The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

The Great Afterlife

The following debate between Deepak Chopra and Michael Shermer came about after the widely read and referenced debate the two had last year on the virtues and value of skepticism. Deepak has a new book out on the subject, Life After Death: The Burden of Proof (Harmony, 2006 ISBN 0307345785), and Michael has written extensively about claims of evidence for the afterlife, so the two of them thought it would be stimulating to have a debate on the topic. Michael read Deepak’s book and goes first in the debate, offering his assessment of the “proofs” presented in Deepak’s book, then Deepak responds. Shorter blog-length versions are published on, with the longer versions presented here and on

photo of Michael Shermer

Hope Springs Eternal:
Science, the Afterlife & the Meaning of Life

by Michael Shermer

I once saw a bumper sticker that read: Militant Agnostic: I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either.

This is my position on the afterlife: I don’t know and you don’t either. If we knew for certain that there is an afterlife, we would not fear death as we do, we would not mourn quite so agonizingly the death of loved ones, and there would be no need to engage in debates on the subject.

Because no one knows for sure what happens after we die, we deal with the topic in diverse ways through religion, literature, poetry, science, and even humor. The perpetually anxious Woody Allen has this workaround: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Steven Wright thinks he’s figured out a solution: “I intend to live forever. So far, so good.”

Humor aside, since I am a scientist and claims are made that there is scientific evidence for life after death, let us analyze the data for that doubtful future date, and consider what its possibility may mean for our present state.

21 Grams: The Nature of the Soul

What is it that supposedly survives the death of the physical body? The soul. There are about as many different understandings of the nature of the soul as there are religions and spiritual movements. The general belief is that the soul is a conscious ethereal substance that is the unique essence of a living being that survives its incarnation in flesh.

The ancient Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, or “life” or “vital breath”; the Greek word for soul is psyche, or “mind”; and the Roman Latin word for soul is anima, or “spirit” or “breath.” The soul is the essence that breathes life into flesh, animates us, gives us our vital spirit. Given the lack of knowledge about the natural world at the time these concepts were first formed, it is not surprising these ancient peoples reached for such ephemeral metaphors as mind, breath, and spirit. One moment a little dog is barking, prancing, and wagging its tail, and in the next moment it is a lump of inert flesh. What happened in that moment?

In 1907 a Massachusetts physician named Duncan MacDougall tried to find out by weighing six dying patients before and after their death. He reported in the medical journal American Medicine that there was a 21-gram difference. Even though his measurements were crude and varying, and no one has been able to replicate his findings, it has nonetheless grown to urban legendary status as the weight of the soul. The implication is that the soul is a thing that can be weighed. Is it?

In science we define our terms with semantic precision. I define the “soul” as the unique pattern of information that represents the essence of a person. By this definition, unless there is some medium to retain the pattern of our personal information after we die, our soul dies with us. Our bodies are made of proteins, coded by our DNA, so with the disintegration of DNA our protein patterns are lost forever. Our memories and personality are stored in the patterns of neurons firing in our brains, so when those neurons die it spells the death of our memories and personality, similar to the ravages of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, only final.

Because the brain does not perceive itself, it imputes mental activity to a separate source — hallucinations of preternatural entities such as ghosts, angels, and aliens are perceived as actual beings; out-of-body and near-death experiences are sensed as external events instead of internal states. Likewise, the neural pattern of information that is our memories and personality — our “self” — is sensed as a soul. In this sense, the soul is an illusion.

Can Science Save Us?

There are many scientistic scenarios for how we might cheat death that I have evaluated in my books and columns, but here I wish to focus on the latest claim for evidence of an afterlife presented in Deepak Chopra’s 2006 book, Life After Death: Burden of Proof. According to Chopra, there are six lines of evidence that convince him that the soul is real and eternal:

  1. Near-Death Experiences and Altered States of Consciousness. There are thousands of people who have been pronounced dead, usually from heart attacks, who are subsequently resuscitated and report experiencing some aspect of the afterlife — floating out of their bodies, passing through a tunnel or white light, and seeing loved ones or witnessing God, Jesus, or some manifestation of the divine on the other side. If these patients were brain dead, then their conscious “self,” their “soul,” must survive the death of the body.
  2. ESP and Evidence of Mind. Here Chopra relies on psi research in remote viewing and telepathy, in which subjects locked in a room alone can apparently receive images from senders in another room without the use of the five senses.
  3. Quantum Consciousness. The study of the actions of subatomic particles through quantum mechanics produces what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” where the observation of a particle in one location instantaneously effects a related particle at another location (which could theoretically be in another galaxy), in apparent violation of Einstein’s upper limit of the speed of light. Chopra takes this to mean that the universe is one giant quantum field in which everything (and everyone) is interconnected and can influence one another directly and instantly. Deepak and others also apply quantum mechanics to the study of consciousness to explain how the brain represents the entire tangible world through biochemical signals. Through quantum consciousness “we may find out how the brain might create subtler worlds, the kind traditionally known as heaven. If the secret lies not in brain chemistry but in awareness itself, the afterlife may turn out to be an extension of our present life, not a faraway mystical world.”
  4. Psychic Mediumship and Talking to the Dead. Deepak reviews the extensive studies on psychic mediums and their apparent ability to communicate with the dead, and then reveals that he participated in an experiment in which contact was apparently made with his father, whose recent death triggered his research and writing of this book.
  5. Prayer and Healing Studies. Chopra discusses research on distant intercessory prayer, in which patients who are prayed for from a distance by strangers appear to get well faster and more often than non-prayed for patients. This implies that action at a distance through thought alone — whether through the intervention of a deity or through some cosmic force — is real, can be manifested, and connects us to the cosmos and everything in it.
  6. Information Fields, Morphic Resonance, and the Universal Life Force. Chopra claims that nature preserves data in the form of information fields, and he cites experiments conducted by the Cambridge University-trained scientist Rupert Sheldrake, who presents evidence that people can sense when someone is staring at the back of their head and neck, that dogs know when their owners are coming home, that it is easier to complete the Sunday crossword puzzle later in the day because others have already solved it, and that these and many other mysterious psychic phenomena can be explained by “morphic resonance fields” that connect all living organisms to one another. Information cannot be created or destroyed, only recombined into new patterns, so our personal patterns — our “souls” by my definition — are packages of information that precede birth and survive death.

For Deepak Chopra, these six lines of scientific evidence point to something already described thousands of years ago by the rishis, or sages of Vedic India, first spiritual leaders of Hinduism. “The rishis believed that knowledge wasn’t external to the knower but woven inside consciousness. Thus they had no need for an external God to solve the riddle of life and death,” Chopra explains. Our essence is what the rishis called Atman, and what we call the soul. “Soul and Atman are a spark of the divine, the invisible component that brings God’s presence into flesh and blood. The biggest difference between them is that in Vedanta the soul isn’t separate from God. Unlike the Christian soul, Atman cannot come from God or return to him. There is unity between the human and the divine.”

I confess that my Western scientific worldview makes it exceedingly (and often frustratingly) difficult for me to truly grasp what Deepak is talking about. I am quite sure that he will correct me on the following summary, but near as I can figure this is what he is saying. The universe is one giant conscious information field of timeless energy of which all of us are a part. Life is simply a temporary incarnation of this eternal field of consciousness, whose properties, he says, include: “The field works as a whole. It correlates distant events instantly. It remembers all events. It exists beyond time and space. It creates entirely within itself. Its creation grows and expands in an evolutionary direction. It is conscious.” Chopra says that what the rishis discovered long ago is consistent with the findings of modern science: “The field of consciousness is primary to every phenomenon in Nature because of the gap that exists between every electron, every thought, every instant in time. The gap is the reference point, the stillness at the heart of creation, where the universe correlates all events.”

In Chopra’s theory of the afterlife, birth and death are merely transitions to and from different manifestations of consciousness. “Without death there can be no present moment, for the last moment has to die to make the next one possible.” Thus, he deduces, “We live in an endlessly re-created universe.” There is no need to fear death, because “Death isn’t about what I possess but about what I can become. Today I see myself as a child of time, but I may become a child of eternity.” Finally, Chopra concludes, “We move from one world to another, we shed our old identity to experience ‘I am,’ the identity of the soul, and we assemble the ingredients of a completely unique life in our next body.” Chicken soup for the New Age soul.

Reality Check: What Science Really Says

Okay, back to earth. Here is the reality. It has been estimated that in the last 50,000 years about 106 billion humans were born. Of the 100 billion people born before the six billion living today, every one of them has died and not one has returned to confirm for us beyond a reasonable doubt that there is life after death. This data set does not bode well for promises of immortality and claims for an afterlife. But let’s review them one by one.

Near Death Experiences and Altered States of Consciousness

Five centuries ago demons haunted our world, with incubi and succubi tormenting their victims as they lay asleep in their beds. Two centuries ago spirits haunted our world, with ghosts and ghouls harassing their sufferers all hours of the night. Last century aliens haunted our world, with grays and greens abducting captives out of their beds and whisking them away for probing and prodding. Today people are experiencing near-death and out-of-body experiences, floating above their bodies, out of their bedrooms, and even off the planet into space.

What is going on here? Are these elusive creatures and mysterious phenomena in our world or in our minds? New evidence indicates that they are, in fact, a product of the brain. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger, in his laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Canada, for example, can induce all of these experiences in subjects by subjecting their temporal lobes to patterns of magnetic fields. I tried it and had a mild out-of-body experience.

Similarly, the September 19, 2002 issue of Nature, reported that the Swiss neuroscientist Olaf Blanke and his colleagues discovered that they could bring about out-of-body experiences (OBEs) through electrical stimulation of the right angular gyrus in the temporal lobe of a 43-year old woman suffering from severe epileptic seizures. In initial mild stimulations she reported “sinking into the bed” or “falling from a height.” More intense stimulation led her to “see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.” Another stimulation induced “an instantaneous feeling of ‘lightness’ and ‘floating’ about two meters above the bed, close to the ceiling.”

In a related study reported in the 2001 book Why God Won’t Go Away, researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili found that when Buddhist monks meditate and Franciscan nuns pray their brain scans indicate strikingly low activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe, a region of the brain the authors have dubbed the Orientation Association Area (OAA), whose job it is to orient the body in physical space (people with damage to this area have a difficult time negotiating their way around a house). When the OAA is booted up and running smoothly there is a sharp distinction between self and non-self. When OAA is in sleep mode — as in deep meditation and prayer — that division breaks down, leading to a blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy, between feeling in body and out of body. Perhaps this is what happens to monks who experience a sense of oneness with the universe, or with nuns who feel the presence of God, or with alien abductees floating out of their beds up to the mother ship.

Sometimes trauma can trigger such experiences. The December 2001 issue of Lancet published a Dutch study in which of 344 cardiac patients resuscitated from clinical death, 12 percent reported near-death experiences (NDEs), where they floated above their bodies and saw a light at the end of a tunnel. Some even described speaking to dead relatives.

The general explanation for all of these phenomena is that since our normal experience is of stimuli coming into the brain from the outside, when a part of the brain abnormally generates these illusions, another part of the brain interprets them as external events. Hence, the abnormal is thought to be the paranormal. In reality, it is just brain chemistry.

More specifically, NDEs and OBEs have biochemical correlates. We know, for example, that the hallucination of flying is triggered by atropine and other belladonna alkaloids, some of which are found in mandrake or jimson weed and were used by European witches and American Indian shamans. OBEs are easily induced by dissociative anesthetics such as the ketamines. DMT (dimethyl-tryptamine) causes the feeling of the world enlarging or shrinking. MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine) stimulates the feeling of age regression where things we have long forgotten are brought back to memory. And, of course, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) triggers visual and auditory hallucinations and gives a feeling of oneness with the cosmos, among other effects. The fact that there are receptor sites in the brain for such artificially processed chemicals, means that there are naturally produced chemicals in the brain which, under certain conditions (the stress of trauma or an accident, for example) can induce any or all of the feelings typically described in a NDE. Thus, NDEs and OBEs are forms of wild “trips” induced by the extreme trauma of almost dying.

Psychologist and paranormal researcher Susan Blackmore has taken the hallucination hypothesis one step further by demonstrating why different people would experience similar effects, such as the tunnel. The visual cortex on the back of the brain is where information from the retina is processed. Hallucinogenic drugs and lack of oxygen to the brain (such as sometimes occurs near death) can interfere with the normal rate of firing by nerve cells in this area. When this occurs, “stripes” of neuronal activity move across the visual cortex, which is interpreted by the brain as concentric rings or spirals. These spirals may be “seen” as a tunnel. Similarly, in the OBE the experience of visualizing things from above is actually just an extension of a normal process we all do called “decentering” — picture yourself sitting on the beach or climbing a mountain and it will usually be from above looking down.

These studies are evidence that mind and brain are one. All experience is mediated by the brain. Large brain areas like the cortex coordinate imputes from smaller brain areas such as the temporal lobes, which themselves collate neural events from still smaller brain modules like the angular gyrus. This reduction continues all the way down to the single neuron level, where highly-selective neurons, sometimes described as “grandmother” neurons, fire only when subjects see someone they know. Caltech neuroscientists Christof Koch and Gabriel Kreiman, in conjunction with UCLA neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried, have even found a single neuron that fires when the subject is shown a photograph of Bill Clinton. The Monica neuron must be closely connected.

The search for the neural correlates of consciousness begin at this fundamental level, and then we ratchet up from there, as we look for emergent properties of complex systems of thought that arise from these simpler systems of neuronal connections. Of course, we are not aware of the workings of our own electrochemical systems. What we actually experience is what philosophers call qualia, or subjective states of thoughts and feelings that arise from a concatenation of neural events. But eventually even the grand mystery of consciousness will be solved by the penetrating tools of science.

This is the fate of the paranormal and the supernatural — to be subsumed into the normal and the natural. In fact, there is no paranormal or supernatural; there is only the normal and the natural … and mysteries yet to be explained.

ESP and Evidence of Mind

For over a century claims have been made for the existence of psi, or psychic phenomena. In the late 19th century, organizations like the Society for Psychical Research were founded to employ rigorous scientific methods in the study of psi, and they had many world-class scientists in support. In the 20th century, psi periodically found its way into serious academic research programs, from Joseph Rhine’s Duke University experiments in the 1920s to Daryl Bem’s Cornell University research in the 1990s.

In January 1994, for example, Bem and his late University of Edinburgh parapsychologist colleague Charles Honorton published “Does Psi Exist? Replicable Evidence for an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer” in the prestigious review journal Psychological Bulletin. Conducting a meta-analysis of 40 published experiments, the authors concluded: “the replication rates and effect sizes achieved by one particular experimental method, the ganzfeld procedure, are now sufficient to warrant bringing this body of data to the attention of the wider psychological community.” (A meta-analysis is a statistical technique that combines the results from many studies to look for an overall effect, even if the results from the individual studies were insignificant; the ganzfeld procedure places the “receiver” in a sensory isolation room with ping pong ball halves covering the eyes, headphones playing white noise over the ears, and the “sender” in another room psychically transmitting photographic or video images.)

Despite finding evidence for psi (subjects had a hit rate of 35 percent when 25 percent was expected by chance), Bem and Honorton lamented: “Most academic psychologists do not yet accept the existence of psi, anomalous processes of information or energy transfer (such as telepathy or other forms of extrasensory perception) that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms.”

Why don’t scientists accept psi? Daryl Bem has a stellar reputation as a rigorous experimentalist and he has presented us with statistically significant results. Aren’t scientists supposed to be open to changing their minds when presented with new data and evidence? The reason for skepticism is that we need both replicable data and a viable theory, both of which are missing in psi research.

Data. Both the meta-analysis and ganzfeld techniques have been challenged. Ray Hyman from the University of Oregon found inconsistencies in the experimental procedures used in different ganzfeld experiments (that were lumped together in Bem’s meta-analysis as if they used the same procedures), and that the statistical test employed (Stouffer’s Z) was inappropriate for such a diverse data set. He also found flaws in the target randomization process (the sequence the visual targets were sent to the receiver), resulting in a target selection bias: “All of the significant hitting was done on the second or later appearance of a target. If we examined the guesses against just the first occurrences of targets, the result is consistent with chance.” Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire conducted a meta-analysis of 30 more ganzfeld experiments and found no evidence for psi, concluding that psi data are non-replicable. Bem countered with 10 additional ganzfeld experiments he claims are significant, and he has additional research he plans to publish. And so it goes … with more to come in the data debate.

Theory. The deeper reason scientists remain skeptical of psi — and will even if more significant data are published — is that there is no explanatory theory for how psi works. Until psi proponents can explain how thoughts generated by neurons in the sender’s brain can pass through the skull and into the brain of the receiver, skepticism is the appropriate response. If the data shows that there is such a phenomena as psi that needs explaining (and I am not convinced that it does), then we still need a causal mechanism.

Quantum Consciousness

Deepak Chopra and others will counter that there is, in fact, a perfectly cogent theory of psi, and that is quantum consciousness, which was recently featured in the wildly popular and improbably-named film, What the #@*! Do We Know?! Artfully edited and featuring actress Marlee Matlin as a dreamy-eyed photographer trying to make sense of an apparently senseless universe, the film’s central tenet is that we create our own reality through consciousness and quantum mechanics. I met the producers of the film the weekend it opened when we were both on a Portland, Oregon television show, so I got an early screening. I never imagined that a film on consciousness and quantum mechanics would succeed, but it has grossed millions and a created cult following.

The film’s avatars are scientists with strong New Age leanings, whose jargon-laden sound bites amount to little more than what Caltech physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann once described as “quantum flapdoodle.” University of Oregon quantum physicist Amit Goswami, for example, says: “The material world around us is nothing but possible movements of consciousness. I am choosing moment by moment my experience. Heisenberg said atoms are not things, only tendencies.” Okay, Amit, I challenge you to leap out of a 20-story building and consciously choose the experience of passing safely through the ground’s tendencies.

The work of a Japanese researcher Masura Emoto, author of The Message of Water, is featured to show how thoughts change the structure of ice crystals — beautiful crystals form in a glass of water with the word “love” taped to it, whereas playing Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” causes a crystal to split into two. Would his “Burnin’ Love” boil water?

The film’s nadir is an interview with “Ramtha,” a 35,000-year-old spirit channeled by a 58-year-old woman named J. Z. Knight. I wondered where humans spoke English with an Indian accent 35,000 years ago. Many of the films’ producers, writers, and actors are members of Ramtha’s “School of Enlightenment,” where New Age pabulum is dispensed in costly weekend retreats.

The attempt to link the weirdness of the quantum world (such as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which states that the more precisely you know a particle’s position, the less precisely you know its speed, and vice versa) to mysteries of the macro world (such as consciousness) is not new. The best candidate to connect the two comes from physicist Roger Penrose and physician Stuart Hameroff, whose theory of quantum consciousness has generated much heat but little light in scientific circles.

Inside our neurons are tiny hollow microtubules that act like structural scaffolding. The conjecture (and that’s all it is) is that something inside the microtubules may initiate a wave function collapse that leads to the quantum coherence of atoms, causing neurotransmitters to be released into the synapses between neurons and thus triggering them to fire in a uniform pattern, thereby creating thought and consciousness. Since a wave function collapse can only come about when an atom is “observed” (i.e., affected in any way by something else), neuroscientist Sir John Eccles, another proponent of the idea, even suggests that “mind” may be the observer in a recursive loop from atoms to molecules to neurons to thought to consciousness to mind to atoms….

In reality, the gap between sub-atomic quantum effects and large-scale macro systems is too large to bridge. In his book The Unconscious Quantum, the University of Colorado particle physicist Victor Stenger demonstrates that for a system to be described quantum mechanically the system’s typical mass m, speed v, and distance d must be on the order of Planck’s constant h. “If mvd is much greater than h, then the system probably can be treated classically.” Stenger computes that the mass of neural transmitter molecules, and their speed across the distance of the synapse, are about three orders of magnitude too large for quantum effects to be influential. There is no micro-macro connection. Subatomic particles may be altered when they are observed, but the moon is there even if no one looks at it. So what the #$*! is going on here?

