Dr. Gregory Shushan, Making the Case For Cross-Cultural NDEs |422|

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Dr. Gregory Shushan, Making the Case For Cross-Cultural NDEs |422|
by Alex Tsakiris | Aug 6 | Near-Death Experience
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Dr. Gregory Shushan’s research into near-death experience across cultures rankles skeptics and believers.


photo by: Skeptiko
Alex Tsakiris: Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers and their critics. Now, most of us at this point accept that near-death experience science provides a unique way for serious researchers to look at some of these deep mysteries of the afterlife, but we also know that that road to discovery is filled with a lot of potholes. There are stuck in the mud academics who can’t bear the thought of having been wrong for all of those years, there are well-meaning Christians, new-agers and spiritual seekers, and I’d have to throw myself in that category, who want to claim NDEs as their exclusive domain.
The barriers to really understanding the deeper implications of NDE science are many and that’s what makes it so exciting when someone like today’s guest, Dr. Gregory Shushan comes along. He’s got a new book, Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions, and it looks to me to be one of those books that really delves so deeply into one of the questions that has really been central to the ongoing discussion about NDE science. It’s a question that’s interested both skeptics, they’ve picked it up as their cause, and proponents, they’ve picked it up as their cause, and that is, what are we to make of NDE accounts across cultures? And a follow-on question to that is, how might those experiences have impacted those religious traditions that we see and the spiritual beliefs, which we’re going to have to deconstruct a little bit?
So, the basic question usually kind of falls into, does the lack of consistency within the NDE accounts across cultures, do those mean that, as the skeptics would have us believe, and skeptics I’m just using to fill in those people in one camp who then use that to bolster their claim, that maybe this is more of a delusional kind of thing that people are creating in their head.
Or another way of looking at it is, do the patterns, the deeper patterns within these accounts suggest that maybe NDEs have an even more richer, deeper influence on these cultures, all the way to maybe even being the source of the religions we see?
So this is an awesome interview we have coming up, a deep dive. Anthropology, religious history, NDE science, a world-class scholar, a recognized expert in his field, it’s really, really great to welcome you Dr Shushan to Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me.
 
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Excellent presentation/thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you Dr. Shushan and Alex.

I like the idea that maybe the afterlife is like a shared lucid dream (and maybe this life is too).

More like this please!

One item I wish had been discussed - and if Dr. Shushan graces the comments section maybe he can answer - do other cultures tend to have NDEs where they are told or made to understand, that it's all about love? I am genuinely curious if that aspect of NDEs is culturally based or wide spread.
 
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#3
Excellent interview with Dr. Shushan. A very objective and inquisitive mind here regarding some of the deductive evidence involved in NDEs.

Both Dr. Shushan and Alex highlight two of three key elements of deliberating this issue (the third is mine with apologies).
1. Recognizing prior art (prior work on and history of the subject)​
2. Understanding the role and impact of method employed
(3. Realizing the difference between abduction, induction and deduction as forms of inference)​

He differentiates death, near-death and vision scenarios. Thank you Dr. Shushan - we get jerked around by visions and close to death situations all too often.

Dr. Shushan cites the examples of some NDE's being a result of vision quests and not actually death or the guy who claimed to have an NDE and then used it to exploit people, gain money or and have sex with those in the religion around him.

I wish there was a mechanism to show that the variability of story increases as one moves away from coded death scenarios. Something which shows that much of our 'inconsistent' report base, exists on the 'vision' side of the anecdotal spectrum. At least 90% of the hell NDE's I have found for example, to reside on the 'well I think I died, but I had this traumatic event or passed out when I was in a state of abject despair and there were demons on the other side' side of the story spectrum. Or they are related by fundamentalist Christians with a keen interest in pushing their sect's message. Situations where accounts are not trustworthy.

It is not the elemental archetypes, nor even the events progression which are contained in the NDE which make it a valid part of the data set - rather it is the conditions in which it was obtained, and the conflict of interest on the part of the experiencer.

