26 January 2014

Near-death experiences: more obfuscation

This was first published in September. I am re-posting it in connection with an article about a new book on near-death experiences which appeared in Saturday’s Daily Mail. This, as usual, muddies the waters by perpetuating the confusion that the phenomena are either ‘genuine’, in the sense of providing evidence of the afterlife or the paranormal, or, if not ‘genuine’ in this sense, are to be dismissed.
The author of the book, Penny Sartori, appears to have some connection with the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, currently based in Lampeter but originally part of the University of Oxford. The Centre was set up shortly after we published our initial pioneering research on out-of-the-body experiences, and cleverly succeeded in drawing away any publicity and research funds we might have got, including about OBEs, and getting them for itself. It may well have been set up expressly for this purpose. It certainly never carried out, as far as I am aware, any actual research on OBEs.
The present obsession with near-death experiences, and the false dichotomy that these kinds of phenomena must be either (a) real (meaning paranormal), or (b) dismissable, is to be deplored. It contributes to our being blocked from receiving any funding for research that would actually advance understanding of the phenomena.

There has recently been some more interest in near-death experiences, including a large number of hits on the posts about them on my blog. This is always very irritating, as there is no sign of response to our appeals for funding.

A number of areas of research, on which quite a lot of money is being spent throughout the world, were initiated by us. In some of the cases it could be claimed that the research now being done might have developed independently of our drawing attention to it, as the information was there, although ignored (e.g. the development of distorted interpretations of early forms of Gnostic Christianity).

However, there was no concept of near-death experiences until it arose out of nominal research on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs). This in turn had developed (with some delay) following the publication of our first book [1] on OBEs, which made these appear as a type of experience that had sufficiently consistent characteristics to justify academic recognition. Our work provided much less justification for relating OBEs to the question of ‘proving’ survival than did the previous associations with spiritualistic beliefs.

The new and spurious category of near-death experiences arose from there being some cases reported of OBEs in hospitals. Eventually the concept of near-death experiences replaced that of OBEs in popular attention, so that the question of ‘proving’ survival or otherwise once again became the issue predominantly associated with such experiences.

However, the resulting association of OBE-type experiences with the idea of extreme states is likely to be highly misleading. In one study conducted by Professor Ian Stevenson [2] of the University of Virginia, for example, it appeared that only about half of the subjects of supposed near-death experiences were in any sense near to death.

My colleague Charles McCreery carried out an experiment, as part of his doctoral research at the Department of Experimental Psychology in Oxford, in which subjects attempted to induce OBEs in the laboratory. He found that two of his subjects reported subjective phenomena similar to those of so-called near-death experiences. Both subjects referred to ‘tunnels’, and one of them also described having the impression of ‘being on elastic going towards a tiny white light in [the] distance’. Neither of these subjects showed any sign of being near death. The one who reported the white light in the distance was a young female graduate student aged twenty-six. [3]

1. Green, C. (1968). Out-of-the-body Experiences. Institute of Psychophysical Research.
2. Stevenson, I. (1987). Personal communication to Charles McCreery.
3. McCreery, C. and Claridge, G. (1996). ‘A study of hallucination in normal subjects – I. Self-report data’. Personality and Individual Differences, Vol 21, no. 5, pp. 739-747.

‘We are appealing for £200,000 to assist my colleague Dr Charles McCreery in completing the work for his book on out-of-the-body experiences, then publishing it and publicising it. He has received no funding during the writing of this book, which is based on the research he carried out for his Oxford DPhil on out-of-the-body experiences. The book includes the results of both experimental work and extensive analyses of case material.
Dr McCreery’s book is a rigorously scientific analysis of out-of-the-body experiences, with discussions of the philosophical implications of these and related phenomena. It deserves to be completed, published and widely advertised. Those who claim that they want to advance human knowledge should provide us with the financial support required to enable this to happen.’
Dr Celia Green

more about modern ‘research’

10 January 2014

The morality of Professor C D Broad

text of a letter to an academic

Throughout my life my problems have all arisen from the same cause: the hostility of the increasingly dominant socialist ideology to exceptional ability, in fact to anything that may be regarded as ‘superiority’.

Dame Janet Vaughan, the Principal of Somerville College, was a rabid atheist egalitarian socialist and very hostile to me. Practically the first thing you were told about her on arriving at Somerville was that she was an atheist. At that time (in the early 1950s) this was slightly shocking, and it was certainly unusual for a person in a position of responsibility to assert it so ostentatiously. I remember a mature middle-class lady, not an undergraduate, sounding as if it was regrettable, saying that she thought it was nicer to know that the Principals of colleges were Christians, presumably because she thought this might guarantee their benevolence towards their students.

