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Psycasm

Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

ResearchBlogging.org

The following is a clip from a morning show called Weekend Sunrise. It’s the weekend incarnation of the ‘more serious’ weekday show (simply called ‘Sunrise’). Sunrise (the ‘more serious’ one) is a pithy variety show with a couple of conceited hosts who are fuelled by conservative opinion and an overstated evaluation of their own journalistic and critical merit.

The weekend version is a bit lighter and takes itself a little less seriously. As a result it also is a little less critical.

Presented here is scientific evidence proof of the afterlife.

[If you can’t spare 7 minutes of your life I do provide a brief summary]

The first thing that struck me was the high production value of the info-clip, entirely populated with Christian imagery and popular Christian metaphor. I thought it was a little cheesy, but tolerable (this was, after all, a segment on Science). Tolerable… until the very last fraction of a second:

I thought it a bit weird that that image managed to sneak through (see the silouette?), though it’s not half obvious. The kick in the teeth, however, came as soon as it was declared (not 6 seconds later) that the researcher was ‘not a religious man’. It’s cool that the religious should want to research topics related to religion, but to do so without admitting to it is a conflict of interest - To deny it wilfully is deception, and to try and sneak it past us is down right unethical. The alternate option is he missed it himself, which suggests he’s a sloppy scientist.

The interview is about his research into Near Death Experiences (NDE). A NDE is broadly defined as being a state of altered consciousness, occurring during an episode of unconscious, and as a result of a life threatening condition (such as cardiac arrest). While not particularly informative, Agrillo (2011) (from which the definition was derived) lists the 10 most common features of an NDE, which include:

It seems just about anyone can experience an NDE and no relationship has been found between the occurrence of NDE’s and age, gender, SES, spiritual or religious beliefs, education, or life experiences.  Except, of course, that older people tend to die (or nearly die) more frequently than young people.

So there’s some background we can all agree upon. Kooks and Skeptics alike.

The clown in the video, however, suggests the NDE’s are evidence proof that there is life after death. It’s not a particularly persuasive or sound argument, since the reasoning follows:

An NDE is an experience which conforms to my human preconceptions of what death is like. Therefore, God.

At any rate, the clown in the video goes on to spruik his new book and to  explain why his surveys confirm God’s existence. For a laugh he claimed that prior to his research he was ‘the world's greatest skeptic out’, which demonstrates his misunderstanding of what Skepticism is, and his willingness to misrepresent himself and his work to an audience. FYI, any skeptic, if presented with appropriate evidence for a phenomena, will accept the phenomena as genuine.  Skepticism is about asking questions and looking for answers in a rigorous and consistent way. It’s not necessarily the rejection of the seemingly impossible. Thus, if he was a skeptic and has become convinced of his claims validity (which may happen in any field), then he may still continue to be a skeptic. However his language suggests that as he accepts evidence for the afterlife, he rejects scepticism completely.

The male host of the programme – Andrew O'Keefe – asks a particularly important and critical question:

"...is it possible that some of these effects can be explained merely by neurological processes... as it [the brain] shuts itself down?"

…to which the kook responds:

"What happens absolutely goes beyond any possible brain explanation..."

As evidence he offers a story about a congenitally blind individual who experiences clear vision during an NDE. I might buy that story if you can demonstrate the individual doesn’t have a visual cortex, but in any other form its weak anecdotal evidence from which inference is meaningless. It IS super cool and interesting (if true), and worthy of research, but meaningless to the end to which it was applied.

[On a side note – his website looks like a geocities refugee]

All this sceptical raving aside, I did become interested in what science does say about the NDE. I mean it is a genuinely interesting neurological and phenomenological occurrence.

My personal research into the topic was a little difficult since it does have a pretty serious woo-infection.  Most of what I could find came from the Journal of Near-Death Studies, a journal that I know little of, but avoided. For instance a legitimate hypothesis might be posed

If an NDE is an experience shaped by personal convictions and broader cultural influences (including religious belief) then it ought to vary between cultures and religions.

