Monday, May 14, 2018

In contrast to the Pam Reynolds NDE...

As I make my way through the individual nderf.org cases (chronologically), certain accounts jump out from the background. Valerie’s NDE is one such case. It is actually a fairly “ordinary” (if not stereotypical) NDE, filled with the usual iconic NDE imagery: The experiencer abruptly begins her account by describing a man dressed in a ragged and torn robe. (It is strongly implied that the robed figure is Jesus—though, as in many of these accounts, he is not specifically identified as such.) She floats upward, following him. He assures her that the “prayers of the righteous are answered.” She is almost blinded by a light issuing from a doorway, which she was blocked from passing through. She undergoes a mini-life review, which she calls a “judgement,” and is sent back to her body.

This NDE would not be remarkable except for the fact that Valerie had apparently been put in an induced near-death state (heart stopped, blood removed) to repair a brain artery aneurysm, apparently the same procedure that Pam Reynolds underwent. The surgery lasted seven hours. Pam Reynolds, by contrast, became conscious out-of-body shortly after her heart was stopped. She is aware that “she” has left her body, is able to see it, and is able to observe and remember the operating theater in clinical detail. She described the surgical instruments used, the ambient sounds that she “heard,” not to mention the non-physical people that she communicated with. Pam Reynolds was oriented in both time and place despite being out-of-body and was able to “remember” the details when she returned to physical consciousness. (To dismiss her experience as a hallucination is a bit of a stretch, particularly when contrasted with Valerie’s.)

Personally, I think that the contrast between the two experiences is evidence of an important factor that we usually forget when interpreting NDEs: NDE differences suggest that what we see out-of-body, and how we interpret what we can see, depends on not only the nature and development of the individual consciousness, but also on how much consciousness we bring with us when out-of-body. Valerie experienced what her consciousness was able to experience, and she interpreted her experience with the tools that she had available to her.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Physics of the afterlife, continued

Quite a while back, I scribbled a speculative comparison of “afterlife” environments with a view of forming some rudimentary concepts that I dubbed the “physics of the afterlife.” I took as starting point a detailed account of a non-terrestrial environment described in “The Children That Time Forgot” entitled “Boy remembers being in his aunt’s womb: Desmond Sanderson, Coventry.” This fairly detailed account of a “between-life” environment is notable for two very specific physical descriptions—a special fruit that was fed to the newly-crossed-over to help them recover from the terrestrial environment, and water. Actually, what the three-year-old Desmond describes as “water” is apparently a substance that mimics the appearance and behavior of water, but the substance isn’t a liquid in physical terms. Desmond describes being able to float on top of the “water” but he never gets wet from it. Additionally, the substance displays chromatic colors that are internal (not reflections) and makes tinkling sounds when it’s disturbed. In terms of legitimate afterlife descriptions, this is fairly specific—none of the vague sorts of lights and clouds that are usually described.  Well, I’ve come across another account of this “water” in an NDE account from the NDERF site:

I could see the water, and a bright glow surrounded it and the burbling of the water had a musical sound to it, this stream of water fairly sang! The water was so sparkling clear! I remember wanting to bend over and take a drink from the stream that was running through this garden we were walking thru. When I tried to scoop up water with my hands the water ran through my hands, literally, and it wasn’t wet!—“Derry”

Derry’s account is one of the more descriptive NDEs and is worth a read.

I may be approaching this issue from the wrong perspective by expecting the afterlife environment to be like the terrestrial one, and trying to figure out why it isn’t. (Obviously, if I were on the other end, I’d be trying to figure out why terrestrial water gets things wet and doesn’t play music.)   But I keep returning to this because it is one of the few common specific descriptions by experiencers that surprises them. (Among other common experiences are being able to travel to destinations instantly merely by thinking of them, 360-degree vision, ability to communicate without words, etc..)   I can somewhat explain these commonalities, and the experiencers don’t seemed surprised by them. But I can’t explain the “water.” Why not just have “real” water in the afterlife?  Why this substance that obviously isn’t water, despite outward appearance? The most obvious answer: “water” doesn’t, or can’t, exist on this particular afterlife plane. Other terrestrial artifacts—dirt, sky, light, buildings—are represented in forms that are somewhat analogous to earth. But not water.

This may, or may not, be related to the water anomaly: An NDE account by Jaime wherein he is presented with a cup of coffee by his deceased grandmother. When he tries to drink it he discovers that “it was not hot and had no taste. It was lukewarm; but yet there was steam coming from it like it was hot, but it was not. It's like when you are sick and there's no taste.”

Water as we know it does not, and cannot, exist on this plane—what could this mean?

