In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Headlines Touting Study as Evidence for NDE, Not So Fast!

….The multi-center study involved placing an image in a location that was hidden from normal view but could be viewed by a person floating above their body during an NDE. This could be a way to objectively differentiate between the two leading hypotheses. Parnia and others believe that reports of NDEs represent actual awareness during cardiac arrest when the brain is not functioning. This, of course, would be compelling evidence for cognition separate from brain function.

I and most scientist favor the more mundane and likely explanation that memories of NDEs are formed at other times, when the brain is functioning, for example during the long recovery process. At least the memories themselves do not differential between these two hypotheses, and this explanation does not require inventing entirely new non-materialist phenomena.

So, I anxiously awaited the results of the AWARE study. I admit I was fairly confident that the results would be negative. My major concern was that the study had been criticized for not having tight protocols – for example, some have charged that the “hidden” images were visible to ER workers and this could provide a mundane conduit for knowledge of the images to get to cardiac arrest survivors. But I hoped this did not occur or affect the results.

But wait a minute – there is no mention in the abstract of the hidden images. How can that be? I understood this to be the main outcome of the study, the one thing that would set it apart from the merely descriptive studies of the past. What happened?…

mykashikoifandoms8:

oh my fucking god my entire family is posting about how today would be my cousin’s 7th birthday if he hadn’t died shortly after birth and how it is good he died because he is resting in angels arms and being taken care of by god. that is the one phrase that makes me hate christians. they always say death is good because they are in a better place. fuck you

Amen to that!

neuromorphogenesis:

What Happens If You Apply Electricity to the Brain of a Corpse?
Some habits die hard. Like humans zapping their brains. We did this back in Ancient Greece, when medics used electric fish to treat headaches and other ailments. Today we’re still at it, as neuroscientists apply electric currents to people’s brains to boost their mental function, treat depression, or give them lucid dreams.
Subjecting the brain to external electricity has an influence on mental function because our neurons communicate with each other using electricity and chemicals. This has become relatively common knowledge today, but only two centuries ago scientists were still quite baffled by the mystery of nerve communication.
Issac Newton and others suggested that our nerves communicate with each other, and with the muscles, via vibrations. Another suggestion of the time was that the nerves emit some kind of fluid. Most opaque, and still popular, was the idea – first mooted in ancient times – that the brain and nerves are filled with mysterious “animal spirits”.
“Animal electricity”
During the eighteenth century our understanding of electricity was growing apace, and the use of electricity to treat a range of physical and mental ailments, known as electrotherapy, was incredibly popular. But still it wasn’t obvious to scientists at the time that the human nervous system produces its own electric charge, and that the nerves communicate using electricity.
Among the first scientists to make this proposal was the Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737-1798). Most of Galvani’s experiments were with frogs’ legs and nerves, and he was able to show that lightning or man-made electrical machines could cause the frogs’ muscles to twitch. He subsequently came up with the idea of “animal electricity” – that animals, humans included, have their own intrinsic electricity.
“I believe it has been sufficiently well established that there is present in animals an electricity which we … are wont to designate with the general term ‘animal’ … “ he wrote. “It is seen most clearly … in the muscles and nerves.”
Neuroscience’s macabre past
However, to Galvani’s frustration, he failed to show that zapping the brain had an effect on the facial or peripheral muscles. Here, he was helped in dramatic, macabre fashion by his nephew Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834).
In 1802, Aldini zapped the brain of a decapitated criminal by placing a metal wire into each ear and then flicking the switch on the attached rudimentary battery. “I initially observed strong contractions in all the muscles of the face, which were contorted so irregularly that they imitated the most hideous grimaces,” he wrote in his notes. “The action of the eylids was particularly marked, though less striking in the human head than in that of the ox.”
During this era, there was fierce scientific debate about the role of electricity in human and animal nervous systems. Galvani’s influential rival, Alessandro Volta, for one, did not believe in the notion that animals produce their own electricity. In this context, the rival camps engaged in public relations exercises to promote their own views. This played to Aldini’s strengths. Something of a showman, he took his macabre experiments on tour. In 1803, he performed a sensational public demonstration at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, using the dead body of Thomas Forster, a murderer recently executed by hanging at Newgate. Aldini inserted conducting rods into the deceased man’s mouth, ear, and anus.
One member of the large audience later observed: “On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. It appeared to the uninformed part of the bystanders as if the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life.”
Although Frankenstein author Mary Shelley was only five when this widely reported demonstration was performed, it’s obvious that she was inspired by contemporary scientific debates about electricity and the human body. Indeed, publication of her novel coincided with another dramatic public demonstration performed in 1818 in Glasgow by Andrew Ure, in which application of electric current to a corpse appeared to cause it to resume heavy breathing, and even to point its fingers at the audience.
Death is a process
If a body is dead, how come its nerves are still responsive to external electric charge? In 1818, one popular but mistaken suggestion was that electricity is the life force, and that the application of electricity to the dead could literally bring them back to life. Indeed, so disturbed were many members of the audience at Ure’s demonstration that they had to leave the building. One man reportedly fainted. Modern scientific understanding of the way nerves communicate undermines such supernatural interpretations, but you can imagine that witnessing such a spectacle as performed by Ure or Aldini would even today be extremely unnerving (excuse the pun). A pithy explanation of why electricity appears to animate a dead body comes courtesy of Frances Ashcroft’s wonderful book The Spark of Life:
“The cells of the body do not die when an animal (or person) breathes its last breath, which is why it is possible to transplant organs from one individual to another, and why blood transfusions work,” she writes. “Unless it is blown to smithereens, the death of a multicellular organism is rarely an instantaneous event, but instead a gradual closing down, an extinction by stages. Nerve and muscle cells continue to retain their hold on life for some time after the individual is dead and thus can be ‘animated’ by application of electricity.”
The grisly experiments of Aldini and Ure seem distasteful by today’s standards, but they were historically important, stimulating the imagination of novelists and scientists alike.