And so one would expect that Muslim’s should be brain-jacked by Allah in a similar way.

Here’s an abstract from a paper published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies by Kreps (2009) on the very topic.

Given the dearth of Muslim Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) in the literature, I decided to … find more of this material. After advertising unsuccessfully in both traditional media and internet groups, I recruited a student resident of Pakistan who had considerable contacts and help there to visit the area of a major earthquake in the Kashmir area in the hope that this would be a fertile terrain to find additional NDE accounts (ed. sic). …The results were disappointing. I conclude that NDEs are specifically designed for people who need them, and the need in certain communities may not be as great because of the persistence of traditional faith in an afterlife and a Creator. (ed. Emphasis added). [Unreferenced - researchblogging.org cannot find it, or apparently anything from the JNDS]

It’s unfortunate ol’ Kreps couldn’t find the material, and the approach made sense, right? Head to an area of mass devastation with a high Muslim population and you’d be sure to find NDEs. His conclusion (my emphasis added) is completely a priori. He basically states that NDE’s exist in order to reaffirm (or convince) people to the existence of God (Allah, in this instance) and the Afterlife. Thus, in a highly conservative and religious region NDE’s do not occur because their faith renders their existence moot.

...as a result I looked elsewhere for research.

In relation to the cultural question posed previously, Belanti and friends (2008) found that while most NDE’s had religious influences, the manner in which it manifests differed. While Europeans and Americans see heaven or hell, traditional Hawiians view a volcanoe (of religious significance). Where Europeans and Americans follow their spiritual guides (often relatives, etc), Indians tend to resist. Some cultures earned themselves a ‘life review’, but others didn’t. Some featured bright lights, some didn’t. Their findings are essentially a compilation of case reviews found in the existing literature, and they draw reasonably heavily from Journal of Near Death Studies and non-peer reviewed books, and so it ought to be taken with a sizable pinch of salt.

The real problem with research into NDEs is twofold. First, self-report is unreliable. The people who experience these things are generally not in good form, and report them in hindsight. Hindsight introduces countless opportunities to cogitate upon and rationalize form and meaning. Second, death is poorly defined and difficult to measure. While that sounds absurd, people don’t frequently die inside fMRI machines, and so it’s difficult to know how much brain activity is occurring. In some instances EEG has been present, but a flat EEG reading is not brain-death, but only neocortical (brain surface) inactivity (Agrillo, 2011). There are other considerations, too. People who experience NDEs in hospitals are frequently medicated, and other brain conditions can induce similar hallucinations and experiences (which are then subjected to hindsight).

So here a few things we do know about NDEs:

  1. Random excitation of neurons in the visual cortex can produce perceptions of lights and tunnels. There are a disproportionate number of neurons dedicated to the centre of our vision than our periphery, so random excitation across the whole cortex will be perceived as generally being more ‘centred’. (Agrillo, 2011)
  2. Stress and Fear cause the brain to dump Endorphins. Endorphins block pain and induce feelings of well-being, acceptance and (sometimes) euphoria (Agrillo, 2011).
  3. Some evidence suggests there is a difference in general activation in Temporal Lobe Functioning between those who experience NDEs and controls. The data is weak, however. (Agrillo, 2011)
  4. REM intrusion and Out of Body (OBE) experiences are related, but not well understood. This is known through study on narcoleptics. The locus coeruleus (LC) plays a major role inhibiting. REM sleep, and in arousal as well. During wakefulness the LC is paramount to vigilance and stress, with LC discharge rates tightly correlated to behavior. Fear, hypoxia, hypotension, and hypercarbia all vigorously stimulate the LC. Systems promoting REM powerfully inhibit the LC. Conceivably, inhibition of a highly activated LC could also evoke elements of the REM state. (Nelson et al., 2007).
  5. Folks who’ve had an NDE experience higher levels of REM intrusion and OBEs. (Nelson et al., 2007)
  6. Having a positive NDE decreases fear of death, and increases acceptance. Negative NDE increase fear of death. (Belanti, 2008).

