AwareofAware

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

A Little More Detail

I finally received a response from Dr Parnia today to my questions. As I said previously, many of the questions had been answered in the various twitter posts he had created, specifically about numbers recruited so far, and timelines. There was a little more detail about the latter in the email.

  • The announcement next year will effectively be the launch “proper” of the study once the new sites have fully come on board and the methodologies fully nailed down
  • No analysis of the data will be undertaken until the study is complete in 2020
  • The results of the study will most likely be announced just prior to publication in 2021

There are obviously a number of aspects to the study, and aside from the area we are most interested in, there will be data that will help enhance treatment of patients during and after resuscitation.

This is all good news, apart from the fact we will have to wait so long. The reason this is good news is that the steps that are being taken will insure this is a high quality study and that the results will stand up to kind of scrutiny that can be expected.

From my end, I am going to tone down the speculation on what has or has not happened, as frankly, while we can guess, we don’t know, and I don’t want to do anything that might in any way jeopardize this important piece of research.

However, I will still be posting on NDEs, and other bits and pieces of research etc that appear from time to time.

False Alarm

Thanks Z for alerting me to Dr. Parnia’s new tweets (he tweets so rarely that I don’t check as often as I should).

Some of my regular contributors in the comments section did caution me about getting excited and it turns out they were dead right. I sent an email to Dr Parnia asking him about numbers recruited, when there would be any announcements about the data and a few other points. It seems I probably wasn’t the only one as he answered these exact questions in a series of tweets:

 

tweet 3

If you read from the top it starts out promising, but then:

Untitled-1 copy

3 years. Oh dear. I get it, they want to be thorough and make sure it is done properly. they do have new sites on board, which is good and should accelerate the recruitment.

tweet 2

 

My question though is that if they have completed recruitment by the middle of 2018, they will surely only need to do the statistics after that. Another 2 years to go through the data and write it up seems like a very long time to me. However, he’s pretty clear that there won’t be any interim announcements, and that they will wait till the study is complete before saying anything.

 

Early results from AWARE II?

Thanks Eduardo for sending the link to this article last night.

The article starts out moderately interesting, discussing the case of one woman’s NDE thirty years ago, then mentioning Jeffrey Long’s database, and Eben Alexander. Then it moves to our favourite NDE researcher, Dr Sam Parnia. Of course our interests are piqued, then our eyes pop out at this bombshell:

“Parnia is in the midst of working on a follow-up study, called AWARE II, with a public announcement likely in the next six months.”

So I have mentioned in past posts that the study is planned to finish recruitment in 2020. However, those who are close followers of this blog, and the comments sections (which are often more interesting than the posts as they contain some excellent observations etc from fellow NDE “nerds”), will have noted that I have often said if there were two or more verifiable hits (i.e. fully documented NDEs with confirmed OBEs – namely the subject seeing the image on the LCD screen), prior to complete recruitment, then I suspect Dr. Parnia would go public.

Could this be what that announcement will be about? Of course, we will not know until it is actually announced, but if it is, then this will be the event we have all been waiting for ever since AWARE I was first mentioned way back in the mid noughties. This will be the moment we see a permanent paradigm shift in scientific thinking, and methodological materialism will be dead.

I am very hopeful. I noted last year that there was suddenly a big upsurge in activity from the AWARE study team. At the same time, they stopped communicating with external sources like myself. At the time I speculated that they had one hit, and they were ramping up activity to get another, whilst insuring the integrity of the study by keeping any new data strictly under wraps.

Also, of interest in the article are the comments made about the whole 10 percent issue. Dr Parnia appears to have created a part of the questionnaire that picks up subconscious recollections from the resuscitation:

“For instance, in some cases people who appear unconscious are given names of cities and objects,” he says. “When they have recovered they have been asked to recall any memories. Even though they have no recall, when asked to ‘randomly’ think of cities, those who had been exposed to the stimuli are statistically more likely to choose the same cities compared to control subjects. Thus indicating they had heard it.” 

