What’s It All About? on RTE Radio 1, Life, Death & Beyond (Episode 3)

near-death-experience-1

Seeing a bright light is commonly reported by survivors or near-death experiences [Credit: howstuffworks.com]

Click HERE to listen

Ever wonder whether science could shed light on so-called ‘near death experiences’ or what happens to us after we die? Ever wonder how long we might live? Or ponder whether we could we even life forever? What will be mankind’s ultimate future? Will we merge with machines?

These are some of the questions myself Sean Duke, and Colette Kinsella, explored here in episode e of the four part series What’s It All About?  for RTE Radio 1

The near-death experience

In 1968 Gillian MacKenzie had a near-death experience during a complicated pregnancy.

Gillian was prepared for an emergency Caesarian section, and while she was being wheeled towards the operating theatre she describes the feeling of leaving her body through her head. She says she then floated towards a pinprick of light and entered a tunnel, where she was surrounded by white light and experienced feelings of bliss.

While surrounded by the light Gillian heard a male voice proclaim, “you know who I am!”. The voice then introduced her to her dead grandfather, who  said she would have to put up a good case if she wanted to return. She told them that she had to go back as her husband Hamish “doesn’t know how to iron his shirts”.

She then remembers being up on the ceiling of the operating theatre looking down on herself haemorrhaging. She even saw the bags of blood being used for the blood transfusion.

Gillian has no explanation for her experience, which remains as vivid now as it was then. She is 80 years old and not religious but, she says, the experience has erased all fear of dying. “I’m travelling hopefully,” is how she describes her views of the afterlife.

How long can we live?

Nick Bostrom is a scientist, futurologist and philosopher and the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University.

Is it possible that technology will change human nature?  This is the type of question that Nick Bostrom considers on a daily basis in his work.

Technology, he believes, is changing human nature. Once we develop machines that surpass human intelligence – and he’s fully convinced this will happen– these machines may work out how to make humans  live forever.

Part of this process may include uploading an entire brain onto a machine; by  extracting and uploading the neuronic architecture of a person’s brain onto a hard drive, it will be possible to transfer a person’s memories, personality and consciousness into an engineered body.

For more on Nick Bostrom:

http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/

http://www.nickbostrom.com/

Can we defeat ageing?

Aubrey de Grey, 50, is the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, a biomedical charity research organization based in California that was set up to defeat ageing.

De Grey believes that the ageing process in humans is similar to how a machine, like a car, ages. There is an accumulation of wear and tear over time, and without regular maintenance the doors of the car might fall off. With maintenance, this can be postponed.

There are a number of biomedical reasons why we age, says Aubrey. He believes these these issues will be addressed in coming decades, so that anyone aged 50 or younger might stand to benefit.

De Grey believes ageing can be defeated and that this is the natural course of medical development. He argues that medicine has always sought to extend life, and that it will eventually become possible to extend human life indefinitely.

For more on Aubrey de Grey:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_de_Grey

http://www.sens.org/

Can we stay active and healthy for longer?

Advances in the use of stem cell technology means we will soon be able to perform effective  repairs on various parts of our bodies.

This type of treatment is known as “regenerative medicine”, and it will be used to repair cells in arthritic bone, or even damaged heart or brain tissue.

Frank Barry is the Director of the REMEDI Institute at NUI Galway, and he explains what this technology can do now, and what it might be able to do in the future.

For more on Frank Barry:

http://www.remedi.ie/people/prof-frank-barry

http://www.remedi.ie/

Should science be striving for immortality?

Daniel Callahan, 83, is co-founder and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center, a leading bio-ethical research centre in the US.

Daniel believes that a lifespan of around 80 years is sufficient for a person to achieve what he or she needs to over the course of a lifetime.

And while life extension might be good for individuals, he feels it won’t be good for wider society as an increase in population will accelerate global warming and drain resources, among other things.

He also thinks most old people don’t want to live forever. It’s interesting to note, he says, that the research into life-extending technology is driven by people in their 40s or 50s who, perhaps, find it hard to imagine letting go of life.

For more on Daniel Callahan:

http://www.thehastingscenter.org/About/Staff/Detail.aspx?id=1282

http://www.thehastingscenter.org/

Are we merging with machines?

