Burning a Straw Man
I have been hearing a lot of noise about a paper which appeared this week:
Let’s not waste too much time on discussing the argument it sets up, since we would be “attacking a straw man”. My intent in this post is to show why it precisely fits the definition of a straw man:
A straw man is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”. (wikepedia)
Firstly, is this paper trying to refute the argument that NDEs are evidence that the consciousness is able to persist beyond brain death – i.e. independent of brain activity? Yes, absolutely, the fact they are talking about NDEs is obvious in the opening sentence:
“The neurophysiological footprint of brain activity after cardiac arrest and during near-death experience (NDE) is not well understood.”
Here we have a clue as to the straw man nature of this research. They are blurring the definition of NDE to suit their desired attempt to refute what NDEs represent. This is where Parnia may be on to something by moving away from the term NDE and creating a number of different terms to describe the different and unique types of experience that are associated with having a CA and being revived after CPR (or spontaneously). I will create a separate post on that this weekend. I was a bit skeptical of why he was doing this, but having seen this paper under discussion here, I now “get it”. This straw man research has crystallized the need for clarity in distinguishing what we understand NDEs are from what sceptics would try to define NDEs as. By defining what we understand NDEs to be- remembered experiences that happened while a patient was clinically dead as defined by no ECG or EEG signal, as REDs – or recalled experiences of death, it is moving them away from this potential grey zone. More on that in my next post, and other implications from the joint statement paper.
Back to the paper at hand. The authors are playing a sleight of hand here by using the term NDE. They are basically inferring that any conscious activity, indeed, any measurable brain activity close to the time of death is now an NDE. These are the legs of the straw man against which we may be tempted to argue, and get caught up in discussions on alpha gamma and theta waves etc. That is the goal of a straw man…to get us distracted in detail that is irrelevant.
The body of the straw man is that the brain activity described in enormous detail in this paper only occurred for 30 seconds after the heart stopped. However, as we know from our years of discussing various NDEs, and from the AWARE I NDE, these experiences occur for periods of time long after the 30s. Yes, while it is theoretically possible to believe that the life review and tunnel are a result of these final firings of the brain, the verified recollections reported from thousands, if not tens of thousands of documented experiences where patients witnessed observable events that occurred many minutes after their heart had stopped, cannot be accounted for by this research. This is the heart of the straw man…it does not address the NDEs that we talk about…which Parnia now refers to as REDs.
The head of the straw man is that the patient under discussion never recovered to describe any experience. There was no reported
NDE RED with which the EEG data could be correlated, so the whole paper is really just a moot point and most definitely does not address the central argument that “believers” make – NDEs – REDs are a result of the consciousness persisting after the brain has become inactive/dead and incapable of physically “producing” consciousness which provides strong evidence for the philosophy of metaphysical dualism, out of which most religious/spiritual belief systems come.
It is a Straw Man…burn baby, burn!