more open, but they won't write articles. They won't write or tell about it in public. I know some physicians who have had a near-death experience. They said to me and wrote to me that, 'what happened to me now I've always said this is impossible, and now it happened to me.'" Play it: Download MP3 (40:00 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris. Before we get started with today's interview with Dr. Pim Van Lommel, I want to take a couple of minutes and talk about skepticism and a couple of things that have come up in the Skeptiko forums.

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109. Is Dr. Sam Parnia’s AWARE Study of Near Death Experience Doomed to Fail?

Cornell University Professor and NDE researcher seeks to verify out of body experience after clinical death. What will you see when you die? According to near death experience researcher Dr. Sam Parnia you may see a carefully hidden image placed several inches below the ceiling of your hospital room. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for the opening round of a dialog with well known near death experience researcher Dr. Sam Parnia. Dr. Parnia has made worldwide headlines with his novel approach to proving whether out of body experiences of cardiac arrest patients demonstrate proof of an afterlife, or whether such reports are merely a, “trick of the mind”. Dr. Parnia’s group is using visual targets placed near the ceiling of the patient’s hospital room in an attempt to objectively establish whether near death experiencers can see what others can't. According to Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris the study is unlikely to produce positive results, “I’ve spoken with a lot of near death experience researchers. They’re telling me Parnia’s methods go against what we’ve learned about NDEs”. Tsakiris continued, “near death experiencers have been know to bring back some remarkable, verifiable information about what happens after clinical death, but there’s little to suggest they will see and remember Dr. Parnia targets.” Tsakiris also questions whether Dr. Parnia’s skepticism about near death experiences has led him to create an experiment that’s designed to fail, “it’s a subtle thing, Dr. Parnia public statements about his skepticism of the near death experience doesn’t mean he’s intentionally trying to debunk the survival of consciousness hypothesis… but it does make you wonder.” Watch Dr. Parnia's video lecture Play it: Download MP3 (17:00 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on this episode of Skeptiko, I'm going to be opening up a dialogue with Dr. Sam Parnia. Now, the unusual thing about that is that Dr. Parnia isn't here and he isn't going to be joining me for an interview. In fact, what I'm doing is preparing some questions that I'm going to transcribe and then send to Dr. Parnia in hopes of getting a response from him. So let me explain a little bit about what's going on. Dr. Parnia, as many of you are aware, is a well-known near-death experience researcher, a guy who splits his time between the UK and New York's Cornell University, where he's a Fellow there in pulmonary care. What Dr. Parnia is really best known for is the Aware Study, a very novel, interesting way of looking at near-death experiences that's received quite a bit of media buzz, primarily because of the way the experiment is done. What Dr. Parnia and his group have devised is a way of putting targets-that is, pictures inside the room of someone who may experience cardiac arrest. They may experience clinical death. Up above their bed, very close to the ceiling, is a target that they can't see unless they're way up in the ceiling looking down, okay? So the idea is that near-death experiencers routinely report that they're out of their body, that they're having this out-of-body experience and Dr. Parnia and his group said, "Hey, let's devise an experiment so objectively see whether they can report information that only they could see." In other words, when somebody comes into the hospital, let's put them in a room. If they have cardiac arrest, let's go and talk to them and see if they saw our target that was placed above their bed that only they could see. If a lot of them see it, then this survival of consciousness thing must be real. If they don't see it, then it's not. So that's the Aware Study, and it's generated quite a bit of buzz, quite a bit of interest, and as the man behind the Aware Study, there's been a lot of speculation about exactly what Dr. Parnia's angle is on this research. I mean, is he a true believer who's looking to establish another line of evidence for the afterlife? Or is he a die-hard skeptic or materialist looking for a novel way to debunk all of this NDE nonsense? Well, those questions have certainly been stirring around in my mind for a while, but it really wasn't until a few months ago when a Skeptiko listener sent me a link to a video lecture that Dr. Parnia had given that the ball really got rolling in terms of inviting him on Skeptiko and trying to open up this dialogue. So the link that was posted in the Skeptiko forums is from a lecture that Dr. Parnia gave to a