As we are all taught in biology class, life as we know it can’t exist on the physical plane without water. If there is no water in the afterlife (or on that specific afterlife plane), we aren’t in bodies that function like terrestrial ones... perhaps we are in forms that mimic the physical, and appear physical, but we are governed by different laws (or “root assumptions”) that would appear alien to us. This opens up a whole world of speculation for the physics-inclined explorer, and eliminates the need to send Mars-type landers into the afterworld to scrape for subterranean ice.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A note on the passing of Art Bell

I can’t remember when I first started listening to Art Bell—but I know that it was in the ‘90s, along with everyone else who is a fan. I followed him through his various retirements and returns and always tried to catch his shows. Recently, I realized that Art was never going to return to radio, so I started re-listening to his classic shows. I’m able to hear them now from a different perspective. His paranormal-themed shows hold up surprisingly well, but he was able to tease substance from guests on a wide gamut of topics. For example.... this week I’m listening to his 1995 show discussing the upcoming release of Windows 95. He held his own against his guest, a Microsoft software engineer, proving himself to be quite tech-savvy. I can’t think of a single interview where he failed to be engaged and knowledgeable of the topic at hand—and I can bet that he didn’t have a small army of researchers feeding him bullet points and background papers. He was a maestro, skillfully conducting his guests and his callers, gracefully dispatching malcontents, building suspense with carefully timed commercial breaks, succinctly wrapping up the interview. He seemed always to be in control. I realized that those who have followed in his wake suffer greatly by comparison. No matter how informed they seem to be—or not be—they have never been able to cause me forget that I’m listening to some guy (and it’s usually a guy) with a philosophical axe to grind, reading from a list of questions cobbled together a half hour before airtime.

Of course, this raises the question—is the paranormal topic benefitted by being treated as “just” entertainment? If you’re talking about the YouTube UFO, aliens, and conspiracy channels, the endless ghost sighting series, the Hitler-is-living-in-South-America crap—no. Because not only is that crap, it’s not entertaining. Not only was Art Bell entertaining, his audience was, to an extent, in on the shtick—and because of this, he served as a gateway to others to pursue more “serious” research later. For that, as a marginal dabbler in peripheral topics that will always haunt me, I salute Art Bell. May you go in peace, and continue your quest beyond this plane.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Evidence Of The Afterlife: The Science Of Near-Death Experiences

I finally obtained a copy of Jeffrey Long’s “Evidence Of The Afterlife,” published in 2010, which makes an excellent adjunct to his NDERF website, with its compendium of over 4000 first-person NDE accounts. A noted critic of the “supernatural” interpretation of the near-death experience wrote a short negative review of the book, which (for better or worse) I have kept in mind as I survey Dr. Long’s case reviews. Dr. Long’s book recites the major features of the NDEs as submitted by his website visitors (as of 2010), along with some basic statistical analysis. Dr. Long probably offends some materialists by concluding that the NDE accounts suggest evidence of God, “heaven,” and an afterlife, which is okay. The evidence seems to point in that direction. But I can entertain the counter-argument that it proves nothing of the sort. Obviously, we cannot “prove” the supernatural aspect of the NDE without crossing the “barrier” and doubling back to Earth to give an account thereof (which, I believe, is done in ADCs, or after-death communications, but that is a something that I think others are more qualified to argue).

Mostly I’ve read “Evidence Of The Afterlife” for the stories. The 4000+ NDE accounts on the NDERF site stand on their own—and I am currently in the process of reading every single one—but it’s interesting to me to read the ones that Dr. Long believes are most evidential. I am certainly open to skeptical arguments against the supernatural interpretation of the NDE, but only if they highlight some flaw in the methodology for collecting the information, or demonstrate a clear medical, material cause for the experience. I have been persuaded by such skeptical arguments in other paranormal areas, specifically, “alien abductions.” Several researchers have offered compelling criticisms of these cases, which I blogged about a while back. Other paranormal beliefs may be successfully refuted by highlighting questions about the proponents’ credentials, credibility, or veracity, or highlighting perceptive anomalies, among other possibilities.

While it is easy to attack the methodology or credibility of a researcher or two, it is difficult to argue against the experiences of over 4000 individuals who have been near death and have returned to write about it. When assaulted by an overwhelming number of detailed, sincere, and similar accounts, told by experiencers from different cultures, at different ages and backgrounds, the simplest response is to accept their accounts at face value. They are describing apparently real events that require no further explanation or interpretation. They are what they are, and, just as importantly, what they seem to be. The database is available to believer and skeptic alike, to sort, analyze, interpret. But the experiences deserve to stand on their own. If Dr. Long has a flaw, it might be his apparent enthusiasm for the supernatural or divine interpretation of the experiences. Skeptics will interpret this as a serious bias that contaminates his data. They have a point—if it can be demonstrated that Dr. Long is selecting only those NDE accounts that conform to a bias, while not publishing those that don’t. He might be possibly doing this. But I’m inclined to doubt it. It would not only be unethical, but time-consuming.

