Tuesday, 2 November 2021

A comment on a skeptical article on Near-Death Experiences

I read the following article two days ago:

Can We Explain Near-Death Experiences?

The author concludes that, "NDEs are probably caused by changes in brain activity rather than direct contact with a supernatural dimension".

Why does he think this?

Briefly because:
  1. Strokes, seizures, and brain injuries can lead to experiences reminiscent of NDEs.

  2. Brainwave oscillations have been observed in rats having heart attacks.

  3. Psychoactive drugs -- ketamine, DMT -- resemble NDEs.
First of all, the author assumes the idea that the brain produces consciousness is entirely unproblematic. That's false, it's extremely problematic. There is, what has been labelled, the hard problem of consciousness.  This is a problem engendered by the notion that it is the brain that somehow produces consciousness.  I explore this problem in a few places in this blog.  For example, in part 2 in this blog post and also this blog post, especially from part 3 onwards. Incidentally, I should add that if consciousness is not generated by the body, this doesn't mean there aren't any problems.  Nevertheless, they don't appear to be the apparent intractable problems associated with "the hard problem".     

Secondly, it ignores the fact that there is no detectable brain activity at the threshold of death, which is when NDEs appear to take place.

Thirdly, it ignores all the anomalously acquired information that NDErs give when they come back from the brink.

Clearly, NDE type experiences are facilitated by an appropriately dysfunctional brain. One possibility is that's because the brain produces NDE's, and indeed all other conscious experiences.  But that possibility encounters the difficulties I mention above. Arguably, difficulties that are insurmountable.  

There is another possibility. Let's assume there is an afterlife.  Consider that we do not normally have contact with this afterlife realm whilst in our embodied state. Why would this be the case?  I suggest it would have to be because the brain inhibits access. Sometimes this is referred to as the filter theory of the mind-body relationship.

What, though, if the brain is not functioning correctly?  Could it always perform this inhibiting function regardless of how the brain is altered?  Surely not.  And, if it doesn't, this might occasionally allow our consciousness to have a glimpse of other realities that we may enter into after death (and note the word realities, the afterlife might not simply be one place but might consist of possibly innumerable realms).  Such a hypothesis is supported by not only what we label NDE's, but also mystical experiences, psychedelic trips, and the occasional reports of people recovering their mental faculties near death.  I should also note that recent research into psychedelic induced experiences suggest they are initiated by reduced activity of the brain.  All of which gives weight to the notion that the brain serves to inhibit consciousness rather than produce it.  I address objections to this inhibiting or filter hypothesis here and here (latter half).  

Incidentally, the skeptical article originally included a video that now seems to have disappeared in the two days since I last looked (nor can I locate the video in the link he now provides).   I actually linked to and discussed this video around 5 years ago in my other blog here.  Unfortunately, the link to the video on there is now dead too.  This video is elusive!  Fortunately, it can be watched on facebook here (at least at the time of typing this).

Also see:
NDE’s, burden of proof, and Ockham’s razor
Guardian Article on Near Death Experiences (NDE's)
Reasons not to scoff at ghosts, visions and near-death experiences

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