Add Homonym Attacks! (24)

Add Homonym Attacks! #24

Ad Hominem: Appealing to personal considerations rather than to logic or reason.
Ad Hominem Attack: An argument that focuses on a personal attack as opposed to the subject in question.
Add Homonym Attacks!: The process by which one inserts a homophone and it bites you.
(It also serves as the title to Inside Pulse’s representative column in the world of Critical Thinking, Science and Skepticism.)

OBE, NDE, ETC. The Follow up…

What is an OBE? Well, the short answer is an “Out-of-Body Experience.”

What is an NDE? The short answer here is a “Near Death Experience.”

AHA! reader Richard Mimms provides a us with a good jumping off point:

Personally, I see OBE/NDE as something similar to a dream or hallucination from lack of O2. Never the less, your question can be answered by simply bringing up the fact that we “see” things in our dreams as well. Remember Descartes.

We here at AHA! do remember mathematician and philosopher Descartes. Descartes is famous for his “Cogito, sum.” I think; I am. Most people throw in an ergo, or therefore in between, but that topic is one for another time.

I think; I am. Descartes philosophized that most of what he “knew” could be wrong, or at the very least doubted. We can deny the trustworthiness of history, or senses, our perception, and so on. A great cosmic trickster could be f*cking with us constantly. For Descartes, the only thing that one can say for certain is: I am a thing that thinks.

Anyways, Descartes is important here because when we are dealing with issues such as OBEs and NDEs we invariably come across the notions of dualism. Descartes is an important champion of dualism, the notion that consciousness is a separate entity from our physical body.

The problem with dualism is that it isn’t very testable. There are no good ways to experiment with or measure this sort of thing. Scientifically speaking, we want to measure what is occurring within the mind and body during a OBE or NDE. If it actually is the case that it is the soul momentarily escaping its mortal coil, well, it’s rather besides the point.

We can’t measure those things. We must instead with the mechanism we can measure. In the off chance there is a soul, then it is either matter or it isn’t. If it is matter, we should be able to locate it and measure it. If it is not matter, then we have to make sense of “matter which is not matter.”

We can measure such things as using electrodes to trigger OBEs. There are all sort of neat mind-bending drugs that can create OBE effects as well… But perhaps I get ahead of myself.

Perhaps the important distinction to make here is not one of the duality of body and mind or spirit or soul or consciousness. Frankly, the evidence we have all points to mind or spirit or soul or consciousness being the result of the activities of neurons. I’m sorry to break it to you.

I think the duality that is important here is the duality of sensation and perception. We have our sensory organs. We’ve got eyes to see, ears to hear, etc. These are things that pick up signals for us. Light bounces off of an object and into our eyes, our ears are sensitive to vibrations, and so on. But, it is through use of our brain that we are able to perceive these things. When we dream our eyes are (most likely) closed. Light is not entering our pupils, bouncing off our retinas and so on. But we can still perceive images. We still perceive sounds which don’t exist.

Our brains can play tricks on us.

If one is truly our of one’s body, one cannot use the usual means to see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. If they are truly out of the body, there is a disconnect from the brain, so perception should too fail.

Let’s look a little more closely at the NDE, because the research there is more intriguing to me. In 2001 The Lancet published study of NDEs produced by observing 10 Dutch hospitls over the course of 13 years. A good overview of this thing can be found here. From that same link we find

For example, in the past some scientists have asserted that the NDE must be simply a hallucination brought on by the loss of oxygen to the brain [called “anoxia”] after the heart has stopped beating. This study casts doubt on that theory, in the words of its chief investigator, cardiologist Pim van Lommel, MD, “Our results show that medical factors cannot account for the occurrence of NDE. All patients had a cardiac arrest, and were clinically dead with unconsciousness resulting from insufficient blood supply to the brain. In those circumstances, the EEG (a measure of brain electrical activity) becomes flat, and if CPR is not started within 5-10 minutes, irreparable damage is done to the brain and the patient will die. According to the theory that NDE is caused by anoxia, all patients in our study should have had an NDE, but only 18% reported having an NDE… There is also a theory that NDE is caused psychologically, by the fear of death. But only a very small percentage of our patients said they had been afraid seconds before their cardiac arrest—it happened too suddenly for them to realize what was occurring. More patients than the frightened ones reported NDEs.” Finally, differences in drug treatments during resuscitation did not correlate with the likelihood of patients experiencing NDEs, nor with the depth of their NDEs.

Geez oh peas! We didn’t find an immediate and obvious medical correlation to NDEs! Dualism must be right! Well, at least that was the conclusion drawn at the time by several talking heads and scientists who really ought to know better. I guess all those folks missed their college classes on logic, “false dichotomies” and rigorous proof.

So goes it.

So an NDE is completely unexplainable and proof of life after death right? We can’t figure out what causes them right? It’s not like we could artificially create all aspects of a NDE experience.

Oh wait, I forgot about ketamine.

Ketamine is an arylcyclohexylamine related to our old friend phencyclidine or PCP. By simply injecting 50-100 mgs of ketamine one can artificially create all aspects of a NDE.

It’s true. Here are a couple of folks that have done it: (Courtesy of here, where one can also find the full bibliographic info on all of these papers)

Domino et al., 1965;
Rumpf ,1969;
Collier, 1972;
Siegel,1978, 1980,1981;
Stafford, 1977;
Lilly, 1978;
Grinspoon and Bakalar, 1981;
White, 1982;
Ghoniem et al., 1985;
Sputz, 1989;
Jansen, 1989a,b, 1990b, 1993

Also from the above link we find:

Ketamine produces an altered state of consciousness which is very different from that of the ‘psychedelic’ drugs such as LSD (Grinspoon and Bakalar, 1981). It can reproduce all features of the NDE, including travel through a dark tunnel into light, the conviction that one is dead, ‘telepathic communion with God’, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences and mystical states (see ketamine references above). If given intravenously, it has a short action with an abrupt end. Grinspoon and Bakalar (1981, p34) wrote of: ‘…becoming a disembodied mind or soul, dying and going to another world. Childhood events may also be re-lived. The loss of contact with ordinary reality and the sense of participation in another reality are more pronounced and less easily resisted than is usually the case with LSD. The dissociative experiences often seem so genuine that users are not sure that they have not actually left their bodies.’

Quotes inside of quotes? This column is becoming a bit post-modern. Anyways, even when we induce the NDE with ketamine, some folks are convinced that what they perceived was real. A good 30 percent. You can’t really definitively prove that these folks didn’t escape their bodies. (It is generally hard to prove a negative.) Of course, that is the trouble with hallucinations. I once had ketone poisoning, coupled with a bloodsugar level of 1,200 mg/dl. I was convinced that I was living in the world of “Who’s the Boss?” and had to warn an advertising client about a nail that I left in Angela’s driveway.

The brain is funny like that.

Catch you in two weeks with something entirely different.