Physics envy. The history of science is littered with the failed pipedreams of ever-alluring reductionist schemes to explain the inner workings of the mind — schemes increasingly set forth in the ambitious wake of Descartes’ own famous attempt, some four centuries years ago, to reduce all mental functioning to the actions of swirling vortices of atoms, supposedly dancing their way to consciousness. Such Cartesian dreams provide a sense of certainty, but they quickly fade in the face of the complexities of biology. We should be exploring consciousness at the neural level and higher, where the arrow of causal analysis points up toward such principles as emergence and self-organization. Biology envy.

Psychic Mediumship and Talking to the Dead

Deepak Chopra recounts his experience of participating in a university study of three psychics who claimed that they could communicate with those who had already “passed over” to the other side. Even though none of the psychics were told that Deepak was present, two of them identified him by name, two of them told him that he wanted to contact his recently deceased father, and one knew his childhood nickname in Hindi. He declared it a genuine experience, even while admitting that he had his doubts, especially since “My ‘father’ knew things I knew, but nothing more.”

That is more skepticism than most people muster, especially in emotion-laden readings that promise people a connection to a lost loved one. How do psychics appear to talk to the dead? I have written about this extensively, but in short, it’s a trick that involves utilizing two techniques:

  1. Cold Reading, where you literally “read” someone “cold,” knowing nothing about them. You ask lots of questions and make numerous statements and see what sticks. “I’m getting a P name. Who is this please?” “He’s showing me something red. What is this please?” And so on. Most statements are wrong. But as B.F. Skinner showed in his experiments on superstitious behavior, subjects only need an occasional reinforcement to be convinced there is a real pattern (slot machines need only pay off infrequently to keep people involved). In an exposé I did on psychic medium John Edward for WABC New York, for example, we counted about one statement per second in the opening minute, as he riffled through names, dates, colors, diseases, conditions, situations, relatives, keepsakes, and the like. It goes so fast that you have to stop tape and go back to catch them all. His hit rate was below 10 percent, but those handful of hits were all his subjects needed to feel that they had made contact with a loved one.
  2. Warm Reading utilizes known principles of psychology that apply to nearly everyone. The British mentalist and magician Ian Rowland’s insightful and encyclopedic book on how to do psychic readings, The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, provides a list of high probability guesses, including identifying such items found in most homes that are sure to convince the mark that their loved one is in the room: A box of old photographs, some in albums, most not in albums; old medicine or medical supplies out of date; toys, books, mementoes from childhood; jewelry from a deceased family member; pack of cards, maybe a card missing; electronic gadget that no longer works; notepad or message board with missing matching pen; out of date note on fridge or near the phone; books about a hobby no longer pursued; out of date calendar; drawer that is stuck or doesn’t slide properly; keys that you can’t remember what they go to; watch or clock that no longer works. Here are some common peculiarities about people that are bound to give the impression that something paranormal is at work: Scar on knee; the number 2 in the home address; childhood accident involving water; clothing never worn; photos of loved ones in wallet or purse; wore hair long as a child, then shorter haircut; one earring with a missing match, and so forth. Mediums such as James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, Rosemary Altea and others on whom I have conducted extensive investigations are also facile at determining the cause of death by focusing either on the chest or head areas, and then exploring whether it was a slow or sudden end. They work their way through the half dozen major causes of death in rapid-fire manner. “He’s telling me there was a pain in the chest.” If they get a positive nod, they continue. “Did he have cancer, please? Because I’m seeing a slow death here.” If they get the nod, they take credit for the hit. If the subject hesitates, they will quickly shift to heart attack. If it is the head, they go for stroke or head injury from an automobile accident or fall.

I played a psychic for a day for a television special and found it remarkably easy to convince my subjects that I was really talking to the dead. Of course, anyone can talk to the dead. The hard part is getting the dead to talk back. Psychic mediums use trickery to give the illusion that the dead are communicating with us, and because people who come to mediums for help are emotionally fragile, they are also vulnerable to such effectual methods.

Prayer and Healing Studies

In April, 2006, The American Heart Journal published the most comprehensive study ever conducted on the effects of intercessory prayer on the health and recovery of patients. Directed by Harvard University Medical School cardiologist Herbert Benson, a long-time proponent of the salubrious effects of prayer, and partially funded by the Templeton Foundation, known for its support of research linking science and religion, the findings were eagerly awaited by members of both communities. There were a total of 1,802 patients from six U.S. hospitals that were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: 604 received intercessory prayer and were told that they may or may not receive prayer; 597 did not receive intercessory prayer and were also told that they may or may not receive prayer; and 601 received intercessory prayer and were told they would receive prayer. Prayers began the night before the surgery and continued daily for two weeks after. The prayers were allowed to pray in the manner of their choice, but they were instructed to ask “for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.”

The results were unequivocal: there were no statistically significant differences between any of the groups. Prayer did not work. Worse, there were slight elevated complications (although not statistically significant) for the patients in the group who knew that they were being prayed for — a “nocebo” effect. Case closed.

As for previous studies in which the positive effects of prayer were claimed, there were numerous methodological problems with all of them, including:

  1. Lack of Controls. Many of these studies failed to control for such intervening variables as age, sex, education, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, marital standing, degree of religiosity, and the fact that most religions have sanctions against such insalubrious behaviors as sexual promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, and smoking. When such variables are controlled for, the formerly significant results disappear. One study on recovery from hip surgery in elderly women failed to control for age; another study on church attendance and illness recovery did not consider that people in poorer health are less likely to attend church; a related study failed to control for levels of exercise.
  2. Outcome differences. In one of the most highly publicized studies of cardiac patients prayed for by born-again Christians, 29 outcome variables were measured but on only six did the prayed-for group show improvement. In related studies, different outcome measures were significant. To be meaningful, the same measures need to be significant across studies, because if enough outcomes are measured some will show significant correlations by chance.
  3. File-drawer problem. In several studies on the relationship between religiosity and mortality (religious people allegedly live longer), a number of religious variables were used, but only those with significant correlations were reported. Meanwhile, other studies using the same religiosity variables found different correlations and, of course, only reported those. The rest were filed away in the drawer of non-significant findings. When all variables are factored in together, religiosity and mortality show no relationship.
  4. Operational definitions. When experimenting on the effects of prayer, what, precisely, is being studied? For example, what type of prayer is being employed? (Are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, and Shaman prayers equal?) Who or what is being prayed to? (Are God, Jesus, and a universal life force equivalent?) What is the length and frequency of the prayer? (Are two 10-minute prayers equal to one 20-minute prayer?) How many people are praying and does their status in the religion matter? (Is one priestly prayer identical to ten parishioner prayers?) Most prayer studies either lack such operational definitions, or there is no consistency across studies in such definitions.
  5. Theological difficulties. If God is omniscient and omnipotent, He should not need to be reminded or inveigled that someone needs healing. And what about all those patients who were prayed for and died? Scientific prayer makes God a celestial lab rat, leading to bad science and worse religion.
Information Fields, Morphic Resonance,
and the Universal Life Force

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to do a newspaper crossword puzzle later in the day? Me neither. But according to Rupert Sheldrake it is because the collective wisdom of the morning successes resonates throughout the cultural morphic field. In Sheldrake’s theory of “morphic resonance,” similar forms (morphs, or “fields of information”) reverberate and exchange information within a universal life force. “As time goes on, each type of organism forms a special kind of cumulative collective memory,” Sheldrake writes in his 1981 book A New Science of Life. “The regularities of nature are therefore habitual. Things are as they are because they were as they were.”

Morphic resonance, says Sheldrake, is “the idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species,” and explains phantom limbs, homing pigeons, how dogs know when their owners are coming home, and such psychic phenomena as how people know when someone is staring at them. “Vision may involve a two-way process, an inward movement of light and an outward projection of mental images,” Sheldrake explains. Thousands of trials conducted by anyone who downloaded the experimental protocol from Sheldrake’s Web page “have given positive, repeatable, and highly significant results, implying that there is indeed a widespread sensitivity to being stared at from behind.”

Let’s examine this claim more closely. First, science is not normally conducted by strangers who happen upon a Web page protocol, so we have no way of knowing if these amateurs controlled for intervening variables and experimenter biases. Second, psychologists dismiss anecdotal accounts of this sense to a reverse self-fulfilling effect: a person suspects being stared at and turns to check; such head movement catches the eyes of would-be starers, who then turn to look at the staree, who thereby confirms the feeling of being stared at. Third, in 2000 John Colwell from Middlesex University, London, conducted a formal test utilizing Sheldrake’s suggested experimental protocol, with 12 volunteers who participated in 12 sequences of 20 stare or no-stare trials each, with accuracy feedback provided for the final nine sessions. Results: subjects were able to detect being stared at only when accuracy feedback was provided, which Colwell attributed to the subjects learning what was, in fact, a nonrandom presentation of the experimental trials. When the University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman also attempted to replicate Sheldrake’s research, he found that subjects detected stares at rates no better than chance. Fourth, there is an experimenter bias problem. Institute of Noetic Sciences’ researcher Marilyn Schlitz (a believer in psi) collaborated with Wiseman (a skeptic of psi) in replicating Sheldrake’s research, and discovered that when they did the staring Schlitz found statistically significant results, whereas Wiseman found chance results.

Sheldrake responds that skeptics dampen the morphic field’s subtle power, whereas believers enhance it. Of Wiseman, Sheldrake remarked: “Perhaps his negative expectations consciously or unconsciously influenced the way he looked at the subjects.”

Perhaps, but how can we tell the difference between negative-psi and non-psi? As it is said, the invisible and the nonexistent look the same.

Middle Land

So where does this leave us? I am, by temperament, a sanguine person, so I really hate to douse the flame of that doubtful future date with the cold water of skepticism in this present state. But I care what is actually true even more than what I hope is true, and these are the facts as I understand them to be.

I want to believe Messrs. Chopra, Bem, Goswami, Sheldrake, and the others. Really I do. I gave up on religion in graduate school, but I often catch myself slipping back into my former evangelical fervor now directed toward the wonders of science and nature. But this is precisely why I am skeptical. What they offer is too much like religion: it promises everything, delivers nothing (but hope), and is almost entirely based on faith, the very antithesis of science.

I am especially skeptical whenever people argue that the Next Big Thing will save us, in our lifetime, and fulfills our deepest emotional needs. Evangelicals never claim that the Second Coming is going to happen in the next generation (or that they will be “left behind” while others are saved). Likewise, secular doomsayers typically predict the demise of civilization within their allotted time (and, of course, that they will be part of the small surviving enclave). In parallel, prognosticators of both religious and secular utopias always include themselves as members of the chosen few, and paradise is always within reach.

Where is paradise? It is here. It is now. It is within us and without us. It is in our thoughts and in our actions. It is in our lives and in our loves. It is in our families and in our friends. It is in our communities and in our world. It is in the courage of our convictions and in the character of our souls.

Hope springs eternal, even if life is not.

photo of Deepak Chopra by Jeremiah Sullivan

Taking the Afterlife Seriously

by Deepak Chopra

“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the power of all true science.”

–Albert Einstein

I. Thanks for Coming — or Did You Even Show Up?

I have put Michael Shermer at a disadvantage by writing a book that bases the afterlife on the survival of consciousness. He has little interest in consciousness compared to his interest in laboratory-induced hallucinations and altered states. It’s a shame that he doesn’t grasp that the afterlife is about nothing but consciousness. (I don’t offhand know anyone who took their bodies with them.) Shermer’s focus on God is irrelevant to the argument. I give seven versions of life after death in my book, collected from every religious and philosophical tradition. He fails to address them or to realize that certain traditions (Platonism, Buddhism, Taoism, Vedanta) do not posit a personal God.

Shermer’s retelling of the flaws in prayer studies is germane to my argument but only to a small degree — it by no means forms a sixth of my book, more like three pages. I must point out, however, that the 2006 Benson-Harvard refutation of prayer is far from being authoritative. Critics have found methodological flaws in it, and there are 19 other studies in the field that arrive at differing results, 11 of them showing that “prayer works.” Now to the holes in Shermer’s own approach. It may be curious that stimulating some area of the brain can induce out-of-body experiences or the feeling of sinking into a bed, or that Buddhist monks have low activity in their Orientation Association Area (OAA), as cited by Shermer. Unfortunately, these experiments have little bearing on the afterlife. Induced states are quite feeble as science. I can put a tourniquet on a person’s arm, depriving the nerves of blood flow, and thereby eliminate the sensation of touch. This doesn’t prove that quadriplegics with paralyzed limbs aren’t having a real experience. I can induce happiness by giving someone a glass of wine and having a pretty girl flirt with him. That doesn’t prove that happiness without alcohol isn’t real. The point is that a simulation isn’t the real thing or a credible stand-in for it.

Shermer doesn’t adhere to the scientific impartiality he so vocally espouses. Loading the dice turns out to be fairly standard for him. For example, he cites the December 2001 issue of Lancet that published a Dutch study in which, out of 344 cardiac patients resuscitated from clinical death, 12 percent reported near-death experiences. (The actual figure was 18 percent, by the way.) Immediately he skips on to say that near-death experiences can be induced in the laboratory. Hold on a minute. Did Shermer miss the point entirely? The patients in the Dutch study, who suffered massive heart attacks in the hospital, had their near-death experiences when there was no measurable activity in the brain, when they were in fact brain dead. Did he quote the astonishment of Dr. Pin van Lommel, the Dutch cardiologist who observed this effect? No. Did he go into the baffling issue of why the vast majority of resuscitated patients (over 80 percent) don’t report near-death experiences? That’s pretty important if you are claiming that all this near-death hokum can be induced in the lab with a few electrodes.

Leaving out the heart of the matter, as Shermer does, smacks of unfairness, for I rely on this same Dutch study and give all the particulars. Skepticism is only credible when it’s not being devious. But Shermer often deliberately misses the point. I cite a University of Virginia study that to date has found over 2,000 children who vividly remember their past lives. In many cases they can name places and dates. The facts they relate have been verified in many cases. Even more astonishing, over 200 of these children exhibit birthmarks that resemble the way they remember dying in their most recent lifetime. (One boy, for example, recalled being killed with a shotgun, and his chest exhibited a scatter-shot of red birthmarks). Unable to refute this phenomenon or imagine a counter-study, Shermer fails to mention it. He snipes at the easy targets to bolster his blanket skepticism. I wish Shermer realized that true skepticism suspends both belief and disbelief. Being a debunker of curiosity is something science doesn’t need.

This points to a broader problem with his arguments: the problem of dueling results. Let’s say a skeptic offers in evidence a study that asks five children to describe a previous incarnation, and let’s say that only those who are coached, either by parents or researchers, come up with such stories. Has skepticism refuted the original research? Of course it hasn’t. The first study stands on its own, by sheer force of numbers, demanding explanation. But by Shermer’s logic if some children don’t remember a past lifetime, those who do must be categorically dismissed. By analogy, if I study twenty mothers who smile when shown their baby’s picture, anyone can find twenty others (suffering from post-partum depression, for example) who don’t. But that doesn’t prove that mothers don’t love their babies. The second experiment is an anomaly.

No doubt Shermer will want to lecture me on the need for replication in science. Yet this is the very thing he conveniently ignores. Studies on near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, memories of past lifetimes, remote viewing, and so forth — all crucial to the reality of life after death — have been well replicated. Shermer finds one study that induces similar states (“similar” being a very tricky word here) and he walks away satisfied. He already knows a priori that “paranormal” findings must be false, so why bother to engage them seriously? Extending our understanding of normal doesn’t interest him.

The focus of science should be on the survival of consciousness after death, not on the sideshow of fraud, pseudoscience, religious dogma, and the other straw men Shermer knocks down. For example, I rely a great deal on the possibility that mind extends outside the body. This is obviously crucial, since with the death of the brain, our minds can only survive if they don’t depend on the brain.

There are astonishing results in this area. One of the most famous, performed at the engineering department at Princeton and validated many times over, asked ordinary people to sit in the room with a random number generator. As the machine printed out a random series of 0s and 1s, the subjects were instructed to try to make it produce more zeroes. They didn’t touch the machine but only willed it to deviate from randomness. Did they succeed? Absolutely. Did other identical or similar experiments succeed? Over and over. Does Shermer even touch on this matter, so crucial to my argument? No.

He displays an amazing ability to avoid the important stuff. He writes, for example, “The ultimate fallacy of all such prayer and healing research is theological: If God is omniscient and omnipotent, He should not need to be reminded or inveigled that someone needs healing.” This is simplistic theology at best second-guessing an omniscient and omnipresent God is a tautology by definition, since such a God, being everywhere and performing all acts, makes no choices at all. Such a consciousness encompasses good and bad, disease and health, equally. (As much as possible I avoid using a personal pronoun for God, but it’s awkward since “It” doesn’t work in English. I am referring to a God that is closer to a universal field than anything else we can imagine.) Does an omnipotent God even need a creation to begin with? The question is logically unanswerable. Fortunately, Shermer’s Sunday School God, a patriarch with a white beard sitting above the clouds, plays no role in my argument — or in the traditions of Buddhism, Vedanta, etc. mentioned at the outset. Did my book defend the Judeo-Christian God? Did it argue for a physical place called heaven (or hell)? Did I praise the joys of the hereafter in order to denigrate life here on earth? Not for a moment. I specifically rooted the afterlife in ordinary states of consciousness that no one doubts, such as dream, imagination, projection, myth, metaphor, meditation, and other aspects of awareness that give us clues about the workings of the mind overall. Shermer doesn’t engage those connections, either.

Since he often lumps me in with other authors whom he disdains and treats cavalierly, I can only assume that he uses the same slipshod reasoning on them, too. I certainly know for a fact that Shermer misrepresents and distorts the groundbreaking work of Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist who graduated with first-class honors from Cambridge and whose curriculum vitae (not to mention acumen, curiosity, and intelligence) a gaggle of skeptics can only envy.

But let’s concede that Shermer knows he’s preaching to the choir and can afford all this rhetorical by-your-leave. His review hasn’t actually offered anything beyond a self-indulgent expansion on his first sentence, borrowed from a bumper sticker: I DON’T KNOW AND YOU DON’T EITHER. He takes this to be humorous; in fact it is distressingly dogmatic. Is he so proud of his skepticism that literally he can tell what someone else doesn’t know? Without dragging him into philosophical deep waters, I must point out that dismissing opposing views even before they are stated seems like fairly spooky solipsism.

In the end, debating tactics offer entertainment value but are a dubious way to get at truth. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that the true test of any scientific or philosophical system is how much it can explain. I believe that Shermer sincerely agrees with this, despite his often unfair tactics and his condescension to spirituality in general. The old-fashioned materialism that underlies his opinions stands in stark contrast to quantum physics, which long ago opened up an unseen world where linear cause-and-effect no longer operates, where intuition has made more breakthroughs than logic. Virtual reality, populated with virtual photons and subatomic interactions that operate beyond the speed of light — a realm where events are instantaneously coordinated across billions of light years — is the foundation of our physical world. Pace Shermer, the possibility of intelligence and consciousness in the universe is completely viable; we must arrive at new theories to account for life after death (among many other mysteries) by opening ourselves to the origins of our own consciousness. It’s all very well to watch various parts of the brain light up on an MRI, but to claim that this is true knowledge of the mind is like putting a stethoscope to the roof of the Astrodome and claiming that you understand the rules of football.

If Shermer wants to have a serious debate about the persistence of consciousness after physical death, I eagerly invite it. But I must in all candor ask him to look at consciousness first. He hasn’t made the slightest effort so far, and yet that was the entire subject of my book.

