AwareofAware

Evolving news on the science, writing and thinking about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

Emptiness

 

I came across this in my googling of NDE research, and I think it may have been mentioned in a previous chat (sorry for not calling out the person who mentioned it). Click on the link to access the pdf. It is free to download.

Meditation-Induced Near-Death Experiences: a 3-Year Longitudinal Study William Van Gordon et al.

This “paper” was published last month in the Mindfulness journal. Anything with that name in the title is going to be Buddhist, so I approach anything I read with the appropriate filters in place.

In summary the researchers recruit 12 advanced meditators who conduct a specific form of meditation which induces a “Near-Death” like state. The researcher calls the experiences that these meditators have MI-NDEs (meditation induced NDEs). These meditators practice at least one of these types of meditation a year as a normal part of their spiritual pursuits. For the study they are asked to complete a number of questionnaires after each MI-NDE session, including one that identifies components of NDEs as defined by the Greyson scale. Most frequenters to this site will be familiar with the scale, but for those that aren’t I have included it at the bottom of this post:

There are some other questionnaires more related to Buddhist beliefs, and one face to face interview conducted very soon after one of the MI-NDE sessions. The study was run over 3 years, with data collected from each participant each year. In addition “controls” were used, which included recording the same subjective output from non-MI-NDE meditation sessions.

Below is the key statement regarding the conclusions of the authors:

 

“Findings demonstrated that compared to the control conditions, the MI-NDE prompted significantly greater pre-post increases in NDE profundity, mystical experiences and non-attachment. Furthermore, participants demonstrated significant increases in NDE profundity across the 3-year study period.”

 

Now, I am not going to in anyway criticize Buddhist beliefs. Nor am I going to question the claims of people who practice Buddhist meditation that they have deep and profound spiritual experiences, which may indeed include out of body elements etc. If I believe that the conscious is a separate entity to the brain and that it is separated from the brain at death, then it makes sense that it may be possible under certain conditions to separate it during life too.

However, this paper has two major issues to me:

  1. The experience described by the meditators does not sound like an NDE
  2. There are some whopping design flaws that open it to ridicule by anyone with even the remotest understanding of how (not to) conduct a rigorous scientific study, and which relates to one of the issues I repeatedly mention with regard to blinding the investigators

Firstly, from a qualitative perspective, the experiences described by the meditators do not sound like classic NDEs. The word Emptiness is used a lot. While some NDEs do report emptiness, I believe a higher proportion of true NDEs describe different sensations which are more positive. Moreover there are no reports of specific verified OBEs, a crucial element to lending credibility to any study like this. They do describe spiritual elements and encounters with spiritual beings, but having read many NDEs, what these guys are taking about feels very different. I want to state again, that I am not doubting that they experienced something, but it was not a classic NDE in the sense that we know it. However, without more detail, it is hard to say for sure.

Now to my second point. This study has more holes than a sieve from a credibility perspective. The language used is very scientific, and creates the air of genuine academic research, but the reality is very different.

  1. The main author is a practicing Buddhist. Fine. However, he selects the study subjects from a group of people that he knows. Yep, that is the end of all credibility straight away. I understand why he did this: if you put this out there for all-comers you will attract a multitude of crazies, but that doesn’t change the fact this introduces humungous bias into the study, and lots of opportunities to influence outcome.
  2. Who conducts the interviews etc is not really discussed. Neither is how the data was “protected”. This is my potential beef with AWARE II. There needs to be blinding otherwise a study is open to accusations of bias, which leads to me point 3.
  3. Look at the graph below. It represents the improvement in the quality of NDEs over the 3 year period. In the first year the Greyson score barely exceeds 7, suggesting that they were not very NDE-like at all, but in the third year we have scores exceeding the average NDE score of “true” NDEs. In fact these meditators are getting so good at it that they experience virtually all of the components in the Greyson scale, something that very few true NDErs ever do.

graph

Now I don’t want to suggest that anything nefarious is going on, but this graph screams “something fishy is going on” to me. The author puts it down to practice makes perfect. Mmm. That would be fine if these guys weren’t already top of their game in meditating. They had on average over 30 years’ experience of meditating, and performed 3 MI-NDE type mediations a year. They should be able to meditate in the spiritual Olympics…if such a games existed. No. What that graph says to me is that either deliberately, or not, the meditators were getting feedback that influenced how they answered the questions. They were possibly “coached”, or prompted in how to more “accurately” describe their experiences.

