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  1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The Afterlife - Are Skeptics Just Cynics

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Steerpike, Nov 3, 2013.

    That's the question former psychology professor Jesse Bering asks in his SciAm blog (yes, I'm reading SciAm blogs this morning).

    Just to be upfront here - I don't believe in the afterlife. I'm not a religious person (not that an afterlife necessarily implies religion).

    That said, I still find the discussion interesting. The blog article focuses on the work of Professor Ian Stevenson's work with past-life memories in children. If you're interested in this sort of thing, you probably know who Stevenson is. I've seen his results talked about in writing and TV documentaries.

    Stevenson worked on around 3000 cases, and one of them is summarized in the article:

    "Here’s one of thousands of cases. In Sri Lanka, a toddler one day overheard her mother mentioning the name of an obscure town (“Kataragama”) that the girl had never been to. The girl informed the mother that she drowned there when her “dumb” (mentally challenged) brother pushed her in the river, that she had a bald father named “Herath” who sold flowers in a market near the Buddhist stupa, that she lived in a house that had a glass window in the roof (a skylight), dogs in the backyard that were tied up and fed meat, that the house was next door to a big Hindu temple, outside of which people smashed coconuts on the ground. Stevenson was able to confirm that there was, indeed, a flower vendor in Kataragama who ran a stall near the Buddhist stupa whose two-year-old daughter had drowned in the river while the girl played with her mentally challenged brother. The man lived in a house where the neighbors threw meat to dogs tied up in their backyard, and it was adjacent to the main temple where devotees practiced a religious ritual of smashing coconuts on the ground. The little girl did get a few items wrong, however. For instance, the dead girl’s dad wasn’t bald (but her grandfather and uncle were) and his name wasn’t “Herath”—that was the name, rather, of the dead girl’s cousin. Otherwise, 27 of the 30 idiosyncratic, verifiable statements she made panned out. The two families never met, nor did they have any friends, coworkers, or other acquaintances in common, so if you take it all at face value, the details couldn’t have been acquired in any obvious way."

    The obvious answer, if you don't believe this, is that the family isn't telling the truth. That the child was taken to the location in question or given the information in some way. Seems like a reasonable conclusion. The physical anomalies, reportedly confirmed, are much more difficult to explain. You'd have to assume medical personnel are involved in a conspiracy somehow, to record anomalies that don't exist, or doctor photographs. Or, I suppose, that the family engaged in what seems to me to be a very difficult and improbably task of tracking down deceased individuals with physical anomalies similar to those of their children and then constructing the story around them. The issue of traumatic deaths was interesting as well.

    So what do the rest of you make of what Bergin says? Is this something that merits serious scientific inquiry. If so, why doesn't that happen?

    Blog post is here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2013/11/02/ian-stevensons-case-for-the-afterlife-are-we-skeptics-really-just-cynics/

    Oh, and if you're into karma, Stevenson at least found no evidence that 'karma' exists :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2013
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The issue I have with these types of phenomena is that they always come from the internal dialogue of the culture of the person or person's experiencing the phenomenon. Past life stories tend to come from people who believe in reincarnation. Seeing la Virgen de la Guadalupe in random physical objects happens where people are named Maria and Pedro, never where they are named Gunter unt Gertrud.

    But then...

    The closet Hindu in me say, "Of course that's how it is, Wrey." We each experience the divine in a way that makes sense to us because that's what makes sense. Why would the divine chose to mislead and exclude? Doesn't it make so much more sense that It would chose to give many paths of ingress so that we can all find a way?
     
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  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    of course it merits serious inquiry of all kinds...

    but the bottom line as i see it is that establishing the existence of reincarnation would stand both science and some major religions on their heads... and the majority of adherents of both are unwilling to give up their credos and conclusions... so 'that' doesn't happen!

    i've had what i consider ample first hand 'proof' of reincarnation... my next youngest sister was fair, freckled and blue-eyed, in a family of dark-haired, brown-eyed parents and siblings, so always felt she was an outsider... as she grew up, she insisted she had to have been 'switched' at birth, because she never felt like our parents were her 'real' ones... of course, we didn't take it seriously, even though sessions with a hypno-therapist seemed to lead in that direction... then, many years later, after she'd been a street person for years and i'd kept trying to locate her, i found her in a portland shelter and took her to a hotel for the night... as we sat on a bed and talked about our pasts, i suddenly froze, had chills, shivers, all-over goosebumps, and the room disappeared... i was watching a city in flames, could feel the heat... in front of me, close enough to touch, was a little girl with blue eyes and blonde curls like susan had when she was little... the child was terrified and screamed, 'Muti!' over and over again, as she was pulled into the flames... at that, i grabbed my sister's hands in an iron grip and 'It's you!' burst out of me, completely unbidden...

