In 1990, researchers investigated the stories of 58 people who had had a near-death experience during surgery. Turns out, 30 of those people were never actually near-death, at all. They just thought they were.

21 Responses to “Not-exactly-near-death experiences”

  1. Raziel Abulafia says:

    This is a better paper:
    Stevenson, I., Cook, E.W. Involuntary memories during severe physical Illness or injury. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 183, 452-458.

  2. alexkrupp says:

    “Not-exactly-near-death experiences”

    Near Death Experience is just what it’s called, you don’t actually need to be near death to have one.

    • wysinwyg says:

      Then why the inevitable argument that NDEs demonstrate the existence of souls and an afterlife?  That’s the only reason people are interested in them in the first place.

      • alexkrupp says:

        “Then why the inevitable argument that NDEs demonstrate the existence of souls and an afterlife?”

        The logic is that if your consciousness can actually leave your body then that would demonstrate the existence of a soul or somesuch, regardless of whether the experience happened near death or not. I haven’t had an NDE so I can’t judge the validity of the experience, but *if* that’s what’s actually happening then the reasoning is solid.

        • wysinwyg says:

          Since “consciousness” isn’t a physical thing it can’t really leave the body or even be “in” the body in the first place — so no the reasoning isn’t really solid.  Even beyond that pretty fundamental matter there’s the question of how a “soul” could see something in the first place.  Do souls see in color?  How does a non-physical thing register photons?

          Meanwhile the mind is so weird that there really is plenty of room for alternative hypotheses. Jumping from “person X had a NDE” to “souls exist” while dropping most of what we know about the natural world doesn’t really seem justifiable given the already-known plasticity of human experience.

          I was referring to the walking-down-dark-hallways-towards-a-bright-light NDEs since obviously a lot of people who aren’t near death have OOBEs.

          • corydodt says:

            If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religion.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Ya know, religion doesn’t irritate me nearly as much as woo does.  I think it’s because woo has the same fundamental problem as religion (unjustified credulity in the face of extraordinary claims) but doesn’t have any basis in tradition.

          • corydodt says:

            I think there is a heavy overlap between religion and woo here. In any case, if you replace “religious” with “woo” in the House quote, you still get a true statement.

          • Donald Petersen says:

            Wys, I’m less willing to give religion a break simply because its centuries of tradition and doctrine lend it a veneer of respectability.  I might as well respect a 21st century Flat Earther due to the long, respectable history of his misapprehension.

            Old wrongness isn’t necessarily better than new wrongness, IMHO.

          • alexkrupp says:

            “Since ‘consciousness’ isn’t a physical thing it can’t really leave the body or even be ‘in’ the body in the first place — so no the reasoning isn’t really solid”

            When I say ‘soul’ I am using it to mean that consciousness is not a physical thing, as opposed to what materialists/positivists believe. But if you already believe that consciousness is not a physical thing then it’s a moot point, as I wasn’t positing the soul to be some sort of actionable model. 

          • wysinwyg says:

            But if you already believe that consciousness is not a physical thing

            You’re either talking about monism or substance dualism and substance dualism seemed much more plausible since there aren’t many monists around these days.  Under substance dualism, souls are made of a different kind of stuff than physical stuff is.  I call this different kind of stuff “non-physical stuff” to differentiate it from physical stuff (which we’re already pretty sure exists).

            No question begging, though I’ll admit the phrasing is confusing.  This is because substance dualism seems completely incoherent to me so it’s pretty much impossible for me to talk about without being confusing.

            So semantic confusions aside, the problem is the same.  If the soul is not made of physical matter (but perhaps some other kind of matter instead), how does it interact with photons (for example)?

          • Your argument regarding how souls might perceive photons is a good one, but your first point is a little more obscure: “Since “consciousness” isn’t a physical thing it can’t really leave the body or even be “in” the body in the first place — so no the reasoning isn’t really solid”.  That would seem to presuppose that if there were a non-physical dimension, then it cannot in any way be compounded or mixed with a physical medium.  Of course, it is no wise clear that there is a non-physical dimension to begin with, but if you allow for the existence of one, as your argument does, then I don’t see how it logically follows that it cannot be compounded or embedded into a physical medium.  A book is physical object composed of paper and ink – and whatever amount of devilish particles – but it contains a kind of non-material thing – information – which would be completely inscrutable to anybody with no awareness of writing, but this information can leave the body of the book, merely by being read by somebody who understands the language.  We are aware of all kinds of compounded things in nature – matter and energy, hardware and information – so I’m not sure where the logical necessity lies in your argument,

          • wysinwyg says:

            but it contains a kind of non-material thing – information – which would be completely inscrutable to anybody with no awareness of writing, but this information can leave the body of the book, merely by being read by somebody who understands the language.

            That’s not “leaving the body of the book” in the same sense that we’re talking about consciousness leaving the body, though.  Notice that in each stage of the information “leaving the body of the book” it is transduced into a new medium and is embodied at every stage.  Precisely my problem with the soul-leaving-the-body idea is the lack of embodiment.

