RATIONALIST INTERNATIONAL

Bulletin # 104 (27 October 2002)

http://www.rationalistinternational.net

IN THIS ISSUE

Mind outside body - mechanics of an illusion

Belgium: Euthanasia legalized

Australia: The Jedi rebellion

Siberia: How to keep a dead Lama fresh

India: Gods behind bars

 

Mind outside body - mechanics of an illusion

Many people do it in their dreams; some experience it when they take drugs. But most sensational seemed to be the cases of those, brought back from the brink of death, convinced they have been venturing out of their mortal frames. They remember floating calmly and freely without weight in the air above them, looking down from the height. Some claim they have seen themselves lying on the operation table and watched the surgeons' hectic attempts to revive them. Others believe they have seen the scene of the traffic accident from above, which killed them temporarily.

“Out-of-body experiences” have been presented as major “proof ” that the human mind is able to continue functioning after death. The idea that consciousness could exist and work independently from the hardware of the body has opened the door into the wide world of fantacy – of ghosts and immortal souls, of transmigration and reincarnation.

Now a team of Swiss scientists in Geneva and Lousanne has solved the mystery. They could identify the area in the brain, which is responsible for out-of-body experiences. And they have even been able to trigger the sensation by stimulating this area. It is located in the right cortex of the brain and called the angular gyrus, known as the center for spacial cognition.

Prof. Olaf Blanke and his colleagues made the discovery while stimulating the brain of an epilepsy patient during treatment with electrodes. They were able to produce the phenomenon several times. The 43-year-old patient described the "very real feeling" that she was floating two meters above her bed, close to the ceiling. When the researchers asked her to look from her heightened position on her body, she "saw" for real that her legs were becoming shorter and had an incorrect impression about the distance between head and arms.

The angular gyrus creates a representation of our body in our mind, matching up the available visual information with information from touch and balance sensations. Scientists propose that an out-of-body illusion occurs, if these two do not link up. This can be provoked by stimulation with electrodes. In those cases, where the phenomenon occurs on the brink of death, the disturbance may be due to malfunctioning of certain brain areas because of interrupted oxygen supply or disconnection, said Prof. Blanke. Details of the work of Blanke and his colleagues are published in the Science Journal Nature8, September, 2002)

 

Belgium: Euthanasia legalized

Belgium's new euthanasia law has officially entered into force, making Belgium after the neighboring Netherlands, the second European country, which allows doctors to help their terminally ill patients to end their lives in dignity).

Before passed by the Belgian parliament in May 2002, the bill has been in the center of vehement public debate since the government presented the first draft in December 1999. The Christian democratic opposition tried their best to stop it. Even after it was passed, they considered filing a case against the government at the European Human Rights Court at Strasbourg.

Making its criteria and procedures of mercy killing transparent, the new law gives clear guidelines to the up till now illegal though widespread practice and safeguards patients' interests. It has been repeatedly amended and improved to reach its final form, which guarantees maximum protection from misuse and proves the religionists' favorite argument against legalization to be absurd.

The new law is applicable for adult patients, who are terminally ill with no chances of curing, though possibly with chances to survive for some more time. It includes cases of permanent psychical illnesses, demands however in any case that the patient is in full command of his mental faculties and fully conscious, while expressing his wish to die. He has to uphold his decision, which is to be given in writing if possible, for a period of at least four weeks, before action can be taken. The doctor has to call in two colleagues, who confirm his judgement about the patient's medical and mental situation. All cases of mercy killing have to be fully documented in a special format and presented to a permanent monitoring committee, appointed by the government. If a case does not find the approval of at least two thirds of the committee members, which include 4 jurists and 12 physicians, 4 of them specialists for anesthesia and pain reduction, it is to be handed over to the state prosecution for further investigation.

 

Australia: The Jedi rebellion

Australia thirsts for a new religion. According to information published by the Bureau of Statistics about last years' census, more than 70,000 Australians, most of them Christians till then, have turned Jedis. Though this is up till now only a tiny minority of 0.37 per cent of the country's 19-million-population, the sudden popularity of the hitherto unknown religion made alarm bells ring in Christian churches.

The Jedi religion spread fast among fans of the Star Wars films. It is the fictitious religion of some of their main characters. Before last year's census, conspiratory e-mail messages flashed through the Internet calling for rebellion. If 10,000 citizens would confess to be Jedis and answered the optional census question accordingly, they said, the government was forced to recognize the extra-terrestrial's mystical faith as official religion. The Bureau of Statistics denied this and was fast to threaten with fines of 1000 Australian Dollars for giving any wrong information in the census. The authorities launched a campaign in indirect defense of Christianity, warning that people bereaved their true religious community of public support for facilities (which were granted on the base of census results), if they did not name it in their answers. But the prospect of a future with a reduced number of Anglican and Roman-Catholic churches and kindergartens failed to move the Jedis. And even the fine did not stop their urge to confess.

The government's answer was disappointing. It simply ignored the Jedis. All Jedi responses were categorized as "not defined". The statistics agency declared that the criteria for recognizing a religion were going "beyond the number of responses a particular answer receives in the census". The Christian churches continued unchallenged to top the charts (with 67 per cent for all denominations together).