    for the record, i'm getting the same chills, etc. right now, as i tell about it... it happens whenever i do...

    i happened to know 'muti' is a german child's version of 'mommy' and when i looked up the date of my sister's birth, i found it to be 2 days after the firestorm caused by the bombing of wurzburg, germany, in wwii...

    draw your own conclusions... as for me, despite being a lifelong skeptic, given that and the many cases such as the one detailed above that i've researched myself, i can no longer doubt the existence of reincarnation, though i have no clue as to how--or why--it occurs...

    wrey...
    my 'culture' at the time of that 'vision' or whatever it was, certainly was not a 'believing' one... i had been an agnostic atheist since age 9, had been convinced by decades of study, observation and rational thinking that gods and religions were merely human constructs...
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's worth investigating for sure because I hate the idea of automatically dismissing claims based on our current knowledge. As maia pointed out, there is, and always will be, resistance from the scientific community. Things like this aren't considered serious science because they go against what we currently know. That being said, I'm skeptical about this whole thing, but that shouldn't stop someone else from investigating it.
     
  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's somehow natural to believe in afterlife. Makes dying feel less final and terrifying. It's not a bad way to control the people either; tell them that if you do good, you shall be rewarded in your next life, perhaps you'll be born a princess. I do wonder if this is the case with animals too. I mean, why should we, humans, have the privilege of reincarnation?

    At this point I'm inclined to think death marks the end as far as my consciousness goes. Sure, my body will be wormfood, my legacy will live on for some time, but I don't think my mind will be reborn inside a baby soon after.

    That's so spooky, especially calling out for "Mutti" if she didn't speak German! :eek: I wonder why you caught the glimpse of the possible past life of that particular person. Why is it only a few people whose past lives are revealed to us? What if we all went to hypnotherapy? Or does it happen only when the past life, or the way it ends, is particularly tragic, and a boring past life is just not woth glimpsing? I probably did nothing but played golf and crunched numbers in mine...
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @mammamaia - Just curious - was it you or your sister who went through hypno-therapy?
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Skeptics on principle, do not dismiss evidence of the afterlife. Skeptic doesn't mean cynic in the skeptical community. Who wouldn't love for the evidence of an afterlife to be found?

    On the other hand, evidence of an afterlife from NDEs to tales of reincarnated memories have pretty much been looked at and looked at and evidence that stands up to scrutiny continues to elude us.

    For example, from a Wiki citation:
    41
     
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  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've always been an atheist. I don't know why, I have just never believed. And I always knew I did not believe, despite my Christian upbringing and my Christian parents. Although my dad does verge on the agnostic side sometimes, he once told me his first visit to Vatican City made him believe more - and became a better Christian, 'for what that's worth' in his own words.

    Now, I have had a near death experience. I think I've told @thirdwind about this actually. I must have been around 14 or 15, and was surfing off the coast of Crete. My parents often took me on holidays around Greece and Italy, and I had been to most of the Greek islands by the time I was 12. A strong wind pushed my board into a bad direction, and I caught a wave and got aboard it. As soon as I got on top the board I saw that I was racing toward a rock pool much further down the waterfront. I don't know why jumping off the board did not occur to me, but I wish it had. I slammed into rocks, and found myself being diced up as the rocks cut into my skin, I tried to climb out but I couldn't. My energy was draining away. It didn't feel like I was drowning, but I was.

    Noises seemed to dull and become slow, and be muffled out like when one of those old battery-powered radios started to run out of juice. I could see a enlarging circle of black start from the outside and then come to the center of my vision, like I was being pulled backward down a dark tunnel where no light could enter. I knew I was dying, and I felt nothing. It wasn't happiness, it wasn't sadness, it wasn't cold, it wasn't the warmth of the Greek sun.

    It was some source of energy, I don't know what but I've read about similar things happening to others, that made me push myself off the rock that the waves were trying to smash my head open on. I slowly, and very painfully started to crawl away. I can still feel the water coming over me, and making me roll on my tired arms and legs. I looked back once at the rock, and I remember distinctly seeing a small pool of red blood in the water. I was able to get myself out of the rock-pools, and when I got back to land I was able to empty my stomach of all the saltwater that I had ingested. I was taken to hospital after that and didn't need to stay long, and for that I am thankful.

    I don't know where that last boost of energy came from, but if it wasn't for that I would now be dead. I don't think it was a god, I have never felt the presence of God like some apparently do. I would quite like to know what that feels like to be honest, but I guess I am just not that lucky. That so many minutes (I have no idea how long it lasted) is forever in the back of my mind. But one thing that gets to me, more than everything else, is the dull, lifeless non-emotion I felt when I knew that I was facing my own death.

