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Posts Tagged ‘Near Death Experiences’

I am one of the few people disappointed by Steve Volk’s Fringeology. It’s well written, compelling, interesting and thoroughly researched, so I certainly can’t fault him for providing us all with a great read. I do, however, fault him for not fully exploring and embracing the significance of his Family Ghost Story (spoiler alert warning: if you are planning to read the book, you may not want to continue here. I will reveal the ending!).

Volk tackles several areas of paranormal activity and/or research, such as aliens and U.F.O.s, lucid dreaming, consciousness outside of brain activity, Near Death Experiences, and—of course—ghosts. In every chapter, he makes the case that most people will ardently defend paranormal phenomena without applying sufficient critical thinking skills, or rabidly debunk it without considering the evidence. He argues for a middle ground where one is not forced into either position, but allows the paranormal to remain a mystery. On the surface, I find that argument compelling. Of course, the two camps will always war over the reality of survival of death or the existence of alien civilizations; that does not further discourse or advance our search for the truth. However, maintaining the fence-sitting position does nothing to move us forward in our quest for knowledge. Volk’s contention that much of the paranormal is “unprovable” by the scientific method doesn’t take into account the vast amount of research that has been conducted in this area over the last 150 years (at least). Yes, attempting to recreate paranormal phenomena in a laboratory setting is nearly impossible—or at the very least, very difficult. The psi results obtained so far, for example, are fairly unimpressive but statistically significant.

Clearly, much of the frustration of anomalous phenomena consists of its amorphous, changeable nature. Volk doesn’t appear to place much trust in the truth of people’s experiences and stories, which is how most of what we know about the paranormal is examined. Volk comes across as afraid to take the stories too seriously, because so much of our current knowledge is anecdotal. “Proving” the existence of another reality is more like making a court case and presenting the evidence. In the legal profession, we rely on eyewitness accounts and a preponderance of evidence indicating that something is more than likely true than not when deciding someone’s fate. That is precisely what we need to do with the paranormal—treat it at as a court case, subject it to academic and legal standards for evaluation and interpretation instead of our odd insistence that only hard science can validate what most of us already know is real.

The average citizen appears to believe that only a laboratory can yield the hardest of truths, but I am at a loss as to why we treat the paranormal that way. After all, so much of what we accept as truth comes from sociological, psychological, legal and historical epistemology (ways of knowing) and our own hard-won wisdom gleaned from experience. Volk still has traces of that annoying “you can’t trust yourself” philosophy that bases everything we perceive as potentially explicable by chemical reactions and primitive responses. Yes, it’s true that we are often governed by chemical and endocrine processes, but that does not mean we can’t separate reality from fantasy or understand on a profound level the meaning and validity of our experiences. Fringeology is a text afraid to move too far from science when it comes to documenting and understanding anomalous experiences.

What really bothers me about this book, however, is the way Volk refuses to explicitly state what he believes about the Family Ghost. The phenomena he describes during his years in the family home are so intense and compelling that it boggles the mind to think there is any explanation other than the paranormal (assuming we believe that our author is telling the truth, and I have no reason to disbelieve him). When he discovers the answer to what he thinks caused the disturbance (which, apparently, continues to this day) through lucid dreaming, he REFUSES TO ACTUALLY DISCUSS IT or openly state his hypothesis. He has boxed himself into a corner with his own philosophy, which is to leave the strange stuff to mystery and wonder. We can feel and appreciate the mystery and wonder without refusing to come up with a theory or advance a belief. Volk forces the reader to figure it out on her own, through suggestion and hinting, a literary practice that does not work for me here.

What we are supposed to divine from the last chapter or so is that his grandfather’s alcoholism created the disturbances, or perhaps the ghost of the grandfather himself, unable to be at peace with his soul due to his substance abuse issues. Volk doesn’t want to SAY that, yet I don’t see what other conclusion can be drawn based on his presentation of events and the content of his lucid dream, which he either takes seriously but is embarrassed to admit it, or he doesn’t take seriously, in which case there is no point in wrapping up his entire text with that revelatory vision. You either take your dreams/visions/lucid hallucinations as meaningful, or you don’t—but it’s a coward’s way out to refuse to delve deeply into the implications of what you have discovered.

