Sam Harris: Science on the Brink of Death

17 Nov

This is a good article by Sam Harris critiquing NDEs (Near Death Experiences). One part in particular stood out and I realized a connection to some other books I read about how the brain works:

What is needed to establish the mind’s independence from the brain is a case in which a person has an experience—of anything—without associated brain activity. From time to time, someone will claim that a specific NDE meets this criterion. One of the most celebrated cases in the literature involves a woman, Pam Reynolds, who underwent a procedure known as “hypothermic cardiac arrest,” in which her core body temperature was brought down to 60 degrees, her heart was stopped, and blood flow to her brain was suspended so that a large aneurysm in her basilar artery could be surgically repaired. Reynolds reports having had a classic NDE, complete with an awareness of the details of her surgery. (my emphasis)

This is what stuck out to me, and possibly explains the entire NDE cottage industry: People don’t realize it, but your System 1 — or intuition — generates elaborate stories with very little information. Settings, casts, chatacters, wardrobe… everything, in very little time and with very little information. So these aren’t Near Death Experiences that these people are having, it’s their intuition running amok. A person near death, but still unconsciously hearing the commotion of an emergency room could imagine an entire ER scenario playing out via their System 1 and interpret it as an NDE.

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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in cognitive science


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