Studying The Moment Before Death

by Jessie Roberts


Ed Yong reports on a study that may help explain the phenomenon of near-death experiences:

[Neuroscientist Jimo] Borjigin discovered that rats show an unexpected pattern of brain activity immediately after cardiac arrest. With neither breath nor heartbeats, these rodents were clinically dead but for at least 30 seconds, their brains showed several signals of conscious thought, and strong signals to boot. This suggests that our final journey into permanent unconsciousness may actually involve a brief state of heightened consciousness.

Although the experiments were done in rats, Borjigin thinks they have implications for the near-death experiences (NDEs) reported by one in five people who are resuscitated after their hearts stop. Although they were unconscious, unresponsive and clinically dead at the time, they come back with stories of bright lights, “realer than real” memories, and meetings with people they knew. Some scientists have dismissed these accounts outright. Others have taken NDEs as proof of a religious afterlife or a consciousness that lives on outside the body, as popularised in a recent bestseller of dubious provenance.

But Borjigin’s research suggests that these experiences could just be a natural product of a dying brain. That doesn’t make them any less real, but it does root them in the natural world, without the need for a “super-” prefix.

(Photo by Flickr user Matt From London)

Faith And Intelligence

by Jessie Roberts


A meta-analysis of 63 scientific studies conducted between 1928 and 2012 has found that 53 of the studies showed “a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one.” Frank Furedi criticizes the claims:

It’s not that researchers are dishonest but that they like anyone else suffer from a tendency to discover what they already suspect. In the current era where religion is increasingly associated with out-dated beliefs, dubious traditions, dogma and prejudice it is inevitable that the authority of science will be harnessed to prove the religious stupid. Is it any surprise that in a smug tweet Richard Dawkins refers to this meta-analysis with feigned surprise as to why the cleverness of atheists should even be questioned?

The polemical use of science – called scientism- has nothing to with real science, which is the disinterested pursuit of the truth. It uses the authority of science to invalidate the moral status of groups and individuals and their practices on the ground of their natural inferiority. It is the 21st century equivalent of 19th century craniology.

Regrettably the mantra “research shows” has become a substitute for a critical engagement of views. Devaluing the intelligence of your opponents is what children do when they call one another stupid. It absolves its practitioners from taking the arguments of their opponents seriously.

Jack Vance at Atheist Revolution is also skeptical of the study, as is Deacon Nick Donnelly:

‘[R]eligiosity’ is defined as ‘involvement in some (or all) facets of religion’. ‘Religiosity’ is restricted to a very stark, undefined ‘functionality’ with no attempt to examine the role of reason, or insight, the apprehension of truth and meaning, the intelligence of the heart, the perception of values, let alone the activity of grace, the response to revelation, the presence of God.

Recent Dish on scientism here and here. On the above image:

Grace is a 1918 photograph by Eric Enstrom. It depicts an elderly man, Charles Wilden, with hands folded, saying a prayer over a table with a simple meal. It was taken in Bovey, Minnesota. Originally black-and-white, the photo was colorized by hand by Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg. It was this colorized version that attained widespread distribution. In 2002, an act of the Minnesota State Legislature established it as the state photograph.


by Jessie Roberts

e-David is a robot programmed to paint copies of art pieces:

The thing that sets the bot apart from his contemporaries is a visual feedback system, a technological set of eyes that continually checks to see how close he’s coming to the mark. Every so often, e-David will take a photograph of his canvas and, after some image correction, subtract it from the image he’s trying to reproduce. Looking at the difference between the two, it determines which areas of the canvas are too dark or too light, generates a hundred or so potential brush strokes, and then chooses which of those are best suited to minimize that difference.

In many ways, the project sidesteps some of the thornier conceptual issues painting robots typically grapple with–concerns like authorship and intent. “Regardless of what we implement, the machine will never be a person,” Oliver Deussen, one of the researchers behind the effort, explained to WIRED UK. “It will only have a very limited idea about what it is doing, no intention. Our simulation is only about the craftsmanship that is involved in the painting process.” In other words, Deussen and his collaborators don’t expect their robotic arm to think like an artist. They just want it to paint like one.

The Game Of Life

by Jessie Roberts

The Novelist is a video game with an unconventional objective:

[T]he player is tasked with guiding an author named Dan Kaplan and deciding how he will spend his days. There are no bullets or rocket launchers here: the core conflict revolves around Dan’s ability—or inability—to balance his career, his marriage, and his relationship with his son.

You, the player, don’t directly control Dan; instead you are a ghost who inhabits his house. You can watch, observe, and manipulate at your discretion. One day, you might direct Dan to sit and work on his novel, boosting his career at the cost of neglecting his wife and son. Another day you might have help out his wife at an art show, or take his kid to the beach. Every time you go down one branch, the other two could suffer.

The idea, designer Kent Hudson says, is to make us all think about how we approach our own major life decisions. “There’s no winning or losing,” Hudson told me during a lengthy phone chat a few weeks ago. “You play through and get a story that my hope—and this sounds so pretentious—but my hope is that as you’re presented with the same fundamental question in nine different ways over the course of the game, that you start to learn about your own values.”

(Hat tip: Page-Turner)