Judging by the reviews the book has received, I am fairly alone in my assessment here. Perhaps most readers will find the mysterious ending to be consistent with the book’s message and perfectly appropriate. My issue is that the ending is NOT mysterious, simply vague. Yes, I get what the author is attempting to convey here—but sometimes, you need to take a stand and tell the world what you suspect is or has been happening in your haunted home. Volk seems to KNOW, to have a theory, but I get the sense he is far too embarrassed to lose his street cred as a hard-nosed, objective journalist and acquire the dreaded Paranormal Taint from which he sees the worst of the skeptics flee.

I love mystery and a good ghost story. More than that, however, I am passionate about the pursuit of truth. That requires taking a stand with the evidence that you have at your disposal. It also requires that you risk making a mistake or having to revise your beliefs. That is the dialectical method, and it moves forward your thinking and that of others who engage with you in debate and discussion. If your grandfather haunts your house in a violent and negative fashion, it’s time to dig in and go deeper. Yes, you could leave it as a “mystery”, or you could dare to confront the questions of a family tragedy that will haunt you forever if you don’t.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, Ph.D.

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Today is Nana’s birthday. She would have been 92 years old today. She died in January, 1999, when she was only 80. There was a time when 80 would have seemed a venerable age; now, with my 70-year-old parents, 80 is not old. It certainly doesn’t seem like the right age to die.

I have tried to hang on to her in various ways over the years. I expected her to visit me in dreams; she did not. I hoped that she would appear at the end of my bed; she never did. I figured that with all the ghost hunting and spirit chasing, she might decide to make contact; my expectations came to nothing. I have talked about her jewelry box before, exclaiming how her perfume is extra strong when I think about her and talk to her—but someone pointed out that the old scent simply accumulates over time when the box is closed, so there’s no mystery there. The more often I open it, the less perfume escapes. I even went so far as to use the IOvilus to attempt to make contact with her—all to no avail.

I swallowed my doubts and consulted a medium in Idyllwild, waiting anxiously for a meaningful message. All she told me was that Nana was completely confused by her death, not expecting it, and felt utterly lost when she passed over. That was not comforting. That did not prove nor disprove anything, but left me with a certain sadness for my grandmother, who never seemed very happy in life, and– if I were to believe the medium–was now lost and overwhelmed by death.

I really did expect, over the last 11 years, that Nana might come back in some form to comfort me, or simply to remind me that she’s still around. The fact that—besides some interesting dreams of other family members—Nana appears to be truly gone, scares me and raises some old specters (pardon the metaphor). I became involved in the paranormal because I wanted to explain to myself, if no one else, why I experienced contact with some people (such as Grandpa Joe) and not others. The person I most wanted to connect with was simply not there. We all fear oblivion, some of us more than others, especially because it turns our lives into hourglasses, a waiting room for death. I don’t believe that nothing remains of us after we pass over—anyone reading soulbank knows that—but I am at a total loss when it comes to understanding the data and making sense of my experience.

The voices I capture during EVP sessions and the messages I get in various ways (IOvilus, mediums, psychics, dreams, etc.) do not point to a coherent picture of the afterlife. In fact, it often seems that messages are fragmented, strange, purposefully cryptic or simply bizarre. Of course, if you look for spirits in places like Camarillo, what do you expect? Even so, it appears to me that what we “capture” are more like echoes and memories than actual lives. Is there a place after death where our identities and memories remain intact? Do we really continue to evolve? To we return to life in a new body? Does it matter that we progress spiritually, or does the same fate await us all?

I just finished a fascinating book by David Kessler: Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms. Apparently, medical personnel (especially nurses and hospice workers) are well aware of the visions their patients experience before death. Many of them are greeted by their deceased loved ones; so many loved ones, in fact, that it’s a common to hear the dying make reference to how crowded the room is. It is all but proven that these visions are not hallucinations,  side effects of drugs or oxygen deprivation. Exactly what is happening is a mystery, of course. Most doctors refuse to believe that what their patients see and experience is “real”; this calls into question the very notion of “real”. If the dying insist that their loved ones are REALLY, TRULY in the room, then who are we to say that they are not? Kessler makes an interesting point in one of his chapters: legally, the words of the dying are given special status in courts of law. In other words, the declarations of the dying are given MORE weight than those who are not actively dying.

