Friday, April 3, 2009

Additional thoughts on NDEs

Here's a very interesting article on NDEs, Near-death experiences: Heaven can wait- HT: The Daily Grail

Near-death experiences are surprisingly common. In the latest study, researchers quizzed 710 kidney dialysis patients and found that, out of 70 patients who had suffered a life-threatening event, 45 had gone though a near-death experience. And research by Virginia University shows that 10 per cent of heart-arrest patients, and 1 per cent of other cardiac patients, had reported having a near-death experience.

Near-death experiences occur in both sexes, in every culture, and at all ages. Researchers at the University Hospital of Geneva recently reported what they describe as the first case in a child of 12 who had undergone elective, uncomplicated surgery that had run into difficulties. But, in spite of considerable differences in ages, cultures and diseases, many features of near-death experiences are remarkably similar.

The spiritual theorists have it that this is the immediate prelude to death itself, and that it establishes that there is life after death. These theories take what the individual sees, hears and feels as being a report of exactly what happened. One suggestion is that, at the time of death, the body and soul separate and near-death experiences are a glimpse of the first part of that process.

A range of psychological theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon. One suggests that it is a defence mechanism in the face of impending death. Another floats the idea that the working of the brain is somehow altered by changes in chemicals that occur shortly before death. Other explanations include false memories, a reaction to acute stress, and anoxia, or lack of oxygen, resulting in sensory disturbances.

A newer theory suggests the arousal system is implicated, and that the near-death experience is triggered by the crisis. The idea is that rapid eye movement (or REM sleep, where most dreaming occurs, and where the sleeper is paralysed, with only the heart, diaphragm, eye muscles and the smooth muscles active) is involved. At the root of the theory is the notion that some people are more prone to a condition called REM intrusion, where sleep paralysis occurs when they are awake. It is found in people with narcolepsy, or excessive sleepiness, and it can be accompanied by hallucinations or delusional experiences that are unusually vivid and often frightening.

Research led by Dr Kevin Nelson, clinical neurophysiologist and Professor of Neurology at the University of Kentucky shows that, out of 55 people who have had near-death experiences, 60 per cent had at least one prior occasion where REM sleep state intruded into wakefulness, compared to only 24 per cent in a control group. "Instead of passing directly between the REM state and wakefulness, the brain switch in those with a near-death experience is more likely to blend the REM state and wakefulness into one another," he says.

Many scientists seem to always go down the path of reductionism, often to the point of absurdity. How their proposed explanations are any more coherent than an actual separation of consciousness from the confines of the body, I fail to fathom.

More from the article:

Frequency of features experienced by people who have a near-death experience

Preternaturally vivid sensations 86.3%

Tunnel experience 5.9%

Feeling of joy 58.8%

Awareness of being dead 3.9%

Sense of sudden understanding 35.3%

Life review 19.6%

Sense of a mystical entity 33.3%

Feeling of peace 74.5%

Altered sense of time 41.2%

Out-of-body experience 51%

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Anatomy of a Strawman

I know of no antidotal story of anyone ever saying, "There I was, thinking I was going to die, and every NASCAR race I ever watched flashed before my eyes."

Premise 1: There exists enough antidotal evidence to accept the idea that people in 'near death experiences (nde's)' have their "whole lives flash before their eyes".

Qualification of the term 'near death experiences (nde): near death experiences are those that occur when death appears to be imminent, as opposed to 'Near Death Experiences (NDEs)' where the experience is the result of 'clinical death'. nde's occur when your car is sliding out of control; your facing the long fall, which you survive, from a collapsing bridge, whatever...It does not necessarily include the testimonies of people who actually underwent clinical death; 'died'.

If the above premise is valid, than there exists some unknown mechanism that gives humans the ability to recall all life experiences during some life threatening events, but apparently, not all events, and not everyone reports this type of experience.

When I mentioned that I had never heard of anyone reporting NASCAR memories in their reports of ndes to an acquaintance, he said, "But, does every play of every game ever coached flash before someone like Bear Bryant('s) eyes in that instant before death?"


So, I thought to myself, 'well, maybe it's the participatory events - those where a person actually makes a decision which 'determines' or just influences the out come of events - maybe, those are the ones that flash before our eyes at the end of mortal experience?' This supposes that we can influence or even determine the outcome of events.

However, I then pondered on and thought perhaps purely 'observational' experiences of events within our sensory environment might also leave impressions on the ego/self(?) strong enough to re-impress themselves during that last flash; the first time you saw 'X' - you might recall that...The first time you saw a bird turn sideways in flight to grab a blackberry off a vine, or the first sunset at the new house, or your first sighting of a naked member of the other gender, whatever; these would be non-participatory events that still might rise to the surface of 'my life flashed before my eyes.'

So, then the question arises, or an analysis is required, of 'what actually flashed'? Was it the entirety of existence (that particular individual's sum of the 'temporal' experience of their life to that point)? Or, is it actually a composite of only 'important' events?

Is the entirety of 'life experience' that flashes in an instant a partially or entirely subjective process? If a "choice" is involved, it raises important what/who/why/how/when ('when' may be the most important) questions:

What content, if any, is "chosen"?
If no active choice is/was involved, what determines the impact/value of any particular event?
Is the entire life presented without regard to a system of 'values' and/or is there a gradience of felt impact based on the perceived emotional content of an event?
Can this be achieved at will? If not, why not?
Why does the experience appear to be common, but not universal?

If all of an individual's life experience can be 're-experienced' in an instant, was the original flow/experience of temporality necessary? So, for instance, can 40 years of life flash through the 'ego's/self's(?)' 'conscious/unconscious/nonconscious etc.' past memories in virtually zero time or even literally in no time?