Points 4 and 5 are contested in a series of responses published in the Journal of Near Death Studies. Looking over it, some arguments seem more legitimate than other. I’ll qualify those two points by saying evidence may yet come to light to contest those relationships.

As you can see many of the phenomenon can begin to be explained by known brain functions and processes. Lights and well-being/Euphoria? Neuronal Excitation in the visual cortext and dumping of Endorphins (as well as neurotransmitters like Serotonin and Dopamine) can produce the affective component. Though I couldn't find the research, it's hardly a stretch to hypothesize that feelings of familiarity can be triggered when certain brain regions are (randomly?) stimulated during such a state (Click for some candidate sites).

All in all this guy is a kook and it's damnable he was given air-time during weekend morning prime-time. NDE's are pretty amazing phenomenon and are worth investigating for the benefits they can give us to our understanding of our brains. Additionally, further research ought to focus on how to best treat patients who experience them, in order for them to help make sense of it all, and incorporate it into the healing/sickness.

We really shouldn't surrender this one to the kooks - his logic is faulty, his motives questionable, and his conduct unethical (or just plain sloppy).

---

Nelson, K. (2006). Does the arousal system contribute to near death experience? Neurology, 66 (7), 1003-1009 DOI: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000204296.15607.37

Agrillo, C. (2011). Near-death experience: Out-of-body and out-of-brain? Review of General Psychology, 15 (1), 1-10 DOI: 10.1037/a0021992

Belanti, J., Perera, M., & Jagadheesan, K. (2008). Phenomenology of Near-death Experiences: A Cross-cultural Perspective Transcultural Psychiatry, 45 (1), 121-133 DOI: 10.1177/1363461507088001

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Psycasm
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This link was posted on my facebook:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3xItrGOi6Q

 

No-one's pretending this is science, at least. But they are selling a book...


Leroy Kattein
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Just a note. It is possible to be spiritual and not religious. Religion implies adherence to sa doctrine of rules and rituals, while being spiritual does not. Near death experiences are not religious events. I have had a near death experience and saw no sign of religious doctrine in it. I am not religious. The near death experience is all about love, a subject religion doesn't hold to itself. When an experiencer sees a religious figure such a Jesus, he is probably Christian, and when he sees Allah he is probably Islam. In near death experiences we see a Light Being and interpret it as a divine person we may have read about. As for evidence, it shows our consciousness lives after the death of our brain and body indicating an afterlife. There has been a great deal of research on this subject in the last 35 years showing we do live after the death of our bodies. The near death experience has nothing to do with the brain. I will leave a link to much of this research. http://wp.me/pvtV5-Sm NDEs are best understood by reading a large amount of them.


Psycasm
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I have visited your link / site, and will comment later. Can you provide links to this evidence that we live on after the death of our bodies?


Dr. Girlfriend
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Accounts of near-death experience are given by people who have a functioning brain. Regardless of the fact that they might have been technically dead, their brain is functioning when recounting the experience. Therefore near-death accounts cannot be used as evidence that the mind/consciousness is able to persist in the absence of a brain.  

As a child I had an out-of-body experience. Was “I” floating above my body? Probably not! I believe my brain is capable of determining what my body might look like from the outside. Whatever happened I survived a nasty fall unscathed. I would be interested to learn more about this experience.


Leroy Kattein
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Psycasm said:

I have visited your link / site, and will comment later. Can you provide links to this evidence that we live on after the death of our bodies?

 

I have given the link, it includes veridical NDEs which are evidence since the things seen by the experiencer have been verified by the doctors in attendance. It is hard to refute the word of someone born blind who can accurately describe what he "sees" during his NDE, and it is verified by the doctors present.


Leroy Kattein
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Dr. Girlfriend said:

Accounts of near-death experience are given by people who have a functioning brain. Regardless of the fact that they might have been technically dead, their brain is functioning when recounting the experience. Therefore near-death accounts cannot be used as evidence that the mind/consciousness is able to persist in the absence of a brain.  