If we believe what so many patients report, we certainly do not die alone, and there is a “place”—God knows where (literally)—where everyone we ever loved continues to exist. This seems impossible and fantastic, a true wish-fulfillment fantasy . . . but that doesn’t make it untrue. I wonder, sometimes, if my attempts to call on Nana are somehow forbidden by certain laws of which I am unaware. Perhaps contacting me is the last thing on her list of goals in the afterlife. She knows already that she’ll see me in 51 years (an old gypsy told me I would live until the age of 96), which to her might seem like five minutes. Time, so they say, is irrelevant after death.

But I miss her. I miss her so much that sometimes I simply cannot resist the temptation to see if maybe she will say hello, or tell me that she loved me, or just reassure me that she is fine and even happy. Maybe she would contact me if she knew how sad I am without any grandparents. Maybe she will . . . if I try hard enough.

If she doesn’t, then I still have her little jewelry box with the perfume and my memories; but both are starting to fade with time, and that hurts more than anything.

If you are out there and can read this, I love you Nana. I miss you. I will keep trying to find you. I don’t know what else to do.

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The following observations from Jacqueline Lichtenberg fascinate me:

“As I see our “reality,” humans are an integral part of the physical universe. Humans have free will, the freedom to choose our course through life. A natal chart limits your options, of course, but it also provides unique new options. We craft our life through free will choices – choices make a difference. But no matter what course we choose, we are on a journey toward soul maturation, toward wisdom.

Thus while I love a good alternate universe story, based either on the theory that there are either exactly eleven alternate universes or on an infinite number, I can’t see how alternate universes work in terms of soul growth from experiencing the consequences of choices and actions.

That is, if at every point of choice in your life you actually make all possible choices, generating a plethora of alternate universes – are you splitting your soul? Generating new souls? How does one soul learn if there are no definite consequences of choices, i.e. all choices get chosen?

In such alternate universes, you may meet alternate versions of yourself – or “you” might be dead, or never born. So what of your soul?

Vertical time travel, forward or backward, likewise poses me philosophical problems, but has more room to combine reincarnation with time travel. Perhaps you go back to teach yourself a lesson, or pay the price for misbehavior, or rescue a soul-mate, or even to change history to fix your current life.

Which brings us back to the problem of alternate universes – if you travel back in time, every decision you make back then splits off more alternate universes. How can a soul learn anything in all the confusion?”

Jacqueline Lichtenberg (http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/columns/0207.html)

Ah, such a good question. I think the underlying assumption of so many books on survival of consciousness, analyses of religious traditions, and the observations of  “New Age” philosophies is that our soul is destined, or somehow intended, to “progress”.  The concept of karma depends on the notion that questionable past behavior, misdeeds, unkindness, or cruelty of any kind will result in judgement and retribution in a future life. Most of what I have read on Near Death Experiences involves a stage where the soul must face his/her “life review” and confront the pain that he/she has caused others. There are entire books dictated from the “Other Side” where this process is revealed, and a multitude of authors in diverse fields of specialization seem to be in agreement that your actions in this life determine your future life, either on earth or in some nebulous “in-between” state.

I am profoundly uncomfortable with that assertion. If it is true that those who suffer in this life are simply working out bad karma, then we could reassure ourselves that when disaster strikes in Haiti, there is a cosmic purpose to it all, and the dead and dying are working out their debts from previous lifetimes–therefore, we don’t have to feel guilty or compelled to try to help, since this is all pre-ordained and pre-determined by forces greater than ourselves. Who are we to interfere with the justice of the Universe? On the other hand, I suppose, one could argue that if we don’t help or extend ourselves, we are damaging our own karma. The next time around, it might be us desperately clinging to life after a catastrophic natural disaster.

The problem with the entire concept of karma is that there is really no evidence for it. The late Dr. Ian Stephenson and Dr. Jim Tucker from the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia carried out–and Dr. Tucker is still active in this area–the most extensive research into reincarnation anyone has ever attempted. Their findings after decades of research in multiple countries, do NOT support the notion of karma. There is no connection between one’s fortunes in a past life and one’s current situation. In other words, when this issue is studied in-depth, the entire idea that we progress spiritually over time is called into question. While the concept of cosmic justice is very appealing to us all, we have to base that belief on faith, since the evidence shows otherwise.

