Musings of a phenomenologist

Science, psychiatry and random musings

Flatliners, the research project…

Posted by soveda on September 18, 2008

I really should stop listening to the Today programme, mind you if I did what would I have to blog about?

Why am I writing again, well today I heard the following story about a research project on “out of body experiences”

This caught my attention and set my “science reporting” detectors going.

For those who don’t want to click on the BBC site the story is as follows:

A number of hospitals in the UK will have shelves with pictures on them (only visible from above) strategically placed where you would predict cardiac arrests may occur (rescuss areas). The investigators will then ask people who have been successfully resuscitated whether they can describe the pictures. This will then tell us if “Out of body experiences” are true or not…

Dr Sam Parnia is quoted as saying:

“This is a mystery we can now subject to scientific study”

 “If you can demonstrate that consciousness continues after the brain switches off, it allows for the possibility that the consciousness is a separate entity. “

Well yes it does, but then those ideas have been debated in  philosophy of mind for a long time (Wikipedia link, sorry) and although they are interesting ideas I’m not sure what the application is to medical practice.

It seems that Dr Parnia has long been interested in this subject, he is the chairman of the Horizon Research Foundation.  The Mission of the foundation contains this marvelous quote:

“Although undoubtedly bringing benefits to people, many now feel that the progress of science has itself also begun to threaten issues related to the sanctity of human life and human existence.”

Yes and many people think that they are more likely to win the lottery because they study the numbers that have come up and work out what is most likely to come up the next time. It doesn’t mean they are right. If there is a consciousness that continues after death, what then? What would the impact be on treatment? Would we have a time limit to resuscitation?

I found this previous report decribing a research study but I can’t find the study published. I can find the abstract for a study from 2001 calling for more research. And the following study (not Dr Parnia) from Holland with the following interpretation:

“We do not know why so few cardiac patients report NDE after CPR, although age plays a part. With a purely physiological explanation such as cerebral anoxia for the experience, most patients who have been clinically dead should report one.”

This lecture from 2004 by Peter Fenwick (colaborator with Dr Parnia on some of his research) is presented for your edification.

Now I am not a religious person and I am sceptical about a spiritual explanation for these experiences. Is the interest in this topic purely academic or is there another agenda? I don’t know, why don’t you all read the information and decide for yourselves.


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