[Paleopsych] Frank's topic: divergent opinions in science

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Fri Feb 18 13:59:38 UTC 2005

Here is another example, from my own interest in near death literature. 
Synopsis: Van Lommel did a prospective study of NDEs and published 
results in Lancet. Michael Shermer wrote a column in Scientific American 
suggesting that Van Lommel's results showed there is no extra-corporeal 
"spirit" but that NDEs were all artifacts of the death process.
    Actually, Shermer had totally distorted the Lancet article. When Van 
Lommel wrote a reply/ correction . . . wait for it . . . Scientific 
American refused to publish his reply. Deeply disturbing. We cannot 
question the party line.
    In this wonderful world of the internet, Van Lommel was able to 
publish his piece anyway, which I post below FYI.
    So, Michael and Frank, this very medium is already having a positive 
effect on the lack of scientific dialog and promoting more diversity, a 
healthy direction.

A Reply to Shermer

Medical Evidence for NDEs

Pim van Lommel

Article from Skeptical Investigations

The Background
In his "Skeptic" column in Scientific American in March, 2003, Michael 
Shermer cited a research study published in The Lancet, a leading 
medical journal, by Pim van Lommel and colleagues. He asserted this 
study "delivered a blow" to the idea that the mind and the brain could 
separate. Yet the researchers argued the exact opposite, and showed that 
conscious experience outside the body took place during a period of 
clinical death when the brain was flatlined. As Jay Ingram, of the 
Canadian Discovery Channel, commented: "His use of this study to bolster 
his point is bogus. He could have said, 'The authors think there's a 
mystery, but I choose to interpret their findings differently'. But he 
didn't. I find that very disappointing" (Toronto Star, March 16, 2003). 
Here, Pim van Lommel sets out the evidence that Shermer misrepresented.

A Reply to Shermer

Medical Evidence for NDEs

Dr. Pim van Lommel

Only recently someone showed me the "Skeptic" article* by Michael 
Shermer. From a well respected and, in my opinion, scientific journal 
like the Scientific American I always expect a well documented and 
scientific article, and I don't know how thoroughly peer-reviewed the 
article from Shermer was by the editorial staff before publication. My 
reaction to this article by Shermer is because I am the main author of 
the study published in The Lancet, December 2001, entitled: "Near-death 
experience in survivors of cardiac arrest; a prospective study in the 
Netherlands". About what he writes about the conclusions from our study, 
as well as from the effect of magnetic and electrical "stimulation" of 
the brain, forces me to write this paper, because I disagree with his 
theories as well as with his conclusions.

We performed our prospective study in 344 survivors of cardiac arrest to 
study the frequency, the cause and the content of near-death experience 
(NDE). A near-death experience is the reported memory of all impressions 
during a special state of consciousness, including specific elements 
such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, 
a light, deceased relatives, or a life review. In our study 282 patients 
(82%) did not have any memory of the period of unconsciousness, 62 
patients (18%) however reported a NDE with all the "classical" elements. 
Between the two groups there was no difference in the duration of 
cardiac arrest or unconsciousness, intubation, medication, fear of death 
before cardiac arrest, gender, religion, education or foreknowledge 
about NDE. More frequent NDE was reported at age younger than 60 years, 
more than one cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during hospital stay, 
and previous NDE. Patients with memory defects after lengthy and 
complicated CPR reported less frequent NDE.

There are several theories that should explain the cause and content of 
NDE. The physiologic explanation: the NDE is experienced as a result of 
anoxia in the brain, possibly also caused by release of endomorphines, 
or NMDA receptor blockade.

In our study all patients had a cardiac arrest, they were clinically 
dead, unconscious, caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain 
because of inadequate blood circulation, breathing, or both. If in this 
situation CPR is not started within 5-10 minutes, irreparable damage is 
done to the brain and the patient will die. According to this theory, 
all patients in our study should have had an NDE, they all were clinical 
dead due to anoxia of the brain caused by inadequate blood circulation 
to the brain, but only 18% reported NDE.

The psychological explanation: NDE is caused by fear of death. But in 
our study only a very small percentage of patients said they had been 
afraid the seconds preceding the cardiac arrest, it happened too 
suddenly to realize what occurred to them. However, 18 % of the patients 
reported NDE. And also the given medication made no difference.

We know that patients with cardiac arrest are unconscious within 
seconds, but how do we know that the electro-encephalogram (EEG) is 
flat-lined in those patients, and how can we study this?

Complete cessation of cerebral circulation is found in cardiac arrest 
due to ventricular fibrillation (VF) during threshold testing at 
implantation of internal defibrillators. This complete cerebral 
ischaemic model can be used to study the result of anoxia of the brain.