For me the real result is the year 1 result, and given the other things I said, this study experiences emptiness when it comes to generating useful data with regard to validating NDEs, or indeed supporting the belief that NDEs can be induced by certain types of meditation.

 

 

The Greyson Scale

– Experiencing an altered state of time

– Experiencing accelerated thought processes

– Life review

– Sense of sudden understanding

– Feelings of peace

– Feeling of joy

– Feeling of cosmic oneness

– Seeing/feeling surrounded by light

– Having vivid sensations

– Extrasensory perception

– Experiencing visions

– Experiencing a sense of being out of physical body

– Experiencing a sense of an ‘otherworldly’ environment

– Experiencing a sense of a mystical entity

– Experiencing a sense of deceased/religious figures

– Experiencing a sense of a border or point of no return

 

Anyone having an “experience” can assess whether it is an NDE by assigning scores of 0-2 for the elements listed above. If an experiencer gives 0, then the element wasn’t present, if it’s 2 then definitely present. In general a score of <7 is not considered to be an NDE.

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49 thoughts on “Emptiness

  1. David on said:

    And of course they are not dead but probably very healthy. But the Buddists do have a lot of theology. Still interesting. Also the scepitics like to compare them to lots of things they are not and here some believers do the same thing.

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  2. Samwise on said:

    I agree with your conclusion about the study, well done. It does not seem like the meditators had real NDE’s as it is defined in most NDE studies. In the Aware study, they try to confirm an out of body experiences by hidden targets, that can only be seen by a person having an OBE. If these meditators had real NDE’s and OBE’s then it should be much easier for them to see and remember hidden targets. That would prove that their OBE was a real event but they did not even try that.

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    • I think there are some words used on the study that should be more explained.
      For example the concepts of “non self”, “voidness” or “Emptiness”.
      Non buddhist familiarized people can misunderstand the concepts as I think (very respectfully of course) Ben is doing.
      Emptiness, when used in a buddhist context doesn’t mean “nothing” or “without anything” (although, even some NDERs have experience this “void” as we understand commonly).
      Emptiness is related to the core of the “thing” one is experiencing (seeing, smelling, feeling etc). One can have the experience of seeing a dog. But if we look and examine it more carefully we understand that the dog doesn’t have a true identity of is own (it is not independent from the rest of all the things in the universe, it breathes air, eats, poops, the food he eats was made by other beings, plants and other causes, etc, in reality he is interdependent; and it is not permanent i.e., it changes, and it is always changing at each nanosecond, so when we look again it is not the same dog we saw 1 nanosecond before).

      So, because the impermanence is the quality of all the experiences and things and beings (humans and animals) one cannot say they have a true identity of is own. The same conclusion about the interdependence of everything that exists.

      Another way to say this, is to understand that things (all things and all experiences) are not really as one sees them (science also says the same).

      In resume: the meditators are using the concept of “non self”, “voidness” or “emptiness” in a buddhist context, as an interpretation of what they experience (the same as NDERs do, NDERs use human words to describe what they experience and their interpretation of it -Jesus, Buda, Mahomet, etc- but we don’t now what they really saw and experience).

      About the improvement of the experience:
      The meditators presented a volitive aspect in the experience. So, by answering the questionaries, as intelligent people they sure are, they surely understood what kind of experiences where being looked for. So it’s possible they used the volitive aspect to experience what was asked in the questionnaire. It is similar with a classical NDE, when someone is in a hellish realm and asks for god to save him and then the light appears and all the experience changes, or when a NDEr wants some information and it is immediately “downloaded” to his mind. They are using their volitive aspect.
      So in the next 2 years when they meditate on inducing themselves the experience of death it’s possible they “wanted” to experience the things asked in the questionaire. And, of course, don’t forget this people meditate regularly on all sorts off things and with different types off techniques. This is only one type, and it’s a very difficult one, it seems. And that, traditionally, meditators are advised not to pay much attention to these experiences because they don’t express the real and ultimate reality. So, they don’t do MI NDE very often and, yes, I think they were doing it better and that explains the deeper experiences they had.