Aside from the rather bizarre thought of nurses and doctors randomly shouting “Mogadishu” between “charge the paddles” and “clear”, this could provide some very interesting insights into whether the fact only 10 percent recall an NDE is memory related or otherwise, the topic of the previous post(s).

While this is very important, I am hoping that the announcement will relate to verified OBEs.

Dr Parnia, you have us all on tenterhooks!

Link to article: AOL article on NDEs

No one is just an empty meat suit (probably)

I wanted to clarify my position on the whole 10-20% of people experiencing NDEs issue.

I am a scientist, and as a scientist I am taught to look at all possible explanations for a phenomenon, and refute ones that aren’t correct, and prove ones that are, through a rigorous analysis of the evidence. Just because a possible explanation for something is unpleasant, shocking, unpopular or even potentially absurd, it does not in and of itself disprove its validity. In the last post I said there were two main reasons why (lack of memory, or lack of experience, with two examples). Below are all the different potential explanations for 80-90% not reporting NDEs that I can think of:

1. Lack of Memory:

  • This in my view is the most likely explanation i.e. they don’t remember the NDE even though they had one. This is supported by people who die and come back more than once not always reporting an NDE…this is analogous to people not always remembering their dreams. It may also be due to physical memory impairment from injury, lack of oxygen, age, disease etc.
  • Related to this I would add the idea of a lack of well-developed spiritual “receptors” in the brain. It has been shown that there is a part of the brain that is associated with spirituality through brain imaging studies undertaken while subjects were claiming to have spiritual experiences. There has also been the idea of a God Gene that has been floated in the past which results in some people being born with different levels of development of this part of the brain. If the brain is the receptor for the conscious, or spirit, then it is possible that some people will be less able to process or remember an NDE, which is of course a highly spiritual experience.
  • It is also possible that some people are having NDEs but they are so traumatic or disconcerting that their brain suppresses the memory.

2.Not all people have NDEs when they die and come back.

  • Again, the fact that some people die and come back more than once and don’t always report an NDE could support this. I think some detailed research would be required (or has probably been done if I could afford all back issues of IANDS), that would shed more light on this.
  • Now the big question is that if some people are not having NDEs (as opposed to just not remembering them), why aren’t they having them? This is where my possible explanation mooted in my last post caused such offence. It is indeed a logical possibility that some people are without a spiritual being inside of them. Do I believe that? No. But it is a possible explanation.
  • Another explanation, as one poster mentioned in the last discussion, is that maybe they weren’t supposed to have one…maybe they would have reacted so badly, it would not have been of benefit.

3. They are having NDEs, and are remembering, but not reporting them

  • They are ashamed to report what happened even if they do remember it OR they are too afraid of others laughing at them to report the experience.

So I hope this clarifies things…I am not of the view that the vast majority of humans are soulless meat suits, but as a scientist, I want to assess all possible explanations, and not exclude any until the evidence strongly suggests I should.

Death and taxes

As the well-worn phrase states, neither can be avoided. I think this video has been mentioned in various posts before, but I wanted it to be highlighted as I think it is really important.

Firstly it is a video of Sam Parnia, the principle investigator of the AWARE II study, the central theme of this blog. Secondly it is a really neat summary of our current understanding of what years of research on NDEs tell us. Thirdly, it shows us that for the most part, we shouldn’t be afraid of death. But, there are caveats.

The first caveat is one that Dr Parnia himself alludes to, and that is suicide. It seems fairly consistant that people who kill themselves and come back often report different outcomes to those who die of natural or non-self-induced causes. This is hard, as suicide is often the result of unbearable anguish, and so I have sympathy for these people. However, that is what the reports say, and in our modern era in which physician assisted dying is either becoming legalized or being debated by democracies, this important information from NDEs should be included in these discussions.

The second caveat is one that Dr Parnia doesn’t mention, and that is the fact that only about 10% of people report NDEs. There are two potential explanations for this. The first is that the person had the experience, but for some reason is unable to remember it. The second is that the person didn’t have any experience at all. One reason could be that they didn’t have a soul. This is obviously extremely controversial, and even insulting to the 90% who don’t have NDEs, but it is nonetheless one possible explanation. I personally hope it is the former.

