Friday, February 15, 2013

The Disunity Of Paranormal Phenomena

People often cite near-death experiences, séances, and other paranormal phenomena as evidence against Christianity. Supposedly, what we learn about subjects like salvation and the afterlife from such phenomena is inconsistent with what Christians have traditionally believed. I've addressed that argument in the past.

One of the points I've made is that the apparent inconsistencies within Christianity are far less significant than the apparent inconsistencies among near-death experiences and other paranormal phenomena. People often misleadingly lump non-Christian phenomena together as some sort of unified competitor to Christianity. The phenomena are often presented as being much more consistent than they actually are. In a recent interview with Chris Carter, Alex Tsakiris was emphatic on the point. Tsakiris isn't a Christian, and he often argues against Christianity. But that makes his acknowledgement of the inconsistencies among paranormal phenomena more significant. I'm going to include Carter's side of the discussion, even though I think Tsakiris is closer to the truth:

Alex Tsakiris: I’m kind of with you on that, Chris, but as you know, those [paranormal] accounts [of the afterlife], they vary tremendously.

Chris Carter: I don’t think so. I find enormous similarities between the different accounts. I explicitly point them out.

Alex Tsakiris: We’ve talked to folks on this show that have all sorts of varying ideas about that. People who are mediumistic, people who channel, people who do all sorts of things. You can also look over in the near-death experience literature which also gives these direct accounts.

Go to, Jeff Long’s website, where he’s compiled 2,000 of those accounts. They vary tremendously. You’ll hear very religiously oriented, “I met Jesus and he said this,” versus all sorts of different accounts. So don’t we have to be a little bit careful when we start doing content analysis there and saying we can pull it apart and this is what it indicates? I just don’t think that’s the case.

Chris Carter: I can’t comment on Long’s work. I have a whole section called, “Near-Death Experiences Across Cultures,” in my second book, Science and the Near-Death Experience, and analyze near-death experience accounts from various cultures, China, India, Maori, New Zealand, Native Americans, and what I’ve found is that journeys to other worlds, out-of-body experiences, and encounters with the deceased and other worldly figures seem to be the most universal features of the near-death experience.

Borders of some sort are also found in accounts from different cultures. But tunnel and life review experiences seem to be mostly confined to the West. So I disagree that near-death experience are vast and varied. No two are exactly alike but myself and other researchers have found very great similarities between the near-death experience…

Alex Tsakiris: I think you’re taking what I said in the wrong way. I mean the skeptical argument that they’re vast and varied, no, I’m not going there. I’m very much a believer that near-death experience accounts bring us closer to a deeper understanding of part of what happens in this journey beyond our physical deaths. I’m not going there.

I do think, and I think many people would agree with me, I’ve had the leading near-death experience researchers on the show and they’ve agreed that there really isn’t a good explanation for some of the varieties. Sure, we can look for the similar patterns and those are important and they’re certainly important when you’re debating or arguing against a skeptic who says, “Gee, we have to throw out all these accounts because they’re all over the board.” No. That’s not the case.

But if we’re really trying to do a content analysis, I think a lot of near-death experience researchers will agree that they’re challenging material. It can be all over the board. And the same thing with mediumistic readings. They can be very challenging in terms of figuring all that out.

But you know what? I’m glad you addressed it in that section of the book and maybe that’s where someone has to take over and take their own personal interpretation of the material and decide how they’re going to take it forward.

Let’s do this. In the little bit of time that we have left, let’s talk about where you go from here. This is kind of an important wrap-up for you. This was a trilogy of books and a fantastic three-book set that you put together. Where do you go from here with this, Chris?

Chris Carter: I’m not really sure, to be honest with you. I wrote an article in The Journal of Near-Death Studies in response to an article written by a skeptical anesthesiologist named Gerald Woerlee. He attempted to debunk the famous Pam Reynolds near-death experience which occurred when she was clinically dead, basically.

Briefly, they had to operate to remove an aneurism from her brain stem and to do so they had to clinically kill her. They had to stop her heart; they had to drain all the blood from her body; and then remove the aneurism from the base of her brain. During this experience she had one of the deepest near-death experiences ever recorded, showing many of the classic features found in most near-death experiences from around the world. For instance, feelings of peace, out-of-body experience, travel to another worldly realm, and meeting with deceased relatives.

Some people say near-death experiences are all over the map. No. The best ones, and most of them, include those three core elements, including those experiences found in different cultures. I don’t care where you’re looking. You can look in Guam, you can look in Maori, New Zealand, American Aboriginals, wherever. Those core experiences will be found in near-death experiences. Some idiosyncrasies will be found, yes, but they’re usually trivial.

Alex Tsakiris: But Chris, why do we want to go there? I mean, why do we want to say something like that? That seems to suggest we understand what’s going on, what realm they’re going to, what dimension they’re going to. Broaden it.

I just had Eben Alexander on the show, a month or so ago, a former Harvard neurosurgeon who had this dramatic near-death experience. Very transformative for him. Where he’s going with the work is to look broadly at spiritually transformative experiences, right? Somebody has a Kundalini experience or somebody just has a spontaneous experience walking down the street.

You can find scores of these people in mental institutions because that’s where they wind up. They’ve really had a real awakening, a spiritual awakening, that we don’t fully understand and yet they wind up in mental institutions. But that’s another story for another time. But I think when we start going down that path and saying these are definitely the core experiences or the best experiences, we don’t know what the heck we’re talking about. We don’t know what that means.

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to have an interview with Robert Bruce, one of the best-known out-of-body experience travelers, astral travelers, in the world. He’s been at it for 30 years. He’s going to tell me a very detailed topography of the spirit world and all these different dimensions that he’s traveled to, both higher and lower. I don’t know how much of that is true but that’s certainly his experience. He has scores of people who back him up on that.

What I say is we just don’t know. We cross the chasm from this ridiculous materialism that we’re in but then we have to be really careful because when we do cross that chasm, a lot of things that we try and say aren’t going to make a lot of sense. We can’t take this same scientific precision and bring it to that other dimension. It just doesn’t fit.

Chris Carter: I agree with that. But my point it that I have read a great deal of accounts describing the so-called afterworld and what I find is a great deal of similarity. I also find the deepest accounts explain discrepancies between the other accounts. In other words, the people who have been there the longest. So I don’t find that the reports are all over the map.

But then again, I don’t read or listen to every single—shall we say—New Age account or wild claim that is presented out there. I go only for what I consider to be the best, most reliable, most well-documented reports. I find a great deal of similarity in my reports and I discuss this similarity in my book, Science and the Afterlife Experience.

Alex Tsakiris: I hear you, Chris. I just think when you start saying we only reincarnate two or three times, man, we have no clue. No clue.

Chris Carter: I didn’t say I personally think we only reincarnate two or three times. I said that that was a claim made by one of the communicators whom I regard as being the most trustworthy of the communicators, Frederic Myers, who established his identity over about 30 years through the famed cross-correspondences which convinced a great number of his friends and colleagues that it really was him communicating through mediums in various parts of the world. Mediums that did not know each other.

So after about 25 years after he had gone through this extensive period of launching these cross-correspondences, which are essentially literary puzzles, he then sat down and dictated in two books through the medium, Geraldine Cummins, his account of his experiences in the afterworld and what he had learned. I consider that account to be one of the best.

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