As a child I had an out-of-body experience. Was “I” floating above my body? Probably not! I believe my brain is capable of determining what my body might look like from the outside. Whatever happened I survived a nasty fall unscathed. I would be interested to learn more about this experience.

You had a near death experience. When you were out of your body it was clinically dead. This is a common NDE. Your brain was not telling you anything, it was your spiritual self. The reason you were not badly hurt or killed is because you were being helped by other spirits. I have a link to a similar experience.

http://aleroy.com/board295.htm

 


Psycasm
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I went to you link. I saw no evidence that the 'self' lives on after death. Could you provide a more specific link?


Suzy
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Hi Psycasm,

I considered not commenting but I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention some issues I have with this article.

To begin with, it would have been much better if you had left out all of the derogatory terms. I don't think they are necessary and really, they take away from the points you want to make. The article no longer invites discussion since your opinion is so painfully clear to the point that any attempt at a discussion is going to be a fight.

Writing on topics that are polarizing will lead to heated exchanges between individuals when all the facts are not presented. It would be nice to see these topics approached objectively, meaning, simply report the facts as they are presented by both sides. Then, at the end, let your audience know where you stand, but do so professionally, without insulting the doctors and scientists undertaking the studies under critique. It’s one thing to vilify the science but another to resort to name-calling because you don’t agree with their work.

In the previous article on religion and IQ, your bias is clear, as you take the conclusions of one study in the peer reviewed literature as "gospel" as if the peer reviewed literature is never wrong. You didn't question any of that work, nor did you point out any area where it could have been better. It was very one-sided. Ok, fine.

Now here you are referencing and slamming research without having read any of it (you read an abstract and made conclusions from it? You say that most of the research is in the Journal of NDE, which you avoided). I can understand not reading any of it, but perhaps you should withhold making conclusions about it if you haven't actually read it? Perhaps it would have been better to focus on the science of why NDE's are not out of body experiences and not even mentioned the other side of this story, since you haven't read any of the work?

And a third possible approach to this subject which would have been more useful and interesting would be to read one of the pivotal papers at the heart of NDE research and perform a serious and critical analysis of the science in a blog article. No insults.

You are free to blog as you wish and I am free to not read it.  My unsolicited advice is be careful about discussing research when you haven’t read it and know nothing about it. If you can’t take the time to read a paper and dissect it in a blog article so we can all have an informed and intelligent discussion, then avoid dissing the research and instead just stick to what you do know.

I would never insult another scientists’ research or intelligence, as a rule of thumb, but especially not if I hadn’t even read any of their work.

Please take this as constructive criticism. I think you have a lot of good things to write about. I’d like to see more care taken in what you say and how you say it, and a more open-minded view towards other people’s research. If you can review research without your own bias involved, just step back and review it like you have no prior knowledge one way or the other, you’ll be able to learn much more from it. We cannot learn anything when we think we already know everything.

 


Psycasm
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I agree with you on many of those points. However, the 'researcher' in question is drawing conclusion for which he has no basis, is selling a product for personal gain, is attempting to deceive us, and is using it to prop a belief for which the evidence does not support it.

This is objective - his science is wrong, his conclusions false and misleading, and his conduct questionable. It would not be objective of me to withhold this conclusions for fear of being to blunt or offensive.

As for the JNDS - I stated that I don't know enough about it, but my impressions from some of the papers (both abstracts and whole articles) seemed questionable in some instances. I suspect there is some good science in there, but I suspect also that there is much fluff. By going to other journals I can cut through the chaff a little quicker.

With regard to me not taking the time to properly read an article, I assume you're referring to the Muslim NDE article?

If so, then I suspect I'm not short of the money. His conclusions assumes that NDEs are there for a purpose, and are evident only under certain religious circumstances. No evidence can support this, as it is an unfalsifiable conclusion. And like I said - he had the right approach, it is a shame he couldn't find the data (note: I believe he later publishes several muslim NDE accounts, which goes somewhat counter to his conclusion). But when a scientist has the right approach, and cannot find the data required it's a null result (not positive or negative). One cannot draw conclusions on data that does not exist.


