Don’t try this at home! Researchers have been conducting controlled experiments using volunteers and the fairy-tail red and white mushroom, the Fly Agaric.
Given in small quantities, many of those interviewed experienced memories they had forgotten about, usually associated with their early childhood. Playground incidents, seeing a steam train for the first time, a Christmas unwrapping… Many of those interviewed swore that these were genuine memories unlocked by the ‘shroom.
The next stage of the experiment was to increase the amount of the mushroom given to the volunteers. This had to be undertaken under strict medical supervision because too much Fly Agaric and the mouth and throat could become numb, and close due to anaphalactic shock. A proportion of those who had the higher dose of mushroom reported memories that were not of their childhood, and were not of their existing lives at all. They wrote down what they had “remembered” and were then interviewed by psycho-analysts to test the veracity of their memories. They all appeared to be genuine and not manufactured.
Researchers are preparing a report to publish but have already claimed that the mushroom has unlocked memories of previous existences that were locked and retained in some immortal part of the soul- it could not be the brain because the brain and body dies and rots. However the theory is that like a cloud-based IT application, upon being re-born, your characteristics from previous lives are re-loaded into your body as you develop in the womb. However the memories from previous lives are not normally accessible and are screened out. But the Fly Agaric mushroom stimulates a small part of the brain where these past-life memories are normally concealed.
Could this be evidence that we are immortal and have lived previous lives? The research is being peer-reviewed before publishing, and a number of volunteers are repeating the experiment to confirm the results.
But don’t try this yourselves. The Fly Agaric is a poisonous mushroom, and this experiment could only be conducted under strictly controlled medical conditions.
Most people, of most faiths, and even some atheists, believe that all or part of the body, mind and/or soul survives, transcending death. Is this because of man’s evolutionary brain, conditioning from our parents, priests or peers? Taking an impassionate look at the hard facts, the evidence, there is virtually no solid evidence that humans experience life after death and immortality for their core being. So why is it so persistent?
Boston University think they have the answer. It’s developed in “Pre-life”, not just before birth, but before conception.
A study published a couple of weeks ago in the online edition of “Child Development”by a team led by postdoctoral fellow Natalie Emmons (pictured above) illuminates this area following interviews with 283 children from two distinct cultures in Ecuador. The research suggests that the human bias toward thinking we are immortal is a part of human intuition that emerges, naturally, in our early in life- before we are conceived. And that’s not all, the theory goes on to suggest that the part of us that is eternal, we believe, is not our skills or ability to reason, but instead our hopes, desires and emotions. In a nutshell we are what we feel. And we feel immortal.
The co-author of the paper, Deborah Keleman, pictured above, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Boston University, said:
“This work shows that it’s possible for science to study religious belief. At the same time, it helps us understand some universal aspects of human cognition and the structure of the mind. By focusing on prelife, we could see if culture causes these beliefs to appear, or if they appear spontaneously”.
It may come as no surprise to learn that most studies on immortality have focused on people’s views of the afterlife, often coloured by religious indoctrination. Both children and adults seem to agree that physical bodily needs, such as hunger and thirst, end when people die, but our mental capacities, such as thinking or feeling emotion, continue in some form or another. But all previous studies have not tried to address the question where do these beliefs come from? Emmons suggests that they are not developed through exposure to religious teaching, reading, learning or even the television, but from our intuition. Just as children learn to talk without formal instruction, the research suggests that intuitively they develop the belief that part of their mind could exist apart from their body.
Emmons interviewed children from an indigenous Shuar village in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. She chose this group because they have no cultural pre-life beliefs, and she suspected that indigenous children, who have regular exposure to birth and death through simple hunting and farming, would have a more rational, biologically-based view of the time before they were conceived. Another “control” group was needed for comparison, so she also interviewed children from an urban area near Quito, where the children were Roman Catholics. That religion teaches that life begins only at conception. Emmons was looking to see if cultural influences ruled all, so that both urban and indigenous children should reject the idea of life before birth.