      Important to note is the “Near Death Like” experiences: when the NDLEr has the same experience as a NDEr, but his life is not really threatened, he just believes he is in a life threat situation and the experience happens.

      In conclusion: from my point of view, MI NDE are similar to the “Near Death Like” experiences, and, both express the same reality.

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      • Samwise on said:

        Luis, you said that a MI NDE and a normal NDE both express the same reality but we do not know if any of those experiences are real, even if they are similar and express the same experience (which I do not think either). In the Aware study, they are trying to figure out if NDE experiences are real, by confirming that some of the experiences (seeing hidden targets) are phenomena in our collectively experienced reality that could be experienced by many people. Of course, the trouble is that a person might not see the target because they have not been told to focus on anything in particular.

        However, that problem is gone when a person can have a MI NDE. They can be told before where to look for the target and give satisfactory information to confirm that they were out of their body when seeing the target. Considering how easily this could have been done and how great of a discovery it would be, it seems odd that it has not happened yet and highly unlikely that a MI NDE possible or real.

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  3. David on said:

    Interesting. There was a book called Life before Life based on descriptions sometimes in great detail of someone elses life. Carl Sagan was even impressed.

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  4. I didn’t read the study but if I had an NDE the first thing I would do is ask the beings of light for the strongest veridical information possible. What I’m surprised is no NDE I’ve read did the experience ask for veridical information, or how the mind body problem works how the universe began etc. I’m very frustrated by the constant “love is most important thing” and oneness and life lesson/meaning bullsh1t I see in NDE accounts, I want hard empirical evidence please, why has no NDEr bothered to ask the beings of light for objective tests? Is it possible to induce cardiac arrest with near 100% chance of revival? I’d seriously volunteer.

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    • I would recommend a psychiatrist instead.

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      • Samwise on said:

        Eric, he said that he would volunteer if there was a way to go to the afterlife and come back 100%. There is nothing in his statement that would make a reasonable person come to the conclusion that he needs a psychiatrist.

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      • Anyone saying anything politically incorrect in this modern society = an anti social who is discriminating, or needs professional help. You remind me of the transgender activists demanding men be attracted to them.

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      • No, your scheme was ripped right out of a Hollywood movie. There is no way to 100% make sure that you can “come back” from CA, its biologically impossible.

        Furthermore, there is no mention of “political correctness” nor anything even implying it in the first comment, so the little tirade on transgenders (and by that I actually mean “WTF man”) only reinforces the “need for help”.

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      • I’m not going to respond to your last reply because it’s against the rules of this blog. If you want to we’ll settle it privately over email. I am quite tired of trolls like you, both online and in real life.

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      • I am not a child, so I won’t bother. But do take the advice, for your own good.

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      • Guys. I see this forum as a place for calm, reasoned debate. I have the ability to be nasty, but keep that for other forums 😁 please…play nicely here.

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  5. I said that MI NDE (mind induced NDE) and NDLE (near death like experiences) express the same reallity. Because the conditions are similar: non threatening life conditions.

    NDE is different because it happens in a life threat situation.

    But maybe the 3 kind MI NDE, NDLE and NDE express the same reallity.

    When someone knows something, simply because he experienced it directly he is pretty shure about it. But don’t also forget that often NDERs take many years to fully understand and integrate their experience.

    When we are working in a subjective field (a person’s fellings, thoughts, insights) it’s difficult to have a common objective approuch, undestandable for everyone. For instance: try to describe the sensation of cold to another person. It’s a very hard job.

    So, because what NDErs experience is very subjective and happens, lets say, for academic porposes, in other dimensions or realms, and with a far more bigger cognitive habilities, then it’s dificult for them to explain it in a way other people can undestand it. As many NDEr say, love is the best word they have to describe the core of everything, and, even that, as they say, is not really adequate to describe it. The only way to undestand it, in my opinion, is to get out of the normal cognitive brain limitations, and enter in the field of consciensness. And that one can have in NDE, NDLE, SDE (shared death experience) and in a deep meditative state (not exclusively MI NDE, but also other types of meditative states), and spontaneously (with no apparent cause).

