Sunday, 23 September 2007

Watching death

Susan Blackmore: "What happens when we die? Surely everyone wonders about this very human question, and it’s certainly caused much dissent between religion and science. While most scientists think that death must be the end of personal consciousness, most religious believers expect their soul or spirit to survive.

How can we find out the truth?

We know that roughly ten per cent of people who come close to death have “near-death experiences” (NDEs) in which they seem to travel down a dark tunnel towards a bright, warm light; see their body from above; experience vivid memories; and even enter another world or meet gods, angels or spirits. A few have mystical experiences of oneness with the universe, or experience the dissolution of the illusory self.

All these experiences can be accounted for, in principle, by disorganised activity in the dying brain. Yet this argument does not convince believers who argue that after all the brain activity stops, the soul or spirit still carries on.

Then there are claims that NDEers have observed details of the accident scene, hospital ward, or medical apparatus that they could not have seen with their physical eyes because they were unconscious at the time. These claims depend critically on timing, with believers saying the experiences happen during unconsciousness or clinical death, while sceptics argue they occur just before or afterwards. But without any means of timing the experiences this cannot be tested.

Some experimenters have placed concealed targets in cardiac care units, hoping that patients close to death may be able to see them, so proving they have really left their body, but no positive results have been obtained. This is what the sceptics would expect but is no proof that they are right.

So the impasse remains.

The most important experiment that’s never been done is to take fMRI or PET scans of people as they die; either those who really do go on to die, or those who suffer clinical death but are resuscitated. If this were done we would be able to test theories about how NDEs and mystical experiences are generated in the dying brain, and answer questions about the timing of the experiences. Perhaps even this would not resolve the final question once and for all, but it would certainly bring us a lot closer to knowing what happens when we die.

And why has it not been done? Because when someone is dying it is far more important to try to save their life than to do a scientific experiment. Nevertheless it could be done, and I hope that one day the technology will be so unobtrusive and easy to use that the ethical problem will disappear and we will be able to watch the dying brain as easily as we can now watch the living brain.

I think it would help us face death with more equanimity."

Dr Susan Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of the West of England, Bristol. (Photo credit: Jolyon Troscianko).


Anonymous said...

There's a difference in the East and the West in the definition of mind - what is what?
East considers mind is material. West considers it is conscious. It is soul which gives strength to the mind. The mind's a vehicle.
Possibility of studying our own soul is been given to humankind before time immemorial. We have only lost this knowledge. It is called meditation. It is natural and very scientific way to come to know our soul and over-soul.

The mystery of death is automatically solved with the help of this science, which is given free to every citizen of the world.
Spiritual events can be scientifically proven.

Where scientifically proven mean, the same experiment in same circumstances will give exactly the same results.
And exactly this happens in meditation. Different people on different places in different ages, reports the same experience.

But not every meditation is spiritual. That's why there are so many different non-spiritual reports. The highest experience, which is realization of ones own soul and realization of over-soul, is always the same.

The mess only comes due to different definitions of what is what. One of the most frequent mistakes is, that we report the first "out of the body" experience as experience of our soul. This is common mistake. When we leave the physical body, we are then in subtle body, and when we leave subtle body, we are still in causal body, and when we leave causal body, we are still in super-causal body, and when we leave super-causal body, then we experience our self in the most pure state, which is spirit.

Spirit can not be proven with material instruments. It is something we would like to prove fire under the water.

There are many books on this subject out there. "Science of the Soul" is good starting keyword on Google.

Here is one quite perfected:

Fear of Indian turban is not scientific approach :-)
"Spirit can not be proven with material instruments."

This sentence may be too morbid for scientists.
And with proper approach, it can be advanced to acceptable state.
Humankind is endowed with this "material instrument". Called body, mind and intellect, or brain if we whish to call it so.

With proper set-up, and clean "laboratory", mind can get reflections of the spirit.
It means, it is able to experience reflection only, which is second hand experience.
What would be the real import of third hand experience in the case of measuring brain activity? This phenomena is reproduced daily, like in the case of computers. The level of consciousness of a computer is the level of consciousness in a stone. Mechanical capability could not rise the level of consciousness.

Here again is some clue - in which way the experiments should be done, to get first hand experience:

Anonymous said...

We should refine and rethink the Eastern thought and science. It explains the existence with more than one level – physical, as may be the case on the West. But also with more than two levels – physical and spiritual, as may be another case on the West. Both explanations are leading to defective interpretations sooner or later.

East divides material level to at least four very different levels:
- gross matter, or physical level
- subtle matter, or supra-physical level
- causal level
- supra-causal level

Non of them is considered spiritual, but on further investigation to spiritual, are considered as reflections of pure spirit.
Each level is present every where in nature, so also in human being.