Dame Janet was very avant-garde. To that extent that you can say that my problems in life were made worse by my being a woman, because probably at that time the Masters of most men’s colleges were officially Christian and more old-fashioned in outlook. The head of a men’s college would probably have been a bit more tolerant towards someone arriving at their college with a need to do things in a way that could alleviate, rather than exacerbate, the problems which arose from their previous maltreatment by the educational system.

C.D. Broad
The attitudes of society in this country have been getting worse all the time throughout my life, both before and after I arrived at Somerville. One of the influential academics on the circuit of the Society for Psychical Research was Professor C.D. Broad, who managed to prevent any financial relief getting to me through the siege blockade.

Of course, you may say, as no doubt they all hoped that I would say: I have no hope at all, since all these people are part of the same monolithic academic system, so I should give up and do something else.

But in fact my internal determinants were and are too strong, and I could only go on aiming at the same sort of life doing the same sort of things, because what had made me aware of my need for that in the first place had been my internal determinants, rather than the fact that there seemed to be a straightforward and effortless way of getting it. So if it now appeared that the way to it was not open, but firmly blocked, I still could not give up trying to get it.

I am still working towards the life I need, one in which I have a socially statusful and well-salaried academic position, which would provide me with the hotel environment and intellectual activity which I need for my well-being.

When Sally Adams and Margaret Eastman (both Oxford graduates) joined my research organisation, I was hopeful that one or other of them would be eligible for the Perrott Studentship associated with Trinity College Cambridge, which I had held some time earlier. It seemed likely such an application would be successful since there appeared to be no other possible candidates wanting to do research in this area. We could certainly have done with the money.

I was shocked when the Electors decided to award the studentship to Professor Broad (himself one of the Electors), apparently without even advertising it, for the purpose of writing and delivering some lectures on the subject – later published in book form as Lectures on Psychical Research. As far as I am aware, the conditions of the Studentship stipulated that the money should be applied to original research likely to further knowledge about putative paranormal phenomena, but Broad’s lectures were in the nature of philosophical musings.

Although I never saw the Trust Deed myself, I was certainly under the impression that the Perrott Studentship was intended to support people who could not support themselves, thereby making it possible for them to do research.

Although this cannot be proved, I would not be surprised if the award to Broad was made to ensure that the only official British source of finance for the subject would not be available to me. Professor Broad certainly did not need the (relatively meagre) amount of money doled out, being already well set-up and provided with a college environment.

Broad was a ‘moral philosopher’. Perhaps that means that, like other moral philosophers, his work was really aimed at destroying capitalism (and with it any possibility of individual freedom) and at promoting some version of global communism.

‘The philosophy department of my unrecognised university would, if financed to do so, be publishing criticisms of current work in moral philosophy, pointing out its unexamined assumptions and implications.’ Celia Green, DPhil

‘We hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed research department. We make this appeal to all universities, corporations and individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

06 January 2014

The retrospective pensions swindle

In view of the current debate about the possible cutting of benefits to pensioners, I thought it worthwhile re-posting this piece from 2010.

I have a book entitled The Great Pensions ‘Swindle’* which, 40 years ago, made some useful points about the likely unreliability of state pensions. The following, however, is unrealistic:

The breaking point is not postponable indefinitely. The resistance to periodic increases in ‘social insurance’ contributions will begin all the sooner when the ‘contributors’ realise they are paying not insurance contributions but an income tax. (p.128)

In fact, no significant realisation arose that ‘National Insurance’ contributions were just a form of income tax, which increased the Government’s current spending money. Otherwise the book anticipates very much what has happened. What happens when a future generation decides it prefers to spend its money on what is fashionable at the time (overseas ‘aid’, social workers, ‘universities’, etc.) rather than providing a former generation with the pension it thought it was paying for? The pensions are ‘too expensive’; they are suddenly means-tested, and paid at ever later ages.

Not least, let it be clearly understood that ‘right’ (to the pension) and ‘contract’ are two more good words that have been made misnomers. A ‘right’ to a pension that a man acquires by saving for it is unambiguous. The ‘right’ a man has to an income when he can no longer work is of a different kind. The word has been re-defined to mean a moral right or claim on society. But transfers of income from one age-group, or class, or generation, to another represent decisions by one group, or class, or generation, to help another in time of need. No group, or class, or generation has a ‘right’ in any absolute sense. ...