Actually, based on Einstein's X Theory of Relativity, time is relative to the observer's orientation and motion in reference to the observed. Theoretically, vents in my future may well lie in your past, and visa versa. It is not scientific heresy to state that all time already, and simultaneously exists, and it is only we that experience time. Physics calculations work just fine forward and backward, the arrow of time resides with the observer.

A little further down the rabbit hole...

Premise 2: Everything, including past and future, does exist simultaneously in the form of space/dimensional/time coordinates.

You still exist as the three year old that just threw a slice of birthday cake at the birthday boy at his 4th birthday. You could relive this experience if you had the ability to determine which space/dimensional/time coordinates you wished to focus on. Taking this a step further, this should also apply to the you that is 80 years old and just drooled on your bib in the cafeteria of the nursing home where you will one day reside. What determines the information you experience? Why does it appear to be presented in a temporal sequence?

First leg of a strawman...

The Big Bang, Hyperinflation, or whatever mechanism is responsible for the existence of the universe happened outside of our understanding of time. All of the 'events' occurred simultaneously, or in a span of a Planck unit of time. You have already lived your entire life! So why are you still here experiencing events that have already occurred?

I am not familiar enough with Jung, Freud, or any other specific school of psychology to be comfortable using one of their vocabularies. So, I will use the terms in a way that I am comfortable, and should they bear similarity to any particular school or appear to be a 'borrowed' hodge podge of several, they probably do and are. In fact, all of the terms, the available vocabulary, seems to carry a great deal of definitional baggage. All of the words that are obviously at hand, soul, mind, consciousness, subconsciousness, karma, ki, chi, id, ego, self, being, entity, etc., potentially prejudice the reader.

For now, I will restrict myself to making a distinction between the ego and the self. Time is the process used by the ego to apply value to the actions taken by the self. The self lived this life. The self has already taken all action. The self has made all the decisions. The self exists outside the constraints of time. The self has created the ego's fate.

The ego, through the mechanism of experiential time, provides/determines the qualitative value of the life lived. The ego does this by determining/influencing which of the infinite streams of data available in its environment to process; this is done by 'selecting' the (borrowing heavily from my dimly recollected photography and physics classes) the filters, (sensory, emotional, and (?)), and the fields of focus.

There exists an ‘ongoing’ relationship between the self and the ego. Does the self choose the level of interaction between the two divisions i.e., does the self choose the ‘times’, or even the space/dimensional/time coordinates - the events - to which the ego function is applied to provide value to events?

The talk by Neuroanatomist, Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor may provide some insight into the conundrum of trying to define the potential relationship. I cited this video in a comment at Michael Prescott's Blog with the comment that it appeared to support a reductionist view of the mind/body relationship. Michael Hall provided the comment that “someone(?)” was choosing the involvement level between the left and right hemispheres of the brain (I won't even try to find this specific comment as it is many months old).

Comment on an interesting discussion

Below is a comment that I made to a post at Global Guerrillas, specifically to this post: PARASITIC PREDATION, and more specifically, in response to these comments: Posted by: Duncan Kinder | Friday, 27 March 2009 at 09:12 AM and Posted by: Jay | Friday, 27 March 2009 at 02:11 PM, and Posted by: James Bowery | Saturday, 28 March 2009 at 09:35 AM.

Please feel free to read the above post and comments before proceeding.

My comment:

Duncan: "f we were to define "wealth" as "information" and "the economy" as "energy flows," then it would follow that the solar inputs all of us daily receive vastly outweigh the productivity problems John describes. ( The sun is vastly more productive than you or I or Bill Gates or - indeed - all of us combined. )

While developing solar power and other such technologies would be good and consistent with this, we should note that we are not constrained by technology. We are receiving these inputs whether we develop technologies or not."

Jay: "Ultimately wealth comes from the Sun, with only three means of realizing it - you can mine something, grow something or manufacture something, and pushing paper around doesn't count."

Well stated, and I largely agree, but with some caveats. First is that you can not extract energy from the system - can not rechannel energy flows - without consequences to other parts of the ecosystem (economic or ecological). If I put up a solar panel, some plot of ground no longer receives that energy - hence there are opportunity costs even here. The same applies to wind and tide farms, they also have direct ecosystem consequences.

This is why I think solar farms are a lousy idea. It is much beter to extract solar using something that already absorbs/blocks the energy flow. Solar panels should be used on existing infrastructure, where possible. Additionally, solar farms are a way for the 'elite' landholders/developers/utilities to control the flow and cost of energy to the rest of society. Indivdual, desseminated systems would be far superior in 'costs' (possibly profit?) to the end user, and a more versatile system.

Jay, your land extraction/raw material based economics completely ignores the externalization of the costs of extraction, usually paid by less fortunate, down stream members of society. Further, it presumes that there exists a property right, and there does in a society which is developed under and by force. All property based systems start with someone or some group claiming to 'own' the raw materials/land, with these claims backed by force of arms. It's Darwinian, but I am not able to cite another form that 'acheives' the same level of material prosperity as a property rights based system. I'm also not certain that material prosperity is the best measure of the value of a given society, but a 'happiness' measure always loses to the force of arms that the property based system cna produce and maintain.

In the end, it is of up most importance to understand what effects a chosen method of energy extraction/rechanneling has on your total environment; this is of course difficult to acheive. The original developers of asbestos were not aware of the long term consequences of their product, or the owners would not have initially chosen to live, with their families, near the mines.