26 November 2012

Professor Colin Blakemore and 'near-death' experiences

‘Near-death experiences’, which have become a staple of popular journalism, were never heard of (or at least I had never heard of them) until a decade or so after the publication of my book on out-of-the-body experiences in 1968, so it may be supposed that they arose in reaction to my having publicised the concepts of out-of-the-body experiences, lucid dreams, and apparitions.

I should explain how it was that I came to publish work on these topics, as it has been widely assumed that I found them particularly interesting.

In fact, I was thrown out at the end of my ruined ‘education’ with no usable qualification, after eleven years of state-funded oppression which was aimed at producing an egalitarian outcome, i.e. at cancelling the advantages which I might have been able to gain as a result of my exceptional ability. I had no research scholarship nor any way of proceeding with the high-flying university career which I needed to have, in any field.

In this shocking situation, serendipity led me to the Society for Psychical Research and I was able to obtain a research studentship (the Perrott Studentship) on account of the relationship of the SPR with Trinity College, Cambridge.

I do not know of any other way in which I could have obtained a grant for postgraduate work in any field in the absence of support from Somerville (my Oxford college).

I had therefore to survey the fields of potential research that fell under the auspices of the Perrott Studentship to find the areas most likely to enhance my claim on a university appointment.

Out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) appeared to me to be the phenomenon which would most readily lend itself to research leading to advances in scientific understanding. They were, however, and perhaps for this reason, ignored by those working or interested in parapsychology. They were predominantly associated with a belief in an afterlife, and the cases compatible with such a belief which were sometimes published by spiritualists or theosophists were supposed by those without such beliefs to be imaginary or dreamlike experiences.

Dr Charles McCreery and I made appeals to the general public for reports of anomalous experiences. As a result of our work, it now appears that such appeals can be expected to produce a substantial number of cases. The cases often had various characteristics in common, which could provide plentiful scope for further research, but we did not see any of this as having any bearing on the question of spiritualistic survival.

We hoped that we had released OBEs as a topic for research from this unrealistic issue. However, the way to our doing further research was blocked by a lack of interest in providing financial support for us to carry it out. (There had all along been hostility to our commencing research in this area, even from members of the SPR.)

After a decade or so, we started to become aware of the previously unknown category of near-death experiences, which began to receive publicity on the television and elsewhere.

For example, a near-death experience was quoted in the Daily Mail recently.
Death was beckoning but I was aware of everything around me. Suddenly, I felt my entire body being sucked up into the white light above. I found myself in a white tunnel — and I knew I had died. Away from the cursing of the medics and the bleeps of the machines, there was a wonderful sense of calm.

But I also became aware of somebody standing a few feet away from me... it was Ruby — wearing her new school uniform and with her hair tied neatly in bunches. She smiled and took my hand. ‘Come with me, Mummy,’ she implored.

At the end stood a gate. I stopped, feeling an urge to walk back down the tunnel, where I was sure my beloved grandmother and other family members who’d passed away would be waiting to greet me.

But little Ruby was insistent. ‘Mummy, step through the gates NOW!’ Her urgency brought me to my senses. I stepped through it and Ruby slammed it shut behind me.

The shock jolted my body — and I am sure it was at this moment that the defibrillator pads being used by the medics shocked my heart back into a rhythm. (Daily Mail, 10 October 2012)
Also recently Professor Colin Blakemore commented in the Daily Telegraph on a book (Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander) about near-death experiences.
... NDEs have taken on a new cloak of respectability with a book by a Harvard doctor. Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, will make your toes wiggle or curl, depending on your prejudices. What’s special about his account of being dead is that he’s a neurosurgeon. ... His, and the multitude of other memories reported by people who have been close to death, have to be seen first through the prism of hard science. The crucial question is not whether such astounding experiences should lead us to abandon materialist accounts of brain function, but whether materialist accounts can possibly explain them. ... Since the lucky survivor can only tell you about them after the event, how can we be sure that these things were perceived and felt at the time that their brains were messed up, rather than being invented afterwards? (Daily Telegraph, 16 November 2012)
And this is what has apparently resulted from our attempts to establish out-of-the-body experiences as a field in which we could carry out further research. The concept of OBEs has been replaced by the new concept of NDEs, and these are seen as only of interest in relation to the question of spiritualist survival.

The relevant departments of my unfunded independent university are effectively censored and suppressed. They have been prevented for decades from publishing analyses of the complex issues involved, while misleading and tendentious representations of them have continued to flood out from socially recognised sources.