Regarding derigority words you have a point. However, as someone who has read into the research it is fair to say they are quacks or clowns. Take Climate Denialists - The more frequently the media gives this 'debate' an 'objective' angle by including these quacks, the less relevant and imperative the issue becomes. It should be made loud and clear that these people are quacks, and are obscuring the true issues. The same may be said here. This guy was not given a critical treatment, but was given prime-time coverage. There is a certain disconnect in that relationship.

Sure, one might argue 'what's the harm' in saying an NDE = evidence for an afterlife, and though no immediate arguments can counter the false validating of one's belief, it IS important to question how it's done. As I noted - NDE can be a positive thing for the individual, and neither myself, nor anyone else, should try to take that away from them. I hope I didn't do that. However, promoting such things under incorrect/misleading/false pretenses is a very bad thing. Conclusions of this his kind lead parents to pray for the health of a child at the neglect of science-based medicine and health-care. Additionally, it's an argument that props up these shoddy 'scientists' in order to capitalize on the hopes (and sometime ignorance; e.g. homeopathy) of others. Programmes like 'Sunrise' shouldn't be enabling these con artists (however good-willed they may be), and con artists like this guy should be made aware of their many methodological and logical inconsistencies and mistakes.

I don't want to be condescending, as you certainly have leagues more experience in science than me. Religion is a hot topic for a lot of people, and I certainly feel that when I write on said topics that I'm treading on your toes (and the toes of many others). This was not a religion bashing excercise, it just so happened that the target of the take-down had a religious background. Interpretting an NDE as a religious experience is totally cool, and religious experiences in general are valid phenomenon, to be interpretted however one feels is appropriate. They are not, nor should they ever be, opportunity to capitalize on those in a less knowledgeable position - particularly by way of unethical conduct (as this guy demonstrates). I suspect you agree, at least in part, with this point - that religion should not be used for financial and personal gain over others, and that in the instance one does attempt to do so, they ought to be treated as a predator or a quack (depending on the context).


yannisguerra
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Mmm. I will have to disagree with Jade in one point. I don't think anybody can review a topic where they have any kind of emotional involvement without having a bias. And when I say emotional it doesn't mean that you have a clear attachment for the topic (because you had a NDE, because you are religious, etc), but it is simply because if you had decided in advance (as we sadly do in most cases) what is the "real" answer, then just by plain cognitive dissonance you would be biased against the opposite point of view. That is why terms like confirmation bias were created.

Trying to think that you can be a "scientist" above any other influence will most probably lead to you writing in an stilted fashion, as you are trying to skirt away from your tendencies and trying to be "objective". That is something that I see happening a lot, mainly to journalists with their "View from Nowhere" (google Jay Rosen, for a much better treatment of the topic that I could ever do).

I see where you are coming from Jade. You are from the school of the Bad Astronomer, when he famously gave the lecture "Don't be a Dick" (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/17/dont-be-a-dick-part-1-the-video/). I do agree with him and you, partially. But I also agree with Psycasm that there are some times where you simply...have to be. Depends on what you are trying to accomplish (rallying the troops vs convincing the fence sitters vs just plain venting).

And just to counter your last very nice saying (quoting: I’d like to see more care taken in what you say and how you say it, and a more open-minded view towards other people’s research...We cannot learn anything when we think we already know everything.) Well, sometimes we DO know things. And some arguments/research ARE stupid. And if you open too much your mind, your brain will fall off (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFO6ZhUW38w). Laughing

 

 


Suzy
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However, the 'researcher' in question is drawing conclusion for which he has no basis, is selling a product for personal gain, is attempting to deceive us, and is using it to prop a belief for which the evidence does not support it.

The guy is an M.D.- a radiation oncologist. I'd hazard a guess that he's a smart man. Did you try looking up his primary research papers under his name, by chance? Perhaps he has some interesting studies worth discussing.

