Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cult of Dusty's Take on Near Death Experiences

The Cult of Dusty's Take on Near Death Experiences
The Logic is Sound, the Facts are Wrong

I was asked to comment on this hilarious YouTube video by the Cult of Dusty.  Here is Dusty's website, one of the funniest and no nonsense approaches to spirituality and religion I have seen.  If it offends you, consider this, just about everyone I know who has had a near death experience thinks his website in general and the video in particular is a scream. (Please note, lot's of F bombs, please do not go to this video or his website if constantly repeated foul language offends you, or saying the F word five times in the average sentence is upsetting to you.)  Click Here for website

Here is the video: 


We need a new form of skepticism, and Dusty is right on in his general understanding of neuroscience, memory, and perception.  I love the line that we have enough trouble remembering things with a normal functioning brain, so why do we trust the memories of an oxygen deprived almost dead brain.  He goes right to the heart of the issue.  Implicit in his lecture on NDEs is an understanding that our brain creates this reality, so we should not be confused upon hearing it creates a different reality when we die.

It is hilarious. Also one of the most coherent and thoughtful critiques of the concept that near death experiences are "real". He accurately points out that the brain creates experience, eye witness testimony cannot be relied upon, and ...IN THEORY an oxygen starved brain should not produce reliable memories.

However there are two errors the author makes:

 1. Occam's razor is that the simplest solution is the correct one. So Occam's razor applied to NDEs is that is people when they die, regardless of circumstance, state of consciousness, drugs on or not on board, etc, think they are perceiving a "heaven", uh maybe it's because they are.

He states that Occam's razor, as applied to the near death experience is that "dying dysfunctional brains cant be relied upon to give accurate memories of heaven, an afterlife, or much of anything".  However, this is simply the non-neuroscientist speaking.  It actually is extremely convoluted to try to explain how a dying dysfunctional brain can create a vivid accurate perception that is seamlessly integrated with emotion and memory.  He correctly points out that it is difficult for a normal healthy brain to do so, however, then misses the point that it is far more difficult if not impossible for a dying dysfunctional brain to do the same thing.

The best and simplest explanation of the NDE as occurring to a dying brain is to suppose that it doesn't, but is invented by the brain after the fact.  However, the research done by Vernon Neppe MD and myself, published in the Lancet and the AMA's Pediatric Medical Journal AJDC, definitely showed that NDEs in fact do occur in dying brains.  In other words, they are not creations of consciousness after the fact of resuscitation.

This research was replicated by Pim van Lommel, also published in the Lancet.

So really the only remaining simple Occam's razor type solution to the NDE is that, in fact, they are correct perceptions of another (spiritual) reality that we see and enter into at the point of death.

2. The major factual error is Dusty's statement that those who have had NDEs then no longer want to die.  He states that IF in fact NDEs are real, then those who have them would not be afraid to die and indulge in high risk behaviors.

He simply is incorrect about this.  I don't fault him for it, as he is not a research scientist, but rather simply someone trying to apply common sense to the debate, and frankly doing a great job.

However, those who have had NDEs want to LIVE!  As a child told me best, she learned that life is for living and the light is for later.  And they do indulge in extremely high risk behaviors at a rate far greater than the ordinary population, according to our long term study of adults who had NDEs as children.

Having said that, I wish the Skeptic-Believer debate with this funny and this thoughtful. One huge reason I refuse to engage in it is that it is BORING!

I see this as a breath of fresh air in the debate.  He is thoughtful and logical, but simply is operating from the wrong assumptions and doesn't know the facts. 

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