Closed minded?

January 10th, 2010

A friend recently sent me a link to an article on “out of body experience” (OBE), in which the author describes as close minded those who do not accept OBE as the only possible explanation for certain phenomena.

Before reading my thoughts below, have a look at the article here: The Pam Reynolds Near-death Experience

The first thing that struck me about the article is that it draws the line in the first sentence. If you do not agree with the author (Michael E. Tymn), you are labelled a “debunker” or a “pseudo skeptic”. In the second sentence, it is made clear that if you agree with the author, you are open-minded.

You are only right if you agree with me.

Does that really sound open minded to you?

I am not sure what a “pseudo skeptic” is, since the author does not offer a definition. I suspect that it is nothing more than a linguistic trick to put skepticism in a bad light by adding the adjective “pseudo” (generally considered a negative adjective).

Skepticism should not be confused with cynicism. Science is skeptical by its very nature. The skeptic’s point of view is “I will not say something is so unless I can provide concrete evidence, preferably through a repeatable process”.

In the absence of concrete evidence, a true skeptic will look to the most probable explanation in order to provide a likely theory. Theories are to be investigated in order of probability. In fact, some scientists want to test the OBE theory by placing items in operating theatres so that they can only be seen from above, and then interviewing anyone claiming to have an OBE and asking them to describe those items. The results, if the experiments ever come to fruition, will be interesting, regardless of what they demonstrate. But at least the results will be demonstrable and repeatable, and not just wishful thinking.

The default stance of the skeptic is open mindedness. The skeptic will say that OBE is the least likely explanation for the experience described. The skeptic does not say that it was definitely not an OBE. Even the author tacitly acknowledges this: debunkers say “she may have noticed it before the procedure started”(notice the use of the word “may”).

According to the author, “The debunkers can always find some theory to counter the spiritual implications.”

Ignoring for a moment the implicit insult to anyone who does not agree with the author, of course skeptics will find other theories. That is how you find truth, by exploring all possibilities, not just the one that you like best!

Moreover, the fact that thousands of people have had similar experiences does not mean OBE is the explanation. It tells us only that many people have experience the same phenomena, not what the cause of those phenomena is. To conclude that OBE is the answer because lots of people want it to be the answer reveals very flawed thinking.

It is a known scientific fact that the brain hallicunates in response to certain physical conditions such as hypoxia. It is reasonable, therefore, to suggest that hallucination is more probable than OBE.

The author concludes his article by quoting a cardiologist who believes in OBE: “I now believe that the near-death experience is not simply the result of misfires within the dying brain, but that it is a spiritual encounter.” I wonder what that cardiologist would think of a neurologist’s comments on how the heart works. I don’t think I would like a cardiologist to remove a tumor from my brain. When it comes to matters of the brain, I will put my money on a neurologist.

So which is more open-minded?

Considering all possible explanations, ordering them according to probability and investigating each theory.


Deciding without any evidence whatsoever that the ONLY possible explanation is OBE and that any other explanation is unacceptable.

The closed minded person says that there is a “monster” in Loch Ness and refuses to listen to any other explanation. The truly open minded person, the skeptic, explores all possibilities, whether it leads to proving or disproving the existence of the “monster”.

Believing something simply because you want it to be true is what children do, and it is why we have Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy.

2 Responses to “Closed minded?”

  1. Godon 11 Jan 2010 at

    “In the absence of concrete evidence, a true skeptic will look to the most probable explanation in order to provide a likely theory”. One of the developing risks to science, I believe, is the “concensus of opinion” to replace “probable explanations”. If an opinion is contrary to the concensus it is almost immediately excluded from consideration. Scienctific minds can all too easily become as closed minded as political minds.

  2. Declan Chellaron 11 Jan 2010 at

    They can indeed. But science as a discipline is open minded and inclusive.

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