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  6. Luis. Thank you for giving your perspective. Your insights into the Buddhist worldview are very useful. From a scientific perspective your thoughts about the improvement in the 2nd and 3rd year results may or may not be correct, but to me are irrelevant as causes can only be guessed at, and I stand by my original comments that the first year year results are the most reliable/authentic and least likely to have been corrupted, or at the very least, open to accusations of corruption.

    Moreover, while your comments about Buddhist theology and their relevance to NDEs are interesting, they do not change the fact that this study was poorly designed and executed, and therefore its conclusions of little to no value in terms of shedding light on NDEs or the ability to induce NDLEs.

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  7. David on said:

    Here is a sort of new one. It explains why Parnia has a brain left to revive people but their explanation of why is well…..Terminal spreading depression and electrical silence in death of human cortex Annals of Neurology volume 83 issue 2 jan 13 2018

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  8. David on said:

    I will summarize. Exactly what Parnia says. Brain cell communication shuts down instantly. Brain cells remain alive for 5 to 10 minutes and thus no explanation for even the results of A-1

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    • If you would not mind elaborating on the paper more David. I just had a quick scan through it and how you are linking to Parnias work. Much appreciated.

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  9. David on said:

    Parnia began his work to see how long you could visibly resuscitate. His work has shown cell communication which is what the EEG shows stops 20 seconds or less after CA. Parnia has said the cells the neurons don’t individually die until later. This says they depolerize after 10 minutes so I think it means they could not carry current anymore and resuscitation would be impossible.The media never understands what he is talking about. Heck this was in some story that started going on about Star Trek and it was confused. Parnia is not confused. Parnia original research focuses was on extending the time period. It was during this he made a much bigger discovery that he had after death experiences not near death ones. Now this is is focus because after reading Aware 1 I think he proved that a DNR is needed more than more resuscitation research.Most outcomes were terrible that is why there were so very few hits. This only confirms. Migraine have some depolarization and that makes the coherent experiences of the ADEs even more amazing. Hope this helps. I think I read it right but feel free to correct me.But there is no way the physical brain is understood that explain it and thus we should admit we don’t understand it. Also from a Buddhist view there should be no difference between humans and other animals.So they need to stop pointlessly killing them since we know the results now.

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    • Thanks David
      Always interesting to here other perspectives and yes I have heard parnia mention that cells can last for a very long period of time under the tight conditions (Luke freezing temperatures) which will enables cells to “wake up”. What say you Ben?

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      • The whole idea of cryogenic freezing of live people is that the cells don’t experience death…but as David has said, any attempts to freeze the brain during resuscitation has had mixed results at best.

        The difference between cell operation and cell death is the concept that is lost on most people. Parnia has talked about cell death being a process that is reversible up to a certain time point, and that by cooling the brain and providing CPR, you delay the point of irreversibility. However, the point the brain stops functioning i.e. producing EEG signals, is within 15-30 seconds of the heart stopping. The time between this and full depolarization, up to a maximum of 10 minutes in most cases, is the period during which the brain is not working, but is capable of being rebooted once the heart restarts. After this point, which varies from case to case, the actual cells start to die and function cannot be restored even if the heart is restarted.

        Once the EEG stops producing signals the brain itself is not capable of performing higher functions of consciousness, this is the period during which NDEs occur. The patient is technically dead as there is no pulse or EEG, but the cells are not yet dead…they are not functioning, but the toxic processes that kill cells have not begun.

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      • There have been cryo facilities since, at least, the early to mid 2000s. The concept is entirely promissory, of the “one day we will…” kind, but the bodies in storage would be illustrative of how long we can delay the process. I’m willing to bet that even if the concept lives up to its promise of preserving the cells more or less intact, there is going to be damage during the thaw out.

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  10. You said it better than I did Ben. But I am a laborious scientific writer….that is not very good. I really think Parnia has stretched it to the limits. The cryonics fans were initially hopeful by his work but with the amount of cell damage it is probably marginally better than embalming.

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  11. If depolarization is a migraine cause I can testify that it is not like an ADA. They are weird. I get visuals and have aura and high def Crystal clear vision.