In VF complete cardiac arrest occurs, with complete cessation of 
cerebral flow, and resulting in acute pancerebral anoxia. The Vmca, the 
middle cerebral artery blood flow, which is a reliable trend monitor of 
the cerebral blood flow, decreases to 0 cm/sec immediately after the 
induction of VF (2). Through many studies in human, as well as in animal 
models, cerebral function has been shown to be severely compromised 
during cardiac arrest and electric activity in both cerebral cortex and 
the deeper structures of the brain has been shown to be absent after a 
very short period of time. Monitoring of the electric activity of the 
cortex (EEG) has shown ischaemic changes consisting of a decrease of 
fast high amplitude waves and an increase of slow delta waves, and 
sometimes also an increase in amplitude of theta activity, progressively 
and ultimately declining to isoelectricity. More often initial slowing 
(attenuation) of the EEG waves is the first sign of cerebral ischaemia. 
The first ischaemic changes in the EEG are detected an average of 6.5 
seconds after circulatory arrest. With prolongation of the cerebral 
ischaemia always a progress to an isoelectric (flat) line is monitored 
within 10 to 20 (mean 15) seconds from the onset of the cardiac arrest 

In case of a prolonged cardiac arrest of more than 37 seconds the EEG 
activity may not return for many minutes to hours after cardiac arrest 
has been restored, depending of the duration of cardiac arrest, in spite 
of the maintenance of adequate blood pressure during the recovery phase. 
After defibrillation the middle cerebral artery flow velocity recurred 
rapidly within 1-5 seconds regardless the arrest duration. However, the 
EEG recovery takes more time, depending of the duration of cardiac 
arrest. EEG recovery underestimates metabolic recovery of the brain, and 
cerebral oxygen uptake may be depressed for a considerable time after 
restoration of circulation because the initial overshoot on reperfusion 
(hyperoxia) is followed by a significant decrease in cerebral blood 
flow. (7)

Anoxia causes loss of function of our cell systems. However, in anoxia 
of only some minute's duration this loss may be transient, in prolonged 
anoxia cell death occurs with permanent functional loss. During an 
embolic event a small clot obstructs the blood flow in a small vessel of 
the cortex, resulting in anoxia of that part of the brain with loss of 
electrical activity. This results in a functional loss of the cortex 
like hemiplegia or aphasia. When the clot is resolved or broken down 
within several minutes the lost cortical function is restored. This is 
called a transient ischaemic attack (TIA). However, when the clot 
obstructs the cerebral vessel for minutes to hours it will result in 
neuronal cell death with a permanent loss of function of this part of 
the brain, with persistent hemiplegia or aphasia, and the diagnosis of 
cerebro vascular accident (CVA) is made. So transient anoxia results in 
transient loss of functions.

In cardiac arrest global anoxia of the brain occurs within seconds. 
Timely and adequate CPR reverses this functional loss of the brain 
because definitive damage of the brain cells, resulting in cell death, 
has been prevented. Long lasting anoxia, caused by cessation of blood 
flow to the brain for more than 5-10 minutes, results in irreversable 
damage and extensive cell death in the brain. This is called brain 
death, and most patients will ultimately die.

In acute myocardial infarction the duration of cardiac arrest (VF) on 
the CCU is usually 60-120 seconds, on the cardiac ward 2-5 minutes, and 
in out-of-hospital arrest it usually exceeds 5-10 minutes. Only during 
threshold testing of internal defibrillators or during electro 
physiologic stimulation studies will the duration of cardiac arrest 
hardly exceed 30-60 seconds.

 From these studies we know that in our prospective study of patients 
that have been clinically dead (VF on the ECG) no electric activity of 
the cortex of the brain (flat EEG) must have been possible, but also the 
abolition of brain stem activity like the loss of the corneareflex, 
fixed dilated pupils and the loss of the gag reflex is a clinical 
finding in those patients. However, patients with an NDE can report a 
clear consciousness, in which cognitive functioning, emotion, sense of 
identity, and memory from early childhood was possible, as well as 
perception from a position out and above their "dead" body. Because of 
the sometimes reported and verifiable out-of -body experiences, like the 
case of the dentures reported in our study, we know that the NDE must 
happen during the period of unconsciousness, and not in the first or 
last second of this period.