skeptical group in the UK, hosted by Dr. Chris French. As many of you know, Dr. Chris French is a very well-known, outspoken UK skeptic who's been on the Skeptiko show before. I think twice, actually. So let me play you the first of a couple of audio clips from the video lecture that Dr. Parnia gave and then I'll pick up and continue on with this story and what's happened so far. And we'll get into my questions for Dr. Parnia. Here is the first clip: "If, when you turn off the switch i.e., you turn off the brain, you don't get any blood flow into it. If people truly have consciousness, they really are able to see things as they claim they can do, then you have to accept that maybe Plato and others may have been correct. So far, we don't know. We've set up a study for the Awareness Study and we're trying to investigate it. And I think the key thing that we can do objectively is to use some kind of hidden target..." So that will give you a little feel for the tone of the lecture. Very reasonable, balanced sounding stuff. So I watched the lecture. I immediately had a bunch of questions. I emailed Dr. Parnia and requested an interview. He quickly got back to me and said, "I'd be delighted to talk to you, however, due to a number of commitments that I have right now, I wonder if you'd be kind enough to watch a lecture I recently gave at a skeptical organization, hosted by Chris French, blah, blah, blah." And he also added this: "I'm not so focused on cases where people have had near-death experiences in non-specific medical conditions. This tends to be most of the cases that people discuss and therefore leads to a lot of discussion, debate, etc." Now, of course, there's really nothing wrong with this statement. I mean, he's a doctor. He's interested in controlled medical conditions as they relate to NDE. Fine, fine, fine. But if you've been along on the Skeptiko thing long enough, you know it's not always that easy. Sometimes these seemingly innocent-sounding statements are really a coded message for a lot more. Like in this case, as Dr. Parnia is saying, "Hey, I'm a doctor working in the critical care unit of a hospital and I've decided to look at NDEs in that setting, period." Is he saying that? Or is he saying all this other NDE research you hear about is a bunch of crap because it's not done by a doctor working in a critical care unit and it should all be disregarded? Now, I'm not saying that's what he's saying, but I'd like to ask him if that's what he's saying, because you could read it that way. So part of this whole process of opening up a dialogue is to try and figure some of these things out. So with some of those questions stirring up in the back of my mind and some other questions that I have from watching his video, I fired off an email and tried to arrange an interview. And in the email, of course I tried to explain that I had seen the video, that it had generated quite a bit of discussion among our forum and I pointed him to that, and I also outlined a couple of questions that I'd like to ask, including some specifics about his research methodology. And that's when the tone of the emails started to shift a little bit. Now, I don't know if it was because of the specific questions that I asked or if it was because he finally took a look at the Skeptiko website and realized we're not quite as pro-skeptic as he might have thought. But whatever the reason, Dr. Parnia went from quick email responses and "If you have any questions, get back to me. I'll organize a time to speak," to long delays in our correspondence and "Could you please send me a list of specific questions and I'll respond by email. You can then post them on your site." Well, I still pushed for the phone interview. I suggested, "Hey, we can wait a month or two, whatever it takes. We'll work around your schedule." But he was pretty insistent on the email format and eventually even, you know, dished me off to his secretary to send the questions to-which is fine, he's a busy guy and I know he's got a lot going on. So in an attempt to honor that request, I am transcribing this podcast right now and going to send it to Dr. Parnia's secretary, and hopefully we can get some written responses to some of the questions I have, and some of the questions that Skeptiko listeners raised on our forum. So here goes-my questions to Dr. Parnia regarding his Aware near-death experience research project: Question 1, and why not start with a biggie? Isn't this experiment doomed to fail? Okay, let me flesh that out a little bit. At this point, I've read dozens of NDE cases and I'm sure Dr. Parnia has read many, many more than I have. But I've skimmed through at least 100 and I see all sorts of reasons why someone might have a near-death experience and an out-of-body experience and not be able to see these targets that he's placing in this experiment. So let me play you another short clip from Dr. Parnia's lecture and then I'll tell you more about what I mean: "And so if we get say 500 people who all supposedly die and come back and all that sort of stuff, and they call claim they saw Dr. Smith and they have all these incredible stories and they can