Emmons showed the children drawings of a baby, a young woman, and the same woman while pregnant, then asked a series of questions about the child’s abilities, thoughts and emotions during each period: as babies, in the womb, and then, before conception.
The results were not those expected. Both groups gave very similar answers, despite their very different cultures. The children in both groups reasoned that their bodies didn’t exist before birth. However, both groups also said that their emotions and desires existed before they were born. For example, while children generally told researchers that they didn’t have eyes and couldn’t see things before birth, they often reported being happy that they would soon meet their mother, or sad that they were apart from their family.
So why would humans have evolved this universal belief ?
The answer Emmons suggests is not science-based, it’s due to the by-product of our highly developed social reasoning. She said:
“We’re really good at figuring out what people are thinking, what their emotions are, what their desires are. We tend to see people as the sum of their mental states, and desires and emotions may be particularly helpful when predicting their behaviour. Because this ability is so useful and so powerful, it flows over into other parts of our thinking. We sometimes see connections where potentially none exist, we hope there’s a master plan for the universe, we see purpose when there is none, and we imagine that a soul survives without a body.”
So standing back from all this, it does not seem to me to take us any closer to attaining or confirming our immortality. The study merely confirms, in my view, the ability to convince ourselves that we shall live forever in one form or another. Personally, I’m still looking for the elixir of life, the tome of immortality, or the DNA equivalent of the God-particle that will stop our bodies from ageing.
Most people will know of the experiments conducted by Dr. Duncan McDougall in the early 1900s which led to the theory that the human body weighed 21 grams less at the moment of death. McDougall weighed six patients, while they were in the process of dying from tuberculosis. When death was imminent, the entire bed of the patient was quickly placed on a highly sensitive industrial sized scale. In each case a small weight loss- about 21 grams- was recorded. A paper summarising his findings appeared in the journal American Medicine in 1907. He did the same experiment with dogs (which were easier to procure for his experiments than humans) and said that there was no weight loss at the point of the canines’ demise. This appeared to confirm the popular theory that, unlike humans, animals had no souls to fly heavenward at death.
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who lived in the sixth century BC, thought that the soul was composed of an unusually fine or rare kind of matter, such as air or fire. However it is not known whether he conducted any experiments.
More recently, in 1988, East German researchers carried out experiments on 200 terminally ill patients. In each case the weight loss was exactly the same – 1/3,000th of an ounce or 0.01 gram. Considerably less than 21 grams.
No further valid experimentation and measurement has been undertaken in the last three decades, and while the minute weight loss has not been scientifically explained, various theories have been assembled to explain the change in weight from life to death. Some try to say that the margin for error in the calculations was larger than stated and therefore the results are questionable, while others have used the experiments to argue in support of the theory that “dark matter” being part of the make up of all living humans.
Whether it’s 21 grams, or 0.01 gram, the jury is still out on what it all means.
This day is the anniversary of two things. One is a phenomenon that occurred to me on 23 October 2010. The other anniversary, is older, but that will become clear. This is a true story in as much as I witnessed these events, and did my research afterwards. I don’t believe in “ghosts” per se, and maybe I still don’t, but this was the weirdest experience I have ever had.
I live in a flat in a large late Victorian house, in a road of the same, apart from one area at the top of the road, where there are some blocks of 1960s built flats. Now most experiences with ghostly phenomenon occur in the bedroom, at the top of stairs, or possibly in the Dining Room. My one occurred in the Bathroom. And yes, I was sitting on the John. It’s not glamorous and that’s why I hope you can believe that I didn’t make this up! If I did I would have chosen a better location to set the action!
Because I was alone in the house, I had the toilet door open, and noticed my cat just at the threshold looking content having just been fed. However he then appeared to be distracted, his eyed grew wider, and he sort of hunkered down, looking over at a corner of the broom where there was the washbasin a linen basket and some floor scales. Suddenly the cat flew away, along the passage and charged out of the cat-flap in the door, breaking the flap off in the process. Very odd!
