Mod+ 281. DR. EVAN THOMPSON FINDS NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE EVIDENCE UNCONVINCING

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Jul 14, 2015.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    How near-death experiences are changing science.

    281. debate over the science of NDEs
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    POSTED ON JUL 14 IN CONSCIOUSNESS SCIENCE | COMMENTS

    As a philosopher, Dr. Evan Thompson thinks near-death experiences are all in your brain, but what do NDE researcher say?


    Interview with Evan Thompson, author of Waking, Dreaming, Being on whether near-death experience evidence falsifies the neuroscience model of consciousness.

    -- Hey all, I could really use some help smoothing out this transcript... pls message me if you can help.
    Click here to listen on YouTube
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 16, 2015
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  2. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's question at the end of the interview (my precis):

    Do you think the neuroscientific, emergentist model of consciousness can remain intact in the light of NDEs, which don't fit within it? Rather than the "last gasp" theory of NDEs, are we witnessing the last gasp of a dying neuroscientific paradigm?
     
  3. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I am only half way through right now, but I would already say that this is probably the most interesting interview with a sceptic (if that is really what he is) that you have ever played! Compare that interview with Patricia Churchland's interview! I decided to jump in and write my preliminary thoughts, because I almost gave this interview a miss, and I'd like others to listen to this.

    Dr Thompson even seems to get the absurdity of claiming consciousness is an illusion, and to try at least to deal with the Hard Problem by implying that some kind of fundamental change of perspective is required to fuse matter and mind (Idealism?).

    Alex, I am also glad that you brought up an interesting point that I had either forgotten or was not aware of - that typically resuscitation is not started for 1 or two minutes! NDE's in those conditions are even more remarkable. I also liked the fact that you were able to put the point that if an explanation for NDE's requires that you throw out a mass of supposedly established neurological data, that makes the explanation extraordinarily weak.

    I think I will read his book - and I haven't bothered with the sceptical literature for quite some time!

    I really hope he comes on this forum, because he is obviously genuinely interested in this issue, and is not just a debunker.

    I think one question I would like to ask him, is why the content of NDE's is so focussed on providing a narrative of death - even in kids, and/or people who don't have any anticipation of impending death - particularly those struck by lightening.

    My other question would be to point out that for neuroscience to really get somewhere, it has to get beyond saying that region X lights up when this happens, and region Y lights up when some other thing happens! I wonder if he realises just how limited that is as a scientific explanation! Imagine an explanation of a computer at the level of, "Information in chip A gets sent to chip B where it is combined with information from chip C without any actual understanding of binary logic or digital circuitary - what use would that be? Indeed, any change of scientific understanding that combined the physical and consciousness, would itself be a vast movement - yet he seemed at one point to envisage such a thing!

    Other points

    I don't accept that people link consciousness to QM just because they are both weird! The link was put there at the Copenhagen conference, and that interpretation of QM - that involves consciousness - still seems the best (IMHO).

    Finally, Alex's question:

    Do you think the neuroscientific, emergentist model of consciousness can remain intact in the light of NDEs, which don't fit within it? Rather than the "last gasp" theory of NDEs, are we witnessing the last gasp of a dying neuroscientific paradigm?

    I think science's response to NDE's is reminiscent to science's response to so many other awkward questions. It almost always tries to hold on to the old model, long after it has become falsified!
    (I have now listened to the entire podcast)

    David
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
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  4. Alex

    Alex New

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    I thought so too until he said all those nice things about Daniel Dennett :)

    I think it was Sam Parnia who told me this. It's a great point for folks like Evan and Sam Harris who make this outrageous claim that doctors like van Lommel and Eben Alexander hamstrung by their knoweldge of neuroscience... I mean, it's quite the oppostie... those who dabble in NDE science without understanding the critical care process and bound to make such blunders.

    yeah, this the classic debunkers trick -- use extraordinary speculation to explain away that which you deem extraordinary.

    his book is in no way considered "skeptical"... but don't even get me started about that :)
     
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  5. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    And then make no attempt to use the new scepticism regarding supposed neurological facts in any other context - just debunk the awkward data and then forget the whole unpleasant experience!

    I must have missed whatever else he said about Dennett.

    David
     
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  6. Steve

    Steve Member

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    Yeah, I mean what does he know about neuroscience ?

    It's like saying that because I was a airline pilot I am not qualified to talk about a military aeroplane accident !