II. Science and the Afterlife

To catalog how much Shermer gets wrong isn’t the same as proving that the afterlife is real. But the proofs that it isn’t are not very sound. Hamlet refers to death as “the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.” For all intents and purposes, this argument has sufficed for materialists ever since. But people do cross the boundary between life and death only to return — the number of near-death experiences is many thousands by now. (For anyone who wants an in-depth exposure to the phenomenon, see Contrary to what Shermer claims, these aren’t artifacts of an oxygen-deprived brain; they are meaningful experiences full of detail and coherence, and often they appear after the brain ceases all activity. The existence of studies in which people do not have such experiences seems irrelevant. I can offer experiments where people can’t identify the notes of the musical scale, but that doesn’t mean perfect pitch is an illusion.

I was particularly interested in the resemblance between modern near-death experiences and those reported for hundreds of years in Tibet. People who return from the dead in that culture are known as delogs, and what they experience isn’t a Christian heaven or hell — in this country 90 percent of near-death experiences, by the way, are positive — but the complex layers of the Buddhist Bardo. In our society heaven is generally reported by those who have near-death experiences as being like green pastures or blue skies; children tend to report a child’s heaven populated by scampering lambs and other baby animals.

This made me realize that Hamlet was right to call death an undiscovered country, not because the living cannot reach it but because heaven’s geography keeps shifting. If we look at how various cultures perceive the afterlife, there are roughly seven categories:

  1. Paradise: Your soul finds itself in a perfected world surrounding God. You go to Paradise as a reward and never leave. (If you are bad, you go to Satan’s home and never leave it.)
  2. The Godhead: Your soul returns to God, but not in any particular place. You discover the location of God as a timeless state infused with his presence
  3. The Spirit World: Your soul rests in a realm of departed spirits. You are drawn back to those you loved in this life. Or you rejoin your ancestors, who are gathered with the great Spirit.
  4. Transcendence: Your soul performs a vanishing act in which a person dissolves, either quickly or gradually. The pure soul rejoins the sea of consciousness from which it was born.
  5. Transmigration (or Metempsychosis): Your soul is caught in the cycle of rebirth. Depending on one’s karma, each soul rises or falls from lower to higher life forms — and even may be reborn in objects. The cycle continues eternally until your soul escapes through higher realization.
  6. Awakening: Your soul arrives in the light. You see with complete clarity for the first time, realizing the truth of existence that was masked by being in a physical body.
  7. Dissolution: Eternity is nothingness. As the chemical components of your body return to basic atoms and molecules, the consciousness created by the brain disappears completely. You are no more.

There is no common denominator here except one: consciousness itself. We have to shift our notion of the afterlife from being a place to being a state of awareness. Once we do that, life after death becomes much more plausible. Instead of arguing over religious beliefs, we can ask rational questions:

  • Can consciousness survive the body’s death?
  • Is there mind outside the brain?
  • Can we know the states of consciousness that belong to the afterlife without dying?
  • Does consciousness have a basis outside time and space?

To me these are rational questions, and we can devise experiments to answer them. But before going into that, the issue most people want to settle is “What happens after we die?” Since this remains such a pressing question, let me offer the evidence that surfaced when I looked at cultures East and West. Leaving aside the place a person might go to (my position is that there is no “where” after death; everything is projected in consciousness, including heaven and hell), the afterlife appears to unfold in the following stages:

  1. The physical body stops functioning. The dying person may not be aware of this but eventually knows that it has occurred.
  2. The physical world vanishes. This can happen by degrees; there can be a sense of floating upward or of looking down on familiar places as they recede.
  3. The dying person feels lighter, suddenly freed of limitation.
  4. The mind and sometimes the senses continue to operate. Gradually, however, what is perceived is non-physical.
  5. A presence grows that is felt to be divine. This presence can be clothed in a light or in the body of angels or gods. The presence can communicate to the dying person.
  6. Personality and memory begin to fade, but the sense of “I” remains.
  7. This “I” has an overwhelming sense of moving on to another phase of existence.

As much as possible I have eliminated religious wording here because the persistence of consciousness has to be universal. It can’t depend on specific beliefs, which change over time and from place to place. (When he dies, Michael Shermer will be relieved to survive, but perhaps he will be disappointed that his long service to fundamental Christianity in youth, followed by long service to skepticism, won’t give him a special place in heaven. Nor will it lock the gates against him.)

Right now there are many reasons why science is reluctant to test any of these propositions about the survival of consciousness. First and foremost is the ideology of materialism. Shermer stands in for thousands of actual scientists who see the world entirely in material terms. For them, consciousness is as alien as the soul. Both are invisible, immaterial, and unmeasurable and therefore ipso facto unreal. By these standards virtual photons should also be unreal, but they aren’t (not that Shermer has bothered to become conversant with quantum physics). Other reasons include peer pressure — i.e., ridicule — even when a researcher is brilliant and scrupulous to the nth degree. Lack of funding is a problem, naturally, and above all there is the time-honored antithesis between science and religion. In an either/or world, it’s hard to convince the religionists that rationality has a spiritual place or the scientists that your research isn’t just a stalking horse for the Bible — see the recent social debate over Intelligent Design where neither side was willing to see the slightest merit in the other.

None of these obstacles, however, has proven insurmountable. Let me offer some highlights in the research devoted to answering the most crucial questions about the possibility of life after death:

Mind Over Matter

My core argument is based on consciousness being a field, like matter and energy fields, that we are all imbedded in, whether here and now or after death. It would help us greatly if our minds could alter the field. Then we would have a link between the two models of mind and matter. Such a link was provided by Helmut Schmidt, a researcher working for Boeing’s aerospace laboratory in Seattle. Beginning in the mid-Sixties, Schmidt set out to construct a series of “quantum machines” that could emit random signals, with the aim of seeing if ordinary people could alter those signals using nothing more than their minds. The first machine detected radioactive decay from Strontium-90; each electron that was given off lit up either a red, blue, yellow, or green light. Schmidt asked ordinary people to predict, with the press of a button, which light would be illuminated next.

At first no one performed better than random, or 25 percent, in picking one of the four lights. Then Schmidt it on the idea of using psychics instead, and his first results were encouraging: they guessed the correct light 27 percent of the time. But he didn’t know if this was a matter of clairvoyance — seeing the result before it happened — or something more active, actually changing the random pattern of electrons being emitted.

So he built a second machine that generated only two signals, call them plus and minus. A circle of lights was set up, and if the machine generated a plus, a light would come on in the clockwise direction while a minus would make one light up in the counter-clockwise direction. Left to itself, the machine would light up an equal number of pluses and minuses; what Schmidt wanted his subjects to do was to will the lights to move clockwise only. He found two subjects who had remarkable success. One could get the lights to move clockwise 52.5 percent of the time. An increase of 2.5 percent over randomness doesn’t sound dramatic, but Schmidt calculated that the odds were 10 million to one against the same thing occurring by chance. The other subject was just as successful, but oddly enough, he couldn’t make the lights move clockwise. Hard as he tried, they moved counter-clockwise, yet with the same deviation from randomness. Later experiments with new subjects raised the success rate to 54 percent, although the strange anomaly that the machine would go in the wrong direction, often persisted. (No explanation was ever found for this.) In effect, Schmidt was proving that an observer can change activity in the quantum field using the mind alone.

In an earlier part of this article I refer to replications of these experiments at Princeton and other laboratories. After 12 years of study, it was found that about two-thirds of ordinary people could influence the outcome of the machine, unlike in Schmidt’s study, where only talented psychics were used. After examining the results in detail in her excellent book, The Field, writer Lynne McTaggart sees a complete revolution in consciousness: “On the most profound level, the [Princeton] studies also suggest that reality is created by each of us only by our attention. At the lowest level of mind and matter, each of us creates the world.”

Remote Viewing

If someone could alter the field simply by looking at it, that would come even closer to the premise that each of us is imbedded in the field. An intriguing proof of this was provided by a machine built by physicists at Stanford called a SQUID, or superconducting quantum interference device. It’s enough for us to know that this device, which measures the possible activity of subatomic particles, specifically quarks, is very well shielded from all outside magnetic forces. This shielding begins with layers of copper and aluminum, but to insure that no outside force can affect the mechanism, exotic metals like niobium and “mu metal” wrap the inner core.

In 1972 a SQUID was installed in the basement of a laboratory at Stanford, apparently doing nothing except tracing out the same hill-and-valley S-curve on a length of graph paper. This curve represented the constant magnetic field of the earth; if a quark passed through the field the machine would register it by changes in the pattern being drawn. A young laser physicist named Hal Puthoff (later to become a noted quantum theorist) decided that aside from its main use, the SQUID would make a perfect test of psychic powers. Very few people, including the scientists at Sanford, knew the exact inner construction of the machine.

A letter Puthoff wrote in search of a psychic who would take up the challenge was responded to by Ingo Swann, a New York artist with psychic abilities. Swann was flown to California without being told in advance about either the test or the SQUID. When he first saw it, he seemed a bit distracted and baffled. But he agree to “look” inside the machine, and as he did, the S-curve on the graph paper changed pattern — something it almost never did — only to go back to its normal functioning as soon as Swann stopped paying attention to it.

A startled Puthoff asked him to repeat this, so for 45 seconds Swann concentrated upon seeing the inside of the machine, and for exactly that interval the recoding device drew a new pattern, a long plateau on the paper instead of hills and valleys. Swann then drew a sketch of what he saw as the inner workings of the SQUID, and when these were checked with an expert, they perfectly matched the actual construction. Swann was vague about whether he had changed the magnetic input that the machine was built to measure; he offered that he thought he was affecting its niobium core. But it also turned out that if he merely thought about the SQUID, not trying to change it at all, the recording device showed alterations in the surrounding magnetic field. In the years since 1972, many other experiments in remote viewing have successfully taken place.

Intelligence in Nature

If we survive death in our consciousness, we’d like to take human qualities with us, such as intelligence. Is there proof that intelligence is innate in nature? I will skip over the argument by design since it isn’t logically irrefutable and give an amusing practical example. Many dog owners will attest to the ability of a dog or cat to know what the owner is thinking. A few minutes before going on a walk, a dog gets excited and restless; on the day when a cat is going to be taken to the vet, it disappears and is nowhere to be found. These casual observations led the ingenious British researcher Rupert Sheldrake, a trained biologist now turned speculative thinker, to conduct a few controlled studies. He wanted to know if dogs and cats can actually read their owners’ minds. One study was very simple: Sheldrake phoned up 65 vets in the London area and asked them if it was common for cat owners to cancel appointments because their cats had disappeared that day. Sixty-four vets responded that it was very common, and the sixty-fifth had given up making appointments for cats because too many couldn’t be located when they were supposed to come in.

Sheldrake decided to perform an experiment using dogs. The fact that a dog gets excited when the time comes for going on a walk means little if the walk is routinely scheduled for the same time very day, or if the dog gets visual cues from its owner that he is preparing to go out. Therefore Sheldrake placed dogs in outbuildings completely isolated from their owners; he then asked the owner, at randomly selected times, to think about walking the dog five minutes before going to fetch them. In the meantime the dog was constantly videotaped in its isolated location. Sheldrake found that more than half the dogs ran to the door, waging their tails, circling restlessly, or otherwise showing anticipation of going for a walk, and they kept up this behavior until their owners appeared. No dog showed anticipatory behavior, however, when their owners were not thinking about taking them for a walk.

So far, this suggests something intriguing, that the bond between a pet and its owner could result in a subtle connection at the level of thought. Polls show that about 60 percent of Americans believe they have had a telepathic experience, so this result is not completely startling. The next leap is quite startling, however. After writing up his results with telepathic pets, Sheldrake received an email from a woman in New York City who said that her African grey parrot not only read her thoughts but responded to them with speech. The woman and her husband might be sitting in another room, out of sight from the bird, whose name is N’kisi, and if they were feeling hungry, N’kisi would suddenly say, “You want some yummy.” If the owner and her husband were thinking about going out, N’kisi might say, “You gotta go out, see ya later.”

Greatly intrigued, Sheldrake contacted the owner, an artist named Aimee Morgana. The situation he found was remarkable even without telepathy. African gray parrots are among the most linguistically talented of all birds, and N’kisi had a huge vocabulary of over 700 words. More remarkable still, he used them like human speech, not “parroting” a word mindlessly but applying it where appropriate; if he saw something that was red, he said “red,” and if the object was another color, he said that color. A decade ago this talent would have been unbelievable, until a researcher named Dr. Irene Pepperberg, after twenty years of work with her own African gray, had proved beyond a doubt that it could use language meaningfully. Now associated with MIT, Pepperberg made a breakthrough, not just in our understanding of animal intelligence, but in the possibility that mind exists outside the brain.

It was this possibility, which Sheldrake and others call “extended mind,” that N’kisi seemed to prove. Aimee had some astonishing anecdotes to relate. When she was watching a Jackie Chan movie on television, one shot showed Chan perilously perched on a girder. When the shot came on, N’kisi said, “Don’t fall down,” even though his cage was behind the television with no line of sight to the picture. When an automobile commercial came on next, N’kisi said, “That’s my car.” Another time Aimee was reading a book that had the lines, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” and simultaneously from another room the bird said, “The color is black.”

Sheldrake wanted to confirm all of this for himself. On his first visit, Aimee gave him a taste of N’kisi’s telepathy: she looked at a picture of a girl from a magazine, and with remarkable clarity from the adjoining room the parrot said, “That’s a girl.” The next step was a formal experiment. If N’kisi could understand words and also had telepathic abilities, could the two be tested together? The experiment Sheldrake devised was quite strange if he hadn’t already seen what N’kisi could do — he proposed that Aimee would look at pictures that corresponded to words her parrot already knew. Aimee would sit in one room while N’kisi remained isolated in another. The bird would have two minutes to utter a “key word” that matched the picture. If he said the word in that time, it would count as a hit. If he didn’t say the word, or if he said it after the two minutes were up, it counted as a miss.

To insure neutrality, someone besides Aimee chose both the pictures and the key words that matched each one. (This proved unfair to the bird, actually, since the neutral chooser picked a word like “TV” that N’kisi had only said once or twice before; it didn’t utter these words at the right time during the experiment, nor did he say them at all.) After all the trials were over, the tapes of what N’kisi had said were played for three judges, who wrote down what they heard; unless N’kisi distinctly said the right word, as transcribed by all three judges, a hit wouldn’t count. The results were beyond ordinary comprehension. For example, when Aimee looked at a picture showing scantily clad bathers on a beach, N’kisi mumbled for a bit, then all three judges heard him say, “Look at my pretty naked body.” He didn’t say other, irrelevant key words; in between saying the right words twice, the bird only whistled and made vocal tones. When Aimee looked at a picture of someone talking on the telephone, N’kisi said, “What’cha doin’ on the phone?” Perhaps the most intriguing response was when Aimee concentrated on a picture of flowers. Instead of simply uttering the key word “flower,” N’kisi said, “That’s a pic of flowers.”

How did he do overall? Out of 71 trails, N’kisi got 23 hits, as compared to the 7.4 hits that would have been expected if the results were random. Sheldrake points out that this is quite a significant outcome, all the more because N’kisi wasn’t aware that he was being tested and often said the right key word after the allotted time was up. In a small Manhattan apartment another bit of proof added to mounting evidence that the mind isn’t solely human property and in fact might exist outside the brain. Communication between the animal kingdom and us has an eerie ring, but pets can’t cheat and they have no ulterior motive for proving that they are special in their abilities. India’s Vedic rishis long ago asserted that the entire universe is intelligent, because it is permeated by consciousness.

The Mind Field

If consciousness is an aspect of the field, then our brains should operate along the lines of a field. This seems to be true. For one thing, it’s impossible to explain how the brain coordinates millions of separate events simultaneously unless something like a mind field is present. Take a compass out of your pocket anywhere on earth, shake it, and a few seconds later the wobbly needle will always settle pointing north. If every person on the planet did this at exactly twelve midnight, billions of compasses would be doing the same thing simultaneously, a fact that doesn’t surprise us because we know that the Earth’s magnetic field is responsible. It would be absurd to claim that each compass decided randomly to pick north.

Yet we say that about the brain. For you to think the word “rhinoceros” and see a mental image of that animal, millions of brain cells have to act simultaneously. (We will leave aside the more difficult question of why you picked “rhinoceros” out of all the words you could have chosen, since that choice can be based on reason, emotion, nonsense, or private associations in memory. A computer can be taught to select any given word using an pre-set algorithm, but it has no ability to decide on what personal, emotional, or imaginative basis to pick words — you do.) The neurons involved in word choice don’t jumble through the alphabet to find one letter at a time; they don’t sound out an array of words one syllable at a time; nor do they leaf through a photo archive to match the right word to the right animal. Instead, the correct brain activity arises simultaneously.

Neurologists can watch various portions of the brain light up at the same time, but this is one area where subjective experience is stronger, since we all know first hand that we can utter words in any order and call up any image in our imagination. The brain is acting holistically like a field, coordinating different events at the same time, except that we know the brain isn’t literally a field. It’s an object. Fields are invisible, and their basic components are energy and information. Which sounds much more like a mind than a physical organ, however complex.

You would think that since the brain depends on electrical signals, it would be affected by the soup of radio, television, microwave, and many other electromagnetic emissions that surround us. Apparently this isn’t so, and psychic researchers have gone so far as to isolate subjects in Faraday cages that block all electromagnetic energy without altering their abilities to see at a distance or exhibit other psychic phenomena. It will be fascinating to explore the field phenomena that are subtler than electromagnetism — the afterlife could well be one of them.

Can it be that the universe is organic, holistic, and aware? I am perfectly willing to accept Shermer’s declaration that the burden of proof lies with those who claim this rather than with skeptics. But logically that’s not actually true. We cannot prove that the universe doesn’t have a mind, because we aren’t mindless. Even when we declare that atoms and molecules act mindlessly, that is a mental statement. Nobody has ever experienced mindlessness; therefore we have nothing to base it on, just as a fish has nothing but wetness to base its reality on — dryness is a theological fancy under the sea.

In the end, I realize that Shermer and I are speaking two different languages. He makes no reference to consciousness, the field, quantum mechanics, advanced neurology, or philosophy. I’d like to hear arguments from someone more up to date in these fields. It’s a strange feeling when somebody in a Model A Ford challenges you to a race when you are in a Lexus, but even stranger when he thinks he’s going to win.

Finally, Shermer adopts a word like “soul” in order to refute it when he doesn’t even understand or clarify what the soul is. Does the soul contain the total information stored in our brains? Is it a personal localization in the quantum field? Is it our connection to the realm of archetypes and myths? Information does persist, and so do archetypes. Without a doubt the electrical activity in the brain is a localization of quantum probabilities. How, then, can these phenomena be objects of serious scientific study while Shermer feels nothing but disdain for the soul? He simply assumes a Sunday School definition, and like his assumptions about God on his throne and other childish notions, it’s no wonder his arguments against life after death are scientific non-starters.

This article can be found in
Skeptic volume 13 number 4

volume 13 number 4

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This article was published on February 26, 2010.


145 responses to “The Great Afterlife”

  1. James S says:

    When I hear terms like ‘woo woo’, this sounds like religious talk to me, kind of like how creationists state that evolution is only a theory. There are quite a few phenomena in science which actually has less evidence to support them vs psi, but yet psi gets the woo woo label, while the other phenomena gets the more respected hypothetical entity or hypothesis title.

    This is actually a fallacy, and it’s called Special Pleading. Special Pleading is when a person wants to make an exception to the definition of something without providing enough evidence to do so. Creationists commit this fallacy a great deal too when they state that their beliefs are not a religion, but a relationship.

    There’s more evidence to support many of the arguments of the likes of Crookes, Lodge, Crookall, Vandersande, etc concerning a potential afterlife then there is to support multiverse, quantum loop and string theories. The former phenomena gets the ‘woo woo’ label, while the latter phenomena gets a bit more respect. The latter phenomena also doesn’t have sceptical committess out attempting to degrade those scientists who are supportive of psi, or outright devoted in trying to debunk it!