 

Study details have reappeared

Not a huge amount to add at the moment. For a while there seemed to be no formal public record of the fact that the AWARE II study was actually ongoing. However there is now a page on the NHS research site:

AWARE II HRA link

There are details of the study that most who visit this site are familiar with, including mention of the tablet facing upwards. I take these ongoing bits and pieces that surface from time to time to be very reassuring. The study is ongoing, the method seems sound and there is balance in the approach, which will lend it credibility when results are finally forthcoming.

Fake News

The term “Fake News” has recently entered the modern lexicon, especially in reference to stories from unconventional sources that have been repeatedly shared on social media relating to the US election. Without going into whether or not this is in itself is just a fake story created by the establishment to distract the public from the lack of good political candidates from any source, there are aspects to the whole meme of fake news that is very relevant to the area of NDE research. How so?

Firstly, there is the similarity of a recognizable existing establishment that lays claim to being the ultimate authority on what is real and what is fake. In the case of politics etc., it is the existing mainstream media that asserts that it alone is the protector of the truth, and properly vets stories and sources to insure accuracy and authenticity. These establishment organizations have loudly asserted that alt-media internet sites that create and distribute stories do not apply the same rigor when it comes to insuring accuracy, and in some cases may be deliberately falsifying stories to sway opinion. Given the dominance the establishment media has over the air waves/pages/web, their authority has, rightly or wrongly, largely been accepted by the general public. If someone sees a story on the BBC, CNN and so on, then they are much more likely to believe it than if it is from a less well known source. There are good reasons for this position of power, but at the same time power is abused, and the power of these media giants, who make alliances with commercial and political entities, has been proven to be abused in the past, for example the WMD Iraq reporting fiasco. So it is fair to say that there is a place for alternative media, and that sometimes these organizations may prove to be better sources of the truth than the establishment.

The existing establishment in research is the group of scientific and academic societies and journals that oversee and produce the vast majority of scientific research and publication of such research. Publishing your findings in a well-established and respected peer-reviewed journal is the necessary hallmark required for it to be taken seriously. Short of this a poster or oral presentation at reputable congress also provides a stamp of credibility. There are exceptions, but by and large this mode of moving understanding forward has proved remarkably reliable and for the most part has not been abused due to the desire of those involved in the system to preserve its integrity. I am one of those, and have published or presented a number of articles on medicinal chemistry or HIV clinical studies, and know that the research has to be authentic and reproducible for it to pass muster, and the scrutiny of journal editors. Therefore, it is very hard for a piece of research to be taken seriously if it has not gone through this accepted process.

However, there is a clear problem with this approach when a whole area of research is regarded with skepticism, or even derision, and the establishment will not even countenance it. This position is re-enforced by the mantra of methodological materialism that dominates the modern scientific establishment. This states that for a hypothesis to be testable, and therefore valid, no “supernatural” explanation can be invoked…there must always be a materialistic or natural explanation. This obviously has implications for NDE and OBE research.

I was recently sent an article by one of the readers of this blog about Nicolás Fraisse, a French man whose story many of you will no doubt be familiar with. The article was translated into English and is available by clicking on this link . It is a fascinating article and for those of us who believe that the soul or conscious is an entity that is capable of existing outside of the brain, the case of Nicolás Fraisse seems plausible. However, in the interview, the researcher states the following:

 

“The fact that the results are published in a book (link here) will not help. In general, anything not published in a scientific journal is not taken seriously. But we very much hope that scientists are interested in it, that they are looking for further study. The original objective was of course to be published in a scientific journal, but for that we would have had to continue our study, involving in particular external observers. It would certainly have taken several years of research and new funding.”

 

Now, I have no view on whether this case is a hoax or is real, but I would not personally cite the findings of this study, without clear caveats, in any material I was producing to enhance the acceptance of NDEs and OBEs as a real phenomenon. They have been sitting on this data for a long time, they have not made serious attempts to externally validate it, and have knowingly gone down the route of trying to commercialize their findings rather than the harder, less lucrative path of gaining proper scientific validation. Of course, there is a chicken and egg issue here. Establishment researchers or journals may shy away from this kind of project for fear of damaging their reputations (to my shame, I am guilty of this and do not use my real name due to the fact that I work in established science…I need to make a living!).