    How can some (the majority of ?) scientists not think there is something unusual or amazing or truthful or worth thinking outside their materialist box for 'answers', to the evidence that is surely more than anecdotal when there are many reports about NDE'ers having life reviews that show things that GO ON TO HAPPEN in the future ?

    They are happy to 'guess' about the Big Bang and other big questions and call it real science until usually it is eventually discarded. But this type of direct evidence is poo-poo'd ? When one of their 'tribe' is converted away from his beliefs (Alexander), they then rubbish his mile long CV on Brains because he wasn't a neuroscientist, merely a highly qualified neurosurgeon.

    Haha it's laughable.
     
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  7. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I'd just like to make a point about those rat experiments. I have always thought that they suggest that rats (and by extension possibly all creatures) have (N)DE's. That seems plausible - I don't think humans are fundamentally unique.

    What this goes to show, is that any data can be nuanced in both ways!

    David
     
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  8. Neil

    Neil New

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    I found this to be a very interesting show. Although one thing that I thought of that does not get much attention is some of the paranormal aspects of NDEs, such as precognition or meeting people not known to be dead at the time. I think this also demonstrates a link between NDEs and parapsychology.
     
  9. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    I was pleasantly surprised by this interview. I found Dr Thompson very intelligent and interesting to listen to. He clearly has a sharp mind, but I also found him hugely enigmatic to listen to. That his upbringing was so unique was intriguing, and only serves to deepen the enigma. The obvious stereotypes one may wish to pin on Dr Thompson clearly do not fit, and in fact I was left wondering if his stringent clinging to a materialist framework may actually be some form of over compensation for the fact that people (particularly in the hallowed halls of academia) may peg him as a tree hugging new age type because of his rather wondrous background.

    Despite his seeming openness, and willingness to acknowledge many of the weak assertions and premature assumptions and positions of the (pseudo) skeptic community, he nevertheless seemed to do a good job of remaining rigidly (and in my opinion, disingenuously) on the skeptical ship. Really reflecting on the interview, he seemed very accommodating and open, however, I really don't feel he wrestled very effectively with the questions. There was a fair amount of conversational sleight of hand and misdirection going on (like when you hear politicians discussing the need for some unpopular and unfair measure they want to implement). I feel actually that Dr Thompson is a very astute diplomat, and was excellent at "seeming" to address the issues, but actually, I don't think he did. He masterfully made it seem like he did, but he didn't.

    I know that the accusation of his being somewhat "disingenuous" may seem a little harsh, but the reason I felt that was his side stepping of the QM question Alex posed. It is always oh so tiresome to hear very intelligent people appeal to their ignorance of the inner workings of QM in order to sidestep having to wrestle with the fact that QM definitively amplifies the importance of the subject (observer) to such a huge degree, that it shakes the very bedrock of the materialist notion of a fundamentally existent and out there independently existent material world. To claim ignorance of the workings of the engine, doesn't mean you don't know what it does!!! To say otherwise is always in my opinion, entirely disingenuous. Such a shame, because Dr Thompson is a very likeable guy, with a lot of interesting viewpoints and seems quite sincere.

    The fact that he sidestepped completely the clear ramifications of QM experimental data as if until we know more it irrelevant, and his evading really getting into the veridicality of many reported NDE's, other than to repeat again and again they were unconvincing, without giving me a clear idea of why they were unconvincing, leaves me doubting his sincerity as a "seeker" of answers, and leaves me more with the notion that he is like so many others, just another "defender" of the accepted answers.

    Very interview though. Thanks.

    :)

    P.S. I really hope this doesn't come off as harsh. Dr Thompson seems like a very nice guy, and seems sincere, but all I mean asserting his lack of sincerity, is that even among many of my best friends, although they seem sincere and are in their own views sincere, they don't seem to recognise that often they are defending their cherished models before opening up to what the data says about those models, so they find really weak ways to not have to look at the data, or dismiss it. In effect, it is simple self defense, as in some way their own identity is entwined with their world model. So inevitably, a reduction in the importance of the data, doubts about its veracity and the ramifications are brought to bare, and sidestepping central questions by claiming a lack of ability to talk about dangerous topics (dangerous for their arguments) all come out of the woodwork. When defense is of central imprortance, I think sincerity (or openness) must be somewhat sacrificed, as it would impede a truly effective defense.