NDE's have not been explained away, not even close.
 
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I like the idea that maybe the afterlife is like a shared lucid dream (and maybe this life is too).
thx I liked this part too.

One item I wish had been discussed - and if Dr. Shushan graces the comments section maybe he can answer - do other cultures tend to have NDEs where they are told or made to understand, that it's all about love? I am genuinely curious if that aspect of NDEs is culturally based or wide spread.
What makes near-death experiences similar across cultures LOVE ... - Skeptiko
 
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I wish there was a mechanism to show that the variability of story increases as one moves away from coded death scenarios. Something which shows that much of our 'inconsistent' report base, exists on the 'vision' side of the anecdotal spectrum.
there's a ton to talk about here. NDE science has been around longer than most people realize. if you go back and look at what was raymond moody was interested in ( and it really goes back to elizabeth kubler-ross) it's quite a bit different than the in-hospital hard-core NDE stuff that most research folks talk about.

another really interesting parts to me is the extent to which "skeptics" have been able to muddy the waters and keep researchers spinning their wheels. over the years I've documented the outrageously stupid "skeptical nde research" that is somehow propped up and pushed through respectable sounding channels.
Dr. Caroline Watt Defends, There is Nothing Paranormal ... - Skeptiko
 
#6
The link on the podcast page to Dr. Sushan's web site is given as:
https://lamp.academia.edu/GregoryShushan

That site has links to articles and when you click them it says they don't have the article but you should click to ask Dr. Shushan to make them available.

At the end of the transcript Dr. Shushan gives a better url:
gregoryshushan.com

I think this is a very interesting topic, I am very busy but I would want to listen to the podcast if I knew it provides information on what the cross-cultural differences and or similarities in NDE's are. That information is necessary to answer Alex's question at the end of the podcast.
Would someone who has listened to the podcast or Alex please say if that information (what are the cross-cultural differences/similarities in NDEs) is in the podcast? If it isn't maybe someone , Alex?, can post a link to an article by Dr Shushan that has that information? The book is expensive and I have been unable to find an article containing Dr. Shushan's most recent research.
 
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I loved the interview. One minor point of contention that occurred to me - toward the end of the interview Dr Shushan in mentioning the chaotic and random nature of the world thought the other side if it exists would be similar and seemed somewhat to reject the idea of hierarchy.

My intuition regarding this is that there are realms of structure and order – platonic realms, Kants noumenal world, the archetypal, Sacred geometry. . . and it is this deep structure which animates the creativity and beauty of this world and overwhelms us with awe and a deeper kind of knowing when we get a glimpse of the source energy or god.

Whatever you call it "the god thing" seemed a bit unresolved
 
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It seemed to me that Gregory's position on the nature of NDE's is close to that of Skeptiko - inasmuch as we have a position. I.e. we are not generally accepting of materialism or of the teachings of any particular faith. See here on Gregory's blog:

https://www.gregoryshushan.com/blog

I really hope he does join us on this forum, because I'd like to discuss the probable nature of the afterlife realm. I must say, having read the enormous variety of NDE's, and read Jergen Ziewe's accounts, I think that realm is enormously complicated - just as life on Earth is - and maybe it also contains communities - again just like life here - corresponding to different faiths, and different interests. For example, although most sciences might be utterly different, I suppose maths would be the same, and there might be thriving communities of mathematicians.

David
 
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I'm going to keep it symbol(simple) symbols and archetypes are cross cultural, it's the meanings attached to them that changes
 
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It seemed to me that Gregory's position on the nature of NDE's is close to that of Skeptiko - inasmuch as we have a position. I.e. we are not generally accepting of materialism or of the teachings of any particular faith. See here on Gregory's blog:

https://www.gregoryshushan.com/blog

I really hope he does join us on this forum, because I'd like to discuss the probable nature of the afterlife realm. I must say, having read the enormous variety of NDE's, and read Jergen Ziewe's accounts, I think that realm is enormously complicated - just as life on Earth is - and maybe it also contains communities - again just like life here - corresponding to different faiths, and different interests. For example, although most sciences might be utterly different, I suppose maths would be the same, and there might be thriving communities of mathematicians.