The next thing I noticed was a sudden coldness descend, like on those occasions where a cold front suddenly impacts- usually before rain. Yes, this was October, but it was fairly mild. But not now in the bathroom. The temperature dropped alarmingly- so much so that I thought I was coming down with an acute illness. Then a red flicker caught my eye in the corner of the room. The bathroom scales had been activated and were showing their red LED numbers- increasing. In the space of about 10 seconds, they had gone up to a weight less than half of mine. There they stopped. And then started flashing, as they do when the weight they are measuring has stabilised and it is giving a final reading. I was part horrified and part mystified- there was nothing else in the room, and certainly not on the scales. Apart from the piercing cold. As I watched, the red numbers suddenly dropped back to zero as though someone had stepped off of the scales. The scale lights then went out, and as though a massive electric fire had been switched on, the warmth returned.
That was it. No sighting, no sound at all, just this eerie occurrence. And it took the cat two days before he came back in the flat, and he never went into the bathroom until his dying day 18 months later. I even went as far as putting talcum powder on the scales in case the phenomenon happened again and some impressions may have been left, but it never occurred again.
All that remains for me to tell is the research. I discovered, from the internet, the local library, council records, and freehold and mortgage deeds, that a family had lived in the flat during the second world war, and that they had a son, aged 5, who had died in 1944. It seemed as though a V1 Flying bomb, also known as a Doodlebug, had killed him and a number of other children. It transpired that this was the reason the top half of the road had flats built there in the 1960s. It had been the site of an infants school, and that school had been hit by the bomb, killing and injuring a number of teachers and children, including the boy who had lived in my flat and attended the school.
And her’s the thing. The bomb hit on the morning of 23 October 1944, exactly 68 years earlier from the experience I had had with the scales in the bathroom. That is surely one heck of a coincidence… I can offer no explanation- ghost-hunters tell me that normally apparitions or spirits have no weight and are not corporeal- they have no physical interaction on this plane.
But something strange definitely occurred on that 68th anniversary of the child’s death, in the place where he had once lived. The weight on the scales equated approximately to that of a slightly undernourished five year old boy, I subsequently found.
Earlier this week, More 4, who seem to almost be the main sponsor for Prof Richard Dawkins’ theories, broadcast the first of his trilogy of programmes; Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life. As always, there’s going to be a fuss. As an atheist who favours science over faith, he’s never going to be Mr Popular. Except of course among fellow atheists. But the problem is that trying to gather atheists into a united group to challenge anything is like herding cats. Because atheists are made up of people from all walks of life, genders, countries, politican views, cultures… but of course excluding faiths and religions. A belief in science alone, is not enough to bond atheists into a body that might challenge and be heard more effectively. However, this series of programmes give those willing to listen without prejudice, an insight into his thinking, and a way to decide whether you agree with his views.
The first episode, repeated at the ungodly hour (sorry) of 2.30am this Friday 22 October on Channel 4, the evolutionary biologist and bete noir of organised religion, explores ethical questions, pondering what would happen if people abandoned all religious beliefs. He examines the roles of reason and science to inspire and guide life, beginning with a look at sin and morality, an undertaking that sees him travelling from inner-city London to America’s Bible Belt. You must try to catch the programme- it should make you think and question no matter where you lie on the line from atheist, through agnostic to believer to zealot. There are interesting expositions given that suggest that those without religious convictions can still be “good” even moral, while those who preach a code of conduct will sometimes go against that code when their religious beliefs are challenged. What makes non-believers good? Science? Genes? A love of fellow man? Parental control?
In the upcoming episode 2, next week, Dawkins asks why do human beings so crave an afterlife? How do we face death if there is no God and death really is the end? This isn’t all talking to the camera, thank heaven. We see a funeral pyre in India and a meeting with the discoverer of DNA James Watson. Dawkins suggests that the traits we inherit and pass on are the closest humanity will ever come to immortality. Good news for the cryogenics industry or not? His starting point is that ‘religion denies death is real.’ But he’s not really that provocative- in fact almost mellow in mood. And that means you are less likely to be offended, and more likely to listen.
