Monday, November 7, 2016

Delving into the NDE skeptical perspective

Lately my reading has taken a turn toward NDE research primarily. After circling the subject for several years, I've finally decided that research into near-death experiences provides the "best" hope of bridging the gap between our material consensus reality, and the "paranormal"--those experiences that fall outside the consensus.

So I was surprised to discover that there is a growing body of "skeptical" studies that examine NDEs from a medical/scientific perspective.  These skeptical studies tend to focus on a few well-documented NDE cases and attempt to find psychological or medical analogues that explain the paranormal experiences. The intent seems to be to dispel, disprove, or invalidate "supernatural" explanations.

This approach has some merit. A well-know (and possibly apocryphal) superstition held that sailing past the horizon caused one to fall off the planet. This belief was subjected to rigorous experimentation by a number of mariners, and ultimately was disproved (or so the story goes).  And thus died a popular superstition.

To dispel superstition and unreasoned belief is a noble endeavor and one of the greatest achievements of science. Any budding paranormalist ought not gainsay it. To argue, "Yes, the scientific method is good at determining the laws of genetic inheritance with pea plants, but it won't quite work with Aunt Sally's NDE," will neither invalidate the scientific method, nor "prove" Aunt Sally's NDE.

At the same time, arguing that the numinous effects of an NDE are "probably" the result of brain chemicals may be just as wrong.  The effects may be caused by something that, at our present level, we don't have the tools, or intellect, to comprehend.  Just because something *seems* to be something, does not mean that it really is.

The thinking paranormalist, then, defaults to the argument that, lacking a medical explanation for the NDE, it seems logical to assume that the NDE is what it purports to be: a "supernatural" experience of unknown origin or cause.

Not everything needs to be explained to be understood.  It doesn't bother me that I can't explain, or trace the origin, of an NDE. This fact does not make the NDE not-real for me. Unfortunately, science is not wired that way. Science seeks to deconstruct a phenomenon until it is understood or explained.  As it stands now, I don't think that science has succeeded in achieving this with the NDE. And I'd be more comfortable with the scientific approach if science were simply to admit, "What causes NDEs?  We don't know."