Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When It's Your Time It's Your Time

There are advancements made in medicine everyday, all over the the world. Which means while twenty years ago someone whose heart stopped would be pronounced dead, today, they can be revived, even after a half an hour of being clinically dead.

The ability to bring someone back when technically they were gone raises some pretty interesting (and complicated) questions. Most obviously, where did they go? Most often, this is called a Near Death Experience or NDE.

One researcher, Kenneth Ring, separated the NDE into five stages:

1) feelings of peace and contentment,
2) a sense of detachment from the body,
3) entering a transitional world of darkness (rapid movement through a long dark tunnel: "the tunnel experience"),
4) emerging into bright light, and
5) "entering the light."

In his research, however, he found that 60% of people who reported having an NDE experienced stage one, but only 10% experienced stage five. The idea of going through a tunnel towards a bright light is one that most people have heard so it is possible it could just be an expected part of the experience. But, I think, the reason only 10% of the people entered the light is because once you enter this light, you have crossed to the other side, making it impossible to return to your body. It is also possible that the experience is different for everyone, and some people simply never enter the proverbial light.

Death is a subject that is on everyone's mind at one time or another considering, eventually, we are all going to die. It is only natural to wonder what is going to happen when that time comes. That may be why there is an International Association of Near Death Studies. It was started in 1978 by doctors and medical and psychological researchers who wanted to know more about the phenomenon. Now, there is more research and information on the subject than I can even begin to describe or fully understand.

There are scientific explanations for NDE's. Some skeptics believe they are only hallucinations the brain is creating in response to a trauma. I suppose you have to belive in the existence of Heaven and God if you are going to believe anything at all happens when you are dead so a lot of atheists are more likely to think NDE's are nothing but a dream.

I think Near Death Experience's can give us insight into the afterlife but it is also hard to know if the information people bring back is accurate. We will never truly know what death is like until it happens to us and maybe it is better that way. I'm not sure I really want to know all the details before it happens. It's not something we can control, why worry about it?

I don't know about anyone else, but death is one thing I don't need to know everything about before it happens. I'm more than happy waiting sixty years before I enter the light.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maybe in Another Life

The idea of reincarnation originates in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. I am not personally religious, but I find the possibility that our souls come back multiple times, into multiple bodies fascinating.

Some kind of belief in a higher power or something resembling Heaven is kind of a prerequisite to a belief in reincarnation. There has to be some kind of organization involved in the passing of souls from body to body. But maybe that is just the logical part of me kicking in. When I picture it in my head I see a huge office, kind of like where you go to renew your license. Each soul has a number, and when yours comes up on the screen, it's your turn to be born again. Do we even have a choice when or how it happens?

There are some unexplained phenomenon that people have associated with reincarnation. Xenoglossy, when someone can fluently speak a language they have never been exposed to, or a child prodigy, a young person who exhibits extraordinary talents without practice are two things that could be explained by the existence of past lives. Also, deja vu, (which I talked about in a previous post) could indicate memories that only exist because our soul never dies.

The Skeptic's Dictionary entry on reincarnation raises one important point. What is a soul? We can really only speculate, since we can't remember what it was like when we weren't in a body and on Earth.

But the mystery is what makes reincarnation such a popular topic. There are lots of movies about it such as What Dreams May Come that also addresses the idea of soul mates. That is one thing a lot of people like to imagine is possible. You see someone on the street and you just know you have met them before and you absolutely need to talk to them. You have coffee, you fall in love. You must be soul mates. For this to be true... you had to have lived many lives before your current one.

I definitely believe in soul mates. But I think you can have many. A soul mate is someone who has had a positive affect on you in any way and you learn something from during each lifetime. They may be a very good friend. They may be someone you know for only a very short time. But somehow, they are important to what you have to learn in this lifetime.

To believe in reincarnation is to believe we are all here for a purpose. Our souls are evolving everyday and even the difficult things in life are teaching us something. Without the opportunity to move on after we die, what is the point in learning anything in the first place?

As with most spiritual issues, it is difficult if not impossible to prove the existence of the soul and reincarnation. It is a matter of faith, and I personally prefer to believe everything happens to teach us something, and nothing ever goes to waste.

"Faith is believing in things when common
sense tells you not to"

-George Seaton

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Oooomm"...Step Away From the Caffeine

With midterms in full swing, pretty much everyone is stressing out over the pile of work that just keeps growing. I wonder if anyone even takes a minute to take a deep breathe and let themselves relax. Tim Horton's is even busier than normal (I know, I didn't think it was possible either) because people have convinced themselves they can't focus without that jitter inducing caffeine skipping through their veins.

I have one suggestion. Meditate.

Now, doesn't she look relaxed? Wouldn't you rather do that for a few minutes than stand in line with the other frazzled students at Tim Horton's?

