Hold the door open, please

I see a report of research led by Sam Parnia about end of life experiences.  EarthSky.org sent me an email but I never saw it on their website.   Here is their link:  http://www.southampton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2014/oct/14_181.shtml#.VEFyEyjxZja

So Dr. Parnia and his colleagues studied over 2000 patients in several hospitals in 3 countries who experienced near death experiences, such as when cardiac arrest occurs and the brain stops but then all starts again and some of these patients are able to recount their experience.  He says the themes are more diverse than the light in the tunnel meme and include out of body experiences, including one reflecting events known to have happened in the operating room after cardiac arrest occurred.  Most interestingly, perhaps, is that death appears to take place over minutes, not instantaneously, and this process sometimes reverses.  He calls for more research with an open mind.  Good stuff and difficult data to gather.  Not your usual with a control group or a double blind placebo (what would be a placebo for death?) or easy statistics or replicability (if you would die again, would you see the same thing?  How about if you lived again?)

His call for keeping an open mind is, I suspect, much needed.  Many reject these tales as imaginary or hallucinatory or exclusively religious etc. Patricia Churchland in her latest book calls them reflections of a broken neurological process and she is one of the astute pioneers of neurophilosophy.  Still I hope we do study these phenomena.  William James in Varieties of a Religious Experiences calls in the last chapters for a science of religion, admitting that we humans are bounded and cannot know what lies beyond life and this apparent physical reality, but he asserts that we can and should learn all we can about this side of the boundary.  James also admits that many disagree with him and that “I feel like a man who must set his back against an open door quickly if he does not wish to see it closed and locked”.    Dogma is not helpful and dismissal of an area of curiosity where little data of any sort has actually been gathered seems intellectually coercive.  Religious coercion is already quite strong in this area as James well knew.  He said, however, a remarkable thing as he introduced his own scientific hypothesis about religion:  “Who says ‘hypothesis’ renounces the ambition to be coercive in his arguments.”  That is simply brilliant.

So thank you, Dr. Parnia for holding that door open and suggesting we hypothesize about what is on our side of the boundary.

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