6/29/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Out-of-body experiences



Michael Shermer travels to Laurentian University in Sudbury, Canada, to strap on the "God Helmet" in neuroscientist Michael Persinger's lab that duplicates out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, alien abductions, and other paranormal phenomena.

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11 comments:

Lookinglass said...

Wow...is spirituality good for anything then? I'm honestly a bit discouraged. But it makes sense. The human brain is controlled by chemicals and electrical signals...kinda primitive if you think about it. It's natural that it would misinterpret signals from time to time.

Anonymous said...

it is all bullshit like demons and healing. if it was real we all could do it.

Anonymous said...

it is all bullshit like demons and healing. if it was real we all could do it.

chad said...

The philosophical implications that are asserted on the basis of this research, in my opinion, do not necessarily follow. Namely, the implication that discovering the brain processes involved in a "paranormal experience" somehow demystifies or invalidates the veracity of these experiences (veracity meaning the factual, objective quality of such experiences). Williams James, the philosopher/psychologist who introduced pragmatism, wrote a book entitled "The Varieties of Religious Experience" in 1901. Therein, he argued that explicating the brain conditions or cognitive mechanics that underlie religious experiences does NOT, by necessity, rule out the supernatural origin of those experiences. That is to say, identifying the various "brain dynamics" of religious experiences does NOT automatically "naturalize" such experiences. Why?
The answer is really quite simple. Any religious experience--whether it be completely subjective or objective--would act on and thereby be processed by certain aspects of the brain. To put this in more concrete terms, someone who sees a ghost because his mind is playing tricks on him will exhibit activity in a specified part of his brain. Also, someone who sees a ghost because a ghost really exists will exhibit activity in a specified part of the brain. Therefore, both a bonafide and bogus religious experience will exhibit brain activity. In fact, any mental phenomenon--whether it originates from some sort of supernatural realm or originates from the mind of the beholder--would be impossible without the brain as its facilitator.
All the being said, discovering the neurological conditions of "paranormal experiences" and artificially reproducing them does not, in turn, definitively repudiate the supernatural status of a typical experience. Perhaps this research, then, should not be characterized as providing evidence against the paranormal. Perhaps the assessment of what counts as a real paranormal experience should be guided by different standards.
It should be noted that William james (nor I for that matter) was a fundamentalist Christian or even a theist.

Versailles said...

Chad: "The answer is really quite simple. Any religious experience--whether it be completely subjective or objective--would act on and thereby be processed by certain aspects of the brain."

All knowledge of existence is created and filtered by the mind.

The mind is "natural", therefore, all that is known of existence, must be "natural", or at a minimum interpreted and perceived naturally.

The implication is... that the word "supernatural" is vacuous, since the word itself and all experience attributed to it, are captive to the natural origin of the human mind and body.

All causes may not be known, but "all" causes that will "ever" be known, will be "known" by natural terms.

Radio waves are not perceived by human sense, but by technological instrument. The fact that radio waves exceed the bounds of human sensory perception without aid, does not make the phenomenon supernatural.

Natural ignorance or natural awe, does not default to the educated mind as "supernatural". To those who have such inclination; speaks volumes to their level of education. Better words express such perceived natural events without imposing a transcendental multi-universe taint, such as; extraordinary, superordinary, etc.

Chad: "Therefore, both a bonafide and bogus religious experience will exhibit brain activity. In fact, any mental phenomenon--whether it originates from some sort of supernatural realm or originates from the mind of the beholder--would be impossible without the brain as its facilitator."

Philosophy and many abstract areas of study become the default/initial area of inquiry, when hard facts are unknown. Philosophy is a method to frame direction for further natural inquiry, using tools and processes.

In history, extraordinary experiences were investigated philosophically, where words such as supernatural, etc., were placated and entertained as having "equal", weight, during discourse.

However, as facts are gathered through reproducible research, the equality between philosophical stances no longer exist. The word supernatural was initially entertained in this context to seek answers for extraordinary experiences.

Olaf Blanke, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, was able to reproduce OBEs by stimulating the termporal-parietal junction. Olaf, stated that "every" time he stimulated that portion of the brain, responsible for body orientation, that an out of body experience was had - even by those who had "never" had such an experience.

The ability to "induce" such episodes proves that a natural interaction between a scientist and patient can result in an OBE. No longer, is there philosophical nor logical equality between those who argue supernatural or natural causation.

All weight shifts towards natural explanation, as it is the "only" philosophical proposition that has netted any understanding on the matter of OBEs.

Further, most all naturalists would suggest that the term "supernatural" is a vacuous word in "any" context, until qualified (and it can't be for naturalists), but further, that the term "supernatural" no longer has credibility as an explanation in the context of OBEs.

The "origin" of all experimentally proven OBEs has been natural..., to "seek" further "causal" factors, by suggesting that another reality "could exist", forces those who have facts, to put their findings aside, in order to entertain such a presupposition without support.

