Sunday, December 14, 2008

August, Arthur, After

In The Sunday Times today:
1)I interview Tracy Letts, writer of August: Osage County.
2)I review the new biography of Arthur Miller.
3)I ponder the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences.


  1. You seem to have been busy this week Bryan, all this dead tree output and Brittany's rack to boot, the week must have been hard going?

  2. You don't know the half of it, passer. Next week bad too. Mag pieces done well in advance, however. But that Miller book was 700 pages

  3. Hadn’t spotted that there’s a new biography out. I see my Christmas present to myself. Or perhaps not. Discovering Miller was a big moment in my life but I've tried to distance myself from everything that’s come out about him in recent years.

    I once passed on the chance of meeting Joseph Brodsky and I've regretted it ever since. I love the fact that you might have met Miller but can't remember if you did. Like Olympic rowers, I'd have had the event tattooed on my thigh.

  4. Re, NDE, Did you see the Horizon Documentary earlier this year on Prediction?

    It featured the Top Gun school for pilots in the US. They very often had an acute sense of the future showed through tests against us lesser mortals. I think this is what you are getting as with your "dreamlets" argument.

    This does seem to suggest some sort of dualism is a very real thing indeed.

    Ill hunt it down and put it up on YouTube if you missed it?

  5. After a busy day and crap road conditions if you're on two wheels, there's nothing like arriving home to a hot cup of tea, popping a Lemsip Max and settling down to an article about quantum physics. Hahaha. Seriously, I found the article on NDEs fascinating, not so much the experiments which sound a bit crude to be honest but the philosophy behind it all. One thing this really would challenge is our idea of personality: what it is, if anything, that makes me me and you you. We've done well with roughly the same idea of personality for so long now - thousands of years - that a significant break would be very hard to deal with, I think.

  6. That NDE article is utterly awful.

  7. Sweet piece on NDEs. One thing: that consciousness is made of a different stuff than body, and that consciousness does not cease with death does NOT mean we have/are "souls." This claim of yours seems to me to be an unwarranted jump.

    For example, one question that I doubt is asked is something like this: "When floating around the hospital, is the near-dead pure witnessing consciousness, or a specific individual?" Clearly one would say, "I was floating around," but who is to say it's an "I"? And further, the person's body may be dead clinically, but that does not mean their consciousness has "separated" from the body -- after all, when "brought back to life" you don't find the person mind-less, do you? "Mind" and "consciousness" and "soul" are words that must be used with care and precision.

  8. You are quick and undead.

  9. Hi Bryan

    I have flatlined before, but did not have this OBE NDE. In fact, there is a hypothetical possibility that if neural activity causes these Near-DE's, then they are correctly categorized, and the true DEs, death experiences, go beyond neural activity to where no OBE is possible. I also want to preface with a nod to the hypothetical possibility that Pam Reynolds may have been experiencing deep brain activity when she was able to describe the surgical instruments. Maria's tennis shoe is another case, however. But I want to look at some of what you have written, starting here, near the end of your excellent (illuminating) article:

    The problem is that all the evidence remains anecdotal, and even the most impressive stories, like Reynolds's, tend to look less convincing on closer examination. "There are many claims of this kind," writes the prominent psychologist Susan Blackmore, "but in my long decades of research into NDEs I never met any convincing evidence that they are true."

    As you pointed out previously, no one has ever seen a thought. The problem scientists have is the old joke . . . People are looking around a well-lit and open floor for something that has been dropped, an heirloom hairpin. The person who dropped the hairpin says he was in the closet at the time he lost it. "Well," he is asked, "why are we looking over here?" And he says, "Because the light is better." So for Susan Blackmore to say, "in my long decades of research into NDEs I never met any convincing evidence that they are true," means only that she has not been looking in the place that has been unobservable to science.

    But let's return to your statement about seeing a thought:

    For all our technology, nobody has yet seen a thought, nobody has shown how matter becomes mind. How it does remains one of the most profound questions any human ever asks himself.

    I never assume that matter becomes mind. I don't assume matter to be anything other than emanations from the mind. There are no bricks but in our minds. When the last person dies, or maybe the last mouse, or the last muse who knows, the lights go out, the universe and all that it contained, disappears, including the bricks. This, by the way, is very efficient. The evolution or creation of our universe need only include that which we have yet come to experience, and in such a way that it can be confirmed by what came before, like a program being written as it goes, or the way many stories are written, unfolding from the first line only. But here we travel in circles on a spherical earth, and we have the limitations of expanding universe to deal with instead of a Euclidean one, keeping the unfolding story in its well-framed setting.