No Jedi has been fined. It is technically difficult and legally problematic to identify census information related to special individuals. As soon as all census information is processed, all personal data will be destroyed. The Jedis have returned into the secrecy of an extra-terrestrial cyber community.

 

Siberia: How to keep a dead Lama fresh

The Buddhists of Siberia call it a miracle. In a darkened room in the temple of Ivolginsk, a small town near the Mongolian boarder, sits Dashi Dorzho Itigliov, the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama, in lotus position on a table. Motionless, his eyes closed, he seems to be in deep meditation, though his face crumbled and his skin leather-like. Visitors, who enter silently on tiptoes not to disturb him, would not believe that he is dead since 75 years. His body seems intact in the new attire, and certainly not decayed. "The Lama's body remained preserved, because he has reached shunyata through his meditation, which is a heightened state of existence", explains the present Pandito Hambo Lama (the 25th). But there is of course another explanation, closer to the laws of nature.

Dashi Dorzho Itigliov did not sit here during all these years. His body got lost and only his legend remained. It tells that in September 1927, the then 75-year-old Buddhist leader gathered his disciples around him. Sitting in lotus position among them, he announced his death, gave them secret instructions for the time there after, meditated, prayed and died. One of his instructions was they should come and see his body after 30 years. And though the Siberian Buddhist like many other communities suffered hard times of harassment, during which hundreds of them were killed and their temples destroyed, some of Itigliov's followers managed to come to the cemetery of Kharkhe-Zurkhen in the late fifties, where they once had buried him. They exhumed his coffin and opened it, to find his body not decayed. Since they were afraid to take the dead body to their temple and celebrate the miracle, they decided to clandestinely rebury him in an unmarked grave and wait silently for better times. But better times did not come fast enough, and all of them died.

The story could have ended here, leaving us in uncertainty if and how Itigliov's disciples had managed to keep their teacher's body for 30 years without decaying. But recently a curious young Siberian lama got fascinated with the legend and started a search for his unmarked grave. He found it with the help of an 88 year old man, whose late father-in-law had been one among those, who exhumed and reburied Itigliov. On 11 September 2002, his grave was opened again and his still well preserved mortal remains were brought to the temple in Ivolginsk.

Though the details of the 12th Pandito Hamba Lama's instructions to his disciples have died with them, the rediscovery of his body has revealed the secret of his perfect preservation. His body was buried in a coffin full of sodium chloride, which simply in other words is, common salt. Salt stops bacterial activity of decaying and the technique is known by old communities centuries back. For preserving fish and meat dried, several communities use common salt as a package. In short, the lama was dried pickled, buried in common salt and that helped the dead body from decaying.

 

India: Gods behind bars!

The tribals in Bastar, descendants of the oldest Indian tribes, have rough ways to handle their gods. They put them routinely on trial once a year for non-performance of duties. And if found guilty, the deities are sent to jail.

During the Dussera festival in October, all local gods of Hindu and tribal origin are brought in a procession to the temple of the mother goddess Danteshwari, where the court of Lord Bangaram is in session, who is the god of fortune and the chief among the deities. The mother goddess, symbolized by a seven-year-old girl from the weaver caste, has to grant permission to start the trial. The king presides. Though without any legal base, the Bastar tribes are till today still keeping a king. In the dock is the grand gathering of gods and goddesses, present in form of colorful idols. Besides the more established earth god Mati Deo, the rain god and the holy cow, sit unknown and fantastic divine creatures made of wood logs, leather patches and bamboo skin. All of them have to face people's anger and complaints. Mati Deo's crop production has not been up to the mark this year; the lazy wood logs failed to keep illness away. But the greatest culprit is this time the rain god. He neglected his duty to rain severely and caused great damage with several months of drought. After hearing all witnesses, the king pronounces the judgement. Almost all of the gods are sentenced to jail. The crowd brings them ceremoniously to a special public place and puts them into a cage, together with the weaver girl, who swings wildly under influence of a furious spirit, a little wooden sword through the air. The jail term is symbolic and lasts only a few hours. The gods are released with the well-meaning advice to improve their conduct.

Are there any takers to consider this for Jehovah or Allah?

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Honorary Associates: Dr. Pieter Admiraal (The Netherlands), Prof. Mike Archer (Australia), Katsuaki Asai (Japan), Prof. Colin Blakemore (UK), Sir Hermann Bondi (UK), Prof. Vern Bullough (UK), Dr. Bill Cooke (New Zealand), Dr. Helena Cronin (UK), Prof. Richard Dawkins (UK), Joseph Edamaruku (India), Prof. Antony Flew (UK), Prof. Jim Herrick (UK), Christopher Hitchens (USA), Ellen Johnson (USA), Prof. Paul Kurtz (USA), Lavanam (India), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya), Iain Middleton (New Zealand), Henry Morgentaler (Canada), Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh), Steinar Nilsen (Norway), Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France), James Randi (USA), Prof. Ajoy Roy (Bangladesh), Dr. G N Jyoti Shankar (deceased, USA), Barbara Smoker (UK), Prof. Harry Stopes-Roe (UK), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), Barry Williams (Australia), Richard Wiseman (UK) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK)

Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, can be contacted at Edamaruku@rationalistinternational.net