"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations." said Dr Stephen Law in his opening address; I've noticed that Skeptics like to reuse witticisms until long after they become cliches. Amazingly they still sometimes get a laugh off them. I was waiting for him to say: "It's good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded your brain falls out", but to his credit, Law resisted that temptation. Wherever Carl Sagan's daemon is in the Spiritworld, it's probably seeking a good copyright lawyer. I was in the audience at an event called Consciousness Beyond the Individual organized by the Journal of Wild Culture, see: http://wildculture-conscious.eventbrite.co.uk/. The subject matter under discussion was whether our experience of self-awareness is limited to individual physical brain function, or is some other process involved?
This is not a new question, in fact it's one of the oldest in the world. It appears in some of the most ancient written records man has published and was most likely a common campfire conundrum in prehistoric times. Where does the sense of "I" come from? The notion that a person knows they exist and can sense their own presence in the universe. It raises paradoxical questions like: "Did you have any sense of self before you existed?"; this was actually posed to me by another audience member. We also have to ask what else has consciousness apart from a human? Do other animal species also have it? Do plants? Do very advanced computers? The event took place at the Swedenborg Hall in the West End of London, see: http://www.swedenborg.org.uk/events. Emmanuel Swedenborg was a mystical philosopher and theologian; as his name suggests, he was Swedish, and the question of consciousness was one he addressed strongly in his work. The event was a debate between three Skeptics and three... what do I call them?... believers?... Already we're faced once more with this subroutine of working out exactly what a "Skeptic" is; I address this in detail here, see: http://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/programme-5-podcast-skeptics.html. For the convenience of this article let's define a Skeptic as simply somebody who thinks the answer to the question of consciousness is materialism, that it can be found in the function of the physical brain. It is produced by electrical brain activity and is dependent on it; it begins once the brain is developed enough to function and ends forever at the point of death when the brain stops functioning. The three Skeptics were Jane Aspell, a cognitive neuroscientist from
(Not to be confused with Ruskin University ,
Ruskin College Oxford). The aforementioned Stephen
Law is a philosophy lecturer and editor of the Philosophical journal Think; he has had dealings with HPANWO before,
The third member in the Skeptic corner was Deborah Hyde who has also featured
in a HPANWO report previously, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/london-skeptics-in-pub-141111.html.
On the "believers" side... again this is a term I'm using for
expediency alone, was somebody HPANWO Radio-listeners will be very familiar
with, Anthony Peake, see: http://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/programme-62-podcast-anthony-peake.html.
He was accompanied by Raymond Tallis, a doctor, neuroscientist and poet, the
perfect answer to any Skeptic who dares to suggest that the only people who
disagree with materialism are not scientifically qualified to study the brain.
The last in the line up was a man called Graham Nicholls who has experienced
multiple out-of-body states; he has written about them and studied them
The debate began with a six-minute statement from each speaker. Jane Aspell explained from that start that she is a materialist; she is absolutely convinced that all mental states can be simply explained by the shuffling of electrochemicals in the neuropile. Deborah Hyde agreed, despite the fact that she herself has experienced many astral states, including an OBE where she saw her dead mother, and her many periods of sleep paralysis (I myself have experienced sleep paralysis and must write some more about that at another time). She thinks that these various altered states, including the Near-Death Experience, are connected and all related to different types of brain states. Raymond Tallis begged to differ and described himself as "more sceptic than the Skeptics". For him, one doesn't need to dig down to the esoterica of NDE's and OBE's to find amazing and incomprehensible facts; the very act of looking at and thinking about an object beyond oneself, like the glass on the table in front of him, should theoretically not be possible in the universe we live in. Anthony Peake agreed with Tallis, but he additionally pointed out some of the flaws in materialistic logic. Obviously when one person sees something and nobody else does that makes it easy to dismiss it as a "hallucination" for that reason, yet when two people see it the Skeptics dismiss it as a folie a deux- "madness shared by two"; when a group of people see it then it's called a "mass delusion". What Anthony was actually describing is a common fallacy, as well as method of distortion and suppression called "raising of the bar", and unfortunately many Skeptics use it, as I describe in the link above to my HPANWO Radio Skeptic special and also this HPANWO Forum thread, see: http://hpanwoforum.freeforums.org/the-hpanwo-guide-to-being-a-forum-skep-dick-t912.html. Graham Nicholls has had OBE's since the age of twelve, including ones when he's awake. He has recorded the details and done several experiments to find out if they can be verified by other people, in a similar vein to Robert Monroe, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBii06UyWwY.