    Also, I think the impression he worked hard to give of himself is of someone occupying a reasonable and middle ground, halfway between die hard pseudo skeptics and those who see the limitations of a materialist paradigm in light of the data. for me, when all is said an done, it is clear he does not occupy middle ground.
     
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  10. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    It is hard to know, but I suspect he is struggling with the problem of consciousness himself. It is very, very difficult for anyone in science to actually say that there might be a non-material world and I think a few people teeter on the edge of this issue in a very strange way. They don't seem to like to even propose non-material ideas as a possibility - because it obviously explains so much.

    David
     
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  11. Neil

    Neil New

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    In fairness to the quantum mechanics issue, it should be noted that the conscious-collapse model is definitely NOT a widely held view by contemporary quantum physicists.
     
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  12. Vortex

    Vortex Member

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    Alex, I think you should have pushed Thompson harder on the subject of veridical NDEs. If he thinks that the verified details of OBEs gathered are unconvincing, ask him WHY they are so. And present him with your own arguments that the evidence is quite valid and strongly suggests nonphysical consciousness.
     
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  13. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    Hi Neil. That the conscious-collapse model (if indeed there is such a model, it seems more of a reasonable and valid hypothesis in light of the data rather than a model to me at this stage) is not a "widely held" view among contemporary quantum physicists does not actually mean very much at all to me. Like in all institutions, the old guard tend to be very conservative, and they exert an inordinate amount of influence and pressure upon anyone threatening to look at or entertain notions that might upset the status quo, that they have worked so hard to establish, and validate. Pesky data not fitting the established models is very usually shelved until some explanation which doesn't threaten to overturn the established paradigm can be found.

    Just like in NDE research, there is enough evidence to show that in some not yet understood way, consciousness IS a foundational, fundamental and pivotal element inextricably linked to the fabric of reality, but because this upsets the conventional paradigm of a subject object split, it is dismissed as somehow not yet relevant. In QM, just like in NDE research, the role of "promissory materialism" is prominent in mainstream dealings with these pesky data sets. The data is ignored as somehow not yet complete, not investigable, or not accurate. When the truth is, it is valid and accurate, but merely "threatening", and what it threatens is a broader world view which has taken centuries to craft.

    People tend to get quite jumpy when something they have invested a lot of themselves in is threatened, and can act in irrational ways, including being prematurely dismissive of threatening evidence. That the observer exerts an effect in the double slit experiment is well established - hence it being called the observer effect - that the observer effect is often brushed aside says more about the world view of the physicist and a reluctance to have that view challenged, than it does about the quite obvious implications of the effect.
     
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  14. Neil

    Neil New

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    The observer effect is seen by most physicists as an issue of decoherence involving measurement, not literally conscious observation affecting the outcome.

    By I would argue the resistance is justified, because paradigm changes require more than just a world view change--they require a better theory to take over the old one. So far, anomalous data that seems to falsify the material notion of consciousness is not going to be accepted until there is a real theory, and that theory can pass tests to prove itself better than the old.

    I am a big fan of Karl Popper's falsification criteria, but it's not like the scientific community is going to throw out their theories and say "well NDEs and psi falsify this.....now what?" There is no theory to replace it; a world view change will not do it, nor will anomalous data by itself.
     
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  15. Smithy

    Smithy Member

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    Agreed. On top of that, I think a crucial counter question could be: "What evidence would you accept that will change your mind about the nature of NDE's?" In most cases, skeptics refuse to deliver a straightforward answer and that nails them, because it would mean that they have to accept the possibility of being wrong as well as the implicit acknowledgement that the reality in this world might be quite different from what they believe.
     
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  16. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    I take your point. However, when the anomalous data is robust and reliably validated time and again, we have to begin to acknowledge it, rather than brush it under the carpet and hope sooner or later it will just vanish and be explained away. I don't believe we need to have a fully established theory BEFORE we can acknowledge the gaping holes in the current theoretical paradigm. How are we to formulate a new theoretical explanation of the data without being able to confidently and seriously look at new hypotheses. The scientific old guard will not allow such a threatening hypothesis to be investigated. Going back to the drawing board does not mean a complete unravelling of all our knowledge, but it will certainly re order our fundamental assumptions.

    Oh, and that "most physicists" are keen to suggest some measurement inadequacies (decoherance?) rather than acknowledge that it does prima facie seem to suggest conscious observation affects the outcome, again says more about there unwillingness to have their models challenged, than whether or not consciousness plays a central role.
     