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  12. David on said:

    Cryonics has been around since RW Ettinger published the Prospect of Immortality in the 60s. He was frozen but the process does a lot of cell damage and there of course is no eeg. BBC reports today now on dead pig brain tissue remaing viable for 36 hours but no eeg ever occured. If people want to volunteer be my guest for this or cryonics. The big problem we face is bodies outliving brains so I dont see the point of keeping the tissue fresh. Once again feel free to correct me f you disagree. I just see this as a tissue study. Research can be done on aging NAD looks promising DNA repair. A lot of this looks like well a dead end. …….Once again nothing Parnia has not informed us of. And I think tgat is why Parnia is focusing on the bigger discovery.

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  13. Chad on said:

    I was reading https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/954812/life-after-death-reincarnation-proof-what-happens-when-you-die, it said “Dr Parnia says there are scientific explanations for the reaction, and says seeing people is not evidence of the afterlife, but more likely the brain just scanning itself as a survival technique.” at the end. Does anyone know if the author is just bs’ing or did parnia really say it? All interviews last year and this year parnia was supportive of consciousness surviving death.

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  14. The paper keep rehashing it every week or so that line and it a line itself it completely altered (which was September or October last year) in the original content / context it different.

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  15. Sounds like BS to me. It does not sound like something Parnia would say at all.

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  16. David on said:

    There is a case in Mobile AL that broke 15 minutes . A boy had teaumatic brain injury and multiple CA and said he was in a field in heaven . No obe so we cant have a hit but a miricle he rememered anything. I will link at some point. I know someone whi had brain injury and he never had CA or brain shutdown. He was in fact conscoiuss at times but all he remembers is pulling out of a parking lot and waking 2 weeks later. It shows how there just is no scientific explanation for any of this.
    Express is the new Weekly World News. Parnia says the brain is shutdown not scanning.

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    • Are we talking about rejuvenation now? I like this kind of stuff. I think it could be possible to rejuvenate the brain but there is a problem. The brain is protected by a barrier meaning it would only accept direct delivery from outside the body to the brain. What does this mean for you? Well unless we can find a more advanced method to deliver a rejuvenation therapy you would essentially have to stick a needle up your schnoz in order to deliver say a DNA repair injection to your brain. That’s kind of the problem with the blood brain barrier. Of course there is also full blown implants and we could probably use those to harbor our thoughts and make biology optional but we don’t know if those are near or far. Neuralink though does seem to hold a lot of promise in that regard and considering this is the guy that wants to get us on mars in the near future maybe he could do this as well. As for cryonics. I think the problem now isn’t preserving the brain cells but restarting their communication and what if the communication is different then what it was before? Like you could wake up but because your brain cells are discombobulated you would have complete amnesia. You would be no better off if you died and reincarnated because you wouldn’t remember who you used to be. 😦

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  17. David on said:

    The pentagon and the mod think the ufos are closer to our subject than aliens.

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  18. David on said:

    I was talking about a little boy in Alabama who reported an nde after his brain myseriously kicked on they got his heart beating but were not as lucky with his brain until he just popped back. Easy to find in google news. There is evidence of memory in reincarnation inbthe book Life before Life. A take off on Moodys title. As to really long term there is stunning brain damage in cryonics. I have read the early ones are little more than mush. My guess is the embalmed of the same era are more intact.

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    • Ah I see. I think it was meant for one of your earlier posts. I still in a way favor rejuvenation. Even though I know that there is most likely some sort of consciousness power at work here and it’s not just the brain (consciousness still continues despite lack of communicative activity in the brain between cells) I am in favor of rejuvenation because I don’t want to be in pain later in life. I guess you could say this thread helps cure my thanatophobia. Somewhat anyway. I don’t really fear death itself as it seems to be an eternal vivid dream state but more or less just dying in a painful way.

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  19. Samwise on said:

    Does anyone here have contact with Dr.Parnia and know if they are still going to make an announcment regarding the study in mid 2018 as he said on twitter?

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    • Good question. He randomly replies to my emails. I wonder if the expansion of staff was the announcement. Anyway, good job he’s not been saying much…I have been very busy on a book I am writing, so apologies for being AWOL…also I am now moving back to the UK for family reasons…parents with Alzheimer’s is a curse on any family.

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      • Samwise on said:

        Yes, in a sense it is good for the credibility of the study that he is not saying much. I lost a parent to an incurable disease recently and this study is the only thing that gives me hope. So waiting is hard but hopefully it will be worth it. Best of luck to you and your family.