The reason this subject has become more and more popular in recent years is because of the enormous progress neuroscience made has over the course of the 20th century, and so far in the 21st century too. The materialistic theory of consciousness may well date back to when a caveman first cracked open the skull of a dead body with a stone axe and looked at what lay within, yet in recent years this three-pound walnut-shaped blob of flesh inside our heads has been thoroughly examined and many of its workings identified. The original hope was that this campaign of research would eventually lead to the discovery of the "I-module" or the organ in the brain which has specifically evolved to produce consciousness. This organ has never been found, and Skeptics have had to take an entirely different course to uphold their theory. For example the Skeptic Daniel Dennett has even doubted the existence of consciousness at all and that it is merely an illusion; "in which case who writes his books?" quipped Anthony. See here for Dennett's hypothesis in his own words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn9a6_nycng. The Skeptic end of the stage thought the way forward was simply to do better neuroscience of the conventional and established kind, however Anthony and his two comrades are proposing an entirely fresh approach to resolve this impasse caused by what Tallis called quite frankly the "limitations of neuroscience". The Skeptics are convinced that there is not enough evidence to justify any fresh approach, and even that such evidence is "non-existent" as Jane Aspell said. Stephen Law said that all reports of psi- psychic phenomena, are anecdotal; they're nothing more than an unsubstantiated fable that one person tells another. Graham Nicholls strongly disagreed; properly-controlled scientific experiments have been done and have yielded positive results. When the Q and A session began a man spoke from the audience who I later discovered directed this film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQvQ_WTtdHk. He's producing a new movie about the evidence for the afterlife. Anthony Peake has his own unique ideas about what the afterlife entails, as you'll hear if you listen to his interview above; oddly enough he shares a lot of the Skeptics' misgivings over NDE's. This has attracted a lot of flak from the more mainstream non-Skeptic NDE research community as well as the Skeptics themselves. As Anthony puts it himself, he's on a bridge being shot at from both sides. When my turn came to put my hand up I asked what effect a generally-accepted revelation of this information would have on human culture. None of the speakers answered me in detail; to be fair, it is a big subject. My own concern is that the various psychological think tanks which assess every new invention and discovery for its impact on society may well already know that the afterlife exists and could be perpetrating a cover-up; I'll have to speak about this in more detail in another article.
The debate lasted two hours, but it felt like half that time. I'm very grateful to all the organizers and to all the speakers for coming along, especially Anthony Peake. It was an interesting evening, but also a very strange one. I was supposed to meet my good friend and fellow researcher Heidi King earlier in the afternoon, but through a bizarre misunderstanding we went to two different places. We agreed to meet at a branch of Caffe Nero, but not the same one! After we both waited for ages in both wrong places, we headed for the venue independently, wondering if the other was coming after all. Luckily we met up there and explained. Maybe part of the problem is that there are too many Caffe Neros in the land, but could something more be going on? I'm not an enthusiast for astrology, but Ustane is and she made me aware a while ago that the planet Mercury was reversing its direction on the celestial sphere, it's called "retrograde Mercury". Astrologers say that the effects of a retrograde Mercury are problems with communication, arrangments and technical breakdowns, especially with electronics and telephones. I didn't take this seriously when Ustane first told me this, but since the Mercury retrograde began on the 21st of last month I have indeed had a number of difficulties in those areas. My latest film Notts Roswell wouldn't upload properly at Ustane's place and I had to wait until I get home to do it, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/notts-roswell.html, then a HPANWO Radio show crashed, see: http://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/programme-66-stephen-bassett.html. When I did a test show on the station the following day to find out what went wrong the system completely messed up Ustane's computer, forcing me to carry out a system restore on it which took all morning. This has led to me permanently changing my HPANWO Radio schedule. Could this evening's mix-up with Heidi be a part of that same Mercury retrograde? If so then I'm glad to say it ends soon, on the tenth, see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-schwimmer/top-10-things-not-to-do-d_b_4133136.html.