    Sceptics state that despite promising evidence of psi, there’s no hypothesis to support it, so we should remain sceptical anyways. What about dark energy? Dark energy, while its effects are quite observable to astronomers (as well as dark matter), these phenomena defy everything we know about physics, and there’s currently no viable hypothesis on how dark energy/matter even exists. The potential viable hypothesises attempting to explain away dark matter and energy are no more sound than current hypothesises under way attempting to explain away psi.

    I don’t want to post too much regarding psi evidence here, but I want to use the following example just to make a point. The arguments in Patricia Churchland’s and Susan Blackmore’s books have already been debunked in my opinion. So have more recent studies been debunked attempting to demonstrate that mind and brain are the same. The hallicinations and OBE’s associated with drugs, stimulating brain activity or gforces are nowhere near as lucid, vivid and intense as those in actual near death experiences. In fact Dr. Pim Van Lommel has even stated himself that no single physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the common features of NDE’s.

    Personally, while I still consider myself to be sceptical, I prefer the fallibilist mindset over rigid scepticism. Rather than outright rejecting something just because I don’t perceive it with my senses, I’d rather believe that almost anything is possible, but still remain sceptical when not enough evidence is provided. I find nothing wrong with being sceptical, but to have an outright campaign of misinformation, degradation and obscurantism against the entire psi movement is very suspect to me.

    How many people here were aware that until recently, only the reductionist and religious views of a potential afterlife were allowed to be publicly broadcasted in the U.K! It appears that secular proponents of psi and the afterlife have won that battle, and can discuss these topics publicly. Also, putting psi and afterlife research on the same level as young earth creationism, flat earth society, superstition, etc is pushing it a bit too. Ironically it was my original Christian religion that turned me both agnostic and reductionist, but it was my scepticism that made me rethink my stance on there being no afterlife. I still appreciate some honest scepticism, but not when it’s too rigid.

  2. Peter Paolino says:

    Is not Deepak Chopra the spiritual advisor to the stars? I will only make one derogatory statement and that was it.

    As a one time Roman Catholic and now a die-hard skeptic, the only question I ask myself regarding an afterlife and god, should there be an afterlife and a just and compassionate god? Not wishful thinking, just is there any logic in it.

    As we all know we live in a very random and unjust world.

  3. ArchiesBoy says:

    I’ve heard Deepak giving talks. When he speaks, it’s like cotton candy: it’s light, frothy, and tastes good. When he stops, everything vanishes and you don’t remember what was said. He has this virtuosic gift for talking in his own unique gobbledygook that either leaves all but the most piercing intellects shaking their heads or (more to the point) the true believers believing even more *because* they don’t know what he’s talking about.

    I understand his assertions. They’re based on the mystical literature of Hinduism, which in itself is quite beautiful, hopeful and soothing. But alas, they would not stand up to rigorous scientific testing.

  4. dougckaty says:

    I’m wondering if there has been a rebuttal from Dr. Shermer to Dr. Chopra’s response to the review of his book. (I believe both gentlemen have earned doctorates, and deserve to be so addressed. I do think, however, that when anyone is offering opinions outside their area of expertise there may be some justification for foregoing the titles associated with their advanced degrees.) I’m sure that in a live debate situation a rebuttal would have been in order, given the mostly off-point material provided by Dr. Chopra. I’m sorry now that I even took the time to read his responses. Being a virtual materialist, (leaving only a little room for modesty in estimating my understanding all of the science-based information I try to take in), there is simply too much (I’m sorry – I wasn’t going to say it) whoo-whoo in his piece. I do believe in mystery (“something which has not been or cannot be explained; hence, specifically, that which is beyond human comprehension” – The Collaborative Dictionary of English, v 0.48), as opposed to mysticism (“The doctrine that the ultimate elements or principles of knowledge or belief are gained by an act or process akin to feeling or faith.” – The Collaborative Dictionary of English, v 0.48), I am enough of an optimist to add to the above definition of mystery – “not yet” – as applied to many of the topics discussed in the book and in this exchange. I am enough of a realist, with a certain level of humility about our ultimate intellectual capabilities, to believe that there are some things that we can be aware of that we (as a human race) will never be able to comprehend. However, I don’t believe that “evidence” as presented by Dr. Chopra, at least in this response, is of any help in overcoming this limitation. My recommendation to Dr. Shermer would be not to waste any more of his time and energy in any level of debate with the likes of Dr. Chopra, Dr. Chopra’s obvious ‘pop-star’ status not withstanding. I think he has probably sold enough books by now.

  5. Charles says:

    I don’t know about all this business about a “soul”, but the Easter Bunny is real. The real purpose of Jesus is to bring us to the Easter Bunny, not the other way around. The entire universe resides within the fuzzy-tailed one’s consciousness.

  6. Rose says:

    Mr. Shermer,

    You have a kick-ass sense of humor!

  7. GDC says:

    The belief in God/s, Devils, Heaven, Hell ARE BIZARRE DELUSIONS and Religion, which MUST have some kind of Deity to be a religion, IS a PSYCHOSIS!!! Therefore ALL who believe in ANY Religion, Spiritualism, ARE DELUSIONAL, PSYCHOTIC and THAT IS all there is to it!!!

    • Marga says:

      Only an arrogant being could write like this but, you know, ignorance is so arrogant.

  8. Dawit Tesfazghi Ghebrmedhin says:

    If abstract infinite #s doesn’t exist in reality what about the real infinite being or God who inhabit eternity or the eternal God who has no beginning as well as who has ending i.e. timeless endless in terms of time and absolutely (totally) free, completely rational and morally perfect God.
    If he is infinite being as well as the eternal one by the definitions of the more complicated and sophisticated version of theism he must also be omnipotent (almighty, all powerful),omniscient (all knowing) and omni verse (ever present one) by the definitions of the layperson view point so as you know probably even none existence itself doesn’t exist so to speak by the same token it is impossible for the same thing at the same time or simultaneously to be and not to be otherwise or else it is unknown even unknowable so it is meaningless, senseless but fortunately or unfortunately regardless of or irrespective of the above two mentioned view points I trust in the self-evident nature’s God who does nothing in vein amen. As for us or about ourselves I don’t know and you don’t either who, how, when and where we are from? As though (if) it seems that we are in the middle of somewhere while in reality we are in the middle of nowhere that is we are driven into the corner (in dilemma) however we are not in skeptical doubt about ourselves or our self-evident existence even though (if) we are in skeptical doubt about our senses or emotions.

  9. Carter says:

    If you were to simply eliminate the dogmatic side and focus on a potential “afterlife” as simply
    a biological process, then I think it becomes somewhat more digestible for the average person.
    I’ve read a lot of spiritual literature that often gives very elaborate and detailed accounts of just what life is supposedly like on the other side (Journey Of Souls most recently by Michael Newton) and I typically come away feeling as though I’ve just read some very imaginative science fiction.

    I very much feel that the average skeptic is nothing more than a person who genuinely WANTS to
    “believe” but has not had the benefit of a transcedent experience of some kind to nurture a faith in the divine. Afterall, we’re all wired differently both physically and psychologically. Is it therefore, impossible to imagine, that some of us may have a predisposition or inability to simply accept such fantastic accounts and propositions on the basis of blind faith alone?
    How does one initially begin to generate blind faith? Isn’t faith harvested through our experiences?
    I only bring it up because very often, “believers” can take a very hostile approach to the skeptical arguement when the reality is that these questions are simply to important to have speculation and philosophy disguised as “evidence”.
    NO, you’re NEVER going to convince anyone that an NDE is empirical evidence of the afterlife. Most NDE accounts I’ve read either sound like an acid trip or a vivid and very absurd dream. Nor can you rely on mediums to provide empirical evidence since the field is infested with such skilled and sophisticated charlatans that dillute it’s legitamacy for all but the few very fortunate that are able to report something truly astounding. Even then, you’re getting a second-hand account no matter how much integrety the source may have.
    I find it particularly interesting, that over the course of this debate, the subject of reincarnation is pretty much absent. Of all the literature I’ve read pertaining to the field of parapsychology (been a bunch), the subject and evidence gathered, particularly by Dr. Ian Stevenson, is by far the most striking with regards to actual physical evidence. It’s pretty damn hard to simply dismiss all his findings to coincidence or conspiracy.
    I’ve even read some skeptically responses to his work and the arguments sound weak at best. Like failing to observe the line between skepticism and denial.

    For the record, I’ve encountered to bonafide, honest

  10. L.Taylor says:

    After reading through most of the arguements and comments, I feel most of both sides have been expressed. I have only a small contributioj that may only add confusion to the attempt at finding an aswer, but just to boggle your mind a little more, let me introduce my thoughts.
    1. I was brought to this sight by the article in Scientific American of just last month in which Michael comments on aaaaaaaaaaaaathe near death experience of Eben Alexander.
    2. It was interesting to read that Mr Alexander took a trip to what he interpreted as heaven, and not in any other direction. Most coins have two sides, so the chance of going one way or the other would depend purely on chance. (or a fixed flip experience). It is more of a mystery to me that his experience was directed toward the good side of the coin rather than the bad side. When we usually hear about dreams, they are more ofter concerned with drastic and dreadful experiences. Does this mean that the person has taken a trip to Hell? I contend, that neither good experiences or bad onec are REAL, or possible as an actual experience. If we relate to religion where the only recorded incidents of recovery from death is recorded as history. We have only the experience of Jesus, who did return and was witnessed by countless people.
    3. However, this source claims that the dead know nothing. What better authority is there than that he has actually experienced it and has been able to declare it as truth.
    4. Supernatural forces however seem to be a reality, and show up usually as good or bad influences. The value of either of them seems to be a function of random circumstnces and not any controllable method. Gambeling thrives on just such experiences.
    5. Whenever we hear about these out of body experiences, they are usually favorable since the survivor is encouraged to believe in the power of prayer. The ones we seldom hear about, are the negative destructive experiences because they shatter our hopes.
    6. There seems to be a wave connection between all visible and invisible substances, that only some of us are sensitive enough to acknowledge. I am not one of them, but most women seem to rely on these mysterious connections to people and things more than men do. I believe, that with this wave connection there are certain atttibutes of it that release this sensitivity. It is a known fact, that in frequency connected objects, radar, short wave, light, a shift in phase occures before the frequency change is effective. This phase shift has been demonstrated to exceed the speed of light. Who can prove it for a fact though is lost to me.
    7. However, Michael, I tend to agree with you that the brain does not know itself, and only responds to lack of input by spitting out static when it’s circuits are disturbed. What magic mechanism sorts and stores thoughts and memories has yet been undiscovered. Only the place where most of them reside, but not the way they are stored or how they are stored.
    8. So, does heaven actually exist? Maybe, the only truth we have is biblical writings supposedly dictated by the creator to sensitive subjects selected for his purpose. If you find all your truth in that source, the answer is known.

  11. Cathy Jones says:

    I was reading excerpts from, “The Believing Brain”, by Dr. Shermer. Keeping onself informed about counterarguments to believing in God, or other such belief systems, is imperative in order to sift out the BS we tend to feed ourselves, to hold onto a particular belief. Having said this, I offer up a thought from my own, believing brain. Regarding meditative states, including prayer, and the release of neurochemicals Dr. Shermer contends are responsible for “seeing” spiritual (un)realities, I counter with this idea, for a moment… Might not these neurochemicals be in place, essential even, in order for any one of us to be able to access the spiritual? Might not these neurochemical processes be necessary for us, as physical beings, to attain that part of reality that is truly spiritual? As I have stated before, regarding experiments with the “God Helmet”, it just may be that God, assuming he exists, would put in place a scientific, biochemical mechanism for a physical being to access the soul. Using these biochemical-related processes as evidence against God isn’t proof. It could be that these chemicals are required for access to him.

  12. Cathy Jones says:

    Hi Dr. Shermer:

    First, I applaud you for asking the tough questions. I appreciate your skepticism–it keeps us all honest.

    I am like you, in that, I hope that there is an afterlife–a soul–and we do go on. However, is there any proof of that? Any scientific proof of that? No, not really…

    Having said this, I also am a near-death experiencer, and I have survived three (3) cardiac arrests, as well as an earlier attempt on my life. During my first cardiac arrest, I came back to waking consciousness with no idea I had arrested. I came back extremely happy, but I didn’t have any memories of an NDE, or of dying.

    During my second arrest, I had an experience. During the experience, I was perfectly aware of what the medical team was doing underneath me. I was sitting straight up, in my NDE, in a room filled with a golden light–no tunnels, no pinpoint of light, but a room filled with light, and a border beyond, through which I could not travel.

    Knowing I must have arrested, yet again, I seriously did not want the doctors and nurses performing chest compressions, so I “forced” my body to tell the medical personnel, “No CPR” (during my first arrest, they had performed these compressions, and I hurt badly, afterwards, so I didn’t want to experience further damage).

    I was experiencing an OBE, while animating my body to speak. I thought that was interesting. My “No CPR” statement was later verified by the medical team. Of course, since I could speak, and I was having this experience that could explain the NDE, as the timing of the “No CPR” statement, and the experience were briefly intertwined.

    Regarding Dr. Michael Persinger, and the “God Helmet”, I have a thought that has kept me from viewing his experiments as further evidence for reducing NDE’s, and like experiences, to only the brain. Here is that thought… if we have a soul, and we are a physical being (obviously) wouldn’t there be just such a mechanism for releasing the soul from the body? Why do we assume there is some sort of “magic” that would be associated with the release of the soul from the body? I think it would practical for God, assuming he exists just for a moment, and being the ultimate scientist, to have a mechanism in place for this release.

    Thank you, Dr. Shermer, for your continued skepticism and for your wit. I enjoy listening to you, and I appreciate your point of view.


  13. Rick Baker says:

    I wish Chopra would focus on the problem and not the person. His arguments seem to be based on his imagination of what might be possible and he quotes a lot of quite anecdotal stuff which, while interesting, doesn’t prove much. The argument feels a bit like having a debate between an astronomer and an astrologer.
    An aspect which seems to be ignored, if we come down to earth a bit, is what happens before conception. The permutations of sperms and eggs that could have resulted in birth are almost infinite….in fact one could quite easily have a completely different set of humans on the planet than the present ones. So what?

  14. Corina says:

  15. Arghirescu says:

    Există viaţă după moarte. Aceasta este foarte simplu de demonstrat.
    [1] Omul nu este trupul său. Trupul este un animal din specia primatelor. Acesta este dovedit ştiinţific. Omul este suma concepţiilor din creierul său. Acesta se numeşte spirit (nu suflet). Nici un animal nu are spirit.
    [2] Spiritul se poate comunica altora prin vorbire, scriere etc. Ex. Acum spiritul meu comunică spiritului dumneavoastră ideile mele. Se formează astfel un total social global de idei. Acesta este spiritul global al umanităţii.
    [3] Deci după moarte trupului unui om ideile sale se regăsesc în spiritul global uman. Deci spiritul omului nu a murit.
    [4] Ex: Spiritul vechilor greci nu a murit. El trăieşte în mintea noastră, în cărţi etc. Noi gândim în spirit platonic sau aristotelic etc.
    [5] Există şi spirite care transcend cunoaşterii umane. Ele sunt cele care guvernează lumea prin legile naturii. Spiritul uman este o infimă parte a unui spirit uriaş numit spiritul universal
    [6] Pentru amănunte intraţi pe: la „Integrarea ştiinţei”.

  16. Karl says:

    The key to all of this is through experiment – tightly controlled, peer reviewed, replicable experiment.

    If hardcore skeptics are perceived as zealous, I applaud them because they are zealously demanding a single isolated observable cause for a single isolated observable effect, with all other variables eliminated. When you can do that, you can claim with 99% certainty that you KNOW something. Everything else is just empty talk.

    The experiments that Shermer discusses with regard to individual neurons being responsible for particular responses in the supposed “mind” weighs heavily in favour of monist materialism.

    The quantum effect of microtubules within those neurons remains thus far unmeasurable and unless we devise some new technology or new parameters for experiment that satisfy the rigor required to qualify as proof, the “quantum mind” is pure conjecture and nothing more. Time will tell.

  17. diva says:

    I agree with shermer

  18. naga says:

    The rather lengthy discussion would have been more constructive had the terms like consciousness, awareness, self, soul, ego etc., been clearly defined and used. The Consciousness in singular, aptly called a field by Chopra, is a pure content-less consciousness or self-awareness. For Buddhists it is vacuum not unlike that of QM, but in Vedanta it is Brahm with zero attributes.. In a lifeless universe, discussion stops here but in that of ours with life and sentience the Consciousness becomes relevant. It serves as a platform for thought processes, necessarily invariant in space and time (that it transcends, so to say), sustains changes including origination and dissolution of processes, without itself undergoing any change – else changes cannot be recognized, whence called a silent witness. Being just pure existence that is the essence of life/sentience, Consciousness is not created and is for ever like say, a pot-space that remains even after the pot is broken. Had the pot been sentient, it will call itself big and feel happy until it sees another when it ‘becomes’ small and feels miserable. Its propensity to be happy or otherwise will survive its death and can be traced to a new pot just born. This may not constitute re-birth as the ‘flavour’ (that survives death) is not unique to that pot. By the same logic, should the flavour be unique then it constitutes the rebirth of the crack pot., though it may not have anything in common with its previous incarnation but for its characteristic latent tendencies. By analogy, should a sentient being say a man, succeeds in getting rid of all flavours of consciousness, nothing survives his death and is not reborn, though at a later date, there could be a soul with mind, body, sense-complex identical to him.
    Described above is a simplified model that has come to be accepted over time for its use in improving one’s quality of life by providing meaning for living, life and its purpose. Chopra’s is an extrapolation to para-normal phenomena that cannot be easily handled by empirical methods at their present state of the art. The idiosyncrasies and plethora of parameters influencing them, not to mention the paucity of data and the imponderables, make a scientific scrutiny very difficult. No wonder, it has become an easy target for Shermer’s casual shots while he himself has no wickets to defend.

  19. adam smith says:

    I don’t know. I’ve personally witnessed some very weird things that I find hard to believe science can explain. Like sinks turning on by themselves when it takes real pressure to do so. Then there have been doors that slammed shut with no one home and no windows open. I’ve had things like the garbage pail twice in an hour decide to relocate itself a few feet away for no apparent reason. These are all in different buildings, so either I’m a poltergeist or something odd has been following me for years.

    My grandmother before her death went to one of those seances older folks seem to love. I tend to think of them as hokey, but this was in a large group, the medium called her by name (fist name, not full name) and had a message from a neighbor who the medium said fell from a ladder and died a few years prior wanting her to let his family know he was fine. This wasn’t an event she signed up for so there’s really no way he could have known. This was also back in the early 90s, long before any sort of instant information would be available had they even known she was there.

    Then there was the time my grandfather died. My father’s antique watch at home stopped on the precise minute his father died. He didn’t have the watch with him at the time so how is that possible?

    Sure, science COULD try to explain this stuff, but go ahead: let me know how those examples could have happened scientifically. I like to think only a fool is sure of anything, that a wise man keeps guessing. Even Einstein believed in God, just not the Judeo-Christian version. The universe is way too ordered to mathematical perfection for everything to have happened “completely by accident” like people love to say. And since no one can prove an afterlife doesn’t exist, and remember, for the proof to be scientific, you have to be able to reproduce the results, I believe it’s possible, and even likely. The energy has to go somewhere, so why can’t it go in a cohesive form?

    • Marga says:

      “Only a fool is sure of anything”. Very well said. If only we were more humble and admit that, truly, we know nothing.

  20. Sylvia Groves says:

    Sorry I mis-typed that URL. It is:

  21. Sylvia Groves says:

    I am quite a simple straightforward person, but am no fool, and am not a liar. I offer my own personal experiences here, which certainly caused an axis-shift in my own perceptions and joyfully shocked my innate skepticism…

  22. Paige111 says:

    Let’s hope we keep that in mind as we move forward with developing these types of technologies.