So we have to conclude that NDE in our study was experienced during a 
transient functional loss of all functions of the cortex and of the 
brainstem. It is important to mention that there is a well documented 
report of a patient with constant registration of the EEG during 
cerebral surgery for an gigantic cerebral aneurysm at the base of the 
brain, operated with a body temperature between 10 and 15 degrees, she 
was put on the heart-lung machine, with VF, with all blood drained from 
her head, with a flat line EEG, with clicking devices in both ears, with 
eyes taped shut, and this patient experienced an NDE with an out-of-body 
experience, and all details she perceived and heard could later be 
verified. (8)

There is also a theory that consciousness can be experienced 
independently from the normal body-linked waking consciousness. The 
current concept in medical science states that consciousness is the 
product of the brain. This concept, however, has never been 
scientifically proven. Research on NDE pushes us at the limits of our 
medical concepts of the range of human consciousness and the 
relationship between consciousness and memories with the brain.

For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories 
inside the brain, so far without success. In connection with the 
hypothesis that consciousness and memories are stored inside the brain 
the question also arises how a non-material activity such as 
concentrated attention or thinking can correspond with a visible 
(material) reaction in the form of a measurable electrical, magnetic and 
chemical activity at a certain place in the brain. Different mental 
activities give rise to changing patterns of activity in different parts 
of the brain. This has been shown in neurophysiology through EEG, 
magneto-encephalogram (MEG) and at present also through magnetic 
resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET-scan). 
(9-11) Also an increase in cerebral blood flow is observed during such a 
non-material activity like thinking (12). It is also not well understood 
how it is to be explained that in a sensory experiment following a 
physical sensation the person involved in the test stated that he was 
aware (conscious) of the sensation a few thousands of a second following 
the stimulation, while the subject's brain showed that neuronal adequacy 
wasn't achieved until after a full 500 msec. following the sensation. 
This experiment has led to the so-called delay-and-antedating hypothesis 

Most body cells, and especially all neurons, show an electrical 
potential across cell membranes, formed by the presence of a metabolic 
Na/K pump. Transportation of information along neurons happens by means 
of action potentials, differences in membrane potential caused by 
synaptic depolarisation (excitatory) and hyperpolarisation (inhibitory). 
The sum total of changes along neurons causes transient electric fields, 
and therefore also transient magnetic fields, along the synchronously 
activated dendrites. Not the number of neurons, the precise shape of the 
dendrites (dendritic tree), nor the accurate position of synapses, 
neither the firing of individual neurons is crucial, but the derivative, 
the fleeting electric and/or magnetic fields generated along the 
dendrites. These should be shaped as optimally as possible into 
short-lasting meaningful patterns, constantly changing in 
four-dimensional shape and intensity (self-organization), and constantly 
mutually interacting between all neurons. This process can be considered 
as a biological quantum coherence phenomenon.

The influence of external localized magnetic and electric fields on 
these constant changing electric and/or magnetic fields during normal 
function of the brain should now be mentioned.

Neurophysiological research is being performed using transcranial 
magnetic stimulation (TMS), in the course of which a localized magnetic 
field (photons) is produced. TMS can excite or inhibit different parts 
of the brain, depending of the amount of energy given, allowing 
functional mapping of cortical regions, and creation of transient 
functional lesions. It allows assessing the function in focal brain 
regions on a millisecond scale, and it can study the contribution of 
cortical networks to specific cognitive functions. TMS is a non-invasive 
research tool to study aspects of human brain physiology including motor 
function, vision, language, and the pathophysiology of brain disorders 
as well as mood disorders like depression, and it even may be useful for 
therapy. In studies TMS can interfere with visual and motion perception, 
it gives an interruption of cortical processing with an interval of 
80-100 milliseconds. Intracortical inhibition and facilitation are 
obtained by paired-pulse studies with TMS, and reflect the activity of 
interneurons in the cortex. Also TMS can alter the functioning of the 
brain beyond the time of stimulation, but it does not appear to leave 
any lasting effect. (14).

Interrupting the electrical fields of local neuronal networks in parts 
of the cortex also disturbs the normal function of the brain, because by 
localized electrical stimulation of the temporal and parietal lobe 
during surgery for epilepsy the neurosurgeon and Nobel prize winner W. 
Penfield could sometimes induce flashes of recollection of the past 
(never a complete life review), experiences of light, sound or music, 
and rarely a kind of out-of-body experience. These experiences did not 
produce any transformation.(15-16) After many years of research he 
finally reached the conclusion that it is not possible to localize 
memories inside the brain. Olaf Blanke also recently described in Nature 
a patient with induced OBE by inhibition of cortical activity caused by 
more intense external electrical stimulation of the gyrus angularis in a 
patient with epilepsy (17).

The effect of the external magnetic or electrical stimulation is 
dependent of the amount of energy given. There may be no clinical effect 
or sometimes stimulation is seen when only a small amount of energy is 
given, for instance during stimulation of the motoric cortex. But during 
"stimulation" with higher energy inhibition of local cortical functions 
occurs by extinction of the electrical and magnetic fields resulting in 
inhibition of local neuronal networks (personal communication Blanke). 
Also in the patient described by Blanke in Nature stimulation with 
higher electric energy was given, resulting in inhibition of the 
function of the local neuronal networks in the gyrus angularis.