I truly believe the energy of other people affects the way you feel. If you are surrounded by people who reek of stress, you are only going to feel worse. Not everyone is good at handling the stress brought on by school and every other thing they have going on in their life. Sometimes you feel worse just from spending time with certain people. These people are referred to as "energy vampires", not only will they emanate negativity, but they will suck all the positive out of you in the process.

I know I like to spend some time alone everyday to recharge. And meditation is the perfect way to do that. There are many different techniques so it is best to try a few and decide which one is best for you. It is difficult at first to get the hang of it but it just takes practice. The video below might help as well.

It is important to take care of yourself (especially during busy exam times) since stress can lead to short and long term health problems. Even if you feel like you have no time, taking a few minutes every day to sit back and just relax will help in the long run. Meditation reduces stress, teaches you how to calm down high stress situations (that biology exam worth 40% of your mark) and helps you focus when it is most important.

In addition, the people you surround yourself with affects the way you deal with certain situations. Support and encouragement are important qualities in friends, but I'm sure you all know that. If you prefer to be social, try out a meditation DVD with a friend. You can lean on each other in your caffeine withdrawal.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Have I Been Here Before?" Deja Vu.. More than Memory Rewind

How many times have you been somewhere entirely new and you suddenly get the feeling you have been there before? It only last a second before it is gone and you can't even remember what triggered the feeling in the first place. Deja vu is very common, over 70% of the population report experiencing it at least once.

There are a few different scientific explanations for deja vu. It has been connected to psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. There is even something called 'chronic deja vu' where people get that confusing sensation every single day of their lives. Can you imagine feeling like you had already done everything, all the time? Weird.

I definitely think a lot of the time, a buried memory is what triggers the familiar feeling, but why not, for the sake of argument explore the more supernatural theories that are floating around out there in cyber space.

Often, deja vu is associated with clairvoyance and precognition and is thought to be evidence of psychic abilities. But that would mean 70% of the population has psychic abilities, which I find hard to believe.

The most interesting explanation, and one I plan to explore further in future posts, is the idea that deja vu is a form of past life memories. This could explain why no matter how hard you think, you can't seem to remember what it was that triggered the feeling at all. A certain smell, or sound could have reminded your subconscious of something you experienced in another life.
"Parapsychologists support this argument as being connected to wish fulfillment from a past life in the present"

Obviously, a theory like this is pretty much impossible to prove. Most of the time, deja vu is probably just a coincidence. It is often the topic of movies (such as Denzel Washington's movie Deja Vu) or skits, like the one below.

Whatever causes deja vu, it is a fascinating phenomenon because it gives the impression we have memories buring deep in our subconscious that we aren't ever aware of. We can't even guarantee we our fully conscious of our own past. The feeling of not being in control of our memories forces people to look for a scientific explanation for these things but what if someone somewhere is trying to tell us something, how do we really know? Can't hurt to pay more attention to things we don't understand.

Kind of goes back to the title of this blog. Choose Your Own Adventure. Maybe, like in the books you used to read as a kid, you are getting another chance to do something you didnt quite get right in another life. Woah, deja vu...eventually we'll figure it out.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sylvia Browne.. Gifted Psychic or Talented Fraud?

You may or may not have heard of Sylvia Browne, but chances are if you have ever been stuck home with a cold, you have channel surfed past an episode of Montel Williams and decided to find out if she was the teensiest bit legitimate.

Sylvia Browne claims to be able to see angels and a wider range of vibrational frequencies than most human beings. On the Montel Williams show, Browne takes questions from the audience often about loved ones who have passed away or are missing. Most of the time she is vague or very general but the people just want to be reassured their loved ones are in a better place so they choose to believe her. This could also be interpreted as the Forer effect. In the video below, Browne was not so accurate.

To be fair, Browne never claims to be 100% accurate, but she had been doing this for years. She knows how to read people. One famous skeptic, James Randi believes Browne is just very good at cold reading. But I don't know, she wouldn't have gotten this famous just because people want to believe her.

The biggest problem with Sylvia Browne is the fact that if she is a fraud, she is not only taking hundreds of dollars from people, she is putting them through emotional turmoil for no good reason. In 2002 she told a couple their son, Shawn, was dead and exactly where to find his body. He was found four years later, alive. There are a lot more examples of Browne telling a family the person they are looking for is alive only for it to be revealed they have been dead all along. Look here for more details.

Browne claims to have helped the police solve hundreds of cases over the years. To give her the benefit of the doubt, skeptics do tend to focus on the negative. Confirmation bias occurs when people choose to interpret new information in a way that confirms their own preconceptions and avoids anything that contradicts what they already believe.

It is important to be careful with information psychics give you, even if they have a good reputation. A certain level of skepticsm never hurt anyone, right?

If you are still convinced Sylvia Browne is the real thing, check out her predictions for 2009 here.