David
After the last podcast with Dr. ShushanI sent him an e-mail with a question and he replied. So you could try that.

http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threa...near-death-experiences.1734/page-2#post-54500
 
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Hey everyone - thanks for the kind comments and insightful questions. I'll do my best to answer them, starting with....
One item I wish had been discussed - and if Dr. Shushan graces the comments section maybe he can answer - do other cultures tend to have NDEs where they are told or made to understand, that it's all about love? I am genuinely curious if that aspect of NDEs is culturally based or wide spread.
This came up in my first Skeptiko interview, and it's surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly!) not really straightforward. There are many accounts in which the NDEr was sent back to do something positive for his/her people - give them some new knowledge or ritual, impose new moral strictures against drinking or wife-beating or whatever, start a new religion, and oppose or convert to a foreign religion. So not really "love" but a message of caring for the people and trying to make lives better.

Then there are all the accounts of being happy to meet deceased relatives and friends, and overall feelings of happiness and joy to the extent that the NDEr would rather stay "dead" than return to life. That to me suggests feelings of love.

More clearly and specifically, in a lot of afterlife myths (which were often based on NDEs, as I argued in both my books) an individual is explicitly motivated by love to travel to the otherworld to bring back a loved one who had died.

There's also usually some form of evaluation of the NDEr's life - not necessarily a life review - but some kind of reckoning about how the person lived their life. What made a person "good" is cultural to some degree, so in some societies it just meant you followed the correct rituals, and in others it meant you were wealthy, brave in war, or that you died in childbirth. Not really "love" but a nearly universal theme of "morality" (however construed).
 
#15
Excellent interview with Dr. Shushan. A very objective and inquisitive mind here regarding some of the deductive evidence involved in NDEs.

Both Dr. Shushan and Alex highlight two of three key elements of deliberating this issue (the third is mine with apologies).
1. Recognizing prior art (prior work on and history of the subject)​
2. Understanding the role and impact of method employed​
(3. Realizing the difference between abduction, induction and deduction as forms of inference)
Re: your point (3): As I wrote in the new book - "The conclusions here have been reached through “inference to the best explanation”— abductive reasoning and rational judgment about the problems in question, the evidence related to them, and the various interdisciplinary models relevant to explaining them. In addition, we have in many cases actual proof of our hypotheses in the form of indigenous statements. Our conclusions thus have the advantage of ensuring the ethnohistorical narratives remain contextually rooted, and interpreted in ways that respect the meaningfulness they had to the people who expressed them to begin with. This ensures that our interpretations are consistent with local “religious reasoning”.

To me that was the best way of being open to what the accounts actually say, rather than trying to cram them into a pet theory.


I wish there was a mechanism to show that the variability of story increases as one moves away from coded death scenarios.
Something which shows that much of our 'inconsistent' report base, exists on the 'vision' side of the anecdotal spectrum. At least 90% of the hell NDE's I have found for example, to reside on the 'well I think I died, but I had this traumatic event or passed out when I was in a state of abject despair and there were demons on the other side' side of the story spectrum. Or they are related by fundamentalist Christians with a keen interest in pushing their sect's message. Situations where accounts are not trustworthy.
In my first book (Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations) I developed a schema (based on Levi-Strauss) for analyzing afterlife myths and NDE accounts, basically dividing them into structure (the afterlife/NDE narrative), mytheme (the elements that make up the narrative, such as traveling to another realm, meeting spirit entities, etc.), and symbol (the means of travel - ascending, a ladder, a boat; and the identity of the spirit entities). As I summarized there, "Obviously, the structure ‘afterlife conception’ is consistent cross-culturally, or there could be no present book. We have also seen that the mythemes are consistent cross-culturally, while the symbols utilized in the expression of the mythemes are largely culture-specific. It is not surprising that these details/symbols would be culture-specific, as they are plainly influenced by environment, history, social organization, and so on."

