May 20, 2007

OOBEs, NDEs, and an interesting research proposal

Perhaps a clever study will put to rest claims that Near Death Experiences (NDEs), which sometimes include Out Of Body Experiences (OOBEs), are more than short-circuiting neural activity. World Science reports:
Par­nia has spent years stu­dying re­ports that some car­di­ac-ar­rest pa­tients keep hav­ing clear, dis­tinct thought pro­cesses af­ter they’re clin­ic­ally dead and de­tect­a­ble brain ac­ti­vity has ceased. Pa­tients com­monly re­count these men­tal ex­pe­ri­ences, which of­ten in­clude see­ing a light at the end of a tun­nel, af­ter be­ing re­vived.

Parnia and colleagues aim to put these re­ports to a test: spe­cif­ic sounds will be played to such pa­tients, and they’ll be asked to re­call the sounds af­ter re­viv­ing. If they do, it would con­firm the ac­counts of thoughts with­out brain ac­ti­vity—sup­port­ing the claims that “con­scious­ness is a sep­a­rate, yet un­disco­vered sci­en­tif­ic ent­ity” from the brain, Par­nia wrote in a pa­per in the the April 23 ad­vance on­line edi­tion of the re­search jour­nal Med­i­cal Hy­pothe­ses....

[When it comes to OOBEs], Par­nia is not test­ing wheth­er pa­tients gen­u­inely feel their minds have floated away. He wants to test wheth­er the minds ac­tu­ally do float away—a con­tro­ver­sial idea to say the least. His team plans to place pic­tures stra­te­gic­ally around pa­tients’ rooms where they’re vis­i­ble only from near the ceil­ing. Pa­tients would la­ter be asked about the im­ages. “Thus, the claims of con­scious awareness and out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ences will be tested in­de­pen­dent­ly,” he wrote in the pa­per.
Philosophically, World Science overstates the case: the research won't solve the "hard problem" of consciousness, but it might help straighten out one of the more pliant puzzles.

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