describe what was happening, and we can demonstrate that it was happening when they're going through cardiac arrest and the brain is shut down, then supposedly, if they really are out of body, they should see that picture." Wow. I'm going to have to break that down for you and play you bits and pieces of it because there are so many interesting points to pull out of there. But let me start with the first part. I just think his numbers are way off. So he starts off by saying, "If we get 500 people who die and come back and all that sort of stuff..." which first of all, his tone seems rather dismissive, but take that out for a minute and focus on the number. Let's say he gets 500 people that come back and say they've had a near-death experience and they recall their resuscitation process. I don't know how he's going to get 500 people to do that. I mean, the average hit rate in these clinical trials in terms of number of people who have cardiac arrest compared to the number of people who recall their near-death experience is 1 in 10 to 1 in 8. So let's take 1 in 8 and say his 500 people now represent 4,000 patients that are going to experience cardiac arrest. Well, that's way more than the number that he hopes to get in his study. I think his study was 1,500. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, his big problem is, and I'm sure he knows this-I just don't know why he's not bringing it up-is that your typical NDE experience would never report this kind of information, this kind of target information. First, there's a bunch of near-death experiences where the person doesn't really recall the resuscitation at all. They recall other parts of the event very clearly, maybe the trauma, the being of light, the judgment, but they don't recall the resuscitation. A bigger and more obvious problem is people who do recall the resuscitation but the position that they're in in this out-of-body state, which all sounds very weird but it's really all we have to go with, but their position doesn't allow them to see the targets that Dr. Parnia has set up. And you know, in preparing for this, to give you an example, I went to the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation website and I searched through and I very quickly found some cases that will give you a little bit of a sense for what I'm talking about. Here are just a few. This is Barbara, a near-death experiencer who says: "I had been sitting up in the corner of the room, outside my body for some time. I was at the ceiling in the corner, watching and listening because my body wasn't comfortable to be in." Okay, so the important thing is, she's in the corner by the ceiling. Would she be able to see the target? I don't know. I don't think so. Here's Nicki: "I turned to the other side of the bed and stepped out of my body. I began to walk around the room, trying to talk to my living family members but they could not hear me." Okay, clearly she's not in a position to see the target. Now, I'm not saying that anything else about her near-death experience is valid or anything like that, I'm just saying that in the way that Dr. Parnia has set up the study to measure it, she has no chance of seeing the target. And here's the last one I'll share with you, from Arnie: "During my surgery, I found myself up in the corner of the operating room ceiling where I could look down from overhead on my surgery. I couldn't see the operating team and equipment surrounding the table because a large, overhead lamp blocked much of my view." Okay, now there's a couple of really interesting points here. One is how high is he? Is he just above the lamp? Is he all the way up to the ceiling? Is he in that two or three inch space that Dr. Parnia hopes that he'll be in to see the target? I don't know. But the other interesting thing, and the point that we have to take into account, is from Ernie's account here his vision during resuscitation seems to be much like our vision during waking life. He has a perspective. He's seeing it from an angle. There are certain things in his way and he can't see through them. Well, this is very problematic for Dr. Parnia because it means if that patient's out-of-body experience isn't positioned exactly precisely where it needs to be, they're not going to have any chance of seeing the target. And lastly, of course, I have to add there's the matter of focus. I mean, would we expect NDErs to look at and remember these "targets?" I mean, obviously they're very important to Dr. Parnia and his group, but are they important to the patient? The person who's dead and floating outside of their body? And that, of course, challenges the last little snippet from the clip I just played you. Let me play it for you again here real quick: "...if they really are out of body, they should see that picture." So he seems to be asserting very matter-of-factly that these patients should see his target and the question I'd have is for all the reasons that I just mentioned, why does he think that's so? Why is he so sure that these patients should see the target? And I guess that leads into another question of what's the history here? What's the history of