Hope that sort of helps... :)
 
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In my first book (Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations) I developed a schema (based on Levi-Strauss) for analyzing afterlife myths and NDE accounts, basically dividing them into structure (the afterlife/NDE narrative), mytheme (the elements that make up the narrative, such as traveling to another realm, meeting spirit entities, etc.), and symbol (the means of travel - ascending, a ladder, a boat; and the identity of the spirit entities). As I summarized there, "Obviously, the structure ‘afterlife conception’ is consistent cross-culturally, or there could be no present book. We have also seen that the mythemes are consistent cross-culturally, while the symbols utilized in the expression of the mythemes are largely culture-specific. It is not surprising that these details/symbols would be culture-specific, as they are plainly influenced by environment, history, social organization, and so on."

Hope that sort of helps... :)
Thanks Dr. Shushan, welcome to the forum!

It definitely helps. I find that the presence of a schema, even if binary (forced bifurcation) in its practical applications (opposites), helps foster 1. retention, 2. understanding and teach-ability, and 3. a framework for the ability to attach or encourage successive research. It is the habit of a researcher who is conscientious about their work. But here in your work, I am gaining an enormously beneficial tool with this three layer schema.

I do patent strategies in this manner - by method of a layered schema, so that the lawyers are not constantly complicating work on device and best mode patents for instance. I am usually insistent that they define ALL the Layer 2 device patents (even if provisional) before they begin to file Layer 3 best mode (how to best use those devices) patents. It reduces confusion and keeps the lawyers on point, on task and on their game. It allows us to eat the elephant, one bite at a time and not spend a fortune in duplicated best mode patents which have to be constantly revised, delaying the application process.

But I love this schema you have outlined, in terms of my layman mental picture of this issue (if I get this right...)

Structure - the overarching narrative​
Mytheme - the elements contained inside that narrative​
Symbols (Language) - the visceral archetype, identity or object which is attached to a principle​
I would suspect that you would draw the line so that mythemes are consistent cross-culturally. And indeed I look back, and read your post again, and that is exactly what you said. Excellent. ;;/?

My best friend from childhood, caught sepsis one month from a relatively common hernia surgery and went into a coma. After 6 weeks in the hospital he came out and regained his health 100%. He came over to my house one morning a couple months after the events and confided in me. "TES, when I was in that coma, something happened. I haven't told anyone this, but we're like best buds, ok. Somewhere in that whole time I was out, I found myself awake and on the bank of a pretty large river. This place was beautiful, like the best summer day at the pool. It was like more intense than you and I sitting here now. All these people were gathering on the other side of the river. And they were talking all excited, and I could feel a warm sense that they all were happy. Just then a ball of light, like a star came from over my left shoulder. It did not make a noise, but crossed over the river and suddenly turned into a subway train. The doors opened up and everybody who had gathered on the other side of the river from me, started filing into the train cars. But I could not cross that river. So I started yelling 'Hey, hey! Wait for me. Help me cross this river! Don't go yet.' Then one of the passengers in the line for entering the train looked at me and smiled, and wagged his head and said without words: 'No, it's not your time'

I replied "Were you disappointed?' To which he replied 'Hell yes! That was like the best I have ever felt.' I then replied 'And you did not feel like your being turned away was a bad thing about you?' He retorted 'No no. There was nothing but love there, and it was clear - I would be back there some day. But here's the thing... when that star came in over my shoulder - I got the impression that it was Jesus. Anyway, don't call me stupid man, but this was for real, and not a dream at all.'

