Is Cartesian dualism dead?

Near-death experiences

Steven Laureys has no stance on this point, which is still too speculative in his opinion. On the other hand, he recently contradicted the Dutch cardiologist, Pim van Lommel, who bases his reasoning on Near-death Experiences (NDE)(4) to support his theory of a consciousness (a soul) disassociated from the body and present everywhere – in all human cells. In December 2001, van Lommel published an article in The Lancet entitled Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands(5) . Based on a sample of 344 survivors of cardiac arrest, the author decided to study the frequency, cause and contents of near-death experiences, which, according to van Lommel’s definition, were memories of impressions experienced during a modified state of consciousness that included, in particular, feelings of well-being, vision of a tunnel, a light, deceased loved ones as well as their life flashing past them.

ascension empyrian“In 2007, Pim van Lommel wrote a book entitled Eindeloos Bewustzijn (infinite consciousness), whose French translation will be published in 2010 by Robert Laffont”, Steven Laureys tells us. “In fact, there is nothing scientific about the developments in this work and the studies to which the author refers are inexistent or uncontrolled. The problem is that Pim van Lommel, who was essentially a clinical cardiologist, presents himself as a man of science. Conveying a pleasant message – a soul that survives after death -, his theories are highly successful among the general public, with the risk of harmful consequences in the domains of organ donation, the prolonging of life by technical means and the criteria for defining death, which is assimilated with cerebral death or, according to former terminology, brain death.” Laureys and van Lommel play themselves in a TV film (Julia’s Hart – in French, Le Coeur de Julie) which has just been broadcast on the Dutch public TV channel VPRO. Van Lommel questions the absence of consciousness in the state of cerebral death, a point on which he is contradicted by the neurologist from Liège.

To support his theories, Pim van Lommel bases himself essentially on so-called out-of-body experiences and, in particular, on the fact that many people with NDE confirm seeing themselves from above, in the process of being reanimated. Such descriptions occur in all cultures, but should they be given a connotation of “magic”, and conclude that consciousness is dissociated from matter? No, Steven Laureys believes, who simply considers them to be the expression of a physiological reality that can change our perception of the world.

Scientific data collected by chance and experimental research conducted on the subject corroborate his opinion. An article entitled Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions(6), published in Nature in 2002, shows how a Swiss team involuntarily provoked an NDE in an epileptic patient through stimulation in the right temporoparietal region. This result, which established a correlation between cerebral functioning and the “feeling” of a near-death experience, was confirmed by a team from Antwerp(7) in 2007. Moreover, experiments carried out in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, according to scientific methodology, also demystifies NDE. Researchers placed objects on top of cupboards so that they could only be seen from above. If their presence had been reported by patients reporting an out-of-body experience, there would be the following conclusion: the body and the mind are dissociated. But, this was not the case…

(4) Also called imminent death experience.
(5) P. van Lommel, R. van Wees, V. Meyers, I. Elfferich, Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest : a prospective study in the Netherlands, in The Lancet, 2001, 358(9298) : 2039-45.
(6) O. Blanke, S. Ortigue, T. Landis, M. Seeck, Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions, in Nature, 19 september 2002 ; 419(6904) : 269-70.
(7) D. De Ridder, K. Van Laere, P. Dupont, and al., Visualizing out-of-body experience in brain, N. Engl. J. Med., 2007, 357, 1829-1833.

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