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  20. David though brings up an interesting point regarding brain cells. Sure brain cells may have not undergone cell death but during CA they aren’t communicating or interacting. There is no signals from the cells themselves. Yet despite this patients still experience consciousness. It can’t be hallucinogenic. There is no signals in the brain and communication between neurons and glio cells. Also to hallucinate one needs blood flow and if the heart stops how can there be blood flow. There is obviously something else at work here because according to materialists consciousness should not occur during such periods but it does. So consciousness could very well be an entirely different can of worms altogether. If A1 got some hits in then A2 will help to make findings more public.

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  21. David on said:

    Yep Jared and good luck Ben

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  22. David on said:

    Read the Wikipedia article on this Journal . I think that is all the comment I have.

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    • Yes, a completely useless study that suffers from a number of issues. “Fantasy Proneness” using this creative experiences questionnaire is totally nebulous. It has no proven link to clinical conditions and is a dodgy tool used by psychologists to get publications and make soft claims about behavior that cannot be ascribed to clinical conditions. Secondly, even if this was a properly validated tool, the inferences implied from the findings are based on a subjective view of NDEs being a scientifically explicable event. Moreover, there is no way of showing whether such a link between being fantasy prone and reporting an NDE is associative or causative.

      Complete garbage.

      I am in the process of writing my next post which should be up by the weekend.

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  23. Well to basically explain I would probably believe this article Joffery…if it was an actual fantasy. The thing is though it’s not and I will explain why. Aware basically has provided evidence that the ADE as I call it is not hallucination in nature. To hallucinate you generally need two organs. Heart and brain. Brain shuts down about a half a minute after cardiac arrest. Heart shuts off almost immediately. An ADE is shown to occur during periods of no brain activity and no heart activity. At this point the patient is considered dead. Sure it can be reversible depending on the circumstance and sure some cells are still active and haven’t undergone cell death but the cells that make up the brain’s internal networking are not communicating and are in a state of disruption. The brain at this point is pretty much a dead mass of cells at this point. As for the hallucination. For one to hallucinate it requires blood to pump to the brain. What does blood need to pump? A heart. Oh wait that’s dead too because it’s not beating during cardiac arrest. During these circumstances experiences have shown to still occur and given those circumstances they aren’t hallucinogenic and therefore not fantasy. The thing is that while hits have been recorded it’s not well known on a public level as of yet. Hopefully the second 2020 study will help in that regard.

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    • Too right. Roll on 2020!

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    • Chad on said:

      I agree with the ADE interpretation of parnia. I consider even anaesthesia to be death (been there, it’s not all black it’s just nothing not even perception of time passage). I’m quite tired of skeptics saying “the person hasn’t died because they were brought back to life”. The point is consciousness is occurring during a time when the brain=mind hypothesis says it’s impossible.

      But I disagree with your enthusiasm on aware 1. The usual skeptic argument is Mr A could of gotten his information off the nurses before he was interviewed (it was 1 year gap when he was properly interviewed). Or he watched lots of hospital drama shows and confabulated what happened. The only way to be sure is to have something no one knows in advance, like the computer selected image in aware 2.

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  24. David on said:

    And let me add based on my experience Hallucinations are complex . Ben is going through Alzheimers. I went through misery with a hallcinating relative. But we have a horrble elder care sysrem that declares everone must have Alzheimers. Vivid hallcunations dont occur in that level of damage. Anyway good luck Ben. I do think we have to call them ADEs because the only anti Parnia strategy is to cause confusion.

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  25. Chad on said:

    I have a question on something unrelated, I was hoping the more NDE savy could answer me. Sorry if this is off topic Ben, I really want to know this.

    After a person’s heart starts beating again, what is the % that wakes up immediately? Do most people sleep for hours/days before they wake up?

    This has to do with the time of NDE, if a person has slept for 10 hours they might of had NDE 8 hours after cardiac arrest when their brain is in a fully healthy state. I’ve read a few of NDEs where they did wake up on the operating table, but I feel this isn’t common enough. If there are a large number of NDEs occurring right after resuscitation, it’s very hard to say they are hallucinations because lack of oxygen MUST be accompanied by dizziness and lack of clarity (which is the exact opposite of what people report in NDEs). But if almost all NDEs happen to people who wake up 10 hours later, it’s much weaker to say they aren’t hallucinations.

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