            The argument that consciousness is non-local is pretty robust, actually.  Neuroscientific data strongly suggests that there isn’t one location in the body in which consciousness as a thing in itself resides.  It’s not a physical thing like an eyeball you can take out or put back in — or at least really doesn’t seem to be. 

            If it helps, ask yourself whether a linux VM is smaller or larger than a breadbox?  How about consciousness?  Extension and position don’t really seem to apply to either.  (Unless you want to say the VM just is its embodiment in silicon, or consciousness just is the brain, but I think identity theory is a garbage approach to philosophy of mind.)

          • wysinwyg says:

             Now you have me thinking.  We’re either looking at a situation where consciousness/soul is physical stuff (monism), some other kind of stuff (substance dualism), or is an information process (materialism).  If it’s an information process, then there’s the possibility of instantiating the same information process in a new medium, and so we can explain NDEs/OOBEs that way.  The problem is that to explain this new medium we still need to argue for either monism or substance dualism.  (Information that can “embody itself” whatever that would mean I will take to be a form of substance dualism if it’s even a coherent concept.)

            I’m having trouble seeing how consciousness could be a physical thing, though, so perhaps you and alexkrupp are right that I’m begging the question with regard to substance dualism.  It’s starting to seem probable to me that I just don’t understand what advocates of substance dualism are trying to tell me.

          • “If it’s an information process, then there’s the possibility of instantiating the same information process in a new medium, and so we can explain NDEs/OOBEs that way.”

            That’s along the lines that I was thinking alright.  I should say, though, NDEs are really a sideline to me in this – I was just picking up very generally on points you were making about consciousness.  I’m agnostic leaning to the side of skeptical regarding the import of NDEs.

            I haven’t fully embraced any stance regarding consciousness as yet.  One thing I find appealing about dualism, however question begging it may, is that it is not under such a compulsion to explain things away.  A dualism of some kind might be said to at least respond to or try to accommodate the over-whelming phenomenological presentiment we have of dualism – physical monism has to explain it away as illusory, but it still seems to me that you are left with physicalism + something not ordinarily present in physicalism where the illusion of something other the physical can reside or is generated.  Dualism seems hard to avoid, however unsatisfactory.

          • ldobe says:

            If I may interject, substance dualism seems to me to conjecture that something not physical may have an effect on things that are physical. And that, to me, is absurd. Non-physical things don’t exist do they? If they had an effect on physical things, wouldn’t that preclude them from the non-physical realm again? And the assumption that non-physical things exist seems to me totally unfounded and simply faith based explanation for poorly understood phenomena. An explanation that is untestable under any circumstances.

            The evidence suggests that consciousness is entirely a consequence of physical processes found in the brain. The only things that convincingly claim to be conscious have working brains. Things without brains, or damaged brains don’t seem to have consciousness at all. Why complicate the explanation with philosophy when scientific reasoning has good evidence saying that consciousness itself is an illusion and emergent phenomenon that arises when a brain is complex enough and is working above a certain threshold of activity?

    • cameronhorsburgh says:

      And people who claim to have had them also claim to have been Actually Dead, not just near death.

  3. corydodt says:

    I think they still had those experiences. This is God, saying “Psych! Oh my Me, you should see your face right now!”

  4. Julius Smith says:

    I hope so much that these experiences are caused by a release of DMT. XD That would make death one amazing experience.

  5. Idobe – “Why complicate the explanation with philosophy when scientific reasonin has good evidence saying that consciousness itself is an illusion and emergent phenomenon that arises when a brain is complex enough and is working above a certain threshold of activity?”

    One problem I have with regarding consciousness as an illusion is that it leads to something like the paradox of the Cretan liar –“Consciousness is always lying – how do I know consciousness isn’t lying now?” If the purely physical brain is powerful enough to produce the illusion of itself as being conscious then surely it should also be powerful enough to produce the illusion of the physical brain which is powerful enough to produce the illusion of itself as being conscious. Generally,when we catch a faker with one lie, we tend to regard everything they say assuspicious – however, with consciousness, we tend to say: the consistent and integrated self (lie), free will or powers of self determination (lie), whole phenomenology of consciousness itself (lie) – yet, the whole of the reasoning and methodology by which we arrive at these conclusions we must regard as being absolutely and inalienable true, despite the fact that they are no more or less products and assumptions produced by and inextricable from consciousness itself. To say, for example, that the laws of physics by which we might adduce consciousness to be illusionary are consistent and testable does not really remove the dilemma – these laws are first and foremost only testable (and probably only capable of being articulated) through the medium of consciousness itself, and since we might posit the illusionary stable sense of self and consciousness itself as an example of how the brain can produce complex and wholly self-consistent illusions, then there is no overwhelming reason to assume that the laws of physics might not be another such self-consistent illusion.

  6. webstu says:

    Steve Job’s last words:

    “Oh wow.”

    “Oh wow.”
    “Oh wow.”

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