  23. Trevor says:

    Life has a built-in mechanism for achieving immortality. It’s called procreation. I think it’s a scary proposition to think that humans will one day be able to prolong life, maybe even become somewhat immortal, through the use of technology. If we don’t use our science in an ethical, humane way then we’re doomed to eternal misery. Let’s hope we keep that in mind as we move forward with developing these types of technologies.

  24. Elton John says:

    As someone who has had sex with both Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra, let me just point out two aspects of these men that most people don’t know. Michaels’s post-coital conversation and logic are hands down superior to Deepak’s, no contest. However, sadly, Michael is hung like a quantum partical and is nowhere near the gentle satisfying lover Deepak is. Also, Deepak is hung like a cosmic elephant-trunk. I have no doubt that Michael is correct about the after-life and frankly his intellect is seriously sexy. That said, once you’ve seen Deepak naked by candle light and you’ve experienced his warm soft hands and his sensual kisses, you realise that when it comes to material existence, Deepak is the life of the party.

  25. Gkneauxbeauxdet says:

    Mr. Shermer, I could end the debates for you. I can give you the entire picture so you can see the answers for yourself. I’ll just point them out for you and how it all connects
    and within your very own self the truth comes pouring out. All debates end when the truth is finally seen, known. Your skepticism will turn to enlightenment guaranteed. Without all the mumbo jumbo, speaking scientifically of course, and what all those words mean when translated into the ancient spiritual teachings, or vice verse.

    There are of course many people who don’t want my knowledge shared. If you want answers you better jump quick. You might not even get this “comment.” i’ve been erased before. I have a computer graveyard. Bush sent me into hiding. I’m just now getting back on a computer. Like, this is my first posting.

    You have the email address. (Please don’t release it.) If that doesn’t get a response, then you’ll have to post here for how i should contact you. You have my name. Post it right here above the “Leave a comment.” If you don’t hear from me, i didn’t see it on my computer. You wouldn’t believe the things…
    I can help you arrive at all the answers instead of just telling them to you. And, i’m good. I’ve been under a rock for the past seven years, but i still speak your language. It’s so very simple once you understand a few basic principles. Science is closer to Ancient Spirituality than any religion, belief, or propaganda.

    And, i have fewer problems in my life when i keep my mouth shut, so you better appreciate this. If you want to KNOW, I’m the one that can do it for you.

    I’m not sure why i came here. You’re probably just another one of the bad guys. Guess I’ll find out.

  26. Terrence Young says:

    It’s a strange thing I’ve wrestled with for quite sometime. I agree there is “something” going on in our universe we don’t understand. Personally I’m on the side that think the universe is alive, but I’m not without many questions. For instance, how alive is it? In my tradition, any activity equals some form of consciousness, so even with inanimate matter, there is something going on.

    I enjoyed Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel Escher Bach. In which,

    “Through illustration and analysis, the book discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of “meaningless” elements. It also discusses what it means to communicate, how knowledge can be represented and stored, the methods and limitations of symbolic representation, and even the fundamental notion of “meaning” itself.” Wikipedia

    The entire thesis of that book is how the notion of a “self” is born out of seemingly inanimate matter. The manner in which Hofstadter’s develops this thesis allows the reader to experience the phenomena self referencing, nailing the point home.

    It may be moot point to discuss consciousness since the word and experience itself is so strange, subjective and may be immeasurable. However, reason and scientific experimentation are necessary to any work.

    Technological advances may allow us to puncture several layers of consciousness. Matter may not necessarily wave and say hello, we may understand ourselves a bit better under a different light.

  27. Jose Alonso says:

    “I once saw a bumper sticker that read: Militant Agnostic: I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either.”

    Was it necessary to write so many words after such a clear and unequivocal statement?

    So much mambo jumbo, when the truth is in that so simple an easy to grasp sentence….All the rest is noise!

  28. Forrest says:

    How very depressing. My intuition tells me that we are more than mere biochemical robots but I have no way to prove that. The answers provided by materialism do not satisfy me though. How could they satisfy anyone? I am skeptical that science can provide all of the answers. I am also firmly convinced that materialism is its own religion. When a materialist argues his viewpoint it is with the same fervor as the religious zealout. I think that both are eager to destroy strong belief in others and to replace it with their own. Why do this? This spreads hatred throughout our culture. I consider myself a true skeptic, and I have my doubts that Micheal Shermer still has the ability to question or even recognize his own assumptions.

  29. Nepali says:

    I had these experiences……..
    1) At around 13 years of age I had a deja vu. The wooden staircase was behind me and someone was running down the stairs making the boards creak. My mom appeared in front of me and I started feeling that this thing had already happened before. I knew what my mom was going to ask me. I was about to say it wasn’t me and she asked,”Who was that running down the stairs? Was it you?” I answered no but if I had answered 3 seconds earlier, I’d have been hailed as a psychic for answering something my mom was about to ask me. I knew her question beforehand, I knew the setting of the whole incident.
    2) I was at school, going towards the toilet. Boys and girls were running around. I had a deja vu. I knew the whole situation, as to from where the next boy would come running, who would shout and even who was going to fall beside me. And lo…. a boy came rushing from behind, slipped on the wet floor and fell down to my left. If I had held the boy before he had fallen, I’d have been a superhero with psychic powers.
    3) Later, I had been meditating for about 6 hours per day. I was gripped by an intense fear during meditation, slowly some form of electricity started rising up from the coccyx and rose up to my navel and then towards my head. My tongue felt as if being stung by electric sparks and these electric sparks were running across my brain. I have stopped meditating since then.
    4) I had been trying to communicate with a friend telepathically, concentrating on the image of his face and calling out his name(mentally of course!). The next morning he came to me and inquired if I had tried to communicate with him telepathically. I said no and he said he had heard me calling and had even come out of his house because he felt that I was calling from the door. His brother confirmed that later as he felt that his elder brother might have gone insane as he had shouted,’Yes’ to my call and gone out of the room to meet me.
    However huge the debate might be going on here, I am sure something is missing !

  30. Mr. B. says:

    Wow, sorry for the self-involved online confession. My bad, the fucking piece was legit, sorry Deepak, you’ve got too much renaissance-man bullshit going on. You want to be good at understanding everything, but you seem to realize a lot of it requires more time than you’re willing to devote to it all. Didn’t work out great for Leonardo either. I think you lack committment (damn, I wonder if that’s spelled right), you’re curiosity seems aroused, but you don’t really seem to be able to get it up, and then you proceed to go, uhh, I’m satisfied. My initial impression is that Shermer is more committed to an analysis of methodology. It seems like he’s honed in on that. It’s like the DC circuit under Bazelon according to some thick book I’m supposed to be reading, the idea that even though we can’t expound on the substance, we can recognize good procedures and processes when we see them. That approach avoids a lot of mischief, sure it’s fraught with difficulties, but at least it’s more comfortable than throwing a substantial amount of weight on the “wow, I’m Uri Geller and I rocked the SQUID experiment” factoid. We purport to subscribe to statistics in testing medical efficacy, why change it up dude? (I mean Deepak). Fuck, at what point did you go shit, “I met a dude who was like ‘fuck death, I’m gonna live forever cause I’m Yogi,’ and so I’m not really comfortable anymore with assuming the nullity “there is no effect” like seems to be the standard in medicine, to assuming everything has an effect. Black swan it up for sure, outliers are bitchin’ and gnarly, I feel you, but commit to one side or the other, exhaust it the inquiry. You can’t be Yogi and Einstein at the same time, you’re trying to straddle the fence too much, and in the end everything’s ambiguous. Quantum’s gonna change, will you simply change the words around in your books to comport? Sure, why not, if science can change, so can you, but if science can change, why not spend more time playing on the other side conducting some badass experiments (doesn’t seem like you have on google, my bad if I’m calling you out) with that 900 million everyone supposedly says you got lying around. Hell dude, I’ll do ’em, let’s see where this mofo goes. I want to embrace the world myself, but my arms are small, and my mind not as expansive as yours, but I’m sure you’re really adept at using tools, so have at it. ( My little bro smokes mad weed and thinks you’re great Deepak, by the way. Like Usher, this has been my confession. Fuck, back to finals. About to get kicked out of a top ten law school (god I love statistics), seriously, I suck at time management. But at least the government’s advancing me the student loans, someday, I’ll contribute a’la Peter Thiel…bull shit.

  31. Mr. B. says:

    I read through this. Snippets of everything. Anyhow, as I sit here, putting off homework, I ask myself what could I do to contribute to the search for understanding by weighing in, and then I go, not a thing–too much work. Hell, I don’t even know what the question is. At first the most annoying thing in learning physics and math was that you had to start so low–I was guilty of culturing a pretty narcissistic worldview like I could figure anything out, and then all of a sudden, ask me to compute conditional probabilities about children’s ages and I realized I was much better at bullshitting my way out of a problem then solving it. Compounding my sense of “wow, I really haven’t even come close to arrival…” was having a professor explain to me that a seemingly simple problem actually had two valid answers depending on how certain ambiguities in apparently clear wording were resolved. Now I see it in law school, where everything can apparently go either way, persuasively so…so much that I long for the phD in math (I started out wanting to be a physicist, and then realized I didn’t know jack about math, and then the wife’s like what are doing when you just sit at your desk for hours drinking mountain dew…). All I see is people waiting for studies. But inevitably they’re never good enough. Of course not. Christ (just an expression, whatever), most people hardly consider the problems to the point where they actually get out of their chairs to conduct an experiment. But that’s just me making an unfounded generalization based wholly on my own perceived inadequacy. I sat here trying to ask myself, what’s a valid tractable question I could study rigorously that was raised in this article, and I had to go shit, it’s basically politics. I agree with shermer’s approach more, I just don’t know what to direct it towards. It seems like it’s left to so few to go out and find the answers, like most of the questions aren’t enough to really push anyone who apparently cares to go out and conduct an experiment. Hell, we can get money to go mine asteroids, but we bitch about how there’s no money for basic research but everyone’s got questions? More to follow, might be something here….

  32. Jim Gregory says:

    Read only a small part- up to the “Weight of the Soul”. What utter piffle- HOW can an ethereal, non- physical ‘entity’ have mass?? It is by definition, massless so WTF claim you have weighed IT? Good grief, is this what a scientific education produces?

    Where does this ‘soul’ go? To wherever you were before you were born, let’s say; it is after all “immortal”! Get over it Michael- it is all BOLLOCKS!

  33. fringekitty says:

    “Sometimes trauma can trigger such experiences.”

    Most definitely. I can attest to this myself. I have PTSD with dissociation, and have experienced most of the states described, including OBEs.

    As a child, I was taught that such experiences were the work of God OR the Devil OR simply crazy. Never did anyone suggest that these were coping mechanisms and/or side-effects of trauma until I went to college. There I learned the hows and whys and what-to-dos relating to my situation.

    However, as a child, I had to contend with the “what if” of these experiences, so I decided ultimately not to judge them. I took comfort from them when I could, but never assumed at that age where they came from. I felt the need to stay skeptical, even though I didn’t know what the word meant at that age.

    Underscoring the traumas I originally experienced, was the trauma from my religious upbringing, which tended to reinforce negative emotions relating to my experiences, such as shame, while ignoring the issues that caused it. This really complicated things for me, but not as much as if I had suffered as others have from direct clergy abuse.

    Of course, I predict–I must be psychic–that the general response from true believers will be that just because trauma can be related doesn’t mean these aren’t divine experiences. But this is exactly the sort of statement that cannot be proven. And, I believe the debates are about proof, not speculation.

  34. Alan says:

    The two best known atheists in the world today are Richard “Hateful” Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. Both use lame excuses to “prove” that God does not exist.

    1. Dawkins’ favorite line is “If God made the universe, then who made God!”

    This is Turtles All The Way Down nonsense. If someone else made God, Dawkins would then ask, “Who made God’s maker!”, etc forever.

    2. Hawking claims that there is no “need” for God in a multiverse which all made themselves, from “nothing” which is instead really quite a lot. It all starts with “gravity”says Hawking. But gravity, precise to one part in 10 to the 10 to the 120th is not “nothing.” Moreover, what on nothing is gravity to act upon!

    3. Another less well-known atheist, but one almost as hateful and condescending as Richard “Hateful” Dawkins has written a book with a book with a chapter titled “We Will Become God.”

    Men will always find something to worship. If it is not the living God, it seems many worship themselves above all else. Take Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking please.

    Finally, Google “John Lennox – A Matter of Gravity” and watch his one hour lecture, where he thoroughly disassembles all of Hawking’s and Dawkins’ arguments.

    • Jim Gregory says:

      What’s ‘hateful’ about Richard Dawkins? That he exposes the depth of your wishful, childlike delusions and hence your incapacity to think clearly? Religion, to me is for the Faint of Heart and Weak of Mind or, to put it another way When thinking gets too difficult, fall back on Faith.

      It is for the believers to ‘prove’ the existence of their preferred deity; as Hitchens succinctly put it “That which is asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”

  35. Steph says:

    Lets face it: Chopra makes allot of money from selling whoo hoo, and will obviously protect it at any cost.

    In his surmise, he evades and does not properly counter Shermer’s arguments. Every experiment he points at to prove the supernatural, have been disproved by legitimate science using legitimate scientific methods.

    Chopra cherry picks, twists and evades facts to try to strengthen his shaky hypothesis. For example, if you wiki Helmut Schmidt, you will find that he was a parapsychologist; not a scientist.

    Chopra insinuates that the supernatural is more modern then true science. He manipulates and links terms like consciousness and quantum mechanics to fabricate that belief in the supernatural is more advanced then scientific research. He fails to mention that science has come a long way in 200 years, whereas the belief in supernatural and fantasy has basically remained the same since prehistoric humans told stories about spirits around camp fires.

    Although Chopra has medical doctor credentials, he is no physicist and his knowledge of quantum physics is described by experts as being elementary at best.

    Remember that 100’s of years ago, people still believed in witchcraft, dragons, bleeding with leeches, and allot of what Mr Chopra is packaging as a form of new age science.

    Belief in the supernatural and paranormal is a guaranteed step back into antiquity, and very much adverse to legitimate science that for the last 200 years ameliorated our “real” lives on earth.

  36. Daniel says:

    Mr. Shermer made his comments and Mr Chopra made his. Since Mr. Chopra did not effectively counter Mr. Shermer’s arguments and provided no viable counter-arguments other than those postulated by old beliefs (he references these constantly in his writings) and inconclusive studies, I would have to give the win to Mr Shermer purely as a judgement of the debate itself. It was quite striking that Mr. Chopra leaned quite heavily on the tested and tried ad hominem fallacy as opposed to bringing forth actual evidence to support his views. Furthermore, I found his insistence that there was no discussion of consciousness in Mr Shermer’s comments quite amusing as, by definition, all comments emerge from consciousness. I hesitate to even mention the weakness in his references to various studies as he misreports the facts on each and every one. Please don’t take my word for it, they are all available as public information. The zeros and ones test at Princeton, for example, is unforgivably misrepresented by Mr. Chopra. When all the dust settled and all the numbers and controls were factored in the success rate was actually below 51%, right at the level we would predict if there were no effect. While I am alive, enjoying the vast wonders and beauty of our world and universe, I will continue to study the things of this existence. As soon as I die, if I experience an afterlife, I promise to begin my study of mystical energy fields, spirituality, telepathy and other such invisible, but compelling subjects. I promise to seek out and tell the Chopra energy field that he/it was right, assuming that he/it has not been reincarnated as an intelligent Parrot.

  37. Amy says:

    Leave it to the sarcastic(okay back to Earth) narrow minded American to quote science badly throughout the article. Obviously your role as fire starter is taking you on this path and for whatever reason some may find it difficult to think with an open mind and heart. If it is then maybe it’s not for you which doesn’t mean that others cannot succeed in understanding. Obviously there are many that do understand. You, Mr skeptic, should start at the beginning. You have barely scratched the surface. However you are just doing this to get paid and probably are not inspired by your heart.

  38. marlin says:

    niether of you knows what you are talking about. i had an nde and all communications in the afterlife is telepathic. this life in this world is only the begining. there is so much going on in heaven,that you would`nt believe half of what i could tell you about. the only way you`ll ever know is when you die!!!

  39. Anthony G. says:

    First of all, thank you so much for this article. This was the first article I’ve read on this site since seeing the recent interview with Stossel.

    My view, as the article mentions, is that a middle road exists. In a pragmatic way, we need to discover for ourselves what experience means for us. Then, we neither get swept up in airy-fairy mystical-schmystical nonsense, nor doomsday pseudo-scientific rhetoric.

    Look at guys like Sagan and Dawkins, and then look at guys like Shinzen Young and the Dalai Lama. I think all of these people have said different, yet important things.

    FYI, the Science of Enlightenment may be an excellent purchase for anyone who would like to study Eastern Philosophy in a science-friendly, precise way.

  40. G DOLAN says:

    Chopra is hilarious, Pythonesque, what an irreverent sense of humour!

    WHAT??? Serious, you say? NO, can’t be… Religious? Ah, NOW it begins to make sense

  41. Nick Francel says:

    So, to begin, I must be forthright and say that I have an undergraduate degree in Art and am not nearly as educated in these fields or as intelligent as either Michael Shermer or Deepak Chopra. However, I am able to read and use Google, and while I spent over an hour reading and rereading through the arguments and comments, it took me less than 10 minutes to research the following:

    1. Deepak Chopra says: “But people do cross the boundary between life and death only to return…often [These NDEs] appear after the brain ceases all activity.” The medical term for this is “brain death” which according to Wikipedia is “the irreversible end of all brain activity”. Look it up. It is impossible for a brain to cease all activity and return to life. THUS, saying there have been NDEs from people who have been been brain dead is not only wrong it is a physical impossibility. Now this might be nit-picking but one should speak clearly, especially on these matters.

    2. On the subject of Ingo Swann and the SQUID, a couple pages of Google only returned websites espousing “remote viewing” and THIS webpage. Without a real study or accredited source, I really can’t put any stock in this argument of Chopra’s. Assuming it was as incredible as he says, I’m fairly certain it would come up somewhat earlier in the Google results.

    3. The study of the parrot N’kisi can be found at:
    Not only is this article in “Society for Scientific Exploration” (basically a journal of pseudoscience) but the methodology is inherently flawed (as I’m sure anyone can see from the abstract) AND Chopra states that “Out of 71 trails, N’kisi got 23 hits”, however the study clearly states 147 trials, and “N’kisi said one or more of the key words in 71 trials” and OF THAT got 23 hits which were judged by 3 people. Honestly, I shouldn’t explain anymore, just read the abstract.

    Finally, much of what Deepak Chopra said was merely words strung together to form sentences but with no coherent, concrete idea or meaning. Or maybe I just don’t know enough to understand, but Chopra did a poor job of helping me understand.

    • Mr. B. says:

      mad respect to your google fu. as for the squid experiment, try the name of the physicist, he’s got a good book on electronics according to wikipedia, got really good at scientology for awhile, and tested uri geller. basically all turned out to be shit in the end. hope the art goes well. peace

  42. robert says:

    my comment is niether scientific nor spiritual. we don’t know. knowone knows. we could talk about it until it happens but we don’t know. i can tell you exactly what it will be. it will be whatever it is. period. no matter what you believe or what we know as of now if your honest you don’t know. in my view the efforts we spend should be on the here and now. like i said when the end comes it will be exactly what it is. i realize the reasons are many for thinking on this and it happens to everything not just people. but if you really think about it what difference does it make if you know or not. there are so many more things in life you won’t know while your alive as compared with what you will know.

