NDE: Physiological Explanation

Tim Wallace (twallace@ll.mit.edu)
Sun, 3 May 98 21:58:19 -0400

I'd like to submit the name of an article which is the best
thing that I have read on the Near Death Experience controversy.
This is S. Blackmore, Near-Death Experiences: In or Out of the Body?
Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 16, No. 1, pp. 34-45, Fall 1991. Also,
if you're at that shelf in the library, check out H. Ebbern et al,
Maria's Near Death Experience: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop,
Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 20, No. 4, pp. 27-33, July/August 1996.
(I keep a nearly total collection of S.I. for occasions like this.)

Susan Blackmore is a very interesting character. A former
parapsychologist, she is now pretty much in the skeptical camp,
but treats her former colleagues (and pretty much everyone else)
with respect, assuming that they have as much intellectual honesty
as she evidently does. Her conversion is reminiscent to me of
some of the former YEC's who contribute to this list. (Susan's
personal history is not described in the article referenced above)

Blackmore debunks several popular theories, including the one
popularized by Sagan regarding the birth experience. (Blackmore
attributes that to Grof and Halifax, 1977, The Human Encounter
with Death. London: Souvenir Press). The most interesting part
of the article to me is the theory that certain physiological stress
effects produce disinhibition which causes stripes in the cortex.
Due to the mapping from the retina to the cortex, these stripes
can become rings. Blackmore's own contribution relates to how
these rings can create a tunnel effect with a bright light at
the end, and was produced by computer simulation.

It seems to me that if we can explain these events physiologically,
there is no need to invoke anything deeper. Of course, the
interpretation of these effects given by the subjects varies greatly
with their cultural background.

[I'll be traveling this week, and so may not respond to any emails
or asa list postings for a week or so. I am not a physiologist,
but an electrical engineer, so you probably don't want to ask me
anything more about this anyway!]


Tim Wallace, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Lexington MA 02173
twallace@ll.mit.edu twallace@computer.org
Home page: http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/5853