neuromorphogenesis:

What Happens If You Apply Electricity to the Brain of a Corpse?

Some habits die hard. Like humans zapping their brains. We did this back in Ancient Greece, when medics used electric fish to treat headaches and other ailments. Today we’re still at it, as neuroscientists apply electric currents to people’s brains to boost their mental function, treat depression, or give them lucid dreams.

Subjecting the brain to external electricity has an influence on mental function because our neurons communicate with each other using electricity and chemicals. This has become relatively common knowledge today, but only two centuries ago scientists were still quite baffled by the mystery of nerve communication.

Issac Newton and others suggested that our nerves communicate with each other, and with the muscles, via vibrations. Another suggestion of the time was that the nerves emit some kind of fluid. Most opaque, and still popular, was the idea – first mooted in ancient times – that the brain and nerves are filled with mysterious “animal spirits”.

“Animal electricity”

During the eighteenth century our understanding of electricity was growing apace, and the use of electricity to treat a range of physical and mental ailments, known as electrotherapy, was incredibly popular. But still it wasn’t obvious to scientists at the time that the human nervous system produces its own electric charge, and that the nerves communicate using electricity.

Among the first scientists to make this proposal was the Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737-1798). Most of Galvani’s experiments were with frogs’ legs and nerves, and he was able to show that lightning or man-made electrical machines could cause the frogs’ muscles to twitch. He subsequently came up with the idea of “animal electricity” – that animals, humans included, have their own intrinsic electricity.

“I believe it has been sufficiently well established that there is present in animals an electricity which we are wont to designate with the general term ‘animal’ “ he wrote. “It is seen most clearly in the muscles and nerves.”

Neuroscience’s macabre past

However, to Galvani’s frustration, he failed to show that zapping the brain had an effect on the facial or peripheral muscles. Here, he was helped in dramatic, macabre fashion by his nephew Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834).

In 1802, Aldini zapped the brain of a decapitated criminal by placing a metal wire into each ear and then flicking the switch on the attached rudimentary battery. “I initially observed strong contractions in all the muscles of the face, which were contorted so irregularly that they imitated the most hideous grimaces,” he wrote in his notes. “The action of the eylids was particularly marked, though less striking in the human head than in that of the ox.”

During this era, there was fierce scientific debate about the role of electricity in human and animal nervous systems. Galvani’s influential rival, Alessandro Volta, for one, did not believe in the notion that animals produce their own electricity. In this context, the rival camps engaged in public relations exercises to promote their own views. This played to Aldini’s strengths. Something of a showman, he took his macabre experiments on tour. In 1803, he performed a sensational public demonstration at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, using the dead body of Thomas Forster, a murderer recently executed by hanging at Newgate. Aldini inserted conducting rods into the deceased man’s mouth, ear, and anus.