    I have never believed in heaven or an afterlife, and I would like to, but this event has made me even more skeptical to stories about the an afterlife. Cynical, though, I honestly don't think so somehow.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My visit to the Vatican made me upset they had an entire basement full of riches, much of which was acquired because poverty stricken people gave to the church in hopes of receiving better rewards from God.

    That's quite an experience, Lemex. I'm very glad you made it out.
     
  10. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    My Catholic mother says that they should sell the vatican and everything in it , and give it away to poor people and charity.
     
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  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm a Christian so I definitely believe in an afterlife, but I always take people's experiences of near death with a grain of salt.
    There's a lot of people out there who mean well, want attention, or maybe are being absolutely truthful only they know.
    But I don't let anyone's experience sway my belief either way.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Your mom and I agree on that.
     
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  13. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    ~Deleted~
     
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  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Thanks. I did not believe in any god or God before that, and after that I imagine it would take somehow even more to convince me. I honestly don't see that happening to be honest, after coming so close to what I knew was death and found nothing but a void, but I'm still a young guy I suppose.

    My father has a weakness for Italian Renaissance, and Classical, architecture and culture that I share. I've never been to Rome or Vatican City myself, but I have been to Florence and I found in the statue of David a similar feeling of awe-inspiring wonder that he seemed to describe about The Vatican. I felt the same awe when visiting the Acropolis on Rhodes, and I feel it whenever I see images of Parthenon at Athens. I don't put much stock in what my father has said about visiting Vatican City as a result, but I've not been there myself so I can't know for myself.
     
  15. Cogito
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    One man's skeptic is another man's cynic. If I know for a fact that there is an afterlife, the doubter is a cynic. If I know nothing of the sort, the doubter is a skeptic.

    Then there is the matter of "knowing for a fact." How deep must faith or conviction be before it becomes indisputable fact?
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But that goes back to suggesting the real Universe does not exist and all beliefs are equally valid. Either there is or is not an afterlife regardless of what people believe. In this context, skepticism is looking for evidence before believing, cynicism is rejecting evidence regardless of its value. The OP has put forth (along with other things) the false rationalization people often state when their conclusions are not believed, the unbeliever is rejecting the evidence without considering it. That is not the position of a skeptic, even for the most outrageous claims.
     
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  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is not necessarily true that one conclusion or its opposite must be true. Quantum physics has shown there is an observer effect that can make both outcomes true - or false - depending on the observer's state. Why should metaphysics be any less strange than physics? The latter is based on actual observational eveidence, the former is not.
     
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  18. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    A Christian's views are just as valid as those of a reasonable scientist. 'Evidence' is a totally relative creature, and certain things are just easier to swallow for some people than others, especially if you consider their upbringing.

    I have always treated data with what I thought was skepticism, but is actually cynicism. I'm going to try and open my mind a bit more from now on.
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe in the afterlife, partially based on Stevenson (which I read many years ago), partially based on experiences of my own and others, and partially based on faith. It doesn't really matter to me what other people believe, as long as they don't call me a fool because mine differs from theirs.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The evidence supports the dual states in quantum mechanics, it's not analogous to the existence or non-existence of an after-life.

    Until there is some evidence supporting a different conclusion about what is out there and what is it like, why make stuff up and claim it is equally valid?
     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Beliefs are beyond the scope of what is or is not. Faith based beliefs differ fundamentally from scientific evidence based beliefs.

    Both persons are equally valued regardless of believing or not believing there is evidence of an afterlife. But if there is a real Universe, both views are not equally valid.

    If you just want to propose dueling evidence, such as people who believe Stevenson accurately collected evidence or you conclude Ransom accurately refuted it, that's a different debate from one that argues you can have it both ways stemming from belief rather than stemming from a real Universe.

    There's more often than not, a lot of room to debate conclusions based on the evidence.
     
  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Humans are pattern seeking animals, and we become so good at finding patterns we can easily imagine them where they don't exist. Some people believe they have had out of body experiences, or thought who they had sex with affected the weather. We know it didn't, but it seemed to work so they kept doing it. It's not just made up on the fly a lot of the time, but a long series of developments that turn mere superstitions into belief systems.

    It's not amazingly different from any scientific process, theology and science both come under the umbrella of philosophy.
     
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  23. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    I find the reincarnation part of this incredibly interesting. I've seen stories of this before. We can debate "theology vs. science" all we like, but this is something different. The detail of what Thusitia (is that how you spell it?) said is astounding. Saying she's from a town is one thing, but she had had the phobia of water for her whole life, long before anyone knew about her "past life".
     
  24. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's funny how often the phrase "quantum mechanics" has been popping up in discussions lately. It seems like it's mentioned at least once in every thread having to do with science.
     
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  25. GingerCoffee
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    It's a 'gap god' reference, to question someone's confidence in a measure of certainty, bring up examples of things that are still not known with equal confidence or completeness.
     
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