And millions of people sell products for personal gain. Why else sell a product? He isn't deceiving anyone. The public can read his book and decide on their own if they believe him or not. The world does not need you to save them from the NDEists. Believe it or not, people are intelligent enough to come to their own conclusions.

This is objective - his science is wrong, his conclusions false and misleading, and his conduct questionable. It would not be objective of me to withhold this conclusions for fear of being to blunt or offensive.

How do you know if you didn't read a single piece of data from his research?

But when a scientist has the right approach, and cannot find the data required it's a null result (not positive or negative). One cannot draw conclusions on data that does not exist.

Except you didn’t read anything or look at any of the research,

With regard to me not taking the time to properly read an article, I assume you're referring to the Muslim NDE article?

Or any article for that matter.

He went to an area where there was a natural disaster to find volunteers for his study and came up unsuccessful (we are gleaning from the abstract).  Perhaps people were a little preoccupied with other things and weren’t in the mood to talk to him.

His conclusions assumes that NDEs are there for a purpose, and are evident only under certain religious circumstances.

You read that in the abstract. Perhaps the rest of the paper was worth a review as well.

However, as someone who has read into the research it is fair to say they are quacks or clowns.

I am still trying to figure out what research you read. You only read the research that you agree with. You cite one paper continuously, the Agrillo, C. 2011 review paper. This isn’t primary research.

Conclusions of this his kind lead parents to pray for the health of a child at the neglect of science-based medicine and health-care.

That’s a big stretch. The discussion of NDEs or homeopathic medicine is not what causes parents to neglect their children’s health.  You are talking about a specific religion called Christian Science. They actually have some really interesting beliefs and writings, if you ever decide to learn more about what you are talking about.

Religion is a hot topic for a lot of people, and I certainly feel that when I write on said topics that I'm treading on your toes (and the toes of many others).

You are not treading on my toes at all. I am fascinated by the subject of NDEs. I just wish you had been less on the attack and more open to discussion. I don’t feel like there is any possibility of a discussion with you because you are so aggressive. And also because you didn’t give any useful information on the research done by the NDE scientists.

it just so happened that the target of the take-down had a religious background.

I thought you said he said he was not a religious man.

They are not, nor should they ever be, opportunity to capitalize on those in a less knowledgeable position - particularly by way of unethical conduct

What unethical conduct? He interviewed people. Oh and he maybe did some research although we don’t know since you didn’t look it up.

Who is he capitalizing on? People who like to read about NDE and the afterlife? That’s a pretty big group of people. Go to your local bookstore (if they still exist) and check out the spiritual/paranormal section. You’ll see a lot of books. It’s a popular subject no matter how much you disagree with it.

that religion should not be used for financial and personal gain over others, and that in the instance one does attempt to do so, they ought to be treated as a predator or a quack

NDEs are not a religion. There is no church of NDEists. They aren't looking for recruits.

Have you ever heard of a tithe? People give a tithe because it supports a community of people they enjoy spending time with and they want to keep in existence.

Some people like to give money to their church to support its upkeep and their pastor. Other people like to spend money on books and learn and study religion on their own.

People have the right to make their own decisions about religion and spirituality and the only way to do that is to listen, read, experience, and understand it for themselves.  I don’t need anyone else to tell me what is right and what is wrong. No one else is an authority for me.  I seek out the information and then take from it what I want.

It sounds like if it were up to you, you would censor all books and videos about anything religious at all. Like we need protection from you, almighty authority on all things spiritual, to tell us what is true and what is not, because we are not smart enough to decipher this crazy world on our own.

Seriously, you are not the authority on what is valid and what is false. You are merely a student of life just like the rest of us.

I seriously urge you to take some courses on anthropology and religions so that you can understand better a subject for which you have so much passion. I don't know how someone can be so against something for which they have absolutely no knowledge.

 


Suzy
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Hi Yannis,

I do agree that it is very difficult to keep bias out when one has already decided in advance what the answer is. I think it can be done. As scientists, part of our training is to look at our data objectively. The data is the data, as we say. If the data doesn't fit the model, then the model must change because the data is what it is.