Well worth watching whatever your views. The problem is that if you have faith in a religion, then to “lose faith” is always seen as a retrograde step, a failing, and not as a revelation as scales are lifted from the eyes. I really don’t think this programme will convert many believers to the Dawkins view, but will probably just reinforce established views. Perhaps the best bet is for agnostics to be persuaded to one side of the fence or the other. As in politics- go for the floating voter! But the one question he seemed to skip over was that strange beast- the religious scientist. Many eminent scientists, biologists and doctors, who know how we tick, have religious beliefs. Id science is the all-conquering.. how come? Are they just hedging their bets?
I will have the answer for you. But unfortunately not until after my death. Catch you later, then…
A prominent US scientist has undergone a transformation in his belief following an out of body experience while in a coma. He said that he was met by a beautiful woman in a ‘place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones’ . Dr Eban Alexander, a Neurosurgeon educated at Harvard, is not the sort of person who is disposed to embark upon flights of fancy. Until the coma, he had been a total sceptic of after-life, heaven, and the like. But during his 7 days in a coma after contracting meningitis he had a 360 degree change of mind.
He has written a book about his experience and wrote an essay for the magazine Newsweek. Dr Alexander says that during his coma, that part of the brain which controls human thought and emotion “Shut down”. He says that he then experienced “something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.” He says that he was met by a beautiful blue-eyed woman in a “place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones” and “shimmering beings”.
He says that there was sound as well- “huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above” This may have been created by winged beings that were a higher form of life- similar to Angels or giant birds.
In his line of work he had naturally come across stories from patients who had had an out-of-body experience, but gave it little credence. Yet, as fantastic and fanciful as his story seems, Dr Alexander is adamant that his experience was not delusional.
He said “I’ve spent decades as a neurosurgeon at some of the most prestigous medical institutions in our country. I know that many of my peers hold as I myself did to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us. But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it.”
Having glimpsed what he describes as Heaven, Dr Alexander has no doubts in his own mind that there is an after-life. One wonders if he might try to recreate the conditions that allowed him to glimpse life beyond the wall of death- although he will certainly not want to contract meningitis again just to have a second look at the shimmering beings.
Thanks to Marie for this outsanding response to Weighing The Human Soul:
It might be interesting to know what the Bible says on the topic of souls, both human and amimal. The word “soul” is translated from the Hebrew ne’phesh ,and from the Greek psy’khe. The Bible’s usage shows the Soul to be a person or animal or the life that a person or animal enjoys.
Genesis says that God formed Man and blew into his nostrils the breath of life ,amd Man “became” aliving Soul. God created “swarms of living souls”. There are hundreds of instances in the Bible of human and animals being described as being “Souls”.Soul is not the same as spirit. Spirit is translated from the Hebrew word ru’ach,and Greek psy-khes , life force .Eccl.3.19 shows that man and beast have same ru’ach ,and at death this spirit goes back to God who gave it .Last but not least Psalm146:4His spirit goes out,he goes back to the ground;in that day his thoughts do perish.
Humans do not float off to heaven, at death nor are they re-incarnated. Humans survive in Gods memory where they wait a ressurection to the earth after it has been cleansed of badness.
In The Lost Secret, Dan Brown has Katherine Salomon lecturing Robert Langdon about the Pineal Gland and its magic capabilities, this is what she says;
“Perhaps you’ve heard… about the brain scans taken of yogis while they meditate? The human brain, in advanced states of focus, will physically create a waxlike substance from the pineal gland. This brain secretion is unlike anything else in the body. It has an incredible healing effect, can literally regenerate cells, and may be one of the reasons yogis live so long. This is real science, Robert. This substance has inconceivable properties and can be created only by a mind that has been highly tuned to a deeply focused state.”