In civilised parlance ‘contract’ means a voluntary agreement between two parties each of whom thinks it will gain. There is no such voluntary agreement between the generations on pensions. Indeed, there can hardly be one since future generations cannot be consulted; and if they could they would hardly agree since the terms are loaded against them. (pp.129-130)

* * *

Retrospective legislation has become increasingly frequent, and by now no one seems to remember that there was ever anything against it. It used to be said that the individual had a right to know what was legally open to him (in taxation, etc.) so that he could plan his affairs to secure the best outcome in view of his own interests and priorities, as he conceived them to be.

The recent changes in the ages at which state pensions become payable is really an egregious example of retrospective legislation, and directly affects people in as bad a position as we are. If a company which offered pension schemes were suddenly to announce that all its pensions were to be paid two years later, those who had been paying into the schemes might well wish to sue it for breach of contract. When the government does the same thing, no legal redress is available. This has happened recently and seems likely to happen more, so that my junior colleagues’ pensions recede as one approaches them. The age at which one of them will start receiving her pension was first shifted from 60 to 62, and then again to 64. Another’s pension was shifted from 65 to 67, and seems likely to be further delayed to the age of 68.

Thus the state has already deprived us, who are trying to build up towards an adequate academic institutional environment, of seven years’ pension money, i.e. £35K at today’s pension rate.

I have previously pointed out how means-testing of pensions retrospectively reduces the benefit received in return for contributions paid. This means nearly two thousand pounds per person per year. The proposed tax of £20K towards the cost of state ‘nursing care’, whether such care is received or not, was first proposed as a tax on estates on death, but is now suggested as a capital levy to be paid by every pensioner on reaching retirement age. If that were made retrospective, so that it applied to myself as well as to my colleagues, that would represent an additional confiscation of £80K.

‘There are several other examples of abandonment of principles, and I should be able to write about them at length because they are extremely serious, though no one else appears to recognise this. If Oxford Forum were provided with adequate funding, we could be writing and publishing analyses on this issue of a kind currently ignored in favour of the usual pro-collectivist arguments.’ Celia Green, DPhil

‘We hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed research department. We make this appeal to all universities, corporations and individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.’
Charles McCreery, DPhil

* Arthur Seldon, The Great Pensions Swindle, Tom Stacey Books, London, 1970. Arthur Seldon CBE was joint founder president, with Ralph Harris, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank.

04 January 2014

Killing bright rat babies

The late Professor Hans Eysenck once told me about an experiment in which a population of rats was divided into ‘bright’ and ‘dull’ on some criterion for rat intelligence. The rat offspring were then switched to different parents, in such a way that the bright rats were given the offspring of the dull rats to bring up, and vice versa. It was found that the bright rats brought up the dull rat babies successfully, while the dull rats killed the bright rat babies which they were given.

As Richard Dawkins points out in The Selfish Gene, natural selection encourages forms of behaviour which secure favourable conditions for the descendants of the individual in subsequent generations. So it looks as if it may be advantageous for the survival of a rat if the number of rats in the population it has to compete with, which are descended from parents cleverer than its own, is minimised.

The experiment suggests it may have become programmed into the genetic constitution of rats that they should kill, if possible, young rats which are cleverer than themselves. On the other hand, it appears rats have no programming to kill young rats which are less clever than themselves, presumably because their presence in future populations would pose no serious threat to their own offspring.

If natural selection has favoured such behaviour in rats to the point of modifying their genotype, we may speculate that it is even more likely to be present in the human constitution, since the range of opportunities present in human society, and the ways in which advantage may be taken of them, are even more varied, and offer greater potential advantages to those able to make use of them, than the variety of circumstances which may be made use of by rats of differing abilities.

Someone who becomes aware of this experiment may well be shocked by the result, and protest that it could not possibly be applied to humans. Professor Eysenck himself seemed to have resistance to the implication. He told me that anti-high-IQ behaviour would only prove adaptive for people in more developed societies, and thus could not have had time to modify the human genotype. His argument was that only in developed societies, with extensive business and finance activities, would having a higher IQ give the owner a sufficient advantage, to motivate other people to be hostile to him, or even kill him. This argument did not, however, make much sense to me, given that rats can scarcely be said to have ‘developed societies’ in this sense.

If there is a tendency in humans corresponding to the desire of rats to kill young rats cleverer than their own offspring, it would certainly help to explain the way the education system has developed as society has become progressively democratised. In spite of occasional nods to the supposed special needs of the ‘gifted’, the system is clearly geared (and increasingly so) to promoting the interests of the low-IQ population, and to making life well-nigh impossible for those of exceptional ability.

There is evidently a resistance to considering the possibility that the average human being may have hostile (potentially to the point of murderous) attitudes, whether conscious or not, to individuals of exceptional ability. Professor Eysenck told me that the results of this experiment became unavailable soon after it had been carried out – though he didn’t explain why – so it may be that they have never been published.