So I think with experience and training in scientific thought, it is possible to learn to minimize the influence of one's personal bias. Certainly when writing, we have a choice as to how we present a subject.

Regarding "Don't be a Dick", this subject is not be about "swaying the most people you can" as that article talks about. This article was somewhere between a scientific analysis of the NDE research minus the NDE research, and an opinion piece on NDE research.  An opinion piece is fine, then don't trash the research you didn't bother to read. Just stick to opinion.

What is wrong with just live and let live? Why try to sway anybody?

Of course some research sounds "stupid" to us. But who are we to judge? I really can't judge something as stupid until I've read it.  There are a lot of really bad papers published in peer reviewed journals but I still wouldn't call the subject stupid.

(And if studying NDEs falls into the "stupid" category, why bother discussing it here on this forum?)

 

 


Dr. Girlfriend
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I don’t believe it is possible to be truly objective when considering something as fundamentally human as our attachment to our self. I am not as uncomfortable as some with the notion that death may spell the end of me as an individual, but I can empathise with that uncompromising faith in an afterlife continuum. While I find it deplorable that anyone should try and provide from our mourning or our fear of death, I recognise that many people truly believe the anecdotal evidence.

It is an interesting topic, and one we were discussing recently in my philosophy course. The problem is primarily that the brain is always a factor in witness accounts, and the brain is notorious for hallucination and false memories. A ‘memory of what happen while clinically death’ could readily be explained as the brains way of filling in a blank. The ‘hidden messages on hospital ceiling’ experiment, if done properly, could yield some solid data.


yannisguerra
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mmm. What's the harm with living and letting live? It is true. What could possibly go wrong, Jade?

Lots of stuff. http://whatstheharm.net/index.html

The problem with topics like NDE and others like that is not that they intrinsically cause problems. The issue is that they do reflect logical reasoning problems. Which can (and sadly will) expand to other areas of human interaction. The same bad reasoning that brings you to ghost/UFO/etc, may lead you to climate denial, creationism, etc. That is the problem. And the fact that everybody has the same right to vote (the right to vote is not the problem, but how you take the decisions for voting). This will lead to issues like these http://ncse.com/news/2011/03/antievolution-bills-tennessee-advance-006589 or http://ncse.com/news/2011/03/intelligent-design-legislation-texas-006531 or multiple other issues where people move their biased reasoning from something completely harmless (I want to believe in X or Y or Z deity) to something that is socially important and could affect other peoples lives. Yes, I can't tell you how to decide in these issues, but I can make my best effort that your bad reasoning doesn't affect the society which I am part of.

My problem with NDE and other paranormal research, which I think is the problem that a lot of people in the skeptical movement have is this: The probability that your data explains your hypothesis is not the same thing as the probability that your hypothesis fits your data.

Yes, you can do some studies and have very nice p values. Yeah!, you found something statistically significant. Therefore your hypothesis is true, right? No!. You have to see how that changes the prior probability (the one BEFORE you do the research). In regular mainstream science this is not such a problem, because you usually build up on previous research, or on previous knowledge, so your prior probability is high. In most paranormal topics, you tend to build from "ANECDATA",  which gives you a very low prior probability. Therefore even with a borderline positive test, you don't really move the probability of your hypothesis at all. But that doesn't stop these researchers from ignoring this while designing their protocols  and using their results as proof that their data proved their hypothesis. (for a great discussion of this http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=48).

And yes, we do have a bunch of idiotic articles in our scientific journals. The fact that they are "ours" does not mean that we shouldn't call them out as idiotic. And you are right, the topics are not stupid. As I said in my comment above, the RESEARCH or the ARGUMENT may be stupid, the topic not (it may be boring though!). Frankestein is a great idea for a novel, a great topic for movies. Doing a study using parts of dead animals/humans and trying to see if lightning would revive them is STUPID (i'm being facetious, sorry, but I really wanted to use this example, as it would be a great RO1, jaja).

 

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