There is a middle path of course, and that is what the AWARE study is doing. The AWARE study focuses on many aspects of the relationship between consciousness and resuscitation, such as whether the recall of memories while technically dead enhances recovery, and the validation of OBEs is just one of many criteria being looked at. It is a valid scientific question that needs an answer. Many people claim to have OBEs during NDEs, therefore it is valid, as part of a wider study looking at what happens to the brain during resuscitation, to attempt to objectively either prove or disprove this subjective observation of seeing things outside of the body. The how or why is irrelevant to the scope of the study, but any positive observations will of course generate vigorous debate.

The methodology appears to be more rigorous than with AWARE I, so if there were two or more validated OBEs in the AWARE II study, then I hope that this time Dr Parnia will be able to present his findings at an “establishment” congress, or in a peer reviewed journal, before publishing a book containing the results. This will not by any means guarantee its acceptance by a skeptical, materialistic scientific community, but it will at least mean that it cannot dismissed out of hand as Fake News.

 

 

Procrastination or necessary gestation?

If you’ve been following the comments on my previous post “Secret Squirrel” then this will be somewhat of a repeat of some of what is contained in there.

In February the following tweet appeared on Dr Parnia’s feed:

 Parnia Tweet

 

Given that the study was supposed to complete recruitment by May of this year, one’s first reaction might be to groan “oh no, not another delay”. However, the comments that people have made regarding this announcement have probably best captured how I feel about this, namely that extending the study duration is a positive sign. Combined with the previous information that surfaced about the new drive for recruitment, this suggests just how serious the AWARE study team are about completing this ambitious study and recruiting sufficient numbers to have statistically, clinically and scientifically meaningful result.

There has also been the suggestion that they may already have one hit, and that this is providing the extra impetus, or belief in what they are doing. This is obviously pure speculation, but not without a strong rationale. When I was involved in HIV research, the organization I worked for was running a study on women, a notoriously difficult population to recruit into HIV trials, and they had fallen well behind the planned recruitment numbers. However, those who had access to the raw data, were confident the study was well powered and would produce the intended result if completed. On the basis of this, the company went ahead and extended the duration, and increased the number of recruitment sites, interestingly adding Canada, my current home. It appears that Parnia is also targeting Canada.

The AWARE II team have behaved exactly as any study team would if they believed they were pursuing an achievable objective:

1.       Incentivized existing sites to recruit more patients.

2.       Recruited additional study sites.

3.       Increased the duration of the study.

As I’ve said before, my gut feeling is that they do indeed have at least one hit, and that the immediate drive is intended to get at least one more. If that were to occur, I would expect Parnia to go public before 2020, possibly following the route he did before and publish a new book. Personally, I think it would be more beneficial if he were to announce any development like this as an interim analysis at a scientific meeting, or via some other means as this would not only serve the wider community better, but would improve recruitment of new sites.

We will see, but I doubt that we will have to wait till July 2020 before we hear more about this.

Secret Squirrel

secret-squirrel-secret-squirrel-5-05

What is happening to the AWARE II study? That is the question that myself, Peter (who is a bit of an internet sleuth and able to dig up all kinds of valuable tidbits), and I’m sure many others are wondering. Such is the state of angst among those in the NDE community that someone even asked if I was Sam Parnia! Unfortunately, I am not, if I were I would obviously know what is happening with AWARE II.

So why the angst? Any of you who check up on the AWARE II status at the UK research gateway site, will have noticed that the study has disappeared and the link just returns an error code. Other searches, such as clinicaltrials.gov don’t yield any hits at all. This is a relatively recent development, and so what is happening?

There are a number of potential explanations:

  1. Conspiracy Theorist’s Explanation:

The global elite have suppressed this study as the idea that man is potentially spirit and therefore his destiny should not revolve solely around consumption of junk food, junk TV and disposable everything, challenges the economic model upon which they maintain their elite status.