Indeed throughout history, the Pineal Gland has been getting a lot of attention. Most famously it has been described as the “third eye”, or at least the source of the third eye.
Most interestingly, the philospher Descartes has written about the Pineal Gland in the last book published during his lifetime, The Passions Of The Soul, in 1649.
Just before he mentioned the pineal gland for the first time, Descartes emphasized that the soul is joined to the whole body: “We need to recognize that the soul is really joined to the whole body, and that we cannot properly say that it exists in any one part of the body to the exclusion of the others. For the body is a unity which is in a sense indivisible because of the arrangement of its organs, these being so related to one another that the removal of any one of them renders the whole body defective. And the soul is of such a nature that it has no relation to extension, or to the dimensions or other properties of the matter of which the body is composed: it is related solely to the whole assemblage of the body’s organs. This is obvious from our inability to conceive of a half or a third of a soul, or of the extension which a soul occupies. Nor does the soul become any smaller if we cut off some part of the body, but it becomes completely separate from the body when we break up the assemblage of the body’s organs” (AT XI:351, CSM I:339). But even though the soul is joined to the whole body, “nevertheless there is a certain part of the body where it exercises its functions more particularly than in all the others. […] The part of the body in which the soul directly exercises its functions is not the heart at all, or the whole of the brain.
It is rather the innermost part of the brain, which is a certain very small gland situated in the middle of the brain’s substance and suspended above the passage through which the spirits in the brain’s anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities. The slightest movements on the part of this gland may alter very greatly the course of these spirits, and conversely any change, however slight, taking place in the course of the spirits may do much to change the movements of the gland” (AT XI:351, CSM I:340).
The view that the soul is attached to the whole body is already found in St Augustine’s works: “in each body the whole soul is in the whole body, and whole in each part of it” (On the Trinity, book 6, ch. 6). St Thomas Aquinas accepted this view and explained it by saying that the soul is completely present in each part of the body just as whiteness is, in a certain sense, completely present in each part of the surface of a blank sheet of paper. In deference to Aristotle, he added that this does not exclude that some organs (the heart, for example) are more important with respect to some of the faculties of the soul than others are (Summa theologica, part 1, question 76, art. 8; Quaestiones disputatae de anima, art. 10; Summa contra gentiles, book 2, ch. 72).
Augustine’s and Aquinas’ thesis sounds reasonable as long as the soul is regarded as the principle of life. The principle of life may well held to be completely present in each living part of the body (just as biologists nowadays say that the complete genome is present in each living cell). However, Descartes did not regard the soul as the principle of life. He regarded it as the principle of thought. This makes one wonder what he may have meant by his remark. What would a principle of thought be doing in the bones and toes? One might think that Descartes meant that, although the pineal gland is the only organ to which the soul is immediately joined, the soul is nevertheless indirectly joined to the rest of the body by means of the threads and spirits in the nerves. But Descartes did not view this as immediate attachment: “I do not think that the soul is so imprisoned in the gland that it cannot act elsewhere. But utilizing a thing is not the same as being immediately joined or united to it” (30 July 1640). Moreover, it is clear that not all parts of the body are innervated.
The solution of this puzzle is to be found in a passage which Descartes wrote a few years before the Passions, in which he compared the mind with the heaviness or gravity of a body: “I saw that the gravity, while remaining coextensive with the heavy body, could exercise all its force in any one part of the body; for if the body were hung from a rope attached to any part of it, it would still pull the rope down with all its force, just as if all the gravity existed in the part actually touching the rope instead of being scattered through the remaining parts. This is exactly the way in which I now understand the mind to be coextensive with the body—the whole mind in the whole body and the whole mind in any one of its parts” (Replies to the sixth set of objections to the Meditations, 1641, AT VII:441, CSM II:297). He added that he thought that our ideas about gravity are derived from our conception of the soul.