Consciousness Beyond the Individual - 6th November - London

#1
Consciousness Beyond the Individual 6th November - London.

Is our experience of consciousness limited to the individual brain or is it something prior/external?”

Raymond Tallis - philosopher & neuroscientist
Anthony Peake - science writer
Graham Nicholls - out-of-body experience specialist

vs

Stephen Law - philosopher
Deborah Hyde - Editor of The Skeptic
Jane Aspell – neuroscientist


In all this was a good event that was well orchestrated. Many thanks to everyone involved for putting this on. Here is my account. I sincerely apologise if I have misrepresented or misquoted anyone (I didn’t take notes). Here is my (probably very subjective) account of the event:

Each presenter spent 6 minutes outlining the problem of consciousness. Stephen Law started. Admitting that this wasn’t his area of expertise. He gave a good outline of the easy and hard problems of consciousness from a philosophical point of view, and some of the more common positions philosophers and scientists take on this. He seemed fairly opened minded, but gave the old “extraordinary proof required extraordinary evidence” line <sigh>.

Jane Aspell followed, talking about her work on investigating the self from a neurological perspective. She also cautioned against taking something that we don’t know anything (consciousness) and jumping ahead to wild theories that have no grounding. She didn’t seem very aware of any Psi science. I would have liked to hear more about her neurological science of the self..

Deborah Hyde talked about her many OBE experiences that she had years ago and wrote off as hallucination or lucid dreams. She spoke in what I thought of as a slightly condescending way, saying that she could see how people might think these experiences are real because they are so vivid. But because she had written them off because they didn’t make much sense to her this meant that everyone’s OBE’s were false. I would have liked to hear more from Deborah from a scientific point of view, but much of what she said was just experiential (something the proponents get slammed for).

Raymond Tallis instantly went onto the attack outlining the limitations of neuroscience. He made it clear that he wanted to get to problem of qualia. Raymond was very definitely an agnostic about everything. He slammed the neuroscientists (in a somewhat jovial way) as much as the new-agers. He didn’t put forward any theories, but made it very clear that consciousness itself was the most mysterious thing, and that no-one has a good handle on it.

Anthony Peake gave a very good history of the follies of science, how science always thinks it has the whole picture and just has to fill in the details. He also covered some of the Psi science research and touched on physics. He quoted lots of researchers and physicists who support Psi. Mentioned that he started off very sceptical, but was won over by the evidence.

Graham talked about his experiences with OBEs, his work in virtual reality, the problems with much of the sceptical science on OBE, they really mean something quite different by ‘OBE’. Stimulating the experience of body disassociation is not the same as a full OBE. Graham also talked about NDE studies, veridical NDE/OBSs, work by Sheldrake and Radin, remote viewing etc.

Once each of the panel had had their say there was a free discussion between the panel members. After a while it was also opened to the audience for questions/comments. Most of the discussion focused on OBEs and NDEs, and if they could be proven to be veridical. Some of the old favourite (in my opinion weaker) NDE cases were brought up, and many of the panel quite rightly pointed out the weaknesses. When the stronger NDE research was brought up, Penny Sartori, Pim van Lommed etc. the sceptics didn’t seems to know any details of the research. The explanations they gave were the tired old excuses that wouldn’t have held up against the really good research.

Raymond Tallis kept trying to get everyone back onto the topic of the philosophy of consciousness. Making the point that he didn’t see OBE as any more amazing than MBE (my body experience). Pointing out that no one was addressing the real problem of consciousness. Quite right.

The sceptics kept on pushing the “no scientific evidence”, where Anthony and Graham would come back with many NDE and Psi studies. When Sheldrake and Radin were mentioned there was scoffing from the sceptics claiming that there were not taken seriously by any normal scientist. It is a shame no-one probed further as to why they were not taken seriously. It is also a shame that no real Psi studies were discussed in detail, quite simply because the sceptics seemed ignorant of the studies. A few of the more shaky old studies were intelligently discussed, but that’s all old news. The names and Randi and Wiseman were obviously mentioned at one point <sigh>.

In response to a question from the audience, Anthony Peake made the very good point that it was really important to go back to first sources, and not get information second or third hand. The Psi study put forward (I forget what it was now) was not actually very good. The rigour Anthony shows in his own research is very impressive.

Someone asked Graham to describe one of his veridical OBE experiences. After he had done so he was attacked because it was just an anecdote, but as he said, he hadn’t once mentioned his experiences during the whole conversation and had not put them forward as evidence. He had continually been pushing the NDE and Psi science, which seemed to fly right past the sceptics. However, I think Graham’s OBE account did make quite a few people sit up and take notice. Even Stephen Law seemed impressed, although it didn’t qualify as ‘extraordinary’ enough evidence to convince him.

In summary, it was a good debate, but really nothing new. The sceptics didn’t seem aware of any of the modern Psi or NDE studies. They kept stating that there wasn’t any science to back it up, and dismissed any science that was being done because it was not being done by scientists they liked. I personally didn’t get anything new from this debate, and came away feeling slightly frustrated that the sceptics didn’t engage more on the details. The details really do matter. I’d also have liked a more philosophical discussion, the two philosophers did occasionally get into an academic discussion, but pulled back in order not to lose people.