Trump supporters variation of this: Hilary Clinton, through her network of New World Order chums somehow applied pressure for the study to stop, possibly using James Comey in a double bluff type situation.

  1. Pessimist’s Explanation:

The study has been shut down for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Ran out of money.
  2. Exceptionally poor recruitment.
  3. Issues with ethics committees.

 

  1. Optimist’s explanation:

They have enough hits (as in confirmed, scientifically validated OBEs) to provide convincing evidence that OBEs and therefore NDEs are a real phenomenon. As I write this, Dr Parnia is straightening his Bow Tie in preparation for a press conference in which he will announce the findings that will change forever the way man looks at himself (at least the sceptics).

  1. Realist’s explanation:

The study team have taken the study off the UK research portal as they are making some changes to the design, or evaluating whether to continue.

So there is something that Peter dug up which may help inform us a little. The link below is to a series of slide sets that a certain Caitlin O’Neill of Stony Brook hospital in New York state, presented to study teams in the UK (Barts, a couple of other London hospitals, Birmingham and Southampton). In these presentations Caitlan presents the current recruitment status of each site, and opens up a discussion on ideas on how to improve recruitment, such as providing cash incentives to the investigating teams to improve their stats.

Link to presentations

Before I give my thoughts on what this means for the status of the study, there are a few details from the slides that are worth noting.

Firstly, at the time of these presentations the recruitment total stood at about 108 (I only counted once, so may have got it wrong). This explains the need for the talks, they are half way through the study in terms of time and a long way off their target of about 1000 patients.

Secondly, this is not all bad news. It appears that this time they are being much more selective in their inclusion criteria. If the subject spontaneously came around (ROSC) after their Cardiac arrest (CA), they were excluded; if the specialist crash cart with the screens didn’t appear before the patient had been resuscitated, they were excluded. This means that all 108 of those patients who were included had the right equipment and personnel present at the time of their resuscitation. Given that only about 10% of people report having NDEs after dying and coming back, and that of these only about 20% report an OBE, the chances of a hit are quite slim…but not vanishingly so. I would wager that at least one of these patients reported an NDE with an OBE, but did they see the images on the screen…was there scientific validation? All speculation on my part of course.

Thirdly, the issues the team seem to face are mostly resource related, in respect of the fact that staff weren’t around to rush to the event. This is where the offer of further financial incentive presumably comes in…more cash may mean more resources available.

So what does this mean? Well, I don’t think Hilary has had the opportunity to interfere at this stage, but what about the other possible explanations? They clearly haven’t run out of money if they are offering to increase the rewards for recruitment. Clearly there is poor recruitment, but they don’t appear to have given up at this stage (of course it is possible that the feedback at these meetings was so bad, they did decide to walk away). They may have a hit, they may not, but I doubt they have enough at this stage to convince even a soft sceptic, and maybe that is what lies behind this. Maybe they know they are finally on to something and are eager to press on. Of course this may mean that they are making changes, but maybe they aren’t.

These ideas have been running through my head since I learned the study had been removed, and unfortunately the study team are not being very helpful when it comes to responding to emails or calls. In the past Dr Parnia and the study administrator seemed more than happy to help out, but now I get no response to my emails. I have tried phoning a few times, but no one answers…they have gone dark…or they are too busy to talk to the likes of me.

So, given all of this, I remain cautiously optimistic that the study is ongoing. If OBEs are real, then I suspect they may already have a hit from the numbers they have recruited, and it is my hope that this is the case and that the reason for them going all “Secret Squirrel” is that they want to keep their cards close to their chests while they push on to get more hits.

As always, I wish Dr Parnia and his team all the best of luck.

 

No Experience or No Memory Of It

Spencer made a comment on one of my older posts about memory; namely how can you remember things if your conscious is outside of the brain?