Futurologist are predicting that humans will eventually become cyborgs, i.e we will merge with machines. But many of us are on that path already: if you have a prosthetic joint or an artificial heart valve, you’re already partially bionic.

But advances in neuroscience and robotics are ushering in a new era of human-machine interactions where thought-controlled artificial limbs are now a reality.

One of the leading labs spearheading thought-control research is that of John Donoghue, Brown University, in the US, who we talk to here.

John explains how his researchers learned how to translate thoughts into electrical signals that allow an amputee to control an artificial limb.

For more on John Donoghue:

https://research.brown.edu/myresearch/John_Donoghue

Liam Geraghty talks to Danish man Dennis Sorenson, 36, who earlier this year received the world’s first bionic hand that provides its user with sensory feedback. Dennis lost his hand and most of his arm during an accident with a firecracker several years ago.

The economics of the afterlife

Millica Bookman is the author of Do They Take Credit Cards in Heaven? This book looks at cultural views of the afterlife from the perspective of economics.

Take “outsourcing”, for example. Millica describes how “sin eaters” in 17th-century England were paid to take away the sins of the dead by eating bread left on the chest of the deceased.

She also describes how the ancient Greeks believed they had to pay to enter the afterlife, which is why a coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased before burial.

Unusual traditions have sprung up in modern times too. In China, for example, people often place Viagra in coffins, while in the West people are often laid to rest with things like a bottle of wine or reading glasses for company.

Does consciousness survive after the brain dies?

Peter Fenwick is a consultant neuro-psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. He has researched near-death experiences over many decades, as well as the science of what happens when we die.

Peter’s research led him to question the nature of human consciousness, and his results point towards the idea that consciousness continues in some form after the brain dies.

Steven Laureys is a Belgian neuroscientist and leader of the Coma Science Group at the Liège University Hospital in Belgium.

Steven studies near-death experiences in coma patients, and he believes that the near death-experiences of bliss, being out of body, and seeing a tunnel can all be re-created by stimulating the brain in particular ways.

For more on Peter Fenwick view interview below:

For more on Stephen Laureys:

http://www.coma.ulg.ac.be/

What’s It All About on RTE Radio 1, The Brain (Episode 1)

Scientists are only beginning to unlock some of the secrets of the remarkable human brain (Credit: howtofascinate.com)

Scientists are only beginning to unlock some of the secrets of the remarkable human brain (Credit: howtofascinate.com)

What makes a psychopath? Why are some people more empathetic to others? How does mindfulness change the brain? Are parasites controlling our minds? Are infections a significant cause of mental illness in humans?

These are some of the questions myself Sean Duke, and Colette Kinsella, explored here in episode 1 of What’s It All About? on RTE Radio 1

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

The week’s contributors:

Dr. Robert Hare is a Canadian psychologist and researcher, who was the first to suggest that psychopaths’ brains might be ‘wired differently. He is the author of several bestselling books about psychopaths including ‘Snakes in Suits‘ which described how psychopaths operate in the corporate world. For more information on Dr Hare visit http://www.hare.org/welcome/

————————————-

Prof. Christian Keyers is a Dutch scientist and part of the group of researchers that discovered ‘mirror neurons’ in the brain. These neurons are active when we are subconsciously imitating the actions of other people or their  patterns of speech. Christian wrote a book, ‘The Empathic Brain‘ which provides a scientific explanation for empathy. For more information on Prof Keysers visit: http://www.empathicbrain.com/

—————————————

Donna Andersen is an entrepreneur, author and owner of the website http://www.lovefraud.com Donna set up this website after a disastrous two-year marriage. She has also written two books, ‘Love Fraud‘ and ‘Red Flags of Love Fraud‘ to provide useful information for people who are in, or who have been in, damaging relationships with psychopaths/sociopaths.