This brings me to a second common assumption: we have free will, and we can choose when, how, and why to act. Therefore, we can control our destiny. Recently I read a fact that floored me in Dr. John Turner’s Medicine, Miracles, and Manifestations: A Doctor’s Journey Through the Worlds of Divine Intervention, Near-Death Experiences and Universal Energy, which leads me to believe that perhaps there is no such thing as free will. Brain and consciousness research have demonstrated that our brains decide to act fractions of seconds BEFORE we are consciously aware that the decision has been made. In other words, the brain is actively plotting out our next moves before the action occurs, before we can initiate the behavior or the action, and certainly before we are aware of having made a choice to act. For Dr. John L. Turner, a neurosurgeon, consciousness has not been demonstrated to exist within the brain–he believes it comes from without, not within, and his conclusion is upsetting: our decisions are pre-programmed. Free will, as we are consciously aware of it, does not exist.

So far, we have evidence for two theories: karma does not actually exist, and we do not possess free will. To these, I will add a third from Ms. Lichtenberg’s quote above: quantum mechanics postulates the existence of multiverses, where various versions of “us” exist in different states of being. We are split into various levels–or dimensions, or fields–of existence based upon choices we make. If every decision splits us into sub-categories of universes, then there are infinite numbers of us out there, following different tracks. What does that mean for free will? If we are free to make any decision we wish, but that decision creates a division and a new reality for the person who made said decision, then we have countless versions of “us” evolving differently. How can those other versions possess anything like a soul or an identity? There can be no “original” of us, since this process of undifferentiated splitting has been going on continuously since we came into existence, or since we were able to make decisions–which begs the question, how do we define the term, and at what point in our development were we capable of consciously “making a decision”?

I have my issues with the “multiverse” theory in quantum mechanics, but let’s allow that it could be true. If we are not held accountable for our actions in another life, then what happens to us after death is fairly random or determined by human decisions regarding such mundane issues as a desire for revenge, a need to continue a relationship with a particular person, an obsession with a place or family member, or some secret motivation that has nothing to do with progression towards the Divine. Now, if it’s true that the brain is somehow receiving signals from an outside source (non-local consciousness) and that we are not aware of the programming but simply following the Plan (from whence, I wonder, does this pre-programmed Plan come?), then we do NOT make free choices, but follow a script that was already written for us. Who or what wrote that script is beyond my capacity to theorize. If we are blindly following a pre-written Plan, then we do NOT control our destiny, we cannot assert that we are moving towards soul evolution, and we can only hope that someone or something provided us with a decent template for our lives. Otherwise, we’re just screwed.

Now add to all this the idea that there are multiple versions of us in countless splinter universes, and the belief that we are evolving over time or that we are becoming closer to the Divine is simply untenable. For one thing, there are apparently many of us, without awareness of the future or an ability to control it, and without a system of rewards or punishments for our behavior and actions. What are we left with? I’m not sure, but it’s not Heaven and it’s not Nirvana. It appears to be an endless recycling of consciousness following a track, a plan, or a cycle over which we have no control or input. However, if my decisions split me into different possibilities, then the idea of free will creeps back into the picture. Maybe one particular version of me is a lazy, depressed and narcissistic another version of me is productive, happy and deeply engaged with the world; but that would require the lazy, depressed version of me to make a decision to be otherwise–in which case, am I the living result of a conscious decision that another version of me has made?

OK, so my head hurts now, and I should probably end these speculations. What makes sense to me at this point is that we shouldn’t expect life after life to appear radically different from what we are experiencing now. Reincarnation is not necessarily a moral evolution or a compass that leads us to a better self, or to God. If we experience life as chaotic, random and unjust, we will probably experience the next life in the same way. If we experience this life as purpose filled, divine and awe-inspiring, it makes sense that we would continue to experience life that way. Whether or not we control the blueprint of our existence(s) may not be as important as how we perceive our reality, for our perception of ourselves and our lives will certainly create all the worlds we inhabit down the line, as it determines the content of our world as we are living it now.

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