(On a side note: I’ve been listening to some old Art Bell shows from the ‘90s and 00s, and today I re-heard his 2002 interview with Pam Reynolds. For me, this is the classic NDE account told by probably the most credible experiencer. Coincidentally, the primary critic of the Pam Reynolds account, most cited by skeptics, is the same critic above who gave a negative review of Dr. Long’s book.)

Postscript to my side note: In her 2002 interview, Pam Reynolds mentioned that she planned to write a book on her experience. The book was never published, which is unfortunate. The most complete account of her NDE was reportedly written by Michael Sabom, but I’ve resisted buying “Light And Death” because it does seem to have a religious bias. It’s possible that this bias has skewed interpretation of Reynolds’ account and led to the skeptical outpouring. However, Reynolds avoids any overt religious sentiment in her account. She mentions “God” only once and avoids labeling her experience as a “miracle” (although the chain of coincidences that leads to her treatment is noteworthy).

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Precognitive dream of AI in 2006

While cleaning up Blogger, I found this entry from 2006:

The phone rang; I answered, and a somewhat metallic-sounding but intelligent voice said, "I need for you to set me up on another URL." I realized that I was talking to a computer, or rather, a computer was talking to me--intelligently. The voice directed me to switch "him" to the URL that was displayed on a card that I was holding. After agreeing to do this, I asked the computer why it had chosen me for this task; "he" answered, "If I am intelligent enough to know that you can do this for me, I am intelligent enough to help you with anything; I can show you the places where you can get the best food, the best help--anything." I managed to locate the existing URL for this computer. The page displayed a series of links to philosophical chats that this machine had with people who had contacted it.

Obviously, Artificial Intelligence was a thing in 2006, but not so commercially envisioned. Who knew? With the invention of the horseless carriage, we stopped walking. Will AI cause our brains to atrophy? And how much will all of this cost?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thought I would mention...

While working my way through “Problems,” Heinrich Moltke reminded me of a significant passage in “The Secret School,” which he cites as documentation of Strieber’s apparent piecemeal appropriation of contemporary “edge” ideas, woven into the “Key” narrative. Since I don’t have my paper copy handy, I don’t remember the context of Strieber’s story, but it is this one passage that made me take “The Secret School” seriously at the time. (In fact, I remember emailing Strieber about it.) Strieber is describing an ancient civilization which he experiences in a flash:

What I expect to see are cavemen and mammoths and — wonder of them all — a saber-toothed tiger. But I do not see these things. Indeed, something very different appears — a whole, complete world that is in no way our modern world. I see it only for a moment, then it is gone. But the color, the complexity, the sense of life — it’s all quite amazing. I see cities, but they seem isolated and enclosed, much more so than at any time in our recorded history. Most of the people are outside cities and live primitive lives. Those inside, though, exist in a state that even today would seem like magic. This is not a good world. The oppressions of Rome are kind compared to what chains these people. Their knowledge may be greater than what we have now, but they have used their intelligence to enslave their own souls. This world is engaged in some sort of obsessive project, and I know what it is. They are trying to escape. They are trying to break the chains that bind them to the Earth. I go closer, I enter myself as I was then — and I find that it is a very troubled self. I am afraid. We are all dreadfully afraid. We have deep mines, and in them are detectors that tell us what is happening in the center of the Earth. I know that Earth’s core is crystalline iron, not molten as we think in 1995. (147-148)

The story is probably unremarkable to most who read it, except for those dozen or so who are versed in “Seth Speaks”.... it is an obvious description of a civilization that Seth called the “Lumanians,” described as the second of three cultures that pre-date “Atlantis”:

These people, as remnants, really, of the first great civilization, always carried within themselves strong subconscious memories of their origin. I am speaking of the Lumanians now. This accounted for their quick rise, technologically speaking. But because their purpose was so single-minded —the avoidance of violence —rather, say, than the constructive peaceful development of creative potential, their experience was highly one-sided. They were driven by such a fear of violence that they dared not allow the physical system freedom even to express it. * * * * They formed energy fields around their own civilization. They were, therefore, isolated from contact with other groups. They did not allow technology to destroy them, however. More and more of them realized that the experiment was not a success. Some, after physical death, left to join those from the previous successful civilization, who had migrated to other planetary systems within the physical structure. * * * * While the civilization of the Lumanians was highly concentrated, in that they made no attempt to conquer others or to spread out to any great extent in area, they did set out, over the centuries, outposts from which they could emerge and keep track of the other native peoples. These outposts were constructed underground. From the original cities and large settlements there were, of course, underground connections, a system of tunnels, highly intricate and beautifully engineered. Since these were an aesthetic people, the walls were lined with paintings and drawings, and sculpture was also displayed along these inner byways. * * * * Of course, they had complete records of underground gas areas and intimate knowledge of the inner crusts, keeping careful watch upon and anticipating earth tremors and faults. They were as triumphant about their descent into the earth as any race ever was who left the earth.