What I noticed is that - I have never had a dream in which I experienced a state of 'best I have ever felt'. Dreams only consist of a semi-chaotic story in symbols - but are lacking of the mytheme, that which is consistent across cultures and persons.

So to me - would then the symbols, be simply the language? We can speak the native tongue when we dream. But the mytheme is actually a coherent message which then uses that language to engage with the experiencer?
 
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#17
The link on the podcast page to Dr. Sushan's web site is given as:
https://lamp.academia.edu/GregoryShushan

That site has links to articles and when you click them it says they don't have the article but you should click to ask Dr. Shushan to make them available.

At the end of the transcript Dr. Shushan gives a better url:
gregoryshushan.com

I think this is a very interesting topic, I am very busy but I would want to listen to the podcast if I knew it provides information on what the cross-cultural differences and or similarities in NDE's are. That information is necessary to answer Alex's question at the end of the podcast.
Would someone who has listened to the podcast or Alex please say if that information (what are the cross-cultural differences/similarities in NDEs) is in the podcast? If it isn't maybe someone , Alex?, can post a link to an article by Dr Shushan that has that information? The book is expensive and I have been unable to find an article containing Dr. Shushan's most recent research.
Jim, my website has a few articles you can download for free - here's the direct link to the page: https://www.gregoryshushan.com/articles Also, my first book is in paperback - still not super cheap, but better than a $99 hardback. https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/conceptions-of-the-afterlife-in-early-civilizations-9781441130884/ The new one should have a more reasonably priced paperback by early next year.

The question of cross-similarities and differences is really complicated. But very briefly, NDEs vary across cultures and even between individuals much more than people think. There's a lot of overgeneralizing about the stereotypical NDE. At the same time, pretty much every NDE element can be found in every part of the world, though some will be rare in certain cultures. So in indigenous societies people report walking along a road instead of going through a tunnel, and sometimes travel to "afterlife" destinations that are in an earthly locale. There are also differences in things like reasons for being sent back - in some cultures it's more of mistaken identity (the spirits or gods took the wrong Jim Smith or whatever), while in others it's to fulfil a specific purpose. They're thematically very similar, but very much culturally expressed. This is how I summarized it in the new book:

"While accounts of NDEs share many common elements worldwide, those elements are embedded in matrices of clearly culture- and individual- specific material, and reflect established local beliefs. This suggests that NDEs originate in phenomena that are independent of culture. They begin as precultural events which cause experiences that are both culturally contextualized and cross- culturally thematically stable. Like any experience, NDEs are rooted in the contexts of those who have them. They are processed “live” by an enculturated individual, then recounted in socially, religiously, and linguistically idiosyncratic ways. In other words, how the event is experienced varies by individual, resulting in narratives being interpreted and expressed in highly symbolic local modes. It is a symbiotic relationship in which culture- specific beliefs and individual expectations influence universal experience, and vice versa."
 
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Alex asked: 1:21:55
"Do the differences we see in near death accounts across cultures make it more or less likely that near-death experiences are genuine encounters with the afterlife, with extended consciousness?"
In order to answer this question we need to know what the cross cultural differences of NDEs are.

Dr Shushan wrote:
So in indigenous societies people report walking along a road instead of going through a tunnel, and sometimes travel to "afterlife" destinations that are in an earthly locale. There are also differences in things like reasons for being sent back - in some cultures it's more of mistaken identity (the spirits or gods took the wrong Jim Smith or whatever), while in others it's to fulfill a specific purpose.
These cross-cultural similarities and differences do not have any impact one way or the other upon my interpretation that NDEs are genuine encounters with the afterlife.

I think NDEs are encounters with the afterlife because there is no good materialist explanation for them even if you ignore the paranormal aspects (NDEs occuring while the brain is inactive, veridical information provided by experiencers that they could not perceive with their normal senses even if they were conscious, shared experiences, etc).