  43. Michael says:

    How much wishing there is among the people who want there to be a soul! From that very first intuition that death is the soul leaving the body and the equation of the soul with the breath through to all the universal information fields. The vain attempt to harness the weirdness and unpredictability of quantum effects to consciousness. The argument from authority of ancient religions. The elusive “parapsychologicial effects” beyond the edge of probability and provability.

    On my uncle’s death, my father said to me, “If there is a heaven, I am sure Bill is up there looking down on us”. Feeling that need for consolation in our shared grief, I replied, “Me too Dad.” Did we get some consolation? Maybe we did, even though I am sure neither of us – neither my Christian father nor my atheist self – would agree on or even understand the first part of the syllogism.

    Staring at the hard realities, however uncomfortable, I have, since childhood, never been able to believe in the supernatural. I am afraid that the world is all there is. It’s got its consolations. The non-existence of the bullying, jealous and vengeful gods of all the many religions is a great relief. The idea that one’s eternal soul might be roasted or returned as a newt for disobedience in this world can reasonably safely be put aside.

    As for Deepak Chopra’s “consciousness” and its separate existence, the arguments against put alongside the plain realities of life and death are just overwhelming. Sure, we feel like a consciousness floating somewhere behind our eyes, but that doesn’t make us disembodied souls. Maybe sometimes we feel like a rider and our material body is the horse. Maybe we feel that we should transcend our physical existence. Maybe a bunch of people have told us we do transcend it; that would certainly give them a hold over us and advantage them if we were to believe them, or act as if we believed them. Maybe in many ways it works in our own interests to act as though we are not our bodies. We can “drive ourselves”, “break through the pain barrier” and even consume our bodies with drugs, drink or back-breaking work. So many things go well with a belief in transcendence of the physical. It probably underlies whole categories of social control.

    The basic reality that we all accept deep down, however, is that we are our physical selves. Our consciousnesses form gradually as we develop in the womb and as children in the interaction of our growing selves and the world. Each of our faculties is linked indissolubly with a part of our brain or body. As our bodies deteriorate with age, our wisdom and experience grown over a lifetime surrender to dementia, stroke, osteoporosis and loss of sex drive. In the end, we flicker out with our bodies’ metabolisms. Who does not really believe this? What believer in the afterlife really gave up his or her life lightly, bolstered by belief? Why are we not overwhelmed by suicide bombers?

    The existence of alternative beliefs is evidence of the fear of extinction, not a fearless examination of reality.

    I do not know exactly how consciousness springs from the workings of my body. I feel that it is an emergent quality of the complex interaction between my brain and body and the physical world. I think my awareness/attention at any given moment, combined with a sense of time just past and just to come probably do a lot of it. Memory and desire help. The sense of continuity before and after sleep and other losses/changes of consciousness are also part of it. Tangled hierarchies of process and meta-process probably have to be involved as does the possibility that interesting formal systems will need to be able to confront their own contradictions.

    • fringekitty says:

      Two items really caught my attention here: bullying and social control.

      Science is a method, but religion–just like any group that deals with money–is an industry. Like any other industry, it not only engages in practices to ensure self-preservation, but it generally seeks to overtake any competition as well. Throughout history it seems this has mostly been through one form of bullying or another.

      Some groups are outright rackets where the leaders hold few beliefs similar to their flock but give them a good show for tax-free returns. Others are more sinister, focusing efforts on social control, not just for their group, but in egomaniacal attempts to rule the world, or at least their little domain in it.

      This doesn’t just happen in traditional, organized religions as some New Age industry leaders would have people believe. Self-appointed guru’s square-off with each other all the time, competing for a following. Their products just don’t sell as well if they are recognized as generics.

  44. Tim Owen says:

    All the mysteries of our lives and the universe that have ever been solved have turned out to be………NOT MAGIC.

  45. Robert says:

    oh in agreement with what Bernardo in comment 49 says, i forgot to mention this

    Couldn’t it even be remotely plausible that all that scientists everywhere and always have been doing is figuring out HOW god made/makes it all work
    Like back engineering a very complicated clockwork?
    I am using “god” here figuratively speaking, not as the personification of any thing and as far as i’m concerned one can just as well fill in “nature” “the universe” or what ever one sees fit to name that all encompassing thing, without placing that all encompassing thing outside, or apart, of it all

    To me it does not sound weird or improbable at all that self awareness is not exclusively a human condition, but i do believe that if consciousness survives bodily death even that “individual self” will eventually fade either by gradually becoming more and more absorbed by that oneness so many nde’ers describe or because the concrete memories of lives lived and lives yet to live are not individual property, seen from that perspective there is only one “I” and that one I experiences everything from every possible angle and all aspects through every thing and everybody
    Since it is just one there is no change, no experience of time nor space.
    The self awareness of this oneness divides it’s self
    Which brings us back to the singularity).

    and then there will be light.

    But of course i might be wrong in which case, i will never know, so why let that bother me?

  46. Robert says:

    As I see it after reading Michael Shermer’s arguments is that he has too much of an attitude that, when, or as long as, there is no scientific explanation or scientifically viable theory or hypothesis or “frame of reference” to explain a phenomenon as observed or experienced it has no place in objective reality and therefore it must be a hallucination or some other product of the brain but can not be part of objective reality as explained by known and proven scientific facts

    I wonder what attitude Michael Shermer would have had toward that one brave individual that made his way out of Plato’s cave, or for instance if he had never witnessed lightning in a time when it was explained as a supernatural thing. I am strongly convinced he would have started of by saying that the observer was either hallucinating or simply making things up, or simply gone bananas

    That is not being a skeptic, that is nothing more than having adopted science as your religion and the “proven facts” nothing more than scientific dogma, like: the Earth IS flat AND at the center of the universe, the stars are little holes in the celestial sphere, I mean those were once all BELIEVED to be proven scientific facts).

    As long as science can not come up with a better model for the beginning of the universe than “The Big Bang” theory scientists are no further than the priests of ancient times, the only thing being different in their “explanation” is that science today replaced the “creator” of the universe by the “creation” of the universe

    aren’t they suspiciously similar?

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
    The hypothetical “quantum field” perhaps? Or “brane” if you are into string theory and the unified field theory(ies)

    3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
    Sounds suspiciously like the first nano second after the “big bang” to me

    Just replace the who by the how (funny how you only need to move the 1st letter to the back as if telling us there is no progress in this line of reasoning but rather the opposite)
    A singularity resulting in a big bang, without even the slightest hint of why a singularity wouldn’t just stay as it is, a singularity

    And then when their observations of the expansion rate of the universe do not confirm their predictions, that the rate of expansion should be decreasing, but in stead is increasing they come up wit vague constructs like “dark matter and dark energy”.
    I’m sure the ancient priests would’ve at least given those unexplained phenomena cooler names like Hargoroth the god of expansion and growth the son Azerothero god of all things fast and faster

  47. Bernardo says:

    I think it’s all about not being arrogant.

    If you have a MD degree, you’ll see and prove all physical realm (body, chemistry, electrons) will determine all metaphysics (mind, soul, feelings). It cannot be any different since physical is your (careful, here!) area of interest.

    The other way around also works: you can see and prove the metaphysical forms the physical.

    What if they’re all correlated? What if they’re mutually influencing each other, *both ways*? Can anyone be such an arrogant messiah to claim it all works one-way only -the way they know?

    BTW: mr. Chopra’s reaction is obviously harsher than mr. Shermer’s. I use to react the same way when responding to fake, condescending politeness. Not that’s a good thing to do, tho.

  48. tim owen says:

    You have pretty much the same chance as a loaf of bread of having another life.You were not around for the billions of years before your birth and you are not going to be around after your death until the end of time,actually,you will not be around after the end of time if there is such a thing.Sorry to be so unromantic but this is based on what we actually KNOW,science shows absolutely no evidence of any kind of re-birth/afterlife.
    Your ‘something’ that you feel isn’t actually there,and it won’t ‘do it again’ because it is not there and you won’t be either because you will be dead.Simple facts.
    As the great Thom Yorke of Radiohead sang ‘just cus you feel it,doesn’t mean it’s there’.
    Everything is just speculation and fantasy,you may aswell suggest that we all ride on a pink elephant to marshmallowland after we die,no one claim is more outlandish than the other,all claims without proof are the same.Just silly.

    • Robert says:

      ignoring evidence is the perfect way to insist the Earth is flat, well …. etc we both know already what i mean to get across here, i think there is more insight in your “pink elephant to marshmallow land” argument than in your “this is what we KNOW” approach

      Do some honest objective research and find out how much we REALLY know
      how much we thought we KNEW through history that had to be revised or totally abandoned

      even the speed of light has recently gained a contender for being the speed limit of the universe (Neutrinos seem to be a fraction faster than “the classical S.O.L. particles” like electrons and photons) there is still no absolute certainty as to the accuracy of these measurements, like minor calibration errors, but neutrinos are very dodgy fellas which makes it very difficult to accumulate massive amounts of statistically significant data, but it would not surprise me that this phenomenon will go the same way as cold fusion, zero point energy and other fringe science, the results in these fields are repeatable, and repeated by plenty scientists with results that at the very least show there is an energy gain, the search now is to refine these processes and find out if they can be put to practical use.

      Same with ZPE there is a lot of energy in the vacuum, the problem is finding a way to extract usable amounts from it, at this point it might already be useful to feed nano tech units

      And last but not least, certainly not least Einsteins “there can be no spooky action at a distance” another example of a scientific FACT we can add to the list of casualties on the scientific facts burial grounds

  49. Gary says:

    There are many bright minds posting their comments so I’d like to ask a question. This has puzzled me all of my life relative to a hereafter. Obviously, by no means of my own, I appeared on this plane of life as a conscious being. It seems that a materialistic view implies that this can happen once and only once since the dead refuse to talk. My question is if it happened once why are we so sure it can’t happen again to each of us personally? I’m not suggesting we might travel to another dimension or another time frame or to heaven, but asking why are we limited to “just once”? Since “I” had nothing to do with my existence I feel that “something” did – accidental or not. How can I be so sure “Something” won’t do it again to me? It’s difficult for me, an agnostic, to shed the thought that I’m part of a process that’s going somewhere for some evolutionary reason. The more we learn it seems the more curious we become.

  50. Bill says:

    When I crunch through the snow to my truck, then turn the key in the ignition and hear it roar to life, I know water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and believe the science behind the internal combustion engine. My normal, everyday mindset, in other words, isn’t skeptical of things I can verify, directly or indirectly, time after time.

    Paranormal claims have always been outside that mindset—subjective rather than objective evidence and no clear way to repeat the experiment nor measure the results. Flying saucers and little green men are apparently an exception. Or so I’m told.

    I therefore tend to dismiss paranormal experiences and claims as wishful thinking, self-delusion or superstitious nonsense—sometimes all three at the same time. There was an exception, however, and I experienced it 22 years ago when my son was murdered.

    He and I and his mother had driven to the mountains to hike and run the Pacific Crest Trail. I was training for a 50km race. His mother was training for the 10 mile part of the event. Our son wasn’t doing the race, but was also a runner, and came along to be with us. We left the parking lot around 8 in the morning. His mother planned to hike for an hour or so, but I wanted to run for 3 hours. Our son was tired from a week of college exams, so he decided to run with me for 20 minutes, then return to the car and wait for us.

    When he and I got to his turn-around, I gave him the keys to our car. I continued up the trail to my turn-around, then started back. When I was 2 miles from the parking lot, a very dark, ominous feeling came over me. I didn’t hear a voice but something inside me wanted to get back to my wife and son quickly. It was frightening and urgent–not something I could dismiss as just my imagination.

    When I got near the parking lot, my wife was walking around calling for our son. Not loud enough for me to hear her when I had been 2 miles away, but there was an urgency in her voice. We searched the forest and the road leading up to the trail head for an hour but never found him. Exhausted, I ran down to a nearby restaurant and called the police. The search party found our son late that evening. He had been beaten to death. They never found his killer.

    What I heard that morning has never been in doubt–the message was as plain as if somebody had shouted words into my ears. What I have wondered all these years is who sent the message? Was it my son? Telepathically while he was being killed? Or para-normally after he was dead? Or was it my wife communicating telepathically as she searched frantically for him?

    My wife and I shared the burden of our son’s death for 17 years. Five years ago, she died, leaving me to ponder the answers to these questions on my own.

    A few years later, I read a book by Thomas Sheehan in which he said: “We only know what we interpret, and cannot peek over the edge of our interpretations to see things in the raw.” For a while, I entertained the idea that perhaps para-normal experiences are peering over the edge of our sensory judgments and cognitive interpretations. So what, I thought. Even if my para-normal experience was peering over, hearing a voice without my ears, it didn’t tell me that consciousness survives death. I still don’t know. And perhaps never will. Like Carl Sagan, “I don’t want to believe. I want to know.”

    Like Sagan and Shermer, I am a skeptic. We don’t know. But I agree with Chopra, too. True skepticism ought to suspend belief and disbelief. Carl Sagan said it best: Skepticism and wonder make strange bedfellows but a good marriage, for one must be open to all sorts of ideas but willing to run them through a rigorous filter.” I agree. And my filter is science driven by curiosity and curiosity driven by skepticism.

    But arguments for life after death have always been attractive to me in a self-indulgent way. Who wouldn’t want to believe they will be with their loved ones again in some cosmic consciousness, collective or otherwise? Will I never know? Never is a long time—longer than forever, which is only now.

  51. Greg says:

    Stop shit talking Americans. 300 million people are not all the same. And don’t retort with a statement how most are whatever. You’re not a cultural psychologist so piss off.

  52. Pratap says:

    Hi Michael,
    In your article you mentioned that no one so far has come with evidence of after life (relating to your quote on 100 billion people so far existed/living). But I have something strange experince which I am feeling it as afterlife. Maytbe you have some good answer for this.
    When I was somewhere around 6 years old I used to do a stomach gripping exercise playfully. I always used to do that show to my family and friends. I still remember that act vidly how I used to do that. Later I got interested in Yoga practice at the age of 19 and have been doing it since then. Sometime after regular Yoga practice (at the age of 32) it occured to me that the physcial exercise which I have been doing in my childhood is an Advanced Yogic Kriya (Nauli kriya). Once I realized that I was surprised and started thinking it must be past life experience. The reason for such conviction is that Nauli Kriya is not that simple exercise which I could believe every doing it at the age 6 years without anyones training. Then I simple wanted to experiment myself futher by saying this – “If I could do that exercise without anyones training I should be still able to do that myself again”. With that thought again after 2 days I was able to do that Nauli Kriya perfectly again (at 32).
    I am now 39 and still do that Kriya along with other Yoga practices. Interestingly some other complicated poses like Mayuransana (or Peacock posture) I was able to do that myself without training from anyone(but did some study). How could this be possible? May be learning asanas without training from anyone is not a big deal but I am really puzled about that Nauli Kriya which I still remember vividly I used to do that precisely the way I do it now and which is as per yoga scriptures.

    May be you won’t believe this content as true, but for the sake of proving something that matters to everyone, I am really fine with any lie detector tests or any advanced tests that you could do to prove the point.

    Finally I want to say one last thing. Maybe there is a simpele reasonng for this from Science.


  53. tim owen says:

    I am sorry but only believing in proven things does not make me some sort of idiot,any one of your beliefs is just that,a belief,you could choose any ridiculous thing to believe in just like the always mentioned Flying Spaghetti monster,it does not matter what it is,it is all based on myth and fantasy,until anything is proven it is made up shit to me.I would turn on a sixpence and believe anything if it was proven tomorrow,i am open to everything,i just need facts,not bullshit spouted by delusional Americans.
    JUST BECAUSE THE GARDEN IS BEAUTIFUL DOESN’T MEAN THERE ARE FAIRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF IT.Learn how to use Google and learn how to read things and take them on board.RATIONALISE,IT’S NEVER TOO LATE.Thank fuck for truly intelligent people like the great Stephen Fry.

  54. Quinn Williams says:

    Here is another example of a skeptic with limited knowledge being well and seriously challenged by some one who knows a lot more about what he’s talking about than he does. In short: who the [bleep] are you and what the *&%@!!? would you know?

  55. Quinn Williams says:

    skeptics are just critics, you go get a phd in quantum physics, teach at a decent university and retire a professor emeritus, having written the predominant text book of the discipline and I might feel you had some clue is to whether our standard assumptions have as much weight as we might like…. or at least whether I’d listen to your understanding when compared with someone far more qualified in such an area.

  56. Devendra Tak says:

    From where I am on the space-time continuum right now, I’d like to go with Deepak Chopra! (I don’t necessarily believe everything he says but in any case he provides me with knowledge and tools that can make this LIFE better – more harmonious and more peaceful)

  57. tim owen says:

    Hi red,you are talking crap i’m afraid,is 99.9% an official figure or one you have made up,just as all religions are made up?
    So,nearly everything i do i.e driving a car is based on anecdotal evidence? i KNOW my car exists because there is proof of it!! If you run your life on anecdotal evidence you have big problems my friend and if i were you i would check my passport,it probably confirms that indeed,you are american.
    p.s There is a scientifically proven fact that says there is a direct correllation between academic intelligence and belief in gods,ghosts,mediums,mythical beasts etc,i don’t need to tell you which way it swings do i?
    73.2%of these believers are officially retarded.

    • OmegaLazarus says:

      What’s with all this American bashing. Last time I checked, the vast majority of Scientific progress was fielded in America, by American Citizens, with American financing. Other countries contribute as well, especially in the case of CERN and all discoveries before America existed (as a nation). I find it interesting that someone labeling a country of people as unscientific would not pick a nation with an official state-sponsored religion such as Israel or Saudi Arabia.

  58. Red says:

    And we all know that the existance of something is determined by whether or not humans have proof of it acquired under scientific conditions.
    Also telling someone to live in a “real world” while at the same time rejecting anecdotal evidence on the basis that we do not have proof acquired under scientific conditions supporting anecdotal evidence in question is somewhat stupid seeing as at least 99.9% of ours actions in the “real world” is based on anecdotal evidence not on proof acquired under scientific conditions.

  59. tim owen says:

    Hi Jess,this skeptic says proof required under scientific conditions,it has never happened,never will.Stop hanging on to rubbish like this and live in the real world,life is great when you let go of superstition and myth.cheers.

  60. Jessie Williams says:

    What does the skeptic say about NDE where the dying one visits, see and hears what is happening in another room, comes back to life and their findings are verified?

  61. Jon says:

    Shermer like Susan Blackmore, whom he references in his side of the debate is a convert. Shermer was a fundamentalist Christian, Susan Blackmore was a parapsychologist. Both converted to scientific skepticism (their word). The problem with most converts, are that they become zealots. Which is really just another kind of fundamentalism. So you could say Shermer is a fundamentalist skeptic. Translation: There is nearly no amount nor type of evidence that one could provide to Shermer and his ilk, that would convince them of the reality of an afterlife, psi or any related phenomena. Shermer has his fan boys who will of course defend him, but the truth is that being the zealot that he is, everything he says is biased and suspect from the get go.

    • Jon says:

      Pretty much take all the conclusions I pointed out about Shermer. i.e. Zealot, biased, fundamentalist skeptic and apply those to Richard Dawkins as well.

    • dave auger says:

      As a fanboy, I was wondering where I could get a t-shirt.

  62. Ray says:

    Slight variation, but along the same lines ! Also surprising how many get misled by Richard Dawkins, who sets himself up as an expert. A much wiser person and leading expert is Harold Morowitz, who is a theoretics expert. He was asked by NASA to determine the likelihood of other life in the universe. His computations on the broader picture were as follows: The likelihood of life occurring in the universe by chance is 1/10236. He stated “The universe would have to be trillions of years older, and trillions of times larger, for a protein molecule to have occurred by random chance”. Anybody wishing to dispute this can contact NASA, who I am sure will be delighted to hear from somebdoy with such expertise.

    • dave auger says:

      Isn’t the universe infinite?