this research? Are we building off of preliminary studies where under maybe less tightly controlled conditions they've had targets up on the ceiling and people have seen them? I'm not aware of that research. Maybe it's out there. That would seem like a logical stepping-stone. Or, are there a lot of accounts of people being able to see the pictures on the wall and tell those in their accounts? Again, I don't see a lot of that in the cases that I've read but maybe he knows better than I do. And while we're on the topic of talking about history and design of the experiment, you know what kept going in the back of my mind and I kept expecting to hear it is why aren't we doing something like Dr. Penny Sartori did? It seems to me her approach was much more naturalistic in that she said, "Okay, here are these accounts that we're getting from people who've had cardiac arrest and had a near-death experience. Let's take their accounts as they come in and let's compare them with the control group that didn't have a near-death experience and let's see which one is most realistic." Maybe Dr. Parnia can do that with the data that he has. So a question I'd have is does he plan to do that? It seems like a follow-up or replication of Dr. Sartori's work would be very appropriate, very illuminating. But having said all that, and having raised all those questions, I have to tell you that I'm not particularly optimistic that we're going to get an answer to those questions. And the reason I say that is from the next clip that I want to play you from Dr. Parnia's lecture. This is the one that really grabbed my attention. It's about 47 minutes into the lecture, so it's almost at the end. Let me play you this clip: "If, on the other hand, it's just an illusion, it's a trick of the mind, which it may well be and I suspect it will turn out to be, then we would expect no one to be able to see those pictures." If NDEs are just an illusion, a trick of the mind, which it may well be, and I suspect it will turn out to be. Of course, this is just his opinion. Open-minded researcher willing to look at the data, follow it wherever it leads. But consider for a minute the implications of what he's saying. He's suggesting that the Aware Study that he's done, which as I've pointed out doesn't have any chance of succeeding, should be the final decider. It should trump the 20 years of prior NDE research that's been done. It should put a nail in the coffin to all this NDE research. Am I overstating what he's stating? I don't know. Let's see if he'll answer the question. But the more I listen and read about what Dr. Parnia says, the more I see a debunking exercise. Another setup. A setup to fail. And of course, there are a lot of other good things that can come out of the Awareness Study. He's looking at a lot of important issues as they relate to the dying process. What's going on in the brain during this process? But all of that will be forgotten and buried from the headline if he proceeds with this study, which is doomed to produce the kind of low hit rate that will certainly support his "suspicion." Later on in his video lecture he says it will be an interesting situation if only one or two people see the target. I'd be amazed if one or two people see the target. But again, I could be way off. That's why we have to sit back at this point and hope that Dr. Parnia responds to some of these questions or hope that he finds 30 minutes to come onto Skeptiko and talk to us and tell us what's really going on regarding these issues. That invitation, of course, is always open to Dr. Parnia. But until then, I need to send this podcast off to transcription and forward it on to Dr. Parnia's secretary. And that's what I plan to do. Well, that's going to do it for this episode of Skeptiko. If you'd like a link to the video lecture I've been referring to, please visit the Skeptiko website. It's at www.skeptiko.com. You'll also find a link to all of our previous shows and an email and Facebook link to me, a link to our forums, and a bunch of other good stuff. So check that out. Stay with us. I have a couple of interesting interviews coming up. I'm going to play some interviews that I did a long time ago that are really fascinating, fascinating interviews relating to the Christian perspective on the near-death experience. One is from a very well-known Atheist who I really enjoyed dialoguing with. The other is from a very well-known Christian Apologist who I also greatly admire and enjoyed speaking with. I didn't agree with either one of them, but I sure enjoyed talking to them. And that's the pleasure of doing Skeptiko. Anyway, that's it for this time. Take care and bye for now. oined today by Professor Michael Marsh, a highly regarded academic biomedical researcher and physician who was formerly a Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and then later in his career returned to Oxford to complete a PhD in theology. Now, his doctoral thesis was on near-death experience and out-of-body experience, and that's also the subject of his recently published book titled, Out-Of-Body Experience and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?