One member of the large audience later observed: “On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. It appeared to the uninformed part of the bystanders as if the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life.”

Although Frankenstein author Mary Shelley was only five when this widely reported demonstration was performed, it’s obvious that she was inspired by contemporary scientific debates about electricity and the human body. Indeed, publication of her novel coincided with another dramatic public demonstration performed in 1818 in Glasgow by Andrew Ure, in which application of electric current to a corpse appeared to cause it to resume heavy breathing, and even to point its fingers at the audience.

Death is a process

If a body is dead, how come its nerves are still responsive to external electric charge? In 1818, one popular but mistaken suggestion was that electricity is the life force, and that the application of electricity to the dead could literally bring them back to life. Indeed, so disturbed were many members of the audience at Ure’s demonstration that they had to leave the building. One man reportedly fainted. Modern scientific understanding of the way nerves communicate undermines such supernatural interpretations, but you can imagine that witnessing such a spectacle as performed by Ure or Aldini would even today be extremely unnerving (excuse the pun). A pithy explanation of why electricity appears to animate a dead body comes courtesy of Frances Ashcroft’s wonderful book The Spark of Life:

“The cells of the body do not die when an animal (or person) breathes its last breath, which is why it is possible to transplant organs from one individual to another, and why blood transfusions work,” she writes. “Unless it is blown to smithereens, the death of a multicellular organism is rarely an instantaneous event, but instead a gradual closing down, an extinction by stages. Nerve and muscle cells continue to retain their hold on life for some time after the individual is dead and thus can be ‘animated’ by application of electricity.”

The grisly experiments of Aldini and Ure seem distasteful by today’s standards, but they were historically important, stimulating the imagination of novelists and scientists alike.

Have A Physicist Speak At Your Funeral

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy is created in the universe and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, ever vibration, every BTU of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid the energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point, you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off you like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue in the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy is still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone. You’re just less orderly. Amen.

This is a transcript of a speech given by writer and performer Aaron Freeman on NPR News “All Things Considered”. You can listen to it here.

David G. McAfee's got some questions of his own.

Q: I’m a Christian and I believe my God is very real, so humor me for a moment. If you die and you are standing before Him, what would you say?

A: I’d say, “Why did you feel the need to commit mass genocides, condone slavery, and promote the subjugation of women? And why does your inspired book indicate that the world is less than 10,000 years old and that man was created from dirt and women of his rib when common sense and scientific facts tell us otherwise? Why do you have to rely on ‘faith’ to believe in you – and why is that the same for every religion? Why did you used to perform grandiose miracles but, since the inception of modern recording devices, absolutely stop? Why is there no evidence of any supernatural entity, let alone a prayer-answering God? Why has prayer — in every scientific study — been shown to do absolutely nothing? Why would you cause more than two thirds of your creations — your “children” — to burn for eternity simply for being unconvinced of your existence of being born into a culture that worships a “false God”? Why would you have one “chosen” people over every other group and culture across all of human history? Why would you create evil in the first place? Why didn't you need a creator?”

Afterlife - TheThinkingAtheist


Can you have a meaningful life without an afterlife? I asked several friends to join me in exploring the merits of human existence and the concepts of posthumous reward and punishment. It is my hope that this video will answer religious claims that a secular life is meaningless and void and remind us all to cherish our precious and temporary tenure on planet earth.

The Afterlife is Meaningless Without an After-Afterlife

If the lack of an afterlife would make this life meaningless, why stop there? Is the afterlife meaningless if there’s no after-afterlife?

When people come close to death, they sometimes report a whole series of strange experiences, collectively known as a near-death experience (NDE). Although the order varies slightly, and few people experience them all, the most common features are: going down a dark tunnel or through a dark space towards a bright white or golden light; watching one’s own body being resuscitated or operated on (an OBE [out-of-body experience]); emotions of joy, acceptance, or deep contentment; flashbacks or a panoramic review of events in one’s life; seeing another world with people who are already dead or a ‘being of light’; and finally deciding to return to life rather than enter that other world. After such experiences people are often changed, claiming to be less selfish or materialistic, and less afraid of death.