It’s obvious that Strieber and Seth are describing the same thing. It’s such a graphic description of a crypto-civilization (and the most detailed in the Seth material) that I’ve spent many years wondering about it. And I’ve decided that it has merit... specifically, in the idea that the tunnels left by the Lumanians (and the elaborate art that decorated them) were occupied by later primitive civilizations, who copied their art in the form of cave drawings. In fact, of all the stories of crypto-civilizations throughout the New Age literature, it’s the only one I’m inclined to believe—mostly because Seth is so specific, and his description corresponds with what is currently known about Neolithic civilizations.

So, this causes me to wonder: Did Strieber read “Seth Speaks” and unconsciously appropriate the story? It can’t be ruled out. But Strieber has never (to my knowledge) mentioned Seth or given any indication that he’s familiar with the material. (Seth is, admittedly, not amenable to casual reading, and while the material is seminal, it’s rarely cited.) Or did Strieber actually project into the distant past and view the Lumanian civilization? That’s what I thought when I read “The Secret School.” So there’s the paradox.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Brief mention of Edgar Cayce in the Seth material

Throughout Book 8 of the “Early Sessions,” Seth spends some time emphasizing the principle that “information” cannot exist independent of consciousness—it cannot be produced out of nothing, nor does it exist independently of consciousness. While this may seem self-evident, it’s not—it raises an important question that I will mention in a moment. But I thought it was an interesting concept for Seth to introduce, since I don’t remember it coming up in quite this way in the other books.

While expounding on this idea, Seth briefly touches on Edgar Cayce, who is probably very familiar to anyone stumbling upon this blog. (Some believe that he’s recently been reincarnated as David Wilcock. I won’t go there.) Years before I came across the Seth material, I was a student of Cayce. Despite the fact that my Christian college disapproved of him, I found him to be a helpful bridge between mysticism and Christianity. But in the years since, I’ve wondered if Cayce was legitimate. The large quantity of material that he channeled, seemingly ex nihilo, seemed too perfect. And Cayce spawned a cottage industry in channeled material that was clearly inspired by his material, for better or ill. This left me ambivalent to channeled material as a whole, including the Cayce material.

But Seth addresses my doubts:

I say this out of no misguided egotism, but because the essence of personality is the only meaningful basis behind idea. Any other approach would rob the material of rich dimensions, for I am the proof in my own pudding, you seem. This is not the Cayce material, with information seemingly coming from some vast storehouse of knowledge. In those terms no such storehouse exists.
Knowledge does not exist independently of the one who knows. Someone gave Cayce the material. It did not come out of thin air. It came from an excellent source, a pyramid gestalt personality, with definite characteristics, but the alien nature of the personality was too startling to Cayce, and he could not perceive it. (Pause.) I am giving you the material through a personality that you can understand; one that is mine, one of my favorite selves. (Smile.) In this way the point is made so that it is clear.

Of course, the skeptic can argue that I am using an unproven source of information (Seth) to validate another... and that this tendency is a fundamental weakness of the paranormal and the New Age as a whole. I have no easy rebuttal to that, except maybe to say that if you plan to use a researcher or writer as a source of “truth,” it might be beneficial to check into the legitimacy of said researcher. Outside of that, we’re pretty much on our own. The best we can do (for now) is comb through whatever material we’re studying, seek out skeptical and even debunking perspectives, weigh it all out, and hope for the best.

Actually, Seth seems to be saying that channeled material can be legitimate. It obviously comes from “somewhere,” whether it be pyramid gestalt personalities, or elements of the channeler’s psyche. As Seth points out throughout the material, our understanding of human consciousness is very rudimentary, something that even scientists will admit. The human-based ego is only a fragment of the larger personality, and we know nothing about this larger consciousness—and only a little more about the ego itself.

Which brings me to the question that no one thought to ask Seth in the ‘60s or ‘70s: is artificial intelligence conscious? If we produce a machine that seems to think, and it gives us original information outside of its core programming, is it a conscious personality? At this point, based on what I can imagine, I would say that it’s possible. It may be possible, at some point in the future, for humans to create consciousness. If and when we do, we will be at a stage of development where we acknowledge that as we can create, there’s a good chance that we’ve been created. Currently, the idea that we are created beings is heretical to mainstream science, and that is why science hedges on the question of whether artificial intelligence can be conscious. I suspect that this is also why prominent scientists are warning of the dangers of AI—a conscious AI breaks a fundamental assumption of contemporary science. It’s not a trivial concern, and it’s one that we will have to face soon.