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107. Massimo Pigliucci on How to Tell Science From Bunk

City University of New York Professor skeptical of near-death experience, likens NDE researchers to astrologers. There's pseudoscience, bunk, scientific nonsense, and then there's real science… at least according to Dr. Massimo Pigliucci author of, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science From Bunk. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Professor Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. During the hour-long interview Dr. Pigliucci rejects claims of near-death experience science.  When asked to explain why so many NDE researchers have concluded otherwise Dr. Pigliucci stated, " that's like saying the vast majority of astrologers are in agreement with the fact that astrology works." Pigliucci also offers his opinion on how non-scientists should choose sides on controversial science issues like climate change, "I am about to go to the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, which is organized by the James Randi Foundation, and I fully expect to upset several people there because my presentation will be about how skeptics are not scientists and therefore, they shouldn't really pass judgment on issues for which the scientific community has reached a consensus. For instance, let me give you an example. Several skeptics, including James Randi, are skeptical of the notion of climate change and global warming. Well, I'm sorry, but that's not their place. They're not climate scientists; they know nothing about climate science. And frankly, they don't have the expertise to pass judgment." Download MP3 Play It: Read It: Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome someone who—let me get this straight—has three PhDs, is that right? Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: That's correct. Alex Tsakiris: So Dr. Massimo Pigliucci is a Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York. He's a well-known thinker and writer in the skeptical community, and he's also the author of  several books, including his latest that we're going to talk about today entitled, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science From Bunk. Dr. Pigliucci, welcome to Skeptiko. Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: It's a pleasure to be here.

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103. Near-Death Experience Research — Do Science Journalists Get it Wrong?

Interview with science journalist Jeff Wise examines the accuracy of news reports on near-death experience research. Recent headlines on ABCnews.com, NationalGeographic.com, and RichardDawkins.net trumpeted a recent scientific study suggesting near-death experiences are caused by carbon dioxide in the blood. This stands in contrast to the opinion of near-death experience experts, and even the study's authors, but they news reports persist. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with science journalist and author of 'Extreme Fear', Jeff Wise. During the 30-minute interview Mr. Wise explains why and how he and other science journalists reported on this recent near-death experience study. And whether science journalism, according to Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris, "is driven by a code… an invisible hand that drives them away from anything that might be labeled 'spiritual', and simultaneously lowers their guard against weak research that confirms their pre-existing beliefs." Mr Wise replied, "That's not what it feels like from my perspective… we're interested in things that make sense in the context of everything else that we know, but that's novel. So things that are boring, that we see every day we're not interested in. Things that completely don't make any sense or we have to completely deconstruct our entire worldview in order to incorporate them, those things also aren't interesting… I think that's really the problem. If you're trying to propose a theory or a view of a phenomenon that is radically at odds with how, let's say mainstream science views the operation of the world…" Jeff Wise's Blog Dr. Joni Johnston -- The Human Equation Dr. Bruce Greyson's email regarding CO2/NDE study Play it: Download MP3 (34:15 min.) Read it: Alex Tsakiris: We're joined today by Jeff Wise, a journalist, science writer for such publications as Popular Mechanics, the New York Times Magazine, Popular Science, and many others. He's also the author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger. Jeff, thank you for joining me today on Skeptiko. Jeff Wise: My pleasure.

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