Scientific investigation of heaven

O.K., not quite heaven, but near-death experiences, anyway. Earlier, I posted about the possible physical bases of near-death experiences (or NDEs). Now, a study has been launched to investigate just this. Fortunately, some of the methodology seems to be scientific, more or less, in nature. They will be studying patients who undergo hypothermic cardiac standstill procedures and so are possible candidates to experience one of those NDEs. From the link:

The experiments are fairly rudimentary: In addition to monitoring brain activity, researchers will plant pictures near the ceiling that are not visible from the ground, and test the subjects’ memories by uttering random words in the room.

If patients report an out-of-body experience in which they claim to watch their operation from above — that is, if their consciousness separates from their dying brain — then the reasoning is that they should be able to identify the pictures.

“I am not a religious person so I am not trying to validate religion,” Dr. Beauregard says. “I just think these questions are the most fascinating questions for humanity, and they deserve to be investigated further.”

I think nothing conclusive will be demonstrated, although if done carefully enough, I rather doubt any evidence will be found for existence of the self outside the physical body. Further, although a good start, I think recollection of hearing random words uttered would not be conclusive as the brain may be picking up on it somehow. Putting up pictures out of view though is a better approach. So far, out of 65 patients, nobody has seen the pictures, which is, of course, exactly what we’d expect if it’s all the brain. Of course, it seems none them experienced an NDE either.

In addition to the photographs placed on the ceiling, a special sensor will be attached to the patients to test whether those who see tunnels and visions have minute levels of oxygen in their brains that previously went undetected. A doctor with the study will call out the names of cities or colours during the cardiac arrest to see if patients recall them upon reviving.

If no one can identify the visual or verbal cues, Dr. Parnia says, the experiment will confirm the “false memory” theory; however, if they are recalled, he says, the study will demonstrate that consciousness is something that can exist, if for only a short time, outside the physical brain.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think the verbal cues will be conclusive of anything. They may not detect all the oxygen and it is not clear to me that the brain can be receiving and storing some sort of signal.

However, I think Dr. Parnia is completely correct when it is noted:

But at the very least, Dr. Parnia and his colleagues say, the phenomenon of near-death experience merits the search for a scientific answer to what is often deemed a spiritual event.

“People die; death is a biological process,” Dr. Parnia says. “And science should take over the study of death.”

I certainly don’t have a problem with a scientific approach to these experiences. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this has already led us to a better working knowledge of neural networks, etc. Dr. Parnia has taken, what appears to be at least, a rational mindset. Make a hypothesis about an external (to the body) existence of personality and, as rigorously as possible under the circumstances, test it. Of course, there are already a number of expectations I would have if this were the case. Out of the millions and millions of people who have died, I would expect at least one reliable communication from the beyond. There has been none. I would expect personality and emotions to not be so entirely susceptible to physical changes in the brain, as has been repeatedly documented elsewhere. I think it would be reasonable to expect at least one reliable success from people who have been trying to do “remote viewing”. There are none. I think it is a fairly safe bet what Dr. Parnia is going to find, or rather, not find.

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One Response to “Scientific investigation of heaven”

  1. Jim Says:

    Brace yourself for a surprise.

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