————————————————–

Dr Dusana Dorjee is a neuroscientist based at the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice in the School of Psychology at Bangor University. Her research investigates the links between mindfulness and mental well-being. She is particularly interested in mindfulness as it impacts on the mental health in children and adolescents. For more information about Dr Dorjee visit: http://www.mindfulbrain.bangor.ac.uk

———————————

Joanne O’Malley  is a mindfulness facilitator trained by the Centre of Mindfulness Research and Practice,  at Bangor University. The recording used some background sounds from a class given by Joanne O’Malley, of ‘Mindfulness at Work’ now known as ‘Mindfulness and Compassion’. She offers Mindfulness Courses and Training in Dublin. For more information email: info@mindfulnessandcompassion.ie or visit http://www.mindfulnessandcompassion.ie

———————————

Carl Zimmer is a world-class science writer and columnist with The New York Times, where his column, ‘Matter’, appears each Thursday. In his books, essays, articles and blog posts, Carl reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. He is a popular speaker at universities, medical schools, museums and festivals, and he is also a regular guest on popular US radio shows such as This American Life. He is the author of several books, including ‘Parasite Rex’. To find out more about Carl and his work visit his blog at http://carlzimmer.com/

———————————

Dr Jaroslav Flegr is a Professor of Biology at Charles University in Prague. He is a parasitologist, evolutionary biologist, and the author of the book ‘Frozen Evolution’. Dr Flegr work on the influence of toxoplasmosis infection on personality, sex ratios, and risks of traffic accidents, has received substantial media attention, with his work on road accidents being particularly prominent. He has claimed that Toxoplasma gondii infection might increase the number of road accidents by as much as one million crashes worldwide per year. For more information on Jaroslav’s work visit http://web.natur.cuni.cz/flegr/index.php

——————————————————————-

Dr. E. Fuller Torrey is a renowned research psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness). He is a founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, which supports research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He is also a Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.He has also carried out research in Ireland and Papua New Guinea. For more on Dr Torrey and his research visit http://www.treatmentadvocacycentre.org/about-us/dr-e-fuller-torrey

———————————————————

Professor Joanne Webster is a scientist at the Imperial College London. After gaining a double First class B.Sc. hons, she did a D.Phil at the University of Oxford where she examined the epidemiology of zoonotic disease within the UK. Her doctoral research developed a new line of research on the impact of Toxoplasma gondii on host behaviour and is association with chronic disease. For more on Prof. Webster visit http://bit.ly/1l3KyNa

 

 

Is there life after death? What does the science suggest?

near-death experiences

People that report ‘near-death’ experiences often mention being drawn to a white light (Image credit: howstuffworks.com)

We all have an opinion on whether there is life after death. For many of us, life is made just a little bit less complicated by a conviction that there is NO life after death. That this is end. Nothing more to think about.

Top scientists, and some leading science writers, are notoriously skeptical when it comes to believing in life after death, or in the tenets or organised religion. Most of them simply don’t buy the arguments. They believe it’s all nonsense. However……

As part of our investigation into this question on RTE Radio 1’s What’s It All About? we came across scientists that are discovering data that can’t be explained by death being the end point. That we are plugged in, and alive, and then, suddenly, we are plugged out – gone.

The series is co-presented and produced by myself, Sean Duke, and Colette Kinsella.

On Sunday next, at 7pm, we’ll be taking a closer look at the science of near-death experiences, and how it is that people that have been medically ‘brain dead’ can come back to describe details of how they were ‘brought back to life’ in the operating room.

We’ll hear real stories from real people, and talk to scientists who are at the coalface of trying to better understand death, and what happens before and after death.

We’ll consider why  is it that animals seem to know when people are about to die? Why is it that so many people, all over the world, report similar – overwhelmingly pleasant – experiences of near-death, such as seeing a white light, or meeting a dead loved one?

And, we’ll talk to a scientist that believes that all of this might become irrelevant in the not-to-distant future, as scientists find a ‘cure’ for ageing and death itself.

If you are interested in these questions, and, let’s face it, who isn’t, then tune in on Sunday to hear more. We’d be delighted to have you!

 

What’s it all about is launched on RTE Radio 1

Sean Duke and Colette Kinsella

Colette Kinsella and myself are co-presenting RTE Radio 1’s new science show, What’s it all about?(Credit: RTE)

We were delighted with the positive response to our new science show, What’s it all about? which aired for the first time last night on RTE Radio 1.  Thank you to everyone that tuned in.

We will be updating our What’s it all about? webpage on the RTE website shortly, in response to requests by many listeners for additional information about our contributors or the topic at hand.

For those that didn’t catch it last night, here’s a link to the podcast of our first episode entitled ‘The Brain’.

Tune in next Sunday at 7pm when we’ll be voyaging out into space to join the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and posing questions like: Why have we not found ET yet? Is it possible we HAVE already found ET? What would we say to ET if we met him?