    • Pat Boardman says:

      Refer to YouTube videos by NASA’s Tom Campbell on his theory “My Big T.O.E. (Theory Of Everything), a great scientific model. He stresses putting aside beliefs, fear, and ego to avoid pre-judging nor does he go out on a limb with things he can’t prove, but the points he makes are very logical. Stephen Hawking has made some terribly wrong conclusions and I am disregarding his work since if his conclusions are wrong it doesn’t matter how he reached them, his ego has taken over and he’s making rash statements not supported by any proofs. As of 2013 Tom Campbell is leading the way in Astrophysics.

  63. Ray says:

    You always find that it is the less intelligent ones who call others stupid if they disagree with you. I have always found that it is those with lower IQs and education who do such things. Those that are more intelligent and better educated have the intellect to see there is another argument, even if they disagree. I believe in the afterlife, having looked at it with an open mind. My IQ is 145 and I am highly educated with numerous qualifications, including 2 at degree standard. Debating is normally a waste of time for sure, because people usually come into the argument with closed minds. Closed minds from both sides of the arguments I mean.

  64. tim owen says:

    There is no hope for victorian thinking,delusional retards,debating is truly a waste of time.So,dont waste your time free thinkers,just live the one life you know you are going to get and let them carry on with their mental illness,because,basically thats what it boils down to,mental illness.
    America will never step into this century,no chance! but i think organised insanity is starting to die out in britain.

  65. Feanor says:

    What would “Chupacabra” say about people who saw in their NDEs people who DID’T die? Their friends, family who still are among living?

    “As I said, the feeling of calmness was indescribable. I heard music…. I heard someone calling me. I turned and saw his face at the other end of the tunnel. It was Fabio” [the man she was living with].
    But Fabio was alive and normally conscious during his girlfriend’s NDE, so he could not have possibly really been calling her inside a tunnel to another world. Clearly we can encounter both the living and the dead in NDEs, just as we can in dreams. This implies that it would be just as irrational to suggest that real people inhabit the NDE world as it would be to suggest that they inhabit the world you encounter in your dreams.

    • HOSER says:

      I wondered where the heck Fabio had gone

    • melaniek69 says:

      Actually it doesn’t mean that at all. If you read more broadly in this area you would understand how this could be possible. Try Michael Newton’s book Journey of Souls.

  66. Jody Schmidt says:

    Michael Schermer is a publicity seeker of limited intellect. His mind cannot expand enough to embrace a novel view in order to properly challenge it, so he takes the low road and categorically denies and dismisses it, often adding snipes and personal attacks.
    Don’t blame him: He just doesn’t ‘get’ it. It is ironic because he probably believes he is good for science when, in fact, he is the absolute poison of the edge of theoretical science, where all must be embraced before being disproven. He thinks he embraces first, but does not and knows it.

    If he was around circa 1900, he would be lambasting and laughing at early quantum theory since it doesn’t conform to classical physics. He knows this. We know this, although he would like to think otherwise.
    There has got to be another term for what Mr. Schermer espouses and practices, because it certainly is not skepticism.
    It also can be applied to just about anything. Examples:
    “Did you ever travel in a spaceship and near the speed of light and feel everything slow down? Me neither.”
    “Did you ever study for a test after you take it and find it improves your score? Me neither.”
    (No doubt Mr. Schermer will be unable to wrap his restricted challenged mind around the implications of that research, so he will throw up 1000 nitpicking challenges and attacks and then, as a result of his amassed attacks, satisfy himself that he has ‘disproven’ the research. Kind of sad. Kinda sucks to be him.

  67. C says:

    I like the discussion – but some posters I think make a mistake in their comments.

    Seems like people (perhaps in an attempt to make themselves feel better about holding onto their own beliefs?) like to accuse atheists and skeptics of “believing in science so much that it is almost a religious belief.”

    This is why the bumper sticker quote Shermer gives at the very beginning of his article is so important, “I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either”. There is a big difference between saying “I know and you should listen to me” (Chopra – beliefs) and “I don’t know, but neither do you” (Shermer – logic/science). It is perfectly reasonable to argue against someone who is saying “I know” if they present something as fact when there is little or questionable “evidence”.

    As Dawkins said in God Delusion – just because there are only two outcomes, God exists or God doesn’t exist for example, doesn’t make the argument 50/50. The overwhelming majority of evidence, anecdotal and scientific alike, points to the fact that there is no soul, and no afterlife. But only someone who values BELIEF would conclude “there is for a FACT no afterlife”. If you really are a skeptic, like Sherman, you will say “there is no compelling evidence for an afterlife, however, “I don’t know, but you don’t know either.”

    Unfortunately, the soul/afterlife argument just isn’t starting out with a 50/50 chance… more like a fraction of a percent to 99.9+! I have no problem with anyone stating what they believe in, because it COULD be right, so long as the person acknowledges that they aren’t representing one side of a 50/50 argument, that there is a very good chance they are wrong (at least in some aspect), and that they don’t try to convince others as if they know for a fact.

    And one more thing – as Dawkins points out – I don’t think that we should “allow people to have their own beliefs because they aren’t hurting anyone” as one commenter pointed out. Unchecked faith or belief allows for things like terrorism and bigotry.

    • melaniek69 says:

      I find this comment fascinating. Where is this evidence to disprove the existence of a spiritual world other than that those who hold this belief are unconvinced by evidence to the contrary, if they’ve have actually bothered to review it themselves. It seems to me the weight of ‘evidence’ currently lies with the counter argument. Have you read any of the work Deepak Chopra refers to? Try starting with the work done by the University of Virginia. Richard Dawkin’s only illustrates that he has nothing better than a grade school concept of ‘God’ and consequently his arguments are only useful in debating simplistic Bible-based concepts of the same. I don’t see much evidence of people who hold ‘the bible as the literal word of god’ view posting here. You actually need a deeper understanding of a spiritual world view to be able to enter any useful level of debate and so often sceptics and atheists just don’t have that and so their counter arguments are like Dawkin’s clearly missing the mark. Unfortunately Michael Shermer did the same thing here – didn’t discuss any of the compelling data – as Deepak Chopra pointed out.

  68. tim owen says:

    It would be rather difficult to carry out any sort of tests on deepak chopras brain activity as he seems to be braindead himself,he still believes in mythology of the kind i stopped believing in when i was twelve years old.
    Sorry,but i find it ludicrous that any adult with a fully evolved brain can think these things unless,ofcourse,they are american.

    • Sadie says:

      Chopra does back up his claims with scientific experiments as well as proof. You cannot base skepticism on the fact that these experiments and results are real.

  69. Mr.Rudranil Ghosh says:


  70. Peter says:

    I am not a scientist. However, I have been studying mediumship for several years. Do I believe there is more to it than can be easily explained? Yes. I have seen enough. The problem really is that to a skeptic, no amount of proof is ever enough.
    I must admit, sometimes, I think mediums do indeed read the person. In the desire to give the person what they want, they react to subliminal reactions, a twitch here, a smile there. They are human, afterall. To combat this, I usually close my eyes when doing a cold reading.

    The problem with the soul is that it really can’t be measured. So scientists tend to pooh pooh it…
    but tell me, does love exist? Hate? Can you measure, in a petrie dish, affection? Can you show me where in the human body love resides? Why can I see auras? Why can I see auras change colours when emotions are changed?
    Skepticism has its place, but think of how much more wonder the universe is when you open your minds just a little.

    • Anne says:

      Stephen Hawking, in his latest book, uses physics to prove that god wasn’t necessary in the creation of the universe. Another poster says “but tell me, does love exist? Hate? Can you measure, in a petrie dish, affection? Can you show me where in the human body love resides? Why can I see auras? Why can I see auras change colours when emotions are changed?” These things cease when areas of the brain are adversely affected.

      I believe science over people who write nonsense in order to make huge sums of money. But in the end it doesn’t matter what any of us believe or disbelieve. The fact is none of us know much of anything.

    • Sadie says:

      I completely agree. Well said.

  71. Brafarality says:

    The only problem I have is that Mr. Shermer speaks of the quantum world as if it’s separate from our own and not the same world.
    Yes, classical physics allows us to predict most macroscopic phenomena, but it does nothing to explain the underlying reality.
    We have no idea whatsoever what the real universe is like. We really are in Plato’s cave and cannot perceive the universe as it really is.
    With that ignorance in mind, to say that quantum effects are irrelevant or imperceptible past a certain size scale and that the universe just ‘becomes’ a classical universe indicates a profound lack of understanding of just how mysterious it all is.
    Mr. Shermer claims skepticism and pretends to doubt his own knowledge but is really nothing more than an overly self-assured fashionable follower of materialism, complete with sarcastic snipes and ad hominem attacks and everything else just to be the best mouthpiece possible.
    He has been too long engaged in the politics of skepticism that he has obviously lost clear perception and clarity of vision.

    Deepak Chopra, on the other hand, just misses the mark. Sorry. Can’t even begin to fault the approach since it is not at all observational or anything.

    YeAH, I got problems with everyone tonight! :)

  72. Ignostic Morgan [ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth] says:

    We ought to mock such mockery and blasphemy of reason on the part of such sophists and of such sophists As Alvin Plantinga. Richard Swinburne – May he rot…], haughty John Haght and Dawkins’s nenesis,Alister Earl McGrath! Pope Ratz and Rev. Billy Crackers rank with John Edward and Sylvia Brown[e]! Theology is just dressed-up animism behind one spirit. No difference exists betwixt the Azande who know full well that winds themselves knock tiles off roofs, harming people but yet declare that a spirit cause the wind to do so; that ranks with Aquinas and Leibniz finding that Primary Cause and Ultimate Reason when natural causes and reasons are themselves the sufficient reason per the presumption of naturalism, based in part on Lamberth’s ateleic or teleonomic argument or argument from no intent or no teleology.

  73. Francois says:

    Geez, Deepak, how do you know all these things? Obviously not by experiment. Guess it was oscillated into your mind? Can you please oscillate some understanding into mine because at the moment it seems to me your sucking this out your thumb

  74. Rickaby says:

    Wow, I always imagined Deepak Chopra (and any others that stake a claim for any significant level of ‘spiritual enlightenment’) to emanate a sense of calm and patient tolerance for views different to his (theirs). Maybe this is terribly naive of me but even if one ignored my ignorance (I guess that’s possible) and merely reflect on debating strategies, surely it would be more advantageous for Chopra to express a modicum of respect for his opponent (not necessarily his opinion and approach although that probably wouldn’t hurt either) rather than lambast him at every opportunity. It became extremely exhausting, ploughing through Chopra’s piece, looking for convincing arguments, only to find continual negative references to Shermer and his flawed arguments, ‘convenient’ omissions and inconsistent approach. It reminded me of a schoolyard argument with finger-pointing and name-calling but with very little credibility, substance or tangible evidence (to back up the name-calling) – much like 99% of politicians. And like listening to politicians, I found it very hard not to switch off. If Chopra wants people to listen to him and his arguments, he needs to grow up, develop some humility and perhaps throw out his first draft that was written with rage and frustration in his heart.

    • dave auger says:

      Yes. I really had no opinion of the man before reading this, but I now regard him as a dummy and a huckster.

      • melaniek69 says:

        This is my ‘favourite’ rebuttle to anything one doesn’t like the content of – to criticize the tone or way the information is delivered rather than debate the data. Just as Mr Shermer didn’t debate or discuss the data that Deepak Chopra felt were most compelling to his own argument. The work by the University of Virginia is pretty hard to ignore or lightly dismiss – if you bother to read it in the first place, of course.

  75. Mark says:

    The fact of the matter is that there are only two possibilities. Either there is something or there is nothing when you die. If there is nothing then it doesn’t matter. If there is something, however, then the possibilities become endless.

  76. Christopher Wing says:

    I’m always amazed at how much Chopra makes by pushing this garbage. Sometimes I wish I lacked morals and/or scientific skepticism – I would be a rich BSer like Chopra.

    Why even bother to talk to this guy? Let him and his loopy follower believe whatever they want to believe. We all need to be able to point at someone and laugh.

  77. John says:

    I recently watched a program moderated by John Cleese
    that discussed the possibility of an Afterlife with
    3 recently deceased men. They had nothing to say,
    and Cleese therefore ended the program before its time
    was up.

  78. Alex says:

    I like the points Michael Shermer makes, however I wish he would tackle the near death experiences better. Yes it is possible to induce similar experiences in patients that could be compared to real NDE’s, however that does not explain the hundreds of documented cases where patients were able to recall conversations of the nurses in the room while clinically dead.

    • Steph says:

      Thats because they were probably not really dead at that moment. You see. It has been proven that things like deja vu have been scientifically explained that they are just miss storage of past information by the brain i.e. you think an event occurred way in the past but it was really just a few seconds ago. The same goes for NDEs when the person remembers but is confused about when it really took place. Also which part of the nurses conversation was heard at what exact time is dificult to pin point since all this was evaluated after the incident.

  79. Leland Schick says:

    Just a quick comment: the sentence, “We cannot prove that the universe doesn’t have a mind, because we aren’t mindless.” is the ultimate equivocation fallacy. The phrase “The universe doesn’t have a mind” has at least two possible interpretations.

    1) “There exists no entity in the universe which has a mind.”
    2) “The universe is not itself conscious as a whole.”

    What Chopra does here is to try to use the obvious falsehood of this first interpretation of the statement to discredit the second. He then goes on to say that because we are not ourselves mindless, we cannot possibly understand what it means to be mindless. However, in the materialistic worldview death is essentially the process of becoming mindless. Thus, if the materialistic view is correct, then observation of any corpse tells effectively everything necessary about mindlessness.

  80. Simon Lundström says:

    Yeah it is famous (cited by Richard Dawkins I think in God delusion). My personal opinion is that the weakest case in Chopras talk is the prayer-issue, I think that nobody with any kind of serious wish for inquiry belives that prayer really works (if there is in any way an effect it is far more ineffective than your avarage medication against headaches, a medicine so bad that it works like prayer is no medicine).

    With regards to different “psi-phenomena” such as extra-sensory perception I think this summarizes my view;

    Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, refuses to believe in remote viewing.

    He says: “I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

    “If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

    “But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.

    “Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionise the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”

    I do not agree with Wiseman on the notion that psi-phenomena necessarily means a radical change in how we understand the world, psi may be no more mysterious than the existance of various physical “forces” (such as gravity), what Chopra is doing is an unnecessary mystification of something that is difficult to know and understand (similar to the notion of a Thunder-God in Indo-european cultures). Perhapse such phenomena could be explained by a model such as panpsychism which may be completely naturalistic and non supranaturalistic.

    Even if Psi-phenomena do not exist, there is still good reasons for research with regards to the non-existent phenomena, I am an atheist but still find theology to be a fascinating subject (I agree with Feuerbach in saying that theology is in essence anthropology – the self projects an idealized and universalized version of ones self or ones wish-to-be-self). It may be called a waste of money but so is much of the humanistic sciences (parappsychology is far more scientific than sociology influenced by continental philosophy if you ask me).

  81. Luke says:

    Chopra says, in his second paragraph that, “I must point out, however, that the 2006 Benson-Harvard refutation of prayer is far from being authoritative.”

    Ya, so I ‘Googled’ it and found the following:

    Healing — Heart-bypass patients who were told strangers were praying for them fared worse than patients who got no prayers, according to according to the research.

    Praying for a sick heart patient may feel right to people of faith, but it doesn’t appear to improve the patient’s health, according to a new study that is the largest ever done on the healing powers of prayer.

    Indeed, researchers at the Harvard Medical School and five other U.S. medical centers found, to their bewilderment, that coronary-bypass patients who knew strangers were praying for them fared significantly worse than people who got no prayers. The team speculated that telling patients about the prayers may have caused “performance anxiety,” or perhaps a fear that doctors expected the worst.

    “Obviously, my colleagues were surprised by the unexpected and counter-intuitive outcome,” said the Rev. Dean Marek, director of chaplain services at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a study co-investigator.

    It was a strange end for the mammoth prayer study, which cost $2.4 million and enrolled 1,802 patients who had bypass surgery. Most of the funding came from the British-based John Templeton Foundation, which supports research at the intersection of science and religion.

    Previous studies had examined the power of prayer for medical patients, with mixed results. Most did not have the statistical power to reliably detect the effects of prayer, if it had an effect.

    The new study, which appears in the April issue of the American Heart Journal, was designed to be large enough to see if patients who knew they were being prayed for had better recoveries…etc.

    You can check it out here:

    I’d be willing to wager that I’ll find lots more ‘studies’
    cited by Chopra that have similar outcomes to this one.
    When I get some more time I’ll do just that.

  82. Simon Lundström says:

    Don, some of the studies referred to by Deepak are rather famous and all you need is half-a-day of googlin’ and you’ll find them (I haven’t read all of them, but some). Personally I am convinced that in order to establish such phenomena that Deepak mentions, further studies are required and there is really no reason to get upset about it. I think both Deepak (maybe afraid of loosing his safe-zone of monistic idealism) and Shermer (maybe afraid of shattering his safe-zone of materialism) behave like crazed-evangelicals afraid of Hell-fire if the Other (in discussion) does not accept their opinion. Quite honestly, there is no hurry. These things take time, a LONG time, to understand (whether they’re pure illusion or actual reality), let the parapsychologists do their job and the skeptics do their job and work together in peace in order to achieve a greater understanding of the universe.

    Hostility towards honest, and inquiring parappsychology is a sign of fear of the unknown. Criticism of the studies and findings of parappsychology is in no way bad. Peace love and understanding! ;)

  83. Don Anderson says:

    Chopra cites some supposedly documented events & studies which, if his stories are accurate, are indeed quite amazing and intriguing. (The prayer studies presumably demonstrating positive events, the SQUID story, the people altering the behavoir of the 1’s-and-0’s machine, on and on …)

    Unfortunately, he never specifically references a single peer-reviewed publication associated with those events & studies. If they do exist, and the events cited can be replicated, they seriously have the potential to turn the world of science on its head. Somebody could REALLY make a name for themself.

    So … why does Deepak hide this light under a bushel basket? Citations for the various amazing telepathic claims, please. (Better yet, Deepak should apply for Randi’s $1 million prize, win the money, and embarass skeptics once and for all. That would seem pretty tempting to anyone who had the right goods, wouldn’t it?)

    I’m serious. I really would like to know where to track down his remarkable claims … without having to spend $29.95 for Chopra’s latest book.

  84. Mikael says:

    “I find it strange that he lives in a mansion in California and drives a Jag. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, who left an estate worth $900 million (“Sexy Sadie”).”

    What does spirituality have to do with living a comfortable life and driving a nice car? Materialism, philosophically, does not mean obsession with wealth and things but rather the belief that an external world exists outside of perception (matter) and that consciousness is an epiphenomenon (by product) of that world.

    Chopra makes great points. It’s been pointed out by some people here that he’s too emotional; that may be the case but it doesn’t take away from his good points. Shermer has a materialist bias as many modern skeptics, atheists, and scientists have as well. This is a belief system. If you understand the nature of beliefs then you will see that a conviction in a theory is a conviction in a theory, whether or not that conviction is in a materialist world or a God created waiting-room for an everlasting heaven in the sky. Both are beliefs. We as humans perhaps have an innate propensity for beliefs; I think this comes from an underlying sense of needing beliefs to make us emotionally equipped to deal with the unknown. It’s much easier to search for data if you know what you’re looking for i.e. already have preconceived notions about what’s going on.

    Unfortunately, beliefs hinder progress in understanding the nature of existence. Beliefs not only shape our experience but the provide the direction in which we proceed. The biggest and best example is this belief about the external world. We believe that there is this independently existing reality ‘out there’ and that whatever is ‘in here’ is just a strange by-product. For the last 200 years we have attempted to figure out the nature of the ‘out there’ using the ‘in here’. Here’s the problem: first of all the distinction between ‘in here’ vs. ‘out there’ is begging the question; consciousness is always of something, therefore there is certainly no such thing as ‘in’ and ‘out’ when the two are interconnected. The common theory is that the subjective pole is a tainted reflection of the objective pole, but an equally plausible theory is that the objective is but a reflection of the tainted subjective pole.