Firstly, the exact manner in which memory is physiologically formed and stored is not completely understood. In fact many aspects of “brain function” such as consciousness itself are not understood either, all we know is that these processes occur in the brain, and that electrical signals passing across billions of different neurons (nerve cells)and synapses (junctions) are involved in these processes. From the materialistic worldview, these structures are more than involved, they are responsible, in other words your brain generates consciousness, it creates and stores memories etc. Circumstantial evidence for this is the fact that brain damage caused either by trauma, or by neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, result in loss of functions such as memory recall. The exact reason is assumed to be because parts of the brain associated with higher order functions like reasoning and memory are effected by brain cells being lost in areas associated with these functions. However, such observations only support association, not necessarily causation.

From the non-materialistic, spiritualistic worldview, the brain is just a place for the conscious to reside while it is present in the time-bound world in which we find ourselves. If this is the case, as many who believe NDEs are real believe, then where is memory stored and how is it accessed? If an OBE occurs while a patient is clinically “brain-dead”, and there is no electrical activity, then the brain itself is not forming the memories. Some have postulated that memory is universal and can be accessed by everyone who is granted access after death. The whole of experience is somehow recorded and stored for everyone to review and enjoy. Every aspect of the experience is also stored, perfectly. This suggests that the brain may not in fact store memory itself at all, but has the ability to access a limited amount of the central memory repository related only to that person’s life. Evidence for this lies in the fact that some people claim to be able to remember former lives etc, which could not possibly have been recorded in their current physical brain. Anyway, that is really going so far off the scientific piste, I will avoid going any further. Suffice to say, memory, in the context of a reality in which NDEs are real, and therefore one in which we are eternal conscious beings, is very different from our current limited “scientific” understanding.

Now for the part of the post I actually intended to write before I read Spencer’s comment. I recently finished reading “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke. From a reading perspective (and I will post a full review in the resources section at some point), it started very well, but ended up becoming a wee bit repetitive. It was also written from a Christian viewpoint, and every aspect of NDE accounts was looked at through that lens. However, since I am Christian myself, I found it very enjoyable and it helped reinforce some of my existing [biased] beliefs as well as opening my eyes to a couple of new concepts.

One concept, or hypothesis that Burke alluded to, was relatively fresh to me, and relates to the whole aspect of memory of NDEs. As I mention countless times in different posts, only about 10% of adults who die and come back report NDEs. The percentage is significantly higher for children. Various reasons are given in the various books on this subject and more often than not relate to the ability of the person to remember. I have raised the idea that it may be more fundamental than that and some people do not have NDEs because the part of them that was once “spiritual” has long since withered away. Burke suggests another possible reason why some people don’t remember their NDEs – they were so traumatic that their brain refuses to recall the events. There is obviously a precedent for this in the medical world when people who suffer extreme trauma suppress the memory and are unable to recall it. So why would that be the case with NDEs? Isn’t it all about the Being of Light and beautiful green fields etc.

Actually no. About 20-25% of NDEs that have been reported contain some negative aspect(s) to them. This ranges from an uncomfortable grey feeling to some which have a definite hell-like feel to them, with the subject encountering extremely unpleasant beings who inflict extreme pain on them (e.g. Howard Storm’s NDE to name but one of many). Burke, being a Christian, believes in the concept of Hell, and while it is rarely experienced in an NDE as a fiery pit run by a guy in red tights holding a pitchfork, there are elements that would be familiar to followers of Christ and his teachings. I am not going to dwell on the fairness of hell, or any other philosophical aspect of this, but from a significant proportion of NDEs it is clear that not everyone is destined to enjoy a great after life. What if in fact it is the vast majority? What if it is 90% who are going to have a miserable death? Could that be the reason why so many are unable to remember their NDE. Possibly some do remember them but don’t want to share such a horrible experience through shame or fear, but maybe others had such a traumatic time that their brains will not let them recall it. Again, if you believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, then how else would you interpret his suggestion that the majority are heading for hell?

Now I am not saying that this is definitely the case, because frankly we have not the slightest idea, none of this is proven fact let alone scientific, but it is certainly food for thought. On a more positive note, many of those who do report a hellish experience were able to break free from this place, usually by calling out to God or Jesus (whether that is because most NDEs in our literature were from western countries, or whether that is indeed who you need to call out to is a moot point), but my hope is that the end of this life is not the final point at which you can turn and realize your mistakes.

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