And when for instance the occipital visual cortex is stimulated by TMS, 
this results not in a better sight, but instead it causes temporary 
blindness by inhibition of this part of the cortex. We have to conclude 
that localized artificial stimulation with real photons (electrical or 
magnetic energy) disturb and also inhibit the constant changing 
electrical and magnetic fields of our neuronal networks, and so 
influence and inhibit the normal function of our brain.

In trying to understand this concept of mutual interaction between the 
"invisible and not measurable" consciousness, with its enormous amount 
of information, and our visible, material body it seems wise to compare 
it with modern worldwide communication.

There is a continuous exchange of objective information by means of 
electromagnetic fields (real photons) for radio, TV, mobile telephone, 
or laptop computer. We are unaware of the innumerable amounts of 
electromagnetic fields that constantly, day and night, exist around us 
and through us as well as through structures like walls and buildings. 
We only become aware of these electromagnetic informational fields the 
moment we use our mobile telephone or by switching on our radio, TV or 
laptop. What we receive is not inside the instrument, nor in the 
components, but thanks to the receiver the information from the 
electromagnetic fields becomes observable to our senses and hence 
perception occurs in our consciousness. The voice we hear in our 
telephone is not inside the telephone. The concert we hear in our radio 
is transmitted to our radio. The images and music we hear and see on TV 
is transmitted to our TV set. The internet is not located inside our 
laptop. We can receive at about the same time what is transmitted with 
the speed of light from a distance of some hundreds or thousands of 
miles. And if we switch off the TV set, the reception disappears, but 
the transmission continues. The information transmitted remains present 
within the electromagnetic fields. The connection has been interrupted, 
but it has not vanished and can still be received elsewhere by using 
another TV set. Again, we do not realize us the thousands of telephone 
calls, the hundreds of radio and TV transmissions, as well as the 
internet, coded as electromagnetic fields, that exist around us and 
through us.

Could our brain be compared with the TV set that electromagnetic waves 
(photons) receives and transforms into image and sound, as well as with 
the TV camera that image and sound transforms into electromagnetic waves 
(photons)? This electromagnetic radiation holds the essence of all 
information, but is only conceivable to our senses by suited instruments 
like camera and TV set.

The informational fields of our consciousness and of our memories, both 
evaluating by our experiences and by the informational imput from our 
sense organs during our lifetime, are present around us as electrical 
and/or magnetic fields [possible virtual photons? (18)], and these 
fields only become available to our waking consciousness through our 
functioning brain and other cells of our body.

So we need a functioning brain to receive our consciousness into our 
waking consciousness. And as soon as the function of brain has been 
lost, like in clinical death or in brain death, with iso-electricity on 
the EEG, memories and consciousness do still exist, but the reception 
ability is lost. People can experience their consciousness outside their 
body, with the possibility of perception out and above their body, with 
identity, and with heightened awareness, attention, well-structured 
thought processes, memories and emotions. And they also can experience 
their consciousness in a dimension where past, present and future exist 
at the same moment, without time and space, and can be experienced as 
soon as attention has been directed to it (life review and preview), and 
even sometimes they come in contact with the "fields of consciousness" 
of deceased relatives. And later they can experience their conscious 
return into their body.

Michael Shermer states that, in reality, all experience is mediated and 
produced by the brain, and that so-called paranormal phenomena like 
out-of body experiences are nothing more than neuronal events. The study 
of patients with NDE, however, clearly shows us that consciousness with 
memories, cognition, with emotion, self-identity, and perception out and 
above a life-less body is experienced during a period of a 
non-functioning brain (transient pancerebral anoxia). And focal 
functional loss by inhibition of local cortical regions happens by 
"stimulation" of those regions with electricity (photons) or with 
magnetic fields (photons), resulting sometimes in out-of-body states.

To quote Michael Shermer: it is the job of science to solve those 
puzzles with natural, rather than supernatural, explanations. But one 
has to be aware of the progress of science, and to study recent 
literature, to know what is going on in current science. For me science 
is asking questions with an open mind, and not being afraid to 
reconsider widely accepted but scientifically not proven concepts like 
the concept that consciousness and memories are a product of the brain. 
But also we should realize that we need a functioning brain to receive 
our consciousness into our waking consciousness. There are still a lot 
of mysteries to solve, but one has not to talk about paranormal, 
supernatural or pseudoscience to look for scientific answers on the 
intriguing relation between consciousness and memories with the brain.

* Michael Shermer, 'Demon-Haunted Brain' Scientific American, page 25, 
March 2003.

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experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the 
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