Consciousness can be investigated from a philosophical and a scientific point of view, but often the two disciplines do not overlap. I felt the discussion pulled between philosophy and science, maybe it would be better another time to just concentrate on the science and dig down into the details. When much of the conversation is on the surface, it only shows peoples prejudices and doesn’t move the discussion on.

I would really have liked to see specific arguments put forward by the sceptics. I’m always interested in finding out weakness in Psi or NDE studies, but really they were just the same old arguments put forward in a very general and non-specific way. The event was kind of fun from an entertainment point of view, just a shame that it didn’t really get down to specifics or move the discussion on in any way, although this was not from a lock of trying by the 'proponents'. I might just be a bit jaded from hearing the same old arguments from the sceptics. It would be interesting to hear what others thought of it. Were any of the other Skeptico listeners there?

All the best,

Stewart.
 
#2
Thanks for this report Stewart. I was not there, but would have loved to been in the audience for this. I think your version of the debate is probably the same way I would have read it if I was there.
I try to keep an open mind and hope that one day these two camps can come together and actually move us forward once again, but the question is...WHEN?
 
#3
Thanks for that really detailed account of this meeting! Maybe Alex should find some money to send you to some relevant conferences, in return for a good write-up :D

I find it interesting that skeptics at this event disclaimed knowledge of much of the evidence - exactly as we hear on many of the podcast interviews with skeptical folk! I feel that this really is a sign of desperation - I mean who wants to be publicly exposed as not knowing the details of the very subject on which you express such strong opinions!

Perhaps the internet and the use of computers in ψ research is creating such a flood of evidence that it is gradually wearing these people down!

David
 
#4
Consciousness Beyond the Individual 6th November - London.

Is our experience of consciousness limited to the individual brain or is it something prior/external?”

Raymond Tallis - philosopher & neuroscientist
Anthony Peake - science writer
Graham Nicholls - out-of-body experience specialist

vs

Stephen Law - philosopher
Deborah Hyde - Editor of The Skeptic
Jane Aspell – neuroscientist

Stewart.
I was actually in London yesterday. If I had known, I could have gone the day before. As it is, I flew out for a one hour meeting and then came back home in the same day. I also missed Stanley Krippner at the SPR last night. :(

AP
 
#5
Thanks Stewart.

Was Raymond Tallis saying that having an OBE is no more amazing than living normally ? If so I can't agree with him, even though I have never had one.

Sheldrake and Radin being scoffed - I am not a scientist or any expert, but this really is a travesty . All you can do is shake your head !
 
#6
Stanley Krippner is speaking at the Gateways of the Mind conference tomorrow, along with some other big names. There are 20 tickets left for anyone who is interested and happens to be in London. It's a two day conference on lucid dreaming and OBE's.

I'll be going, I might do a write up, which I can post it here if anyone is interested, although I can't promise anything.

Stewart.
 
#7
Thanks Stewart.

Was Raymond Tallis saying that having an OBE is no more amazing than living normally ? If so I can't agree with him, even though I have never had one.

Sheldrake and Radin being scoffed - I am not a scientist or any expert, but this really is a travesty . All you can do is shake your head !
I think he was saying that the very fact of consciousness itself is incredibly mysterious, and it's something that we all take for granted and most do not question. His point was that consciousness is an interesting topic, whether inside or outside the body. He seemed to be pushing for a more philosophical discussion, and was warning against getting bogged down in the details of a small number of extreme cases.

I do agree with him to a certain extent, but I also agree with you and the points that Graham was making. OBEs are fascinating and unusual, and if we can gain a greater understanding of them I think we will gain understanding on consciousness. We really need to attack the question of consciousness using every tool that we have available. Even one of the sceptics pointed out we can learn a lot from studying the "misfirings" of the brain that create these illusions (I thought Graham was very restrained at this point).
 
#8
Stanley Krippner is speaking at the Gateways of the Mind conference tomorrow, along with some other big names. There are 20 tickets left for anyone who is interested and happens to be in London. It's a two day conference on lucid dreaming and OBE's.

I'll be going, I might do a write up, which I can post it here if anyone is interested, although I can't promise anything.

Stewart.
I would definitely be interested in reading your account.

Do you happen to know if either of these two meetings are due to be released as a video?

David
 
#9
I think they were videoing event on Wednesday but I haven't found a link yet, so not sure, It was organised by http://www.wildculture.com/, maybe check there.

I don't think the Gateways event is being video'd though. It wasn't last year. I'll keep you posted if I find out differently.
 
C

chuck.drake

#10
Stanley Krippner is speaking at the Gateways of the Mind conference tomorrow, along with some other big names. There are 20 tickets left for anyone who is interested and happens to be in London. It's a two day conference on lucid dreaming and OBE's.

I'll be going, I might do a write up, which I can post it here if anyone is interested, although I can't promise anything.

Stewart.
I would be interested in hearing details as well. Or if they post audio or video online, please post a link.
 
Top