NDEs have been reported from many different cultures and ages, and seem to be remarkably similar in outline. The main cultural differences are in the details; for example, Christians tend to see Jesus or pearly gates; while Hindus meet ramdoots or see their name written in a great book. Religious believers often claim that the consistency of the experiences proves their own religion’s version of life after death. However, the consistency is far better explained by the fact that people of all ages and cultures have similar brains, and those brains react in similar ways to stress, fear, lack of oxygen, or the many other triggers for NDEs.

All these triggers can cause the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and can set off random neural activity in many parts of the brain. The effects of this random activity depend on the location: activity in visual cortex produces tunnels, spirals, and lights (as do hallucinogenic drugs that have similar neural effects); activity in the temporal lobe induces body image changes and OBEs, and can release floods of memories; and activity in other places can give rise to visions of many kinds, depending on the person’s expectation, prior state of mind, and cultural beliefs. There is no doubt that many people really are changed by having an NDE, usually for the better, but this may be because of the dramatic brain changes, and because they have had to confront the idea of their own death, rather than because their soul has briefly left their body.

Blackmore, Susan J.. Consciousness A Very Short Introduction, p. 110-111. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print. (via academicatheism)

natskep:

Visit http://natskep.com - #atheism #atheist #antitheism #nycatheist #nyc #agnostic #secular #humanist #naturalist #rationalist #doubter #heathen #infidel #nonbeliever #irreligious #godless #freethinker #questioner #skeptic #nyc_atheistoc #louie #louisck #quote

natskep:

Visit http://natskep.com - #atheism #atheist #antitheism #nycatheist #nyc #agnostic #secular #humanist #naturalist #rationalist #doubter #heathen #infidel #nonbeliever #irreligious #godless #freethinker #questioner #skeptic #nyc_atheistoc #louie #louisck #quote

Debate: “Death Is NOT Final”

If consciousness is just the workings of neurons and synapses, how do we explain the phenomenon of near-death experience? By some accounts, about 3% of the U.S. population has had one: an out-of-body experience often characterized by remarkable visions and feelings of peace and joy, all while the physical body is close to death. To skeptics, there are more plausible, natural explanations, like oxygen deprivation. Is the prospect of an existence after death “real” and provable by science, or a construct of wishful thinking about our own mortality?

On one side, we have a mountain of semi-anonymous and uncontrolled anecdotal accounts and on the other side we have physics and neurology.

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skeptv:

Neil deGrasse Tyson - Flora & Fauna

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, author, science communicator and agnostic.

via SkeptiSketch.


Religion Not Needed to Cope With Death

In a life filled with unknowns, one of the few constants is the certainty of death. Some people believe that it’s just the beginning of another life, whether in heaven, hell or reincarnated. But for humanists, atheists and others who reject claims of human existence persisting beyond the brain’s functioning, death is the final stage. Nothing, neither good nor bad, comes after that final moment.

While the prospect of permanent nonexistence is terrifying for some, it can also be comforting. As humanists, we don’t bank on an afterlife unsupported by the evidence. Instead as John Lennon said, “with no hell below us, and above us only sky” we live for today. This means that regardless of our spiritual state or acts on earth, there will be no punishment in the beyond. And without an afterlife, there’s no reason to adopt outdated rules, such as those found in Christian bibles that prohibit enjoying Texas barbecue, going clean shaven, wearing stretch cotton or working on Sundays. As the Great Agnostic of the 19th Century, Robert Ingersoll once said, “I would rather live and love where death is king than have eternal life where love is not.”

Whether someone is religious or not, dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. People are understandably vulnerable in such situations. So, of course, nobody would be so insensitive as to proselytize at funerals, right? Wrong! How many of us have experienced a priest, minister or rabbi using a funeral as an excuse to try introducing or reintroducing the grieving into the fold? I’ve experienced this myself a few times. I objected to the proselytizing in these moments because it excluded and divided people at a time that calls for inclusion and solidarity….

Top 10 Resurrections

Death fascinates humans, and probably always has. The oldest extant epic, that of Gilgamesh, directly addresses the question of why death exists. With Easter on its way, it seems timely to remember a religious figure who died and came back to life—I’m just not sure which one to choose. World mythology is full of religious figures who have undergone resurrection. Here are ten of the more interesting stories