    Onto the experiment. The idea that hiding a picture above everyone's head for later recall by the patient if he survives, and if he claims to have had an OBE, is very interesting. Like you well point out, if Parnia's results show that people can describe the picture they could not have seen from the operating table, then we will have to reckon with how such an observance could have been made, while the eyelids were close on the operating table. However, the reverse is not so. I will take issue with the following excerpt on its own grounds:

    In fairness, this may be because the last thing that a floating dying person, with Jesus behind him and his body being pounded in front of him, will notice is some odd picture left on a shelf. This leaves believers in OBEs with an evidential mountain to climb.

    If it may be that the last thing a floating dying person will recognize, is some odd picture on a shelf, then we need hardly any cases at all to confirm that such a picture could be seen from out of the body. One will be sufficient, especially following the case of Maria and her tennis shoe. Thus, this is not so much an experiment that may disprove or even discredit OBEs, but a search for the first person who can tell us of the hidden picture, the next Maria. How could anyone see a hidden picture. We can well surmise or imagine, as you have, how the picture could be missed. Therefore, it is not the believers in OBEs with the evidential mountain to climb, but the experimenters. If no one sees the pictures, then we know nothing more than we know now.

    One more quote:

    "There is a core experience that is essentially the same across cultures. Christians don't see Hindu gods and Hindus don't see Jesus, so there is some kind of cultural overlay, but we are dealing with people attempting to put an ineffable experience into words. There's a common core that has as its basis the fact that we all have very similar brains, so when things go awry we are likely to have similar experiences."

    The assumption here is that something has gone awry. I did not have an NDE when I flatlined, but I have had religious experiences. One such is the descension of light, at least similar to the Paul experience. It's not so much ineffable, but if it has never happened to you, it may be difficult to picture.

    But imagine a whiter and maybe a bit larger Tinkerbell light shooting down as you look up. It then enters the flora that is around you, and moves, sweeps, through everything, you included. Like Tinkerbell, it has a personality. But the personality to me having been raised Christian, is of being Jesus, not Tinkerbell at all. One effect of this is the Sunday school lesson that Jesus is alive and in everything, including you. The Hindu, having been raised with her own religious symbols and lesson, hopefully has enough to have a Hindu interpretation of just such an experience. Another effect is the shaking of the foundations of one's personal life. What used to be important, no longer is. What does not happen, however, is that the experiencer leaves this world and all its mysteries. We each must take the experience, and do with it what we choose.

    Now, I had a thought that if I were to flatline, that maybe being prone to religious experiences, I may come to experience a Near Death Experience, meeting Jesus or loved ones, and all. But I did not. One interpretation would be to ask why, why would I have an OBE? I already have religious experience galore. What? I need to see Jesus so he can wink at me, like we're buds? This is an aspect that physical science seems far from approaching, not only the extreme lack of any observable evidence--not being physical and leaving no trace in the physical realm we share--but that compounded with how very personal and personally effective the mystic can be.


  10. Bryan,

    The problem with the whole NDE phenomenon is that it has two camps; the Rationalists and the Dualists. Within the ranks of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) both factions write articles and defend their respective positions.

    As a professional member of IANDS I am strongly taking a bridging position. I argue that the NDE can still be an epiphenomenon of brain chemistry whilst at the same time presenting evidence that implies that human consciousness may 'survive' the apparent 'death' of the body.

    How I manage to bring together these seemingly contradictory positions is via a theory I call "Cheating The Ferryman". I have already had two books published on this theory, the first of which has now been translated into various foreign languages (with the forward by none other than Professor Bruce Greyson - he of the famed "Greyson Scale").

    For an overview of this theory please visit my little section of Blogger that can be found at

    You may find it very interesting....

  11. I see that the author , Anthony Peake has posted a remark, and I must say that being a fan of both his published texts, I have been extremely impressed by his theory. I do think, as a philosopher, that his ability to maintain respect for the empirical facts of brain chemistry ( in his first text, he agrees with Blackmore's findings) while at the same time supporting the transcendent aspects of philosophical thinking which dates from antiquity, and the superior insights of quantum physics, makes his binary mind theory of NDE and "death" itself, superior .

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