The bottom line; naturalists have proven their case, that natural causation (experimentally induced OBEs) for OBEs is a fact. If a supernaturalist wants to take their "vacuous" word, and premise, to support their argument; the burden of proof is on them. They need to define the very word "supernatural" first, and how they presume to understand such a word while living in a natural reality, before going forward.

The word "Supernatural" is promoted by those who support the religious fantasy; that there exists more than Existence.

Nature, “does” have the capacity to be the sole explanation for "all" answers. There is “no” reason to seek answers beyond this single Universe, where we all reside, and can’t escape, even in thought.

When people joust using words that suggest "other" existence (outside Nature), it's nothing but an exercise in rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Where can I get a helmet like that???

Herb Schaffler said...

Chad: "Therefore, both a bonafide and bogus religious experience will exhibit brain activity. In fact, any mental phenomenon--whether it originates from some sort of supernatural realm or originates from the mind of the beholder--would be impossible without the brain as its facilitator."

When faced with the question of whether the image comes from within the mind or from outside, you should ask yourself which is more likely. Is it likely that an entity can appear to just one person at one time while everybody else present can't see the entity? Can an entity choose to appear at times and at other times choose not to appear? By what physical mechanism can it do this?

AtheistToothFairy said...

Chad wrote:

"Perhaps this research, then, should not be characterized as providing evidence against the paranormal. Perhaps the assessment of what counts as a real paranormal experience should be guided by different standards"
------------

Chad,

This finding is just one *more* piece of evidence we now have that disproves these out-of-body experiences.

Obvioulsy one can't deny such experiences based solely on such chemical-electrical replication of these odd experiences, but if you add this one to the many studies already done on the subject, it pretty much closes the case that such experiences are not just from within the mind itself.

I have read a number of studies done over the years, that have tried to prove these experiences are real.

One type repeatedly done, was to put some object in operating rooms where it was common for people to claim they had such experiences.
The object was placed up near the ceiling and not visible from a normal view. Items used included odd objects that would draw attention to you if you were floating up by that ceiling, but in later times, scrolling neon type signs were used that displayed a strange message.
Some more recent studies used a laptop computer which displayed various attention-getting photo's, in a slow slide-show manner.

There hasn't been even a single valid case where a 'dead' patient floated up to the ceiling and saw any of these objects, yet at the same time they were certain they had been watching their own operation from far above their body.

The other type, is where one claims to travel outside their body while sleeping.
Many of these people claim they have traveled to friend's and relative's homes, yet they could never reveal details that would prove they had been in those places at those particular times. All they ever come back with are generalizations that would apply to a non-specific time etc..

Some from many many years ago, claimed they traveled to planets in the solar system, such as Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto. One guy in particular described details of the moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, in great detail.
It was only after we visited these moons with our un-manned spacecraft, that his claims were shown to be totally guesswork and for the most part, WRONG.

Other skeptics have challenged people who claim they can travel outside their bodies, or can do mental "remote-viewing", to discover what secret object they have hidden in the skeptics location. (e.g. James Randi)
So far, not one person has ever discovered what the object is, but plenty folks sure try and guess at it so they can gain fame from doing so.

Try as some may, no one yet has managed to offer any proof that they are actually traveling through space in some astral body, while their physical body stays behind.

So yes Chad, I agree that chemical-electrical induced phenomena is not the end-all proof against such astral traveling, but it sure is another 10-penny nail in the coffin for such beliefs.


AtheistToothFairy

Anonymous said...

THE ABSOLUTE certainty as to the reasoning of the past is a necessary part and cause to distinguish between time and space in the future unveiling of the truth yet undiscovered that quite possibly JESUS IS the light now found at the basis of creation and has more reality than we ever before realized. Of this we may take further study of the implications of new quantum physics and the many passages concerning the marriage of science and the bible at this time. "Keep searching" the science professor said at last weeks conference "into the potential growing connections of Faith and Science as this is the new future to be discovered." I sense he was right don't you agree?

boomSLANG said...

Anonymous # 2,328,348: "Keep searching" the science professor said at last weeks conference "into the potential growing connections of Faith and Science as this is the new future to be discovered." I sense he was right don't you agree?

NO.

AtheistToothFairy said...

Anon uttered:
JESUS IS the light now found at the basis of creation and has more reality than we ever before realized. Of this we may take further study of the implications of new quantum physics and the many passages concerning the marriage of science and the bible at this time.
---
Hey Anon,
Care to tell us WHO has realized that your jesus is found at the "basis of creation"?
I mean, other than your preacher man and your apologetic dribble books.

I also just love how you fundies try and fit your god into the science of quantum physics, but yet you deny the science of evolution at the same time.
If quantum physics is showing us anything, it's implying that the universe could have come from nothing, not that it was created by your sky god.

ATF