Skeptical approaches (was: "weird sciences"?)

Gregory Sullivan (
Thu, 30 Oct 1997 06:03:51 -0500 (EST)

Holger Wagner ( said:
>I was wondering if anybody on this lists knows about *scientific*
>approaches to some of the phenomena most people consider mystical.
>Things like out-of-body-experiences, spontanuous recovery from
>sicknesses, witchcraft and so on.

There are groups like CSICOP and the Skeptics Society that sometimes
attempt to present alternative non-paranormal explanations for phenomena
considered mysterious. Unfortunately, these groups have chosen to only
make a small portion of their magazines available on the web:

CSICOP publishers of Skeptical Inquirer

Skeptic Society publishers of Skeptic Magazine

Another web resource with a "skeptical" viewpoint is:
The Skeptic's Dictionary by Robert T. Carroll

The dictionary entry for Out-of-body experience (OBE) is brief:

It refers to books by Susan Blackmore and it also points to an essay by
Keith Augustine:

The Scientific Case Against Immortality
by Keith Augustine

Here is an excerpt about near-death experiences (NDEs) which are
related to out-of-body experiences:

begin excerpt

Some findings of NDE research are more consistent with physiological and
psychological models. None of the patients who report NDEs are brain dead
because brain death is irreversible (Beyerstein 46). First, NDEs only
occur in one-third of all cases where there is a near-death crisis (Ring
194). Second, the details of NDEs depend on the individual's personal and
cultural background (Ring 195). Third, physiological and psychological
factors affect the content of the NDE. Noises, tunnels, bright lights, and
other beings are more common in physiological conditions directly
affecting the brain state, such as cardiac arrest and anesthesia, whereas
euphoria, mystical feelings, life review, and positive transformation can
occur when people simply believe they are going to die (Blackmore, "Dying"
44-45). Fourth, the core features of NDEs are found in drug-induced and
naturally occurring hallucinations (Siegel 174). The OBE can be induced by
the anesthetic ketamine (Blackmore, "Dying" 170). A tunnel experience is
a common form of psychedelic hallucination (Siegel 175-6). All NDE stages
have occurred in sequence under the influence of hashish (Blackmore,
"Dying" 42-3). Fifth, a build-up of carbon dioxide in the brain will
induce NDEs (Blackmore, "Dying" 53-4). Sixth, the panoramic life review
closely resembles a form of temporal lobe epilepsy (206). There are even
cases where epileptics have had OBEs or even seen apparitions of dead
friends and relatives during their seizures (206). Seventh, computer
simulations of random neural firing based on eye-brain mapping of the
visual cortex have produced the tunnel and light characteristic of NDEs
(84). Finally, NDEs can be induced by direct electrical stimulation of
brain areas surrounding the Sylvian fissure in the right temporal lobe
(Morse 104).

end excerpt