  17. Neil

    Neil New

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    There are many suggested interpretations, such as GRW interpretations that seem to be popular, or objective collapse models. They all seem to have problems, but physicists would rather try these first since they are objective. Or they would say that collapse doesn't happen like with MWI or a de Broglie-Bohm model.

    Because of the huge variety of interpretations, I don't think in general physicists are against their models being challenged, rather that they seem to think that consciousness is not needed.
     
  18. Neil

    Neil New

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    There has always been a sociological aspect of science, even in physics, but the sociological aspects become dominant with respect to considering parapsychological evidence. I think it has something to do with the split of science and religion, the split of reason and superstitious beliefs, and the feeling of intrusion of superstitious, paranormal, and occult ideas. I think the trench was dug during the enlightenment period, where Newtonian theory was seen as the first and final truth of the mind of God, and it had no room for the paranormal.

    But regardless, the very strong sociological aspects are bothersome, since even though we are not yet ready for a paradigm change, there should be more attention paid to psi in order to learn more so we could potentially come up with a theory. How long will it take for there to be a theory of psi when so few researchers, and by comparison pennies are spent on funding the research?

    The other problem I consider is that this might be a very difficult problem to overcome because I think there is a possibility that consciousness models CANNOT be modeled entirely mathematically. How could intention or free will be modeled? And if this is the case, one can only imagine the ensuing battle over redefining science to accommodate a phenomenon like consciousness, because I would bet money the scientific community will have a problem with a theory that cannot be mathematically described.

    But do we really have any right to expect all aspects of existence to be able too be mathematically described? Have we now realized Wigner's unreasonableness of mathematics to describe the world? What sort of shake up would this cause science?
     
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  19. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I am pretty sure it can't, because a mathematical model is a sort of mechanism, and Roger Penrose is of the opinion that consciousness can't be a mechanism because of his Gödel's theorem argument. Regardless of whether that holds water, I don't see a mechanism - something that could in principle be built out of clockwork - can possibly be conscious! That puts a lot of constraints on physical consciousness.

    I am also very dubious about the decoherence explanation of the wave function collapse. It seems like a cop-out to me - I mean you still have a wave function that becomes more and more complicated as one system interacts with another, but nothing actually performs the collapse - not consciousness - the effect is just statistical. I mean ordinary statistical mechanics is rather different because it averages over the classical behaviour of a molecules bouncing about in a box (at least in the simple case). Whereas QM follows a very different logic - and I feel it needs a micro-explanation as to what is going on!

    David
     
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  20. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    I always find it amusing that Newton himself was a deeply, and I mean Deeply religious individual, with a strong belief in God as the necessary principle upon which all of his work was focused. He spent more of his time in esoteric pursuits and alchemical investigations than on anything else, and they led his inquiries and his incredible discoveries. It was only a later remodelling of Newton by the French in the 18th century which re cast him as some kind of courageous renaissance atheist inhabiting a mechanistic universe, to suit the notions of their day. Newton himself would be horrified to see that God was chased out of his universe.

    I understand the earlier scientist's need to divorce themselves from the mainstream notion of the person of God (grey beard, on a throne, in the clouds etc), however, the earlier resistance to such a God has now outstayed it's welcome I fear, as many broader and sophisticated notions of a creative and sustaining force in the universe (God for want of a better word) do not hinder scientific inquiry in the way the old dogma did, rather it facilitates broader inquiry and hypothesis. Really, it all boils down to this question of God. Materialism is the prevailing paradigm. Should any data challenge that paradigm, it is battle stations, and any and every tactic to dismiss and undermine the data is not only permissible, it is necessary. Why? Because a challenge to materialism, is a point to the God camp in the blinkered eyes of the mainstream scientific community. NDE research, Double Slit results etc, all are dangerous for that reason in their opinion. Most scientists don't know much about how sophisticated notions of a God principle can be, they simply understand God to be synonymous with the tooth fairy, father Christmas and leprechauns, and think a belief in God is too childish to consider. It really is a battle for them between Materialism and God it seems.

    (I have to say, this just occurred to me now, as I am writing this, but it really does make sense to me. We often skirt the issue, but I do wonder if the scientific resistance to entertain notions of consciousness some how being fundamental, NDE data suggesting there is more to consciousness than the brain, QM experiments suggesting the observer being somehow primary, are really threatening not because it simply upsets the prevailing paradigm, but that it opens the door enough for God to get back in the room.)
     

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