Thursday, September 18, 2008

Can the mind exist independently of the body?

The University of Southampton has launched the AWARE project in a scientific attempt to determine what happens when we die. People often talk of having Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) but there are lots of rational explanations that can be givien for such experieinces, but what this new project is aiming to do is find more empirical evidence for NDEs. One experiment involves placing images in the hospital that can only be seen from above and then asking patients that have been in a 'flatline' state whether they 'saw' anything unusual in the theatre and to describe it. The results may prove interesting. Presumably if it turns out that thousands of people do report seeing these same images this would raise interesting philosophical issues concerinig the relationship between the physical brain and a seemingly non-physical mind?

7 comments:

  1. Interesting stuff.

    The piece says 'Studies have found that 10-20% of people have near death experiences'- shouldn't that be that these people CLAIM TO HAVE HAD ?

    maybe - but will be interested to se what results the project has....
    Dave

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  2. lisa allen7:00 pm

    I was a little uncomfortable about some of the language used on the bbc website. It seemed to say that if over the study people reporting NDEs did not comment on the ceiling images then the NDE had been an illusion - can this be right?

    presumably the patients who are experimented on are not in a position to give informed consent -I wonder how this works from an ethical basis?

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  3. I suppose you can say you have had a near-death experience: the question is whether the experience is veridical.

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  4. People reporting having 'seen' things during an out-of-body experience assumes that this non-physical thing (mind? spirit? consciousness?), if it exists, is capable of performing the physical function of seeing the physical world, in which case we're left with the question of how?

    It's a difficult enough question how the non-physical mind is able to interact with the physical brain in a Dualist theory, but there is, for most people I would guess, a sense that our thoughts, feelings and personalities could be part of and caused by something other than chemicals and impulses in the physical brain (although this may just be a case of be human egotism, in that we would like to think we are more complex than that). But for a non-physical mind to interact with our physical surroundings directly, sensing things as though we were in our physical bodies? It seems an almost impossible phenomenon to explain, unless, I suppose, Malebranche's Occasionalism is correct, but then there's the whole 'existence of God' thing to try and prove...

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  5. Oh yes, I agree with Jess.... like the mind (or spirit, consciousness, whatever 'it' is) would like to be assessed by an empirical, hoop-hopping quiz in its first few seconds of being released from the cumbersome, tedious body it has had to tote around for the past 40-some years. That is a more distorted conclusion than the mind being separated from the body. It is a truly unmagical, earth-bound, pedantic fate for a newly released 'mind', but I guess that's empiricism

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  6. It remains a mystery to me why such seemingly simple empirical tests like this have not been done before; or perhaps they have and have been so fruitless as to not justify publicising? Does anyone know of any such experiments?

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  7. Anonymous8:00 pm

    why not just read the afterlife experiments by a heavyweight ie professor Gary E.Schwartz

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