    Furthermore the belief that there is a true reality BEHIND appearances presented in experience has created extremely fanciful explanations, whether metaphysical or scientific. All of these explanations are contingent upon the belief that thoughts/intellect carry some divine propensity for gathering and concluding ‘truths’ (remnants of Descartes who asserted that the intellect is divine because of God’s creation of it).

    Huang Po, an ancient Chinese teacher, one said that “the ignorant reject what they see, not what they think. The wise reject what they think, not what they see.” This quote says so much. It points to the nature of thoughts and their nature of imposition onto reality. As rational beings we naturally side with thoughts; all of these theories of life, death, after-life, being, non-being, objective, subjective, etc. are just thoughts. We have so many explanations, and trust them, because we believe that thoughts are hierarchically ‘more trustworthy’ and thus better than the other appearances (sensations) within experience. There is a nagging need to always see appearances through the filter superimposed upon them with the theories created through the intellect. We trust thoughts, but why? If we can be skeptical about the senses why can’t we be skeptical about thoughts as well?

    The nature of all experience is awareness. Awareness is the base and cannot be denied. The very fact that you are asserting, or denying, awareness is proof that there is awareness. The contents of awareness can be subject to intellectual inquiry but only if that inquiry is empirically sound. Since there is no way to empirically verify an external reality outside of mind, without of course believing in the divine nature of the intellect, the whole theory should be thrown out.

    Being and non-being are interdependent terms. To assert non-being (extinction) is to pretend to know what non-being and being mean. Do we know what being means? What being is? We pretend but we don’t. All we have is being (awareness). Is there a lack of being? Some may argue that going to sleep is non-being, but that is false. Falling asleep is forgetting to keep remembering. Since there are no memories that does not mean that there is no being in that state. Seasoned meditators are conscious 24 hours a day with no break. Being does not depend upon memory. Being is simply what is, what always was, and what always will be. Time, space, objects, are all phenomena within, and as, Being or Awareness. There is no theory, no object, no thing that can exist outside of awareness. Awareness is the base. Try to prove me wrong, you can’t. You will assume. Give it up! Be empirical in the truest sense and investigate the nature of awareness, consciousness, not through intellect but through sheer will power. Where is mind? Where are objects? Create a great desire in yourself to know and experience the truth as an insight of direct experience, and a great doubt about all the beliefs and explanations that have been conditioning you to stop being curious and to pretend that we have it all figured out.

  85. Bob Ellal says:

    I have had paranormal experiences with apparently angry entities in two homes where I lived. I have also had odd “electrical” experiences in my body that I can’t explain (years of standing post meditation). I am more than puzzled, as I am a skeptic.

    That being said I wouldn’t take these anecdotal experiences as proof of “life after death” or other things. Such things should be studied; but not “pimped” as New Age authors do to make money from books and exorbitant seminar and speaking fees.

    Of the two arguments above, Dr. Shermer’s is far more balanced and unemotional. Chopra attacks Shermer with derision; obviously his paradigm is threatened. For a man preaching spirituality over materialism, I find it strange that he lives in a mansion in California and drives a Jag. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, who left an estate worth $900 million (“Sexy Sadie”).

    The most honest statement, free of polemics, in this debate is Dr. Shermer’s regarding life after death: “I don’t know and you don’t know.”


    • Lisa says:

      Having read all of Deepak Chopra’s books and listened extensively to his auditory works, I have, as yet, never come across an instance where Deepak Chopra has preached spirituality over materialism. What Deepak preaches is that both material wealth and spirituality are means of fullfillment. There is nothing wrong with preaching that “a billion dollars in the bank without the experience of carefreeness and charity is a state of poverty”, (Choprah, 2006), whilst having an abundance of material wealth and spirituality yourself. Deepak also states, in the same book, that “Affluence is the experience in which our needs are easily met and our desires spontaneously fullfilled”.

      Whilst none of this has anything to do with the debate over life after death, I believe that it is very easy for skeptics to use the quotes of experts out of context to promote an obviously biased argument. This is so often done with the words of Deepak Chopra and, for that matter, anyone whose opinion said skeptic happens to disagree with.

      Chopra, Deepak(2006) Creating Affluence: The A-Z Steps to a Richer Life,
      India: New Age Books.

  86. Roma says:


    Neither of these two men is a pseudo-intellectual. What evidence do you have for such a preposterous statement – and how can anything else you say here possibly be taken seriously?

    Both men are aptly and superbly qualified in their chosen disciplines and both freely chose to take part in this debate. I thank them both for taking the time.

    Am I Team Chopra or Stermer?

    Does it matter?

  87. christine j sojka says:

    here are some things you need to keep in mind:in the july/august 2009 issue of discover magazine stephen hawkings described the discoveries of quantum physics as “bizarre.”this is just another way of saying that quantum physics IS metaphysics.WHAT IS METAPHYSICAL IS SUPERNATURAL. everything,including our brains is made up of atoms.all of these atoms have a quantum (supernatural) component to them.therefore,there’s a quantum/supernatural component to our brains.shermer says that there’s no connection between the quantum world and the macro world,BUT THE QUANTUM(SUPERNATURAL)COMPONENTS OF OUR BRAINS STILL EXIST.(possibly,this is what the “twenty-one pound soul is).anyway,it’s safe to say that because of the quantum(supernatural)components of our brains & our universe WE LIVE FOREVER. also,everything is made up of energy.stephen hawkings discovered that that energy “cant be created or distroyed.”(it’s transcendent).what’s transcendent is supernatural.THAT’S GOD RIGHT THERE. for more reading along these lines please google:robert lanza m.d.

  88. tzu says:


    “Basically, mathematics is an approximation of what is observed. To believe something is not true because you cannot prove it is similar to believing in God; both require faith in what you think you know.”

    Mathematics is not an approximation of anything, mathematics follows deductively from the assumptions we choose to make, which may or may not have an application to the physical world. But it is true that we cannot be sure there are no inconsistencies, or unprovable but true statements.

    I am fairly sure Shermer has the position that he does not know if God exists, but that he assumes not due to lack of evidence. There is no precluding the possibility of such a thing.

  89. says:

    Shermer starts with a JOKE ~ that says it all. Chopra is sincere as it gets and these studies are VERY REAL.
    In an infinite Universe ALL POINTS CAN BE REGARDED AS THE CENTER… Energy is neither created nor destroyed ~AND energy = “the stuff in our body that keeps us from being a simple ‘Meat Puppets'”… So therefore we never VANISH (die).
    Shumer’s stand-up comedy comes no where near Chopra’s scientific and spiritual prowess. You can actually HEAR the after-life on my website ~ The Sitar has sympathetic and resonant strings. Nada Brahma or “Sound is God” is the saying from Vedic knowledge ~ and why not? The “Big Bang” was simply a “Big Sound or Noise” ~ in the Western Bible “God SPOKE and there was everything else…” ~ in the Old Testament of the Jewish people the WORD or NAME of God is so Sacred (Yaweh) that only priests are supposed to be using it ~ ALL Instruments made in India come with two sets of strings. One is struck ~ and another one runs UNDERNEATH, tuned to the same frequency then vibrates when the top one is Struck.
    There are two types of sound in this Universe ~ struck and un-struck (Aum ~ or the ‘humming’ of everything isn the universe is un-struck sound) IN CREATION my hand (one thing) strikes the SKIN OF A DRUM HEAD (another thing) and makes a sound or music (ordered sound) ~ so in creation and Love 1+1=1 and not 2. Two people love each other and MAKE LOVE… Any Art is God ~ painting the brush (one thing) strokes the canvas (one thing) and makes a painting = ONE THING. Will write more later but Shermer is hilariously wrong.

    • Christopher Wing says:

      Wow. Uh, no, making a joke doesn’t disqualify you from being right.

      You show me electricity that thinks, and you win. We are, after all, driven by electricity. We don’t produce it after we die.

      But you can’t, and you won’t.

      But I’d be happy to do a cold reading for you at the amazingly low price of $45.99…

      • Ty Kelly says:

        Baysean Neural Networks are electrical circuits that “think” and can produce answers much like this one.

        • Lol says:

          Lol no they aren’t.

        • falde says:

          Yes they can. However reasoning and thinking is not synonymous. Showing that AI can reason to the level of passing as a human does NOT show that they are thinking which implies consciousness. While reasoning is well understood, consciousness and thinking is not.

          We do not fully understand what the mind is and therefore we cannot build AI:s that fully function as a mind. You will not find any notable AI scientist that disagrees on this.

          Will we be able to do that? We cant answer that question without fully knowing what a mind is and how it works. When we know that we either have created a mind, or failed without any hope of success.

      • dave auger says:

        amen my brother

        • Alex says:

          I look for the day when scientists can positively identify the exact nature of consciousness. Then we’ll have something to discuss. NOT a theoretical explanation, but a prinicipled, scientific explanation. Fascinating stuff.

  90. Arun says:

    If complete knowledge is the objective, then why are looking for a winner? Shermer uses a logical framework based on existing knowledge to eliminate alternative theories by showing the lack of a clear logical extension to “New Age” concepts from the existing framework. Chopra is coming up with alternative concepts based on questionable physics and statistical arguments.

    Both are ideologues: one for “logic” and the other for “consciousness.” Logic has its limitations, as shown by Gödel for set theory for which all arithmetic and much mathematics is based upon. Basically, mathematics and physics is an approximation of what is observed; any honest scientist would agree to that. To believe something is not true because you cannot prove it is similar to believing in God; both require faith in what you think you know.

    I would think individual happiness would be more important than arguments between pseudo-intellectuals.

    • lazerus says:

      “To believe something is not true because you cannot prove it is similar to believing in God; both require faith in what you think you know.”

      This is the most moronic statement I have ever read. Believing something that cannot be proven is in no way the same as disbelief in something because you cannot prove it. By that argument, not believing in leprechauns is just as absurd as believing in them. You think you’re some kind of meta-skeptic for this semantic trick you think is so clever. All you did was make the argument believers make to justify believing in something on faith. It requires no faith to dismiss a claim on the grounds it lacks sufficient evidence; that is the course of reason. Think about a murder case, if the judge and jury decide the evidence is insufficient to convict, does that mean they are not convicting based on faith, or are they responding rationally to the situation?

      • lazerus says:

        correction: I meant to say *are acting based on faith

      • falde says:

        ““To believe something is not true because you cannot prove it is similar to believing in God; both require faith in what you think you know.””

        “This is the most moronic statement I have ever read. Believing something that cannot be proven is in no way the same as disbelief in something because you cannot prove it.”
        Then why don’t you explain why, because your second statement here is a non-argument. It is a true statement, but it has NOTING to do with what is stated above. To believe that something is not true as nothing to do with “disbelief”. Disbelief is not believing that something is true, which is something very different from believing that it is not true. So unless you address the actual statement that was made, you are the moron.

        “By that argument, not believing in leprechauns is just as absurd as believing in them.”
        No its not. Demonstrate how you come from a statement that has nothing to do with disbelief to this analogy which is clearly about disbelief.

        “You think you’re some kind of meta-skeptic for this semantic trick you think is so clever.”
        This make no sense at all? What semantic trick? What is a meta-skeptic?

        “All you did was make the argument believers make to justify believing in something on faith.”
        How does this argument justify believing in something on faith?

        “IIt requires no faith to dismiss a claim on the grounds it lacks sufficient evidence; that is the course of reason.”
        Yes it does, as lack of evidence is no evidence. How would that be the course of reason?

        “Think about a murder case, if the judge and jury decide the evidence is insufficient to convict, does that mean they are not convicting based on faith, or are they responding rationally to the situation?”
        No it does not. They are not stating that they believe that there is absolutely no way the murder could not have happened in the claimed way, which would have been based on faith. They are saying that they do not know, which is something different.

        By equalizing disbelief and beliefs that something is false you are the one making “semantic tricks”. Those two things are totally different from each other and that makes every argument you make invalid, because all of them makes these two equal.

        Also even if religious people by occasion use this argument in a their flawed chain of reasoning, that does not make the argument “moronic”. That is guilt by association and not a real argument.

  91. billgeorge says:

    Clearly, Deepak pocesses some knowledge, however knowledge does not always equate to intelligence which surfaces in his remarks. Quoting scientists out of context bosters none of one’s claim and the studies Deepak cites have been faulty, weak and so far unrepeatable. He displays hostile defence a bit often which may indicate he’s only protecting his livelihood opposed to actually believing the new age trash he hawks. Skepticism is a threat in the personal and spiritual growth industry. I think Shermer (as most scientists do) gives a more humble view when the data is absent or untestable. Stating “you don’t know”, instead of concocting an amalgamation of unrelated scientific terms, is sadly lacking.

  92. Dave says:

    The existance or non existance of life after death is not dependant upon the winner of an argument. Either it is or it is not. It is not open to debate. I have my own opinions and beliefs but I am not going to share them with anyone or try and convince someone else that what I believe is right. The fact is that our minds and brains are not capable of comprehending all the mysteries and creative genious of the universe. We know nothing, and our arguments are so overmatched by the truth that it is utterly useless in even attempting to engage in one. Stare out at the heavans and try and convinve yourself that you know what is and what is not possible. Good luck. I do not assume to be that arrogant.

    • Kamil says:

      The existence or non-existence of ANYTHING is not dependant upon the winner of an argument. Either it is or it is not… Duh. Doesn’t mean we cannot debate anything. It should be open to debate. I agree with you in saying that you shouldn’t try to convince people of your ‘beliefs’… that is, if they have little evidence to support them. But sharing evidence is a crucial part of progress. You really should try to convince people of the benefits of a well recognized drug or exercise or diet which can heal them. Not because it’s what you believe but it is what the evidence shows is better for them

      “The fact is that our minds and brains are not capable of comprehending all the mysteries and creative genius of the universe.”
      -Our minds are capable of comprehending pretty much anything with the method of science. All it is is testing your ideas with nature. Make a prediction… i.e an hypothesis. If it consistently works out correct then it is true… or if not it is refined till it is closer to the truth. Nature will feedback and tell you. We have been able to comprehend bacteria and disease… once thought to be spirits. We have done things unimaginable by our ancestors. There is no evidence suggesting we will never understand the universe. It is as you say… simply your belief.

      “Good luck. I do not assume to be that arrogant.”
      -Sounds pretty arrogant to me.

    • Alex says:

      There is a real quandary with regard to how we convey our knowledge and/or experience concerning what we now refer to OBE or NDE. When one returns to tell the world what he “felt” or “experienced” during NDE or OBE, he is relegated to explaining the non-physical world of hypersensation with the limited vocabulary of this world and our five senses. Dr. Ebon Alexander felt this frustration when he returned from his coma. Also Robert Monroe and many other research subjects observed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Raymond Moody. The one and only surefire way to be certain that OBE are real or imaginary is to experince them yourself, not in the controlled, superficial scratch-the-surface way that Mr. Shermer decided was sufficient. Certainly, labratory experiments can manipulate the brain of a subject so that he can see himself from the ceiling. But journeys lasting several hours, hundreds of times, over several years, like Monroe, Buhlman and many others? They are either fabricating these events or they are real. Whatever the answer, it is worth contemplating that it may be more than dopamine, the pineal gland or DMT that creates these stunning visual and sensual experiences.

      “Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” – John Keats

  93. Pradip Kumar Barik says:

    Homoeopathy is another evidence about existence of that “life force”, soul.

  94. Colin Ingram says:

    Both Shermer and Chopra are talking past one another, but Chopra is far more guilty of rendering character insults and behaving in a rather juvenile way.
    Many of the topics covered in this exchange are of interest in themselves but bear little relevance to proof of an aferlife; an example is telepathy which suggests the existence of a mental field during life but does not address the viability of such a field after life.
    Much recent research in brain neurology has shown that aspects of personality (feelings, attitudes, memories, etc.) are dependent upon distinct areas of a healthy, functioning physical brain. This presents a profound question: If, in fact, these aspects of personality are dependent upon the physical brain, what if any aspects of individual personality might remain after death?
    With the many debates about the possibility of an afterlife, another simple question is almost never heard: If consciousness and/or some kind of self-awareness is present after death, where does it go during dreamless sleep or under anaesthesia?

    • Dan Drumm says:

      Telepathy argues that consciousness is not a byproduct of chemical processes of the body by establishing action at a distance. Once you demonstrate that consciousness is separable from, and not a product of the body but can function in an invisible field of energy and intelligence apart from it, you have taken a step toward establishing that those fields are the ones that religion, and more specifically Theosophy and Eastern thought, posit as the Divine.

      As Keith Campbell in his book “Mind and Body” wrote, speaking of parapsychological phenomena, “[Such] phenomena by definition demonstrate capacities of mind which exceed any capacities of brain. The brain is receptive only to information which arrives by neural pathways, and so is confined to perception by way of the senses. If some people can learn [or do] more about distant, or hidden or future fact than memory and inference from present sense perception can teach them, then minds are not just brains.”

      • Singaporistu says:

        If someone said something or wrote it in a book doesn’t make that something true.

        You claiming that conscience is not based on the brain is same like someone saying that computers that connect to cloud don’t run programs in the memory but the software is somewhere in the Google cloud and somehow appears on the screen. In both situations you more specialty books reading.

    • Eric Howard says:

      Everyone comes to a personal conclusion, and for me the most compelling evidence in the arena dealt with here is the result of a thought experiment accessible to us all: Who/Where/What were we before we were conceived? It does not seem unreasonable that post-death and pre-conception have more in common with each other than with that time in between. I have pondered at length what my (capital S) Self was before conception, and have only been able to conclude that it either did not exist, or is wholly unrecognizable to my Self of this time in between. That leads me to conclude that the same is true of my eventual after-life Self. So if it does exist, I cannot imagine any part of my Self now that would be a part of whatever that may be after. Therefore, the more relevant question is: If consciousness persists after death, what part of it, if any, is recognizable as this Self in life? My personal conclusion is: None. Again this thought experiment is a personal exploration, a personal conclusion, and your results may vary.

      • B says:

        Eric, I like your thought experiment and intellectually I arrive at the same conclusion. However, my intuition, which I never ignore, suggests we all share a part of the same spark of energy that has no beginning or end. Furthermore, I sense there is a universal consciousness that is capable of amazing things. (For me, Chopra’s message is compromised by his ego and business doings, both of which seem to be endless as well.)

      • Ross says:

        Who/Where/What were you the 2 or 3 years after you were conceived? The fact that you don’t remember that, doesn’t mean that you didn’t exist or didn’t have an “I” the first 3 years of your life. There are also the cases of people who because of some accident, trauma or whatever, got amnesia and don’t remember anything before the accident happened, which of course doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before or didn’t have a Self. The same applies for Alzheimer’s patients.

      • cfk says:

        You remember your countless Selves upon you attain full enlightenment, so says buddism teachings.

        • Evan says:

          Not explicitly true. In most forms of Buddhism and Vedanta upon enlightenment your consciousness ceases. The last stage of enlightenment is equatable with the complete “death” of body, mind, and self.

          This is, of course, paradoxical and maybe conviently so. In Vedanta especially, these statements aren’t meant to be understood as logical truths necessarily, moreso they are to be used as tools to prepare yourself for experience the Truth by unsettling the illusory world of our conscious, or Maya.

          Perhaps this is a type of answer to the orginal question of what happens to the conscious during dreamless sleep. Although, if I am to posit that it merges with the Conscious, I would have to explain why it is regained upon awakening, and I simply can’t.

  95. Jude waine says:

    Love it all, nocebos and placebos. sceptics and mystics, scientists and metaphysics. Not an either or but an ALL. And what about new evidence that the heart processes information outside of the body in the same field that enables flocks of birds to migrate in formation? And mental constructs the limiting illusion!!!

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