The definition of an NDE Dr Shushan used is:
From the transcipt:
"if the account says this person died, had this particular experience and came back to life, then that counted as an NDE to me."
Who would know better than the experiencer? Having worked as a scientist myself, and having had my own experiences of a type, I do not believe materialist scientists when they claim their opinion is more reliable than the person who experienced the phenomenon. There are plenty of Nobel Prize winning and other great scientists who are not materialists. And Many of the arguments materialists use to justify disregarding experiencers actually undermine the materialists position rather than strengthen them.

My understanding of afterlife phenomenon is that when people cross over they are provided an environment that will help them adjust. A person who lived in the wilderness without modern technology will not go to the same region in the afterlife as a suburban soccer mom. And when spiritual entities communicate with living people they have to explain things in a way the living can understand. And spiritual entities can only communicate information that will be accepted or they will be ignored or labeled "demons".

From the transcript:
Dr. Gregory Shushan: [01:04:57] ... I don’t know if you’re familiar with H.H. Price, who’s a British philosopher. He talks about an intersubjective afterlife, where it’s basically like a lucid dream that you’re sharing with other people. And to me that accounts for the cross-cultural similarities of an NDE. It also accounts for the cultural and individual particularities of an NDE, because if you’re creating it as you’re going along, that would account for the thematic similarities, but also the cultural differences.

I think it really addresses a lot and it doesn’t mean that NDEs are just a dream or that the afterlife is just a dream, it’s another state of reality where you have this different level of creation and control involved in it.
Consider what it would be like in a non-physical realm where consciousness is the only thing that exists and individuals communicate by what we would call telepathy. Environments would by necessity have to be constructed by thought and communicated mentally.

The kind of gateway provided for new arrivals, a tunnel or a road would be based on what it would mean to the experiencer. Someone who lives in the wilderness and never travels more than a few miles from his home may have never been through or even seen a tunnel. And it might not be practical for such a person be sent back with a mission to change the world. From what I have read about NDEs, whether the afterlife location is earthly or in another dimension is, in many cases, left for the experiencer to determine. If someone was provided with a road as an entrance to the afterlife realm because that was more familiar to them, it would be natural for them to interpret the new location as earthly.

My opinion is that we need to form our beliefs about the afterlife based on the evidnece, not reject evidence because it does not conform to our beliefs about the afterlife.

But, all the controversies in the history of science show that the best interpretation of the evidence is an opinion. So I don't think the cross-cultural differences and similarities would change a materialist's mind either. If a materialist is willing to ignore all the science that he claims proves the brain produces consciousness and believe that someone can have a realer-than-real experience like an NDE while their EEG is flat-lined because there could be some residual electrical activity that is too faint to be detected, then no amount of information of any kind from experiencers could get them to change their mind.
 
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#20
Welcome to the forum, Gregory!
There's also usually some form of evaluation of the NDEr's life - not necessarily a life review - but some kind of reckoning about how the person lived their life. What made a person "good" is cultural to some degree, so in some societies it just meant you followed the correct rituals, and in others it meant you were wealthy, brave in war, or that you died in childbirth.
I wonder if you ever came across anything like Christian judgement - i.e. an assessment process that had only two possible outcomes, one of which was unspeakably awful. Put another way, do you think that that particular piece of Christian theology came from NDE experiences, or was perhaps just added as a way to control the people.

This isn't an academic forum, so I guess it is fair to ask broader questions. I wonder what your own expectations are about the end of your life - what you expect it to be like 'out there'. Also what do you see as the purpose of the life/lives we lead - I mean the overall purpose.

We come across a number of NDE's in which people imply that the afterlife takes place in a timeless realm - which has produced much speculation. Did you came across that idea in any other cultures. Timelessness is a very difficult concept because most verbs are hard to understand without a before and an afterwords - e.g. think about what 'discover' means in a timeless context! My rationalisation is that it becomes possible to see (and maybe manipulate) the whole of time on earth simultaneously, but there is a second time axis for spirit activities.

David
 
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