The illustration of physical level (gross matter) with fire, water, earth, air and ether is very sure not false as it seem, it is simplified, but not false. So we should rethink, about their another division, which is subtle-matter. As is gross matter divided to 5 elements, this way the subtle matter is divided to 17 so-called vital airs. So they knew 17 subtle-energies which doesn’t fall to the definition of gross-matter.

We should rethink at this point, does something as thought-transfer really falls to any definition in today physics. After more than hundred years of so intense investigation, we see that physics has been researched conventional energy in all directions. And something like thought-transfer goes at another level.

Psychology should not wait anymore to physicians, to bring us more fine instruments. Because it is more and more possible, that they will never bring them. Psychology should turn to its original destination. Root “Psyche” is correct direction.

Considering “Mind are Brains”, is out of time definition for today science. If we look back to Eastern definition, we will find that brain is only a part of physical body, and is therefore gross matter. It is at the level of a stone. It is at the level of a computer if we whish so. It is at the level of physics. Psychology and psychiatry based on physical level is, sorry to say, but utter-darkness in science.

Which is the most expected experiment today?
- Thought-transfer research is a step, not to spiritual, but is a step. To subtle, actually.
- The field of coincidence, as is false interpreted today, is a step, not to spiritual. To causal, actually. (‘God does not play dice.')
- Step to spiritual, finally.

Anonymous said...

Just a word to add. My intense was not to criticize work and effort of participants, but to add something contributive. If the experiments opened here, on this pages, would be not something significant, I would not interfere. Best wishes to all pioneers.

Anonymous said...

Supposedly, there is a way to artificially induce NDE-like experiences without actually killing someone. I've heard that astronauts in training who pass out while experiencing extreme G-forces in a centrifuge also report the same kind of experiences.

Anonymous said...

I'm by no means knowledgeable on the topic, but couldn't they do such a scan when someone is disconnected from life support? Or on a person with a do not resuscitate clause in their living will? Both are cases when saving the life is not the goal.

allenupl said...

Susan Blackmore is presenting only one perspective on the research into NDEs. Most of the major medical researchers who specialize in this field strongly disagree with her. The most credible source for near-death experiences is the website of the International Association for Near-Death Studies at In particular, you might want to check under the Research tab for published papers outlining new findings from the most current research, particularly the two written by Dr. Peter Fenwick and Dr. Pim Van Lommel.

During the past 30 years, near-death experiences have been the focus of many scientific studies at universities and medical centers around the world. Many medical professionals who have seriously studied the research – and it is extensive – no longer dismiss this phenomenon as hallucinations, intense dreams, or caused by physiological or pharmacological factors. The best analysis of the many physiological theories regarding NDEs is on a DVD that has a presentation by Dr. Bruce Greyson (from the University of Virginia Medical School) titled “T3-Explanatory Models of NDEs.” It can be obtained from the website above at
This presentation was from an international conference in 2006 at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Anonymous said...

Has this type of study been done with animals?

Anonymous said...

not to be morbid, but what about ppl who are DNR DNI a lot of the time nurses know when they are abou to die and they don't want to be saved. it could be done on them.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this being tested in a way at the moe. I recall hear a study where they are attempting to see if the concious leaves the body when dying. where patients who have come back from the dead are tested upon recall of pictures that were hidden behind screens out of sight. I probable am wrong :-p

Anonymous said...

Testing on the dying is problematic for two reasons. One, as the article points out, is that saving the patient obviously gets priority over all else, and there simply isn't time to set up a proper experiment. The other is that the patient, being more than a bit preoccupied with his potential impending doom than the note you just dropped on his chest, is probably watching the guys with the defibrillator - if he's calm enough to watch anything at all rather than panic, not the random note someone dropped on his chest.

That being said, if what we're trying to prove is the presence of consciousness outside of the body, why not do the experiment with meditators rather than dying people? Find a good-sized sample group of people who can use meditation to have an out of body experience, have them do the exercise on a couch in a lab, and then have them walk through a closed door, look at a poster on the wall, a random object on a desk, or anything along those lines, then return to body and report what was there. There's no worry about the subject dying as he's in no danger, and the subject is actually focused on viewing the image or object, as that's precisely what he's there to do. He can be fully aware he's participating in an experiment, as since it's a simple test of viewing an object behind a closed door, knowing you're a subject really doesn't influence the results... you either see the target object, or you don't.

Even assuming the experiment proves that at least some people can perform this excercise consistantly, we would of couse have a LONG way to go from merely proving consciousness is not chained to the body to actually answering any post-death questions (or even some far more basic questions about consciousness itself), but this would seem to me like a good first step experiment, which could then be built on by other scientists. After all, all advanced sciences start simple - we needed basic stuff like the laws of motion long before we could work on relativity or string theory. Why should this field start any different?

Enrique said...

why not get a patient from a prison who is on death row? If the prisoner is legally sentenced to death on that day at a certain time and there is no objection from the prisoner? That seems like the least ethically offensive option.

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