View Full Version : Michael Shermer in Sci Am
Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
17th March 2003, 05:57 AM
In the March issue of Scientific American, Michael Shermer writes about the "Demon-Haunted Brain." Seems to me there are two problems with his article. First, where are the references?
More importantly, he cites the Lancet article from December 15, 2001, about NDEs. The article was by Pin van Lommel et al. Shermer implies that the article comes to the conclusion that NDEs can be explained by neuronal events, but I don't believe that's the correct conclusion. Here's one review of the article:
Does anyone get Lancet and can you check the article?
17th March 2003, 07:35 AM
Here's the appropriate web page for The Lancet, Vol 358 #9298, 15 Dec 2001.
The NDE article has a "Free" tag beside it, but when I try to click on either the HTML or PDF version, I get prompted for a password.
It requires free registration. Also, logging in requires cookies to be on. I am printing out the article now.
17th March 2003, 09:33 AM
Here's what Michael Shermer said about the Lancet study:
Sometimes trauma can become a trigger. The December 15, 2001, issue of the Lancet published a Dutch study in which 12 percent of 344 cardiac patients resuscitated from clinical death reported near-death experiences, some having a sensation of being out of body, others seeing a light at the end of a tunnel. Some even described speaking to dead relatives. Because the everyday occurrence is of stimuli coming from the outside, when a part of the brain abnormally generates these illusions, another part of the brain interprets them as external events. Hence, the abnormal is thought to be the paranormal.
From the Lancet study itself:
Findings 62 patients (18%) reported NDE, of whom 41 (12%) described a core experience. Occurrence of the experience was not associated with duration of cardiac arrest or unconsciousness, medication, or fear of death before cardiac arrest. Frequency of NDE was affected by how we defined NDE, the prospective nature of the research in older cardiac patients, age, surviving cardiac arrest in first myocardial infarction, more than one cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during stay in hospital, previous NDE, and memory problems after prolonged CPR. Depth of the experience was affected by sex, surviving CPR outside hospital, and fear before cardiac arrest. Significantly more patients who had an NDE, especially a deep experience, died within 30 days of CPR (p<0·0001). The process of transformation after NDE took several years, and differed from those of patients who survived cardiac arrest without NDE.
Interpretation We do not know why so few cardiac patients report NDE after CPR, although age plays a part. With a purely physiological explanation such as cerebral anoxia for the experience, most patients who have been clinically dead should report one.
Our results show that medical factors cannot account for occurrence of NDE; although all patients had been clinically dead, most did not have NDE. Furthermore, seriousness of the crisis was not related to occurrence or depth of the experience. If purely physiological factors resulting from cerebral anoxia caused NDE, most of our patients should have had this experience. Patients' medication was also unrelated to frequency of NDE. Psychological factors are unlikely to be important as fear was not associated with NDE.
And yet, neurophysiological processes must play some part in NDE. Similar experiences can be induced through electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe (and hence of the hippocampus) during neurosurgery for epilepsy,23 with high carbon dioxide levels (hypercarbia),24 and in decreased cerebral perfusion resulting in local cerebral hypoxia as in rapid acceleration during training of fighter pilots,25 or as in hyperventilation followed by valsalva manoeuvre.4 Ketamine-induced experiences resulting from blockage of the NMDA receptor,26 and the role of endorphin, serotonin, and enkephalin have also been mentioned,27 as have near-death-like experiences after the use of LSD,28 psilocarpine, and mescaline.21 These induced experiences can consist of unconsciousness, out-of-body experiences, and perception of light or flashes of recollection from the past. These recollections, however, consist of fragmented and random memories unlike the panoramic life-review that can occur in NDE. Further, transformational processes with changing life-insight and disappearance of fear of death are rarely reported after induced experiences.
Thus, induced experiences are not identical to NDE, and so, besides age, an unknown mechanism causes NDE by stimulation of neurophysiological and neurohumoral processes at a subcellular level in the brain in only a few cases during a critical situation such as clinical death. These processes might also determine whether the experience reaches consciousness and can be recollected.
With lack of evidence for any other theories for NDE, the thus far assumed, but never proven, concept that consciousness and memories are localised in the brain should be discussed...
So they seem to have been a bit equivocal, leaving themselves open to misinterpretation.
BTW, The review you link has some problems of its own. They state:
The commentary in the Lancet talks of NDEs being the result of false memories. Interestingly, if this were true, then this rationale could not explain why the study found that people could recall their NDE exactly over the span of a 2-year and an 8-year period. Id. at 2041. Moreover, the skeptic commentary quoted memory studies of children, but lacked information on adults. The cardiac arrest population consisted of adults rather than children. There was a profound lack of explanation as to what constitutes false memory, and many in the field of psychology agree that false memory is credited with filling in small gaps in memory rather than inventing whole stories.
Recent research backs the conclusion that false memories are remarkably easy to induce.
Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
17th March 2003, 11:49 AM
So nowhere in the article did the authors suggest or hint that some portion of the mind must be external to the brain in order to account for NDEs? That's what people are saying about the article. For example, from the review I posted above:
Van Lommel left the door open for speculation that in order for a NDE to occur, memories and thought processes must occur outside of the physical body – ergo the brain is merely a transmitter rather than a receptacle of thought and memory.
17th March 2003, 12:09 PM
quote] With lack of evidence for any other theories for NDE, the thus far assumed, but never proven, concept that consciousness and memories are localised in the brain should be discussed. How could a clear consciousness outside one's body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death with flat EEG?22 Also, in cardiac arrest the EEG usually becomes flat in most cases within about 10 s from onset of syncope.29,30 Furthermore, blind people have described veridical perception during out-of-body experiences at the time of this experience.31 NDE pushes at the limits of medical ideas about the range of human consciousness and the mind-brain relation.
Another theory holds that NDE might be a changing state of consciousness (transcendence), in which identity, cognition, and emotion function independently from the unconscious body, but retain the possibility of non-sensory perception.7,8,22,28,31
Research should be concentrated on the effort to explain scientifically the occurrence and content of NDE. Research should be focused on certain specific elements of NDE, such as out-of-body experiences and other verifiable aspects. Finally, the theory and background of transcendence should be included as a part of an explanatory framework for these experiences. [/quote]
They don't seem to want to take a defnite stand on anything. If you want to see the original article yourself, it is available with free subscription as described above.
Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
17th March 2003, 12:59 PM
Thanks for your help, Penguin!
© 2001-2009, James Randi Educational Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
vBulletin® v3.7.7, Copyright ©2000-2013, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.