Black Spirituality Religion : The Great Afterlife Debate

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by Metaverse, Jun 25, 2007.

  1. Metaverse

    Metaverse Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 13, 2006
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    The Great Afterlife Debate: Michael Shermer vs. Deepak Chopra

    Michael Shermer: Skeptic.

    Deepack Chopra: spiritual science author.

    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 www.HuffingtonPost. com,
    with the longer versions presented here and on www.intentBlog. com.

    www.skeptic. com/reading_ room/debates/ afterlife. html

    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

    . 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 www.near-death. com.
    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
    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

    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"
    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

    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.